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Project 400 In 365 #9: Drag Me To Hell

In Movie Reviews on October 25, 2011 at 12:33 am

One of my friends asked me when I started doing this project if I was only going to do films I had not already seen, or if I was going to do anything no matter if I had seen it or not. I told him anything, because there were some movies that I had not seen since they came out and I wanted to see if my opinions of them now were the same as on my initial viewing. This was one such movie.

This is a storyline you have seen a million times. Cute, somewhat ditzy female has something go wrong (in this instance, a curse put on her) and then spends the movie trying to make things right. It is not really new original concepts at work here. So the question is what can the director do with this material to make it fresh and unique. The answer is, quite a lot.

To really get the full creepiness effect of this movie, you need to watch it either through headphones or a high quality sound system. The ambient sounds and effects are the biggest contributing factor in the scariness. Every little noise is amplified and used for a purpose. Even while dialog is occurring, the background notices take center stage in driving the thriller factor up a notch.

The director also makes excellent use a lighting and shadows. Subtle images flow in and out of the shadows throughout the entire movie, and when you combine these with the background sound effects, it makes for quite an intense viewing.

This film is not without it’s faults though, the foremost being the cast. Justin Long is not made for anything other than romantic comedy, and Allison Lohman is simply overmatched by script. The viewer never truly believes she is in any danger because her face and body language are one note throughout the entire movie. Moments that should be frightening to the viewer are not because of this.

This is a movie which fans of the thriller genre (and I use that term because this is not a horror movie) should enjoy immensely.

3.5 out of 5 stars.

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Project 400 In 365 # 8: Paranormal Activity 3

In Movie Reviews on October 24, 2011 at 4:36 am

Attention all aspiring filmmakers: you can stop now.  No, I mean it, simply put down your cameras, roll up all the cords and go home.  It has been accomplished.  There is no need to shoot another frame of footage, not need to put in 18 hour days for your craft.  Seriously, take the headphones off, return your investors money and go back to crashing on your parents couch.  You can not attain what this movie has accomplished.  There is no way on the planet anyone out there can make a film as completely and utterly pointless and boring at this movie. Actually, I may be too kind when I say that.

This movie makes watching paint dry an exhilarating experience.  This is the movie they will show to people on death row to have them beg to be thrown into Old Sparky.  Don’t believe? Well, let me just say this: out of the 1:45 minutes (or so) running time of this film, be prepared to spend about an hour and 35 minutes of watching people sleep.  No, seriously.  NOTHING HAPPENS IN THE MOVIE!!

There are two scenes in the entire film where you might actually get a little bit excited and think to yourself  “good, now maybe they will stop showing that freaking fan camera!”, but don’t be fooled, those scenes are only in there to keep you from going and refilling your drink.

The poster says “Discover how the activity began”….um, WHAT ACTIVITY!!! Even the supposed “shocking ending” is a joke (remember when I said there were two scenes that were a little exciting? Hate to break it to you, the ending ain’t one of them).

Now, I guess I should try to be somewhat in depth as to the issues in this movie. The acting is simply mind numblingly plain and ordinary.  Even the “cute” little kids come off as plastic like.  There is never any sense of real danger coming out of the screen from anyone onscreen. The dialog is watered down and so stiff, it sounds like nuns wrote it.  Plus, there are wwwaayyyy to many open ended questions left unanswered.  Where does the “dad” get his money from if it is not just from shooting weddings? (this is hinted at a couple times).  Why doesn’t the idiot simply point a camera at the door which is OBVIOUSLY where the spirit is coming in and out of the house from.  Why does the grandmother allow him to set cameras up in her house if she is so against what he is doing? (oh, I could go on and on forever here, but you get the picture).

There is really nothing else I can say here.  This is a bad movie.  And not bad in the good way that some movies are bad.  You know what I mean, the kind of movies that are just so horrible, you can’t help watching them every now and then for a good laugh.  There are NO redeeming or enjoyable qualities to this movie of any kind. None. Zero. Zilch (get the message here).

