Cinephilia sounds dirty...

but it's not, I swear!

Since I am running far behind on my movie reviews, and I just hit a trifecta of indies at the Oriental today, I'm gonna hit ya with a six-pack of mini-reviews, or as Matt and Trey would call them, Review-Mini. Hold on to your cupholders everybody.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

I didn't expect to like this movie. I am such a big fan of the original Willy Wonka, and specifically Gene Wilder's performance, that I didn't think Johnny Depp and Tim Burton to put together a version I would enjoy. And I love those guys. Luckily, though, I was pleasantly surprised. Burton's whimsical sense of design is put to far greater use here than in Big Fish or Planet of the Apes, and Depp plays Wonka in a completely different manner than Wilder, but in a good way. Depp's Wonka is a wide-eyed man-child, and the comparisons to Michael Jackson are not without merit. He just plays him as relentlessly naive, not a potential pedophile. The absolute best part of the movie, though, is Danny Elfman's music. A lot of my favorite scores are from Elfman, including Batman, Nightmare Before Christmas, and my all-time favorite, Edward Scissorhands, but his music for the Oompa Loompa songs is some of his best work. Plus, he voiced all the Oompa Loompas! Elfman multitasking! My complaint is the deviation from Roald Dahl's original work, including Wonka's childhood, and his subsequent dismissal of Charlie's extended family. I felt that any changes in the original were ok, since they were approved by Dahl, but the changes in this version not only fundamentally altered the message of the story, but were too drastic to even be considered by Dahl, if he were still alive. Change is inevitable, though, so I can't harp on it too much. I saw this movie twice on IMAX, once by myself at Seven Bridges, and once with Tim and Kelsey at Lincolnshire, further reinforcing IMAX as my new favorite theater format. Harry Potter, here we come. Anyway, Charlie gets a B+.

March of the Penguins

March is a great story, an indie nature doc that's become the surprise hit of the summer. All I need to tell you about the movie is that it follows the semi-annual migration of flocks of emperor penguins across the Antartic plains, as narrated by Morgan Freeman. Kelsey and I saw it at the Ridge, which is a story for another day. Since everyone is trying to deduce the reasons for the box office slump, I'll throw in my two cents, as a continual moviegoer. Plus there'll be an unholy diatribe against the Ridge. Stay tuned. Anyway, I was very impressed with March, since it was originally a French narrative, in which the penguins had voices, and it also translated as a documentary. Editors are skilled, obviously. I did laugh a lot, and found myself wondering about the so-called "Intelligent Design" that implants the instinct in these fascinating creatures to mate 70 miles from their only source of food. Hmm. At times, though, I was bored, as I am apt to be when watching Animal Planet for more than a half hour. My attention is more easily held by shiny things, or by harder-hitting docs like Murderball (see below). March gets a B.

Cinderella Man

I never got around to seeing this the first time 'round, so Kelsey and I hit it at the Budget. Now, this is not meant as an affront to a certain Mr. King, but I normally don't go to "The Budge", as I've just decided to call it. I'm impatient, for one, but they just don't have the comfortable seats or hi-fi sound that the first-run theaters do. I really did want to see Cinderella Man, plus we got in for free, thanks to the aforementioned Hollywood/Budge partner/employee, so I can't complain. As for the movie? It's ok. It's your standard boxing story, fitting the mold much more snugly than Million Dollar Baby. Russell Crowe, Renee Zellweger and Paul Giamatti star, as if the casting director worked for AMPAS, and Oscar-baiting would be a fair overall descriptor. Crowe did make me forget he was Russell freakin' Crowe, though, which speaks for something, and Giamatti was on point as always. It would be bizarre for him to finally win an Oscar for this role, however, considering I feel he was better in both American Splendor and Sideways. Ron Howard reinforced my general dislike of his work: generally overwrought and unnecessarily slow-paced. So is Cinderella Man an early Oscar contender? Probably, but maybe due more to lack of competition and pedigree, not actual merit. I give it a C+ .


