Monday, December 31, 2007

Movie #19 - The Hitcher (2007)

2007 remake, The Hitcher, was quite a disappointment. I was expecting more from this film as I am a cult fan of the original movie starring Rutger Hauer. When I saw the trailer of this film, I thought to myself, Sean Bean as John Ryder could be a good casting for this reckless character. However, I thought wrong.

The film starts out quite normal for a horror film. College couple on their way to a cabin for spring break. Handsome guy driving a sports car with a buxom woman as his girlfriend.
Then comes the rain and cue - The Hitcher. I haven't seen the original film in over 15 years, but I do recall being more scared of the Rutger Hauer entrance than this one of Bean. Maybe its just the fact that overall, Hauer has a stronger threat presence on screen than that of Bean, known more for his roles in Lord of the Rings - Fellowship of the Ring and Patriot Games.
After the couple offers to drive Bean after an encounter at a gas station, this movie just degrades into a gore fest of cat and mouse scenes. There is too much useless killing and too little character development, even for a horror movie - whose main goal is to scare you!
Bean provides very little to evoke an emotional response to his character portrayal of John Ryder and there is nothing in the acting performances of Sophia Bush and Zach Knighton. The original Hitcher was cast with C. Thomas Howell and Jennifer Jason Leigh, a 1986 upgrade compared to these two young actors cast in this Bean version.
I beg to question what Michael Bay was hoping to achieve with this remake. Bay was able to convince Hitcher writer, Eric Red to develop this updated screenplay for this remake, however, there really isn't anything new to offer and its not very good.
There is only one good scene in this movie when Ryder comes flying down the highway in his black Camaro to the Nine Inch Nails classic - Closer, playing in the background. That was a cool scene. Yet the rest of the movie falls short of expectations in the remake category.

Although an update to this film was warranted, I would probably have enjoyed Hauer reprising this role and this character. Although he is quite older now, Hauer could probably have done justice to the Ryder character.
For readers out there, skip this Hitcher and find the original 1986 cult classic. If you watch both films back to back, you will know why the '86 version is the better of the two films. The 2007 version is full of useless death scenes and petty thrill sequences and does not achieve the character development which made the original scary. The original movie becomes scary the moment Howell's character stops the car - the 2007 version is never scary and is an overall disappointment.
Reference: I originally published this article on

Movie #18 - Letters from Iwo Jima

The combination of Steven Spielberg, Clint Eastwood, and Paul Haggis were able to capture the true essence of the stories behind the battle of Iwo Jima through the films Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima. Both films tell the story from unique perspectives and although Letters from Iwo Jima stands out as the better of the two films, the combination of the stories is a unique theatrical experience.

Letters from Iwo Jima stars Ken Watanabe (Batman Begins, Last Samurai) and a number of Japanese actors portraying soldiers stationed at Iwo Jima weeks before the great battle between the United States and the Japanese. Watanabe plays General Tadamichi Kuribayashi, the famous general who was able to hold off the U.S. invasion of Iwo Jima for many days without proper military support or supplies.

Having this story told from the Japanese perspective provided a great insight to the mentality of the Japanese war front. The suicide scenes were quite powerful, yet gruesome. This showed that by that time of the war, the Japanese soldiers were honorable men, willing to sacrifice their very lives for their country.

Following General Kuribayashi's character as he returns from his time living and studying in the United States to the horrors of war is a treat for the audience. Its Spielberg, Eastwood, and Haggis' way of showing how pointless this war truly was for those involved. It shows that the Americans and Japanese were great friends in the past and that this war really had no purpose for those men that died fighting it.

The strong storyline of the film followed the character named Saigo. He was a baker drafted to fight in the war. He comes close to death throughout the film, some instances comedic, some ironic, and some dramatic. He survives the entire battle through his own wit and convictions. As an audience of this movie, you truly feel for this character and hope for his survival. Although his adventure is perilous, Saigo survives to preserve the "letters" of the soldiers of Iwo Jima, which became the core of the plot of this film.

There are some powerful performances in this movie. Mainly by Watanabe and Kazunari Ninomiya (Saigo) which resonates throughout the film. Because there haven't been many films depicting the Japanese perspective during WWII, this film is full of twists and turns and the stories are wonderfully told.

The Oscar nominations for Best Director (Eastwood), Best Motion Picture (Eastwood / Spielberg) and Best Writing - Original Screenplay (Haggis / Iris Yamashita) were all well deserved.

As a fan of great cinema, I am hopeful that this movie making experience will allow Haggis, Eastwood, and Spielberg to collaborate on future projects so that they can treat their audiences to future epic films.

