Sunday, April 25, 2010

Film Yap: Five Minutes of Heaven

The crime in Ireland makes it for a very scary place. Instead of focusing on all that happens, Five Minutes of Heaven focuses on just one incident. As a kid Alistair Little joins the UVF (Ulster Volunteer Force) and murders a Catholic teenager to send a message. Alistair spares the life of the younger brother, Joe Griffin, after looking at the little boy in the eyes.

Thirty years later Alistair (Liam Neeson) is out of jail and is living as a reformed man. A TV show wants to set up an interview between him and Joe (James Nesbitt). Amazingly the two agree. Alistair wants to do it for the sake of Joe and Joe wants something else. The tension is almost overwhelming as majority of the movie is the lead-up to this interview.

This is like Frost/Nixon amplified. Joe is on the brink of losing it. He has been obviously traumatized for many years and is on the verge of a panic attack. He is very unstable and brilliantly played by Nesbitt. A voice-over gives further insight to his state of being and that only adds to the suspense. Alistair on the other hand is very articulate and somber about his life. He gives a monologue to the cameras that is amazingly done and unnerving.

What makes this movie even more impactful is the fact that part of this story is true. Everything that happened in the first third of the movie takes place in 1975 is true. This idea of a meet-up is fictionalized but feels so realistic. I never knew where the story was going and once it ended I was so satisfied with every decision.

The director, Oliver Hirschbiegel, made the amazing movie Downfall a few years ago. It was about the last week of Hitler’s regime. It was very powerful while being surprisingly objective. This movie shows his range as he plays with a lot of effective techniques. Whenever Nesbitt had a close-up when he looked right at the camera, I got chills.

The only thing disappointing about this incredible movie is the lame lack of bonus features. The only thing on the disc is the trailer and a five minute featurette about the making of. It’s too bad because this film did really well at Sundance and seems to have an interesting story about how it was made for television. I wish they had features talking about that.

Movie: 4.5 Yaps

Extras: 2 Yaps

Film Yap: What Mysteries Should Be Movies?

I love mysteries. It’s a genre that is filled with some of the most intricate plotting and fascinating character analysis. Genre fiction never gets the proper respect, but it keeps sneaking into the mainstream. Films like Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone, and L.A. Confidential end up being nominated for a bunch of Oscars. People have the misconception that mysteries are just variations of Sherlock Holmes, but the genre is rich with some of the best novels being published right now. So what are some mysteries that would make for great movies? I’M GLAD YOU ASKED!

Frames by Loren D. Estleman / Kill Me Again by Terence Faherty

I don’t know about you, but I love movies about movies. The only problem is that too many of them are cynical about the industry. Both of these are books that examine classic movies in a really fun way. Frames is about Valentino, a “film detective” who works at UCLA restoring old films. In the first book he stumbles upon a lost copy of Erich von Stroheim’s Greed. Unfortunately there’s also a dead body in the room where the reels were discovered so they’re taken as evidence until the cold case is solved.

In Kill Me Again, Scott Elliot is a former soldier who now works security for Hollywood during its golden age. In the first tale, he is working on the set of the sequel to Casablanca. Both of these series are extremely clever and are must reads for film buffs. They could both be great films for this is the medium to really show its love. Kill, in particular, would be especially great because it gives the opportunity for actors to mimic some of the most famous actors from the 1940s.

Holmes on the Range by Steve Hockensmith

Two cowboys read Haper’s Weekly to learn about the adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. They are so inspired they decide to attempt to replicate their “deducifyin’” in the old west. This series is absolutely hilarious. Not only does it create this rich western setting, but the characters of the brother cowboys are just pitch perfect. They are smart in their own ways, but definitely not book smart. Each one in the series would make for a great movie because its action scenes are very cinematic.

