The Lovely Bones (2009)

Starring Saoirse Ronan, Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz, Stanley Tucci, Susan Sarandon, Rose McIver, Michael Imperioli, Christian Thomas Ashdale, Reece Ritchie, Charlie Saxton, Amanda Michalka

Directed by Peter Jackson

Expectations: Moderate. I heard bad things, but I love Peter Jackson so there’s no way I’m not watching this.


This is a tough movie for me to review. Emotionally, I loved it. It hit me hard and continues to resonate in the days following. Technically, I have some issues with it. Ultimately, for me, the emotional weight of the movie is far greater than any technical problems I had, and I am judging it a bit harsher anyway because of my Peter Jackson fanboy status. I’ve seen every one of his films and I enjoy them all. Yes, I even like Meet the Feebles.

Set in 1973, the film tells the story of Susie Salmon, a fourteen-year-old girl who blissfully walks home one day with the prospect of her first kiss consuming her mind. Instead, her neighbor rapes and murders her. Her spirit leaves her body and she continues to look down on her family from the afterlife. With The Lovely Bones, Jackson returns to a smaller type of movie similar to his 1994 film, Heavenly Creatures. My problem with some of Jackson’s choices in filming this movie is that instead of being in “small-movie mode,” he still seems like he’s in “big-effects-movie mode” having just come from Lord of the Rings and King Kong.

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Zombieland (2009)

Starring Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin, Amber Heard, Mike White, Bill Murray

Directed by Ruben Fleischer

Expectations: Lowest possible. Modern zombie movies generally rub me the wrong way, but I’m stupid and I keep watching them.


This is not a zombie movie. I repeat, this is not a zombie movie. If you love traditional zombie films such as the George Romero classics, you are better off just re-watching one of those. From what the film shows us, hardly any zombies inhabit Zombieland. Most of the “excitement” coming from the fights and betrayals that play out between the male and female survivors. Even the apocalypse cannot settle the battle of the sexes. All kidding aside, this is absolutely the antithesis of what a good zombie movie should be. It is a stupid attempt at making a zombie comedy, but instead of being clever (like Shaun of the Dead) this just disappoints repeatedly.

Rarely is the survival of the characters an issue and therein lies the problem. Survival should be the main theme of any zombie tale because the zombie horde is ever-growing and as one of the last remaining humans you must constantly tap into the primal instincts of fight or flight. Your nerves fray as you know that sooner or later, you will become one of them. None of that comes into play in Zombieland. Sure, the main character has these survival rules he’s constantly telling the viewer about, but the rules are nothing more than fluff to draw your attention away from the almost complete lack of honest zombie danger.

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Uncle Jasper reviews: Friday Foster (1975)

Allow me to introduce my buddy, Uncle Jasper. He’s gonna chime in from time to time with a review, so give him a big welcome. First up, Friday Foster with Pam Grier!


Starring Pam Grier, Yaphet Kotto, Carl Weathers, Scatman Crothers, Eartha Kitt and Godfrey Cambridge

Directed By Arthur Marks


I admit it, by the end of this movie I had no fucking clue what was going on… Some convoluted plot about a bunch of white dudes in afro wigs conspiring to take out all of the nation’s black leaders. But my God, if the merit of a film lies in its ability to entertain, then this is a masterpiece in the same league as Dolemite and Fantasy Mission Force.

Look, all you need to know is that Pam Grier has never looked better and Yaphet Kotto has never been more charming. I swear to God, every time he flashed that goofy-ass gap-toothed grin of his I kept thinking how much he resembled a black Ernest Borgnine. He and Pam make an awesome duo and I would have loved to see them share the screen more often. Scatman Crothers is somewhere in there as a pervy priest, and the black dude from The Love Boat is great as the neighborhood pimp (“You have to admit… my shit is HEAVY!!” he tells Pam). Somewhere in the middle you have Eartha Kitt as an over the top fashion designer and Carl Weathers backing a delivery truck into some effeminate dude in a phone booth, crushing him to death. Whew! What a cast they rounded up for this one! It plays like the Grand Hotel of 1970s black cinema.

This film would be one of Pam’s last for American International. It is nowhere near as raw as Coffy and lacks the urgency of Foxy Brown, but it would be silly to even compare them. The point of this movie isn’t to provoke outrage, it’s a party movie that just wants us all to look good and have fun. I’m not saying that Friday Foster is the superior film, but Pam does have a little more breathing room here and it’s nice to see her in the arms of a suave millionaire for a change instead of being hog-tied and raped by some drunken hillbilly.

This movie has enough car chases, rooftop fights, machine guns and titties to overcome any shortcoming it may have in terms of plot. In fact, this film stares plot straight in the face and laughs at it. Anybody willing enough to not take it too seriously will be greatly rewarded.

Once Upon a Time in China (1991)

My new friend J.P. and I share a love for Hong Kong movies. We are celebrating it with a special double-post, Siskel/Ebert kind of review for one film. Make sure you head over to his site when you’re done here to read his thoughts on the film. Now back to your regularly scheduled reviews.


