Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father (2008)


Directed by: Kurt Kuenne (I’d say he’s a mostly amateur filmmaker, though I hope he achieves some measure of success after watching this film)

Written by: Kuenne

Starring: Documentaries rarely “star” people, and in the case of Dear Zachary, there are no famous people at all

What it’s about: a documentary detailing the shocking and appalling events that took place after the murder of Andrew Bagby

What I liked: It felt like a movie that was made with passion, and not just loving passion, but justifiable raging passion.  When you see a movie like this, hopefully you don’t wonder why I get so angry about stuff that Hollywood directors shit out.  This is a documentary that defiantly has an agenda, and unlike a Michael Moore-directed doc, the facts are all easily researchable and impossible to deny.  I don’t like saying that “I liked” how surprising the story was, because holy shit, no, it is positively devastating to watch these events unfold.

What I disliked: There were some technical issues that I didn’t really appreciate, such as the occasional instances where a virtual cacophony of voices were speaking at once and while I do appreciate the artistic intention, it didn’t do much for me.  That is all, oh except for the fact that I am horrified and goddamn embarrassed about the judicial system in my country.

Would I recommend it to anyone?: Yes, but it is a movie you probably won’t ever want to watch again.

Rating: 4 / 5

Bolt (2008)

Stupid cat.

Stupid cat.

Directed by: Chris Williams and Byron Howard (Howard also directed Tangled which I didn’t think much of)

Written by: Dan Fogelman and Chris Williams

Starring: the vocal cast of John Travolta, Miley Cyrus, Susie Essman, Mark Walton, Malcolm McDowell, Randy Savage, Nick Swardson, Diedrich Bader, Chloë Grace Moretz, James Lipton, Grey DeLisle, John DiMaggio, and Jenny Lewis

What it’s about: a dog raised on a TV show finds out that he has no super powers at all

B-Movie Alternate Title: The Dog Who Didn’t Know

Movie Mash Up: Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey animated

What I liked: The animation is gorgeous – especially on Bolt – and some of the scenes that don’t involve any of the characters in the movie look like real life.  Well, the movies version of real life, I guess.  I absolutely love Jenny Lewis, and honestly, there’s no reason (except that the Oscars are bullshit political garbage) that her song wasn’t nominated in the Best Original Song category.  Really, TWO songs from Slumdog Millionaire were nominated?  Idiots.  Her song still brings a bit of the old glassy-eyed reaction out in me.  The characters were fun as well.

What I disliked: For some reason, the more times I re-watch this, the less impressed I am by it.  I still think it is a decent movie, but my enthusiasm for it has dulled since I originally watched it.  Personally, I would have rather had Chloë Grace Moretz as the lead voice like they originally recorded, rather than Miley Cyrus’ fucked up nasally cigarette-infused voice.  The movie just doesn’t impact me as much anymore, but I still want a dog.

Would I recommend it to anyone?: Sure, there’s nothing offensive about the movie at all, just an enjoyable easy-to-watch romp.

Rating: 3 / 5

That is pretty adorable right there

That is pretty adorable right there

The Strangers (2008)

Directed by: Bryan Bertino (feature film debut, is in post-production for his next film, Mockingbird)

Written by: Bertino as well

Starring: Liv Tyler, Scott Speedman, Glenn Howerton, Gemma Ward, Kip Weeks and Laura Margolis

What it’s about: a couple are victim to a home invasion terrorizing

B-Movie Alternate Title: The Strangers in Your House!

Movie Mash Up: for tone, I’d say it’s very Blair Witch Project, but there are loads of other elements to it as well.  It’s a psychologically terrifying film.

What I liked: the sheer terror of the movie; how economical everything is, there are no wasted movements or scenes, everything plays a part in the night of terror; effective use of music; the acting was great for what was asked of the actors.

What I disliked: despite how effective The Strangers were at doing what they do, it seemed like they were five thousand steps ahead of the couple at all times, like they were anticipating exactly everything they were going to do, making them seem more supernatural than just fucked up assholes.

Would I recommend this to anyone?: Sure, if they like great thriller movies and want a good scare.

Rating: 4 / 5

Step Brothers (2008)

I wrote this review awhile back, and it’s fairly well-written, so I’m going to use it here.  My feelings on the movie remain almost the same, except I gave it another half a star this time.

Generally every time that a new Will Ferrell movie comes out, I’m subjected to a ridiculous amount of advertising in relation to the movie, mostly in the form of commercials that barely register with me as they’re filled with the most ridiculous scenes and absurd dialogue. Those commercials never highlight the little things that make me want to pay to see a movie, like scene-stealing bit players or awkwardly delivered lines, things like that. Eventually I’ll see the movie though, because there is something about the Frat Pack movies and Judd Apatow productions that intrigue me. I know that no matter how bad it may appear to be on the outside, when Apatow is involved with a film, at the very least I’ll think it’s just average.

