5 Stars

Forza Motorsport 2 is a racing game like a Ferrari is just transportation to the grocery store. To call this a racing game is to deny the fact that it is a car racing simulator disguised as a game. The first time you smack the side rail and hear the sound of metal crushing you realize that this isn’t your dad’s car racing game. This is real. I loved Championship Sprint as much as the next guy, but this is so much more than that. If you have an Xbox 360 you need to run out and get this game!

2 Stars

Okay, am I the only one that thought John From Cincinnati was hella lame? Anyone? I know that David Milch threw in a few “cocksuckers” into the script, but is that enough for him to live down the fact that he threw in the towel on Deadwood for this!? There are nine more episodes left, let’s hope that they are better than the first one.

5 Stars

Ocean’s Thirteen was a fun film unburdened by romance or love interests, Julia Roberts is not even in it. The film is about the Ocean’s crew pulling off a caper, plain and simple. They seek to pull off this caper not merely for the money, but to ruin the reputation of the villainous casino owner, played by Al Pacino. Al Pacino’s character screwed with one of the crew, played by Elliot Gould, and now he has to pay.

The spectacle of how they do it is the payoff here. The specifics on exactly how they do it is hard to understand at times, but that doesn’t even really matter. The film is clever and funny at just the right times and the high arching storyline moves at a fast clip. Ellen Barkin, the only woman in the film provides all the sex appeal in the film even though she’s in her fifties, and it turns out to be just the right amount.

The film makes the life of being a world-class thief look cool and fabulous. At the end of the film you feel like you want more and hope that they would get together again for another caper. Unfortunately, George Clooney and Steven Soderbergh have promised that this is the last Ocean’s film. Even if they don’t make another one, they are definitely going out on top.

The Heavenly Kings Arriving on the Red Carpet
CALL THEM THE HOMECOMING KINGS, the stars of the movie The Heavenly Kings, on the red carpet in front of the San Francisco Castro Theatre. From left to right, Cal grad Andrew Lin, Berkeley native and director Daniel Wu, Aussie-raised Hong Kong supermodel Conroy Chan, and the only real singer in the group, Hong Kong heartthrob Terence Yin.

Q: What do you get when you mix the Village People with the Backstreet Boys and add some Chinese four-spice?

A: Alive – the Hong Kong Boy Band.

The Heavenly Kings, the title of the movie that we saw on Friday night at the Castro Theatre, was our first of 12 scheduled movies – and I have to say, the evening was a home run. Having an excuse the schlep over to the gorgeous Castro Theatre is always a treat, but when you get the “full film festival experience” in addition…well, let’s just I’ll enthusiastically jump over a few more crack bums on the way. (C’est la vie en San Francisco!)

By “full film festival experience” and why we just love, love, love the SF Film Fest: Filmmakers often show up for their films and stay around to discuss the films after, either formally, on stage, in front of the audience, or can be found just milling about the lobby and informally chatting it up with movie-going peeps afterwards. Two years ago, we sat about 10 feet away from Metallica—aw yeah!, and three years ago, we were about 20 feet from Kevin Spacey. (So I just name dropped–so what?)

For the red carpet entrance, the Daily Nug photog (Nugget) said there were at least 20 or 30 women in the front who were screaming at the arrival of the film’s stars. Daniel Wu, who acted in several hit Hong Kong movies before making his directorial debut is a familiar face, as were the film’s other main characters in the film. Conroy Chan, a former Hong Kong male “supermodel”, Andrew Lin, a Hong Kong B-level actor and Cal grad, and Terence Yin, also a famous actor who had previously recorded an album. By the way, Daniel Wu, a Berkeley native, just won a Hong Kong academy award for this film for Best First Time Director.

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Mama and I saw The Killers at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium last night. The opening bands, Solar Cake and Howling Bells were, well, as crappy as other opening bands. Between the two openers, I have to give the prize to Solar Cake, since each and everyone of the Howling Bells songs sounded alike: slow tempo over processed shrieky vocals and over modulated guitars. Ugh!

The one thing that we noticed right away was the lousy audio mix for all of the bands. The vocalists were not mixed high enough and the bass was overpowering everything else in the auditorium. Not that the Bill Graham is known for its outstanding acoustics, but we have seen many other acts play there and sound great, including Green Day, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Cake, Smash Mouth, and Third Eye Blind. You can get good sound at the Bill Graham, but not so much last night.

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Metal: A Headbanger's Journey

“I never questioned my sexuality at any point, and I was up there in lingerie.”

