Grand Canyon (North Rim)

"You ever been to the Grand Canyon? Its pretty, but that's not the thing of it. You can sit on the edge of that big ol' thing and those rocks... the cliffs and rocks are so old... it took so long for that thing to get like that... and it ain't done either! It happens right there while your watching it. Its happening right now as we are sitting here in this ugly town. When you sit on the edge of that thing, you realize what a joke we people really are... what big heads we have thinking that what we do is gonna matter all that much... thinking that our time here means diddly to those rocks. Just a split second we have been here, the whole lot of us. That's a piece of time so small to even get a name. Those rocks are laughing at me right now, me and my worries... Yeah, its real humorous, that Grand Canyon. Its laughing at me right now. You know what I felt like? I felt like a gnat that lands on the ass of a cow chewing his cud on the side of the road that you drive by doing 70 mph."  -- Danny Glover, Grand Canyon.

North Rim, Grand Canyon National Park, July 15, 2014

 

 

Filmed in Bulgaria: Assassin's Bullet

By accident I stumbled across a trailer for the upcoming movie Assassin's Bullet.  Though the movie looks like your typical spy/assassin/thriller movie, what caught my attention while watching it was the familiar streets of Sofia, Bulgaria. So I did some research and apparently they filled pretty much everything in Bulgaria and are actually using Sofia as the main city in the movie. All I can say is: IT'S ABOUT TIME.

When movies are filmed in Sofia, they're generally used as as a backdrop for other European cities like Prague or Budapest. (Jean-Claude Van Damme has filmed a lot of his movies there.)  It's nice to see Sofia actually getting credit for being Sofia instead of pretending its a more glamours Eastern European city. I have no idea where the outdoor scenes were filmed but I didn't see anything that would make me think that it wasn't Bulgaria.

The only thing that makes me cringe is how the actors say "Sofia." Westerners pronounce it so-FEE-a but Bulgarians put the emphasis on the first syllable: SO-fee-a. Yeah, you'd think they would have done their homework but since when have movie makers worried about accuracy?

You can watch the trailer for Assassin's Bullet below.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G0m6kazVfTg

Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher? Please.

Longtime readers of this blog know I'm a big fan of the Lee Child's Jack Reacher novels. Needless to say I was thrilled to learn last that a Jack Reacher movie is coming out this December. Sadly, my euphoria was short lived because moments later I realized some idiot cast Tom Cruise as Reacher. For those who are unfamiliar with the Jack Reacher, he's 6' 5" tall, has a 50-inch chest, weighs about 250 pounds,  has ice-blue eyes and dirty blond hair. Oh and he has a natural muscular physique. Does that sound anything remotely close to the 5' 7", 170 pound Tom Cruise?

Yeah, I know that movies are made to make money and Tom Cruise usually does a good job selling tickets, but were the movie makers that hard up that they to pick Cruise? Was there no one else that could play a more credible Reacher that could also help sell tickets?

For those familiar with the book, the trailer below will make you laugh when you realize Tom Cruise can't pull off Jack Reacher worth beans. Then you'll cry when you realize the Movie Gods really blew a chance to get this one right.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o54dMG8TTFs

Has DC Learned How to Make Decent Superhero Movies?

Back in my comic book reading days I was always more partial to the DC Universe. Most of the reason for that was that I was such a big Batman fan. But part of it came from my dad who really liked Green Lantern, Superman, Aquaman, and other DC heroes. I have many distinct memories lying on the floor of our living room and my Dad pointing at the pictures and reading Green Lantern and Superman comic books too me. (Green Lantern must have made a real impression because other day when I was going through a box of my comics, I found ten Green Lantern comics from the mid-1990s when the series was re-launched.) Despite some good superhero characters, DC has done a horrible job of turning these characters into blockbuster movies. (Anyone remember that horrible Superman Returns movie that was released in 2006? Yeah, I don’t either.) The lone exception is Batman. Marvel, on the other hand, can turn most of its big-name characters like Spiderman, Iron Man and the X-Men into entertaining movies and win a new generation of fans.