Step Brothers was a bit of a different beast, as I thought the R-rated trailer that I saw a couple months ago was filled with comedic promise. John C. Reilly was absolutely perfect in Walk Hard, and the idea of Dewey Cox being the step-brother to a weird mash-up of Ron Burgundy and Buddy the Elf was enough to make me want to see Step Brothers. Thankfully, my non-paying gig as a movie czar (I actually prefer movie guru) led to me lucking into some free passes to a preview screening.

This movie reunites Ferrell with his Talladega Nights and Anchorman director, Adam McKay, and had I remembered that awhile back, my enthusiasm for Step Brothers might have been dampened considerably. Thankfully I went into the movie with hardly any preconceived expectations for the movie. Well that’s not entirely true. I knew that there were going to be at least six strikingly funny scenes from what I saw in the trailer, and I was holding out hope that the entire movie would be a laugh riot.

Nancy Huff (Mary Steenburgen) and Dr. Robert Doback (Richard Jenkins) are two middle-aged single parents who meet and fall in love over the shared embarrassment of both having their 40-year-old sons still living with them. Brennan Huff (Ferrell) has been raised to be a petulant mama’s boy with almost zero knowledge of how to survive in the outside world. Dale Doback (Reilly) is like a man-child version of a lumberjack or trucker, and both boys seem to hate each other on first sight. Eventually, a shared hatred of Brennan’s younger, more successful brother Derek (Adam Scott) brings the two step brothers together and wacky hijinks ensue that threaten to tear the family apart.

I realise now that I’m being spoiled by these Apatow-produced and directed movies, as generally flicks in the wacky comedy genre tend to pull their punches and don’t deliver full belly laughs from being surprised at the audaciousness of the dialogue or situations. With every well-placed f-bomb and concussion-inducing injury or absurd and off-putting situation, I eagerly drink up more of the Apatow-flavoured Kool-Aid. The sheer fun that Ferrell and Reilly put into their performances make the movie all the more enjoyable that it rightfully should be.

It’s not a perfect movie by any means, since if you really stop to think about it, the main characters should actually be loathed and mocked, not celebrated. Thankfully, Ferrell puts more Buddy than Burgundy into his performance so Brennan doesn’t come across as unlikable. Reilly was great as usual, Jenkins delivered his usual decent if not noteworthy performance, and Mary Steenburgen kind of freaked me out every time she was onscreen. Adam Scott was particularly loathsome as the super-successful asshat brother, and generally everyone played their role to maximize the funny.

For a movie of this type, it is super hard to get a perfect score in my ratings books. A movie like There’s Something About Mary would rate full marks from me, and while I enjoyed Step Brothers, it was no Mary. Hell, it wasn’t even an Out Cold, but it wasn’t a waste of my time and I enjoyed it for what it was. And me typing that the way that I did is why I come across as a pretentious movie snob sometimes.

3.5 / 5

The Dark Knight (2008)

With The Dark Knight Rises releasing in less than two months, I figured the best way to get more hits would be to actually have a Dark Knight review up, and my old one went into far greater detail than a new one of mine would, so here it is:

The Dark Knight begins around six months after the events in Batman Begins, with Batman (Christian Bale) finally taking care of most of the criminal trash from Begins.  There’s a new District Attorney in town by the name of Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), and he’s being proclaimed as Gotham City’s white knight, bound and determined to clean up the police force and the streets.  The newest terror enveloping the city comes in the form of a killer clown, a rampaging murderous criminal that pisses off the established mafia as much as he terrifies the citizenry.  The Joker (Heath Ledger) has been waging a humanistic war on the morality of Batman’s vigilantism, while further plunging the city into a desperate state of decay.  Or I could just describe it as “Batman.  The Joker.  Two-Face.  It’s not Batman Forever.” and that should be enough to give even the most jaded fanboy a shiver of anticipation.

What director Christopher Nolan crafts in two and a half hours is, in a word, breathtaking.  He gives us amazing action sequences and thoughtful meditations on what makes a hero a hero.  Some of those meditations might actually be too thoughtful for the megaplex crowd, since most comic book blockbusters aren’t really known for being too cerebral.  As well, it’s not the most colourful of movies, and while I appreciate the dark look and tones of the film, it makes for some confusing and occasionally muddled fight scenes (thankfully viewing it on Blu-Ray cleans it all up).

