Archive for the ‘Movies’ Category

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This blog is defunct.  We’ve moved to:

I switched from (which is a wonderful place to write a blog) to a self-hosted blog.  I am still using WordPress, but I got the install package for WordPress 2.6.

Thanks for visiting – please come see us at our new home.


Chris Penn – My Review

My Review: 7

I’m keeping this post short and silly.  I think that’ s my strong suit anyway.  I was recently thinking about Chris Penn, and how much I miss him.  Not like we were friends or anything, but I think he was great.  I was watching an episode of Entourage recently (I think from season 2) and Chris had a cameo, boxing with Johnny Drama.   I think it was some of the last work he did. 

In my opinion, he was a phenomenally strong actor, woefully underrated, and especially excellent in character roles.  He was known best for his roles in 80’s classic Footloose, and for his role as an under-boss, Nice Guy Eddie, in Reservoir Dogs. But my favorite role for Chris was in Best of the Best, the cheese-filled 90’s karate movie with Eric Roberts and James Earl Jones. 

Chris was the younger brother of the much more famous Sean Penn, though I always liked Chris a lot more, not least because Sean Penn is kind of a douche.  There’s lots more information about Chris Penn available on IMDB, and on Wikipedia.

Hulu, a video website

My Review: 9


I first read about Hulu, as usual, on Techcrunch. I also go my invite to the private Hulu beta back in January by reading an article Mark Hendrickson wrote for Techcrunch.  Many people across the blogosphere have now written about Hulu, largely with good things to say.   I don’t plan to be unique in this instance – I have good things to say too.  Below is a brisk, bulleted battery of reasons why I think Hulu is excellent and likely to be a winner in this space.  Note to developers and Hulu competitors: most of my likes have to do with, you guessed it, user experience.  Try to keep up.

  • Hulu has lots of good content, most importantly: full length movies as well as TV shows
  • Great selections from multiple networks (Fox, NBC, etc.)
  • Fun, old school TV content as well as new / popular content: lots of old school shows like Battlestar Galactica (the original), Knight Rider, and Flipper 🙂
  • Incredible Selection of full length movies
  • User Interface and User Experience:
    • The in screen player shows video in very high quality
    • There is a full screen mode, still very good quality
    • There is a pop-out player, so you can arrange your desktop as you like – the pop-out size is adjustable
    • Outstanding memory features: I watched 1 1/2 hours of a movie, and then had to close my computer.  I came back the next day and as soon as I logged into Hulu, it the movie restarted from the exact same spot where I had stopped
  • Queues and Favorites – you can easily set up a list of favorites or shows / movies that you want to watch


The site is clean, easy to navigate, and well thought out.  There are some basic social features, for instance you can set up a profile with your favorite shows, movie, books and music.  And you can rate content as you watch it, and see feedback from other users.  I’ve used many other video sites before, like Veoh, Daily Motion,  and obviously YouTube.  None of them even come close to Hulu in terms of content variety, content quality, or user experience.  Huge thumbs up and a resounding 9 out of 10.

Rambo IV – Way Better Than Expected

My Review: 9

A nine? Really? A nine?


Well, yeah. I think it was pretty damn good. To be fair, my expectations were VERY low going into it, which always helps with my perception of a film afterwards. But I liked it a lot.

This movie reminded me of good old-fashioned action flicks. Great movies like Total Recall and Terminator, Conan and First Blood. Rambo IV was an unapologetic, ass-kicking flick. It wasn’t complicated, or preachy, or overwrought. In fact, the dialogue was pretty minimal in general. Two main themes were explored in this movie:

1. You are what you are.

2. Being a good guy.


Number 1 is a recurring theme from all the Rambo movies. You can distill it this way: You can take the soldier out of the war, but you can’t take the war out of the soldier. John Rambo is good at killing people. It’s what he does. It’s who he is.

