Sunday, December 31, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW: The Good Shepherd

There was a trailer not long ago saying that this film was The Godfather of C.I.A films. That's pretty accurate. It starts with the Foreign Intelligence service during World War II and continues through to the Cold War and The Bay of Pigs incident in Cuba. Matt Damon's Edward Wilson is the perfect example of a C.I.A. spook that is quiet and calculating and does not appear to be affected by much. This film captures all of the nuance of the Cold War and its Cold Warriors. Just like in the Godfather trust is a difficult thing to achieve and sustain.

Edward Wilson (Matt Damon) is a man with many secrets. While at Yale he joins the secret fraternity of Skull and Bones, whose members range from Doctors to lawyers even presidents. From the very beginning of the film Edward is being groomed for covert work. They task him to train with British Intelligence during World War II and later hire him to test his mental mettle against the Communists of the Soviet Union. He has a chilly relationship with his wife Clover, (Angelina Jolie) and his son, who doesn't know his father well, is scared to death of him.

Director Robert De Niro has spared no expense in acquiring a top notch cast other than the leads I have mentioned; Alec Baldwin, William Hurt, Michael Gambon, Billy Crudup, Timothy Hutton, Joe Pesci, John Turturro and of course Robert De Niro himself. The film explores the history of the espionage service and how difficult it is to spot an ally or to completely trust anyone. It is also interesting to figure out who the real Edward Wilson truly is as we see him through various stages of his life. He seems to be more at peace while at College looking ahead to his future and falling in love. The girl (Tammy Blanchard) is deaf and does not have his aristocratic blood running through her veins, which makes it difficult for him to truly be with her. As he is being prodded into his career he seems to emotionally detach himself from his personal life. Matt Damon does an incredible job of balancing on the trip wire very similar in many ways to the performance by Gene Hackman in the Conversation. De Niro really turns in an extraordinary directing job weaving the true history of our country into this fictional tale.

Grade 5 Buckets

Saturday, December 30, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW: Pursuit of Happyness

I saw the trailer a while back and I thought, "Okay, this doesn't look half bad, It's got Will Smith it seems like a very nice drama." A month or so later and I forgot about it. So this one opened a few weeks ago and it opened big. My wife and I saw it yesterday, and I gotta say that Will Smith has definitely impressed me. This film was pretty good but it was very mundane, it was just average. Will Smith on the other hand, the way he played this, got his hooks into me and I was riveted. I had to watch the rest even though I already knew that it was going to have the Hollywood ending. (I had read about the real Chris Gardner in a magazine. Let's just say the guy isn't living in bathrooms anymore.)

Chris Gardner (Will Smith) is a hard on his luck salesman trying to raise a son (Jaden Smith) in very turbulent times. He is barely making ends meet selling Bone Density scanners to Doctors. He can't pay his rent his wife (Thandie Newton) is working three jobs and coming to the end of her rope. Finally, the wife leaves him high and dry to raise their son by himself. He gets an internship at Dean Witter while trying to avoid homelessness at night.

There is nothing amazing or different about this story that you haven't seen or heard before. A good father put through difficult times has all of his choices taken from him. He is smart but has never A. really applied himself properly for a career or B. has never been given an opportunity for a career. His wife leaves him, which makes the stakes higher because there is a child involved. Thandie Newton as the wife does not really bring any true layers to her character. By the time we see her she is a miserable shell of a woman. She is at the end of her rope, so it makes sense that she leaves. The true heart of this story and it's mundane plot is Will Smith and Will Smith alone. His performance is very real, (maybe it helps that your kid is in the picture) he doesn't try to force it, he is an intelligent guy who is having trouble cutting it in the world and he decides to make his own destiny. He takes control, it's a tough road but he does it and he does it with dignity.

