Author Archive

United

It’s hard to mess up a really, really good story. I’m living proof of this. United is the true story of the 1958 Munich Air Disaster. The Manchester United football (also known in parts of the world as “soccer”) team was traveling by airplane to (then) Yugoslavia to play a European Cup (now Champions League) match when they crashed taking off upon the return trip in Munich. This may seem very spoiler-y, but I promise you this is the first scene of the movie.

Much of the plot development revolves around manager Matt Busby, star player Duncan Edwards, up and coming player Bobby Charlton, and assistant manager Jimmy Murphy. The performance as Jimmy Murphy, played by David Tennant, is especially great. Taking a gander at his resume, I’ve never seen any of Tennant’s other work, but his portrayal is quite memorable.

The cinematography is quite stunning. Having just made another kinda-sorta movie (a 37-minute highlight film documenting our 2012 National Championship winning cross country team), I found myself looking at a lot of shots thinking ‘dang… wish I would’ve taken a shot like that.’

The movie checks all of the boxes you are looking for in a good movie. Engaging. Well acted. Well shot. Interesting storyline. As a guy who wakes up at 6:30 AM on Saturday mornings nearly every week to watch English soccer, I’m obviously biased. Even if you aren’t a fan of soccer, it’s a movie that can easily be enjoyed. My wife, who certainly doesn’t like soccer, thought it was a great movie as well. If you are interested, it is currently available for streaming on Netflix.

7.5

out of 10

29

11 2012

Headhunters

I’d never heard of this movie, but after watching Sin Nombre, the fine folks at Netflix suggested I might like this one.

Headhunters is 2011 film coming from – of all places – Norway. Roger is a short, wealthy businessman who’s married to Diana – a tall model-type . But what Diana doesn’t know is that a) Roger is cheating on her and b) he’s not wildly rich from his job as a corporate headhunter, but rather from his side job as an art thief. He’s got a somewhat elaborate system where he replaces the art with a knockoff printed from a large-format printer and has a security guy as an accomplice.

I don’t want to give too much plot away, but the look, feel, and style of the movie reminded me a lot of other European filmed movies like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and the Bourne series.

The movie is much bloodier than I expected, but watching this movie reminded me why I hate a lot of mediocre American thrillers. A quote from Roger Ebert that really sums up my thoughts on the movie : “It entertains with story elements, in which the scares evolve from human behavior. Unlike too many thrillers that depend on stunts, special effects and the Queasy-Cam, this one devises a plot where it matters what happens. It’s not all kinetic energy.”

I know a lot of people are into movies and a lot of the same people are into sports, but nobody has developed a sabrmetric-style scoring system for movies. We all know that Albert Pujols is good at baseball, Kobe Bryant is pretty good at basketball, and Tom Brady knows how to toss the pigskin. In the same way, we all know that The Departed and the first 99.5% of No Country for Old Men are great movies. The key is finding and correctly identifying diamonds in the rough. For example, I would like to know that the value over replacement thriller (or VORT) for Headhunters of +25 or a wins above replacement foreign film (WARFF) of 2.7. Someone needs to make this happen.

Tangents aside, Headhunters is an extremely intense and well-made movie that is well worth your time. It’s currently available streaming on Netflix.

8.0

out of 10

28

11 2012

Sarah’s Key

If you are looking for a feel good movie to watch with the family during this Holiday weekend, do yourself a favor and skip Sarah’s Key. As a general rule, if you are in the mood for a feel good movie, skipping any movie with the word “holocaust” as a keyword on the IMDB page is probably a good idea.

Sarah’s Key is a 2010 French drama that jumps between present day and 1942. American journalist Julia Jarmond (Kristin Scott Thomas) and her husband are inheriting an apartment from her husband’s elderly grandmother. When she finds out they have lived in the apartment since 1942, she becomes curious as she had recently written an article about the roundup of Jews by the French. No, that wasn’t an error in my article. Apparently I didn’t pay attention in high school social studies because I was completely clueless that the French held over 13,000 Jews at a velodrome and then held them in internment camps.

After investigating, she finds out some back story about a 10-year old girl – Sarah Starzynski – and her brother along with their family who once lived in the inherited apartment.

I don’t want to give much more away in terms of plot because I’m going to spoil the movie for you, but this is a must watch.