Christian Bale continues to be able to deliver two separate and believable performances as both Batman and his secret identity, millionaire playboy Bruce Wayne.  Maggie Gyllenhaal takes over the part of Rachel Dawes that Katie Holmes previously portrayed, and well, it’s essentially a damsel-in-distress role, what with Rachel becoming the girlfriend of Harvey Dent and the transformation of Dent into Two-Face looming over the whole relationship.  I really hope no one is spoiled by the fact that Harvey Dent actually turns into Two-Face, and oh by the way, Aaron Eckhart deserves some high praise as well for the grey areas he put into his portrayal of Dent / Two-Face.  He’s transformed but he doesn’t suddenly become insane, just righteously pissed off.

Michael Caine as Alfred and Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox are two supporting players you never have to worry about and they performed admirably well, hitting all the right notes for their father figure character types.  Speaking of father figures, Gary Oldman is even more perfect as Jim Gordon than he was in Begins, and I don’t think enough things are being said about his performance since most of the audience only wants to see the freak show.

If you’re wondering whether or not the advance billing for Heath Ledger’s performance lives up to the product on the screen, well no matter how amazing you thought it may be, it will most likely surpass those levels.  Ledger’s fearless portrayal of the Clown Prince of Crime is one of the most nerve-twitching, eye-catching, depraved and darkly hilarious acting displays in recent memory.  The previous year had Javier Bardem as Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men, and even Chigurh would be a little off-put by Ledger’s Joker.  There is little doubt in my mind that come next March, Heath Ledger will be awarded a posthumous Oscar for his part in The Dark Knight (and of course he was).

I’ve tried not to get myself all excited for movies these days, as too many disappointments have dampened many of my old fanboy tendencies.  The Dark Knight was the one exception, and I have to say that it lived up to the hype.  As an old school comic book fan and as a movie czar, I can appreciate it on both levels.  Christopher Nolan could spend the rest of his career making Batman movies and I doubt that I’d ever be disappointed by them.

5 / 5

Tropic Thunder (2008)

Generally speaking, movies about the inner workings of Hollywood and how fake the industry is usually don’t too well at the box office.  Sure, they’ll be critically acclaimed and such, but for the most part it seems that audiences don’t care about how movies are made, they just like the movies.  And most audiences like terrible movies.  How else can you explain a painfully average and boring film like Avatar becoming the #1 grossing movie of all time?  The championing of mediocrity and the higher cost of 3D movie tickets I guess would also be completely plausible reasons, but in my opinion it was just catering to the marketplace, and the market loves unchallenging shit.  Anyways, rant over, let’s talk about Tropic Thunder.

Directed and co-written by star Ben Stiller, it’s a sorta spoof of the movie industry that touches on numerous topics.  Endorsement deals, revenue streams, awards baiting, method acting, contract riders, all those and numerous other topics are touched upon, in some cases almost too spot on.  Robert Downey, Jr. actually scored a Best Supporting Actor nomination for his performance as Kirk Lazarus, an Australian method actor who performs in blackface for almost the entirety of the film.  There was no way Downey was going to win, as this was the same year that Heath Ledger’s phenomenal Joker performance in The Dark Knight was released.  Still, props to the Academy for legitimizing that role of Downey’s.

I’m not going to go into too much detail about the plot of the movie, because you’ve probably heard about it by now, and it just comes across as preposterous.  The strength of the movie is in the performances, and actors knowing their role and playing to it.  Stiller’s character of Tugg Speedman is probably the most on-the-nose role in the movie, and if he wasn’t surrounded by an able supporting cast, honestly, the movie wouldn’t be as good as it is.

As it stands, it’s not a perfect movie by any means, but it is highly enjoyable and one that certainly lends itself to multiple viewings (do yourself a favour and watch it with Downey’s commentary at least once, the man is a national treasure).

3.5 / 5

The Incredible Hulk (2008)

I’m going to set the record straight right off the bat.  I prefer the 2003 Ang Lee-directed Hulk movie to this one.  There are notable tonality differences in the two films, as the first one is much more of a “real movie” whereas the second one is a better “HULK SMASH” movie.  Not everyone will agree with me.  In fact, most Marvel fanboys will completely disagree with me, but whatever, everyone’s got their own opinions.  I also think that is the weakest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe films released so far, and I don’t think too many people will disagree with me on that.

Playing the part of Bruce Banner this time is Edward Norton, taking over the role that Eric Bana played in Hulk.  And for The Avengers, it was switched a third time to Mark Ruffalo, which is completely acceptable.  Norton plays a decent enough Banner, but didn’t really strike me as I don’t know, maybe miserable enough to fully capture how much Banner disliked losing control and turning into the other guy.

I don’t really have too much to say about this movie.  It did its job well enough, while also furthering the Marvel Cinematic Universe storyline and getting Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) in an end credits scene to push The Avengers further to the forefront.  There are numerous call-aheads to Captain America as well as developing a potential future villain with the mutation of Dr. Samuel Sterns (Tim Blake Nelson).  However, if they end up making a third Hulk film, the question is whether or not they just “requel” it again or actually make it a full-on sequel.

