BLU-RAY MOVIE REVIEWS

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Joshua Zyber Posted: Sep 28, 2011 0 comments
According to the painstaking research I performed before writing this review (i.e., looking at Wikipedia for all of five minutes), Charlotte Brontë’s proto-feminist novel (I cribbed that phrase right from the wiki, FYI) had been adapted at least 15 times for the silver screen and an additional 10 for television before this year’s revival. That’s to say nothing of the other numerous attempts to sequelize, prequelize, or retell the story in literary form. What is it about this book that inspires so many people to tell the story until someone finally gets it right?

The latest Jane Eyre comes from director Cary Fukunaga, an American filmmaker of Swedish and Japanese descent whose only previous feature was the Mexican gangster film Sin Nombre. In other words, he’s exactly the first person you’d think of to make a British period romance starring an Australian actress and German-Irish leading man. The mind reels.

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David Vaughn Posted: Sep 26, 2011 2 comments
Set behind the scenes of the BBC newsroom as an investigative news program is launched, the drama plots the personal lives, professional interplay, and jealous ambition between aspiring journalist Freddie Lyon (Ben Whishaw), ambitious young producer Bel Rowley (Romola Garai), and Hector Madden (Dominic West), the face and lead anchorman of this rising television news team. A love triangle ensues and the intense ambitions between the rising news team plays out against the backdrop of a mysterious murder and Freddie's controversial and dangerous investigation.

The BBC has been churning out some pretty entertaining programs lately with Sherlock and now The Hour. This six episode set starts off very slow and it almost lost me, but I was hooked once I got to know the characters and Freddie began to unravel the mystery behind the murder.

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Corey Gunnestad Posted: Sep 26, 2011 0 comments
On the evening of April 14, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln was shot and killed in Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C. Twelve days later, his assassin John Wilkes Booth, perished while barricading himself in a barn rather than surrender to the Union Army. In the tumultuous weeks following the assassination, a web of conspiracy was uncovered, and a number of Booth’s accomplices were arrested and put on trial.

The conspirator of the film’s title is Mary Surratt (Robin Wright), the woman who owned the boarding house where the accomplices met in secret and whose son was closely tied to Booth. Blinded by revenge and an unrelenting desire to put the matter to rest, the American State Department completely disregarded the rule of law and Surratt’s constitutional rights in their fervor to secure a conviction. James McAvoy deftly plays Frederick Aiken, the attorney assigned to defend Surratt and who ends up fighting overwhelming opposition from the seats of power in his quest for a fair trial.

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David Vaughn Posted: Sep 23, 2011 0 comments
The Pritchett clan has Jay (Ed O'Neill) as the patriarch who's married to his much younger Columbian wife Gloria (Sofia Vergara). Along for the ride is her old soul 11-year-old son, Manny (Rico Rodriguez), who is wise beyond his years but doesn't exactly mesh with his stepfather. Jay has two grown children from his first marriage, Claire (Julie Bowen) and Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson), who have families of their own. Each family has their unique traits and when they all get together they form a very interesting and hilarious modern family.

I generally don't watch much TV, but Modern Family is a show that hooked me last year on Blu-ray and I couldn't wait to revisit the show on Blu-ray. This is by far the funniest show I've seen in years and the interactions between the characters are priceless. Whether it's Gloria's accent, Manny's phobias, or Jay's frustration with modern society, I'm laughing my rear-end off every episode. In fact, my wife and I laugh so much our kids have requested we don't watch the show if they are trying to sleep because we keep waking them up with our laughter!

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Fred Kaplan Posted: Sep 23, 2011 1 comments
Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing is a nifty film noir with brisk dialogue (by noir novelist Jim Thompson) and brushstroke characters. It features a taut narrative within a daringly fitful structure (the plot starts over and over, charting the events from different points of view, leading up to the climax) and an ending straight out of O. Henry. The story line is fairly conventional—a racetrack heist, the mastermind who devises it, and the gang of misfits who try to pull it off. But the theme—human foibles trumping the best-laid plans—anticipates many Kubrick films to come, notably Paths of Glory, Dr. Strangelove, and 2001: A Space Odyssey. This is also the first film where Kubrick, just 28 years old, displays a master director’s touch: a keen visual sense, both for the composition of the frame and for the fluid camera motion (it seems to be moving almost constantly). The acting is a bit outsized, but so it is in most Kubricks, and as with most, it fits the movie’s mood. This one marks his first association with Sterling Hayden, who’s very fine as the methodical planner: mordantly witty, slow-burning with desire to break through life’s trappings, and in the end stoic about his prospects.
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Corey Gunnestad Posted: Sep 21, 2011 0 comments
It’s a long-held myth that the average human being can access only about 10 percent of their brain capacity at any given time. For me, it happens to be true, and that’s on a good day, but I digress. Now imagine if you could take a pill that would give you complete and total brain function. The possibilities would be, well, limitless.

