Friday, February 18, 2011

Higgens Network: Oscar Nominated Shorts - Animated

Being nominated for an Oscar for a short film does wonders for exposure. The general public doesn’t commonly view short films, but once you’re nominated you have the chance to play in a wider amount of theatres as a package. Starting this weekend Indianapolis’ Landmark Theatre shall be showing the Animated and Live Action Oscar Nominated Shorts.

Day and Night

This is the one the most people are familiar with. This is the one that played in front of Toy Story 3 and ended up being a wonderful companion piece. The pure imagination and invention put into it shines through. Two figures, one of day and one of night, reflect the same scene through their perception. All of the sound comes from their scenes and that provides a lot of clever jokes. The resolution is a bit out of left field, but as a whole the short encapsulates the invention that Pixar is so well known for.

4.5 Stars

The Gruffalo

Two young squirrels want to hear a story from their mom. So she tells them the story about a young mouse who continuously outwits his predators by telling them he is about to have dinner with a fearsome creature named “the gruffalo” who will be a bigger threat to them. The animation looks good, especially the color scheme. It’s odd how many celebrity voices are in this short, including Helena Bonham Carter, Tom Wilkinson and John Hurt. The simple story will appeal to younger viewers, but I’m not sure how much they will embrace the pacing of the film.

3.5 Stars

Let’s Pollute

This is a very sarcastic short that plays like the old fashioned educational films that would play in schools in the 1960s. It’s an instructional program to teach you how to properly destroy the earth. It shows you the best ways to buy more than you need and waste everything around you. It’s cute, but very quickly makes its point and then overstays. Even for a six-minute short!

3 Stars

The Lost Thing

This is absolutely darling. A man walking along the beach discovers a giant lost…thing. It’s mechanical but it also seems alien. He becomes fascinated by it, but especially how it is lost. So he tries to put it back to its right place by going through the doldrums of his surroundings. The music wonderfully accompanies the movie with this wistful, but simple tune. It feels like a controlled Terry Gilliam film and that’s a very good thing.

4.5 Stars

Madagascar, A Journey Diary

The coolest thing about this one is how writer/director Bastien Dubois incorporates a lot of different animated techniques to convey the tone of traveling to Madagascar. For the entire running time, the movie is constantly interesting and unexpected. It’s beautiful how well the editing of the film is in sync with the rhythmic music. A lot of fun.

4 Stars

In theatres, there will also be two bonus shorts: “The Cow Who Wanted to be a Hamburger” and “Urs.” Both of them are quite good and should have been nominated.

Film Yap: Oscar Nominated Shorts - Live Action

Being nominated for an Oscar for a short film does wonders for exposure. The general public doesn’t commonly view short films, but once you’re nominated you have the chance to play in a wider amount of theatres as a package. Starting this weekend Indianapolis’ Landmark Theatre shall be showing the Animated and Live Action Oscar Nominated Shorts.

The Confession

This film starts off the major theme of this year’s live action set. Most of the shorts have a complex theme seen through the eyes of a younger person. In “The Confession” two young boys at Catholic School are stressing about the first time they have to confess their sins. Neither of them feel that much will change, but they don’t think their sins are worthy enough. So they decide to play a prank that becomes worse than they expect. Once the short turns, it stays in very familiar territory usually associated with “bad decision thrillers.” The child actors do a good job and the style of the film is consistently engaging as it plays with colors, but the story is disappointing.

3.5 Yaps

The Crush

This time a child observes the concepts of love and judgment. A young boy has a crush on his teacher and even “proposes” to her. She accepts his ring, but the boy becomes angry when she sees her still with a man who doesn’t treat her well. So he decides to take action. Every character is too simplified and nobody is taken seriously. The fiancée is only a jerk, the child is just a child. Even at the end when they have a chance to change things up, the film takes the easy route and further compromises the characters desires.

2 Yaps

God of Love

This is the one that really stands out as an original voice. Luke Matheny writes, directs and stars in this short about a guy who is given a box of love darts. It’s filmed in beautiful black and white and with a style that harkens back to French New Wave and Woody Allen’s 70s New York. The humor is really strong and the jokes are never broadcasted. It’s a filmmaker who has complete control over what he’s doing and his expertise shines through. Just a really great film.

4.5 Yaps

Na Wewe

A bus is stopped by a group of African political terrorists. There is tension as it is unclear what will happen to the people who do not match up politically to them. There is strong acting throughout, but it doesn’t have a lot of resonance. It’s a familiar story with a familiar resolution. The fact that it brings attention to more Rwanda problems doesn’t make it a very lasting short, aside from an unexpected presence of a certain popular band. This seems like a minor point, but not when it comes to short films: it had very good lighting.

3.5 Yaps

Wish 143

David is in the hospital when he has the chance to take part in a Make-a-Wish program. He thinks about what he really wants to do before he dies and he really wants to have sex. This one had more dialog and characters, than the typical short film. Usually most of the 20 minutes is reserved for the camera to focus on imagery, but “Wish 143” really fleshed out David and his priest friend. The dialog isn’t perfect and with a little more time the ending could have been stronger, but the whole thing is very engaging and likable.

4 Yaps

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Film Yap: Just Go With It

There is a magical land called Adam Sandler’s World. It’s a wonderful place full of hopes and dreams, but only for Adam Sandler. It may look like our world, but so does Toon Town if it changes up their color scheme. His latest flop, Just Go With It, is another return to this fantastical land where up is down and crotch humor is highbrow.

Sandler used to play characters, but those days are over. In Adam Sandler World he just needs to be a nice guy with a goofy sense of humor and everyone adores him. In this movie he wears a wedding ring in order to pick up women. Now that may sound a little sleazy; perhaps it’s a character who walks the line and will work towards redemption. Silly reader! This is Adam Sandler World. In this movie there must be a flashback scene where Sandler is wearing a goofy makeup and we see he had his heart broken on his wedding night. Therefore he is emotionally justified for the entire film.

He goes to parties and everybody knows and adores him. He’s one of the most successful plastic surgeons in Las Angeles and he boats about never studying in med school. If he tells a joke the entire city rumbles because everyone is laughing at once. Even if it is an incredibly tired jokes that has been repeated for the past 90 minutes. At one point in this film, there is a hula contest. Despite the fact that one participant was literally performing accomplished feats of gymnastics including flips and splits, the crowd stands to their feet to cheer for the girl Sandler is more interested in.

Now in Adam Sandler World, he always has a heart of gold. People around him are required to tell him this, but it also must be seen through precocious children. They have to tell Sandler something sad and personable and Sandler has to look sad and say “It’s okay.” At one point a little boy demands that Sandler takes him to Hawaii and should do so because he’s rich. That seems outrageous and should not happen, but sure enough the gang will end up in Hawaii and Sandler will teach the little boy how to swim so he can swim with the dolphins.