Severance Package by Duane Swierczynski

There are books that are a lot of fun and there are books that are crazy/awesome. This is one of the latter. One day all of the employees of a mundane company are brought into a meeting. They learn their company is actually a front for an intelligence agency and that branch is being closed down. That means everybody in that building has to die. What follows is an epic fight for their lives. The pacing for this book (and all of Swiercyznski’s canon) is incredible. If made right, this could easily appeal to fans of Kick-Ass and Die Hard.

Thirteenth Night by Alan Gordon

I would love to run an America version of PBS’s Mystery. As much as I love the works of Agatha Christie and Henning Mankell, I always thought they could choose some more interesting titles. Those shows are always so dry. It’s possible to still focus on the intelligence of the story while still being exciting. This is a book that could accomplish that while still maintaining Mystery’s audience. It’s a sequel to Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night told from the point of the view of the fool, Feste. The humor is very unique especially within the context of medieval Europe. With the right budget, this glimpse at the past could look incredible.

To the Power of Three by Laura Lippman

Very few books or movies have captured high school “right” in my eyes. The TV show Veronica Mars came very close, but this actually does a better job. In a school bathroom, two girls are found injured and one is found dead. The rest of the novel is trying to figure out what happened in that room. Everybody’s lives are looked at before the incident and how people are reacting after. This could be make for a great ensemble full of character actors of all ages. Every character is full of nuance and the plot goes into some great directions.

Film Yap: And the Nominees Were - 1931/1932

So in our never ending quest to watch all of the Best Picture nominees, the Academy decided to throw us a curve ball. Finding five obscure films and watching them was too easy so the Academy decided to up its ante to eight films. Next year it’s going to be ten films and then—I kid you not—it’ll be 12 films. I think they somehow heard us mocking some of their picks. Never-the-less, here is the brief summary of our discussion on the films from the 5th Academy Awards.


John Ford is one of the most celebrated western directors of all time, but he is not perfect. This is a character study of Dr. Martin Arrowsmith who is determined to be a professional scientist. The film goes from different stories in his life without enough insight or transition to make the whole story relevant. There are a few cool technical achievements though.

Bad Girl

What in the world was this? We had a good time on the show talking about this one because it’s a complete dud in our minds. An unlikeable guy and a boring girl get married and nothing really happens. So many statements are beyond culturally bizarre. What little of a plot remains just ends up hurting the movies because of stupid actions by the characters.

The Champ

One of the fun things about this podcast has been to discover new actors. Two of the most interesting have been Wallace Beery (The Big House) and Jackie Cooper (Skippy). They ended up being a really great pairing and inspired better performances from each other. Beery plays a father who loves his son, but is constantly letting him down through his drinking. Definitely a solid movie.

Five Star Final

Edward G. Robinson (Little Caesar) plays a newspaper editor whose morality is put into question. In a desperate attempt for higher ratings, his paper digs up an old murder case and ends up wrecking the family involved. This one is a really flawed venture, but it has a certain charm to it. This also serves as a great parallel to the 24 hour news channels today.

Grand Hotel

Chris just wrote a great lengthy review for this a few weeks ago. Of this set this is the only one that is strongly remembered today and for a good reason. It’s an amazing ensemble picture that has depth with each and every story. A group of people naturally converge at the expensive Grand Hotel in Berlin and…”nothing ever happens.” This felt really ahead of its time.

One Hour With You

Another Lubitsch musical! Everyone on the podcast really adored The Love Parade from the 3rd Academy Awards and this reunites all of those people. Ernst Lubitsch directed Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald in this delightful silly show. The humor is top notch and the plot is so thin it’s almost non-existent. It’s really about spending time with these charming people. This also has a hilarious performance by Charles Ruggles.

Shanghai Express

Grand Hotel on a train this is not. Despite the winning combination of Josef von Sternberg and Marlene Dietrich this story really slugs across China. While a group of people rides the Shanghai Express, a romance is rekindled while political forces keep interrupting their journey. Very little of it works because there isn’t a real sense of urgency.