This is a drug that’s so new it doesn’t even have a street name yet. This is life on fast forward, it’s David Fincher on acid, and it’s one hell of a ride. When the effect wears off, though, it’s straight back to Stupidville, and you’re royally screwed if your supply runs out. Bradley Cooper is the washed-up writer who happens upon the drug in a chance meeting, and his life takes some very drastic turns—for better and worse.

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David Vaughn Posted: Sep 21, 2011 21 comments
George Lucas had a dream of becoming a professional race car driver, but thankfully for the millions of Star Wars fans, he didn't perish in a horrific car accident after his high school graduation. Looking for a new passion, Lucas attended the film school at USC, won a scholarship to observe the making Francis Ford Coppola's Finian's Rainbow, and the pair eventually formed their own studio, American Zoetrope. Their first film was a feature-length version of Lucas's student film THX 1138, but Lucas eventually formed his own studio, Lucasfilm Ltd., and made American Graffiti, which went on to win one Golden Globe and garner five Oscar nominations.

Shortly thereafter, he began working on his next project that turned the small independent filmmaker from Northern California into a Hollywood legend. By luck (or fate) Lucas traded his guaranteed director's salary for a 40% share of the box office and all the merchandising rights (t-shirts, toys, etc.) in order to get Star Wars produced. The rest, as they say, is history.

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David Vaughn Posted: Sep 20, 2011 0 comments
Philip K. Dick struggled to make a living as a science fiction writer through the majority of his life. It wasn’t until shortly before his death that Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? was adapted to the screen and became the classic Blade Runner. After his death in 1982, nine additional Dick stories have turned into feature films, including box-office successes Total Recall and Minority Report. His latest adaptation is from his short story The Adjustment Team, in which humanoid creatures can influence people’s lives without them knowing in order to ensure that they comply with a mysterious Plan orchestrated by the Chairman.

Matt Damon stars as David Norris, a popular New York congressman who’s a shoo-in to win a U.S. Senate seat in 2006 until a political scandal derails his campaign. Before he gives his concession speech, he ventures into a hotel bathroom and is interrupted when Elise (Emily Blunt) emerges from a stall and encourages him to be more honest. Her advice inspires David to drop the political speech and instead ad-lib from the heart. Thanks to this honesty, he becomes the front runner for the 2010 election. According to the Plan, David and Elise are never to meet again, but when a worker at the Adjustment Bureau screws up, the two run into each other on a city bus, and the Bureau will do whatever it takes to ensure that the Plan gets back on track.

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David Vaughn Posted: Sep 18, 2011 2 comments
Yoda takes a group of Jedi younglings on a field trip to the Galactic Senate chambers when he suddenly feels a disturbance in the force and must leave the children. C-3PO and R2-D2 take over and find themselves in over their heads with the rambunctious force-sensitive group. As the Sith prepare to wreak havoc, it's up to Yoda and a young stowaway to save the day before the children are torn to bricks.

LEGO and Lucasfilm have collaborated on multiple projects including other mini-films, over 200 LEGO models, 275 minifigures, and Saga-inspired video games (which are extremely well done). Featuring situations, characters, and locations from throughout the entire Star Wars Saga, writer Michael Price captures the spirit of the franchise with a story is filled humor, adventure, and a surprise guest or two.

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David Vaughn Posted: Sep 08, 2011 1 comments
A rogue CIA agent (Eric Bana) lives in a desolate area of Finland training his 16-year-old daughter (Saoirse Ronan) to become the perfect assassin. Every moment of the girl's upbringing has been spent building up her strength, stamina, and survival instincts she needs to prepare for the day when she becomes the target of a revenge seeking intelligence operative (Cate Blanchett).

I love a good action move as much as the next guy and am willing to suspend a certain amount of belief, but director Joe Wright takes things a little too far. For starters, Ronan maybe weighs 105 pounds soaking wet yet has the strength to take down a plethora of Special Forces personnel and latch onto the bottom of a vehicle moving at over 30 mph. Furthermore, despite all of her training, she's like a fish out of water when she encounters electricity in the modern world.