— Dee Snyder of Twisted Sister

We went into this film expecting it to be about metal fans in Canada. Instead what we were treated to a very well organized film essay about the history of heavy metal. From Black Sabbath to the most extreme current Norwegian black metal bands, the film explores the history of metal, its origins, its fans, its culture, and its themes: sexuality, religion, violence, and death. The film also seeks to find out why metal has been dismissed by many critics over the years.

Filmmaker, co-director, and narrator Sam Dunn, an anthropologist, uses academic efficiency in breaking down the history of metal. The film even boasts a metal genealogy chart that just has to be seen to believed. A lifelong metal fan, Dunn interviews metal luminaries like Bruce Dickinson, Tony Iommi, Ronnie James Dio, Alice Cooper, Rob Zombie, and Vince Neil. He also visits metal meccas like Los Angeles, California; Birmingham, England; Wacken, Germany; and Norway. Dunn was like a mad metal professor teaching class as he answered questions from the crowd after the screening. A smart and articulate scholar, he effectively breaks down the stereotype of the “stoner metal fan.”

Perhaps this documentary can bridge the gap between metal heads and the rest of the world. It is only a shame that the film wasn’t longer so that each metal branch could have been explored in greater detail. Dunn said that in order to do the film he wished to make it would have had to be eight hours long! I definitely would like to see an extended version of the film that he said will be released on DVD soon. Until then, please visit www.metalhistory.com for more info and go see this film. Whether you are a metal fan or not you will enjoy it.

Electric Dreams Poster

Electric Dreams was released in 1984, when the general public had not even seen a personal computer, let alone know exactly what a computer could do. This film could not have been filmed and released at any other time. So in that respect, the film is not timeless, but it reflects the culture and the fantastic perception of personal computers brought on by Apple’s legendary 1984 ads which ran literally months before this film was released.

Electric Dreams was produced and written by Rusty Lemorande, who would later produce Michael Jackson’s Captain Eo, a full length video that ran at Disneyland for many years during the 1980’s. Also it was directed by Steven Barron, the director for Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean video. It should be of no surprise then that music is a primary character in the film. The film has many musical montages, small video segments, without which it would only be about a half hour in length.

The film score was done by Giorgio Moroder and included songs by 1984 pop attractions like Culture Club, Heaven 17 and Jeff Lynne. Add a mixture of rock and classical music by Tchaikovsky and Bach and you have a unique score that represents the New Wave music of the early eighties.

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3 Stars

NBA Rookies is a six-part documentary made in a collaboration between NBA Entertainment and Spike TV. The show chronicles the roller coaster world of NBA rookies and shows that it’s more than bling-bling and supermodels, it’s hard work.

It’s interesting to see how the rookies deal with stress. With the pressure to perform some rookies lose sight of what’s important. In the episode I saw, titled Road Trip, one rookie said he would trade a thirty-point game for getting on the highlight reel! Others rise to the occasion to become key role players in their teams. Through it all the cameras follow.

Great narration, by a guy that sounds like Ice-T, and omnipresent cameras by the NBA Entertainment crew make this show feel more like reality TV than a documentary. It’s a good show that nobody is watching. If you are interested, check it out on Spike TV.

5 Stars

I got up really early this morning, walked over to the Metreon, and saw Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith. It was awesome. Unlike Episode I and II, which were a little disappointing, this one managed to pleasantly surprise me.

Special Effects
The opening space battle had jaw-dropping effects all the way until they crashed into the landing bay. Also, I assume that R2D2 was digitally added to the scenes for this Episode. In one scene, R2 spills oil on a couple of battlemechs and uses his thrusters to light them on fire. It was awesome. Although effects were used extensively throughout the film they did not get in the way of the emotional story line–the fall of Anakin Skywalker.

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5 Stars

Mama and I were in Las Vegas this weekend and got a chance to see Cirque du Soleil’s Ka at the MGM Grand. Not having seen the “O” show at the Bellagio I cannot draw any comparisons between the two. However, I believe that Ka stands alone as a visually and aurally stunning show that you have to see to believe. The amazing acrobatic performances are matched with a soundtrack that mixes Asian inspired sounds and instruments with tribal drums and rhythms. Surround sound audio effects are recreated with speakers within every seat so that every audience member hears them from the same perspective.

Mama and Ka Cast Member
The backdrop for the story is a mechanical stage that is an engineering marvel. The main stage deck is suspended over a giant pit and has the ability to rotate in almost every direction, even becoming a sheer vertical wall for several acts. The stage completely and smoothly morphs between acts to recreate completely different scenes. From a pit, to a flying boat, to an imperial ceremony, to a boat at sea, to a beach, to a mountain, to a cliff, to a factory, the stage morphs from one amazing environment to the next. There is also a rear stage platform that has the ability to move from backstage to frontstage and several other secondary stage platforms and columns that moved in and out of scenes. The stage environment itself is almost like another character in a cast of nearly eighty artists and deserves its own applause.