So when there was some buzz about the upcoming Green Lantern movie was leaking out of Comic Con I tried not to get my hopes up. Then I saw the Green Lantern trailer when it was released on Wednesday. And you know what, it doesn’t look too bad. (Watch it below and decide for yourself.)

Granted those who make the trailers can make any movie look good and I’ll reserve final judgment until I actually see the film. However, it does give me hope that DC has learned that you can’t sell a movie on the character and his or her superpowers alone. You need strong script writing, human but strong superheroes, compelling villains, and a great plot and awesome special affect to make something worth watching.

I really hope DC has upped their storytelling a notch or two. Any more movie bombs and I’ll have a hard time passing on my love of DC characters to my kids because they’ll equate the characters with horrible movies.

Tron Reloaded

Tron

Years ago, when I was a kid, my dad took me to see the movie Tron. I have vivid memories of not only watching the movie but leaving the movie theatre thinking that it was the coolest movie I’d ever seen. I liked the movie so much that I got my friends to play Tron at recess. We’d ride light cycles around the playground and pretend to throw disks at each other. There was even a Tron arcade game that I played every time I went to an arcade until I mastered it.

It wasn’t until I was in college that I had a chance to see Tron again. And though I still found the movie very imaginative, I realized the writing and acting left much to be desired. I hoped that one day Disney would redo the film and make it better.

Well, now they have. The new Tron Legacy trailer looks awesome. Not only do the special effects look great but it looks like it actually has a decent plot and acting. I’m looking forward to seeing it.

Up with Grief

Up: Carl & Ellie

Note: This post was written for and posted on the Open to Hope site. You can see the original post here.

It's hard to find movies for adults that adequately deal with the death of a spouse and putting one's life back together. Fortunately, one of the movies nominated for the Best Picture Oscar does a great job of dealing with the subjects of death, grief, and moving on better than any other film in recent memory—and it's target audience is kids.

The movie? Up.

In the first 20 minutes of the film we see Carl Fredricksen as a boy meeting his future wife, Ellie. When they grow up, they both want to become explorers and journey to faraway lands. Ellie shows Carl her adventure book that contains a few notes and drawings of things she's done. Most of the pages in the book are blank, and Ellie tells Carl that she's going to fill the rest of book with photos and of all the exciting things she's going to do.

Then the audience is taken on a short silent movie journey of their life. They get married and start careers. They decide to have a family only to find out she's infertile. Though the news is tough to swallw, they both decide to keep working and save their pennies for a trip to Paradise Falls in South America. But as the years pass, they keep raiding their savings to pay for car repairs and other life emergencies. They grow old, and one day Carl realizes that they've never taken the trip they dreamed about. He throws caution to the wind and buys tickets to Paradise Falls. Only they never make the trip. As he's about to surprise his wife with the plane tickets, she falls ill and dies.

The next time we see Carl he's a grumpy widower. Fed up with life and facing a court-ordered placement in a retirement home, he decides he's had enough. As a former balloon salesman, he rigs his Victorian house with thousands of balloons and launches it into the sky, determined to finally visit Paradise Falls. The only complication to his trip is that Russell, a neighborhood kid and wilderness explorer, has unwittingly come along for the ride too.

During the journey to the falls, the Victorian house becomes the symbol for Ellie. Not only does the house contain photographs and other reminders of Ellie and Carl's life together but, at various points in the journey, Carl looks up at the house talks to it, wondering what Ellie would say if only she were there with him.

As he travels with Russell, the house becomes more of a hindrance than a help. Carl's so determined to take the house to Paradise Falls that he's unable to form a relationship with Russell or even think about getting them both home safely. At times Carl seems more concerned about damage the house receives than the danger Russell and himself find themselves in.

Carl doesn't realize how much the house is holding him back until he finds himself browsing through Ellie's adventure book. As he turns the pages, he's surprised to discover that the blank pages she showed him years ago are filled with pictures of his and Ellie's life together. Suddenly Carl realizes that even though he and Ellie were never able to visit the Paradise Falls together, they did have a wonderful, fulfilling life as husband and wife. It doesn't matter that they never got to visit the falls together—the real adventure in life was the years spent with Ellie.