Number 2 is what makes you feel good about all the violence. Some people get seriously blown up in this movie, but they get blown up for good reason. At least, when the bad guys get blown up it’s for good reason. Lots of innocent people that don’t deserve it get blown up too, and that’s sad. But if they didn’t, then it wouldn’t feel so vindictive and awesome when the bad guys get theirs.

And while we’re on the topic of violence, this movie is so graphic I was overwhelmed. It’s awesome, though a little bit intense. Splatter, guts, be-headings, eviscerations… and that’s just the tip of this violent and bloody iceberg. Gratuitous would not be an inappropriate term here. But, in spite of that, it still feels right. Remember in Pulp Fiction when that poor fat woman in the white shorts gets shot in the leg by Marcellus Wallace right after he was hit with the car? It’s like that. Inappropriate, and unnecessary, but totally the right thing to do.

The graphic violence in this movie is in the same ball park as Saving Private Ryan, but without the art-house appeal that Spielberg brings to a film. But this movie is not intended to be artsty. Quite to the contrary, it is a 90 minute, straight-up action flick. And that’s why I like it. It does EXACTLY what it’s supposed to do. That being: to kick ass.


Oh, and by the way, Rambo does indeed have another new knife in this movie. It’s a teeny bit cheesy (how he gets it), but it also kind of rules.

Before I wrap this up, I have to say that I am proud of Sly Stallone. I never in a million years thought that Rocky Balboa would be any good, but it was (in my opinion anyway.) I thought a new Rambo movie had even less chance of succeeding, but he fooled me again. He kept it simple, didn’t talk too much, didn’t over-think the script, and he delivered exactly what he needed to. I think Rambo IV deserves a solid 9 out of 10.


Unexpected Film Roles for Jews – Part 2

My Review: 9


Do you like the movie the Good, the Bad and the Ugly?  Do you remember the Ugly?  The sharp shooting, weak-willed thief Tuco.  Do you know who played the role of Tuco?  Eli Herschel Wallach, that’s who.

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Eli Wallach is  a Jewish actor, born in Brooklyn New York, whose most famous role is that of a Mexican thief opposite Clint Eastwood in (arguably) the most famous spaghetti western of all time.  The music, the stark scenery, and the complex characters made this one of Sergio Leone’s greatest achievements of all time.  Wallach also played a Mexican as the villain in another incredible western movie, the Magnificent Seven.

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I grew up watching westerns with my Dad, and I love the genre dearly.  I think Clint Eastwood is the man.  But I have always had an enduring affection for this Brooklyn Jew who so convincingly played a mexican murderer and thief.  Tuco wasn’t evil in the the Good The Bad and The Ugly; he was ugly.  He was small minded and selfish, callous and focused only on his own short term, short sighted needs.   And Wallach was brilliant in the role.

Eli Wallach deserves a nine plus, and I am glad to see a member of the tribe with such range and versatility.  Hooray.


Michael Gambon as Albus Dumbledore

My Review: 2

First of all, let me clarify what this post is about. I am a rabid Harry Potter fan eagerly anticipating the release of the seventh and final book as well as the 5th movie adaptation. I am not here to compare Sir Michael Gambon to Sir Richard Harris. I am not here to blast Sir Michael Gambon as an actor. I happen to think that he is an extremely fine actor, world renowned for his theatrical prowess and for his professionalism in big budget productions for the silver screen. There is no debate (in my mind) as to his competence as an actor in general; I think that he is excellent.

No, this review is focused solely on his performance and interpretation of the character Albus Dumbledore in the film adaptations of the Harry Potter books, specifically books 3, 4, and 5. (The late Sir Richard Harris played the role of Dumbledore for movies 1 and 2.)

The role of Albus Dumbledore is a familiar one in the “Hero’s Quest” genre of story telling. Many such stories feature an aged, wise mentor whose role it is to protect, educate, and guide the hero. (For examples please refer to Brom in the Eragon series by Christopher Paolini, Cort in the Dark Tower series by Stephen King, Gandalf in the Lord Of The Rings Trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkein, and Curly in the movie City Slickers featuring Jack Palance and Billy Crystal.) Different authors choose different paths for their guides and mentors to follow, including how prominently they figure in the story, how they teach (kindly or with tough love) and whether they live or die in the story. In this instance we are dealing with J.K. Rowling’s much beloved grandfatherly figure: Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore.