The Smiling Lieutenant

Another Lubitsch musical! Again! This time there isn’t the beautiful Jeanette MacDonald. Instead Maurie Chevalier is torn between the charming Claudette Colbert (It Happened One Night) and the amusing Miriam Hopkins (Trouble in Paradise). Hopkins plays a princess who becomes very offended when Chevalier accidently smiles at her during a royal parade, which of course causes political problems between their two countries. Its stupid plot doesn’t stop it from being a really enjoyable movie.

This set ended up being a bit worrisome with its first four films, but then it really came around with some great choices. We discussed these movies in more detail in TWO episodes of the podcast. You can find these two episodes on iTunes as Episodes 5 & 6. We’re also on Facebook and Twitter just because we like to be hip.

The next year (1932/1933) we’ll talk about the following films: Cavalcade, A Farwell to Arms, 42nd Street, I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang, Lady For a Day, Little Women, The Private Life of Henry VIII, She Done Him Wrong, Smilin’ Through, and State Fair. We’d love you to follow along with us.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Film Yap: The Young Victoria

There are a lot of things said in The Young Victoria that were unnecessary. Correction: they were too necessary. If various characters weren’t commenting on each other and what is going on, there may not be a film. There is a story at the heart of this movie, but it is never properly examined.

Ever since Victoria (Emily Blunt) was born, she has been the focus of political turmoil. She is the only heir to the throne and every side wants her loyalty. Her mom (Miranda Richardson) is in cohorts with the evil John Conroy (Mark Strong). They want Victoria to do whatever they wish including taking rooms in the palaces. The King (Jim Broadbent) wants her to have a bigger part of the English government. However it is Prince Albert (Rupert Friend) who wants her to think for herself.

The film never has a good grasp on the focus it wants. The first major portion of this film is all about the politics of the situation, but never in an intelligent manner. It’s very difficult to grasp what is actually at stake. Instead of going into specific details, the film continues to simplify it with chess metaphors and people talking about how important things are. Then the film changes gears dramatically and focuses only on the romance. This is such a fascinating period of history; I wish the film was interested in that and not on whether or not Prince Albert could dance the waltz.

There are many things that do work well in the film. All of the actors give really fantastic performances. Blunt is worthy of all of the praise she received and Broadbent and Richardson are always a joy to watch. The only weaker link may be Paul Bettany as the manipulating Lord Melbourne because it just feels like the usual Bettany. The film looks magnificent. The costume and the sets really give a powerful feel for this lifestyle.

The extras on the DVD ended up also being a disappointment. The only things available are a bunch of deleted scenes and extended scenes. There are a handful of featurettes that are very short and padded with clips from the movie. (Often repeating the clips in other featurettes.) However there are a few interesting factoids about the process including how underwear plays into a part with the costumes.

If there were a strong script in terms of focus and dialog, this would be a much stronger film. They have all of the right elements, but alas.

2.5 Yaps

Higgens Network: Waking Sleeping Beauty

I am not a nostalgic individual despite the fact that the title of my blog is “Nostalgia From Yesterday’s Conversations.” That title comes from a quote in Noah Baumbach’s Kicking and Screaming where a character is snarkily reacting to the idea of revisiting an old college bar. Typically I share the same belief. I don’t often look back as often as I look forward. However, there are pleasant exceptions and Waking Sleeping Beauty is one of them.

During 1984 to 1994 something special happened in the Disney Animation Studios. All of the pieces just suddenly fit together and they created hits like The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King. This documentary examines this time and is told from the people who were there. All of the footage seen in the film was filmed before 1995. The whole story is told through home movies and news coverage. This type of observation surprisingly does not create too much bias. For example, not everyone interviewed are the biggest fans of the three top executives: Roy E. Disney, Michael Eisner, and Jeffrey Katzenberg.

Each of them obviously has passion towards the film department, but they are each flawed with how they handle it sometimes. Katzenberg, in particular, comes across as a tough person to work with. Yet each of them gave new interviews talking about what happened during this decade that are very insightful.