Grade: 4 Buckets

Saturday, December 23, 2006

MOVIES: Christmas Movies

It's that time of the year again. Although the snow is not falling and, at least down in NC, it's about 60 degrees outside. When it’s this warm it's hard to fully get in the Christmas spirit, so I thought it would be nice to sit down in front of the tube and watch some of my favorite Christmas movies. Unfortunately it seems the network isn't interested in playing the classic Christmas movies of old. I keep seeing these crappy Scrooge rip offs over and over on all of the various networks. Like Mrs. Scrooge, Ebenezer, A Diva's Christmas Carol, A Carol Christmas. (With Tori Spelling, need I say more?) Not to mention these vapid, crappy and sacchrine kid flicks that are so PC they make me want to vomit. These stupid TV films along with the lack of snow have made this holiday feel, well, not Christmassy. So here are a few of my favorite Christmas Movies and why they should be on the boob tube right now.
1. Scrooge (1951) - This version of Scrooge is always my favorite. Starring Alastair Sim as Scrooge. It's dark and kind of spooky in the title with the booming score and the narration taken from the book. A Christmas Carol was one of my favorite of Dickens and this film captures the heart of the book and even goes beyond. They develop the character of Scrooge and why he has become so miserable because of the loss of his sister Fern. They scroll through the various ghosts like they do with every variation of this story, but better and with grade A direction. This will always be a favorite of mine and a reminder to me that it ain't Christmas until I've seen this movie.

2. A Christmas Story - If you have cable and you watch any TV over the holidays it is nearly impossible not to see this Holiday classic. They play 24 hours of a Christmas story on TBS starting on Christmas Eve. I love the story of Ralphie and his quest for a Red Rider BB gun. Peter Billingsly plays the gun crazy kid and the late Darren McGavin plays Ralphie's crusty cursing Father. You also have Flick and the frozen flagpole, The Leg Lamp affair, Scut Farkis, little brother Randy's coat of shame and the Olvaltine/Little Orphan Annie scandal. Classic. This is one of those that stall the coming of Christmas until it has been viewed at least once.

3. A Charlie Brown Christmas - Sure it's only 30 minutes, but it is one of the best. Chuck and the crew try to put on a Christmas play but no one can seem to cut Mr. Brown a break, as usual. Linus does his thing explaining the true meaning of Christmas. The best part for me about this little classic is the score. I admit that I listen to it around this time of year on my I-Pod, and at home. You see, the score is also a Jazz compilation and it's the only thing my wife is as happy as I am to hear over and over again at Christmas. No my wife isn't a Scrooge, she's Jewish.

4. Scrooged - In the 80's and early 90's Bill Murray would be funny if he was sitting in a blank room reading Crime and Punishment. Yes it's a modern re-telling of the Scrooge story but it is by far the best. The opening alone has me in stitches between Bob Goulet's Cajun Christmas and the Night the Reindeer Died with Lee Majors. "This is one Santa Who is going out the front door." Richard Donner directs this funny flick that is always a crowd pleaser and captures Murray at his best.

5.National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation - This one is an instant classic that brings us another mis-adventure with the bumbly Griswolds. In my opinion this one even rivals Vacation for it's great one-liners and of course Clark's (Chevy Chase) family breakdowns dealing with burnt Christmas trees, his bonus which results in one of my favorite lines in the film refering to the happy tapping of Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye and of course Jolly Assholes. Randy Quaid and Beverly Di Angelo also make this one a "Real treat."

I have a few more later but chew on these for now and I'll bring back some more tomorrow.

Friday, December 22, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW: Night At The Museum