This movie should be avoided at all costs.  Do not even recommend it to be people you don’t like.

0 out of 5 stars (and that is still being too generous)

Project 400 In 365 # 6: Spaceballs

In Movie Reviews on October 18, 2011 at 3:16 pm

 

I wanted to watch this movie for reason only: to see if it holds up. I remembered this film to be hysterically funny when I last watched it, but that had been about 10 years ago.  So it was time to see if the movie stands the test of time, and can but put into the “masterpiece” category of some of Mel Brook’s other films (Young Frankenstien being at the top of that list for me).

Sadly, it doesn’t.  Yes, there are parts of this movie that are downright laugh riot.  The problem is, those parts are the ONLY enjoyable element to the movie.  Many of the gags that were so funny when you first see the film fall flat on repeated viewings (Pizza The Hut being the biggest one for me).  There are simply not enough high points to match the abundance of low points.

For starters, the acting is just terrible in this movie. If it did not have Mel Brooks name on it, this film would have to be considered one of the worst acted movies in history.  Bill Pullman is sleep walking through his line delivery, and even Brooks himself is almost unwatchable in most scenes.  But the worst part of the entire viewing experience is Joan Rivers.  She is so bad in her role, I was tempted to stop watching the movie several times because I just could not take it  anymore.

Luckily, there are two exceptional performances which kept me laughing enough to continue the viewing.  John Candy is so good as the sidekick to Bill Pullman, I kept thinking to myself the entire movie should have just been him with….Rick Moranis as Dark Helmet.  Moranis delivers his lines so effortlessly and with such great timing, you have to wonder if he was going off a script, or simply making it up as the filming went.  There are parts  where I had to pause the playback because I was laughing so hard at him.

Unfortunately, there was not enough Dark Helmet to make up for the weak performances of everyone else.

A very disappointing 2.5 out of 5 stars.

Project 400 In 365 # 5: Guns N’ Roses Use Your Illusion Live In Japan (2 discs)

In Movie Reviews on October 15, 2011 at 2:54 pm

Now, before everyone gets all “you are supposed to be doing movies” on me….I never said I was just going to do movies in this little project.  There are some great DVDs out there that are not movies, and I wanted to share and explore those as well.

Before I decided to review this one, I wanted to make sure that it is available to the public (many of these concert DVDs are only available through fan clubs or are limited released imports).  Both of these discs are available through Amazon, so I am clear.

I wanted to see if my memory was clear, and that there was a time when this band was the greatest rock band on the planet.  I wanted to try to forget the debacle that was Chinese Democracy from a couple years back.  I wanted to wipe from my memory the Slash / Axl feud, and all the subsequent side projects that resulted from the band fracturing.

As soon as the first notes of Nightrain hit, I remembered why these guys were legends in their time.  In this form (meaning with Matt Sorum instead of Steve Adler on drums), these guys WERE the greatest rock band to walk the face of the earth.  These dvds, which capture 3 nights at the Tokyo Dome, will give all fans of the band a great trip down memory lane.  The band is tight, sharp and on point every step of the way. This is rock the way it was meant to be, and today’s up and coming bands could use this set as an example of why you don’t need fancy stage shows to engage a crowd.

But you are left with an uneasy “what might have been” feeling.  Imagine if Axl had actually been nice…and the group would have been able to stay together.  We have all heard Velvet Revolver…but Scott Weiland is no match for Axl.  And as good as Slash’s solo work is with Myles Kennedy…it can not come close to the work done here.

This set is a great trip into the era when this band was all that mattered in music.

4 out of 5 stars

SETLIST

Introduction

Nightrain

Mr. Brownstone

Live and Let Die

It’s So Easy

Bad Obsession

Attitude

Pretty Tied Up

Welcome to the Jungle

Don’t Cry

Double Talkin’ Jive

Civil War

Wild Horses

Patience

November Rain

You Could Be Mine

drum solo and guitar solo

Theme from The Godfather

Sweet Child o’ Mine

So Fine

Rocket Queen

Move to the City

Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door

Estranged

Paradise City

 

TOUR HISTORY

The Use Your Illusion Tour was a promotional tour for the albums Use Your Illusion I and Use Your Illusion II. The tour started on May 24, 1991, approximately when the long-awaited follow-up to G N’ R Lies was to be released, and ended over two years later. The release date of the album, or albums, since there were now two of them, was pushed back to September but the tour began as originally scheduled. The tour marked a high point in the popularity of Guns N’ Roses, with a total of over 7 million[1] fans attending, and accompanied by high worldwide album sales.