Everybody is in Hawaii because Sandler is now in love with someone named Palmer. After leaving a party when he stitched up a child’s leg and was a hero, an incredibly attractive woman walks on the beach with him. They have a true “connection” that he’s never had before. This connection lasts about a minute of screen time and has the actress just say that she can tell when he’s lying. After having sex on the beach, she finds his fake wedding ring in his pocket. He convinces his receptionist, Jennifer Aniston, to pretend to be his fake wife with fake kids and they all keep hanging out for no reason whatsoever.

In Adam Sandler World there are two types of women. Insanely attractive women who are always lusting over him and the other women are horrible shrews who are usually physically deformed. The other men in Adam Sandler World are complete idiots who exist just so Sandler can riff on them or they’re gay, which is also a cheap punchline.

In Adam Sandler World, everything must benefit Sandler and whatever his stupid goal is. Characters don’t even have to stay consistent. Palmer says that she can tell when he’s lying. That may be her only character trait besides possessing a body that must always show cleavage. Then for the rest of the movie every single thing Sandler says is a lie to her and she doesn’t catch on. Even when he says that his fake wife’s new boyfriend is named Dolph Lundgren.

There is a scene when Jennifer Aniston has to tell Sandler everything she loves about him. (This is commonplace for Adam Sandler World.) There is sappy music and there’s a close up of Aniston and it’s a chance for her to realize how much she loves him. When it’s his turn to return the favor, he talks about her physical beauty and how she never asks for anything in return. Yet…she blackmailed him into buying thousands of dollars worth of clothes and even the date their on is asking for something in return. Who cares. It’s her job to adore Sandler, look longingly when he’s interacting with her kids, and walk in slow motion in a bikini.

In the original film, Cactus Flower, there was real humor and real characters. Walter Matthau and Ingrid Bergman humanized the ridiculous concept and made the absurdity subtle. Goldie Hawn’s performance as the “other woman” even earned her an Academy Award. There is obviously a ton of chances for substance, but that wouldn’t gel with Adam Sandler World. Instead Hawn’s replacement is swimsuit supermodel Brooklyn Decker. Now that’s more like it! (Silly noise.)

Film Yap: Doctor Who - A Christmas Carol

“Who’s she?”

“Nobody important.”

“Nobody important? Blimey. That’s amazing. You know, in 900 years in time and space I’ve never met anyone that wasn’t important before.”

Ever since it was revived in 2005, Doctor Who has had an episode airing on Christmas Day. It’s become a BBC staple. During the Russell T. Davies era, the specials have been fun but nothing outstanding. David Tennant always brought his A-game, but last December marked the first time without Davies or Tennant.

The episode was called “A Christmas Carol” but that is very misleading. The Charles Dickens tale has been overdone so many times, it has actually caused more people to become Scrooge-ish. A mean man sees his disappointing past, his unnoticed present, and dire future and suddenly becomes better. Showrunner Steven Moffat is not interested in telling that easy of a story…especially when there’s a time machine involved.

In order to save his friends and the lives of a very Star Treky ship, The Doctor (Matt Smith) must convince the cold Kazran Sardick (Harry Potter’s Michael Gambon) to use his weather machine to lessen the fog so the ship can land. However Kazran is not interested in the lives of 400 people and refuses. The Doctor now needs to change the heart of this man so everyone can live.

The Doctor is very conscious about the Dickens’ story. (He actually helped inspire it back in Season 1). So he doesn’t just fall into the same traps, but constantly surprises Kazan and the audience. Finally there is a version of this story that is faithful in spirit, but not in the plot details. The reveal of who every “ghost” shall be and how they will pull off the three different times are ingenious.

The episode is not just about being clever with the structure. It’s one of the more emotional episodes of the series. The former Christmas specials used that label as a chance to be more of a spectacle. This one embraced the joy and spirit in such a genuine way that this special now ranks as one of my holiday favorites along with A Charlie Brown Christmas and A Christmas Story.

Smith’s Doctor gets to have more fun with what’s going on. Although the place looks like Victorian London, this is a different planet where the fog is thick enough for fish to appear like they’re flying. Smith is so ecstatic about seeing such a sight; everything has the potential for beauty. That’s why he wants to change Kazran instead of defeating him. With this tactic, there is the chance for adventure, love and a one-shark open sleigh. (You read me.)

Some of the best gags are for those who have been with the series for a while. (“You can go kiss her or you can go to your room and design a new type of screwdriver. Don’t make my mistakes.”) Yet the core of the story is a wonderful tale that everyone can enjoy.

Now this DVD and Blu-Ray does just contain one episode of the show. Also there’s a very good chance this episode will appear on the Season Six set next year. The quality is obviously not a question, it’s more about amount of content to pick this up. There are only two bonus features and they’re both a lot of fun. One is the “Doctor Who Confidential” which is a one-hour making-of which is amazing. It shows every level of production, including how dynamic their table read was and a closer look at their awesome sets. The other feature is a one-hour concert called “Doctor Who at the Proms.” It’s an orchestrial concert of Murray Gold’s score but the real fun is how interactive the night was. The stars were there, but so were all of the monsters of the fifth season walking up and down the aisles growling at little kids, some of which were wearing fezzes. Both of these will make any fan of the show incredibly giddy because of how much love is with this franchise and how rewarding it all can be.

Episode: 5 Yaps

Extras: 4.5 Yaps

Higgens Network: Gnomeo and Juliet

I can’t think of a film that blatantly gives up throughout its running time. The title Gnomeo and Juliet already establishes how much creativity is being put into this film. There is even a prologue when a little gnome says this story has been a million times before but they’re going to do it anyway. There is even a point when Shakespeare shows up to comment on how this all sounds very familiar and really urges his original ending.

So what is added to one of the most tired stories this side of A Christmas Carol? Toy Story. This is such a bizarre rip-off, the comparisons go beyond the basic premise. When the owners are away, all of the gnomes and lawn ornaments come to life and will freeze up again whenever a human is looking. Woody and Buzz always made sure Andy’s room was just as they left it, but these gnomes are perfectly okay about damaging the gardens over and over again. They even go as far as ordering an insanely expensive lawnmower to further destroy the lawns. But they still don’t want to be seen in a different position? There is no reason to even have humans in this movie.

There are two feuding families each with their own neighboring yard. They are named Red and Blue. Yep. That’s what they’re called. Is this a statement about the polarizing nature of our political environment or are they just cute colors? My vote is cast.

One night heroic Gnomeo (voiced by James McAvoy) enters the Red’s yard to act some sort of revenge. While he is out he stumbles upon Juliet (Emily Blunt) who is searching for a flower. They instantly fall in love and partake in the stalest banter this side of a Kate Hudson movie. But she’s a Red! He’s a Blue! This will never work out.