I saw this movie, as well as the following two, in one marathon session at the Oriental, recently named one of the ten best movie theaters in the U.S. by Entertainment Weekly. It's about the wheelchair sport of quad rugby, and the men who play it. This brutal event boils down to kill the man with the ball, but played by partially disabled quadriplegics. This insightful doc traces the stories of the men who play for the U.S. national team, how they became disabled, and how quad rugby has helped them. There's also a great interwoven storyline regarding a former U.S. player who, after being cut, becomes the vindictive coach of Team Canada. What all these men want is to be treated as equals, and the film goes a long way towards helping that cause. I can only imagine what it must be like to suffer such a life-changing injury, and I'm sure there are stories of clinical depression from the flipside, but these athletes have taken what life has given them and kept on going, damn the consequences. I can see why this film has generated so much buzz, as it really does show the handicapped in a completely different light, and that's a good thing. Murderball gets an A.

The Aristocrats

So after I got out of Murderball, Kelsey met me at the theater, passes in hand to see The Aristocrats. Another documentary, but in a very different vein. Aristocrats is, long story short, the story of a joke that goes something like this: "So a guy walks into a talent agent's office, and says "I've got this great act, you've gotta see it." So the talent agents asks what the act is." At this point, the person telling the joke has to come up with the filthiest, most depraved series of events, all involving a family act, that they can imagine. "And after all this, the talent agent asks "What could you possibly call this?" And the man replies "The Aristocrats!"" I know it doesn't sound very funny right there, but hey, family members read this. This is, by far, the most foul-mouthed, vulgar, obscene movie I've ever seen, and there is no nudity and no violence. The whole movie is just comedians being interviewed. The joke has evolved, as sort of a comedian's inside joke, since the days of vaudeville, so every comic has a different version, and they're almost unfailingly hilarious. I had tears streaming out of my eyes, even as stunned gasps and people walking out punctuated the near-constant fits of laughter from the rest of the crowd. This movie will offend pretty much anyone, but unless you're really, really uptight, you'll also laugh your ass off. The best part is seeing so-called "family-friendly" comedians like Bob Saget and Paul Reiser come up with some of the most sick and sordid versions of the joke, and then openly question why they're even participating. Funny, funny stuff, although I'm sure the editor was a speed addict with ADD. There is so much quick-jump, high-concept editing that many times we don't get to appreciate the individual tellings of the joke. I haven't laughed so much at a movie since Anchorman, and that's saying a lot. A-.

Broken Flowers

I'm not a huge Jim Jarmusch fan. The only one of his films I've really enjoyed is Ghost Dog, although Coffee and Cigarettes had its moments. I do love Bill Murray, though, so Kelsey and I stayed to watch Broken Flowers, after hitting Qdoba. Murray plays Don Johnston, an aging lothario who, after receiving a mysterious note informing him he has a son, embarks on a trek to find which of his previous loves might be the mother. Let me also say that I was not a huge fan of Lost in Translation, because it just didn't say much, to me anyway. Perhaps I'm in the wrong age bracket to appreciate the message of both of these films, but I simply don't get it. That's hard to admit, for a self-described cinephile such as myself. Kelsey had the best word for it: unfulfilling. I won't spoil the movie for you, but there is what seems like an hour of travelling footage, and an hour of actual content. And unfulfilling is indeed a fitting word. Nothing really seems to change, which, to me, is the point of drama. Characters need to learn, to change, to adapt, to experience a catharsis (thank you, Kevin Spacey as William Hurt). I really didn't see any of that in Broken Flowers. I give an even C.



Sometimes I think of Milwaukee as a “Little Chicago” because it’s got a lot of the cultural opportunities and sports teams, etc., but it’s much easier to drive in, and it’s not intimidatingly huge.