After watching the movie, I found out the story is, in fact, fictional. The fact that I had to look up whether or not it was true should indicated that it easily could have been a true story. I was a little apprehensive about watching this movie going in (let’s just say I’ve been burned – or rather bored – by foreign period pieces before), but I was completely impressed by the story, the cinematography, and excellent acting performances. I can’t recommend this under-the-radar film highly enough. It is currently available streaming on Netflix

8.5

out of 10

21

11 2012

Rock of Ages

If anyone asks me “…what’s the worst movie you’ve seen lately,” I’ve got a new leader in the clubhouse. Rock of Ages, ladies and gentleman.

On paper, this sounds like a brilliant comedy. A comedy about the 80s rock scene featuring Russell Brand, Alec Baldwin in an awful/awesome wig, Paul Giamatti as a sleazy businessman, Bryan Cranston as a politician and Tom Cruise, in quite possible the most un-Tom Cruise role he’s ever played, playing some sort of combination of Axl Rose and Bret Michaels. It’s a movie with boatloads of potential, but in the end, winds up taking on water and capsizing in spectacular fashion.

Where did Rock of Ages go wrong?

First of all, the two main leads – Diego Boneta and Julianne Hough – are incredibly weak. I’m talking would get out-acted on your average 3PM tween sitcom on Disney Channel bad. Cruise is funny, but I think less is more would’ve been a little better (think “Chazz” from Wedding Crashers). Brand and Baldwin aren’t given a whole lot to work with.

The music is the sole piece of this movie I’d hold up as exemplary. The way that the music is used at times feels phony and forced, but I’d much rather listen to this soundtrack than be forced to watch this movie again. Tom Cruise’s stellar performance as Stacee Jaxx is the only reason I could recommend for anyone to check this out.

Although I love me some 80s rock, I’m not a huge fan of musicals to begin with. After watching this movie, though, I’ve definitely determined I’d much watch a nominally decent musical than an all-together horrible one.

3.0

out of 10

16

11 2012

The Campaign

After the onslaught of months and months of negative political campaign ad after negative political campaign ad along with debates, commentary, and analysis that could drive anyone insane, why would anyone want to watch anything that has to do with politics right now?

Imagine Will Ferrell in his George Bush character playing a parodied version of John Edwards. He’s been in his fair share of mediocre movies, but when he’s on (Anchorman, Old School, Step Brothers), there is no funnier comedic actor in Hollywood.

The plot of the movie is quite simple. Will Ferrel stars as Cam Brady, a misogynous and immoral North Carolina congressman who is running for office unopposed. After leaving an inappropriate message on the answering machine of one of his many mistresses, corrupt corporate business leaders The Motch brothers (Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow) decide to throw money behind goofball Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis) to try to take over Brady’s congress seat and make profits from Chinese companies posing as American companies. Tim Wattley (Dylan McDermott) is hired as the slick campaign manager who is trying to reinvent Marty’s image.

The movie is flat out funny. Having not heard a whole lot of rumblings about this, I assumed this movie might have been another one of Ferrell’s swing-and-misses, but I was dead wrong. I would even go as far to say as this movie would sit on my “Will Ferrell movie mantle” just a rung or two below the king – Anchorman.

It’s crude, it’s rude, and it’s inappropriate, but it’s certainly Will Ferrell at his finest. If you are a fan of having fun while being entertained, I highly recommend checking out this low-brow, high-laughs comedy.

8.0

out of 10

15

11 2012

Sin Nombre

Available on Netflix

Sin Nombre is a movie I’d seen pop up on a few different “best of” lists a few years ago. The Film Vault – a great weekly movie podcast by Anderson Cowan (famous for getting yelled at by Adam Carolla on Loveline) and Bald Bryan Bishop (famous for getting yelled at by Adam Carolla on the Adam Carolla Show) – has recommended this film for quite some time.

Sin Nombre is a 2009 deburt film by American film director Cary Fukunaga about the Mexican Mara Salvatrucha gang. In the opening scenes, Mara gang member Casper is seen recruiting a young boy – Smiley – to join the gang. Lil Mago the heavily tattooed gang leader (and when I say heavily tattooed, I’m talking more tattoos than the starting 5 of any NBA team combined) introduces Smiley to the gang by, of course, beating the tar out of him for 13 seconds.

Casper and Smiley are sent to go after a rival gang, but instead Casper goes to visit his girlfriend. After getting caught lying, Casper and Smiley are punished and viewed as not loyal to the gang.