Reference: I originally published this article on

Movie #17 - Flags of Our Fathers

On paper, putting together the ensemble team of Clint Eastwood, Steven Spielberg, and Paul Haggis should result in a tremendous blockbuster. Overall, this movie does not disappoint.

Flags of Our Fathers follows the lives of six men who were involved in the raising of the flag on Iwo Jima, a pivotal battle won by the United States during WWII. What wasn't known at the time, is that the United States were virtually broke with the billions of dollars spent on WWII and the fact that many of its citizens grew weary of the whole campaign.

The movie follows three plot lines, which is quite common in Paul Haggis screenplays. It follows the lives of Ryan Phillippe (John "Doc" Bradley), Jesse Bradford (Rene Gagnon), and Adam Beach (Ira Hayes). All three men were involved in the raising of the famous flag, however, how this event affects these men is really a wonderful story to tell.

There are pockets of action sequences which are quite powerful and are inserted at strong points throughout the film. This provides the audience with the needed change of pace to maintain interest while at the same time, discuss the negative effects of the war on these three individual characters.

Brief cameos of war piece veteran actors such as Barry Pepper (Saving Private Ryan) and Neil McDonough (Band of Brothers) show Spielberg's influence on the film. This enhanced the feel of the movie as both actors have been cast in various war pictures in the past and provide a strong representation for both the action sequences and the drama of the film.

Strong performances were achieved by both Phillippe and Beach. Both men were able to capture the characters being portrayed by the film. Since it was a true story being depicted in the plot lines, it must've been difficult to develop the characters any further. By the end of the film, you truly believed Phillippe and Beach were the men telling the story, which made the film powerful in the end.

I read somewhere that you needed to watch this movie first before watching Letters from Iwo Jima. This way, you could not only understand both perspectives of the story (United States and Japanese points of view), but could appreciate how important this battle was to both sides.

Having the trio of Haggis, Spielberg, and Eastwood work on these two films was a treat to the theatrical audience. Although from the box office perspective, both films didn't live up to expectations, as a fan of the collaboration, I am glad that these films achieved their goals - to tell the true stories from the heroes of this great battle of WWII history.

Reference: I originally published this article on

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Movie #16 - Casino Royale

Like any Bond film, Casino Royale starts off with a wonderfully shot action sequence, in which we get introduced to the Bond character. I haven't seen one Bond film that doesn't kick off with these gripping scenes, however, like many Bond movies before this one, the movie sets a high standard and usually falls flat by the end.

The plot of this film dates back to Bond's first mission as a MI-6 agent - his elevation to double '00' agent status. I like the current trend of many films recently, creating sequels to the famous franchises in the form of prequels. The prequel angle has allowed stories to be changed, more detail and background information to be provided, and the ability to develop the lead character into greater detail. The successful prequels that I have enjoyed include the Hannibal Lechter series, Batman, and now this new era with Daniel Craig leading the way.

Judi Dench reprises her role as M in this film. Also, in coordination of the prequel concept, there is no Q cast for this film. A good choice in plot design if you ask me. However, the film does take into account that a prequel could be cast in the past, but instead, Casino Royale is set in present time with references to 9/11 and gadgets from the current age. This is once again a good choice in plot design as a dated James Bond character would probably disappoint fans of the movie seeking out the newest spy technologies and cars.

Daniel Craig is a new-age Bond for the new-age Bond fan. He is no longer the suave, debonair, snooty British spy. This Bond is brutish, crude, and somewhat clumsy in his actions and his dealings as the famed spy. I like the shift in character paradigm as I was getting sick of the cool Bond and enjoyed the fact that they made some changes to how he conducted himself in this film.

Overall, this movie lacks the substance of a great Bond film. As with some of the more notable Bond classics, there is no great villain or cast of henchmen after the spy. Craig's character deals with obstacle after obstacle, yet doesn't really solve the problem in the end of the movie. The ending seems to be tacked on for conclusion purposes, but the film doesn't end in true Bond fashion.

Due to recent popularity of Texas Hold 'Em poker, Casino Royale seemed to be a fitting stage for this prequel. The cast includes Eva Green, who the camera seems to love on the screen whenever she is in the shot. She is quite beautiful, either in her conservative HM Treasurer outfits or as a slinky, mystical woman entering the casino floor. Even in her inevitable betrayal scenes, I find a sense of beauty in her face, something that was a bonus for this film. However, the casting of the rest of the characters such as Mads Mikkelsen as Le Chiffre really didn't do this film justice. I know that having Craig as the new Bond became a prerequisite to cast a lesser known evil villain. In my opinion, a stronger character development of Le Chiffre would've been more appealing overall.