Dumbledore is wise. Dumbledore is kind. He is funny, charismatic, ever-polite and courteous, and always exudes a radiating sense of power and calm. He is a rock from which to anchor oneself in the stormy seas of Rowling’s magical world. He is not snappish, abrupt or rude. He never shouts at people. He always gives the appearance of calm control. (***Notable exception and possible plot killer – read the asterisk below, but only if you have already read book 6 or you do not care about the plot being exposed.)

All that being said, I must now begin the regrettable process of lambasting an otherwise fine actor. Gambon’s performance in this role drives me crazy. He shouts and frets. He twists his fingers with a look of great consternation on his face. He moves rapidly, and talks over people. He argues, fusses and fumbles for words. To put it another way, he acts in every way opposite of the image of Albus Dumbledore.

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Now, in fairness, Gambon has a tough job to do in filling the shoes of Sir Richard Harris. Not only was Harris one of the most remarkable actors of all time (in my humble opinion) he also nailed the role of Dumbledore perfectly. Calm, collected, and always with a merry little twinkle in his eye. (Note the Bertie Botts scene at the end of the first movie.) Again, I don’t want to compare the two, but I do want to acknowledge the admittedly difficult task of reprising a role done so well by such a fine actor.


(Harris as Dumbledore in the “Botts” scene)

It is entirely reasonable that Gambon would want to make the character his own; in fact, I respect him for that ambition. But I feel more strongly than I can express that his performances as Dumbledore to date (movies 3 and 4) are way, way off target. It is immensely frustrating to see a character whom I respect and cherish mishandled.


An equal share of the blame goes to the directors involved, Alfonso Cuarón and Mike Newell. It was partially (even significantly) their responsability to own and understand the character and “direct” the actor in his performance. I think in not steering Gambon towards a calmer, more commanding persona they both did the actor a grave disservice, and did enormous damage to the quality of both movies.

I must say that I am anxious to see the latest movie, Harry Potter 5: The Order of the Phoenix. By all accounts the scripting, acting and effects are outstanding. Aside from the tremendous detraction found in Gambon’s performance as Dumbledore, I enjoyed movie #4 the most since movie #1. I can only hope that the latest director David Yates has taken it upon himself to re-direct Gambon in his interpretation of the role.

I’d love any comments on this – I feel strongly about this particular subject. I may update after seeing the movie – it opens tonight at midnight and I will be there. But based on the performances so far (in movies 3 and 4) I have to give his performance as Albus Dumbledore a resounding 2.


I loved Gambon as the villain in Open Range with Kevin Costner and Robert Duvall; he was truly outstanding and totally despicable (in the right way.)


(Gambon is in the middle.)


For reference, here is the IMDB page for Michael Gambon.


*** In book 6 Dumbledore drinks a vile potion concocted by Lord Voldemort. This potion magically induces a firghtened and delirious state which includes shouting and fear. Soon thereafter Dumbledore is killed after pleading with a member of his teaching staff back at the school where he serves as Headmaster. These events are contrary to the points I am making about the chractr of Voldemort, but I submit that they are irrelevant for two reasons: 1. These are exceptional circumstances which lead up to the character’s death. 2. This book (6) has not yet been filmed and should have little or no bearing on the performance of the character of Dumbledore up to this point.



I saw the midnight showing of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.  I think they did a fine job.  They crammed  800 or so pages into 138 minutes of screen time, and I think they did a credible job.  Gambon’s performance as Dumbledore suffered from similar woes to those in the past, but had two small saving graces in this movie:

1. Rowling build a degree of conflict between Harry and Dumbledore into the plot of this story, and though I still don’t like the degree of agitation Gambon portrays in his character, there is at least some more tension that is legitimately supposed to exist in this movie.