Weaving martial arts styles from around the world as well as floor and high-wire acrobatics, the show’s storyline is action-packed. But it is also filled with enough fantasy to engage young children. One of the acts depicts a pair of crabs, a starfish, and a turtle interacting with characters stranded on a beach. These creatures, played very flexible human beings, seem to almost magically appear out of the sand on stage. Amazing. At the end of this act, all of the sand, tons of it, is dumped off the stage onto the pit below as if to imply the passage of time. Genius. Unfortunately, it would take many pages to describe the entire show in detail. Let’s just say that you have to see it.

Before Ka opened, many people claimed that the best two shows in Las Vegas were “O” and Mystere, the other Cirque shows. Now, it seems that Cirque du Soleil may boast the best three shows in a town filled with world-class entertainment.

Before the show, we were able to go backstage and meet one of the primary cast members, pictured here with Mama. What we saw backstage did not hint at the awe-inspiring magnitude of the show. And we realize (now) that what we saw was but a small portion of the backstage area. Either way, seeing what was behind the curtain didn’t spoil the magic one bit.

Thanks to Ka Publicist Reggie Lyons for her kindness and hospitality.

5 Stars

The Incredibles is truly an incredible film. Rarely do advancements in technology create a more profound artistic experience. I mean really, do we need cell phones with crappy cameras in them? But in this case, the advancement in technology has spurred artistic creativity to make something that transcends technology, animation, or computer graphics.

The world of Bob and Helen Parr is something truly special. It is beautiful, humorous, and even, dare I say, filled with human emotion. This from actors that are pixelated and created in server farms by a legion of computer artists. Several times during the film I forgot that I was watching animation because the characters acted so “human.” This is largely in part to the amazing voice talents of Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Samuel L. Jackson, and Jason Lee. But they can’t take all the credit. The visuals are stunning and the sound effects are fantastic. Lots of explosions and action, enough to make Jerry Bruckheimer jealous.

But what truly sets the film apart is its storyline, without which all the effects, voices, and graphics in the world would simply be meaningless. This is a world in which all superheroes are forced out of business by litigation from the citizens and forced to hang up their superhero suits for good. The story centers around the family of Bob Parr, who used to be Mr. Incredible, and includes Helen Parr, his wife, who used to be Elastigirl, and their three children.

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5 Stars

Spiderman 2 is the best super hero film of all time. I know it is hard to believe that it beats out Superman: The Movie and X-Men series, but it does. Spiderman 2 builds on everything we thought was great about the first one. The special effects are much better as are the acting performances by all involved. In short, a much better film with a great storyline.

Spiderman is much more vulnerable than other superheroes, and Tobey Maguire plays him perfectly. Also, Tobey adds just the right amount of humor to the character at key times. It would be hard to imagine another actor stepping in for Spiderman after this one.

In this film, Spiderman is stressed out at having a dual life. Pizza delivery guy, student, freelance photographer, and Spiderman. The stress of this fragmented existence is so great that his superpowers start to fade at key moments in the film. He’s unable to produce webbing, has trouble sticking to walls, and his eyesight even starts to fail him. Unable to keep up with everything, he gives up being Spiderman.

I don’t want to spoil the film for those that want to “go in fresh.” So let me say this, by the end of the film many people know of Spiderman’s secret identity. And thankfully, it is a plot ingredient that does not reset after the movie ends, setting up the anticipated next film in this series. Until then, this one does not disappoint.

5 Stars

I saw this film last night at the Metreon in San Francisco and can only describe it this way: documentary filmmaking at its best. Michael Moore bring us a film that is informative, funny, provocative, moving, and unabashedly critical of the Bush Administration and their use of the Iraq war to further their own agenda.

The film opens with the Gore-Lieberman victory celebration on election night, 2000, and poignantly asks if the last four years has been a just a bad dream. It explains what we now know is a fact, Jeb Bush and Katherine Harris knowingly disenfranchised many minority Florida voters to help George W. Bush steal the election. For more on this see the 2002 documentary, Unprecedented: The 2000 Presidential Election.

The film portrayed the way the congressional Democrats, with the exception of a handful of African American House members, rolled over without protest to the theft of the election. It showed defiant African American House members rising honorably in protest on the Senate floor to object the certification of the election results only to be gaveled out of order by Al Gore, President Pro-Tem of the Senate presiding over the joint session. The objectors could not force a debate because they could not get a single Senator to support their right to do so. Not Lieberman, not Kennedy, not Edwards, and not Kerry. This was sad to see.