Live recordings from the tour would later be issued as a two video/DVD set, Use Your Illusion I and II, featuring footage from a 1992 concert in Tokyo, Japan and would also provide content for the 2-disc set Live Era: ’87-’93. The tour also provided a large volume of footage for music videos, including “Dead Horse” and their popular cover of Paul McCartney’s “Live and Let Die”. Also, at one time, footage of much of the tour was to be released as a documentary, titled The Perfect Crime. The footage consisted of Guns N’ Roses’ time on the road, concert footage, and information about the riots and other major events of the tour. It was never released and never spoken about after the tour. Slash mentioned in his biography that Axl is in control of the footage, and that Slash would be interested in viewing it, as he thought it captured some “killer moments” from the tour.[citation needed]

The conduct of the band, and particularly Axl Rose, during the Use Your Illusion Tour generated negative press, notably from the magazines Spin, Kerrang!, Circus, and Hit Parader. These magazines were mentioned in the song “Get in the Ring” where Axl Rose attacked writers who had written negative articles dealing with Rose’s attitude.

The shows were all varied, as a set list was never chosen by the band. They did, however, usually open with “Welcome to the Jungle”, “It’s So Easy”, “Nightrain” or “Perfect Crime” and would shortly after one another play “Mr. Brownstone” or “Live and Let Die”, and closed with “Paradise City”. Each show featured many guitar solos from Slash and a drum solo from drummer Matt Sorum, usually 6 minutes in length.[citation needed]

The Use Your Illusion Tour was massive not just in the number and size of performances, but also in its technical aspects and the size of the crew. A total of 80 working personnel traveled with the band during the tour. The trade magazine Performance named the tour crew “Crew of the Year” for 1991.
[edit] Notable events

At the June 10, 1991 show, at Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Axl requested that the crowd shout “Get In The Ring!” over and over again, as it was being recorded for the new album. This chanting was used in the song by the same name on Use Your Illusion II.

On June 13, 1991, during the show in Philadelphia, Axl Rose erupted after a fan had gotten into a fight with Guns N’ Roses’ photographer Robert John when the fan kicked the camera out of his hands. Axl cursed out the fan, and challenged him to a fight. After the fan was ejected from the concert, the show continued.

On Tuesday, July 2, 1991, at a show at the Riverport Amphitheatre in Maryland Heights, Missouri, Axl spotted a spectator recording the concert with a video camera, and jumped into the audience after him when concert security failed to respond to Rose’s request to apprehend the man. After returning to the stage, Axl replied: “Well, thanks to the lame ass security, I’m going home!” then slammed the mic on the stage, sparking the infamous Riverport riot. Axl then stormed off the stage; some people thought when he slammed the mic, because of the noise, that he shot someone. Slash told them, “He just slammed his mic on the floor. We’re outta here.” He then proceeded to flip off the crowd and follow Axl. The band followed. The band was looking to come back out and finish the show, but as the police and security were trying to calm down the audience, a riot broke out. The footage was captured by Robert John who was documenting the entire tour. Sixty fans were injured. The band lost most of their equipment and Axl was charged with inciting a riot. He was acquitted due to lack of evidence.

On August 3, 1991, the day the Illusion albums were finished being mixed, Guns N’ Roses played the longest show of the tour at the L.A. Forum. It lasted three and a half hours.[2]

On November 7, 1991, rhythm guitarist Izzy Stradlin quit the band after the release of Use Your Illusion I and Use Your Illusion II, his last show was on August 31, 1991 at Wembley Stadium, on December 5 replacement rhythm guitarist Gilby Clarke made his debut in Worcester, it was the first show after the release of Use Your Illusion I and Use Your Illusion II.