I cannot complain too much about this movie as it was a good attempt at allowing a franchise adapt to a new timeline. I am excited to see what else Ian Fleming has up his sleeve for this unique opportunity to revamp an old friend.

Reference: I originally published this article on

Friday, December 28, 2007

Movie #15 - The Messengers

There was a great deal of potential when this movie started, however, as the plot progressed, scene after scene became more predictable.

The Messengers seemed to unfold like a combination of scenes and plots similar to other films such as The Others, mixed in with a dabble of The Grudge, with a pinch of The Amityville Horror and even some insights stolen from The Ring. There was nothing new achieved in this film and it ranks up there as another quick scare movie - especially since it seemed quite short with little to no character development.

I was impressed by the young actress cast in this film. Kristen Stewart gives a strong performance despite her lack of exposure in the industry. She actually conveys to the audience that she is genuinely scared by the haunting of her new home, however, a better script probably would've taken advantage of her acting performance. I was not impressed by the achievements of Dylan McDermott or Penelope Ann Miller. I believe both actors were cast as potential headliners for this movie. Their roles could be easily interchanged with no name actors, who probably would have achieved the same level of performance.

As a fan of the X-Files television show of the late 90's, William B. Davis (otherwise known as the Cigarette Smoking Man or "Cancer Man") makes a brief cameo in this film. At first glance, you see him as his old menacing character from the show, however, I would have liked Davis to have a greater role as this movie progressed. He's a strong actor and would be a nice complement to the movie - he was grossly misused as a cast member.

With about 40 minutes left in the film, the progression of the script seemed quite telegraphed and predictable. This is consistent with many of Sam Raimi's recent films, even the blockbusters. Gone are the days of Evil Dead where every other scene was unique and you didn't expect what would come next. Gone are the days of the cult classics. Raimi's new production company, Ghost House, is still seeking its first big hit. The Messengers was a good try, but that wasn't it.

Reference: I originally published this article on

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Movie #14 - The French Connection

I must admit... I have wanted to watch this movie for many years now. Ever since I was a kid, I always heard that one of the best police movies is The French Connection. Well, it does not disappoint. This film is Gene Hackman at his best... not to forget, a cool counterpart in Roy Scheider.

Hackman and Scheider were at the top of their game in this movie. Intensity and passion were easily conveyed by both actors. This pairing of A-list actors from that era really worked... something that could be compared to the accomplishment of pairing Walken and De Niro in the Deer Hunter or Pacino and De Niro in Godfather II.

Hackman and Scheider portray New York City Narcotics officers 'Popeye' Doyle and 'Cloudy' Russo... great nicknames by the way. The plot was based on a true story of a real narcotics ring that two police officers had uncovered during the 70's which involved a french connection with smugglers from France.

The chase scenes here are incredible for the time period. This is probably a template movie for many television and movie chase scenes reminiscent of the classic film, Bullitt. I watched recently on a top movie list show that it was rumored that some of the action sequences were actually shot in real time without proper stuntmen and stuntcars.

This film was directed by one of my favourite directors... William Friedkin. Although his recent work has been total crap, his early work is inclusive of one of my favourite films of all time - The Exorcist. Friedkin won an Oscar for his efforts in this film along with Hackman for Best Actor. I would've liked to have seen Scheider win also, but he was nominated... which is great acknowledgement for his performance.

Back to my comment about the scenes. The rumour is that Friedkin mounted cameras on top of Hackman's car and along the street. He never did block off any traffic or hired stunt drivers for any of the shots. This way, the full out chase scene involving Hackman chasing after a subway car with his French sniper friend would seem more realistic on screen. Don't get me wrong, I am sure that Friedkin fixed some of those scenes, but I would not be surprised if most of that rumour is true. It did look more realistic and resulted in a great chase scene. The conclusion of that scene is probably the most recognizable shots in the film and hence, I chose it for the picture in this blog post.

Finally, I can say that I have watched the French Connection... if I ever see this movie again on television, I'll add it to the list of movies that I watch just to see one or two scenes for...

Movie #13 - Poseidon

Well... to mark the first day of having The Movie Network (TMN) channels on our cable system at home, I decided to start myself off on the right foot and watch the remake of The Poseidon Adventure, entitled Poseidon.

There isn't much to this film. The cruise ship is CGI built and the set, although elaborate, is really a bunch of stages in a warehouse. Even some of the major set builds seem fake and you really have to pay attention to what could be real and what's obviously not.