The film then goes on to detail the months leading up to the 9/11 attacks and chronicles Bush’s vacations, including embarrassing responses that Bush himself gave to the press trying to justify his time off. This is not just Moore’s opinion, the record shows that President Bush was listed “on vacation” over forty percent of the time during his first eight months in office.

The film credits roll when the timeline reaches 9/11. Instead of showing the gruesome images of the Twin Towers being struck by airplanes, Moore allows the audience to call up their own recollections of the chilling event by using a black screen and audio of that fateful morning in New York.

Moore then shows George W. Bush choosing to go ahead with a photo opportunity at a Florida school after the attack on the first tower. During the photo op, after the second tower is struck by terrorists, Bush’s chief of staff whispers into his ear, “America is under attack.” This is where we all get to see Bush’s world crashing in around him. For seven minutes we watched the surreal scene. Without anyone to tell him what to do, Bush continued with the photo op while apparently thinking “what the fuck do I do now?” Bush’s possible thought process is masterfully narrated by Moore during this amazing scene–you have to see it to believe it.

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4 Stars

“I think when Michael looks in the mirror he says, how the fuck did I do this to myself!”
–Donald Trump, February 2003

Everyone knows that I became a huge Donald Trump fan this February when he exclaimed the quote above in the Michael Jackson Unmasked news special. Well now he has his own television show, The Apprentice, and thanks to the power of Tivo I saw the first three episodes yesterday–they were awsome. A truly amazing look at group dynamics.

Donald Trump has divided a team of 16 job candidates into two teams of eight–men against women–in a show format that can best be described as a “Survivor Interview.” The only difference is that the tribe doesn’t kick you off the island. If you goof up The Donald simply fires your ass!

The first three episodes saw the men’s team lose three straight times partly because of their inability to work as a team and partly because the women have been able to use sex appeal in their challenges. Unfortunately, the one breakout character of the show, Sam Solovey, was fired at the end of the third show. He was a strange guy that didn’t know how to make friends and deserved to be kicked off for disrupting the team, but he was fun to watch!

Hopefully, his departure will inspire one of the remaining candidates to “step up” and fill the void. One thing that doesn’t disappoint, Donald Trump firing mofos in his board room–that alone is worth the price of admission.

5 Stars

Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is by far the most awe-inspiring of the three films in the trilogy. Peter Jackson did an amazing job of blending the epic battle scenes with Frodo’s quest to destroy the ring masterfully. And although this is the longest running of the three films, at 3 hours and 20 minutes, the film does not lose the audience’s grasp–it grabs on to you and doesn’t let go.

Minas Tirith, and the battle there, is visually stunning. It has to be seen to be believed. Alas, I don’t know what I can say about this film that hasn’t already been said before, or that I didn’t already say in my review of The Two Towers. All I can say is run, don’t walk, to go see this film. Just be sure to empty your bladder and not get a drink unless you want to suffer during the last hour of the film. It’s very long, but worth every minute. A masterpiece from beginning to end.

Here is another great review of the film by fellow Blogcritic, Kevin Holtsberry.

1 Star

Unless you’ve been under a rock, you’ve heard the controversy over a sex tape that was filmed by billionaire heiress, Paris Hilton, and Richard Solomon, best known for being Shannen Dohery’s ex-husband and a gambling website owner. If you want to see the tape, you can go on Kazaa and download the full 30-minute tape, or just pick-up the highlight reel here.

Anyway, after viewing the tape I don’t know what the big deal is about. As far as porn goes, it sucks. The tape was filmed using a handheld camera’s night vision (infrared) mode so it looks like a pair of raccoons frolicking in some trash cans in the middle of the night. The media says that the video is going to hurt Paris’s career, but I ask, “what career?” This girl is just famous for being famous. The only career this hurts is any future porn career, because she sucks, and she doesn’t even do that very well.

If you don’t believe me, check out these other reviews of the video:

Paris Hilton Sex Tape Review (Play-by-Play) by Jim Cavalier
Paris Hilton Sex Tape Review by Rossman

Now that we’ve all seen the video maybe we can go on with our lives and worry about important things like the fact that Ah-Nult is Guvernah and there are mofos in Iraq being blown to bits almost daily. Jeez!

4 Stars

Lost in Translation is a beautifully shot film that captures the anxiety and sadness of two individuals that feel lost and without purpose in a foreign country. The Japanese scenery is breathtaking and the soundtrack, at times, hypnotic. Sophia Coppola establishes amazing mood as the backdrop to the plot.