On April 13 and 14, 1992, two concerts had to be canceled when a warrant was issued for Axl’s arrest due to the St. Louis show.

On April 20, 1992, the band performed at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert, an effort for AIDS Awareness in London. Guns N’ Roses were a controversial addition to the lineup, as many in the gay community were still angry over Axl using a gay slur in the song “One in a Million.” The band opened with “Paradise City” and closed with “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.” During the famous “Paradise City” opening, Axl pointed at a group of protesters in the audience and yelled “SHOVE IT!”[citation needed][clarification needed] He had planned to address the controversy between songs, but was asked not to by the band as it would pull the spotlight from Queen and Freddie Mercury. As Slash concluded a short cover of Alice Cooper’s “Only Women Bleed,” bassist Duff McKagan kept an eye on Axl, who approached the front of the stage. When Slash finished the song, then strummed the beginning of “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” Duff walked over to Axl and shook his hand as an act of appreciation. Later in the show, Slash joined Joe Elliott of Def Leppard and the surviving members of Queen for “Tie Your Mother Down.” Axl sang “We Will Rock You” and finished “Bohemian Rhapsody” with Elton John and Queen. The show was broadcast live around the world via satellite, gathering the largest audience for a music concert in history.

On August 8, 1992, in Montreal, Quebec during the famously troubled GNR-Metallica Stadium Tour portion, Metallica frontman/guitarist James Hetfield’s left arm was badly burned due to misunderstanding about some new pyrotechnics added to Metallica’s stage setup. Metallica was forced to end their set early. However, the band was not present at the arena to begin before the scheduled time leaving fans to wait several hours before Guns N’ Roses finally took the stage. A few songs into the very late Guns N’ Roses’ set, audio problems resulted in the band not being able to hear themselves play and Axl stormed off stage due to vocal issues, sparking a huge riot that spilled into the streets.

On November 25, 1992, the band performed in Caracas, Venezuela, in front of a crowd of 45,000. Just two days later, the Venezuela Air Force launched a failed military coup, making it impossible for half of the band’s crew and all of their equipment to leave the country.[citation needed]

On November 30, 1992, the band performed for the first time in Bogotá, Colombia. When they started to play “November Rain”, a soft rain fell over the city and stopped right after they finished the song. Axl later stated this was a special moment for him because “November Rain” was #1 in Colombia for 60 weeks. Axl stated that the band were at risk of electrocution and must stop to dry the stage. The band moved backstage and returned to finish with “Don’t Cry” and “Paradise City.”

On December 2, 1992, the band performed in Santiago, Chile at Estadio Nacional in front of 85,535 people, breaking an attendance record in the stadium. At their arriving at Chile Axl attacked some graphic reporters and a camera man was injured. Before the concert, Axl got drunk and arrived at the stadium two hours later. While the band performed “Civil War” some people threw bottles to the stage, and Axl stopped four minutes the show. The concert ended with 50 people arrested outside the stadium, and a teenage fan with several injuries, dying two days later.

On July 17, 1993, the band performed in Buenos Aires, Argentina at River Plate Stadium in front of 80,000 people. It was their last show with most of the Use Your Illusion-era lineup (Axl Rose, Slash, Duff McKagan, Matt Sorum, Dizzy Reed and Gilby Clarke). The tour was renamed the “Skin N’ Bones Tour” for the last couple of legs and was a variation of the Use Your Illusion Tour, which included an unplugged performance in a living room set. A highlight of the night was Cozy Powell dressed as a Domino’s Pizza delivery boy playing drums with Sorum.

Project 400 In 365 # 4: Stalag 17

In Movie Reviews on October 13, 2011 at 3:59 am

This was a suggestion of my dad the first time I tried to do Project 400 in 365.  He knew I was starting to get into older films at the time, so I got this one and is has been lingering on my shelf since.