Once they meet the plot slows down considerably as they sneak away and partake in boring scenes usually accompanied by an Elton John song. They meet a flamingo who was abandoned in a barn and he recounts how his girlfriend was taken away from him. This story is told through a musical flashback…that is exactly like Jesse’s tale in Toy Story 2.

Despite being consistently groan inducing this isn’t offensive; it’s just an incredibly lazy film. Every pun has been done (“Kick some grass!”) and every reference is tired (“You’re going to swim with the fishes.”). It feels like a Jay Leno monologue. Even the action scenes are cut together in the familiar over-edited style that adds little excitement to the…lawnmower racing scenes. Whatever.

Top 20 Performers of 2010

NOTE: This article was published to Facebook before the Oscar nominations came out. Not bothering to edit.

With all the films I saw last year and all the performances, it's funny how this list is still easy to make. The performers that stand out are the ones that stick with you and make you remember all the things they accomplished. These are the good ones who help make films even better. So here my top 20 performers in alphabetical order.

Jason Bateman

Ever since Bateman’s career revival in Arrested Development he has been typecast in similar positions. Yet with every role he puts something unexpected in it. He was great in State of Play and Juno but with The Switch he does something smarter than the entire film. He depicts his character’s neurotic depression not as a punchline but as a tragedy. It’s not charming and when he looks at his accidental child who has similar traits, there’s real sadness and guilt as well as love. Half of this film works and it’s because of him.

Annette Bening

I’ve always liked Bening, but was never one of the critics hoping she was going to win the big awards. This year that changed. Tomorrow she’ll probably get the nomination for The Kids Are All Right and that’s a very fun and fine performance. Yet I thought she was much better in Mother and Child. It was a very difficult character that starts off as very unloving, but gains sympathy once she develops her own self-respect. She is heartbreaking and ends up holding so much of the emotional weight of the film. Very powerful stuff.

Sean Combs

So who knew P. Diddy could act? I missed his version of A Raisin in the Sun, but he had two great performances this year. He was the only watchable thing in I’m Still Here, playing himself who was properly criticizing Joaquin Pheonix for being an idiot. (I prefer to see it extended to the film itself.) Then he stole the show in Get Him to the Greek. His confidence and wild card status mixed with pitch-perfect comedic timing makes him the funniest thing in an already very funny movie.

Kieran Culkin

Wallace Wells was already my favorite character from the graphic novels. Now the character is even more awesome because of how good Culkin was as the gay roommate to Scott Pilgrim. He has so many great lines, but he always acts like he’s throwing them away. He’s the coolest guy in the room and he will probably steal your boyfriend. He’s hysterical the entire film and is able to pull off most of it just by judgingly glaring at various characters or screaming at them drunk.

Jesse Eisenberg

When I first saw this film in September, I made an idiotic claim that Eisenberg would probably not be nominated for an Oscar. I didn’t know if this was the type of performance people would really start praising. It’s smaller almost to the point of Asberger’s. He’s not likable, but he is undeniably interesting. Eisenberg takes risks and has now joined the group of people who have mastered Sorkin’s dialog speed. The movie hinges on whether or not Mark Zuckerberg is worth all of this attention and Eisenberg does an amazing job and shows he’s capable of more than just a neurotic teen. This is my favorite male performance of the year.

Colin Firth

Maybe it happened between Bridget Jones movies and nobody was noticing, but Firth has turned himself into one of the best actors working today. He’s always creative, but never flashy with the way he portrays a character. With his take on King George VI, he walks the line from being genetically royal in his composure while being internally terrified and embarrassed. The contradiction plays seamlessly and just makes his character more fascinating. The stuttering is not an acting gimmick but an extension of what is really the problem and that’s how he shines.

Zach Galifianakis

Like Bateman, Galifianakis seems to be ready that he is a better actor than people are giving him credit for. The movie It’s Just a Funny Story isn’t very good but he’s incredible in it. He knows how to improv a lot of jokes and he knows how to be the smiling fool. Here he has to do a lot more. He’s shrouded in insecurity and there are moments when he is socially terrified. This drama was very unexpected in the film and Galifianakis brought the whole film into a more realistic and serious point.

Andrew Garfield

Garfield doesn’t give my favorite performance of the year, but he definitely has the best collection in my mind. He’s great as the moral center of The Social Network but he’s even better in his other two movies. In Never Let Me Go he’s like a time bomb. He goes from being on a leash to just wanting to scream as loud as he can. Instead of being flashy or going for the Oscar, he remains true to the character and holds everything in a layer of sadness. In Red Riding, he’s just the opposite. He’s passionate and is able to do more about it—to a point. It almost feels like two different actors; it’s that much of a difference.

John Hawkes

This guy is so awesome. He’s great on Deadwood, LOST and Eastbound and Down. He’s a character actor who has never really got his due, but hopefully this will be the year that will change it. In a movie that’s already pretty scary, he is just terrifying. Yet he’s an ally to our hero. He completely controls every frame he’s in. His presence is so unsettling and I have no idea how he does it. He plays the character as if he knows his entire past and because of that he has no intention to ever let the audience know about it.

Chloe Moretz

Until a certain ballerina movie, Moretz was my favorite female performance of the year. Not for the incredibly fun role in Kick-Ass but for her roll as the old/young vampire in Let Me In. I adore the original film, Let the Right One In, and was very confused on why this movie had to be made. It really didn’t have to, but I’m glad it did because it ended up being very strong especially because of Moretz. The original girl was very creepy, but Moretz played up the suffering that Abby was dealing with. There was so many reasons to pity her, but just as many to judge her for her cruelness. These additional nuances made it an even greater story. She has quite the career ahead of her.

Carey Mulligan

Mulligan remains one of the best actresses working today and she has only been active for a few years. She excelled in two films that were pretty lame, but was even better when she had a strong script. Never Let Me Go was all about the subtle emotions of its three lead actors. They had to encompass an entire life in just a short amount of years and they had to do it through a lot of limitations. Mulligan mixed tragedy with hope. With that her journey was one of the greatest of the year and the one with the most memorable conclusions.

Edward Norton

Everyone really needs to see this film. It was this hilarious film that had its own voice and an awesome dual performance by Norton. It always seems like this guy didn’t have much of a sense of humor about himself. Here he gives two fantastic performances including one of a silly Southern pothead. Both characters are treated with respect and fearlessness. This is the Edward Norton that is really funny to watch.

Natalie Portman

For a movie that is very flawed, Portman is just excellent. She makes all of the epic scenes even grander by her intense dedication to the material and the format. Her dance scenes are amazing but she extends her movement beyond the stage. Depending on her mental state, she either glides throughout the world or is a little more naturalistic. It’s a great display of her range as she battles with some radical stuff. It’s ruthless and very impressive. Best female performance of the year.

