Monday, September 28, 2009

The Reel Deel Presents:

A Haiku Review


A stilted story
A humdrum experience
A bad choice, Willis

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Jennifer's Body

"She's gonna EAT ME!!"

Needy and Jennifer have been friends for as long as they can remember and are now making there way through highschool from completely opposite ends of the social food chain. But after a fateful night out, a change comes over one of them that may well alter things forever... and the other is killing classmates.

Like a great deal of movie goers- judging from the box office earnings of this film- I dismissed it out of the gate as nothing more than another cog in the "Megan Fox is SOOOO HOTT!" propaganda machine. As one of the three heterosexual males who disagree, I figured it had nothing to offer me. But then a sort of morbid curiosity came over me. 'What if it's good?' 'What if there's something their not telling us?' Well it was- and there is.
Metaphor is like the game Othello: it takes only a minute to learn, but can take a lifetime to master. Used simply, its impact follows suit. But in skilled hands, it can allow an artist to tell a simple, everyday story in the grandest of terms. This is the basic theory behind Jennifer's Body- a story that plays out in high schools everywhere told in fantastic font.
And speaking of skill- it wasn't until I heard the word "Chester" used as a verb that I realized I recognized the writing style. Jennifer's Body is the second feature penned by Diablo Cody, who's style now more than ever reminds me of Kevin Smith: Often outrageous, occasionally contrived, but always smart, funny, and emotionally relevant. Her first screenplay was the acclaimed (and now award laden) Juno. I can't say that knowing this movie was from the same writer as Juno would have eased my doubts about seeing it, but I can say that Jennifer's Body will make me look past any doubts I might have about Cody's next project.
The award winners script is certainly not lost on the cast, who offer it to the audience with conviction. Yes, even the usually vapid Megan Fox finds a bit of range, though admittedly she seems much more at home playing the seductress than the high schooler. Jennifer's Body may be marketed on the media darling, but it's delivered by Amanda Seyfried, who continues to prove that her jump to the big screen as the empty headed Karen in Mean Girls was merely a means to an end, not an insight. I look forward to more from this one... as long as they're not musicals that is.
Evoking memories of the 80's classics Lost Boys, and Heathers, it could be a post-modern mix of the two, only much smarter. It flickers occasionally, my first thought is of a scene near the climax which just felt a bit forced, but these moments are few and far between. There really aren't many complaints to be had, though I feel the need to mention that the entire idea behind Low Shoulder is one of the funniest things I've heard in quite a while. Word of warning though: Horror fans may find themselves a bit disappointed. Elements abound, but this movie is much stronger as a black comedy than a horror.
And as if all that praise wasn't enough- J.K. Simmons is in it!

Watcher X says: "She was lighting her tongue on fire for fun- of course she was evil!"

Reel Deal Recommends
Mean girls: Then come back and watch this Jennifer's Body. It's like a before and after picture.
How to Lose Friends and Alienate People: For Megan Fox in a comfortable roll.
I Love You Man: Latest in a long line of awesome from J.K. Simmons.

Thursday, September 17, 2009


"That's why they call it a quip- not a Sloo-ope."

A U.S. Marshall dealing with the baggage of her last post, investigates the first ever murder at the south pole.

I was looking forward to a straight forwqrd murder mystery. No super-soldier syrums or alien artifacts, just a who done it thriler. And on that Whiteout delivers. Unfortunetly, it delivers on nothing else.
Stagnate is one word that comes to mind. Slow is another. And I don't just mean nothing blows up. I mean that there is very little sense of motion in this film, let alone forward motion. For all that goes on in this movie, very little happens. Let me give you an example.
Our main character Marshal Carrie Detko, played by Kate Beckinsale, is introduced to the audience with a long trailing shot that follows her across a make shift airfield and through the winding corridors of a science facility to her personal quarters. Upon entering said quarters we watch her strip down to her underwear and ready herself a shower, which preceeds another minute and a half of foggy oggling before she is interupted by ,your friend and mine, Tom Skerritt and some story actually starts unfolding.
Now you may be asking yourself: "other than a heeping helping of Beckin'bits, what is the point of this sequence?", and if you are then congratulations- your reasonably intelligent. Maybe if you see it you can let me know because I honestly can't make sense of it from any other angle. It's not to show us how horribly cold the south pole is, cause we spend only a few moments out in the cold before we're wandering hallways, and at least twice as much time watching a pointless shower scene. And if cold was the point, then why would the camera not linger on the pile of layers she just shed- rather than following her into the bathroom so we could watch her bend over to start the shower.
Now I'm not playing innocent here, I've a lot of complaints about Whiteout but Kate Beckinsale's body is not one of them. This scene, however, is a perfect example of the lion's share of those complaints. It manages to be long and plodding without perpetuating the story one bit. At times the acting feels a bit stiff. I was surprised and excited to see Colombus Short as we got into the story, only to have that turn to dissapoint since his character manages a decent amount of screen time while still being more or less irrelvant to the story. The soundtrack sounds like something out of a disaster movie, the mystery element isn't much of one... The list goes on- just like Whiteout.
Maybe it was Director Dominic Sena trying to prove he can make a different kind of movie than Swordfish or Gone in 60 Seconds, but all he's really proved to me is that I should quit wasting my money on his movies.

