Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Cornfield People – Belated Holiday gift: UPDATE 12/28/2014

Just got an e-mail from someone who is willing to send me a copy of The Cornfield People.  While I trust C. W. Schultz (who is my main source of information involving this film), the fact that I get to watch this movie for myself gives me a newfound belief in the existence of  this film—after all, there are those who claim this movie is just a hoax.

However, the more I'm piecing things together, the more I'm realizing that this Cornfield People denial-ism is somewhat comparable to North Korea's bullying and terrorizing of The Interview's cancellation.  Rumor has it that members of an actual Cornfield People cult are behind the attempt of erasing The Cornfield People movie from history.

Only time will tell if The Cornfield People is actually as crazy as its underground fame.  If all goes well, I shall see for myself.

What About Bob?

Successful but egotistical psychotherapist (Dreyfuss) is pushed to the edge when an overly-dependent new patient suffering from multiple phobias (Murray) tracks him down during his vacation and befriends his family. The plot outline comes across as a clich├ęd thriller, but it's actually a refreshingly original comedy, thanks to Murray's performance as the titular character who is unwittingly manipulative and narcissistic. Filmed on Smith Mountain Lake in Moneta, Virginia, which is a gorgeous substitute for the Lake Winnipesaukee setting. The replay value and timelessness are amazing, with many brownie-points going to the brilliance of Frank Oz's modesty as a storyteller. Erbe, Hagerty and Korsmo are all great in their supporting roles.

Love Actually

Hip, honest and heartwarming British Christmas comedy about the love-lives of the Prime Minister (Grant), his sister (Thompson), her husband's (Rickman) employees (Linney and Santoro), and other romantic plots to intertwine this ensemble cast. Unfortunately, what starts out as a modestly brilliant dialogue-driven script slowly becomes a little more theatrical than necessary, and if the viewer chooses to be a Grinch and dissect the plot, they'll probably find one or two unnecessary stories—after all, a 136 minute rom-com is indeed pushing the limits. Still, the viewing experience is wonderful during the Holiday season, and the movie has great potential to be a Christmas classic. While Knightley and Lincoln's story is just downright rubbish, Nighy and Fisher's takes the cake!

A Christmas Story

Nine-year-old Billingsley living in 1940s Indiana (the city of Hohman, a fictionalized version of author Shepherd's hometown of Hammond) wants a "Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle with a compass in the stock and 'this thing which tells time'" for Christmas. Seems straightforward? Nah. Layered with many fun subplots that are more humorous than the last, this sleeper hit has since become easily one of the greatest Christmas movies of all-time. The flagpole incident, Shepherd's narration, and Zittrer and Zaza's score are what really make this film worthwhile, but all-in-all almost everything about this Christmas classic is near perfect.

The Muppet Christmas Carol

This retelling of Charles Dickens' novella starring your favorite muppets in supporting roles has become a Christmas classic in its own right. Michael Caine is perfect as Scrooge, and his chemistry with the muppets in tow are an amazing match. The movie is legitimately funny, spooky or touching all at the right moments—it's one of those rare films that hits the right note every single second. There doesn't seem to be any pattern with the intermixing of humans and muppets, but regardless, it works just fine without any distractions. Perhaps the strongest point of all is the musical numbers composed by Miles Goodman and written by Paul Williams.

Jingle All the Way

When workaholic father Schwarzenegger misses his son's (Lloyd) karate class graduation, the only way to make it up to him is to buy a Turbo Man action figure—or, "a stoopid liddle plahhstic dawl", as Schwarzenegger would say it in yet another role that inexplicably required him to have an Austrian accent for a character with an American name (hmmm)—but the toy is sold out everywhere, save some very few exceptions that will require some competition from others who are equally desperate (and that's where Sinbad comes in). The premise is wonderful, and there are a lot of genuinely hilarious moments. The downfall is how quickly the movies loses a grip on reality (which could've easily worked with the same amount of humor and fun), especially during the finale. Also, the lack of likability from Schwarzenegger and Wilson make this Christmas adventure a pretty brutal endeavor. The idea that Schwarzenegger's character has enough time for his job (and, let's not forget, the gym), but not his son, doesn't make him all that redeemable.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Scrooged

The success and wealth of being a television programming executive has made Frank Cross (Murray) cold-hearted, cruel and cynical… greedy enough to head up a live Christmas Eve broadcast of A Christmas CAROL (referred to as SCROOGE), only to find his life hilariously mirroring the story he's producing. Add this one to the Holiday watch list, because despite its imperfections, it remains hilarious, entertaining and touching throughout the years. However, for a modernization on a timeless classic, you're very aware that you're watching an '80s movie. All four of Murray's brothers appear in the film.