I went into this viewing not knowing anything about the movie.  I was expecting a POW camp break out picture, in the vein of The Great Escape or Bridge On The River Kwai (both of which will be reviewed at some point).  It wasn’t until I saw “Written and Directed by Billy Wilder” that I knew I was not going to get what I was expecting.  I am a big fan of Wilder, and have always admired his film making ability.  I consider him to up there with Orson Wells and John Houston as one of the greatest directors in Hollywood history. He has a style of writing and directing that is unique to just himself. And that is exactly what you get here.

Unlike the mentioned escape movies, this film concentrates not on the breaking out of a camp, but instead on the daily lives of the prisoners in the camp.  Yes, there is a thin plot line of an escape at the beginning and towards the end of the film, but mainly what you get as a viewer is study in human behavior.  Wilder is asking a basic question in this movie: what happens when a seed of doubt is planted in the minds of group.  Once that questioned is ask, just sit back and enjoy the masterfulness in which Wilder tells the story.  The director weaves a who-done-it of Agatha Christie like proportions, then, once culprit is revealed, you are led down the path of “what do you do now?”

This would be a hard film for many people today to watch.  There are no grand explosions, really not much “action” at all.  The movie is a study in nuance and subtlety film making at it’s best.  Every character is there for a reason, every action is put onscreen for a purpose, and every line of dialog is delivered to make a point.

On a side note, this is the movie which inspired Hogans Heros.

A very enjoyable 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Project 400 In 365 # 3: The Incredibles

In Movie Reviews on October 13, 2011 at 3:43 am

 

It had been a long time since I watched this movie, long enough in fact to make it feel like I was watching it again for the first time.  And that was a very good thing.  I love rediscovered movies….even ones I have seen many times before are so enjoyable with fresh viewings.

To me, this is Pixars pinnacle. While films like Monsters Inc and Cars are enjoyable and humorous, The Incredibles is a much deeper film.  It is a movie about family, friendship and doing what is right.  But it is also a movie which is made for adults and  geared toward adults. While I am sure kids enjoyed much of the humor, the themes, dialog and even the way the characters are drawn can not truly be appreciated by youngsters.  Even though it is a cartoon, the animators do an amazing job of bringing the family structure front and center.  Little nuances here and there throughout the movie make it feel like it could be a deep house and home based movie is was not a cartoon. And that is what I loved about it.

Unlike other Pixar (and even recent Disney movies), this film puts the comedy and outlandishness of the cartoon medium on the back burner, and instead actually gives us a real story that could easily be translated into a live action film.  You take the super hero aspect out of the movie, and you are still left with a compelling study of a man who is lost in his life, and needs direction.  There is no better angle for a thought provoking story than that.

Even the comedy is made for adults.  Most kids will not get the subtle looks or one liners that are thrown out. It is truly a shame that the studios have gone away from this type of high concept animation, because it works.

 

4 out of 5 stars

Project 400 In 365 # 2: Jerry Maguire

In Movie Reviews on October 12, 2011 at 4:27 am

 

Anyone who knows me knows I consider this film to be the pinnacle of 90’s movies.  I have watched it probably about 100 times.  But I set out to watch it through a different perspective tonight.  Since I already knew the movie, and knew how I felt about the film, I wanted to look at it from the perspective of WHY I think the movie is so good.

It all starts with the cast.  Yes, this is Tom Cruise’s “masterpiece” performance (for lack of a better way to put it).  He is simply outstanding, both in his delivery and his non-verbal on screen persona.  But, unfortunately for Cruise, what makes this movie work on so many different levels are the secondary characters.  Bonnie Hunt is so dead on in her portrayal of the older, disapproving sister, you almost feel as if she actually was a sister of the cast. Regina King is simply spectacular in her role as the wife.  And all the other smaller characters, from Jay Morh as the slimy Bob Sugar to the tiny cameo by Eric Stolz of bachelor party host, help give the film a flow and heartbeat you do not find in most modern (meaning in the last 20 years) movies.