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David Vaughn Posted: Sep 04, 2011 0 comments
Tony Montana (Al Pacino), a young Cuban immigrant, lands in Miami in search of the American dream. There he meets Frank Lopez (Robert Loggia), who mentors the young man on how to succeed in a life of crime, and Montana eventually becomes one of Miami's most feared drug kingpins. Staying at the top isn't easy, especially if you're mentally unstable, and when Montana neglects the two most important pieces of advice from Lopez, his empire begins to unravel and all that's left is his "little friend."

Written by Oliver Stone and directed by Brian De Palma, Scarface is a gritty tale filled with violence, foul language, and a fantastic performance by Pacino. That being said, this isn't one of my favorite gangster films. While I enjoy the mesmerizing cinematography, I find the screenplay to be a tad shallow, and at 170 minutes, it's much too long.

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Fred Kaplan Posted: Aug 30, 2011 0 comments
John Huston’s The Man Who Would Be King is one of those great films the likes of which “they don’t make anymore” (and, in fact, they rarely did), a grand tale of adventure and greed set against the great outdoors and the judgment of Nature. It’s based on Rudyard Kipling’s novel, but in many ways, it’s a throwback to The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, which Huston also directed, nearly 30 years earlier. This movie’s prospectors are former soldiers in Britain’s colonial army, seeking power and fortune by conquering tribal warlords in the mountains of Afghanistan, rather than American ne’er-do-wells panning for gold in the foothills of Mexico. But the outcome is the same: Our (anti-) heroes win everything then lose it all through avarice and arrogance. In Treasure, they dig up more gold than they can carry (or their capacity for mutual trust can endure); in King, they stumble into a cavern of riches, but one of them starts believing he really is a god (as they’ve tricked the natives into thinking), until the act is exposed.
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David Vaughn Posted: Aug 26, 2011 0 comments
Bored with his perennial role as Halloween Town's frightening Pumpkin King, Jack Skellington discovers the cheerful village of Christmas Town. Determined to shake things up in Halloween Town, he schemes to kidnap Santa Clause and takes over the job of delivering gifts to the children himself. When his plan goes awry, Jack attempts to restore Santa to his rightful place, but he must first rescue him from the evil clutches of Oogie Boogie.

Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas is an unusual film that improves with multiple viewings. Burton cleverly mixes Halloween and Christmas with fabulous set designs and stop-motion photography, creating a whimsical world in which to tell his story. The film was rereleased to theaters in 2008 with a 3D conversion utilizing the talents of Don Hahn and ILM (Industrial Light and Magic). As explained on Mouseclubhouse.com, they used the original film for the left eye and they projected it onto a featureless piece of geometry that looks like a coffee cup. Then the camera was moved to the right three inches and re-photographed. Any gaps are then filled in via Photoshop and the resulting image is outstanding. I loved the original 2D release of the film for its fine visuals and enveloping soundtrack, but this 3D version takes it to a whole new level.

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David Vaughn Posted: Aug 25, 2011 0 comments
Born in Chicago, Illinois, in 1949, John Belushi was the offspring of Albanian immigrants. Both he and his younger brother Jim would find success in Hollywood, but on March 5, 1982, John was found dead in his hotel room in West Hollywood from a drug overdose.

Although his career was short-lived, he had a great foundation to become a comedic force in Hollywood. At the age of 22, Belushi hooked up with the Second City comedy troupe in Chicago and eventually found his way to New York as a cast member in the off-Broadway production of National Lampoon’s Lemmings. The show was originally slated to run six weeks, but it entertained packed houses for almost ten months. From there, the comedian worked as a writer for two years for The National Lampoon Radio Hour. His big break came in 1975 when he joined the original cast of Saturday Night Live, where he showcased the humor he’d honed while he was with Second City.

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David Vaughn Posted: Aug 24, 2011 0 comments
Mike McDermott (Matt Damon) is trying to leave his poker playing days behind him while he attempts to earn his law degree and prove to his girlfriend that he can hold a "real job." Bu when his best friend, "Worm" Murphy (Edward Norton), is released from prison, he coaxes Mike back to the tables. "Worm" gets himself into serious trouble with a local mobster/poker legend, Teddy KGB (John Malkovich), and Mike's rear-end ends up on the hook since he mistakenly vouched for his friend and he needs to come up with a boatload of cash in short order. Look out poker world, here he comes.

For the record, I love playing poker—specifically Texas Hold'em—so it's only natural that this is one of my favorite movies. While I limit my gaming to tournaments and avoid cash games like the plague, I've witness many people who constantly chase the big score and get in way over their head and lose their entire bankroll. One of the biggest thrills of my life was winning a seat to the 2010 World Series of Poker Main Event, but sadly my dream of winning the title went down in flames when my set of queens was beat when an ace hit on the river giving my competitor a higher set—that's poker!

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