Armed with this new insight Carl is able to literally let go of the house in order to get he and Russell home safely. As a result, he's able to move on with his life and start a new and fulfilling chapter as a father for Russell. It's a message that anyone who's struggling to move on after the death of a spouse could use.

Don't let this beautifully animated film trick you into thinking it's for kids only. There's plenty in Up to keep kids entertained but with its unique plot and adept handling of more “grown up” issues, this life-affirming film deserves the Best Picture of the year award and is the new high water mark in movies that deal with grief and the loss of a spouse.

Love Happens: A Movie About Me And Marathon Girl???

Looks like lots of simliarities between the trailer for the movie Love Happens and my own life. Of course my book came after I met Marathon Girl and everything in the book actually happened. But MG is just as cute, if not cuter, than Jennifer Aniston. Even though it's a chick flick, I just might have to see this show with MG. :-)
LOVE HAPPENS: Movie Trailer - The funniest videos clips are here

The Importance of a Good Editor

Behind every good writer is a good editor. Good writers who have a good editor (and a good relationship with that editor) know he or she can help with the storytelling process and give needed insight to turn an okay book into a great book. The same is true with TV shows and movies. After the show or movie is shot, a good film editor takes images, dialogue, pacing, music, and actor’s performances to make the film or TV show into and turns it into a something the audience will become whole absorbed it.

Like good book editors, if film editors are good at what they do, the audience won’t be aware of the editor’s influence over the film or TV show.

So my hat’s off to whoever edited the first episode of LOST. By cutting out the original first minute of footage from the show, they not only set the tone for the entire series, but made the first episode an instant classic.

See the original beginning of LOST below.

Why Gran Torino is the Best Movie of the Year

Clint Eastwoon in Gran Torino

Note: Thanks to Sylvia for reminding me I need to write this.

When I posted my Best of 2008 list I got a few emails from readers who were surprised that I picked Gran Torino as the best move of the year over The Dark Knight since they knew what a big Batman fan I am and how much I raved about the movie.

Yes, I loved The Dark Knight. It had everything you want as far as good writing, great special effects, wonderful acting, and a wicked plot. However, it lacked the personal intimacy of Grand Torino. And though both movies had themes of redemption, atonement, and salvation, Gran Torino did it on a more personal and, therefore, more powerful way.

In Gran Torino, Clint Eastwood starts as a grumpy, racist, Korean War vet named Walt. The Detroit neighborhood he lives in is falling apart, controlled by gangs, and inhabited by Asian people who Walt despises. To top it off, he has a strained relationship with his two sons, a catholic priest, and has a bunch of spoiled grandkids.

The movie revolves around Walt’s relationship with the Lors – a Hmong family that lives next door. As part of his initiation into a Hmong gang, the neighbor kid named Thao (Bee Vang) breaks into Walts’s garage to steal his vintage Gran Torino. As a result he inadvertently ends up getting involved in the lives of Thoa and his older sister Sue (Ahney Her) and defending them against violent intimidation.

Slowly we see Walt’s toughness melt away as the kindness from the Lors makes him realize that they’re just like anyone else. This is where the movie could have run down the path of being your typical Can’t-We-Just-All-Get-Along movie. But the movie doesn’t focus on Walt’s acceptance of the Lors (thought that happens). Instead it focuses on Walt and what’s makes him one of the most complex characters in recent cinema history.

What really makes the movie, however, is the ending. No, I’m not going to spoil it for you, but it’s an extremely moving ending that has surprised everyone that’s seen it. It makes the movie and gives the movie a deeply satisfying conclusion.

Gran Torino isn’t a perfect movie. Some of the acting from Vang and Her is far from perfect. But the best movies are the ones with the best special effects and well-known actors. Instead they’re the ones that show real, complex characters trying to make the best in the world we live in.

