Wednesday, February 23, 2011


Every year Hollywood keeps a schedule of releases that rarely deviates. March is a month of movies with limited, but big, demographic potential. May begins the traditional summer blockbuster season. August brings horror. December brings a more eclectic mix of decent to good Hollywood fare. January is chock full of Oscar bait movies. And then there's February.

February is traditionally the month when studios take the movies that they don't have faith in and throw them at unsuspecting, older crowds. People who are sick of being stuck inside on cold and snowy days head out in February for a quick visit for some good old fashioned commercial entertainment. Unfortunately, what they are given is garbage.

Occasionally there are some exceptions to the rule of awful February movies. "Shutter Island" was released in February of last year. While not Scorcese's best work, it was an interesting thriller that some thought might see some Academy love this year. Like "Shutter Island", this year I was hoping that "Unknown" would be another rare February gem.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Oscar Race for the Best Picture of 2010

2010 was a pretty mixed bag as far as movies are concerned. Hollywood still seems to be in re-make and re-boot mode with such wonderful films as “Yogi Bear” and “A Nightmare on Elm Street”. While there were some bright spots, they were few and far between.

Luckily this year’s Best Picture nominees were around to make up somewhat for how lame Hollywood has been lately. While I didn’t see 2 of the best picture nominees, the rest were all pretty good for their own part. I don’t know if any of the nominees are films for the ages, but each had something going for it and are worth seeing.

Monday, February 14, 2011

On The State of Movies

I haven't been here in a while. Actually, in almost a year. The real problem is that I lost interest in many of the movies that were being released. It seemed that out of the many movies I'd go and watch each year, only one or two of them truly made me happy. All of the rest were either just flat out bad, or weren't worth discussing.

That still holds true for me today. I think most movies today are just not very good. The ones coming out in the future don't look too hot, either. I don't know why this is. It just seems like the overall talent pool in Hollywood has sunk to an all time low.

Perhaps it's the lack of truly imaginative storytellers working in film today. It is so rare to get a movie that entertains and inspires, making you so happy that you saw the movie. Most movies are best described as "forgettable". It's such a shame.

I think one reason for the downfall of the movie is the final maturation of television. I've discussed in a previous article how television seems to be at least rivaling movies lately, and I think that trend continues. There have been and still are some truly remarkable dramas on tv. "Battlestar Galactica", "Mad Men", "Justified", and "Sons of Anarchy" have all been terrific television shows, not to mention some good comedies like "The Office" and "30 Rock".

This has made me re-think what I was doing in the past with "RB On Movies". I think I'm going to change directions a bit and begin talking more about movies and tv that are on DVD. There's so many interesting things that I missed in theaters over the years, with many more that were made before I was born. I would much rather discuss those in my articles than the dreck that is in theaters.

That doesn't mean I'll never talk about movies that I go see in theaters or ever talk about anything contemporary. It just means that modern movies won't be the majority of articles I write from now on.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Movie Review :: The Wolfman

Perhaps the most difficult movies to discuss are the ones that are almost great. You know the type. You walk out of the theater, torn between absolute love and not really sure you actually like the movie you just saw. You'll think about it for days afterward, wondering what it was you loved, and what really didn't work.

The Wolfman is that kind of movie. Director Joe Johnston has created an old style film that delivers on many fronts. He has crafted a fun b-movie that followed much closer to the 1941 film (starring Lon Chaney) than expected, while attempting to offer a new, more solid take on the original's shaky plot. It surpasses the original in many ways, including the setting and the acting, yet lacks some of the fun campiness of the original, which is both good and bad.

This film is about famed actor Lawrence Talbot (Benicio del Toro) and his return home following the death of his brother. It seems that he died at the claws of some vicious animal, and Lawrence decides he is going to find the creature that did his brother in for the sake of his brothers fiancee, Gwen (Emily Blunt). Along the way, Lawrence finds the creature and is subsequently bitten by it, and becomes the Wolfman.

The movie has a dark and brooding atmosphere that is further heightened by an equally brooding script, bordering on ponderous. The actors do a fair job with the material they are given, but their characters don't seem to enjoy any happiness at all. Horror movies have always worked best when characters are taken by surprise in happier situations, but the gloom that hovers around these characters over the death of Lawrence's brother is almost too much. A spark of happiness, a glimmer of good spirits, would have gone a long way in allowing the audience to connect with the somewhat-thin characters.

