Wednesday, October 13, 2010

It's Halloween Season! My Top 15 Horror Movies

Ah, the month of October. When the New England weather begins to change and get cool, reminding all of the impending winter. While most spend the month bundling up and preparing, I like to bust out my movie collection and immerse myself in horror movies. Many TV channels will do the same, offering marathons of scary movies on at all times of the day and night. This is the time when the younger generation, more in-tune and aware of recent remakes than their predecessors, are able to catch the originals, made well before DVDs and Blu-Ray discs ever existed. (Side note: My collection consists of many VHS tapes – yikes! Now that’s scary!)

In the spirit of All Hallow’s Eve, I wanted to share my list of the top 15 scariest movies ever made that might serve as inspiration for anyone looking for ones to watch.

So without further ado, here is my list of the Top 15 Scariest Movies Ever Made:

15.) Dawn of the Dead (1978)

Although this is a sequel, it is greatly superior to director George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, which unfortunately, is now dated. With a limited budget, Romero expertly crafted this zombie film that makes its audience feel just as trapped as the main characters. Definitely check this one out before seeing the 2004 remake, if possible. This could possibly be the best zombie film ever made.

14.) Alien (1979)

Speaking of claustrophobia, what movie personifies this better than Ridley Scott’s Alien? Featuring uber-female-protagonist Ellen Ripley, played by Sigourney Weaver, Alien has it all – great aesthetics, great scares (you’ll be checking your own chest after certain scenes!) and a great antagonist. While the movie’s memorable tagline is “In space, no one can hear you scream,” your neighbors will definitely know it’s you when you’re watching this one.

13.) The Evil Dead (1981)

Perhaps now best known for being the first full-length feature from Sam Raimi (director of the Spiderman series), The Evil Dead was a horror movie unto itself upon release. While it deals with zombies, it really pushes the card as far as reincarnation goes. The main character, Ash, played by Bruce Campbell (now found on USA’s Burn Notice), is one this generation’s great cult characters. This one is not for the faint of heart.

12.) Ju-On (2000)

Better known in the U.S. as The Grudge, Ju-On originally appeared in Japan in 2000 and contains among the creepier scenes I’ve witnessed. The film definitely lures you in with an intriguing premise and seems innocent for the first act until the true hide-under-the-blanket, edge-of-your-seat scariness sets in. I’d rather not ruin too much here for those that successfully avoided The Grudge.

11.) The Brood (1979)

I had to include a film from sci-fi / horror aficionado and director David Cronenberg on here. With so many to choose from (Scanners, The Fly, Videodrome, Dead Ringers), I choose the one with the most originality (though all of the aforementioned are quite original). The Broodrevolves around a man who desperately tries to uncover the mysteries of a local therapist as things begin to get creepy. He succeeds and finds something far more terror-inducing than he anticipated – a brood of mutant children, with stone cold, black eyes, intent on destroying anything in their wake. Yikes.

10.) Black Christmas (1974)

Unfortunately, this is another one that has a more recent, less-than-gratifying remake, which came out in 2006. This original, however, is ahead of its time. Know the old urban myth about the crazed killer’s calls coming from the line in the attic? This is first to feature this subplot prominently. Using the usually familial and comforting holiday of Christmas as the back drop, Black Christmas really attacks the security people feel that the holiday season inherently brings with it. While not the first slasher film, this film is creepy enough to think twice about going up to the attic all alone.

9.) Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

And another classic ruined by a less-than-perfect remake. What makesNightmare so scary is its innovation. Take a franchise serial killer with a new weapon (a glove with knife fingers) and have him attack you where you’re most vulnerable – your dreams. What’s your reaction? Of course – just don’t sleep. Well, the kids in the film are just as wise, but unfortunately, they’re just as human as you. Eventually sleep wins out and you have to face your dreams, or in this case, your worst Nightmares. (A plus is that a young Johnny Depp makes his first movie appearance in the film! I won’t ruin how it ends for JDepp.)

8.) The Ring (1998)

One of the more innovative horror flicks to come out in the last couple decades. The Ring brings an array of truly creepy images mixed with new age pop-out scares. I think what’s most unsettling about this film is that every character – intentional or not – looks creepy. If you’re up for it, check out the original Japanese version, Ringu, which has a more intricate explanation at the end.

7.) Jaws (1975)

Anytime a movie can make the majority of America – heck, even the world – second guess going in the water, that’s a scary movie! What makes Jaws so scary is its incredible simplicity. People go in the water all the time. Sharks live in the water. People know this and still go. So what’s so inconceivable about a great white shark just eating people instead of fattening seals? While the third act of the film is more adventure than horror, you still never feel quite comfortable and the infamous scene when Roy Scheider is chumming confirms this. Not only will you need a “bigger boat,” you’ll probably need a bigger bed to hide in after watching this by yourself.

6.) The Thing (1982)

Aliens? Shape-shifting monsters that can take the form of anything or anyone? Secluded snow base in Antarctica? These are all elements that make The Thing not only one of the best horror movie remakes ever, but just one of the scariest flicks ever. Director John Carpenter, of Halloween fame, brings his incredible sci-fi eye to this flick, using advanced techniques to showcase his monster and its abilities throughout the film. Each transformation the monster makes becomes more stomach churning than the previous one. Add the fact that none of the characters OR the audience members knows who is the monster and who isn’t makes this one a truly edge-of-your-seat Halloween flick.