Hello all, I came home for the holidays yesterday to spend a little quality time with the family. My brother and I were running some errands this morning and thought what the hell lets go see Night at the Museum. It's got Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Ricky Gervais and Robin Williams it's gotta be at least a little funny. It was a kiddie film after all but there were a few jokes peppered in there for the adults in the audience. Ben Stiller was his usual funny dopey self. Owen Wilson is funny as a mini-cowboy. Unfortunately we don't get to see enough of the hilarious Ricky Gervais as a dick head curator, but the one who surprised me the most and almost steals this show I shit you not---Mickey Rooney. Yeah, I said Mickey Rooney, you know, the Biggest Star in the World. Honestly I thought he had died years ago after one of those horse movies he did in the 90's. You know The Black Stallion 12 or My Friend Flicker or something. Anyway, the old dude was funny dropping one liners and an elbow on Ben Stiller's noggin.
The movie is about a loser inventor, Larry, (Ben Stiller) who can't seem to hold down a job while disappointing his kid cause he's a dreamer, the damn hippy. So he gets this job as the night watchman at the Natural History Museum in New York. When the lights go out and the patrons leave the Museum starts to come alive, literally. The wax figure of Teddy Roosevelt (Robin Williams) tries to guide the new guard through his daily routine of fending off Lions and Attila the Hun. He also is forced to keep the peace between a mini-Cowboy (Owen Wilson) and a Mini-Roman general (Steve Coogan) bent on killing one another. Larry tries to make his job work with the help of a pretty historian, Rebecca, (Carla Gugino) and three bumbly old security guards. (Dick Van Dyke, Mickey Rooney and Bill Cobbs.)

The film was cute and silly, it was for children after all, but it was nicely acted and it reminded me of those old Disney films I used to love like Freaky Friday, Mary Poppins and Bednobs and Broomsticks. Think of it as a better upgrade from Jumanji. Plus any movie with Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson will always be funny, that's just the rule.

Grade: 3 Buckets

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW: Blood Diamond

I saw the movie over the weekend but it's been crazy busy making time to sit down and post about it, so here goes. 2006 has been the year of making a man out of Leonardo Di Caprio. Some may say his manhood was firmly established in films like Gangs of New York and the Aviator. Some, who will remain nameless, females, would have us believe that this event occurred during the blockbuster hit Titanic. As you may well know none of them got it right! Mr. Di Caprio grew a pair in Martin Scorcese's fast paced action flick The Departed back in September. He earned his stripes as a toughie from Southie; an undercover cop matching wits with the big boys like Jack Nicholson and Matt Damon. In his next film Blood Diamond, Leo doubles down on his tough guy attitude and turns in a pretty gritty performance as a mercenary trying to smuggle conflict diamonds out of Sierra Leone, Africa. Throw in a solid cast including the beautiful Jennifer Connelly and the always dependable Djimon Hounsou and you've got yourself a pretty slick action movie.
The film explores the terrible conditions of Sierra Leone in the 1990's where Guerrilla forces use slavery, crime and murder to smuggle priceless diamonds out of the country. Solomon Vandy, (Djimon Hounsou) a Mende Fisherman, is kidnapped by one of these guerrilla outfits. He is forced at gun point to work along the river looking for priceless diamonds. The film is often brutal showing the cruel nature of these guerrilla forces as they terrorize small towns killing anyone they choose and stealing children to manipulate them into joining their ranks. A large un-cut diamond comes into Solomon's possession. Danny Archer, (Leonardo Di Caprio) A South African mercenary, hears about this diamond and decides to help Solomon recover his family in exchange for the priceless stone. Maddy Bowen, an American journalist, (Jennifer Connelly) serves as Danny's conscience, trying to steer him in the right direction when he starts acting like a scoundrel.

The sub-plot is nothing entirely new. Danny, the mercenary hard case, learns the hard lessons about his chosen profession and the cost toward human life every time he smuggles a diamond out of the country. The message here is sound but sometimes it feels heavy handed in this very high charged action film. Hansou as Solomon is great, you can feel his frustration and anger as he tries to adapt with every situation thrown at him. I admire Director Edward Zwick for trying to have the best of both worlds. On one side you have a savvy action story. On the other you show the incredibly true and terrible drama unfolding in a little country in the middle of Africa. It is so graphic and it will definitely make anyone who has ever bought a diamond feel like an ass hole. If you're feeling a sigh of relief because you've never bought a diamond in your whole life this film still makes you feel like a jack ass with blinders on. The problem with the story is that it is too real. You can't really enjoy yourself because you know that it's not a made up story that some of these things happen in this country. There probably is no real happy ending. As much as I would love the big corrupt Diamond merchants of the world to be revealed as solicitous bastards more interested in the treasure collected in these countries rather than human life. I know that this is the world we live in and money and greed will always rule the day, but it's not really the happy ending we look for. I think anyone not aware of Conflict Diamonds and the situation in many countries on the continent of Africa very much need to see this film, if not for Leo, maybe for a little perspective on a very serious global issue. Remember when you buy your diamonds this Christmas try to do a little homework, make sure you buy stones that are legit, you got it?