Daniel Radcliffe

Who saw this coming? The first two Harry Potter flicks weren’t really known for its acting, aside from fun performances by great older actors. Then throughout the series Radcliffe has proved that he not only is learning the craft but becoming very talented. As we enter the final chapter of this long series, he is showing that this is just the start of his career. His raw emotion and sometimes defeated nature made this (half of the) final chapter so much more epic and exhausting. I can’t see what he does with the rest of the movie.

Noomi Rapace

I’m a big fan of the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo series of books. The first two rock and the third one eventually gets around to being very good. The lead character of Lisbeth Salander is not an easy role to cast, but Sweden did a great job with Rapace who is completely badass, fascinating, and hardcore. She’s not flashy and even as the movies get worse she maintains a very strong performance. As good as Rooney Mara is, it’ll be very difficult for people not to think of Rapace when people talk about Salander.

Ryan Reynolds

I’ve always liked Ryan Reynolds. He is very fun and charismatic in all of his roles. I haven’t seen him in anything dramatic before, aside from select scenes of Definitely Maybe…and that wasn’t that dramatic. Here the drama is intense as you can imagine. In Buried he is literally buried alive with limited air, a dying cell phone and whatever else he has on him. He battles his surroundings and the beurocracy from above. It’s a one man show and he pulls it off. The film was never boring and even when it went into questionable directions, Reynolds totally sold it.

Hailee Steinfeld

This first time actor outshined Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin and Barry Pepper. Part of that is the script is really really good so she had some help there. Yet there’s something else there. It’s the determination that does not serve as simple cover up for insecurity. Instead it’s a fierce quality that is honest despite her young age. The title refers to her and without a powerful performance it will mistakenly go to someone else. Just fantastic work.

Tilda Swinton

Of course she’s brilliant. It should be expected by now, but she still surprises me every time. She is the matriarch of an Italian family where she starts to have an affair. It’s a grand melodrama that’s entirely in Italian. So Swinton learned Italian. Also she learned Russian because her character is from Russia. She learned two languages for this film! It all pays off in a rare sweeping fashion where she is in sync with the visual style of the movie to create something very exciting.

Naomi Watts

I still really like Watts. She was very strong at the beginning of the decade and then got stuck into parts like King Kong and The International. They aren’t bad performances, but they’re just easier. This year she had three very different performances that played up the power she conveys on screen. Stranger is more comedic but it’s still emotionally loose as she deals with her frustration. Fair Game showed her impressive level of restraint. Then my favorite, Mother and Child allowed her to play something that challenged the audience’s view of her because it was someone so layered it was difficult to decipher. She’ll get her statue one day…

Olivia Williams

Finally we have Olivia Williams. After Rushmore she just about dropped off my radar before returning heavily in the past few years. She’s one of the only consistent things about the TV show Dollhouse, she was very good in An Education and she was even fun this year in an episode of Terriers. Her best performance lately though was her role in The Ghost Writer. It’s the standard archetypical role where she’s probably not to be trusted, but Williams plays with the genre and gives something very memorable as a character who fluxes throughout the film. She’s strong but not overpowering. That way she can slip out of the scene without you noticing. Very good.

Top 10 Worst Films of 2010

Last January I joined As the new guy I often was the one assigned to the worst flicks out there. So throughout 2010 I saw a lot more movies that I wouldn’t have wanted to see and I regret all of them. (Except for Step Up 3D. That’s not as bad as you would think.) Of all of the bad films of 2010—and there were a lot of them—these are the Top Ten worst ones. Don’t see these. Seriously.

#10 – Alice in Wonderland

This is one of the highest grossest films of all time. Yet does anybody actually lke this movie? The idea of having this be a sorta sequel to the original tale is an exciting one, but none of that is ever explored. Tim Burton’s laziness ruined the madness of Wonderland (Or Underland?) by taking away all of the unpredictable nature to the universe. Instead this becomes an incredibly simple story of a hero fighting a dragon where none of the characters really play a part or add any fun to this joyless ride.

#9 – Devil

M. Night Shyamalan has become a punchline, deservingly so. He only has the “story by” credit on this film, but his fingerprints are all over it. Stereotypical characters, horrible dialog, a plot that doesn’t make sense, and lame “scares.” The premise sounds like it could be a fun single room adventure. Five people are in an elevator, one is the devil. Seems like a lame plan by the master of all evil, but whatever. Unfortunately most of the movie takes place outside of the elevator with idiotic subplots, illogical plot directions, and the funniest supernatural defense I’ve ever seen. To prove the devil is on earth, a security guard flips a piece of bread and then exclaiming that it landed jelly side up! Everything’s backwards so of course the devil is here. Of course.

#8 – Legion

Devil has a lot of plotholes. Not even that film compares to Legion which makes pretty much no sense. So Paul Bettany is an angel who quits and then goes down to Earth to fight God because He’s about to destroy mankind. Yet God gave himself a backup plan? There’s a John Conner-esque kid who, if born, will save humanity. So everybody is racing to the pregnant mother. The whole world turns into angel demons, I guess, except for this diner because…I don’t know. Insanely dumb and the idea of angels fighting each other with sharp wings can’t even save this. Even if Martin Keamy is a bad angel.

#7 – My Soul to Take

Last horror film on the list, I promise. This one is just confusing because clearly this was made. Someone (Wes Craven) wrote this and then someone (Wes Craven again) directed this and this was released. I can’t figure out how any of that happened. It’s about a group of kids who were all born on the same day that a serial killer maybe died so maybe his soul is in one of them. Or something. The movie is very stupid and goes into new degrees of bizarrely stupid. It’s hard to tell if Craven is making fun of high school life or he really does think this is what it’s like. This is a sad embarrassment from someone who used to be considered a master of the genre.

#6 – Flipped

Speaking of someone who used to be the master. What happened to Rob Reiner? Why did his make this empty rip-off of When Harry Met Sally. Two young kids experience first love after hating each other, of course. It’s a very standard story but the irritating gimmick is that we get to hear both sides of their stories. So seeing a mediocre scene for a second time with a new narration gets old really fast. Especially when there is no new information considering it’s very obvious what each of the characters are feeling at any given moment. It no longer becomes sweet, but unbearable.

#5 – Charlie St. Cloud

This film is incredibly weird as well as very annoying. Charlie St. Cloud is the greatest human being of all time. He is perfect at sailing, being a brother, being a son, being an artist, cooking, and even mourning. When his brother dies in a car accident that really wasn’t his fault, his brother’s ghost appears in the park every day to play catch with him. (Oh he’s perfect at baseball too.) So every day for the next five years he plays a game of catch with his dead brother. Once he starts to find love, things become complicated. Especially because the plot goes headfirst into crazy pond.

#4 – I’m Still Here

Now we’re into the four films I just HATE. This is the fake documentary from Casey Afleck where Joaquin Pheonix decided to act like a crazy person for a year. It’s an experiment without knowing what it is experimenting with. There is no thesis or interest in anything they’re doing. It’s just empty pretentious stupidity on display while pretending to be art. There isn’t even any humor to get out of the movie because it isn’t even working on a Borat level. This is a complete pathetic disaster.