One of the best things about Milwaukee is having several arthouse theaters to fill my need for stuff the cineplexes don’t carry. Joliet, not so much. I mentioned March of the Penguins to mom the other day, and I don’t think she had heard of it, probably because it’s not playing there. And while Movies 8 and Movies 10 were cool when they opened, they’ve been left in the dust by the bigger, better cineplexes in the suburbs. Loews Streets of Woodfield, Lincolnshire Regal, and Seven Bridges Cinemark are movie destinations, not just places to catch a flick. I’m getting off topic here.

Having the Oriental and the Downer is cool enough, I can catch stuff like Murderball and The Merchant of Venice, plus they’ve just got atmosphere. It’s even better, though, that they do special events, and I get to meet Bruce freaking Campbell!

I get Landmark’s weekly e-mail reminding me what movies are playing there this week, and I usually just scan it quickly to see if there’s anything interesting. One week, sure enough, they're like, hey, Brent, come check out Bruce Campbell at the Oriental, as he signs books, and screens his new movie The Man With the Screaming Brain! So, I'm like, sweet!

So I got some tickets through a friend of a friend through the Riggs Hegemony mailgroup, and I headed down to the Oriental. There was a large line, even though I was about two hours early, but we all got numbered badges to represent our place in line. Kelsey met me after a little while, and we both bought the new book "Make Love the Bruce Campbell Way." It's kind of a fictional autobiography, if that phrase makes any sense: Bruce Campbell is the main character, but none of it actually happened.

I also saw Jon Holsclaw there, who I hadn't seen in forever, so that was cool. I hope he gives me a call sometime.

Anyway, after much anticipation, my turn came. Our exchange went something like this:

Bruce: Hi, how you doin?

Brent: Great. Thanks so much for coming, Mr. Campbell.

Bruce: Oh, you can call me Bruce if I can call you Brent.

Brent: Ummm, okay... I'm really looking forward to the movie

Bruce: Really? I just hope you're all entertained. At
least it's a beautiful theater.

Brent: Oh, I know. I come here all the time.

Bruce: You do? Well, good, because if you don't, they will tear
it down. I've seen it happen.

Brent: Well let's hope not. Thank you so much!

During that short conversation, he signed my book with a personalized message, and seemed genuinely interested in talking with me. I know that sounds silly, but hey, he could have just scribbled on it and said "Next!"

Kelsey and I grabbed some dinner, and then sat in a park in Shorewood for a little while, where I took this picture. We then headed back to the theater for the screening.

Bruce answered questions beforehand, which was a little strange, considering we hadn't seen the movie yet. Most of the questions were about his other work anyway, and I understand if he had to get on the road. He really comes across as a regular guy, self-deprecating and sincere. He really lucked into a career as an actor, and he knows it, and accepts it. That's why you gotta love the big lug. What I didn't expect was when he brought out superstar sibling Ted Raimi (!!!) and he answered questions as well. I was so surprised, I didn't even have time to ask Ted about his motivation as the skin-wearing psychopath in Skinner!

The movie itself was about what you'd expect from a movie titled The Man With the Screaming Brain. While I was tremendously entertained, mostly by Bruce and Ted's manic outbursts of insanity throughout, it's not going to win any Oscars. Basically, Bruce plays an American CEO of a pharmaceutical or biotech company or something, and he travels to Eastern Europe to for some business meetings, and he and an ex-KGB cab driver are both killed by the vengeful gypsy ex-flame of the said cab driver. She also kills Bruce's wife. So a crazy scientist puts both Bruce and KGB man's brains in Bruce's body, and wacky hijinks ensue. Also, Bruce's wife's brain is put into a Kill Bill-styled robot, who proceeds to kick ass in every direction.

The whole production had a very 70s feel, which I'm not sure was intentional, given that they shot on location, with an obviously low budget. Either way, though, it didn't have the sheen that so many low-tech sci-fi and horror movie have these days, and that's okay. Different is good. The funny thing is, I was more entertained by Brain than by half the 100 mil budget movies I've seen recently, so I give it a C+.