Bill Murray does an excellent job in this film. He plays Bob Harris, a sad and sweet over-the-hill actor in Tokyo to shoot a series of commercials and print ads for Suntory Whisky. Bob does not know the Japanese culture or language and feels a bit disoriented. Sadly, he is also disoriented because he is away from his kids and the relationship with his wife is deteriorating, as evidenced in some very cold phone calls back home. He can’t sleep.

Bob meets Charlotte in the hotel bar, a young Yale graduate tagging along with her workaholic photographer husband who is on assignment. Charlotte is trying to find a sense of purpose in her life, and her lack of purpose is only amplified by Japan’s strange surroundings. Scarlett Johansson does an amazing job as Charlotte, portraying a young woman in crisis trying to find herself. She can’t sleep either. Bob and Charlotte find each other in this hotel in the middle of bustling Tokyo and share an immediate connection.

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3 Stars

Robert Rodriguez’s Once Upon a Time in Mexico is current film in the El Mariachi saga. It follows the continuing exploits of El Mariachi (Banderas) while he seeks revenge for the death of Carolina (Hayek) and their daughter. The backdrop to vengance is a presidential coup d’etat being manipulated by a CIA agent (Depp).

Depp’s character is excellent, adding enough complexity and comedy to make the film very entertaining. However, the film does not have the raw sexuality and style of Desperado and relies on action elements that were already explored in both of the previous films. Although it is an entertaining film, it pales in comparison to Rodriguez’s earlier efforts.

4 Stars

Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill appropriately opens with words uttered by Ricardo Montalban’s Khan in Star Trek II, “Revenge is a dish best served cold.” Khan preceded the quote by explaining that it was an old Klingon proverb and Tarantino credited the quote as such. But there were those in the audience that knew exactly who said the words and when. This film was made for those people.

Who are these people? People who have loyally watched the Star Trek franchise go through its ups and, most recently, its downs. People who watched in awe as Bruce Lee fought his way up the pagoda in Game of Death. People who loved Japanese anime before Robotech brought it to the Western masses. People that would go out of their way to watch seventies Hong Kong films like the Drunken Master, Master of the Flying Guillotine, and Sony Chiba’s samurai classics like Samurai Reincarnation.

Kill Bill pays homage to all these influences and more with style. It doesn’t assume that everyone in the audience can identify the plethora of inside jokes and references to other films and genres. Instead it presents the concepts with a certain amount of style and grace that is reserved only for truly great directors.

It is a movie that exploits everything in extremes–like a comic book come to life–like, or dare I say, pulp fiction. And yes, even the extreme violence is done using extreme style. Blood doesn’t simply ooze out of severed limbs and body cavities, instead it sprays forcefully as if dancing through a concert of park fountains. It is a visual assault that grabs you and doesn’t let go.

It is nothing new, movies about revenge have been done before. However, the strong female warrior themes that are exploited in this film are concepts that are new to American cinema. Concepts that are long overdue and should be celebrated, even if the subject of revenge is “a little violent.”

So, I urge you not to kill Kill Bill, but to kill the critics. For taking the over-the-top pulp fiction violence literally, for not seeing the underlying message of female independence, and for not recognizing the stylistic genius of Tarentino for a few severed limbs. Kill the critics by watching this film en masse and proving that critical acclaim is never a vital ingredient for box office success.

4 Stars

On paper, a film devoted solely to the journeys of migratory birds doesn’t sound all that interesting. However, in execution, this film is a cinematic masterpiece with awe-inspiring cinematography. Filmed over three years, the film follows bird migrations in seven continents in all types of conditions, from deserts to snow-capped mountains to lush green countrysides.

The first thing that strikes you about this film is its amazing cinematography. Birds were filmed using a variety of light aircraft and remote controlled planes and helicopters giving the perspective and feeling of actual flight. It feels like you are migrating with them–it is truly astounding. The shots obtained in this film have no equal and will probably be forever known as the best bird footage ever captured on film. It sets the standard by which all other bird documentaries will be judged.

Additionally, the soundtrack captures the emotion of flying through the air with these birds in their amazing journeys and the narration is informative but unobstrusive. This is not only the best bird documentary, but it is the best animal documentary I have ever seen. It is just short of a five-star rating because it is still a movie about birds–but it’s the best movie about birds ever.

4 Stars

The Italian Job was an entertaining action film about thieves double-crossing thieves. Although the plot has been done before, most recently in The Score, which also starred Edward Norton, the locations, action sequences, and comedy take it to the next level.