5.) The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

The slasher film that might possibly have shaped an entire generation. Directed by Tobe Hooper and made for next to nothing, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a film many never forget. Set deep in the woods, a group of teens stumble upon a terror previously unimaginable. Brandishing a weapon unused in horror films before, the infamous Leatherface plays by no rules and only appears when you feel the most calm. This film captures the true essence of a horror film – few cheap scares combined with terror-inducing aesthetics. You might not always see Leatherface, but you’ll certainly hear that chainsaw ripping in the night. Notoriously based upon the true life story of Ed Gein, this film is purely frightening.

4.) The Shining (1980)

My personal favorite, this film is the perfect storm of creative minds, based upon the original novel from Stephen King and helmed by famed director Stanley Kubrick. With one of many career-defining performances from Jack Nicholson, this film excels in situational and psychological horror. You thought being trapped in mall with zombies was scary? Try being trapped in a hotel amidst a snowstorm with your psychotic husband and the hotel’s ghosts. “Here’s Johnny!”

3.) Psycho (1960)

The classic, defining work of Alfred Hitchcock, widely considered to be the king of suspense. Anthony Perkins stars as the infamous Norman Bates, caretaker of the equally infamous Bates Motel. Featuring one of the most memorable and unforgettable scenes, Psycho essential did to the shower what Jaws did to the water 15 years later. With eerie landscape and unnerving serenity surrounding the environment,Psycho, way ahead of its time, paved the way for the future slasher generation. Without this film, the likes of Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees might never exist. Be sure to keep your eyes open for the entire film, or else you’ll miss the controversial and terrifying finale!

2.) Halloween (1978)

The quintessential scary movie for All Hallow’s Eve. Sometimes the scariest movies can be the simplest ideas. Take a crazed killer and have him use the most cliched and obviously night to conduct his reign of terror. Wielding a butcher knife (nothing extravagant) and moving slowly, Michael Myers is now synonymous with Halloween, not just because that’s the title of the film, either. Sure, there are some cheap pop-out scares here and there, but the spray-painted William Shatner mask slowly appearing in a dark frame behind the unsuspecting character? That’s terror personified!

1.) The Exorcist (1973)

The quintessential horror movie, period. Featuring quite possibly the scariest antagonist ever conceived – that of 12-year-old Regan MacNeil, possessed by the Devil – The Exorcist succeeds in conveying true horror without any of the cheap conventions of today. No pop-out scares here, just pure terror personified by a 12-year-old girl and expressed through the characters witnessing her transformation. There’s a reason audience members were throwing up and leaving the theatres back in 1973. This is NOT one to watch alone.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

2010 MLB Playoffs

I admit, I'm not consistent with my blog posts. They've become incredibly sporadic, and apparently they draw the uncontrolled ire of readers. (Still curious about that one...) However, one thing I have been able to keep up with since the earliest days of my blog is the MLB Playoffs. I like to think I typically know what I'm talking... er, blogging about in regards to October baseball. So here goes:

Texas RANGERS (90-72) vs. Tampa Bay RAYS (96-66)

2010 Regular Season Series: Tampa Bay, 4-2

I'll tell you right now, the Rays are my favorite to represent the AL in the World Series. Do they have flaws? Big time. A team that hits .247 collectively is not one to typically rally behind. They were dangerously close to being no-hit multiple times this season and were held to two or fewer hits eight times this season. Patient at the plate they are not, which is normally a major key to success. Their offense, however, is opportunistic. Give them an inch and they'll make you pay dearly. With news coming out last night that Evan Longoria has been cleared to play in Game 1, their lineup becomes that much stronger. While BJ Upton went on an absolute tear in the 2008 playoffs - which definitely propelled them - he should still be feared and heavily respected. Obviously, Longoria, Carlos Pena and Carl Crawford are the big guns to look out for, but Ben Zobrist, Jason Bartlett and even Sean Rodriguez can make you pay with their excellent situational hitting. I'm actually incredibly pleased to see the Rangers back in the playoffs finally. They're a franchise that deserves to win sooner rather than later. I can appreciate Nolan Ryan and his eagerness to produce a winner down in Arlington. Also, bringing in Cliff Lee was the best midseason move any team made - yes, including the Roy Oswalt deal in Philadelphia. Lee gives the Rangers the legitimate ace the team has lacked since ... well ... maybe Ryan himself. Despite Lee's late season struggles, you can't ignore his postseason dominance of a year ago (4-0, 1.56 ERA, 33/6 K:BB ratio in 5 starts for the Phillies). Past Lee though, the Rangers' rotation scares me. Lee has the ability to simply dominate teams and keep them guessing. CJ Wilson and Tommy Hunter do not. While posting respectable season stats (15-8, 3.35 and 13-4, 3.73, respectively), they'll be overmatched with the Rays' firepower. Both teams have terrific bullpens, featuring two of the top three closers in the league in Rafael Soriano and soon-to-be-named AL ROY Neftali Feliz. So caution to both teams: don't get caught down a run or two late, or else it's over. One area that the Rangers do have going for them is their potent offense. Regaining the AL MVP in Josh Hamilton keeps considerably and Vladimir Guerrero is already an established postseason stalwart. The Rangers led the entire league in batting average, which clearly cannot be ignored; however, I just feel the overall lack of postseason experience will catch up to the Rangers. And oh yeah - I'd take Joe Maddon 50 times out of 50 before ever taking Ron Washington in a series. That really cannot be ignored. I expect Lee to beat the Rays in Game 1 before the Rays take the next three, which includes beating Lee on short rest in Game 4.