Grade: 3 Buckets

Monday, December 11, 2006

Donner's cut vs. Lester's cut: And the winner is... WARNER BROTHERS!



Well, you vociferous little fanboys asked for it and you got it. Last Tuesday, Warner Brothers released the long anticipated Richard Donner cut of Superman II on DVD, coinciding with the DVD release of last summer's less-than-super "sequel" Superman Returns. Already the message boards are atwitter with pr0-Donner fanboys enthralled in heated debate with pro-Lester fanboys.

Once again, it is up to me, Cody Dee Williams – smooth talkin’, gambler - to set the record straight. To end this fledgling, yet frivolous debate once and for all and bring peace and harmony to Fanboydom... so its citizens can dedicate more time focusing on how to lose their virginity.

Okay, let’s break it down beat by beat, MC Hammer style:

Advantage: LESTER
Lester did a nice job of intercutting key sequences of the first film with the opening credit sequence. It gets us up to speed, without wasting too much time. In Donner's cut, pre-opening title cards, we are shown seemingly random clips from the climax of the first film. Some of these clips have absolutely no point, like the Miss Teschmacher kiss. Why do we need to see this in order to understand what will be happening in Part II??

Advantage: LESTER
Donner's cut of Zod, Ursa, and Non's banishment to (and subsequent escape from) the Phantom Zone is way too long and the special effects are way too bad. Even worse than the original effects in the Lester cut. Not to mention, the cringe inducing addition of Zod screaming "FREEEEEEE!" after breaking out. If you haven't seen it yet, trust me, it's on the cheese level of Kirk's "KHAAAAHHHNNN!" from Star Trek II. Nuclear warhead versus nuclear Parisian elevator??? I'll let you decide.

Advantage: LESTER
In Donner's cut, Lois realizes Clark is The Man of Steel in the first two minutes of the film. How? She draws a hat, eyeglasses, and a suit over a newspaper photo of Superman. If it were that easy shouldn't more people have realized by now? Donner follows this up with a scene where Lois chucks herself out the 40th floor window of the Daily Planet, in hopes of outing Clark as Superman. I guess she must be REALLY sure, huh? I mean she's a journalist, not an artist, right? In Lester's cut, Lois' realization is a little tamer, and he paces it out better; Lois' sees Clark several times without his glasses on before making her deduction. And when she does, makes a much more believable gamble with her life.

Advantage: DONNER
Donner has reinstituted the character of Jur-El, played by Marlon Brando, back into many of the Fortress of Solitude scenes in SMII. Brando’s added presence in the film helps to clear up much of the ambiguity in Lester’s cut surrounding the sudden reacquisition of Superman’s surrendered powers. Not to mention, there is a gem of an extended scene, featuring Gene Hackman’s character Lex Luthor yelling “ARE YOU THE OLD MAN!?!” at the prerecorded apparition of Jur-El. Very funny :)

Advantage: LESTER
I know all you fanboys are going to go ape shit, but come on! The new footage of the old (very old) screen test in place of Lester’s bear rug scene is absolutely preposterous. Both Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder look dramatically younger, not to mention the former looking about 25 pounds lighter, as well. As cheesy as the newlywed suite scene may be in Lester’s cut, it still sells the love story angle between Clark and Lois better than what Donner has done in his cut. At least in Lester’s cut the two characters have a conversation about their feelings for one another before riding off into the sunset (or in this case, the North Pole) together.