The film is not all about business, but is also about the spirit of Disney. There is a true joy when people talk about Disney. The animators are a talented group of people who can make some amazing things possible. When the film shows footage of key scenes, like the ballroom in Beauty and the Beast, they become more powerful when there are faces behind it. I only wish the film focused more on how they developed the stories more because the films from this time were very intelligently handled.

I grew up with these films and the film assumes these movies hold a special place in people’s hearts. So it knows exactly what it’s doing when it teases “And then they went to work on Aladdin” or a statement like that. The movie plays off those memories in a subtle way. The film knows what people think about Tim Burton so when they show footage of him looking weird, it’s fun. The same goes how they talk about John Lasster and the birth of Pixar. Every time one of these button topics was mentioned my audience warmly and verbally reacted.

The film isn’t tooting its own horn like a DVD extra. The praise is earned from critical eyes and is definitely a story worth telling. At the end of the decade though, the movie isn’t interested in continuing the story. That makes for a strong focus, but there could be more to say to figure out how Disney fell into a similar rut as in the early 80s. It is not necessarily a criticism of a well-made film to want more. It’s because this film brilliantly replicated that environment, it became addicting. Disney has never just a product for children, but for every generation and every age. It may have been an imperfect company, but it’s still a magical one.

New Stuff!

Hey everybody,

Some quick things:

1) I was a guest on the Film Yap podcast again! Joe Shearer and I talked about graphic novel movies and I disappoint him by not liking Sin City. I may be fired. You can find it on iTunes and on the Film Yap Website.

2) I'm now writing weekly for another website. Every Monday I'll have an article at The Higgens Network. I'll reprint them here on the blog, but I encourage you to check out the rest of the site here:

3) Next week I'll be going to Malice Domestic. Let me know if you're going as well. It should be a lot of fun.

4) I'm almost done with my Sophomore year of college. Thanks for asking!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Film Yap: Death at a Funeral (2010)

Films ought to stand on their own. It’s unfair to be constantly referring back to a previous incarnation because this review is supposed to only be about the newest version. That doesn’t entirely work for Death at a Funeral since it’s almost the exact same film. The original came out three years ago in England. It was a very funny film directed by Frank Oz. It gained a following here in America, which brings up the question: why remake it?

Chris Rock is the head of a family who gathers everybody together for the funeral of his father. Then all of the hijinks ensue. Martin Lawrence is the younger brother who won’t help pay for the funeral, but is adored by everybody. Tracy Morgan is overly concerned with a rash on his hands. Danny Glover is a cranky old man who keeps hitting people with his cane. Luke Wilson is still trying to go out with Zoe Saldana despite her being engaged to James Marsden who is accidently tripping on acid during the funeral. Also Peter Dinklage arrives with some shocking news about Rock’s father.

There is almost nothing new added to this version. There is a subplot where Rock’s wife, Regina King, wants to have sex all the time so she can get pregnant that falls flat. There is also a large handful of pop culture references that feel way too forced that they feel like a Jay Leno monologue. All of the subtlety is gone from the film and that really hurts the comedy. The reason the original was successful was because you have people who are trying to act respectful during this dramatic time but their own oblivion causes these conflicts. None of that his here. The only way I could tell it was a funeral was because characters kept saying it was.

Marsden is very amusing as he is freaking out the entire movie but that doesn’t juxtapose with anybody because he is just as big as Lawrence. In fact he may be smaller because Marsden plays the role like his part in Enchanted but it’s like he can still see the animated world. Lawrence, who is supposed to be an esteemed author, is saying lines like “That a** looks like it’s in grad school!” There’s even a part when Rock’s mom “accidently” hit King in the head and she dramatically falls out of her chair, arms flailing. Rock and Lawrence literally start kicking each other in the balls during one part!