Unfortunately, having seen The Score, makes you realize quickly that Ed Norton’s acting talent is woefully underutilized in this film. The director will have to take the responsibility for that, since Norton has ability, see The Score and Fight Club. Mark Whalberg does a good job as the lead and is likeable, but he’s always likeable. His performance is not impressive, but it serves its purpose. The same could be said of Charlize Theron who had the strongest acting performance out of the entire cast.

The movie moves the storyline quickly, with a few twists and turns thrown in for good measure. There a lot of good jokes in the film, and Napster founder Shawn Fanning even makes a cameo. Also, the film also has amazing car driving sequences, although maybe not as good as the ones in Ronin. Either way, definitely worth watching on a Sunday afternoon, especially if you like Mini Coopers.

4 Stars

The Matrix has you, and me, and him, and her. Apparently it has almost everybody. The theatre house that I saw it in was packed to the gills, and it was a Friday afternoon! I wonder if anyone has tried to correlate drops in worker productivity to major theatrical releases. Or at least, drops in technology production when sci-fi movies are released.

Matrix: Reloaded - Neo and Trinity

The film is visually stunning. An amazing spectacle of special effects wizardry intermingled into an admittedly weak storyline. The first Matrix movie was fresh and unexpected, since we didn’t know what the Matrix was then. When Morpheus says that the Matrix is the world that has been pulled over our eyes to blind us from the truth–we were shocked, we cared, we were interested.

The plot of this installment is simple, in the real world, the machines are making their way down to the city of Zion to destroy the city and its quarter million inhabitants. Morpheus says that the prophecy states that Neo will bring end to the war between the humans and machines, and destroy the Matrix.

Neo goes into the Matrix to speak to the Oracle about fulfilling the prophecy and destroying the Matrix. There he finds out that the Oracle and other entities in the Matrix are actually rogue programs created by the machines that inhabit the Matrix. He also finds that Agent Smith is no longer an official agent of the Matrix, but is now a also a rogue program that is intent in gaining revenge or power from Neo–his intentions are never made perfectly clear. In fact, the intentions of all the rogue programs are never made clear, and there are a bunch of them in this film.

There’s a lot of things about this movie that don’t make perfect sense. Do we even care about the people in Zion? What’s so great about Zion, anyway? All they do is rave and bicker with each other, except when they are not worshipping Neo like the next messiah or having raves next to lava pools and shit. Morpheus is preachy in this one, really preachy. Hell, even the Architect of the Matrix is preachy. By this point you almost want the Matrix to be “reloaded” and Zion to be completely destroyed, fuck ’em.

There’s absolutely no denouement–it is the first of two parts that will be continued when the next film, Matrix: Revolutions, is released in November. Reloaded is weaker than the first in storyline and frustratingly preachy in parts, but still a visual delight worth watching. It is a landmark film that must still be seen to be believed, but it falls short of capturing our imaginations as the first one did four years ago.

Update (5/19/2003): Be sure to read Larry O’Brien’s review.

5 Stars

I was very skeptical about X2: X-Men United being better than the first. However, the opening sequence with Nightcrawler attacking the President in the Oval Office left me dumbfounded–it was then that I knew the hype was all true. Magneto’s escape sequence is equally amazing and imaginative. Not surprisingly, he gets out with Mystique’s assistance. The film is filled with almost non-stop action and is visually spectacular, and it isn’t just Halle Berry’s nipples showing through her top, I’m talking about the special effects. The struggles between mutants and a distrusting and fearful human society continue in this installment of the X-Men series. Unfortunately, this time it means the loss of one of their own. It is a must see film that marks the official start of the summer movie season. Next: Matrix Reloaded.

4 Stars

Bend It Like Beckham is a playful coming of age film that leaves you warm and fuzzy after you watch it. It deals with the cross-cultural tensions of a young Anglo-Indian soccer-playing girl in Britain. The casting for the film is excellent, especially the lead character, played by beautiful and talented newcomer Parminder Nagra. Although it has a simple storyline, the film has strong performances and thoughtful directing that take it to the next level. The cast and crew had fun making the film too, as we see in the closing credits. Check it out.

5 Stars

Comandante, an Oliver Stone film, is an amazing and an incredibly intimate portrait of Fidel Castro that portrays him as a revolutionary, a dictator, and a beloved leader. Castro definitely let his guard down for this film and had a “whatever happens, happens” attitude regarding the filming. Although the rules for the shooting stated that Castro or Stone could call “cut” at any time, neither of them used this privilege throughout the filming.