Grand Torino wasn’t a movie I expected to like. I have a love hate relationship with Clint Eastwood movies. Some have been great while others have been plain awful. I’ve never really forgiven Eastwood for royally screwing up Mystic River. Eastwood, however, redeemed himself with a realistic movie that shows the audience that not one is beyond redemption. Best of all, the film reminds us what the true definition if love really is.

One word of warning. Gran Torino contains a lot of foul and racist language. If you’re uncomfortable with that, don’t see it. But if you can look past that, you’ll see a moving story of atonement and salvation that makes it the best film I’ve seen in a long, long time.

Gran Torino **** stars (out of 4).

The Digital TV Divide

TV Rabbit Ears

I’m deciding whether or not to buy one of those digital TV converter boxes. You know, the ones that people who don’t subscribe to cable or satellite will need once digital TV goes into effect on February 17 of next year.

If it wasn’t for LOST, I’d probably just let my TV reception turn to static in February and get rid of the set altogether considering how little I or anyone at our home watches it. The only time I really spend watching anything is one or two movies on the weekend that come in the mail from Netflix. And even then Marathon Girl and I are more inclined to watch them on a laptop or portable DVD player instead of the television since the two of us watch movies in bed after the kids are asleep.

I don’t think our kids would miss the TV much either. Yes, they watch the occasional kid TV show but would be just as happy watching one of their Thomas the Train DVDs or 20 minutes of an animated Pixar movie.

Besides, with shows being broadcast over the Internet the next day and (usually) being available on DVD before the next season begins, I’m seeing less and less of a need for regular broadcast television. Were I to ditch the TV altogether, the only thing I might miss is watching is the occasional professional football/baseball/basketball game or presidential conventions and debates though (thankfully!) the latter only comes around once every four years.

Which brings me back to the one reason I’m seriously leaning toward buying a digital converter box: LOST. Sure, I could watch it the next day on abc.com or wait until it comes out on DVD and go on a 2-day LOST bender, but there’s something about anticipating the next episodes twists and turns every week and being able to blog about it and talk about the latest LOST theories with Marathon Girl, friends, and co-workers that makes watching it every week fun.

So I’ll probably end up buying a digital TV converter box sometime this winter. But only because of LOST. However, there’s a good chance once that LOST comes to a conclusion next year, our TV will have outlived its usefulness and come to an end too.

The Dark Knight

Heath Leger: The Joker

Marathon Girl and I were able to attend Nerdtacular 2008 on Saturday and, as part of the festivities, watch the best movie of the year: The Dark Knight.

The Dark Knight has to be one the best crime dramas in recent memory and might just set a new standard for comic book based movies.

Christian Bale reprises the role of Batman and finds Gotham slipping into chaos as the Joker goes on a psychotic robbery and killings sprees in order to turn the orderly city into one of chaos and mayhem.

The Dark Knight real quality to it that many comic book movies lack. Instead of special-effect laden stunts, we’re treated to the real thing. Several stunts, such as the semi being flipped over -- left the audience in the sold-out theatre gasping. It proved that, if done right, you don’t need computer animation to achieve spectacular results.

But, thankfully, The Dark Knight is more than just an action film. Writer/Director Christopher Nolan lets us see the many layers of the main characters in the film including characters that often aren’t given much depth including the Joker and Commissioner Gordon. Throughout the film there are no easy answers or choices for the characters to make in this movie. Often the characters are presented with no-win situations and simply have to make the best choice based on the knowledge they have at the time.

All the acting is superb, but it’s Heath Leger’s Joker that steals the show. It’s too bad that such a talented actor is dead because he takes Batman’s arch nemesis to a whole new level. I feel bad for the actor that has to play the Joker in the next film – if they decide to bring the Joker back – because he’s going to have some impossibly large shoes to fill.

The Dark Knight is over two-and-a-half-hours long but doesn’t feel like it. Nolan’s pacing keeps the film moving from the opening scene and doesn’t let up until the credits roll.