2. Dumbledore’s role in this movie is much smaller that in past reprisals; thus we need suffer less than we might have.  (All right that was a low blow.  Sorry.)

For just this movie (as opposed to Gambon’s portrayal of Dumbledore across all 3) I would rate him a 4.  For the whole suite I am sticking to my 2 rating.  Movie number 4 justs makes me mad.

Knocked Up, A Review

My Review: 9

Judd Apatow (the director of Knocked Up) does good work. I enjoyed Undeclared when it was on TV. I just ordered the DVD’s for Freaks and Geeks from my public library, because I have a feeling I will enjoy it. I thought the 40 Year Old virgin was an excellent and funny movie; that one was his directorial debut. Previously he had mainly written and produced. This week I went out to see his latest directorial entre, Knocked Up.

One of the things that made “Virgin” a good movie was its sensitive (relatively) treatment of a touchy subject. The movie made light of a delicate subject (a grown man’s persistent virginity) in a more or less kind way. And they managed to do this while simultaneously being raunchy and over the top, using a script replete with gay jokes, drug humor, sexual talk and other tasty, reprehensible tidbits.

Knocked Up follows this pattern in its own unique fashion. Seth Rogen stars in this film (he played the stock worker “Cal” in 40 Year Old Virgin) and does a wonderful job being intelligent, funny, and simple at the same time. Katherine Heigl (best known for playing Izzie Stevens on ABC’s Gray’s Anatomy) co-stars with Rogen as Allison, the female lead. The two meet up while partying at a club in LA and fall into bed together for a one night stand. Due to drunken miscommunication the birth control of choice fails and 8 weeks later vomiting induced anxiety precipitates a pregnancy test. Heigl passes – she’s going to have a baby.

The plot ensues as the two deal with forming a relationship necessary to bring a child into the world. Lifestyles, friendships and families all have to be integrated and / or dealt with. Strong performances by secondary characters in the film abound, notably Paul Rudd as Allison’s brother-in-law and Jason Segel as Rogen’s lecherous friend.

One of my favorite aspects of this film is the chemistry that Rudd and Rogen share on screen. As in the 40 Year Old Virgin, these two play off of each other magnificantly. It’s like watching a cheesy beach volleyball movie (anyone ever seen “Sideout”?) as one scene after another dishes up fantastic spike after fantastic spike. There’s awkward meetings and introductions, ‘shrooms in Vegas, delivery rooms… great scenes abound. And if your friends are anything like my friends then “You know how I know that you’re gay…?” has become a favorite part of your daily taunting and camraderie.

No offense is intended to the gay and bi-sexual community by the way; I say swing any way you like. But it was a funny scene.

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There was an interesting side play in this movie which I still haven’t settled in my mind. Obviously the two end up deciding to bring the child to term – the word “abortion” isn’t even really mentioned in the film. It’s talked around using the clever euphemism “shma-shmortion.” There is a general implication that Heigl’s character, upon seeing the heartbeat during an ultrasound is unable to consider any alternative to a full term pregnancy, but it’s just that: an implication.

Here’s what’s odd to me: they won’t touch abortion with a ten foot pole. It could be that someone (Apatow, the studio, ?) is firmly anti-abortion, but rather than alienate younger, liberal movie-goers they didn’t make an issue of it. Or they may be pro-choice but not wanted to alienate the conservative anti-choice crowd. Certainly the basic plot premise requires a full term pregnancy – it wouldn’t be much of a movie if they decide to abort 30 minute in. The post-abortion scene in Fast Times At Ridgemont High (Cameron Crowe rules) explored those emotions well enough in the mid-eighties. But it’s odd to me that they avoid it so much. I guess you can only handle so much controversy. Hmmm.

In any case, the movie was great. It was funny and enjoyable every single minute of every single scene. There are moments of great outrage (by which I mean they are outrageous in a great way.) And there are moments of supreme hilarity. And there are moments of tenderness and growth, which elevates this over the run-of-the-mill slapstick comedy. Apatow has delivered another fantastic comedy that does credit to the genre, and I am grateful… because it kicked ass.