The film just feels lazy. LaBute used to be a name to look forward to, but it’s almost like he’s proud about not caring about these films. He’s no longer going to be remembered for In the Company of Men but for things like this and The Wicker Man. The movie keeps shifting to a handheld camera technique, which was boring. The musical score was so over-the-top that it was condescending. “Get it! This is supposed to be zany!” He even seemed to have ruined Dinklage, who is one of my favorite actors right now. He’s the only actor who is in both films. I ranked his performance in the original up there with his amazing starring role in The Station Agent. There was a real emotional connection because he was the only character who seemed to be really grieving at the funeral. Here he is asked to play everything up and his character is just stripped down to being an antagonist.

The original is not a perfect film. There are a lot of gags that I don’t think work in either film. (Sorry, I don’t like poop humor.) However that one works because everything felt real. It was able to earn its emotional moments because they didn’t feel like plot devices and charactures. In this one, a few jokes still hold up and at least Saldana brings a good performance, but seriously…why was this even made?

2 of 5 Yaps

Friday, April 9, 2010

Film Yap: Aren't They Romantic?

The reason why Date Night is getting buzz among the public is not because of its plot or the director. People want to see it because they want to see Steve Carell and Tina Fey. They are two of the most popular comedians working today. Together will probably be quite a treat since they are both well trained from their Second City days. From early ads, it looks like the two of them also have great romantic chemistry as well. It’s rare to see a duo like this be successful. Here’s a look at some of the ones who have pulled it off in the past.

Maurice Chevalier & Jeanette MacDonald

This is easily the most obscure couple on my list, but also one of the most fun. The two of them first were in The Love Parade together in 1929. This was an Ernst Lubitsch musical where MacDonald played the Queen of a fictional country. She falls in love with Chevalier because he was such a Casanova in Paris. The script was so witty, but what really made the relationship work was how much fun the two of them were together. It was one of the easiest relationships to ever invest in because the movie would surely suffer if they were apart. They continued this charm in a few more musicals including the very fun One Hour With You and Love Me Tonight.

Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers

Some of the couples on this list are so infatuated with each other, they can hardly contain themselves. With Astaire and Rogers, they just burst into dance. Brilliantly. These two flirt on the dance floor and unlike the kids of Step Up 2 the Streets, they make it look glamorous. The plots of their films are exchangeable but each one is worth watching. The Gay Divorcee, Top Hat, Swing Time, Shall We Dance. They are all wonderful and there are no films today that capture this spirit and energy. The only one to come close to sharing music through love would be the duo from Once.

Myrna Loy & William Powell

With the other pairs on this list, audiences went to see them regardless of the different characters they played. These two became famous from being in a franchise together. They played husband and wife, Nick and Nora Charles, who solved murders in-between martinis in the Thin Man films. All six of the mysteries aren’t anything to write home about, but each movie is worth watching because Loy and Powell. They are married couple who always enjoy the others company. They are equally intelligent despite the fact that Nick is the professional detective. Loy and Powell were together in many more movies including The Great Ziegfeld, Libeled Lady and Love Crazy.

Katherine Hepburn & Spencer Tracy

These two may have been more famous for their off-screen romance. They were obviously together but Tracy never left his wife at the time. They made nine films together and they weren’t exactly the romantic films like the ones above. These movies had more conflict between them. In their best film, Adam’s Rib, they are literally opposing lawyers in a trial despite being husband and wife. (I still don’t understand how that’s legally possible.) In all of their movies Hepburn is the more dominating partner. Even though Hepburn’s characters are sometimes too mean to Tracy, there is always this powerful level of being comfortable with each other. It is a nuanced form of screen romance that mirrored their own true love.

Woody Allen & Diane Keaton

Yes, these two were also involved together off-screen, but their relationship ended before their set of films. They were never characters that ended up being perfect fits, but their adventures together were always worth-wild. All of their films are worth watching not because of their chemistry, but because of the art that was formed. She was his muse. Together they created iconic movies and performances ranging from the silly Sleeper to the somber Interiors. However, their best creation is undeniably Annie Hall. It is incredibly creative while sticking with its emotional realism. It is an almost perfect film that could not have been created without the other.