More than your standard summer popcorn movie, The Dark Knight is a serious drama complete with complex characters, and intricate plot, and great acting.

One note to parents: Parts of the movie are very dark, violent, and disturbing. It’s a not your typical comic book movie like Iron Man or the Spider Man franchise. I wouldn’t recommend letting kids under the age of 10 or thereabouts watch it.

The Dark Knight: 4 out of 4 stars. (And , yes, I plan on paying to watch this movie again.)

Going to See WALL*E

Wall*e Took my four year old to the movie theatre for the first time on Saturday. We saw Pixar’s new film WALL*E, which was by far the best animation I’ve ever seen on the big screen and quite enjoyable overall. (I’d give it 3 ½ out of 4 stars.)

I was a little worried about whether or not he would have the attention span to sit through an entire movie. I know he can sit through a 90 minute movie at home without a problem but was a little worried whether or not he’d do it in for a movie he’d never seen before in an unfamiliar, dark theatre. Overall, he had a great time – especially since I bought him his favorite snack to eat: popcorn. It wasn’t until there was about 15 minutes left in the film that he asked if we could go home. (More on that in a minute.) I told him it was almost over and he sat through the rest of the movie without a problem.

On the drive home, when asked about his favorite moments he said, “The rabbit movie [a five minute short before the actual movie] and when the robot made trash.” Yeah, I think he could have watched WALL*E compact trash and build tall towers of garbage all day.

He also liked the popcorn.

Am I looking forward to taking him to another movie? You bet.

I also can’t wait until our other two kids are old enough to come too.

***

A quick note on WALL*E: I don’t know if this is the best movie for young kids. The movie has very little dialogue and when there is talking, most of it is between two robots that younger children might have a hard time understanding. I can see why Aidan grew restless toward the end. I’ll be interested to see if he asks Marathon Girl or me to buy it when he sees it at the store – the sign whether or not he really likes a movie.

Iron Man

Note: This is my second post today. Scroll down to read my other entry or click here.

Iron Man

Despite being somewhat of a comic book geek growing up, I never read a single Iron Man comic. I couldn’t have told you anything about Tony Stark (the man behind the Iron Man’s mask) or any of Iron Man’s special powers. None of that, however, stopped me from going to see the Iron Man movie on opening day.

*** Minor Spoilers Follow ***

Robert Downy Jr. plays Tony Stark, the rich and famous owner of Stark Industries – the world’s top weapons manufacturer. Stark is out in Afghanistan demonstrating his latest weapon to the U.S. military. But he’s captured by a powerful Afgan warlord who demands Stark create the same weapon for him. Instead Stark creates a suit that allows him to escape and starts him on the path to becoming Iron Man.

Part of the first superhero movie is setting up how the person actually becomes the hero and Iron Man is no different. After his escape, Stark begins to question the purpose and mission of his company becomes obsessed with building another suit. Yet this part of the movie doesn’t seem to drag. There’s enough testing or the suit gaffes and company-issues with Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges) second in command that it keeps the plot and tension going. And when the action gets going – look out! There’s a surprising amount of real-world tension that many superhero movies lack.

Iron Man is one helluva superhero – one that I actually admire because – like Batman – Tony Stark has no superpowers. Instead or special powers or genetic mutations, it’s Starks’s obsessive drive to make the world a better place that leads him to become Iron Man. (And all these years I thought it was only Bruce Wayne/Batman who fit the bill. It’s nice to be proven wrong.)

You don’t have to be an Iron Man or even a comic book fan to appreciate this movie. Downy Jr. delivers a wonderful performance and the writers create a wonderful complex and driven character that fun to watch even when he’s not in his Iron Man suit.

The only place the movie falls flat is the tension and "relationship" (I use that word very loosely) between Stark and Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). Not enough time is spent on the Potts character or their relationship so romantic tension between the two characters in nonexistent. The scene where Stark tries to make a move is painfully bad. Thankfully, that’s only a small part of the film.