#3 –- The Virginity Hit

Raunchy comedies can be a lot of fun, but this one seems to be determined to destroy the genre because of how terrible this is. Four friends decide to take a special bong hit whenever they lose their virginity. Three of them eventually do the deed, but one hasn’t done it yet. So they are determined to make that happen. That’s a fine (if incredibly overdone) premise, but the movie is entirely shot on one of the character’s camera. He films every moment of his life, but unlike movies like Cloverfield or The Last Exorcism this just gets really creepy. Those were filming an incredible experience that should be remembered. Zack is just obsessed with filming his step-brother’s physical interactions. Gross, vile and worst of all, not funny.

#2 – Grown Ups

This is one of the worst things ever. It’s really unfair to call this a movie because that implies that thought went into it. This is really just a very thin excuse for Adam Sandler to hang out with Chris Rock, Kevin James, David Spade, and Rob Schneider. They all riff on each other over their one wacky character trait but none of their jokes work. They’re beyond lame and continue for the entire movie. The movie only takes a break from these Leno-esque jokes to make Sandler look like the greatest person of all time as he wins the big game. There is nothing good about this movie. But if this is one of the worst things ever, why isn’t it number 1?

#1 – The Last Airbender

Because at least Grown Ups knew how to pronounce the main character’s name! What the flippity flip happened here? Shyamalan had a season of rich characters and plot at his disposal and he wrote…this. It’s like he has no idea how to even make a movie. There is a long scrolling title card opening that is read aloud to us. Then there is plenty of narration that doesn’t work. The main character never even learns his friends’ names! If you hadn’t already seen the show you would think this is an incomprehensible mess…and you would be completely right.

Dishonorable Mentions (In order of worst to slightly less worse)

Paranormal Activity 2

The Extra Man


The Losers


Valentine’s Day

From Paris With Love

Our Family Wedding

Tooth Fairy

Eat Pray Love

Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief


Alpha and Omega

Country Strong

The Expendables

The Tourist

TRON: Legacy

Death at a Funeral

Nanny McPhee Returns

When in Rome

Pop Culture: The Importance of Stories

I'm in an Communications and Pop Culture class at Ball State right now. We have to write the occasional blog entry and here it is repeated.

When looking at whether or not pop culture is important, it seems like there is no question. It exists so let’s be curious about it. Personally, the examination of what sort of ring tones each gender uses or the philosophy of the Geico gecko is not as compelling as the pop culture that involves stories.

Stories are the one of the most effective forms of expression. Emotions are too complex for vocabulary. The English language has an absurd number of words—way more than any other language—but there is still a compromise to the nuances. The word “love” does not encompass what that word actually entails. So stories are created to replicate feelings and ideas so others can experience them.

Then the analysis comes from whether or not the story was as effective as it could be or whether it is a story worth telling. In order to fully have that emotional connection, quality is important. Sticking with the concept of love, what movie made you swoon: the wonderful Irish musical Once or the half-assed No Strings Attached?

When all of the elements are working there is something profound happening. The human experience can be richer and there is greater understanding of humanity. That is not to say that all stories must be dense and academic; the stories that make you laugh are just as important as the ones that make you cry. Laughter is invoking a pure emotion containing joy and surprise. It’s reactionary and yet still personal. This is effective expression. The artist observed something that struck them and they want to convey that to you. Through creation, we are now laughing at an actualized version of his thought.

So it is important to be critical. Stories have the potential for so much greatness that it is silly to keep supporting the ones that aren’t working. I don’t understand the idea of a “guilty pleasure” because I think you should be able to articulate why you like something. What you watch should be good, at least to you. I adore shows like Mad Men and Breaking Bad, but I can also tell you why the show Greek is worthwhile…well at least the first few seasons. It’s not snobbery; it’s about recognizing when something is working, no matter the genre or subject matter. Those are the stories that really matter.

Now it would be completely silly to post this without telling a story of my own. So here’s a very simple story reflecting some of the stuff I’ve talked about.



“You seem down.”

“Oh. I dunno. Sorry.”

“It’s just that you’re eating Fruity Pebbles. Nobody should look down when they’re eating Fruity Pebbles.”

“Because if you look down you’ll see this colory grossness?”

“Ah! Take that back.”

“I’m sorry. It’s just…what do you see when I hold my hands like this?”

“Like you’re holding an invisible basketball?”



“Yeah, exactly. There’s nothing here but in my imagination I see a globe. I can describe to you the color of the ocean and the way it turns and how Europe looks too simplified. I can describe that for hours and hours and no matter what, you won’t see the same globe I see. It’ll just be a little bit different and there’s something sad about that. That no matter what, we can’t experience the same thing.”

“It doesn’t have to be.”


“Sad. It doesn’t have to be sad. Imagine that. One world and there’s only one perspective to see things. Where’s the fun in that? If we all saw sunflowers the same way, then we wouldn’t have what earless wonder did. I can’t see your globe, you can’t see mine but we have visions of each others. You didn’t fail, you inspired.”

“From all of that, from all you said, I feel that…it’s okay that I don’t like Fruity Pebbles.”

“No it is not. Seriously, what the hell?”

Film Yap: You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger

Making a film a year would be very easy to get stale, but Woody Allen remains interesting. His films have been hit-and-miss with overall quality, but he is still exploring themes that aren’t being seen by today’s filmmakers. You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger is one of his weaker attempts, but his overall concept is fascinating.

It’s a film surrounding itself with the lives of many people. At the crux is the failing marriage between Sally and Roy Channing (Naomi Watts and Josh Brolin). They are both unsatisfied with each other and their work. He’s a writer who hasn’t had a good novel in a long time and fears about being rejected by the publishers with this next one. She is so far out of love and has a crush on her charming boss played by Antonio Banderas.

Sally’s parents are having their own troubles. Her mother, Helena (Gemma Jones), is wasting all of her money at a psychic as she tries to find peace in her lonely life. Sally’s dad, Alfie (Anthony Hopkins), resolves his loneliness by marring someone very young (and very dumb) played by the funny Lucy Punch.

As their lives and stories intertwine there is less and less respect for these characters. It’s clear they are all here to serve a point, not to be their own characters. There is nothing invested in their goals because the film is about the idiocy of hope. Characters are putting all of their desires into meaningless external forces. Instead of having the initiative themselves to try to better their lives, they distract themselves with other “powerful forces” that can save them.

It’s a premise that has a lot of room of exploration, but there is nothing invested in their goals when they don’t seem to have much chance to be real. As a story there is still plenty of twists and it all ends well, but there is too much distance. The cast all does a very good job, especially Naomi Watts who had a great year.

Due to the boldness of what he’s talking about and the efficient way he always moves their storylines with engaging dialog while remaining visually interesting, it’s a movie worth seeing despite its flaws.