Christmas Vacation

Based on short-story Christmas '59 by Hughes, this third installment in the VACATION series follows the Griswold family as they host a "fun old-fashioned family Christmas" only for laid back and mild mannered father Chase to be pushed beyond his limit of patience. Corny, yes, especially upon first viewing; but the gags remain fresh after several years, making this film a staple during Christmas. Watch closely and you will spot egg nog being sipped out of Wally World mugs! Final film of Mae Questel. The only VACATION movie to not feature the Lindsey Buckingham song "Holiday Road". The Griswold's adventure continues with VEGAS VACATION, while Cousin Eddie (Quaid) and Catherine (Flynn) have their made-for-TV spin-off Christmas VACATION 2: COUNIN EDDIE'S ISLAND ADVENTURE.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger

UNDISPUTED FACT #1: After 16 years at large and 12 years on the Federal Bureau of Investigation's 10 Most Wanted Fugitives list, "Whitey" James J. Bulger was arrested in Santa Monica, California, on June 22, 2011.

UNDISPUTED FACT #2: Bulger is a murderer and drug-dealer.

ALLEGATION #1: Bulger was actually not an informant, but that people are out there trying to sully his reputation as being a "classy bad guy".

ALLEGATION #2: There is corruption involving this investigation and trial within the highest levels of law enforcement.

This film chooses to focus on the allegations, not the facts. "Journalistically jumbled", to quote the spot-on statement from John DeFore of The Hollywood Reporter. Wouldn't it be far more interesting and useful to examine how this proved killer/drug-dealer avoided capture for such an astonishing length of time? Book-ended by Stephen Rakes' interview, which seems tragically fitting; but otherwise, this documentary just seems like overlong tabloid blah. WHITEY is merely a documentary targeted at DEPARTED fanboys.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Originally subtitled "There and Back Again" (just like the book), but when this concluding chapter deals with pretty much nothing but warfare, you can understand why the change was made. Easily the most violent installment, not just of THE HOBBIT trilogy, but of all six films in Peter Jackson's Middle-Earth series. Fans of the book will be shocked by some major changes. With a drawn out ending in THE RETURN OF THE KING to ensure all doors were closed, FIVE ARMIES' conclusion feels like the blink of an eye in comparison. However, even with terrible acting from the extras, the main cast is still spot on in an overall exciting outing. Bill Boyd, who played Pippin in THE LORD OF THE RINGS, sings the closing theme song.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

The journey continues with Bilbo (Freeman), Gandalf (McKellen) and the dwarf company reaching the Lonely Mountain to take back what is rightfully theirs from the dragon Smaug (Cumberbatch). Legolas (Bloom) is delightfully written into the story, but doesn't really help move it forward; while Bard (Evans) and his home of Esgaroth bring a freshness to Middle-Earth, but the over-development of the subplot steers things way too far off course. Too pretentious and dark—it's as if Peter Jackson took all the fine things in the book and injected it with steroids, draining any sort of hype for the last minute third installment. A cameo of Peter Jackson's two pugs (one fawn, one black) is probably the best thing about this film.