Overall, Iron Man is a fun summer movie and a must see for anyone looking for a well written, action-packed thrill ride. Oh, and if you sit through the credits, there’s a nice surprise at the end. Can you say, Iran Man 2 in 2010? I hope so!

Iron Man *** ½ stars (out of 4)

The Way I Am Legend (The Book) Should Have Ended

My good friend Ryan has been razzing me for sometime over my absolute hatred of the ending I Am Legend (the book, not the movie). In the comments of a recent post where I named I Am Legend, the worst read of 2007 he wrote:

“I would speculate that this novelette written over 50 years ago, holds up better than 95% of the genre written in its time…. You said yourself that you enjoyed the read, but hated the ending. I think you really need to revisit the story. This is speculative fiction at its finest.”

Well, I don't think it’s bad speculative fiction though I don’t know if it’s the finest example that speculative fiction has to offer. It is, however, a very good one.

In any case, I’m going to detail my problem with the ending of the book and contrast it with the ending of the movie and explain why I listed it as the worst read last year.

Warning: Spoilers for both the book and the movie follow.

The general plot of the book centers on a character named Robert Neville who is the last human on the planet. The rest of humanity has been afflicted by a virus that has changed them all into vampire/zombie creatures. Neville spends his nights inside his vampire-proof house while the undead creatures roam around his house attempting to find a way in. During the day scavenges for supplies, repairs damage to his house, and looks for any other human survivors.

During the course of the novel we learn about Neville and start to care about him. He’s lost a wife and a child to this virus, hasn’t had any human contact for years, and at night tries to drown out the sounds of the vampire/zombie creatures that lurk outside.

One of the things he does to pass the time is hunt for these creatures during daylight hours. Unlike the movie, these creatures are languid and passive during the day so Neville never encounters a problem when he goes into homes or buildings to kill them with a stake through the heart. During the course of the novel he racks up an impressive kill count.

Then after an afternoon of creature killing, he spots a woman walking through a field in broad daylight. He chases her down and takes her back to his place. Later we find out that this woman is an anvanced type of vampire creature sent to spy on him. Through their own scientific inquiries, some of these vampires have found a way to be active and alive during daylight hours and are starting a new society and Neville is a threat to that society.

One night they arrive at his place, break down the door and take him captive. At the end of the book, Neville sits in prison and learns that he’s going to be executed. However, the vampire creature that was sent to spy on him takes pity and gives him some pills to end his life. He looks out the window at a street full of vampire/zombie creates. They are first are startled when they see him then stare at him silently.

And this is how the book ends:

Robert Neville looked out over the new people of the earth. He knew he did not belong to them; he knew that, like the vampires, he was anathema and black terror to be destroyed. And, abruptly, the concept came, amusing to him even in pain.

A coughing chuckle filled his throat. He turned and leaned against the wall while he swallowed the pills. Full circle, he thought while final lethargy crept into his limbs. Full circle. A new terror born in death, a new superstition entering the unassailable fortress of forever.

I am legend.

Is that a great ending or what? Our hero turns out to be the bad guy in this new world. Because he’s killed so many of these vampire creatures, he’s going to be the monster that these new creatures tell their children stories about. Neville is going to be the creature that gives vampire children nightmares. His legend is going to be one of death and terror.

Sure, it’s a creative ending and it’s not the imagination of Richard Matheson I have a problem with. The reason I hated the ending is because he took a character I somewhat cared about and gave him an ignominious death.

Death by suicide just as he realizes how these vampire/zombie creatures view him? Oh, please. That’ s no way for our hero or a monstrous “legend” to go. What’s the point in creating a character that the reader just might care about only to have him go out with a whimper? That’s what I call a big letdown.

At least in the movie when Neville dies, he dies for a cause and there’s a hope – albeit a small one – that humanity might continue and that these creatures might be turned back into humans. And the Neville character takes out as many of the creatures as he can when he dies in a fiery explosion. Now that’s the way to make an exit and the way the book should have ended as well.