Reel Deal Reccomends:
Snow Angels: For a much better dramatic performance from Kate Beckinsale.
Contact: For more Tom Skerritt.
Stomp the Yard: For Colombus Short in a surprising well done film.

Friday, September 11, 2009


"Are you not entertained?!"
Death row inmates allow another person to control them in violent skirmishes in hopes of attaining enough victories to earn their freedom. When one comes close to doing so, it sparks a much bigger battle.

The newest of the "Modern Colosseum" movies (more on that later), Gamer delivers a very original spin on the old standard for this sub-genre. Unfortunately, it seems it spent all of it's originality on it's science fiction, because the story itself is incredibly predictable.
The performances are strong however. Indeed, not one character feels short changed as far as portrayal here. Short changed in terms of development, however, is another story. Fans of Michael C. Hall will take great pleasure in the un-arguably odd character he's crafted here. Gerard Butler does what he does best, emanating power and an intangible sensitivity at the same time. And anyone following him from his performance in the hit 300 will not be disappointed. The action in Gamer is brutal, and I don't just mean bloody. The bare knuckle fight scenes had me wincing (a sign of quality) and the game sequences were impressively detailed.
Beyond these two all the rest of the characters, though well acted as I said earlier, are so poorly developed 90 lbs. middle schoolers would laugh in their general direction... And as I sat there wondering how I went from praise to image evoking insults in so little time, it occurred to me that that really was the experience this movie left me with. What it did well (it's action, it's intensity, and it's oddly original underlying plot) it did extremely well, and everything else seemed to just fall by the way side. Although this movie was written and directed by Mark Neveldine and Bryan Taylor, the same team that brought us the Crank and Crank 2: High Voltage. And if there is any defining characteristic to those two films it's their action, their intensity, and their oddly original underlying plots... Sounds familiar doesn't it?
Gamer was entertaining, let there be no question there. But reflection brings a craving for more exploration. There's some very clever commentary on what entertains us as a people in this movie, but by the end you assume it must just be you, as that every time they were offered a chance to explore this- they chose to blow something (or someone) up instead. Maybe that's just what I need to come to expect from these two: Lots of thunder and lots of lightning, but very little rain.

Watcher X says: Mmm... Gerard Butler

Reel Deal Recommends:
300: For Gerard Butler, satisfying action, and a story that's skin and bones on purpose.
Dexter: For a great series that showcases Michael C. Hall.

Upon Further Review: The Dark Knight

Warning: Cheesy comic book references ahead.

Watcher X and I just sat down with the Blu-ray player and had my second viewing of The Dark Knight and, I must say, things have changed. And I mean more than just the fact that I've been living in Chicago for much longer at this point- which makes this movie that much more gratifying. It occurs to me however that most people have no clue what I mean by "changed"- so for those of you who don't know me, I'll catch you up. You see, The Dark Knight hit theaters before the Reel Deal was remade into it's current incarnation. Or, as I like to call it, The Reel Deal: Rebirth.

I had complained about the length of this film when I first saw it. I felt that it ran a little long without justifying it's length for reasons beyond awesomeness, and offered up the Tokyo sequence as a sacrifice to the gods of pacing. At this point, I think I've proven that I'm not afraid to admit when I'm wrong, and on this I was dead wrong.

Not only did the length and pacing feel right on the money the second time around, but - and I'm not really sure how I let this slide the first time- I think the Tokyo sequence is really a pivotal plot point here. The biggest question in the movie is Batman's place in the spectrum of right and wrong, lawful and illegal. We spend two and a half hours pondering this, which of course is all pointing like a neon arrow to the end, which I won't spoil here.

This sequence really hammers home the truth of batman's place in Gotham: He is for the law, but not of the law- which allows him to serve the law (and Gotham) in ways nobody else can. This truth highlights Harvey Dents place in the story, and also serves to further illustrate how Batman and Gordon are completely opposite sides of the same (ahem) coin.

Speaking of which, I'd like to digress for a moment if I can: Watching The Dark Knight, and it's predecessor Batman Begins, I've found myself reminded of Star Wars. I know, I know, touchy subject. But before you start lighting molotovs hear me out. With the Star Wars movies, even though it's always been the Skywalkers who were on display (Anakin early in the series, Luke and Leia later on), I've always found Obi-Wan the more interesting character. It's his part in the series that really draws me in. With these newest Batman movies I find myself having the same reaction to Gordon.

Bruce/Batman is the focal point, but it's Gordon's strands that make the rope so interesting. If the Batman is the skeleton of this series, I would say Gordon is the heart, Fox is the brain, and Alfred is the soul. Those three characters really jump off the screen to me. They elevate an already spectacular series, and allow the viewer new angles from which to observe the story. They also Humanize Bruce/Batman, keeping us connected to him.