Once Upon a Time in China [黃飛鴻] (1991)
AKA Wong Fei-Hung, Kungfu Master

Starring Jet Li, Yuen Biao, Rosamund Kwan, Jacky Cheung, Kent Cheng, Yee Kwan Yan

Directed by Tsui Hark

Expectations: High. I love this movie.


Bravery soaring! Magnanimity overflowing!

It has been at least eight years since I’ve seen this. Back when I was watching nothing but Hong Kong movies with my friends, this was one of our top films. Going into watching this again, I had incredibly high expectations. There was no way it could live up to those kind of hopes, and in some ways it doesn’t, but overall I still really love this film. My tastes have changed over the years and it struck me how old the film felt. It didn’t feel like 1991, it felt more like 1971. That was when it hit me. This movie has more in common at a base level with a traditional Shaw Brothers kung fu flick than I had ever noticed before. The fight choreography and wire work are completely modern, but it has the feeling and the charm of a classic from the Run Run Shaw studio. In this way, Once Upon a Time in China is a look back, while taking a step forward.

The fights are spectacular. They’re what you are here for, and if not, they should be. The umbrella fight early on is quite good, but nothing can prepare you for the final battle in the warehouse involving multiple ladders. Even with the wire-work, the sheer level of acrobatic and physical ability on display is amazing. I remembered this fight a lot better than I remembered the rest of the film because my friends and I used to re-watch this fight over and over back in the day. It’s truly fantastic. I was a little disappointed that Yuen Biao didn’t get more to do in the way of fighting, but as his character was a guy that wanted to learn kung fu, I suppose I can forgive this.

Continue reading Once Upon a Time in China (1991) →

A Serious Man (2009)

Starring Michael Stuhlbarg, Richard Kind, Sari Lennick, Fred Melamed, Aaron Wolff, Jessica McManus, Alan Mandell, Adam Arkin, George Wyner, Amy Landecker

Written and Directed by Joel & Ethan Coen

Expectations: Moderately high. I love the Coen Bros, but they’ve burned me before.


Wow. I don’t know what to say. I honestly don’t feel qualified enough to form a complete response to this movie. I loved it. Absolutely one of the best films of 2009, but this is so not a film for everyone. The Coen Brothers generally make polarizing movies, but this is even in its own league within their filmography. It is probably their darkest and most personal comedy, and it instantly ranks with their best work for me. This also makes it a tough nut to crack. Immediately after watching I felt that I needed to see it again, and I would say that most would need a couple of viewings to really get their heads around it. If the ending to No Country for Old Men left you scratching your head, then you will want to assume that position once again. If you enjoy that sort of ambiguity as much as me though, then you are in for a treat.

A Serious Man tells the story of Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg), who just can’t seem to get anything going in his direction. His wife is leaving him for a widowed family friend. His kids have zero respect for him. He’s almost tenured in his teaching job, but now that is up in the air as well. Don’t worry, this is all towards the beginning, but viewing this film isn’t so much about the plot as it is about the atmosphere and connecting to the sad helplessness of Larry. The film takes place in the late 1960s and it feels like it. Period details and music abound and delight.

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Mini-Review: 21 Up (1977)

61xg7xe8kml-_ss500_Directed by Michael Apted


21 Up continues the series of documentary films started in 1964 that follows the lives of 14 British children. The idea for the first film, Seven Up, came about from the Jesuit motto, “Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man.” Every seven years the same children are interviewed about their lives and world views. It is an incredible concept and it’s interesting to see how the children grow up.

One flaw is that some of the participants are affected by seeing the films prior to being interviewed, specifically some of the upper class children, so their answers don’t seem as real as in earlier entries. There is something to be said about the fact that they are affected at all though. It suggests that taking a step back and being able to see themselves from another’s perspective, they find that they might be more biased than they thought themselves to be. I realize that this is an unavoidable flaw but it still nags at me.

My other problem with these films is that each one gets longer than the last. Most of the material is very dry and some of the interviews don’t really go anywhere. I love the series, but they are becoming a slog to get through.

Mini-Review: Battle for Terra (2007/2009)

Battle for Terra (2009)
Originally released as Terra in 2007 outside the US

Starring Evan Rachel Wood, Brian Cox, James Garner, Chris Evans, Danny Glover, Amanda Peet, David Cross, Justin Long, Dennis Quaid, Luke Wilson

Directed by Aristomenis Tsirbas

Expectations: Low. I’m not too fond of 3D animation, but I love sci-fi.


I’m a huge science fiction fan. This is a blessing and a curse. In the case of Battle for Terra, it’s a bit of both. There’s nothing wrong with the film, it’s pretty good. As a long-time sci-fi fan though, there isn’t anything in this film that’s particularly new or unexplored within the genre. It is very similar to Avatar in that way. What makes this more enjoyable than Avatar is Terra‘s 84-minute runtime. It doesn’t over stay its welcome.

The film opens by introducing an alien culture living in a tree-like structure floating above the clouds. The inhabitants of the city look like ants, but they don’t have legs and they float around as well. It’s sci-fi, just go with it. One day, a mysterious ship covers the sun and some villagers get abducted. A rebellious child named Mala (Evan Rachel Wood) investigates the situation and we’re off.

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