For more facts and information including cast and credits, please see the Knocked Up page on one of my favorite websites, IMDB (Internet Movie Data Base.)

There are also many great reviews of this movie on Rotten Tomatoes, a great movie review aggregation site.

A Review of: 300

300 was Awesome, I don’t care what anyone else says.

My Review: 8 300_comic.jpg

Now, I will admit freely, right off the bat: I am a former comic book collector and a sci-fi / fantasy nerd. So I am not exactly impartial to this genre of film making. But I think they did a lot of things really, really well.

I heard a lot of bad press on this movie, things like “too much CG” and “poor dialogue and performance.” I couldn’t disagree more strongly with those criticisms in particular. In my humble opinion, this movie made some of the best use of CG that I’ve ever seen. What usually bums me out about computer generated graphics and imagery is when they try to do too much with it; actual human fight sequences or pitched aircraft battles (see Star Wars episode I for irritating uses of CG.) What I loved about the CG in 300 was the use of it for back drops and scenery. They created an epic, comic inspired landscape in which to kick ass, and I thought it was beautiful.


The comic thing is an important point by the way. While the story line for 300 is loosely based on the historic battle of Thermopyle between tiny Greek (Spartan in particular) forces against an invading Persian mega-army, the movie itself is inspired by Frank Miller’s comic graphic novel adaptation of that story, also called 300. Frank Miller has been a comic genius (writer and artist) for many years – I remember reading his Daredevil comics as a teenager and loving them. From my perspective a prime goal of this movie was to bring a comic book to life (on the silver screen); in my opinion, that goal was met with complete success.


Regarding the acting, I think the performers did exactly what they needed to do. This is definitely a movie that requires that good old W. S. o D. (willing suspension of disbelief,) but as long as you employee it appropriately, you will enjoy this movie. I think it was shot and animated extremely well, and that the actors played their parts to fit the role. This is not Gone With The Wind – this is a slash-em-up fun movie, and it does a great job of keeping you on the edge of your seat. One fight scene in particular between Gerard Butler (Leonidas) and the giant super-killer in the Persian army actually had me squirming – it was great. Zack Snyder (Director) did a wonderful job with this movie, and I can’t wait to buy the DVD.


For my money, 300 was a resounding 8.fcjg300-0043.jpg

Eragon Movie Review

My Review: 1

Christopher Paolini published the first volume of his Inheritance Trilogy: “Eragon” when he was 16 years old. He has since completed volume 2 and is said to be in the midst of the third and final volume. I am a devoted fan of the series, and I can’t wait to read the third book. As a fan of the series and of the sci-fi / fantasy genre I was seriously excited to see the movie: Eragon. I was therefore very seriously disappointed at how bad it was.

Jeremy Irons, John Malkovitch, some new kid to play Eragon… this should have been really cool. But it wasn’t. The storyline was jumbled, the costumes were terrible, the acting was execrable, the plot was un-followable, ooohhh, it was bad.

Some of the dragon CGI stuff was pretty cool but overall this movie was pretty hard to watch. And by the way, this is not typical “the book was so good that the movie was bound to suck” kind of complaining. This movie was just bad. I think it was done with too little budget and a terrible screen-writer.

My worst moment in this movie was the big fight scene at the end. All these warriors, humans and dwarves (we’re talking thousands of fighters) have to fend off an encroaching army of evil dudes. As the evil army is about to swarm into the underground cavernous hiding place, the good guys “send in the archers.” The “archers,” for an army of thousands, to fend off a horde of tens of thousands, consists of two guys with crossbows.

Now, I know I’m geeking out a little bit here, exposing my inner nerd and all, but 2 guys? That was all they could muster up for: “send in the archers?” That was my most uncomfortable moment.

The Eragon books are fun, interesting, and extremely rich. The movie stank. It gets 1 out of 10.

Eragon Movie - Ooooohhh