My prediction: Rays in 4.

New York YANKEES (95-67) vs. Minnesota TWINS (94-68)

2010 Regular Season Series: New York, 4-2 So let's get this straight. The Twins are the home town and only one separated these two teams during the regular season? So why does this series feel so lopsided? The Twins have a better team batting average than the Yankees (.273 to .267), and a better team ERA (3.95 to 4.06). Is it the famed Yankee mystique? The utter, inexplicable quality that makes baseball analysts blindly pick them despite numbers that argue otherwise (::cough cough:: Jon Heyman)? The Yankees definitely stumbled down the stretch, giving away the division - and home field advantage in the AL - to the Rays. Their pitching staff looked absolutely miserable during the final week and a half, save for one AJ Burnett start. However, history is just against the Twins. Dating back to 2002, the Twins are 3-16 in their last 19 postseason games, including a 2-9 stretch in the last three postseason meetings (2003, 2004 and 2009). The Twins, unfortunately, always seem to have the "happy-to-be-here" appearance every October. Despite making an incredible push during the second half of this year sans their All-star closer and All-star, former MVP first baseman, I don't see this series going past the minimum. This series will ultimately come down to one area in my mind - the Yankees offense versus the Twins slightly-above-average pitching. The Yankee squad averaged more than 5 runs a game and beat up very good pitching. Despite Derek Jeter's uncharacteristic season and Mark Teixeira beating slightly beat up, the Yankees should feast on the likes of Carl Pavano and Brian Duensing. Francisco Liriano had a great comeback season and would normally be a great option to rely on for a Game 1 victory; however, CC will continue to be a beast for the Yankees. Given the choice, I'm not sure I'd take any pitcher in the playoffs over CC for Game 1. The Yanks announced today that they'll be going with a three-man rotation of Sabathia, Phil Hughes and Andy Pettitte, which is definitely the right decision, as you can bring CC back on short rest. Pettitte didn't look sharp closing out the season, but he's among the most proven vets in the playoffs ever. Hughes was one of the few (or ... two...) Yank starters that didn't have the deer-in-the-headlights look to close out the season. Lastly, with Mo waiting in the pen to close it out, I don't see the Twinkies standing a chance. Maybe the Twins steal the game Pettitte starts, but I highly doubt it. My prediction: Yankees in 3
Cincinnati REDS (91-71) vs. Philadelphia PHILLIES (97-65)

2010 Regular Season Series: Philadelphia, 5-2 Nice season, Cincinnati. You held off the perennial favorites in the Cardinals and look large strides forward to realizing the talent you have. Joey Votto is my pick for the MVP and the pitching staff was quite surprising. However, this is about all I can say about the Reds for this series. Roy Halladay has never pitched a postseason inning and he'll be beyond amped to finally get a crack at it. Between Halladay, Oswalt and 2008 WS MVP Cole Hamels, no team will beat the Phillies in the short series ... or a long series, either. Not only do the Phillies have by far the best postseason rotation, they have quite the offense, too. Even with a slightly injured Jimmy Rollins, they're still loaded top to bottom. Jayson Werth has taken off during the final month+, slamming 9 HRs and driving in 22 runs. Add his late-season emergence to Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Raul Ibanez' power and the Cincinnati staff doesn't stand a chance, even with Placido Polanco still ailing. I like the Phillies in a sweep with their rotation showcasing its dominance.

My prediction: Phillies in 3.
Atlanta BRAVES (91-71) vs. San Francisco GIANTS (92-70)

2010 Regular Season Series: Atlanta, 4-3 In this series, two things make the difference for me - pitching and home field and the Giants have both in their favor. Offensively, the teams are pretty even, with the Braves collectively hitting .258 and the Giants .257. The Braves are peskier though, holding the fourth-best on-base percentage in the majors at .339, so they know how to get on. A little hypocritically speaking too, the Braves have the more proven postseason pitchers in Derek Lowe and Tim Hudson. Postseason newbie Tommy Hanson is certainly no pushover, either. I personally think beating Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain three times in five games is impossible, but if there's a way to do it, it's through pesky at-bats and finding ways to get on base. Neither pitcher has thrown a frame in the postseason, which is definitely something to keep in mind. Honestly, the more I analyze these teams, the closer I see the match-up being. Thus, in such a situation, I'll always go with the home team. I think Lincecum and Cain will be too overmatching to beat three times in a series. Thanks for the memories, Bobby Cox. I'll go against the season series results for the first time.

My prediction: Giants in 5. So Rays-Yankees and Phillies and Giants. I like Rays in 7 and Phillies in 6. A rematch of the 2008 World Series - same ending, too. I'll take the Phils (in their third-straight WS appearance).