But on rewatching, the cast is not without it’s faults.  Cuba Gooding Jr overacts to the point of being annoying.  Renée Zellweger has just the opposite problem….she can’t act at all!! (and never has been able too).  ANY other actress in her role (I think Charlize Theron would have been a much more suitable choice) would have added better chemistry.

But this movie’s greatest strength relies in Cameron Crowe’s direction.  He is able to garner emotion and despair with a simple face shot like no other director can.  There are scenes (particularly the final living room scene) where you almost ignore the dialog and just watch the people’s face.  The camera becomes the star…inviting you into the characters world without ever making a sound.  This a technique Crowe uses in many of his movies (at least two more of which will be reviewed some point down the road in this little project).

My biggest complaint with this film has always been the romance.  It is never fully developed enough to get that WOW moment in the final scene.  The relationship and “bromance” between Cruise and Gooding is the big pay off, but Cruise and Zellweger’s falls short.  However, because this film is more of a character and life study of Cruise’s Maguire and less of a normal romance movie, this failure does note harm the movie as much as it would in a film that was complete centered around a romance.

This film is on my “10 must watch” list from movies of the past 20 years, and I can not think of any reason why everyone should not view it at least once.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Project 400 In 365 #1: What Dreams May Come

In Movie Reviews on October 12, 2011 at 1:38 am

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This is a beautifully shot, perfectly cast and acting film. The visuals are simply stunning and the twists and turns of the story are very compelling. The problem is, it is a film in search of an identity.

I found myself wanting to scream at the screen do you want to be a visually appealing fantasy film about heaven and hell or do you want to be a deep study of a family. The way the movie is put together, it can not be both. It is too distracting trying to jump from the very well done somber tone of the family coping with tragedy and the fantasy world of heaven and hell. Separately, there are two amazing movies begging to be let out, but together, they are simply two halves of incompatible parts. Two very well done halves, but incompatible nonetheless.

Therein lies the problem of trying to put a rating on this film. The two halves are so close to being perfect, but the whole is disjointed and clumsy. I am going to recommend this film on the strength of the visuals and performance of Robin Williams.

A strong 3 out of 5 stars.

400 In 365 is returning!

In Movie Reviews on October 11, 2011 at 2:01 am

As some of you may real, a couple years ago, I started a project to watch 400 movies in a year….well I got I so busy, I lost track and could not complete it. But now…I got nothing but time! So tomorrow, I hit reset and start again!

This means it’s time for suggestions. ANY movie suggested will be watched (provided I can get a hold of it), so leave a comment on here or hit my Facebook page up and leave a comment there.

Tomorrow, the reviews begin!

Movie Review: The Tourist (2010)

In Movie Reviews on January 31, 2011 at 10:57 am

With a high profile cast, beautiful location pieces, a strong storyline and potentially incredible twist ending, The Tourist should be a highly likable action thriller. Unfortunately, one minor problem brings this film down to a slightly above average also ran. The problem: Angelina Jolie.

This new bohemian chic look she has had going for a couple years now (she appears to be about 15-20 pounds lighter than her Laura Croft days) makes her more suited to play Skelator in the upcoming HeMan movie that a fem fatale here. No one can pull of sexy with a sunken in face. Her entire look completely distracts from her character. It also gives her performance a stiff, wooden like quality which creates an odd sense of chemistry with Depp on screen.

This is a shame, because Depp (as always) is entertainingly watchable in his role. Charmingly funny with a sense of whimsy, Depp’s Frank is the type of character you want to cheer for as he is thrown into a situation he can’t control. The problem is he is onscreen so much with Jolie, his performance seems somewhat watered down. If you think back at how great Jolie and Pitt were onscreen in Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Jolie and Depp are that bland together here.

This blandness causes the entire thriller aspect of the story to fall flat. There is no intrigue or suspenseful build up because you never really believe that either Jolie or Depp are in any real danger. Without this sense of danger, the last third of the movie rings hollow. All the elements for a great ending are there, but they never really gel together.

This is a film that has major league talent and ideas, but minor league execution.

3 out of 5 stars on the strength of Depp’s performance.