As it is, for full enjoyment of the work that Marvel Studios has done in crafting their Cinematic Universe, you should definitely see the movie.

3 / 5

Iron Man (2008)

Okay, so this is the movie that kicked off the whole Avengers Initiative thing that ultimately led to The Avengers being made and probably becoming one of the Top Five highest grossing movies ever (pure speculation at this point).  If this movie had ended up being a box office bomb, well, it would have bankrupted the newly made Marvel Studios, Robert Downey, Jr. would probably have had a relapse and the entire world would be a different place now.  Probably.  But it didn’t, so yay!

I’m a DC Comics fan, so most of the characters in Marvel’s comic universe I have only a smattering of knowledge about, though I do tend to pick up little tidbits of info here and there.  Iron Man probably wasn’t what Marvel would consider a first-tier marketable character, but they didn’t have 100% control over their most recognisable movie characters – Spider-Man and Wolverine/X-Men – so the film for Iron Man became the launch pad of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  It was directed by Jon Favreau in an apparently less than 100%-scripted environment, which leads to some scenes of dialogue which feel much more natural because of Downey’s nature of neverstoptalkingwhenotherpeoplearetalking.

Downey was probably no one’s first choice for Tony Stark/Iron Man, but the actor took that ball and fucking repulsor rayed it to the moon.  The rest of the cast is 95% perfect as well, but only because I find it hard to buy Terrence Howard in anything.  This film also marks the first fun appearance of Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) of S.H.I.E.L.D. and boy I hate typing acronyms like that.  Iron Man also pretty much laid out the formula for all the Marvel Cinematic Universe films, with Coulson appearances, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) appearances, post-credit scenes and numerous nods to the future films in the Universe.  Like Pixar, only more fanboy serverish.

Anyways, solid fucking movie.  Great launchpad for the Avengers franchise, and I wish DC would be able to replicate the same formula for a future Justice League movie, but oh well.

4.5 / 5

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)

As I remarked a couple of days ago, when it comes to a David Fincher film, the worst you can possibly get is something very good, and for my money, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is Fincher’s worst film.  That being said, it’s still quite good, but there are so many issues with it that it just cannot achieve that all-time classic greatness that you hope for in a Fincher film.

I’m not the first person to say this, but it’s pretty much Forrest Gump, except much more elegant and – at times – pretentiously twee.  The acting is, well it’s alright.  It’s just so, overwrought.  So purposeful without purpose.  Yes, we know it’s a grand epic story of this guy with a weird disease, but these people are like Aaron Sorkin-written characters in “Studio 60”.  Sorry, your job on a fading sketch show is not the most important job in the world.  The character of Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt) did not change the world in anyway other than the way he influenced the people around him.  He wasn’t even fucking Forrest Gump, lucking into investing in Apple or anything like that.

It’s a gorgeous movie, and there is no reason to hate the film at all.  It’s just exceedingly long, and the premise of the movie – while interesting – is pretty much shown as nothing more than an odd quirk and an inconvenience to Button.  Believe me, this is a movie I sat down to watch wanting to love, but feeling in my heart that it was an uncharacteristic misstep for Fincher.  Again, it’s still a good movie.

3.5 / 5

Hamlet 2 (2008)

Sometimes I have a misguided love for certain films that don’t live up to future re-watchings.  They’re often overly quirky, feature dry, unorthodox characters and acting and story lines, and are potentially offensive to some.  Far too many times, these movies that I championed as “must watches” end up just being hard to re-watch.  Thankfully, that is not entirely the case with Hamlet 2, though I will concede that it wasn’t as great as I first thought it was.  That may be because I have a feeling that it may have helped inspire fucking “GLEE”.

Dana Marschz (Steve Coogan) is a high school drama teacher in Tuscon, Arizona and he truly lives up to the old adage of “those who cannot do, teach”.  He’s not a talented actor at all, and the plays his classes put on are just interpretations of Hollywood films like Erin Brockovich or Mississippi Burning.  His wife, Brie (Catherine Keener), is casually cruel to both him and their boarder, Gary (David Arquette) but Dana just appears to be so self-involved that he doesn’t recognise her attacks on him.  ANYWAYS, Drama gets cancelled and as a last ditch effort to save the arts, Dana puts on a play that he personally wrote, a sequel to William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”.

It’s such an out-there concept and what Coogan does with the character, it’s nearly beyond description.  He’s at times both blissfully unaware of everything and then it all comes crashing down into him and really, it’s such a bizarre kind of movie that – while I’m a big fan of it – I can’t really wholeheartedly endorse it as a great movie.  The people that love it, WILL LOVE IT, but most of us will probably think “that was … interesting” and never again think of it.

3.5 / 5