Even with the pacing complaint, I was very, VERY, pleased with The Dark Knight the first time I saw it. On that alone I would have justified it's purchase. Now, after the second time through, I am that much more satisfied with my investment.

Upon Further Review

Subject: The Dark Knight

Status: Upgraded. (Beyonce would be proud)

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Scenes I love
!!Spoiler Warning!!

I'm not a huge one for tears when it comes to movies. Not because I think it's a sign of low testosterone levels or anything like that- I'm just the kind of person who can be deeply moved without being moved to tears. Rarity, however, is not impossibility. And for all the scenes that never got to me, or maybe stirred me the first time but never since- there is that handful of scenes that can get me every time. The first that comes to mind is a scene from one of my favorite movies, The Last Samurai. Yea yea, I know, it's fashionable to hate Tom Cruise these days. But I am of the belief that celebrities, like everyone else, all have elements to their personalities that I wouldn't like, and that this is irrelevant to the movie going experience anyway since I'm not there to be the casts friend, I'm there to enjoy their work.

But I digress, The Last Samurai. It's one of the better search for redemption stories told in cinema over the last few years, and to me one of the truest moments of that story comes with this moment- where Algren and the woman tasked with his care, Taka, truly address each other for the first time. He tries to apologize, to the best of his ability, for killing Taka's husband- for widowing her and orphaning her children. But lets not forget, these are only the latest on a long list of orphans and widows he's made, the memories of which being what drove him down to the bottom of countless bottles.

But for all the load he's carrying (and finally learning to let go of), and all he must want to confess, all he can manage is simply: "I'm sorry". Maybe it's because he's unsure how to say more in her tongue, which he is still learning. Maybe it's because he feels anything else he might say would be worthless. Either way the statement is so loaded- but it's all he can say. So he says it.

As stirring as that is, it's not his side of the story that moves me so every time I watch, it's hers. For as Algren is finding himself more and more at peace finally, Taka's confliction is growing, and painfully silent- in keeping with the woman's place in that society, and the proud way of her people. She has been ordered to care for the man responsible for her husbands death, but it goes deeper. I think it was easy enough to despise Algren when he was a smelly drunk, waling for Saki to ease the pain of his with drawl, and cover all that he wants to forget. Or to hate an oafish outsider, ignorant to her and her peoples ways. But in the time he's been among them he's not only proven himself unworthy of her hate, she is quickly finding him respectable, maybe even love able in the farthest parts of her heart- which must be the most painful part of it all: the betrayal of her husbands memory.

And now this- a broken man asking forgiveness for the last thing she had to hold against him. A woman who's shown herself to be so strong, stoic almost, finds her eyes red with tears...

I've still yet to watch this scene without at least choking up, let alone the tears that came down my cheeks when I saw it for the first time in the theater. It is such a simple exchange, but beneath it so much is flowing within both characters. Well written, and beautifully acted, this is one of the scenes I love.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Five!!: Awful movies I saw again.
Spoiler Warning!!

Every one's been in this situation: You and a few friends are all hanging out, and someone suggests that a movie gets put it. You've seen this movie and know that it is mind numbingly awful, but they haven't. So you sit silently and watch, gritting your teeth and begrudging them for having eyes.
The above is not what this Top Five is about. I'm not talking about movies I was forced to see again. I'm talking about terrible movies that I watched again of my own volition. At times paying money to do so. Let the shame begin...

Hulk (2008)
"Boom, Boom, Boom..." It was this scene where I realized that one of my favorite super heroes had gotten a raw deal. Hulk wasn't without it's strong points. I believe that the character is nothing without the psychological side of his origin, which is what Ang Lee tried to capture. He just did it really badly.

Aliens Vs. Predator
I just wanted it to be good (I foresee this becoming a main theme). Years of waiting, culminating in a bitter and complete let down. There wasn't even much of "let's trash it" angle, it was just bad. But I watched... and watched... and watched. AVP is like the Zapruder film of of movie adapted monster mash ups; you know how it ends, and you know you don't want to see it again, but still- you watch.

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
With so many flaws, from lines like "It is, and always has been, your destiny", to robots with balls and overtly phallic cannons (Don't believe me? Keep your eye on the blender...), this movie had too many other failings for one decent character to redeem. I can't say anymore, the wound is still too raw...
Napoleon Dynamite
The first time I laughed. The second time I grimaced. The third time I wanted to hang someone. The fourth time I wanted to hang myself... And that's about where I lost count.

Starship Troopers
It became a guilty pleasure after a while- I started to enjoy the pain. People cry "it's a spoof, it's a spoof" , and I agree. The problem is it's a spoof that used the title of ground breaking science fiction novel as it's title. By doing so, it claimed to be an adaptation of said science fiction, and as such, it is awful. But the kind of awful that you buy a copy of and show to friends who've never had the pleasure of it's dis-pleasure.
And if you haven't seen it, I highly suggest you watch it with three or four of your funniest friends!

Special Thanks to JanssenOlthoff, and Backlash110 for the clips. All rights reserved by Marvel and Hasbro.