It was very interesting to hear Castro’s views of the United States and his explanation of what was happening behind the scenes during the Bay of Pigs invasion and the Cuban Missile Crisis. Castro portrays Cuba as a country that was caught between two superpowers, the Soviet Union and the United States. A country that has always done things its own way–Castro’s way.

Castro also expresses sadness towards the American people because of the actions of its government, citing the secret creation of the CIA. He refers to the years that the world knew of the Agency’s existence while the American people were in the dark about both the Agency and its practices in the global stage. Castro is also critical of the United States’ quick invocation of “National Security” and its use of these “sacred words” to instill its will onto the rest of the world and declare wars or conflict.

Stone does a great job of mixing documentary news footage from the past five decades with the present to make his own commentary about the dictator. He even shows Castro and his revolutionary forces executing opposing factions near a mass grave. However, it is clear that this is a biopic view of Castro’s life that focuses more on his successes than his mistakes.

Comandante is a controversial film that has been banned from the New York Tribeca Film Festival this week. Additionally, HBO has chosen not to air the film because of Cuba’s execution of ferry hijackers last month. HBO feels that current events now make the film “incomplete.” It is a shame that the Comandante wasn’t interviewed after this event, it would have been interesting to hear his thoughts on how the situation was handled.

Ultimately, you will have to watch the documentary and come up with your own ideas about Castro, the complex dictator. Cuba, a country that refuses to play by the rules of the United States and now abandoned by the fall of Mother Russia, is now in a very precarious position. It will be very interesting to see what the future brings for Castro, his country, his heirs, and his people.

3 Stars

Well, I broke down and watched Daredevil today even though I vowed never to watch it because Ben Affleck is in it. And as we all know Ben Affleck is a no talent hack who will always be Matt Damon’s bitch, but that’s another story. Actually I take it back. He’s no longer Matt’s bitch, he’s JLo’s bitch–she probably gives it to him with a strap-on. Oh, I can’t stop talking shit about Ben, please help me.

Ok, here’s the review: the movie wasn’t great, but it was entertaining. Mostly because of the supporting cast. Jennifer Garner, of Alias fame, kicks ass as Elektra and provides real acting to an otherwise flat plot. Colin Farrell does a good job playing the psycho–Bullseye. Joe Pantoliano, of Sopranos fame, plays a reporter trying to uncover the Daredevil story, he’s good too. Not surprisingly, the lamest actor was Affleck. However, the movie has great special effects and is entertaining. It is worth watching on a big ass screen with a good audio system for matinee prices.

4 Stars

Talk to Her was a pleasant surprise, as was All About My Mother a couple of years ago. I didn’t think that the story of two men discussing their love for unconscious women would be interesting at all. However, Pedro Almodovar uses very effective flashbacks to explain the emotional connection that both men have for their objects of affection. The friendship between the two men is as unexpected as the events that unfold for all of the principal characters. It is a great film. Even those that can’t understand Spanish will appreciate the beauty of spoken Spanish dialect from Spain. Check it out.

5 Stars

Amazingly, Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers manages to surpass the bar that was set by Fellowship of the Ring last year. Kudos to Peter Jackson and his crew for recreating the world of Middle Earth to near perfection.

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5 Stars

This film captures the magic of Motown and gives a behind-the-music-like account on how some of the greatest Motown hits were made from the horse’s mouth–the musicians that created the hits, The Funk Brothers. In one of the best scenes of the movie, the Funk Brothers recall how they came up with “Heard it Through the Grapevine” at a table with Joan Osborne–it is spine-tingling. The movie was beautifully shot and recorded, featuring breathtaking live performances by the surviving Funk Brothers. Sadly, Johnny Griffith passed away on November 10th, before the film was released. Check it out–it’s excellent.

4 Stars

The opening scene of the movie opens with a van violently crashing and an organ being delivered at the end of the driveway to Barry Egan’s business, played by Adam Sandler. It was as if Barry had to choose whether to embrace violence or something else. The organ symbolizes not only fullfillment, but a bit of sanity and love. Although Barry doesn’t completely denounce violence, it is clear that he’s trying to find something else–the audience goes along for the ride. Great film. Also you may want to read Larry O’Brien’s review of the film.

5 Stars

All the critics have already told you that Eminem kick ass in this film and I am here to tell you that it’s all true. One of the best scenes in the film is just him sitting in silence in a bus looking at his surroundings. In this scene he communicates self-doubt and insecurity brilliantly. It is an excellent film about a poor kid’s journey of self-realization searching for self-confidence. Even of you don’t like hip-hop you can appreciate the story–great movie.