I Am Legend

 

Marathon Girl and I had a wonderful night out this weekend and weren’t going to miss the opportunity to see I Am Legend. And we’re both glad that we did. We both thought it was a movie that kept us our hearts pounding from the start to the closing credits.

Warning: Minor spoilers follow.

Will Smith stars at Robert Neville who is the last person on earth – or at least the last person in the New York City area. The rest of the population has been turned into monsters that are a mix between vampires and zombies thanks to a cancer vaccine gone awry. Neville spends his day, scavenging for food and other supplies, trying to find a cure for the virus, and, most importantly, trying to stay sane. At night he sleeps in a bathtub with his dog and tries to shut out the noise the monsters make as they roam the city looking for food.

Smith is perfect for this roll – one in which he get 90 percent of the screen time. Unlike Tom Hanks in Cast Away, Smith does an excellent job of portraying a man who hasn’t had any human contact in years.  He actually makes us feel the loneliness he’s feeling and how day after day of just surviving is driving him crazy.  And when he finally finds himself in another person’s presence…well, let’s just say he acts like just about anyone else would under those circumstances.

To help round out Neville’s character and make him someone we care about instead of some guy who’s slowly losing it, the movie includes Lost-type flashbacks where we learn more about Neville’s family and the events leading up the virus that turned most people into ravenous monsters. It makes him someone we care enough about that we understand why he starts taking out monsters by the dozen and are truly terrified for him when he finds himself caught in one of their traps. This movie easily could have turned into a monster/slasher/blood-fest type of film. But the writers wisely bring us in contact with the monsters only when necessary which adds tension to the film. (Are you striking writers paying attention? It’s not tons of blood and gore that make movies scary but the anticipation that something’s bad going to happen that truly scare people.) There are scenes – all in broad daylight – when Neville’s driving through New York, “renting” DVDs, or scavenging through empty apartment buildings but you’re still on the edge of your seat thinking that that monsters are going to jump out of a closet or from some dark tunnel any minute. And when we finally get out first glimpse of the monsters well in to the film, it pulse pounding, scary, and soooo fun to watch.

The best part about the film is that, unlike the book that was based on, it has very satisfying ending (more on this in my next post) and will leave with a feeling of hope instead of one where they feel cheated and let down. I Am Legend is a must see move for anyone who wants a 90-minute thrill ride.

Warning: Be careful about taking kids to this movie. Though it’s rated PG-13 it would easily terrify most kids younger than 12.

I Am Legend *** ½ out of 4 stars

Can't Anyone Agree on I Am Legend?

Heard three different reviews of the movie I Am Legend today. One person loved it, one found it too scary, and a third didn't like it at all -- especially the ending. Though he didn't tell me how it ended (I asked to not to so it would surprise me) it does somewhat make me worried that they stuck with the crappy book ending instead of coming up with something cool. (Yes, Ryan, the ending of the book blows. But more about that after I see the movie.) And if I Am Legend turns out to be a major disappointment, at least there's one good movie to look forward to next summer: The Dark Knight. The trailer for it makes it look like they're keeping the Batman series back on track!

Gov. Huntsman is Mr. Fantastic

One of the top local news stories on the drive home on Friday was that Hanna Montana added a second Salt Lake show to her tour to the delight of teens and parents throughout the Beehive State. Since I didn't know who Hanna Montana was, I did a Google search that night and discovered that she's a Disney Channel show about a character named Miley Stewart (played by Miley Cyrus), who lives a double life as an average teenage girl at school during the day and a famous pop singer, Hannah Montana, at night, concealing her real identity from the public other than her close friends and family.

This weekend Marathon Girl and I watched The Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. (Horrible movie, in case you were wondering. Bad acting, terrible screenplay, cliched plot, etc.). The one thing I did glean from the movie is that like Hanna Montana, Utah's governor, Jon Huntsman Jr., also lives a double life. However instead of being a pop star, he's a superhero named Reed Richards (a.k.a. Mr. Fantastic).

Here's my proof:

Photo of Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.

Photo of Reed Richards (a.k.a. Mr. Fantastic)

The similarity is striking, don't you think?