“I don’t have to take this!”
“That’s right you don’t have to, because you already took it… in the lap… from… not…me!”

God bless those Venture boys.

Anyway, since I’m finally getting around to posting some reviews and such, thought I’d throw out some updates on what’s been going on.

One of the coolest days I’ve had in a while was when Kelsey and I went down to Chicago to meet my parents at the White Sox game. Mom had gotten tickets from a contact at work, so Kelsey and I decided to make a day of it, and hit the Museum of Science and Industry. I hate driving in Chicago, plus parking is expensive, and we would’ve had to park twice. So instead, replicating the White Sox game from April, we drove to Rosemont, and took the train into the city. We transferred once, then hopped a bus to the museum. It had been many years since I’d been there, and I was under the impression that it was on the “museum campus” with the Field Museum and Shedd Aquarium. Nope. It’s kinda off by itself, the red-headed stepchild of Chicago museums. We got there, though, which was comforting. Not so comforting was the fact that we had to wait in line for an hour just to buy tickets. An hour! This was a Wednesday morning in July, I figured there would be some kids off school, but this was crazy. Then I remembered how much bigger Chicago is than Milwaukee, and it made a little more sense. Still, an hour? Come on!

We didn’t have much of a game plan, we just kinda wandered around, which is fine by me. There was a special exhibit of toy robots, including a very non-toy prop sentinel from The Matrix. Picture here. Robots, incidentally, are one fifth of the “Pentagon of Terror”, but there was nary a ninja exhibit to be found. Perhaps there was though, it was just too stealthy to detect. There were many screaming children, which is to be expected, but I was still taken aback. They were roaming free like packs of wolves. We still had fun, though. Parts of the museum looked like they hadn’t been thoroughly cleaned since my last visit, back in junior high. For example, dusty brain: there was just a brain in a jar, with a sign that said “Human Brain” and it was covered in dust. Some poor guy donated his brain to science, and this is what he gets? There’s not a museum staffer with a Swiffer to fix him up?

We went to the game, and had fun there as well. Comiskey has the best hot dog slash polish stands, if you know where to hit, because you can get a heap of fried onions on your dog, and they’re so damn good. In all other respects, give me the Cubs, but when it comes down to the nitty gritty of onion availability, you gotta give the edge to the southsiders.

I went to Joliet for a week. I had vacation to use, and it’s always nice to go home and see the folks. They just got a new computer, so I worked on getting them up and running with the SBC DSL they ordered. Let me just say this: I love me some Road Runner. The DSL experience was just frustrating, considering their new user signup server was down for something like two days. That’s ridonkulous. But everything eventually worked, and they got to see the Pink Floyd set from Live 8, so everybody’s happy.

I also got to hit the “holy trinity” of Joliet area dining establishments, those being Chicken N Spice, Merichka’s, and Joe’s Hotdogs. If I wasn’t so sure I would drop dead after about two weeks, I could just eat at those three places for the rest of my life. I think the best part is that no stranger driving by would be tempted to stop just by looks. Joe’s and Chicken N Spice are both pretty shady-looking, and Merichka’s, while nice, is an old building, with an old sign. I would still gladly demolish every Applebee’s in Wisconsin for a franchise of any one of these restaurants on 108th St. You hear me, Applebee’s? I’m coming for you!

I also waited until July to swing into the baseball season. Besides the aforementioned White Sox game, I caught the Jackhammers while I was home, which is always a blast. I am always astounded as to how much an independent minor league team has affected the downtown area, and I find myself wishing I still lived in Joliet, so I could get season tickets. I went to two Brewers games in three days, both against the newly minted Washington Nationals. The first was a trip with Hollywood & Game Crazy, preceded by tailgating and followed by liberal application of aloe vera. Seriously, I got so sunburned, but just on my forearms, cheeks and ears. So I looked stupid for a while. The second game was with Rikki and Dave, with Kelsey and Beau absent. Kelsey had to work some kind of superfantastical power-shift at the B&N, while Beau said he would go, I bought a ticket, and then he said he wasn’t going. What the crap? Sigh. That game was interesting, since we sat in the absolute last row in Miller Park. The very last. Now I know what birds feel like, when they watch baseball. But we did get some pretty sweet Rollie Fingers bobbleheads, and I’m now inclined to go buy some mustache wax.