Terror at the Mall

Chilling HBO documentary covering the upmarket Westgate shopping mall shooting in Nairobi, Kenya. Mostly pieced together by surveillance footage (and even some cellphone video), leaving the viewer to get as up close and personal as a retelling account can get. The film lets the horror unfold without pulling any punches, an approach that makes this documentary recommended only for the strong stomached viewer. TERROR AT THE MALL is an overall commendable piece for highlighting the bravery of the civilians, and also making its focus on the victims as opposed to the shooters.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Home Alone 2: Lost in New York

Very clever sequel to the 1990 blockbuster, with this McCallister Christmas vacation following Culkin as he wonders the Big Apple after boarding the wrong flight, only to bump into Pesci and Stern, whom have just escaped from prison and are still angry about their foiled plan from the previous year. Aside from a couple of minor characters, pretty much everyone from the first movie reprises their roles. Heard and O'Hara are still great (and still underrated) as the parents; however, it's Curry and Schneider in memorable scenes at the Plaza Hotel that make this outing an hilarious classic. John Williams expands on his score, making the soundtrack by itself worth listening to. But the film is not without its flaws: specifically, the story structure is way too similar to its predecessor, and the traps are far more irresponsible and less funny than the first. Still, if you love the original, this one will find its way onto your Holiday Watch List.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Home Alone

Christmas staple for anyone born in the mid/late-'80s. The McCallisters, an upper-class Chicago family, rushes to the airport for a holiday in Paris, accidentally forgetting the runt: eight-year-old Culkin. The real fun (and danger) comes when the youngster decides that he's "the man of the house" and challenges two dim-witted burglars Pesci and Stern with a funhouse of traps (some slapstick, others legitimately harmful). Writer/producer Hughes and director Columbus do a pretty good job of working around the incompetency of the whole fiasco—but a lot of things in the film comes together so well thanks to an underrated supporting cast, particularly Bamman, Blossom, Heard and O'Hara. Instantly entertaining, and has a lot of replay value with some suspension of disbelief.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey


Congrats!  You found a ¼ star!!  Is your life fulfilled?

After 11 years of the major success of THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, its unforgettable predecessor is also brought to the silver-screen in prequel form, with Peter Jackson reuniting viewers with Holm and Wood in Bag End on Bilbo's one-hundred-and-"eleventieth" birthday—basically opening THE HOBBIT trilogy in the same spot LORD OF THE RINGS opened. Many characters from RINGS were written into this story, which takes place before RINGS (as already stated) but all the actors mysteriously look a lot older (hmm). Fans of the previous three films may find this installment more childish, and fans of the book will find the adaptation overly ambitious. Still, Freeman is more than charming as a young Bilbo Baggins, the dwarfs share the right amount of cluster that they did in the book, and Jackson brings to life the Riddles In The Dark chapter excellently. Lighten up and enjoy.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Bridgend

Intriguing documentary about the titular South Wales town, which is haunted by being the location where dozens of people have been found hanged since 2007. Interviews include family members and friends, but the most interesting input is given by the coroner and two tattoo artists who own a studio where loved ones come to get inked tributes. There are moments that feel like bad taste; particularly, a hangman game title card, as well as director Williams putting himself in the spotlight towards the end a little too frequently—more importantly, the director's claim that there were already 50+ dead before the documentary crew arrived doesn't change the fact that this film could still play a part in the media's sensationalizing.

Nightcrawler

A very refreshing directorial debut from Dan Gilroy. After muscling his way into the world of shooting footage of accidents and crimes around L.A., the ambitious and desperate Gyllenhaal blurs the line between observer and participant in order to become the star of his own story, all the while aided by TV-news veteran Russo. Much of the positive reception is thanks to Gyllenhaal's unforgettable performance; however, it's the spot-on criticism and satire of media sensationalism that really makes this outing count for something. Ahmed and Paxton deserve brownie-points for their supporting roles.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Christmas with the Kranks

A Christmas turkey (pun intended) based on Grisham's SKIPPING Christmas. Being fed up with the commerciality of Christmas and becoming uninspired to celebrate it with their daughter Blair (Julie Gonzalo) away, Luther (Tim Allen) and Nora Krank (Jamie Lee Curtis) cause a community uproar when they decide to take a tropical cruise and skip out on the winter celebration. Some of the attempts at hilarity work, but a lot of it fails; however, the film's real downfall is the attempt to make villains out of the two leads for their lack of conformity.

Rocky IV

Most financially successful entry in the ROCKY series follows Stallone as the titular character—as well as his pals Apollo Creed (Weathers), Adrian Balboa (Shire), Duke Evers (Burton), Paulie Pennino (Young) and Paulie's robot—as he gives support to formal rival and current best friend Creed, who has decided to take on an immensely muscular 6½ foot 260+ pounder named Ivan Drago (Lundgren) from the Soviet Union. Good luck, Apollo. Not a bad film by any means, but it's definitely a guilty pleasure that has dated quite poorly. James Brown's cameo as himself is fun, and Cafferty's "Hearts on Fire" is almost as classic as Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger".