Josh Lucas and Kurt Russell star in this film with some useless appearances from the likes of Emmy Rossum and Richard Dreyfuss. There is also a surprising appearance by Fergie (Stacy Ferguson) of Black Eyed Peas fame and Andre Braugher from Homicide: Life on the Street.

The film attempts to build some characters early on in the film, but spends just about 10 minutes on this attempt. Unlike the first Poseidon starring Hackman and company, this movie wastes no time in destroying the ship with the rogue tidal wave, but also wastes no time to pit the band of survivors against pitfall after pitfall of danger.

I guess Wolfgang Petersen's (Das Boot, Air Force One, Outbreak, In the Line of Fire) thought that if he just bombarded the audience with scene after scene of suspense, that the final picture would be well worth the time spent. Well... I thought the original Poseidon Adventure was a bore, due to its attempts to build characters and discuss courses of action in a time of crisis. However, this film just threw all of that out of the window and decided to just do a plain action film... which sank at the end.

Both movies have their positives... I guess in retrospect, the first one had bigger actors for one (Hackman, Borgnine, Winters) and even garnered some Academy attention. This one... was just a fumble from the beginning. It probably relied on the success of the first film in order to parlay that into success in a remake.

Overall, in my movie watching lifetime... I haven't seen a movie remake better than the first one... and trust me, there have been plenty that have bombed. This one can rank up there with the rest of them.

There is only one cool scene here... but in a time of despair and destruction, its doubtful that this scene would even happen in "real" life. However, it was still a cool one and was the only surprise of the movie. Bonus: Fergie dies... guess the whole film wasn't that bad!

Movie #12 - Rush Hour 2

I still don't get sick of seeing Jackie Chan stunts. They are so well choreographed and he has such skill and finesse to his movements. What makes this film set funny (Rush Hour 1-3) is the fact that they teamed up Chan with Chris Tucker.

Every time Tucker is on screen, you cannot help but laugh with his character. What makes it funnier, is that it almost seems effortless. Tucker was being groomed as being the "next" Eddie Murphy. However, with some of his movie appearances and starring roles, he ranks up there with Murphy.

Although I was never a big fan of Tucker's stand up work as compared to the likes of Carlin, Pryor, Murphy, Peters or Chappelle, Tucker's on-screen persona really does get some laughs.

For example, early in his career, Tucker made some candid appearances on TSN's Off the Record with Michael Landsberg. Let's just say, he stole the show during all of those appearances that audiences were begging him to return time and time again.
The outtakes of the Rush Hour movies rank up there with other comedic movies. Tucker and Chans blunders are both hilarious and in some cases for Chan, quite painful.

Back to the movie. Chan and Tucker have great on-screen chemistry. Mainly because Tucker loves to be the spotlight and Chan is a genuine type of person both on and off the big screen. The action sequences are quite predictable... many kicks, blocks, and evasive maneuvers, but it seems to work throughout this film and others in this set.

The additions of Ziyi Zhang (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) and Roselyn Sanchez (Without a Trace) are what make this movie better than the first one and probably better than the second one. My wife and I missed out on Rush Hour 3 only because after 6 years since #2, it seemed more like a money grab.

Both Zhang and Sanchez steal the show during their time on screen. Both women are quite beautiful and it only makes a silly movie like this one worth watching.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Movie #11 - The Poseidon Adventure

I was watching this movie on the AMC channel the other day. I had originally seen this film back when I was 14, renting movies from our local video store (Queen Video) in Streetsville, Ontario during their awesome rental deal, 5 old movies for $5.

The reason I rented this movie back in 1994 was because of the cover. It showed a flipped over boat, with a ton of cast members who at the time, were famous in their own right. By 1972 production standards, the Poseidon Adventure was considered a major blockbuster film with a tremendously large budget. To create a relative example, this film would rank up there in cost as Titanic. Ironically, also a ship disaster movie.
The cast is filled with A and B list celebrities. Everyone's favourite loud mouth, Gene Hackman. A very rough and tumble Ernest Borgnine, Red Buttons (for comic relief of course - although he didn't really achieve it here) and Shelley Winters. Winters received an Academy Award nomination for this film for Best Supporting Actress... something that is almost unheard of nowadays in a so-called action movie.

There is also a very brief cameo of Leslie Nielsen... see if you can spot him. He makes a Janet Lee-esque appearance in this film... so don't blink if you are expecting to see him in the latter parts of this movie.

Related to my commentary for this movie is the fact that this film was recently remade in 2006 starring Kurt Russell in the Hackman role. I didn't bother seeing this film when it was released because I actually didn't really like the first one.