Friday, September 24, 2010


I recently noticed a slew of pathetic comments in response to my posts. These commenters, shockingly enough, don't have profiles. I'm fine with criticism, but these were childish. If you have a problem - other than being a) pathetic and b) a coward - just let me know. Amazing how middle and high school-ish antics never die.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Top 10 Films of 2009

As December draws to a close in the next few days, I wanted to recap my thoughts on the year in cinema that was 2009. Much like the previous years, Hollywood in 2009 was dominated by sequels, vampires, magic, sci-fi and advanced graphics. The year proved to be the most lucrative at the box office ever, despite releasing less films than 2008, while keeping the average ticket price the same. Oh, and there wasn't a giant like The Dark Knight dominating the screens. What 2009 did have was incredible earners on a consistent basis. Michael Bay's Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen took in $200 million by the end of its first weekend and stayed in theatres for an incredible 16 weeks (making over $400 domestic and $800 worldwide), despite overwhelmingly negative reviews. The second installment in the Twilight series, New Moon, dominated pre-sales and midnight screenings en route to the third highest opening ever at $142+ million (trailing only TDK and Spiderman 3). Harry Potter continued its successful box office skein, raking in over $301 million, the most of any in the franchise since the first was released back in 2001. Pixar unleashed another masterpiece in Up; JJ Abrams breathed new (and incredibly well-executed) life back into the Star Trek franchise; Todd Phillips took a bunch of B&C-level actors and produced the highest-earning R-rated comedy ever; previous franchises such as X-Men, Fast and the Furious, Night at the Museum, Ice Age, Alvin and the Chipmunks and Terminator all added another chapter, and finally, after 12 years of anticipation, James Cameron returned to the big screen (non-documentary) with his graphics-laden magnum opus, Avatar. Cameron's work, combined with the Chipmunk sequel and the reimagined Sherlock Holmes produced the most lucrative holiday and overall three-day weekend take ever, pulling in an estimated $278 million, shattering the previous record set back in July 2008 of $260 million. The numbers certainly have not lied in the past and 2009 was no different - as bad as the economy continues to prove, audiences continue to flood the theatres in search of escapism and enjoyment and this doesn't seem to be slowing down anytime soon.

With all of that said, of the 510+ films released in 2009, I've come up with my choice for the top 10, based upon each film as an overall work, factored in with my enjoyment. My list is as follows:

10. Adventureland

Greg Mottola's quirky comedy manages to do for the 1980's what Dazed and Confused did for the 1970's. The dir
ector pumps the screen so effectively full of nostalgia that audience members are digging through their Best of The Smiths albums later that night. But aside from the well-crafted environment, the story is relatable to almost anyone. Who doesn't remember that first awkward, awful job they were forced to take during a summer? Jesse Eisenberg guides us through his ho-hum summer working at a carnival, which as expected, endures its ups-and-downs, but the journey doesn't complete without self-revelations that propel into the future. Mottola's film gently walks the dramedy line perfectly, never veering in one direction too heavily or for too long, effectively reflecting that psyche of that age where nothing was too serious or binding yet. The mastery though lies in the surroundings as the 80's come back to life around Eisenberg as his story progresses. I definitely recommend rocking your RayBans and Argyle vests while taking in one of this year's best.

9. 9

A post-apocalyptic film starring sock-puppets? Yes, please. Director Shane Acker lengthened his previous award-warning short into 80 minutes of genius. From its not-so-subtle theme of technological dependency and eventual takeover to the creatively unique com-
position of each puppet's looks and traits, 9 is completely captivating. Think of this as Toy Story with a darker mood. The graphics aren't groundbreaking, but the intricacies of the puppets and the world Acker has created overwhelmingly draw the audience in. With each puppet being so unique in personality and look, you forget that many A-list celebrities are lending their voices to bring them to life. Oh, and Tim Burton lends his expertise as a producer as well. 9 is definitely one of this year's best.

8. A Serious Man

Joel and Ethan Coen's 14th film might very well be their most heartfelt. We've grown used to their dark comedies; however, with A Serious Man they diverge from small-tim
e criminals and dive headfirst into religion in creating a modern-era revision of the parable of Job. Gone are the air-pressured guns and wood chippers, here exist huge, seemingly unanswe
rable questions about faith, suffering, spirituality and Rabbinic help. Set in 1960's Jewish-rooted Minneapolis (where the Coens themselves were raised), the story circles what seems to be a doomed civilian, played just right by Michael Stuhlbarg, who must overcome his wavering faith to try to both stay sane and keep his crumbling family together. The Coens' ability to raise and then not answer so many questions regarding what is, by all accounts, a punchless storyline makes the film standout.

7. Inglourious Basterds

Quentin Tarantino returns to the big screen with his long-awaited WWII epic focusing on several different stories of parties involved with the war, most notably, an American-led
rouge group of soldiers that look to personally settle the score with any German opposition they face. The film is undeniably vintage Tarantino with extravagant shoot-outs, violence and intertwining stories that spiral towards an explosive finale. The film's excellence can be directly attributed to Tarantino's characters and the terrific acting performances submitted bringing them to life. Brad
Pitt and Eli Roth, the leaders of the soldier-hunting "Basterds" are so brutally pro-America and anti-Nazi that there's no problem watching Roth pound away at the enemy with a baseball bat "like Teddy Ballgame." The other supporting cast, especially Christoph Waltz as an SS officer (hello, Best Supporting Actor) and Melanie Laurent as a Jewish survivor, captivate and engross viewers with their portrayals. While the film certainly has its historical inaccuracies, they're looked past, as they fit nicely with the film's directional tone and mood. Inglorious plays a twisted angle on historical events perfectly though, giving its audience a sense of vicarious retribution for the helplessness bestowed upon previous audiences of WWII epics. While I stop short of calling this Tarantino's masterpiece, it's absolutely one of his best.