This past weekend, I hopped up to Appleton to watch the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers. Rikki’s mom had scored tickets, since she owns a Saturn, so along with Rikki’s sister Elise and her friend, we met up at the park. Free food is always good, and the atmosphere was cool. The team is a class A affiliate of the Seattle Mariners, in the same league at the Kane County Cougars, and the experience was much more like a Cougars game than a Jackhammers game. Pictures are here. A good time was had by all. Plus there were 3-D fireworks afterwards! Well, not really. They just gave us wacky glasses that refracted light, like a prism. The overall effect was pretty sweet, though.

What else? The Ben Folds show we were going to go to at Ravinia is sold out. I dropped the ball on this one, since I was waiting for some more pavilion seats to open up, and in the meantime, the lawn sold out. So now we can’t go. I guess I’m not too broken up about it, since I bet Ben will tour this winter, without Rufus Wainwright, and I can catch that show, and get a longer set. There might be a trip to Ravinia anyway, for CSO’s Star Wars concert. I don’t know if anyone besides me is interested, though. Tim might be, but Brian is at a family reunion that weekend, and Kelsey seemed less than enthusiastic about the prospect. We’ll see.

I finally broke down and bought an I-Pass. Screw Illinois. Screw them. They doubled their tolls for non I-Pass users, so the first stop on 94 south of the border in now $1.50. So I finally got the stupid thing, and I guess it’s pretty cool. I still don’t like the automatic withdrawal from my credit card, but I do like being able to zip past lines at the tollbooth.

Umm, I think that’s the little stuff. I’ll put up separate posts dealing with work issues and meeting Mr. Bruce F’n Campbell.

False Advertising...

More like NO Island…

Let me make one thing perfectly clear: I hate Michael Bay. Not as much as Joel Schumacher, mind you, but enough to make me seriously doubt any movie he makes. Pearl Harbor, for example. It had all the makings of a good war flick, what with an important historic event, Oscar-winning actors, and a sense of purpose. It could have been another Saving Private Ryan. I knew, though, that Michael Bay was directing, so I stayed away. When I watched it on DVD, I knew I’d saved myself 8 dollars, even if I couldn’t get the 3 hours back.

You would think I would follow that trend, and just avoid all Bay flicks like the plague. But no, I just had to go see The Island.

Again, another “sounds good on paper” situation. Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johannsen star, with Sean Bean, Steve Buscemi, Djimon Hounsou and Michael Clarke Duncan in supporting roles. Sounds good so far. Add in the fact that it’s a sci-fi thriller, and that Jerry Bruckheimer is NOT producing (a first for Bay), and I was motivated enough to plunk down some hard earned cash for a Michael Bay movie.

Perhaps my optimism was misguided, but I actually had high hopes for The Island. I don’t know why particularly, but the trailers made it look smarter than the average action movie, and I thought that if it was good enough for Obi-Wan, then it good enough for me. Then again, he did make Eye of the Beholder. Oh well.

It’s not that The Island is as bad as Pearl Harbor. Far from it. It’s just not as smart as I expect my sci-fi to be. I found myself wandering through titanic plot holes, and wondering if the writers intentionally structured the script as a device for chase scenes. During one of these chases, pretty much every cliché is utilized. The hero braces a door with a handy broom, and the bad guys are taken out by a swinging pipe AND ball bearings. I expect they were in a crate labeled “ACME” but I wasn’t really paying attention.