My personal rule with remakes - if I don't like the first one... why waste another 2 hours of my life to see the next one. It probably isn't any better if they used the first one as a template or foundation for the story.

The adventure itself is quite fantastic in the sense that a band of passengers struggle to live while the sinking ship continues to throw obstacle upon obstacle at these characters. There really isn't any character development beyond Hackman and Borgnine and I am quite surprised why Winters got this Oscar nod. This movie was ground breaking in the sense of giant set design and stunts and action sequences... however, beyond that, it is a sinking ship from beginning to end!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Movie #10 - Alien Resurrection

Forgot to post this one last week. I don't really know why I like this movie. There are some really crappy scenes in this movie, but there are some cool shots that I enjoy, even to this day. Guess I like this movie for I watched it in theatres, back when watching R rated movies was a cool thing to do.
There are some good cameos in this film from the guy who plays Wormtongue from LOTR (Brad Dourif) to Gary Dourdain of CSI fame. If you want a weird friggin' movie, cast Dourif. Always liked him as a side character, ever since his work on One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest.

There's also a strong comedic performance from Ron Pearlman... you might even spot some parallel maneurisms between this character in 1997 to his current role as Hellboy. Its the persona that Pearlman brings, which is a far cry from his television days as the Beast in Beauty and the Beast.

What I like about this movie... Sigourney Weaver is crazy yet again, but she's also part alien now as she is cloned with hybrid DNA. That makes her even more lethal. She's also an amazon in this flick, as she kicks everyone's ass in a great intro scene in the gym. Winona Ryder doesn't do much to add to this movie as another "robot" with an agenda.

I dig the action sequences which include the alien chase in the water tank, the fight between the Betty crew and the soldiers (cool guns attached to Dourdan), and the ladder scene with Pearlman.

The concept of the movie has been done and they really should've stopped with Alien 3, which was bad enough. But Weaver's gotta pay the bills somehow and having a Quadrology is the ticket... too bad they made Alien vs. Predator (AVP), because now that's just too much of these mouth-watering freaks!

Movie #9 - Suspiria

I never thought I would be able to say this, but I might've actually seen the worst movie in my whole life. And lets just say, I don't know the exact figure of how many movies I have watched, but I would assume that I have seen at least more than 1000+ movies.

During Halloween 2007, I happened upon a list of Top 10 horror movies of all time published by Knowing that these articles are usually biased, I decided to give the list a chance and read on through.

I discovered that the list included 6 movies that I have seen before, including 2 of my top 3 favourite films of all time: Psycho and The Exorcist. However, the other 4 movies baffled me, not because they were odd inclusions, but because I had never been exposed to any of them before.

At #4 on that list included the Dario Argento film from 1977, Suspiria. Claiming to be one of the most wonderfully, stylistic horror movies of its era, potentially of all time. I recently picked up a copy of this movie from a trip to Stratford, and I was excited to watch this movie. 1977 was a year of great movies, so my expectations were quite high.

The movie started off somewhat expected... creative death scene, quite graphic by 1977 standards with the stabbing of the exposed beating heart and the full out hanging of the woman in the scene. However, I believe the use of colour (technicolour) hurt this film. The colours in many of the scenes were too bright and vibrant... maybe that was the point. However, I could look beyond this movie if there was a decent script or even a point to the whole thing,

The final solution of this movie... witches and the haunting of the school... was tacked on in the final 20 mins of the movie... something that is billed to be the scariest part of the whole thing... according to the tag line, the last 12 minutes are scarier than the first 92 mins.

Well, it totally flopped. This movie is highly regarded in many film circles, yet I believe it is overrated. What makes this worse is that the film is a remastered version of the original, which includes every scene that was meant for theatrical release.

There are some positives... I got to spend a nice night with my wife. I did in fact like the score of the film, however, I felt it was misused throughout different scenes in the movie. Also, the set chosen for this film and the lighting were cool at times, but still did not overcome a lack of plot, script or even decent scares, thrills, or chills.

Put this movie up against my 3 favourites any day - The Shining, Psycho, and The Exorcist and you will see how bad this movie truly is.

Here's the top 10 list that I found... I am saddened for I no longer want to watch the other 3 movies that I haven't seen yet - Eraserhead, Don't Look Now, and Repulsion.

10. Eraserhead
9. The Exorcist
8. Halloween
7. Don't Look Now
6.Texas Chainsaw Massacre
5. Nightmare on Elm Street
4. Suspiria
3. Night of the Living Dead
2. Repulsion
1. Psycho

At least he got the #1 movie right. I'll give him that.