This isn't helped at all by the editing, which is atrocious at times. There are odd cuts that seem to cut conversations short. There is one or two too many scares as characters and animals repetitively jump out at the actors for a cheap scare. The movie also never slows down to let the audience sink into the world that the filmmakers are trying to create. The set-up barely works, quickly passes by, and the audience is left wondering what the first act is really about and why we should care.

Luckily Johnston shines in the moments that really matter. After all, people do not go to a movie called The Wolfman for the witty reparte. When Talbot finally confronts and becomes a werewolf, the movie is at its best. The depiction of the werewolf is superb, as he can fall on all his limbs and propel himself forward at tremendous speed. The make-up, too, is wonderful. It was a masterstroke to not rely on CGI for all of the wolfman shots, and instead they rely on the magic of Rick Baker to convince the audience that a man can become a wolfman.

The scenes that were particularly fun were near the middle, when Lawrence is carted off to a hospital in London and is subjected to all sorts of gruesome turn-of-the-century experiments. The doctors at the hospital are maniacal, and the filmmaker revels in the dark view of medicine in the last century. These scenes are the most reminiscent of the older Universal horror films, where mad doctors wear lab coats and actually enjoy the disturbing treatments they put their patients through.

The time at the hospital culminates in a viewing room where doctors and scientists of London have gathered to view Talbot in his supposed insanity. They scoff at the idea that he is a werewolf, asserting the fact that science won't even allow that such a thing could possibly exist. It is a wonderful idea, and one that takes the movie back to an older era again. So many times have movies today relied on a pseudo-scientific idea to explain the supernatural that it now seems inconceivable that true evil exists in horror movies at all. Thankfully, The Wolfman stays above the fray and offers no explanation as to why or how a man becomes a wolf, but instead the movie lets the supernatural evil run free to reign terror onto all that get in its way. There is nary a contrived attempt at science anywhere to be seen.

Setting the film in 1891 was also a brilliant idea. This was the time that the science of psychology was beginning, and this movie brings up that age-old idea of man vs. his inner nature. The werewolf is the release of Freud's "Id", the subconscious side of man that emphasizes his prurient interests. This movie also plays on the ideas of the Oedipal complex, as Lawrence seems to dislike his father, especially after the death of his mother.

These deeper ideas are never fully explored, however, and leave the viewer wondering what motivations move these characters forward. There seems to be a lot missing from the film, perhaps in a studio attempt to placate a modern audience by getting to the werewolf sooner. As is usually the case, this does the movie no favors, as it gives the audience nothing to grasp onto, and no characters to really root for. The movie does exactly the wrong thing by ignoring character depth for simple thrills, even if the thrills are terrific.

At the end one is left wondering if this film is meant to be a b-movie homage. After all, the original is somewhat of a b-movie, or at least a grandfather of the b-moves of the 50s. Unfortunately, if it was meant to be so, then the filmmakers don't have enough camp or cheesiness for the film to really shine as a b-movie homage.

Many things work in The Wolfman, and many don't. It flirts with greatness but never rises to the occasion. It is a movie that seems to have lost its way in the editing room on the way to the theater. Hopefully, there is a full 2 hour + version out there waiting for DVD release that will fill in some of the blanks. Maybe then it will acheive some of the greatness it missed in its first go round.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Movie Analysis :: Star Trek(2009)

Good movie reviews are never supposed to compare the movie being reviewed to other movies. The idea being to judge the film being reviewed on its own merits and not get bogged down by how good or bad another movie was. The problem with this in the modern film era is the "re" films(re-boots, re-makes, and re-imaginings) "Re" films almost invite comparison and make it virtually impossible to not consider previous versions of the same material.

This is doubly true for the newest addition to the never-ending franchise known as Star Trek. The first difficulty in analyzing this film is defining what it is. It is most definitely a re-boot as it tries to reintroduce characters created over 40 years ago with new actors. It is also a re-imagining, because the filmmakers are giving their own take to the design and storytelling of the original material.