6. Up in the Air

Jason Reitman's multi-layered, multi-toned film certainly makes it mark in the wave of the recent depression-era our country hasendured. The film follows George Clooney as he consistently travels the world, hired as an outside consult by different companies to efficiently fire its employees. The film is incredibly self-aware of and horribly unapologetic to its viewers. Instead of the focus being on the dozens of employees shown being fired, we follow Clooney's plight and see life on the greener side, the side a great percentage of workers today weren't able to be on. Clooney plays the part perfectly, using his charms, never condescending to those he has fired, but instead offering shallow encouragement or advice. Only a couple times do we actually see him take a firing to heart and show his genuine colors. The rest of the film we focus on his inability to exist or want to exist within normal societal confines. Reitman's film also dwells heavily on sexual quality on both a professional and personal level as Clooney deals with women in both sense during his travels. While the film does little to provide optimism for the country going forward, it at least provides potentially affected viewers with a glimpse of life on the other side and how it's certainly not all that much better.

5. Precious

Precious is a tough movie to take in and an even tougher one to like because of its subject matter. The heroine, portrayed incredibly by first-timer Gabourey Sidibe, is a pregnant teenager with an abusive mother living in the
projects of Harlem, trying to survive the rigors of everyday life. Her seemingly constant stream of horrible events and happenings, a result of her environment and surroundings, mould her into an initially unlikable character. However, once she shifts schools, her character begins to blossom and viewers can't help but feel and root for her against what seem like insurmountable odds. It is this point that makes Lee Daniels' film so beautiful and powerful. We often hear of people that have endured tough upbringings; we seldom actually see the events that shape those individuals. Precious does just this.

4. Avatar

I've been incredibly shocked to read so many top ten lists of this past year that don't have Avatar listed. I understand criticism towards it, but when the overriding theme for critics' distaste for it is the weak story, I have to take offense. What James Cameron has put together here is nothing short of a visual masterpiece, quite Lucas-esque in scope and environment. Cameron doesn't miss a single minute detail in his fictional planet of Pandora (a mining planet where our main characters are sent for military purposes), showcasing the landscape and creatures down to their very seeds and wrinkles, respectively. The 3D effects are utterly captivating and engaging, truly making viewers feel as important in the story as the creatures and heroes themselves. When the hero, played by Sam Worthington, transmits himself into his Avatar, a Na'vi creature, for the first time, viewers feel l
ike they too are transmitting themselves. Sure, the basic elements of the story have been told before, but they aren't to be dismissed within this new context. If critics haven't noticed, Hollywood plot lines are nothing new - but the 160 minute graphical-laden thrill ride of Avatar is.

3. Star Trek

I feel conflicted saying that I was incredibly surprised by how amazing Star Trek is, since I know JJ Abrams' capabilities and how his touch has almost instantly turned projects to gold. He certainly knew his audience when undertaking this film, but also executed a fun, action-ridden sci-fi film that appeals to non-fan boys as well. The casting, in a word, is excellent. Chris Pine shines as the new-age Kirk, taking Shatner's edge-of-the-seat cockiness and bravado and adds terrific humor and believable sincerity.
However, Zachary Quinto steals the show as Spock, delivering lines perfectly and effortlessly while never wavering with emotion, including a scene where he goes head-to-head with the original Spock himself. While the story does dive into some deep sci-fi extremes (hello Black Holes!), it never overwhelms its audience and consistently stays mainstream. Abrams and his crew effectively convey a beautiful picture story that makes the self-involved Star Trek world of old opens its door to a newer age audience.

2. Up

Pixar really just continues to keep it coming. I was expecting a bit of a let down after Wall.E, which felt like their piece-de-resistance, however, from it earliest moments, Up captivated me and stole my undivided attention (tough to do with movies today) for its entire ride. From the deeply emotional, dialogue-free walkthrough of Carl's life at the beginning to the surprisingly hilarious talking dog collar to the subtly powerful boy scout scene at the end, Up never lets down. The compilation of characters on the journey works incredibly well, especially as the dynamic changes after the revelation of Russell's personal life. With the overriding themes of devotion, perseverance and ultimately, mortality, Pixar has again created an adult-themed cartoon that captivates on multiple levels. There's certainly no let down here.

1. District 9

Looking back at all the great films of 2009, District 9 has it all. With help from producer Peter Jackson, first time filmmaker Neill Blomkamp has created a piece that flexes its sci-fi muscle while showcasing effects and relaying strong social commentary. The film absolutely oozes with originality, showing a future Johannesburg that is left to deal with integrating aliens, who have been left behind, into the city's daily life. Of course, after time passes, humanity struggles with the integration and the new race is forced into confinement and effectively segregated. First timer Sharlto Copley shines as the Wikus, the lead, who actually begins to change into an alien and is thus forced to live amongst the condemned after previously working for the government sector that initiated and carried out the condemning.
What makes Copley's performance so outstanding is his ability to capture the audience's rooting interest even after appearing a xenophobic government rat, carrying out their dirty work. Blomkamp's film technique makes this film work so well, splitting time between documentary footage, interviews, live action and security footage. The film feels like lost footage almost spliced together after the fact, revealing a unique narrative of our antihero's plight. It certainly swings at politics too, never hiding from its overall questioning of government companies / corporations. Overall, District 9 ventures into territories certainly never touched before and succeeds in effectively providing a science fiction picture that really means so much more.