MovieSet: Anti-Superhero Movies

Once something has been established and popularized it’s only too soon before there is a counter for it. There was The Cosby Show and then there was Married With Children. It is too different perspectives for the same topic. Obviously the creators of Married looked at the popular family sitcom and decided to comment on it. This is now happening with comic book films and it’s very refreshing.

Superhero films have not necessarily been the most wholesome nowadays. The ones that have been the most popular have had a dark tone and focused on its flawed characters. The Fantastic Four films were not critically received mostly because it felt dated. Iron Man was a hit and still had a fun tone, but it still had several scenes of torture of its playboy protagonist. In fact, The Dark Knight is barely a comic book movie but a crime drama. The next logical step is to have “anti-superhero” movies.

There are two upcoming films that fit this bill: Kick-Ass and Defendor. Both of the movies are about people who are fans of comic books and take it upon themselves to don their own suits. The main character of Defendor (played by Woody Harrelson) is treated as a social outcast and is has to visit a court-ordered psychologist. The film is labeled as a comedy, but it’s obviously a very dark comedy because his mental well-being is in question. Nobody even believes his nemesis, Captain Industry, exists.

In Kick-Ass the kids who make their own costumes are seen as popular and successful. The violence is still based in reality and that gives the movie a certain edge. They are not younger versions of Spider-Man. Their aliases (Kick-Ass, Hit Girl, etc) are not supposed to be noble like Superman but badass like Scarface.

Both of the movies highlight how these “heroes” don’t have any superpowers or even any experience. Their homemade outfits make them look like vigilantes instead of superheroes. This sets the world more in a relatable reality. This is one of the elements that makes these movies so appealing. It’s a fun perspective into one of the most popular trends at the moment. This is something that appeals to those who like comic book movies and those who don’t. The major problem with the future of this trend is finding unique plots. There are already talks for Kick-Ass 2, but I don’t know how many unique franchise could be around these anti-super heroes. For now let’s just appreciate what we have. That’s right. I’m saying we should count our blessings and our crazed crimefighters.

Monday, April 5, 2010

I Guest Starred on The Film Yap Podcast!

The Film Yap, besides being an awesome movie website, is also a rather spiffy weekly podcast. Every week Joe Shearer and Christopher Lloyd discuss a specific topic of cinema. This week they talked about film remakes and they asked me to join them!

I wrote this article for The Film Yap about remakes so this is what we are referring to:

You can listen to the episode here:

Or if you have iTunes you can download this episode (When to Remake?) and subscribe to their show here:

Or if you just like clicking links here's Michael Buble Being Stalked by a Velociraptor:

The Rules of Remakes

We are living in an age when every movie has the potential to be remade. Childhood favorites obscure classics, or even movies that just came out a few years ago. This has frustrated fans. They cry to the studios “Why?!?” The studios do not reply; they just keep greenlighting more remakes. It is a tragic story. To stop this madness here are a list of rules to prevent unnecessary remakes. Follow them closely.


If the answer is to make money, then it’s not a good purpose. There needs to be a reason for there to be a second (or third or fourth) version of the same story. There ought to be a new take on the subject material. Howard Hawks made a great remake of The Front Page by shifting the genre. Instead of having the ace reporter be a woman instead of man, the movie becomes a romantic comedy. Recently Clash of the Titans was remade seemingly with the intent of amping up the special effects to make the story more epic. That question is whether that is a worthy purpose.


I watch the trailer for the new Nightmare on Elm Street and I don’t get it. Aside from the brilliant casting of Jackie Earl Haley as Krueger why would people go see this? It looks identical to the original. Wouldn’t you save money by digitally remastering the first film and spend a lot of money on an advertising campaign? The original had Johnny Depp; that’ll get teens in the seats. The studios are thinking this will appeal to fans of the original, but it’s bit of a backhand slap. Why would fans of the series want to watch the same story again? Why not expand the storyline? It doesn’t have to be an intricate sequel, but if this movie HAS TO BE MADE why not make something new?