There are no extras on the DVD and Blu-Ray.

Film: 3.5 Yaps

Extras: N/A

Film Yap: And the Nominees Were -- 1938

Austin Lugar, Keith Jackson and Kenny Jones started a podcast called And the Nominees Are. On this show they are attempting to review every single Best Picture nominee starting from the very beginning. Here Austin recaps the plot summaries of each set while teasing the longer discussions.

We had a bit of a hiatus for several reasons, but now we’re back talking about the films of 1938. The films are becoming bigger. The next year will be full of epics, but this one continued to push the medium into new heights. Sometimes for good, sometimes not.

The Adventures of Robin Hood

This remains the most popular film from this year. As it should. It’s everybody on their A-game. Errol Flynn as Robin Hood. Michael Curtiz directing. The amazing Technicolor. This film remains a very fun family film that did something the other Robin Hood films forgot to do: actually be a fun movie. It holds up very well today.

Alexander’s Ragtime Band

This is another musical that is more interested in showing the music than the story. It’s about an up and coming ragtime band who becomes more and more popular because it’s the new sound of the time. Love triangles and conflict arise in the group and there are a lot of ragtime songs. One of the only funs is seeing a young Don Ameche and a young Ethel Merman.

Boys Town

It really just isn’t the Academy Awards if Spencer Tracy and Mickey Rooney don’t show up eventually. Together they made a charming coming-of-age movie. Tracy is Father Flanagan who believes in all boys, especially the wrongdoers. He makes a special place for them where they can take care of each other and stay out of trouble.

The Citadel

Oh another medical biopic. This one is too similar to the others we have watched too far. Robert Donant is a young doctor who is examining medicine in a new way. He changes locations, he faces opposition, yadda yadda. This has all been done too many times before. Not even Rosalind Russell and Rex Harrison can spice this up.

Four Daughters

This is another Little Women like plotline, but there are some surprising aspects to this one. Everybody has their romantic plotlines and the film can’t really juggle them all but a few things shine. There are some good romantic moments in this and John Garfield does a great job with a fascinating character that really changes up the dynamic of the plot.

Grand Illusion

This is one of the only foreign films to be nominated for Best Picture and it really deserved the trophy. So much has been said about Jean Renoir’s masterpiece. This is one that can really be enjoyed by all. It’s about a group of French soldiers who are sent to a German POW camp. They think the war is only going to last a few more weeks, but once more and more time has passed they decide they need to escape. Exciting filmmaking.


William Wyler remains one of the directors to keep an eye on. Sometimes he can add a lot to a movie like Dodsworth or his attempts fall a little short like in Dead End. This one is a bit of a mixture when Bette Davis plays a southern woman who decides to challenge the system by wearing a red dress to the ball. The rest of the movie deals with the ramifications especially from the love of her life, Henry Fonda.


The musical version, My Fair Lady, is what is more common nowadays but it all started with a really great play. The playwright, George Bernard Shaw, also coined this screenplay which remains to be incredibly clever and fun while also being a little dark. It’s about Professor Henry Higgins who decides to teach flower girl Eliza Doolittle how to speak like a proper English woman. Great performances really make this worth watching.

Test Pilot

Up in the sky! It’s melodrama! Clark Gable is a test pilot who loves being in the mix of danger. He falls in love with the wonderful Myrna Loy but still continues his risky career despite the protests from Loy and his best friend Spencer Tracy. The story and the flying scenes aren’t the best but there are a few good moments sprinkled in between.

You Can’t Take It With You – WINNER

Frank Capra can do no wrong at this point. His films continue being successful and adored. This one isn’t one of his all-time bests, but it’s very solid. Lionel Barrymore is the kind old man who runs a house where people can be what they want. They won’t listen to any suits or taxman! James Stewart is the son of a businessman who wants to marry Jean Arthur, a woman who lives in the big house. It’s very fun and charming. This is one of the few comedies ever to win Best Picture.

We discuss these movies with a lot more detail on our show And the Nominees Are as well as discussing the other awards from this year. This set was covered over two episodes both of which can be found for free on iTunes. We’d love it if you left us a review! Our show is also on Facebook and Twitter and our brand new website.

If you’d like to play along with us, the next 10 films for 1939 are Dark Victory, Gone With the Wind, Goodbye Mr. Chips, Love Affair, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Nintchka, Of Mice and Men, Stagecoach, The Wizard of Oz, and Wuthering Heights.

Film Yap: Life As We Know It

I HATE THESE CHARACTERS SO MUCH. This is just outrageous. These people all work so hard to be unbearable. It almost feels like a trick where Lars von Trier made the most conventional romantic comedy equipped with every cliché in the book. Then he releases it just to see if people would still watch a film about horrible people. Touché von Trier, this made over $50 million.

Almost everyone knows this stupid plot by now. A nice married couple dies in a car accident. In their will they decided to leave their one-year old daughter in the hands of two of their friends who hate each other. This is what normal people do. The two hateful people are Katherine Heigl and Josh Duhamel playing the exact same characters they’ve been doing for five years.

What? They asked us to take care of the baby? Why does that make sense? But we hate each other! Look at our insulting banter that falls flat! We don’t know how to take care of a baby! Want proof? Here’s a billion montages of WACKY baby things like changing diapers and watching The Wiggles.

This might seems like this will be about two irritating people learning how to be more compassionate while they see there is more important people than themselves as they care for an orphaned child. Of course not! This is about whether or not they will fall in love. Spoiler: they fall in love. This movie is as much about the baby as When in Rome is about Rome.

Everyone in their life is more interested in their relationship than the defenseless child. The lawyer wants them to live together. The judge doesn’t ask any questions about whether or not they can take care of a baby. The doctor nothing for the baby, but tells Heigl to take some time off. The child services social worker in her three unscheduled visits only talks about whether or not Heigl and Duhamel are having sex. Nothing about the baby.

The insanity continues into the “comedic set-pieces” which is film terms for “the scenes between the million montages.” This scene actually happened. Heigl has been planning some cooking thing and Duhamel got his big break to direct a basketball game. (Of course she’s involved with food and he’s involved with sports. Let’s not get crazy here.) Mysteriously none of the neighbors or babysitters could watch the kid. So Duhamel tries to keep the meter running in a cab for the entire game and leave the baby in the backseat. The cab driver gets upset and they all hang out in the control booth while the baby cries so loud the technical directors can not hear what to do. Nobody is fired or arrested.

Clichés are flung everywhere and it really stops mattering. Homosexuality is only there as a punchline (twice). She wants to build to her apparently successful business. He’s a “ladies man” who constantly has sex with women despite being insanely annoying. She honestly races to the airport at one point in the movie. Not even the random selection of comedians as secondary characters save this film because there’s no time in the montages and elaborate parties for them to make up jokes. This is especially not fair because Rob Hubel and Andrew Daly are two of the funniest people alive right now.