Simultaneously, Sayra along with her uncle and father are trying to illegally immigrate from Honduras to New Jersey for a better life. They are planning on taking riding aboard the tops of various trains until they can reach the Mexican-US border.

I’m trying to be as spoiler-free as possible, but this is an incredible movie. At only 90 minutes, it’s incredibly fast movie while still allowing characters time to breathe and develop on screen. The movie is very thought provoking on many levels. First, the gang-related violence makes this a very dark and, at times, bleak movie. The overall hopelessness and poverty also might make you second guess your thoughts on illegal immigrants coming to America.

Overall, it’s a fantastic film especially for a first time director. The performances from all of the main characters where incredibly gritty and realistic. It reminded me an incredible amount of the 2009 HBO documentary “Which Way Home” (also available on Netflix right now) that I really enjoyed, as well. If you are a fan of really good cinema (regardless of the fact that you are going to have to “read” the movie subtitles), I can’t recommend this movie highly enough.

9.5

out of 10

14

11 2012

Retro Review – Kill Bill Volume 1

This review originally appeared on brenthanson.net on April 21, 2004

“It was not my intention to do this in front of you. For that I’m sorry. But you can take my word for it, your mother had it comin’. When you grow up, if you still feel raw about it, I’ll be waiting.”

Movie
A long time ago, I heard Quentin Tarantino was finally making another movie. The first time I saw the trailer to Kill Bill, I got a little nervous because it looked a little different than what I expected. Upon seeing the movie for the first time, it was confirmed that Kill Bill was different, but it was most definitely a positive.
Uma Thurman stars as The Bride, who was once a member of a world class assassin team (Deadly Viper Assassination Squad) before Bill decided to leave the business and get married. On the day of her wedding, the other members of the assassin squad, O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu), Elle Driver (Darryl Hannah), Budd (Michael Madsen), and Vernita Green (Vivica A. Fox), as well as the boss Bill (David Carradine) attacked her. After killing all the members of her wedding party, Bill shoots The Bride in the head thinking that he left her for dead. Fast forward five years… The Bride has just awaken from a coma. After first teaching herself how to walk, she decides to seek revenge on all the former members of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad.
Kill Bill isn’t a movie for everybody. The language is nearly as raw as any other of the Quentin Tarantino films. The violence and fighting, though over the top and almost cartoony, is something that probably lasts for at least half the movie. Not to ruin anything for you, but in the restaurant scene alone, the Bride kills 57 people. Basically, if you are easily offended, this probably is not the movie for you. However, if you are a fan of any of Tarantino’s previous movies or a fan of 70’s pop culture, you’re almost committing a crime against yourself by not taking the time to watch this movie.
Tarantino movies are well-liked by the movie community in general for good reason. He has a certain style which has been often imitated, but never quite as well as he does it. In my opinion, he’s the most original, most creative, and most interesting modern day director. I dogged on Andy Patrizio’s (of IGN DVD) review before and I’m going to again. A couple quotes from his review: “Hardly an original idea to be found,” “Tarantino … is simply recycling the same old tricks, his and ’70s filmmakers,” and “I guess the rumors about QT spending the last few years sitting around his house getting stoned and watching movies were true.” It just bothers me because I honestly think that it’s the most original movie I’ve see in the last year, and I think the reviewer just wanted to print a bad review just to get a response.

Video & Sound
Presented in anamorphic widescreen (2:35:1), this dvd has a very wide range of styles. The very shot is a very grainy looking black and white shot. The next scene (at Vernita Green’s house) has very vivid colors making the whole look almost mystical. Later in the movie, they have a beautifully colored blue & silhouetted black scene. Even the anime scene is very well colored. Unfortunately much of the video has a very soft feel to it, however this transfer isn’t too bad as a whole. The audio isn’t as impressive as you’d think it would be, but it is pretty good. Both 5.1 tracks (Dolby Digital and DTS) are pretty similar with my favorite being the DTS track by just a bit.

Extras
This really is the only complaint I have about the whole flick. Much like the other Tarantino DVD releases, a commentary track is very lacking. I think QT would be a great commentator and if you’ve ever seen him on tv, you’d know he loves talking about his movies, old movies, and himself, so I guess I just don’t understand why he doesn’t record a track. The only extra worth watching (barely) is The Making of Kill Bill Vol 1 which runs around 22 minutes. Some of what they have to say is interesting, but really it’s a bit of a fluff piece. They also have two music videos and about six trailers, but that’s it. Word on the street is there may be as many as six releases between this movie and Kill Bill Volume 2 on DVD, so keep your ear close to the street.