Advantage: LESTER
In Lester's cut it happens after Superman surrenders his powers. In Donner’s cut in happens before. HOW IS THIS PHYSICALLY POSSIBLE!?! To quote Brodie from Mallrats, “It's impossible, Lois could never have Superman's baby. Do you think her fallopian tubes could handle the sperm? I guarantee you he blows a load like a shotgun right through her back. What about her womb? Do you think it's strong enough to carry her child?” Case closed!

Advantage: DONNER
Props to Donner’s cut for the added footage of Lois Lane in superjammies, after the aforementioned physically impossible supersex.

Advantage: DONNER
Donner has really chopped it up, but the good outweighs the bad. I don’t think anyone is missing Lester’s goofy sight gags.

Advantage: LESTER
This is the big one. The new ending added into Donner’s cut basically negates everything that takes place up until that point in the movie. So essentially, in Donner’s cut, the film ends where it begins. If we are to except this cut as the definitive version of the film, as well as the prequel to Superman Returns, the continuity within the film itself and between SM:II and SMR is practically non-existent. How did Lois get pregnant? How did the Fortress of Solitude get rebuilt (Yes, Superman now blows it up at the end of Donner’s cut)? Why is Clark Kent going back to get revenge on the trucker for a beat down that now has never taken place? It just doesn’t make sense on so many levels. There was absolutely nothing wrong with Lester’s magic kiss. If Superman can shoot laser beams out of his eyes, then he can suck away someone’s memory with a kiss.

Well there you have it . A totally non-partisan perspective on the whole mess. As the title of this artical so cleverly states, the only real winner in the battle of Donner vs. Lester is Warner Brothers. Because they are making a boat load of cash off this very shrewd and well timed marketing ploy. I think the best possible use of profits would be some acting lessons for Brandon Routh. I hope we can all agree, no matter which cut of SII you feel is superior, that Christopher Reeve was a tremendous and underappreciated talent. And he is and always will be the definitive Superman.

Friday, December 08, 2006

MOVIES: Superman II The Donner Take

I, like many other Superman fans, have always wondered what a Richard Donner cut of Superman II would actually look like. Now thanks to a fan outpouring of letters Warner Brothers has allowed Richard Donner to come back into the editing booth to edit his version of the film. According to the special feature documentary about this process Donner, with the help of his editing crew, was able to locate most, if not all, of the footage that he had shot for the film back in 1977. The script by Mario Puzo was intended to be one gigantic film that they later separated into two movies. Donner did shoot most of Superman II before he was strangely fired and Richard Lester was brought on to finish the film. It's interesting that the studio would allow a Director they had once fired to do this especially because Superman II, the original theatrical version, was well received and is considered as good or better than the first film by most fans. So of course I had to buy this new cut, I mean this has never happened before, unless you count the two versions of the Exorcist prequels from a few years ago. Donner wanted to explore the father/son dynamic further in his cut. Of course in Lester's defense, Brando wanted a huge payday to be seen in the second film so they cut him out in favor of Susannah York, who played Superman's Mom Lara. She did an adequate job but seeing Brando as Jor-El in scenes I had previously never viewed before made the film much more powerful.

The film begins with a recap of the first film as well as a slightly different intro to the Kryptonian criminals: General Zod (Terrence Stamp), Ursa (Sarah Douglas) and Non (Jack O’Halloran). Donner completely takes out the Eiffel Tower terrorist scene from the original and focuses on Lois' (Margot Kidder) desire to trick Clark Kent (Christopher Reeve) into revealing he is Superman. The scene was well staged but I felt it wasn't as believable. I mean Lois just decides to jump from the window to prove that Clark is Superman? I thought it might have been a little too early in the film for this. Besides in the Lester version Lois jumps into a raging river just below Niagara Falls, its dangerous sure, but it's not jumping out of a thirty story building. Donner also cuts up the Niagara Falls scenes and uses a screen test of Margot Kidder and Christopher Reeve in the hotel room as Lois decides to now shoot at Clark to prove that he is Superman. Again the Lester version is a little more subtle, Clark stumbles into a fire and proves who he is rather quickly. The gun thing did seem a bit over the top and maybe even a little crazy.