But what is perhaps most interesting in analyzing Star Trek is that it is also a sequel. In an inspired move to get fans of the past 40 years of Star Trek onboard, the filmmakers concocted a convoluted tale that somehow ties this new version of Star Trek into the previous incarnations. Not surprising to Trek fans, they do this with a time travel story in which Leonard Nimoy's Spock is taken back in time to help the younger versions of familiar Star Trek characters defeat the bad guy, Nero.

This conceit alone would be enough to carry the movie, but the filmmakers have a much more ambitious vision. They want to take over the Star Trek universe and mold it in their own image. If this means throwing out the intelligent science fiction and complex social commentary that often inhabited older Trek stories, then so be it. This film was never designed to open a dialogue about complex isssures, but to invite a new crowd to an old franchise. Like my previous discussion on False Nostalgia in Movies, Star Trek 2009 is an attempt to re-package older material for the younger set.

This new Star Trek is meant to work more like an amusement park ride at Universal Studios than as a thoughtful story. It is an amalgam of large action pieces strung together into a 2 hour movie. It's a roller coaster ride, and as such lacks a lot of character or narrative depth. This Star Trek is meant to be fun, and thus it defies any sort of in-depth analysis.

The main theme that you are slapped with is that this is about destiny and whether we have some say over what our destiny is. Spock's father explicitly makes it clear to the young Spock that he can choose his own destiny, which Spock eventually does by joining Starfleet instead of the Vulcan Science academy. This is further accentuated in Spock's need to reconcile his bi-racial nature. Is he human or is he Vulcan? Is he a man with complex emotions or a slave to cold, hard logic? The death of his mother takes him a great distance towards reconciling this conflict, but also serves to remind us that our destiny is sometimes colored by the actions of the universe and how we respond to those actions.

Kirk, on the other hand, has been shaped into a young adult by the lack of a father, who is killed in the opening scene of the film. His history is the most changed from the original TV show and movies. The filmmakers obviously liked the Kirk of the 1980s who was a rebellious fighter, and killing his father was a psychologically brilliant decision. The older Spock alludes that his father was the motivation he had for joining Starfleet in the original timeline, and without that inspiration this new Kirk has merely floated by on his wits and with his fists.

Beyond these surface pop-psychological ideas there is very little in the film to digest academically. When Kirk inconceivably happens upon the older Spock on a remote planet, Spock asks, "How did you find me?" This question hints at a deeper discussion on fate bubbling just underneath the action-packed narrative. Perhaps our presence in the universe is governed by fate, and Kirk and Spock are always destined to find one another. The following of this line of narrative inquiry would lead Star Trek into Battlestar Galactica territory with questions about God and how we are shaped and moved by the universe. Alas, the moment passes quickly to get us to the next one-liner or the next big action piece.

Anyone who has watched the previous incarnation of these characters knows that they are destined to go on to great things. The entire point of this movie seems to be to put all of the pieces in place to tell further adventures in the sequel. It is a shame that the filmmakers did not take the time to explore the ideas of destiny, of fate, of changing one's own history, or familial loss to a greater degree. But, once again,  this is a roller coaster ride. Just like you aren't supposed to have an in-depth discussion on physics when leaving the ride, you are not really being asked to have a deep discussion on Spock or Kirk's psychological make-up when leaving the theater.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Movie Analysis :: A Different Look At Avatar (NSFW Language)

Since I'm not going to always be able to update with my own posts(analyzing movies is something I do for fun, after all. And movies are, like, 90-120 minutes long!), I will try and find other interesting analyses from across the web. When I find an essay, I'll provide a link, the author's name, with a little synopsis. I won't just steal an article and post it as if it's my own. If it's a video, like the review below, I will embed it and provide a link to the creators website.

Here is a funny Youtube take on Avatar from It makes some excellent points about the film's social and business goals, as well as being a fun review of the movie. I especially appreciated his comparison of the Na'vi and creatures on Pandora with Disney characters. He also agreed with my take in that the military is shown in a very bad light for little reason other than to make the bad guys simplistic. (Unfortunately, I couldn't find the creator's name)

This is slightly NSFW for language. Enjoy!