Closing Thoughts…
A great movie that shouldn’t be missed. While they will be releasing a special edition in almost no time, I still can’t help but recommend getting this movie a chance. Even if you go to the video store and just rent it now, you should pick it up at sometime. Don’t listen to the negative hype – this IS one of the best movies of 2003.

Ratings (out of 10)
Movie – 9
Video & Sound – 7
Extras – 4
Overall – 8

08

11 2012

Winnebago Man

Six years ago, a man named Jack Rebney became an internet phenomenon for his infamous outtakes from a Winnebago promotional video from the 80s. Director Ben Steinbauer wants to track down the famous (infamous?) salesman to find out what has happened to him, but runs into a series of walls. Eventually, with the help of a private detective, Steinbauer is able to contact and setup an interview with a man the internet has proclaimed “the angriest man in the world” in his remote home in the woods in California. At first, Rebney is very calm and polite and claims to have no care in the world for his popularity on the internet.

Upon returning home, Steinbauer receives a phone call from Rebney admitting that he had been a phony in their first encounter and was really upset about the video. Steinbauer again goes to visit Rebney who recently has become blind.

Rebney is the single most cantankerous person I’ve ever seen. He uses the f-word like Picasso uses the paint brush. Yet, despite his prickly personality, there is something genuinely sweet about this crazy old man. Besides that, the scratchy 80s video that the film is based upon is side-splitting.

The film is, for the most part, well made. There are a few questions that are left open. There are areas that are left untouched – I’m not sure if this is because Rebney wasn’t cooperative or because they weren’t asked. There are a few interesting tangents involving how viral videos have made life miserable for other internet celebrities. I think a more interesting movie would have been to have a few different subjects with the shared storyline of the downsides to becoming an internet icon. Overall, though, if you can get beyond the foul language, it’s a movie that will make you laugh and is definitely worth a peek.

7.5

out of 10

31

10 2012

Retro Review – The Evil Dead

This review originally appeared on brenthanson.net on February 26, 2004

“We can’t bury Cheryl. She’s our friend.”

Movie
If you looked in Webster’s dictionary under the term “cult classic,” chances are you would find (or at least should) find at least one reference to the Evil Dead trilogy. Filmed in 1979, The Evil Dead is one of the first movies to combine the genre of comedy and horror. If you’re a fan of the original Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elmstreet, or Halloween movies, do yourself a favor and skip the rest of this review and head on down to the video store right now.
The first thing that must be mentioned about Evil Dead is the “look” of the movie. While it’s hard to explain, there are many shots, camera angles, and other low budget special effects that are rather fresh looking 25 years after the movie was first shot.
The plotline to this movie is rather cheesy, but that should almost be a given when you think about the genre it comes from(80’s horror…) Anyways, five friends go to a cabin in the middle of nowhere. While there, Ash (played by cult classic icon Bruce Campbell) finds the book of the dead and a tape recorder. When playing back a recording by the professor who used to live in the cabin, they awaken the “evil forces in the woods.” One by one, the teens start being turned into zombies known to followers of the movies as “deadites.” Eventually, it is learned that the only way to truly kill one of these deadites is by complete body dismemberment.
Which brings me to my next point… this is definitely one of the bloodiest and goriest movies that I’ve ever seen. While it’s not done in a realistic style a la Saving Private Ryan, it still is either really gross or really funny, depending on what way you look at it.
If you take Evil Dead for what it is, it’s a really enjoyable movie. While Bruce Campbell is never going to nominated for a lifetime achievement award by the Academy, he does a good job of playing the hero Ash. It’s a fun movie to throw in with your friends at 2:00 in the morning. Definitely give this one a chance… especially if you are a horror fan.

Video & Sound
It was shot in 1979 and it was on a tight budget even then, so you know it’s not gonna look prestine. In some ways, though, the old look almost adds to the feeling of the movie. There are a couple short clips that look especially bad, but as a whole, the video is watchable. Definitely not something you’d put in to show off your new hi def tv to your friends, but it works. Surprisingly, the audio is very good especially when you consider it has a Dolby 5.1, DTS 5.1, Dolby 2.0, French Dolby 2.0, and two commentary tracks. While it obviously wasn’t shot in 5.1 surround, it has been remastered mastefully (hehe).