The film weaves in and out taking bits of scenes we have seen before and lightly peppering the film with new stuff. Donner extended a lot more of the Luthor (Gene Hackman) in prison and unfortunately used a lot of the goofier exchanges with his sultry assistant Ms. Teschmacher (Valerie Perrine). The best part of this new cut is the sequence where Superman gets his powers back. Now in the original Lester version Clark goes back to the empty Fortress of Solitude and holds a glowing green crystal. The scene ends and the next thing we see is Superman flying around like nothing ever happened. This was always really lame so it was a great thrill for me to see the full explanation for Superman getting his powers back. I won't go into detail about how it happens, but trust me it works a lot better than the original. Donner also took out a lot of the stupid annoying crowd scenes that made the film seem silly and he cut back the un-necessary fight sequence in the fortress of solitude. No stupid S logo saran wrap this time. Donner also doesn't use the kiss of forgetfulness either; he just rehashes the time travel loop from the first film. I was curious to know what he would've have done differently had he been able to shoot the actual ending to this film. I guess we may never know. Overall it was a fun ride viewing never-before seen footage of Chris Reeve and the crew and even though the pacing was klunky and the scenes seemed sometimes disjointed, it was still a great ride.

Saturday, December 02, 2006


Sorry about the hiatus everyone! My wife and I were moving to New Jersey so it's been a little crazy. Ironically, as I was making preparations to move, I found it difficult to communicate to the movers to the power guy, the cable guy, the water guy, all of them. We were supposed to have the movers come in the morning but there was a mix up and we ended up getting these Russian movers at the last minute. Luckily they did the job in an hour, we couldn't understand them most of the time and they of course did not understand us, especially, when we tried to tell them where to put stuff in the truck. After that mess we finally get to New Jersey and, wouldn't you know it, the power is off. I find out that we had a mis-communication with somebody either with the real estate people or the lawyers, no one seemed to know that we get the heat from one place and the electricity from another. Needless to say my wife and I are now staying over at my in-laws place very near to our new powerless house until Monday. What does all of this have to do with Babel. COMMUNICATION. This film was all about communication, or the lack thereof. There are four revolving stories that interconnect at different places within the film There is a lot of plot here so if you are not paying attention you can get lost quickly. It is a phenomenal film directed effortlessly by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (21 Grams and Amores Perros). Starring Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett and Gael Garcia Bernal.

The film begins with two children in Morocco as they herd sheep they decide to take a break and try a little target practice with their new rifle. They foolishly decide to take a pot shot at an unsuspecting tour bus injuring an American woman, Susan, (Cate Blanchet) on vacation with her husband, Richard (Brad Pitt). Thus sparking an international incident. Meanwhile back at home Richard and Susan's kids, who are being cared for by the family's nanny, decide to take a little trip into Mexico to attend a wedding, this was probably not such a good idea. Let me just say the kids are white and the nanny is an illegal Hispanic woman so you can guess that problems ensue. The fourth story revolves around a deaf Japanese girl trying to communicate with everyone especially her father regarding the tragic suicide of her mother.

The stories weave in and out similar to films you may have seen in the past like Crash or Traffic. The difference is that no one in the story is shown in a really bad light. Again the film is about the deconstruction of communication and how the simplest thing can be misconstrued and mis-understood unless the people involved actually try to say what they mean truthfully. It's not just about the language barrier between cultures and races it is also about a husband speaking to a wife or a father to his daughter and being able to understand each other on a local level not just an international one. It is one of the best dramas of the year and in my opinion is just as good or better than Crash, which won Best Picture last year. It is a very layered film and there is a great deal of subtitles, but it is an honest film with a social message that reverberates beautifully. So I ask everyone to see this gem before the commercial holiday fare swallow it up whole.

Grade: 5 Buckets