My apologies to: The Hurt Locker, Where the Wild Things Are, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Coraline

Lastly, I want to spend a quick moment shamelessly plugging the upcoming science fiction / horror film Daybreakers. While it seems to be attempting to capitalize on the recent wave of vampire films, I assure it is anything but ordinary or run-of-the-mill. Incredibly talented directors Michael & Peter Spierig have created a terrificly new and refreshing twist on the horror sub-genre, focusing on the true extinction of human life, as human blood is the only true sustenance in a land run by vampires and the necessary journey ahead to find a solution. The Spierigs are experts with effects and gore, shown by their previous film, Undead, and they are certainly on showcase in this film as well. The film stars Ethan Hawke, Sam Neill and Willem Dafoe. If you happen to see it, look for my name in the credits. Best of luck, boys.

Monday, October 5, 2009

There Can Only Be One... In October

Quick MLB 2009 Playoff Hits:

My first round predictions:

Yankees have too much fire power in the offense and CC looked dominant in the second half. We know about this postseason struggles, but they won't matter against a run-down Twins squad. Yankees in 3.

The Red Sox own the Angels in October. There's a lot to be said about the revamped Angels offense (going for power and speed), but the postseason's all about pitching and defense, which the Red Sox have far too much of. Red Sox in 4.

The Dodgers finished the regular season with the most wins in the National League and lead their division since April 14th, but were sweating well into the final weekend. Now they face the task of the best pitching and hitting tandem in the National League (Carpenter, Wainwright and Pujols, Holliday, respectively), without a top of the rotation starter and without their slugger slugging. Things aren't looking good for Joe Torre against his successor in the STL. Cardinals in 4.

The reigning World Champions versus the hottest team in baseball since ... well, the Rockies in 2007. I've heard way too much speculation about this series being beyond similiar to their series in 2007. I don't buy it. Sure, the Rockies are hot as hell, but this Phillies squad is deeper offensively (Raul Ibanez hits 5th or 6th for the love of God) and pitching-wise. The Rockies do not hit left-handed pitching well at all (.253 as a team for the season), which doesn't bode well against Hamels and Lee. Sure, the Phillies bullpen is a joke, but I don't expect games in this series to be close enough for that to matter. Phillies in 4.
LCS and WS predictions to come...
SN out.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Rainy Saturday in LA

This past Saturday, I finally was in the mood to get to the movie theatre, especially with a plethora of movies on the slate that I wanted to see. With some careful planning, I was able to hit three features in a row AND with some luck, it actually rained in LA, so it made the atmosphere even better.

(I must rant quickly - while I LOVE assigned seating, which both the Landmark and the Arclight offer, having to deal with the elderly folks who can't figure it out immediately cancels any good that it causes. I can't even begin to tell you how many times I was told I was in the wrong seat, proceeded to just stare at the elderly person until they figured out their own mistake and then turned back my attention. One more quick rant - before my first movie started, I had to text my friend that I had left her ticket at the concierge, because she was running late. No sooner do I sit down and send this message, during the fully lit previews, mind you, the elderly lady next to me immediately snides "You're not gonna do that all movie are you?" SERIOUSLY? Forgive me for sending one text during the first minute of previews WITH THE LIGHTS on. I then had to listen to the old bag loudly chomp on her popcorn and struggle to breath. If you see me in a movie theatre, don't talk to me.)

Anyways, the first film I caught was Jonathan Demme's new flick, Rachel Getting Married. This has been pegged already as Oscar fodder for Anne Hathaway's performance, which is actually truly deserving. The film revolves a New England family gathered together at their home for their eldest daughter's (Rachel, played by RoseMarie DeWitt) wedding. Hathaway plays the younger daughter, Kym, who has released from rehab (for all drugs imaginable) for the weekend. Rachel is marrying Sidney (blandly played by Tunde Adebimpe), a musician-type with a large following of family and friends. While rehearsals and preparation surround the characters, Kym struggles to fit back into her old life and refind herself amongst this new dynamic.

What I found most interesting about this film is the strong performance of the ensemble versus Hathaway carrying it. We meet Kym first and watch her gradual "release back into the wild," as she so aptly states, but we then shift focus all over the family. We immediately sense frustration and even a hint of hostility from those at the house, which we eventually learn is deserved. After Hathaway establishes herself back in the house, we follow the supporting members through their routines - DeWitt as she and her controversial maid-of-honor and best friend Emma (Anisa George) perfect the smaller details and her father Paul (incredibly performed by Bill Irwin) as he basks in the bread-winner role. Hathaway graces the screen every so often immediately drawing the attention back to her character, which is what essentially has the family so on-edge with her. Past her verbose and stone cold self-deprecating character, we see the fragile outsider that she truly is during her rehab group visits. (In the movie's most touching moment, and by far Hathaway's best take, we learn why the family dynamic is the way it is and why her character is so self-deprecating. We never really feel bad for her from then on and tend to side with her in most situations.)

The film has a definite rapid stream of consciousness, scene-to-scene feel, paying homage to the late Robert Altman, and even Sidney Lumet, whose daughter Jenny, wrote the script. While the film is bogged down a bit in the third act by Demme's reluctance to trim the edit room, I can understand where is coming from, wanting to show as much of the wedding as he can since we've seen all the preparation. The performances throughout are truly amazing, going the entire range of personable to humiliating to heartwrenching. Hathaway does not steal the show, which I'm not saying with denotation, but rather, as a kudos to the rest of the ensemble. (Totally unmentioned thus far is Debra Winger's performance as the girl's divorced mother, who is absolutely commanding during her screentime.) This is a definite must see for all when it opens wider.