Most romantic comedies are vain. That’s fine. It’s telling a story of a personal relationship; this happens. However this movie is so focused to the point of narcissism on two characters that are horrible and boring individuals who end up being horrible parents. Yeah!

The extras are full of those incredible fake featurettes where the leads teach you about parenting. This film will convince you not to believe them. There are also deleted scenes because someone thought this movie shouldn’t be over two hours. I love them.

Film: 1 Yap

Extras: 1 Yap

Film Yap: It's Kind of a Funny Story

When I first reviewed It’s Kind of a Funny Story a few months ago, I was disappointed by it. Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck are such talented filmmakers and this just seemed like too mainstream of material. Their first two films, Half Nelson and Sugar, were based in this uncomfortable realism that really allowed characters and acting to shine.

This movie is just too much of artificial quirkiness. It feels too safe and that really hurts the story. It’s about a kid who admits himself into a mental asylum and then immediately regrets his decision. They won’t let him leave until the week is up (protocol and all that). That means he has five days to have a new understanding about life and love.

The film says through narration that it’s not as simple as that, but it turns out that it is. When he’s there he finds comfort from a lonely older man named Bobby and he finds Noelle, a girl who completely understands him. The only thing standing in his way is a subplot involving a girl he has a crush on back in high school.

Even though the film as a whole is too clean, there are still plenty of shining moments in it. Zach Galifianakis gives a marvelous performance as Bobby. In a few years he may be stuck like Steve Carrell, playing the same part. Just like Carrell had Dan in Real Life and Little Miss Sunshine, I’m worried this really strong performance may be one of the only times it can shine how good of an actor Galifianakis is.

There are plenty of nice smaller moments, often when it breaks structure and goes off on creative tangents. There is a musical number that could have been stronger, but it’s still a nice change of pace. Also Jeremy Davies appearing in any scene makes things just a little bit better.

The bonus features are pretty bare and mimicked the same tactics as the Frenemy DVD. Before this movie was made, Galifianakis was just a very funny comedian, not the Hollywood superstar. So now in a post-Hangover world the featurettes are all focused on him. The bloopers show his improv skills and the interviews ask the cast how great it was to work with him.

Film: 3 Yaps

Extras: 2 Yaps

Film Yap: Year of the Fish

Mixing fairy tales with reality is one of the trickiest blends a film can make. It doesn’t mean being gritty because a lot of the original fairy tales were dark. It’s more about telling a feature-length story that uses archetypes and a more difficult use of dialog.

Year of the Fish has difficulty maintaining this balance. Writer/director David Kaplan starts off really well by using an interesting form of rotoscoping to paint his world. This has primarily been seen by Richard Linklater in his films Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly. Those felt more like computer effects, but Kapan makes every feel like a textured painting was placed atop each frame. It always looks really interesting, especially when it gets to play with its transitions.

Rotoscoping is something that is too artificial to forget about when you’re watching the film. It looks like you’re watching two different planes at once. This is not a good thought while the world of fairy tale and reality is trying to gel. This film cleverly places “Cinderella” in modern day Chinatown. Ye Xian (An Nguyen) has to work at a shady massage parlor where all of their endings are happy. When she doesn’t want to take part in that sort of massage Mrs. Su (Tsai Chin) becomes very angry and forces her to scrub the floors and other such tasks.

Mrs. Su continues to be a tyrant and the rest of the employees occupy the evil stepsister roles. All of the acting is inconsistent because it seems that sometimes Kaplan is wanting them to play up their broken English. The only one who does a great job is the underrated Ken Leung (LOST, The Squid and the Whale) as the Prince Charming. In this case he is a talented but underappreciated musician. (This is an independent film after all.) He’s able to handle the dialog in a very earnest, organic way and does a solid job with all of the romantic material.

Near the end, a lot of the plot really bends over backwards to fit itself with the Cinderella plotline. It makes the film feel very awkward and it’s already has too much to draw the audience out. There are a lot of clichés and random elements like a mystical man with sound effects that seem like a personal laugh track. There is some cleverness and creativity to keep the movie engaging, but more as an worthy attempt not a cohesive whole.

The DVD only has a few extras. There is an early rotoscoping test they made which looks…fine. The cooler one was showing the difference between a scene before and after rotoscoping. There are arguments both ways on which version looks better. I think the actors get shortchanged a little bit with the additional animation.There is also an okay commentary track with Kaplan, Nguyen, and another actor Hettienne Park as well as a trailer.

Film: 3 Yaps

Extras: 2 Yaps

Film Yap: Ray

In 2004, Ray came out and was a huge success. It racked up a few Oscars, including a win for Jamie Foxx in Best Actor. As time went by the popularity for the film has faded a bit. Some of it is due to overexposure of the musical biopic. Ray inspired films like Walk the Line and the genre spoof Walk Hard.

Ray is a very solid film, but it’s also very conventional. The problem with any biopic is playing up the highlights of their life and not telling a full story. That’s when everything appears to be more formulaic and not organic. Ray is able to sidestep some of those problems by having a really great ensemble. Foxx earned a lot of praise for his portrayal of Ray Charles even though it always feels like an impersonation. Kerry Washington, Regina King, Terrence Howard, David Krumholtz, and Richard Schiff all give solid performances.

The musical numbers are a lot of fun as an introduction to Charles’ music or as warm nostalgia. Director Taylor Hackford moves the story quickly even though he sometimes relies on simplistic characterization for its leads. Still there is a strong element of fun throughout the film that makes this so watchable whenever it appears on TV.

The new Blu-Ray is full of spiffy bonus features. There are a number of uncut musical performances from the movie. There is a really nice piece with Foxx and the real Ray Charles that show how he got into the character. There’s a tribute to Charles as well as a number of more featurettes, a commentary track by Hackford, and of course deleted scenes. It’s a very full and worthwhile new release if you are a fan of the movie.

Film: 3.5 Yaps

Extras: 4 Yaps

Film Yap: Enter the Void

With Enter the Void, writer/director Gasper Noé created something that is completely insane and completely brilliant. He created a film that encompasses what it means to transcend reality into a new mental plane. Following the existence of Oscar, a drug dealer living in Japan, means doing more than just telling a linear story.

The film seamlessly shifts from very personal POV shots to impersonal shots following a character where you only his back to ghostly observations as the camera floats high above the room. The camera moves through scenes and emotional creates some of the more shocking and intriguing images seen on film in many years.

Noé proves that plot and characters are not the only way to create an effective narrative. This is such a unique experience that many will find to be difficult and unsatisfying. This isn’t about getting towards the end of the film, but embracing it was a full collection of ideas. There will be many interpretations on some of the imagery including the frequent falling into pure colors, the repetitive nature of key events, and the most voyeuristic ending you can imagine. With answers may provide enlightenment, but without there is still this wonderful blend of tone and pure creativity.