This doesn’t apply to Michael Haneke. He remade his own Funny Games to reach a wider American audience. It’s like putting on a play again for a new city with a new cast. This rule does apply to Gus Van Sant. Just why?


The original Death at a Funeral came out three years ago. It was a British film that played in America and even found a following. Now there’s a new one starring Chris Rock with what seems like an identical plot. First off, changing the races is not a very interesting reason to remake a film. Secondly this is much too soon. It’s too familiar to those who have already seen it. The same goes for if the film is a classic. If someone was to remake The Wizard of Oz, that wouldn’t work because the average filmgoer can still powerfully recount each and every scene. Classics just ought not to be remade because of how highly esteemed they’re perceived as. That leads into my next rule…


Ideally the best films to remake are the ones that weren’t very good in the first place. The Thing From Another World is definitely not among Howard Hawks’ best, but its successor The Thing is regarded as a great horror film now. Right now a lot of children’s book series are being rushed to the cinema in attempt to strike gold like Harry Potter. Most of them are not very good adaptations (and too expensive). Perhaps in ten years a better version could be made. However if that version is best it can ever been and there’s nothing new to explore JUST DON’T REMAKE IT.

See? It’s not that difficult! Of course a lot of these rules are based on the idea that one can make a good film. With today’s film climate that appears not to be the easiest task…

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Book Review: Horns

Of all of the books I’ve read in the past few months, this one has really stuck with me the most. It begins with an allusion to Kafka’s The Metamorphous with Ig Perrish awaking to discover two horns protruding from his head. Then things really get crazy. The horns have the ability to make everyone around him reveal their deepest, darkest secrets, which usually have to do with their opinion of Ig. Everybody still thinks that he murdered and raped his long-term girlfriend, Merrin.

Joe Hill astounded me with his debut book, Heart Shaped Box, a few years ago. That was a ghost story that was actually scary in its own disturbed way. His second book now raises the bar and has established himself as one of my favorite writers working today. He’s very dark with an entertaining edge to him. It is mandatory for every review to mention he is the son of Stephen King, but right now he’s more exciting than his father and that is not a dig against King. Under the Dome was a great new addition from King but HornsHorns is wonderfully disturbing.

Book Review: The Unnamed

When Joshua Ferris’s first book came out, Then They Came to the End, everybody went ga-ga for it. I wasn’t a big fan, but it made me curious for his next book. He had a particular style and keen use of observation. His second book, The Unnamed, I think is a much stronger follow up.

Tim Farnsworth is a lawyer who has the mysterious illness that has him start walking. He walks into the woods and abandons everything. It doesn’t matter what he’s doing or what he’s wearing. It’s a weird premise but Ferris takes it completely serious and shows the heartache involved. His family is constantly worried about him, especially his wife.

There are some lacking portions in the middle of the book, but the end is a very satisfying conclusion. It all works because the couple is incredibly realized and sympathetic.

MovieSet: Clash of the Titans

One of the most entertaining aspects of cinema is the opportunity for spectacle. I’m all for nuanced character studies and intricate dialog scenes. Some of the greatest films of all time are like that, but within the same medium are the films that are much grander in scale.

With both ends of the cinematic spectrum, there is still a responsibility to give the audience something new. It is worth noting that as of this review, I haven’t seen the original Clash of the Titans but I believe the new one accomplishes this goal. It takes familiar aspects of Greek mythology and made it into a fun (pre)summer movie.

Perseus (Sam Worthington) is half-god and half-man therefore is the only one who can save Argos from the wrath of the gods. Zeus (Liam Neeson) is tired of the disloyalty of mankind so Hades (Ralph Fiennes) encourages them to strike terror in order to gain back their love. So Perseus and a team of soldiers only have a few days to figure out how to save the city before Zeus….RELEASES THE KRACKEN.