I then sat around for a while, grabbed a coffee and eventually made my way into Choke, a favorite at this year's Sundance Film Festival. Choke is the second major MP based upon a Chuck Palahniuk novel (Fight Club being the first). In helmer Clark Gregg's directorial debut, Sam Rockwell stars as the sex-addict, yet lovable loser Victor Mancini, who suffers from a definitive Oedipan complex with his mother (played by Angelica Huston). While he spends most of his time with her in the hospital (she suffers from Alzheimer's), he also works as a "historical re-enactor" at a local Pilgrim plantation. He then falls for his mother's doctor and must comes to terms with his muddled past and intricate relationship with his mother in order to finally be in control of his own life.

Rockwell truly carries this film, as every other character is simply a player in the theatre that is his day-to-day life. Gregg, who also wrote the script, lets Palahniuk's character shine through most lucidly and does not get tricky with the camera, letting the dramedy play out. We feel for Rockwell and his trials, though we enjoy the voyeurism a great deal as well. When this chapter of his life ends, we're not sure if he's any different than when he started, but we're glad to have been part of the experience. Overall, I didn't see this film as anything great, but was appeased and found myself laughing at several moments. I won't fully recommend it, but I won't tell people not to see it.

Lastly, having to drive across town for free tickets (a perk, I know..), I saw Fernando Meirelles' new flick, Blindness, which I read way when it was making the initial rounds. Reading it then, I loved the script - I loved its originality and courage to make assertions about today's society, I loved its grittiness and especially its third act, which I won't reveal. When Meirelles attached himself, I felt even more drawn to this, knowing he would kill it visually, as his last two features are two of the most beautifully shot films I've seen.

With all this said, I wasn't pleased with the film. The story follows a couple, Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo, who are put in a containment facility along with hundreds of others that are suffering from an epidemic that has caused white blindness. Moore's character is not blind, but lies to all others so as to not to create a stir. When the facility becomes overrun and supplies run low, the prisoners become hostile and all societal rules vanish. When I mentioned earlier that I loved the grittiness, I guess I loved reading it, but I certainly did not love seeing it. The environment, both in mood and visuals, that Meirelles creates becomes almost unbearably unwatchable. Many audience members were disgusted, and rightly so, but this is not a fault, just something that is staying true to the detail given in the pages.

Visually, this was tough to watch as well, as Meirelles intentionally overexposed the film to accentuate the whiteness and blinding nature. What this creates is an experience for the audience who must continually refocus their eyes in order to avoid blindness themselves. I totally understand Meirelles decision to do this - you can either have the audience experience what the characters are to a degree, or sit there and just watch the characters struggle being blind.
While the film still captures many of societial reflections put forth in the script, the film begins to feel a lot more like I Am Legend towards the end than what it read like. The performances are decent, maybe a little above average considering the task of almost all the actors playing blind.

I don't want to recommend this film to the masses due to its content and more so, the fact that it's just not the terrific story I initially read.

For this week, I'm going to attempt to see Keira Knightley as The Duchess, Vantage's peroid piece and maybe Happy-Go-Lucky. We'll see.

On to the LCS

October baseball... there isn't anything like it. Until, you know, the following October.

(Immediate side note - anyone else disagree with the "There's only one October" campaign? Isn't that disproven exactly 334 days later?)
So after less than a week (really, one of the faster LDS rounds I can remember), we're down to four teams. The best four teams? Maybe. The most deserving four teams? As of right now, certainly. And, with the exception of Tampa Bay, we some of the biggest market teams left, so there's definitely a surplus of baseball fans still very interested throughout the country.

Of the four LD series, three went four games and one was a sweep. For those GMs that argue a five game series isn't a fair assessment of a team's ability, I beg to differ. Who really thinks that the Angels and Cubs, owners of the best record in their respective league, would suddenly bounce back from their short series troubles and win their series in seven games? Sure the Angels began to show more life in the latter two games, but the same problems that hounded them all series (bad defense, inability to hit with RISP) again cost them their last game, and it should have cost them the game before, if it weren't for the Red Sox offense returning serve.

Of those four series, the Dodgers had to have looked the most convincing, with the Rays pretty close behind. I think if you put a gun to my head, I'd take these two to meet for the Fall Classic right now. While I'd love to put the short series with Cubs on their choke artist offense, credit must be given to the Dodgers pitching staff, who clearly entered the series with a gameplan and executed it almost flawlessly. Derek Lowe, who is most certainly pitching for another contract in the same way he did in 2004, was highly effective, save for his mistake to DeRosa. Billingsley, finally getting some national attention, made the Cub hitters look overmatched on practically every pitch and Kuroda just continued his season-long dominance over the opposing club. Having to deal with those starters (and still having rookie-phenom Clayton Kershaw and 350 game winner Greg Maddux waiting in the wings) and then having to deal with their bullpen proved far too difficult for the Cubbies' offense and will be difficult for any upcoming offense.

The Rays blew through the really-shouldn't-have-been-there White Sox with their 2008 M.O. - great starting pitching and situational offense. Each starter went at least 5.1 innings and three of the four gave up three runs or less. Garza was the lone culprit, who walked too many (four, three of which came around to score) and couldn't save himself. Some quick numbers to keep in mind - each of the three games the Rays won, they scored six runs and each Rays starter recorded exactly four strikeouts... a little weird, but it happened. The back end of their bullpen sure hasn't missed a beat being without a pure closer. Grant Balfour, the emotion-on-the-sleeve pitcher he is, has looked terrific, literally blowing his opponents away with gas and a slider that's been above average over his last several outings.