5 Stars

Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine is a thought-provoking documentary that explores the root causes for the violence of the Columbine shootings. In doing so, it masterfully implicates our society, the media, the NRA, and Charleton Heston himself. But even if Charleton Heston is a racist and the NRA sometimes acts like the Klan in sheep’s clothing, ultimately it is the fears that are perpetuated by the media that may be responsible for the violence. Check out the website–the worldwide firearm homicide statistics shocked the hell out of me. Watch this movie and make your own decisions–you won’t be dissappointed.

2 Stars

I am in the middle of watching this new show about three young female lawyers based in San Francisco. The exterior shots of the city are stunning and looks beautiful–lots of shots of City Hall. The girls in the show are beautiful too, that’s nice. However, the show itself is plagued with juvenile writing and plastic characters. So far not so good.

4 Stars

We finally got a chance to see Barbershop. Although this movie was not as funny as the Friday series, if you like the same type of comedy you’d probably enjoy this film. Cedric the Entertainer stole the show as a crabby old barber.

5 Stars

The Sopranos season opener did not disappoint. After fifteen long-awaited months, the show opened with the proper mix of deception, tension and violence. The main story lines centered around Tony urging the Family to earn more money to help pay Uncle Junior’s lawyer bills. “Don’t give me some f***ing bulls*** about the economy either!” Also, the first death of the season occurs when Tony tells Christopher that a newly retired cop killed his father. It’s shaping up to be another great season.

4 Stars

Mama and I finally saw the new Austin Power movie, Goldmember. This movie was jam-packed with jokes and gags, much like the first movie in the trilogy. The most surprising part of the film was the performance of Beyoncé Knowles as Austin’s sidekick–she rocked. As cool as the movie was, you can’t help but think that there can’t be any more life in the Austin Powers movies. By the end of the film Austin’s shtick gets a little old.

3 Stars

No, this isn’t porn–it’s the new Vin Diesel vehicle called xXx. In it, Diesel plays an extreme athlete and criminal turned spy, ala La Femme Nikita. Some of its action sequences are pretty breathtaking, while others are downright hard-to-believe (i.e. a lot of bullshit moments). It’s one of those films where the stunts are so over the top that you giggle a little at their lack of realism.

The bottom line, if you like good raw action sequences and are not looking for Shakespearian soliloquies this film should fill your needs. This film was not as good as last summer’s Fast and the Furious, in which Diesel also starred. If you like street racing culture you should go out and rent The Fast and the Furious–not a bad film.

4 Stars

This show is like a train wreck–it’s scary and ugly but you just can’t look away. Funny, at the beginning of the show I thought she was drunk, but then I realized she is like that all the time. In this opening episode, she gets into sexually suggestive poses and shows a lot, and I mean a lot, of clevage while house shopping. She’s not at her Guess prime, but it’s like looking at an older, plumper, mentally retarded Marilyn Monroe go about her day–it’s a winner.

3 Stars

Mama and I just saw Margaret Cho’s sophomore movie, The Notorious C.H.O. Her standup routine was not as funny as her first movie, I’m the One That I Want, mostly because she did not do as many impressions of her mother. Instead, this movie delved more deeply into her world of fag hagging with drag queens and obscenely graphic sexual escapades. As funny as these themes are, nothing compares to the impressions of her mom–those are classic.

5 Stars

I am currently watching Robin Williams: Live on Broadway on HBO. It’s genius. He does jokes on Shakespeare, President Bush, America’s War on Terrorism, Joseph and Mary, Golf, Mike Tyson, among other things. He shifts from one topic to the next like a reverend on crack cocaine suffering from ADD , and does it all while poking fun at America’s commercialism throughout the entire show. His ideas come at you so fast that you have to see it twice to hear jokes you may have missed the first time. Check it out.

Saw The Bourne Identity yesterday and was pleasantly surprised. The fact that an assassin is running from his employer, in this case the CIA, is nothing new. The twist to the story is that the guy doesn’t remember who he is. Matt Damon makes us believe that he truly doesn’t know what’s going on and that’s what gives the movie its most entertaining elements. As in every action film, there is a love interest that materializes out of thin air–but it’s an action movie–what did you expect. All in all it’s definitely worth seeing–four out of five stars.

Mama and I went to see Minority Report today and were pretty impressed at the dark imagery conveyed by Steven Spielberg. The movie was heavy and dark. The lead character even resorting to drugs to get over the death of his son and would run into the “sprawl”; a futuristic hood to buy his drugs. It’s a dark world that immediately will bring comparisons to that other Philip K. Dick film noir classic, Blade Runner. It’s a must see even if you are not a die hard Sci-Fi fan.