Of course this information isn’t written in a book. (That only happens in movies Jennifer’s Body or The Wolf Man) They have to cross deserts where there are giant deadly scorpions and encounter the trickery of the Medusa. These are obvious set-pieces, but the reason the entire film succeeds is because they are effective. The action is vibrant and exciting. There is allowed to be intelligence in action and audiences pick up on that. There is a reason why someone can name their favorite action scene in Casino Royale but can’t recall one in particular from Quantam of Solace. The action in Clash may still be edited quicker than I would prefer, but there is still a sense of location where you know where everybody is and what the fight looks like.

This is the proper way to handle Greek mythology. A few months ago I was very frustrated with Percy Jackson for all of its missed opportunities. Clash not only uses all of its elements with ease, but also creates a great sense of tone. Yes, a lot of the lines are a bit campy, but everybody is on the same page. Veteran actors Neeson and Fiennes are fun as they are playing off some of their former characters. (It’s basically Qui-Gon Jin and Voldemort as brothers.) The real acting standout is Geema Arterton as Io, the spiritual guide to Perseus. She’s a mysterious character who has dynamic screen presence. In a movie where you’re just waiting to see the next monster, I wanted to know more about her.

The wide landscapes and impressive CGI are the feat to see on the silver screen, but surprisingly I would not recommend seeing it in 3D. That is how I saw it and it seemed irrelevant. I do not believe they intended it to be in 3D when they were filming so it was added in post-production. The end result just ends up diluting the colors. Seeing this in 3D would be a waste of money; seeing it in 2D wouldn’t be.

Film Yap: And the Nominees Were - 1930/1931

Every year the Oscars become more and more recognized. The event is becoming a spectacle and the winners are prestigious. There is more of a range in its nominees. I mean that in terms of genre and quality with this batch. However, this has probably been the best average to date.

Cimarron – WINNER

This was based off a very popular novel and it feels like that during its duration. It’s the story about a family who goes through the land rush and then creates a newspaper in a new town. The movie feels very rushed and characters are often left unrealized. There are a few spectacles that gave the aura of importance, though.

East Lynne

So close! We weren’t able to review this one because there is apparently only one copy left and it’s stored in the vaults of UCLA. I hope this gets a DVD transfer one day.

The Front Page

This is the first of four adaptations of this popular play. (The most recognized is His Girl Friday starring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell). Pat O’Brian is an ace newspaperman who is just about to switch jobs and get married. However one last story and his persistent editor keep him from leaving when he wants. This is a funny comedy that is filmed in a cool style thanks to All Quiet on the Western Front’s Louis Milestone.


Every once in awhile during this experiment, a treasure is discovered. Last year it was The Love Parade and this year it is Skippy. It’s based off a cartoon strip where Skippy goes on little adventures in his neighborhood. Skippy is a mix between Tom Sawyer and Max from Where the Wild Things Are. The humor still holds up really well today and the final fifteen minutes are surprisingly poignant and heartfelt.

Trader Horn

This movie feels like Chang 2.0. Chang was a quasi-documentary from the first set that showed some of the majestic qualities of the jungles in Africa. This one has more of a storyline as adventurers are being pursued by a native tribe, but it’s evident the real focus is to show the amazing animals. The footage they were able to capture is still incredibly impressive.

This is just a short summary of the discussion that can be found on Episode 4 of And the Nominees Are. It’s a free podcast where Kenny Jones, Keith Jackson, and myself discuss all of the films listed here (Except for East Lynne). We also talk about the history of the time, the other Oscars given out, and other movies from this time. It is available on iTunes and you can also find us at as well as Facebook and Twitter.

Next time we’ll discuss Arrowsmith, Bad Girl, The Champ, Five Star Final, Grand Hotel, One Hour With You, Shanghai Express and The Smiling Lieutenant.