The Lego Movie

This critically and commercially successful film based on Lego construction toys follows ordinary man Pratt who has been prophesized as being the universe's savior from tyrant Farrell. The dialogue could have been better written to work around the kid-friendliness (one too many uses of "butt" and "darn"), but laughs will come from all ages. The film is surprisingly unpredictable, with the story taking a very interesting turn towards the third act. No one can deny the movie's heartwarming message… or that… "everything is awesome"! Anthony Daniels actually voices C-3PO.

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

An inarguably satisfying (though maybe a little too ambitious, given its length) conclusion to Tolkien's LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy. Frodo (Wood) continues the trek to Mount Doom along with Sam (Astin) and Gollum (Serkis), while the remaining fellowship take on new tasks—particularly Gandolf (McKellen) and Pippin (Boyd), who journey to Minas Tirith to seek aid from steward Denethor (Noble), the stern but grieving father of Boromir (Bean) and Faramir (Wenham). Took away 11 Oscars including Best Picture… though neglect of the previous two films may have played a part in this. Hill and Otto actually become likable in this installment after some much needed character development, but the corny dialogue that first appeared in TWO TOWERS doesn't lessen.

The Newburgh Sting

Premiering at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival in April, this HBO-distributed documentary details the backgrounds of four men that the Federal Bureau of Investigation tied to the 2009 Bronx terrorism plot. Pieced together mainly through hours of unreleased footage that was recorded by Shaheed Hussain, a Pakistani businessman working as an FBI informant; interviewees include family members of the accused, as well as the local Newburgh Muslim community. A troubling, enraging and brilliant examination of entrapment (whether or not you believe that is what actually happened). It is inevitable that this documentary will lean in favor of the defendants, as this type of subject is difficult to be neutral when the media's portrayal of the accused has been anything but "innocent until proven guilty".

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

The adventure continues with two separate stories (readers of the book will notice that the stories have been sandwiched together): one with Aragorn (Mortensen), Gimli (Rhys-Davies) and Legolas (Bloom) on the trail of orcs who have kidnapped hobbits Pippin (Boyd) and Merry (Monaghan); the other with Frodo (Wood) and Sam (Astin) making their way to Mordor accompanied by troublesome guide Gollum (Serkis). No longer obscured by the shadows, Serkis almost steals the movie when brought to the foreground. While undeniably more action-packed than FELLOWSHIP (fans particularly love the intense Helm's Deep battle), this movie is really the start of the corny-lines and moments-of-boredom that plague the rest of Peter Jackson's Middle-Earth films. Hill and Otto are frustrating as the hope-driven king and princess of Rohan. Regardless of how disappointingly inferior it is compared to FELLOWSHIP, it makes for an excellent story-bridge between its predecessor and the following RETURN OF THE KING. TWO TOWERS is still a pleasure for Treebeard (also voiced by Rhys-Davies) and the ents.

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

An absolutely gorgeous adaptation of J. R. R. Tolkien's first LORD OF THE RINGS installment detailing how well-meaning young hobbit Wood unwittingly inherits a ring from his adventurous uncle Holm which possesses a dark force that is powerful enough to end all life in Middle-Earth. Visually wondrous even for those who aren't that into the fantasy genre. This installment is particularly charming for less action and more character development… and, for some reason, the Middle-Earth lingo works really well in this movie over the second and third films. Although FELLOWSHIP merely teases the viewer with the appearance of Gollum—while TWO TOWERS and RETURN are basically owned by Serkis as Tolkien's timelessly wretched creature who's not quite friend or foe—the movie is just too lovable to really even need his inclusion. McKellen is perfect as Gandalf the Grey, and Bean's performance brings to the foreground the genius of all these characters who suffers from similar temptations and weaknesses that we do in reality. It is FELLOWSHIP that holds the clearest mirror up to us, while the following two films kind of just linger in the wartime aftermath. The greatest fantasy film of all-time.