Extras
The most important extras on this DVD are the two commentaries. The first, with director Sam Raimi and producer Rober Tapert, provides quite a bit of background information as to how the movie was shot, where it was shot, what was going on the day of the shoot, who was smoking wacky weed while shooting a particular scene… it’s pretty entertaining and worth a listen. As is often the case, I think the commentaries to low budget movies are the most interesting to listen to some of the shortcuts they had to take. The second commentary features Bruce Campbell who also is quite interesting. He has a few interesting stories about both the making of this film and also how being a bit of a cult icon has affected his career. One interesting story he had was about someone who got a piece of the rock from the cabin which he signed at a film convention. I prefer the Bruce Campbell track myself, but both are worthy of a listen.
Also included on the disc are 18-minutes of behind the scenes footage and outtakes. Many of these are funny and while they won’t add much to the film watching experience, they are at least good for a laugh.
Also included on the disc is a 26 minute featurette about Bruce Campbell. Being that he is a cult hero, many of his fans are a tad bit on the extreme side (think… kinda like Trekkies). His interactions with fans are hilarious as a few of them are a bit akward and a bit too exciting to meet them (think… kinda freaky). It also is nice to see him away from the spotlight because it shows a totally different light. If you’re a fan of the movie, I think this is a must see.

Closing words…
While it’s not the scariest movie I’ve ever seen, it’s a good flick. If you are looking for the version of the dvd that I reviewed, however, beware! Never has a franchise of movies (Evil Dead, Evil Dead 2, and Army of Darkness) been re-released so many times. I counted as many as 4 versions of The Evil Dead, 3 versions of the Evil Dead 2, and as many as 7 (can that be right!?!) versions of Army of Darkness.

Movie – 7
Video & Sound – 6
Extras – 6
Overall – 6

30

10 2012

Argo

I recall going to see Apollo 13 as a teenager and being excited to come home from the theater and asking my parents what they remember about a story that surely was one of the biggest events of their youth.

They’d never heard of it. I was shocked. How could such a big story be such a non-event to most people? How was this even possible? How many other things are going on every day that we are completely unaware of.

Directed by Ben Affleck, Argo is based on the real life rescue of six hostages from Iran. Tony Mendez (Affleck) is brought in to sneak six hostages out of the country. The story was to pretend the six hostages were six Canadian filmmakers in Iran to scout potential film locations for a fictional sci-fi movie named “Argo.”

The movie is extremely well done. The story is fantastic, the look is authentic, and the dramatic moments were were almost perfect (I’ve got one small beef near the end, but I can’t go into it without spoiling big parts of the movie).

After making the brilliant “Good Will Hunting” in 1997, Ben Affleck has seen his stock rise and fall. He had his fair share of failed movies as well as some high profile failed relationships. It seemed that the tabloid media loved to watch this guy fail the same way they enjoy writing stories about Britney Spears or Lindsay Lohan today. However, in 2007, he released the under-the-radar Gone Baby Gone. The masses weren’t expecting much, but it was critically acclaimed. Three years later, he released the ridiculously awesome The Town.

As a director, Affleck is batting a perfect 3-for-3 and has joined the ranks of Tarantino, Nolan, and Scorsese in the category of “must watch” directors. Like Clint Eastwood, Affleck’s directing style seems to be simplistic and a throwback to an older (better?) era of movie making which focused on the story. Unlike Gone Baby Gone and The Town, the characters in this movie actually wind up being almost underdeveloped. I appreciated this approach, though, because further developing the characters would’ve done very little to move forward the plot. In fact, it very easily could’ve been a distraction that caused the flow of the movie to feel almost clunky (see another Affleck movie Pearl Harbor for an example of how trying to develop characters can kill a movie). In a strange way, minor characters – played by big name performances such as John Goodman, Bryan Cranston, and Alan Arkin – are more developed than characters who spend more time on the screen.

Argo is one or two minor missteps from being a brilliant movie. As I mentioned before, there is one really minor scene near the end that I thought was a little overly cinematic, but it isn’t even close to ruining the ending of the movie (a la He Got Game). As someone who catches a lot of movies on dvd, I highly recommend getting out to a theater to check this one out.

9.0

out of 10

23

10 2012