Basically, Ewan and Scarlett are clones of “real” people, created as an insurance policy for spare organs, etc. They don’t know this, they think they’re regular folks. So they get pretty freaked, naturally, when they discover they’re just organ farms, and decide to confront their other selves, and urge them to not kill them, if at all possible. Somewhere in there, there’s a lot of explosions, and random dream imagery, and Michael Clarke Duncan.

It is an interesting concept to be sure, and not too farfetched, assuming we elect a President somewhere in the future who doesn’t think cloning and stem cell research are instruments of the devil. But I digress. The Island just comes across as another lunkheaded popcorn flick that lurches from setpiece to setpiece, occasionally stumbling into a good scene.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the insulting product placement in this movie. In a perfect world, the director would have complete creative control, but I understand that isn’t always the case. So if a movie has an occasional product reference, I’m not too bothered, because with Hollywood movies these days, it’s expected. The Island, though, sunk to a new level of advertising. The references weren’t just in passing, in fact they distracted from the action. For example, a character is drinking a beer in a scene, and instead of just positioning the bottle so the label is obvious, they threw in an establishing shot of just the beer, ¾ frame, and then showed the character drinking it. At least he didn’t say “Aaaahh, that’s a smooth beer.” I feel insulted by this type of product placement, as a moviegoer, because I’ve already paid my 9 bucks, plus sat through 5-10 ads before the movie, and then I get blatant advertising in the movie. WTF?

So The Island, both creatively and financially, can be considered a flop. I would recommend it as a rental, since there are some redeeming qualities, but is it one of my least favorite movies of the summer? No doubt. I would normally give it a C, but I’m marking it down a couple grades due to the product placement. Island ends in D.

Fantastic Floor

So remember that episode of The Simpsons where Bart buys a comic from Comic Book Guy, only to later find out that it was Fantastic Floor? Yeah. At least that had interesting wood grain patterns.

But I kid. Fantastic Four is by no means a horrible movie, like, say, Daredevil or Catwoman, but it lacks the grandeur and scope of great comic book flicks like the Spider-Man or X-Men series. Fantastic Four the comic is one of Marvel’s top-tier titles, along with those two, but it’s been given the B-List treatment by Fox. And much as I was able to credit the success of War of the Worlds to Spielberg, I can attribute most of the faults of Fantastic Four to its director, Tim Story.

For the uninitiated, Four follows a group of astronauts, who are exposed to radiation in space, and thus gain super powers. Like you do. They return to Earth, and use their powers to fight evil and defend truth, justice and the American way, I guess. I never really read the comic too much. I liked the X-Men better. Anyway, the group is kinda the celebrities of the superhero world, as they don’t really have secret identities, or wear masks. They are who they are.

More than other superhero teams, the Fantastic Four are a family, both literally and figuratively. Thus they bicker and play pranks, and fight and make up, everything your family does, just with cool superpowers.

So this movie is origin first, silly subplot second. It seems that the financier of their space mission, one Victor Von Doom, was exposed to the same wacky radiation, and everything seems to be going wrong for him. So he wants revenge, natch, and decides to take over the world. Seems reasonable to me. Will our heroes be able to stop him? Does anyone care at this point?

To me, the movie just really doesn’t bring a whole lot to the table. The idea behind bringing a comic book to the big screen should be to render the characters in three dimensions, and make it either believable, or so fantastic that you don’t care if its believable (i.e. Sin City). When I left the theater, I was just unimpressed. It was a movie, I’ll say that for it. It just seemed uninspired, like the actors, the director, everybody was just going through the motions.

Speaking of the actors, I can’t complain too much. Ioan Gruffudd and Julian McMahon were serviceable enough as rivals Mr. Fantastic and Dr. Doom. Chris Evans played the annoying frat boy part a little too over the top as the Human Torch, and even Michael Chiklis as The Thing was a little too angsty for his own good. Jessica Alba? She’s hot. That’s about all she does. (see also: Sin City).

As I mentioned before, comic book adaptations should be making three-dimensional characters out of a two-dimensional medium. Fantastic Four just feels as flat as it ever was on paper. I give it a C- .