Their offense though has been, in a word, pesky. Other than BJ Upton's power resurgence and Evan Longoria's opening day, the Rays offense consistently rallied runs across the plate. All but three Rays drove in a run, and two of those players weren't even starters. They had four guys tally five or more hits in the series and they successfully swiped seven bags in eight attempts. That, ladies and gentlemen, is getting it done.

As for the series with the Red Sox, they seemingly have advantages in almost every facet. Their starting pitching is deeper, though not as shutdown dominant at the top (which Josh Beckett shows up will be a major key for this series), statiscally speaking, they had a much better bullpen, and their offense was much better in their short LDS. However, the Red Sox have been here before (four times in the last six years, actually). They know what it takes (starting pitching and defense, really) to win in October and have become very very good at it.

I see this series coming down to these three important things:

1) The health of Josh Beckett
We know what Jon Lester can and will do when he's given the ball in the postseason. We know what to expect from Dice-K (though the overall result is still up in the air). But with Josh Beckett, can he return to any sort of the form he was in during last year's postseason? After his one start versus the Angels, it certainly doesn't look promising. Beckett labored in every inning, surviving many situations where the Angels threatened to break the game open. He was fooling any batters, either, especially Mike Napoli. What made Beckett so unhittable last year was his dominant fastball setting up his breaking pitches that froze batter after batter. In Game 3, he had poor command of the breaking pitches and was only able to dial his fastball up to 93, maybe 94, not the 97-98 he had last postseason. Now, a 80% Josh Beckett is still better than any starter the Rays can throw, but my estimate from Game 3 had Beckett at about 60-65% of his normal self (not maxing out on velocity, missing location, being slow to cover first base). If the Red Sox can get 80% Josh Beckett, they have two studs at the top of their rotation that are almost certain to win at least three games. Without good Beckett, the pressure is back on Lester to win both of his, or else.

2) The Rays bullpen
The Rays bullpen, as I mentioned before, is really, really good. They have four capable relievers that have been getting it done night after night. They gave up exactly 1 (one) run in their four postseason games, while posting a 0.69 WHIP. Easily put, they are dominating batters late, which doesn't bode well for the Red Sox. Against the Angels, the Sox put five runs (of 18 total) on the board after the seventh inning, with three of those proving to be the winning runs. Also, the Sox enter the series with the knowledge that this bullpen has had their number all year -- a complete turnaround from the mentality they had against the Angels (Scott Shields and Francisco Rodriguez, in particular). If the Rays are able to get the quality starts from their starting pitchers they got all year against the Red Sox, this bullpen, even without the typical shutdown postseason closer, is going to be next-to-impossible to come back against.

3) The Red Sox 2-3-4

Remember Dustin Pedroia vying for the American League MVP? Seems like ages ago now, especially with his 1-17 showing against the Angels. Pedroia, David Ortiz and Kevin Youkilis combined to go 9-52 (.173) in those four games, each driving in one run a piece. If the Sox have any hopes of returning to the main October stage, these three need to pick it up and do so quickly. During the regular season, they accounted for almost half the runs scored against the Rays (35 RBIs). JD Drew, Jason Bay and Jed Lowrie each had a great series, but they cannot be expected to carry this team again. Jacoby Ellsbury has been everything the Sox could have hoped he'd be in the postseason (mainly, his October '07 form), continually setting the plate for a big inning, but he's been stranded more often than not thus far. Much like the question with Beckett, if the Sox don't get the normal production from these guys, it could be a quick series.

One other, last note -- it will be interesting to see how home-field shakes out. The Rays were the best home team during the regular season, with the Red Sox right behind them. In the playoffs, however, the Sox threatened to lose both home games, while Tampa steamrolled. The two teams traded home-field sweeps of the opposition until September, when the Rays eeked out two wins in Fenway with clutch hitting.

This series, right now, is tough to assess without knowing the pitching matchups, as Sox skipper Terry Francona has many options and variables in play. In my initial preview, I took the Sox over the Rays, because I'm a homer, so I'll stick to my guns on that, but I'll go more in depth once the matchups are posted.

For the National League, the Phillies did exactly what I had expected and came through with big hits - that is, except Ryan Howard and Chase Utley (combined 4-26) having now been here before. For the Phillies to even have a chance in this series, their hitters need to become even more aggressive at the plate. The Dodgers pitching staff hardly walks anybody and is boasting a 24:6 K/BB ratio in the playoffs, which does not bode well for the Utley-Howard-Burrell 3-4-5. Cole Hamels was simply brilliant in his only start (8 ip, 2h - could have gone the complete game if Manuel didn't have a man crush on Brad Lidge). The rest of the Phillies staff needs to continue to pound the strike zone and not issues walks, as the Dodgers offense, as I'm sure you've seen, makes walks count.

From the early outset, I like the Dodgers in this series in 6 games; however, the big game is Game 2. With Hamels no doubt pitching the first game, if Brett Myers can shutdown the Dodgers offense and send them back to LA in an 0-2 hole, the pressure builds on the young squad, something they really haven't dealt with in a while, or dealt well with in the past.

For now, let's let the terrific LD round settle and enjoy this, because, there's only one October.