What Noé has done cannot be overstated. He is the best cinematic magician since Georges Mélies. This movie shows his complete confidence in creating his vision by taking gigantic risks. This is an incredibly exciting movie that should be attempted by everyone. It should be seen in one viewing on a big screen preferably in the early hours of the morning.

These types of experimental films typically fail because of the visionaries behind them. Their ideas seem empty and unfulfilling but Noé established something profound, beautiful and definitely personal. There is still exciting things happening in the world of cinema.

The DVD includes deleted scenes (somehow). There is an unconventional look at the some of the VFX shots. They have also isolated the vortex sequences and a loop of the DMT scenes. There are also trailers and posters. There isn’t an explanation of anything by anyone involved or them showing how they did some of the tricks. They’re letting it speak for itself.

Film: 5 Yaps

Extras: 2 Yaps

Film Yap: Somewhere

Films that test your patience can either be a colossal waste of time or something that sticks with you more than a more conventional story. Somewhere will divide audiences into those categories but it’s Sofia Coppola that knows how to make this movie fascinating.

Stephen Dorff plays Johnny Marco, a seemingly A-list Hollywood actor. He meanders though his days. He’s bored at home, bored with strippers, and bored at work. The only thing that changes up his days is the arrival of his daughter Cleo, played by Elle Fanning. He doesn’t have a Kramer vs Kramer epiphany where he finds a renewed sense of joy in his life. Instead he actually does something with his days.

This may just consist of playing Guitar Hero or going to the pool, but at least it is something. There are very few lines of dialog in this movie. Marco is a very introverted character, but that doesn’t make the movie dull. Coppola has complete control over this movie. It’s the work of professionals that make the mundane become enlightening.

This counteracts some of the shots that are too on-the-nose. The movie opens with Marco driving around in the circles, but Coppola frames it in an interesting (and definitely self-aware) fashion. The only thing she can’t save was Dorff’s “Oscar moment” where he breaks down for just a brief moment.

A quiet movie does not automatically mean a complex one. Just like one with rapid fire dialog doesn’t automatically match the intelligence of Aaron Sorkin. Coppola is not intending to reinvent the Hollywood perspective. Instead of striving for some deeper metaphor, the film wisely just keeps the focus on the emptiness on one man’s life.

This film would fail if Dorff and Fanning didn’t give strong performances. They’re comfortable with each other, but neither of them really know each other yet. Their curiosity about each other is never overplayed. Fanning has really grown as an actress from her Phoebe in Wonderland days. She really knows how to live in the scene. Also it turns out that Jackass’s Chris Pontius knows how to give a charming performance as well.

Despite the sadness and the distance, there is still warmth in this movie that is created by all of the elements working together. It’s a very fine movie that will sadly fight to maintain its audience.

4 Yaps

Film Yap: The Way Back

The Way Back does something different with the way it tells its trek. Most movies will show the landscape in a majestic sweeping fashion. It will make the journey seem like an adventure. In this film, the land is a vicious opponent.

Seven men escape from a prison in the Soviet Union in the early 1940s. They are quiet determined men who are willing to travel as far as it takes to get their freedom. Even when they are held by cruel captors, their only true enemy is the weather. The soldiers have guns and can order them to the mines, but they really feel the pain when they have to battle the frigid weather and the vast forest that surrounds them.

Janusz (Jim Sturgess) is the unofficial leader of the group. His wife informed on him and he was sent from Poland to be imprisoned in Siberia. Ed Harris plays the lone American named Mr. Smith. Colin Farrell is more of a wildcard as a jumpy Russian named Valka. Eventually they meet a secretive young girl played by Saoirse Ronan who is also on the run.

Director Peter Weir tells this incredible story while remaining surprisingly constrained. The leads do not say much and the more sentimental moments remain small and personal. The film plays more like a horrifying story than a crowd-pleaser. There are only a few moments when is a bit too obvious with his visual techniques, including one scene when the Janusz realizes how animalistic their group has become because they are eating away at meat like the wolves they just shooed away.

There are no montages to show time, but just relentless scenes of the actors walking and walking. These people battle the harshest environments imaginable ranging from an endless desert to the Himalayan Mountains. This is what tests these people. There are no power struggles within the group or real fear of being recaptured. The strength and hope of humanity is constantly being challenged and it becomes an exhausting journey. Every terrain leads to a new frightening experience that is limited on food and water. The length of this film really plays up how long this journey was and anything shorter would compromise the impressiveness.

There are plenty of conflicting reports to whether or not this tale and the memoir are true. Whether the film is taken as fact or fiction, what remains is a very compelling story that avoids the usual clichés and shows an adventure that no one will ever want to replicate.

4 Yaps

Film Yap: My Last Five Girlfriends

The idea of looking back at former relationships to figure out what went wrong is not an original concept. Nick Hornby and Stephen Frears did it with High Fidelity. There was a fun new documentary A Complete History of My Sexual Failures that did it without giving the lead any mercy. So what does My Last Five Girlfriends bring to the table?

This movie plays a lot with the format and that makes it feel really fresh. Duncan (Brendan Patricks) begins with crafting his suicide letter. He feels betrayed by love and can’t figure out why his recent relationships have failed. Before he dies he thinks back to them to figure out what happened.

This storytelling structure of starting in the present and jumping into the past is usually annoying and this is no exception. The only thing I liked about it was the opportunity to play with memory. Instead of having long scenes with each ones that tell the full story of each relationship, it is just snippets. Not even the most important part. It’s fun to see all of the minute moments that could hold vital clues.

Every memory uses a lot of innovative devices and gimmicks to tell its story. Fans of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and 500 Days of Summer will enjoy seeing what writer/director Julian Kemp comes up with. Some of the better ones is when Duncan and Wendy’s airplane seats transform into a guided tour of her past as portrayed by dolls. There are also fun scenes including one of his girlfriend’s stuffed elephants giving him sex advice and an imagination of an interrogation on why his girlfriend decided by buy his favorite cereal.

There are plenty of very clever moments in the movie, but it doesn’t have a strong emotional connection. Duncan is a standard character and Patricks doesn’t play him with enough charisma. This really falls short with the narration, which is needed to guide everyone through this format but isn’t as clever as what’s seen on screen. If there was a little more internal conflict or frustration in the narration to really deduce why these relationships went wrong, it would have been a lot strong.

Also since the women are not described in a regular format, there is a feel we really aren’t seeing the full story of these women. We get his emotional connections to them, but that doesn’t reflect for us to understand them in the same way. The audience will only know them through Duncan’s biased eyes, which is interesting but not involving. That’s the ultimate flaw of the movie.

The DVD has a handful of cool extras. Short interviews with Kemp and members of the cast. The really cool featurette was when he showed how he did some of the visual effects in the movie. There are also deleted scenes and a commentary track with Kemp.

Film: 4 Yaps

Extras: 3.5 Yaps