I don't know how the govenor manages to govern this state as well as save the world, but my hat's off to such a public figure who can lead a double life and not have the press know about it. :-)

Getting Over Grief and We Are Marshall

 

Anyone looking for a good DVD to rent this weekend might want to consider the recently released We Are Marshall.

For those who are rolling your eyes thinking that We Are Marshall is just another sports movie about a team that has to pull together and win, you're only partially right. The movie is about building a new football team from scratch after most of the players and coaches of Marshall University are killed in a tragic plane crash in November 1970. But that's just the setting of the movie.

We Are Marshall is really a movie about dealing with death and loss and how individuals and communities cope with the loss of loved ones. It's a movie about those who choose to move on and those who want to let the past hold them back.

And the desire to be held back by some sense of mourning is tempting. The university considers canceling the football program but only the quick thinking of one of the surviving football players convinces the board of trustees to let the football program continue.

Then there's Red Dawson (Matthew Fox), the only member of the coaching staff who wasn't on the plane because he opted to drive home and make a recruiting stop on the way. He's wracked by survivor's guilt, the loss of his mentor Marshall's head coach Rick Tolley (an un-credited roll by Robert Patrick) -- and the fact that he personally recruited many of the players who died after promising their mothers he'd watch after them while they were on the team.

After the program is reinstated, Dawson is offered the head coach job. He turns it down and spends his time building a shed in his back yard. Returning to football -- a game that he loves -- is something he doesn't want to do.

Jack Lengyel (Matthew McConaughey) takes the job that no coach in the country wants: building a football team from scratch in the shadow of dead players and coaches. Not only does he have to field a team, he has to help Dawson (who finally agrees to be an assistant coach for one final year) and the university president, other players, and members of the community to know that the best way to accept their loss and climb out from under the shadow of the dead is to play football.

In one emotional scene following the blowout loss to Morehead State, Dawson tells Lengyel that they aren't honoring the dead because he thinks the team is playing poorly and losing. Lengyel fires back that the Marshall football program isn't about winning right now but healing the community and the individuals who are still mourning over loved ones. He tells Dawson that building a football program, even one that's only marginally successful is about giving the people a chance to rebuild their lives. He tells Dawson:

One day, not today, not tomorrow, not this season, probably not next season either but one day, you and I are gonna wake up and suddenly we're gonna be like every other team in every other sport where winning is everything and nothing else matters. And when that day comes, well that's...that's when we'll honor them [the dead players and coaches].

In another scene, the morning before Marshall's home opener, Lengyel takes his team to the resting spot of six unidentified players. He gives them an inspiring speech about the dead players and coaches but at the end proclaims, "The funerals end today!"

His message is clear: stop living in and thinking about the past. Instead start doing what you were put on Earth to do and start living again.

Despite the dark and sad feeling that penetrates the movie, we see how players, individuals, and the community are slowly moving on with their lives.

We see an unopened case of beer that was to be used to console the players before 1970 teams' win before the fateful crash, sitting untouched until a new player opens a can and is joined by others. We see the fiance of one of the dead players take the advice of the should-have-been father-in-law and leave Hunington, West Virginia to move on with her life and not be held back by the past. And we see how the community celebrates the re-built team's surprising victory against Xavier by staying on the field for hours after the game.

Sadly, not everyone makes the decision to move on and we are shown how their decisions contrast with those who move forward.

Losing a loved one can be difficult and We Are Marshall portrays that agony in very heart wrenching scenes. But it contains a message of hope and shows how an individual and community can move on after the tragic death of a loved one -- even many loved ones -- and become stronger in the process.

We Are Marshall

An Acutally Funny Movie

There are two kinds of movies I don't watch often because they're rarely done well.

The first is scary movies. No, I'm not talking about the horror genre where someone chases you through a corn field with the chainsaw but movies that are actually supposed to be tense throughout and keep you guessing what's going on. The only recent movie I've seen that really scared me from beginning to end was The Ring. (See how far back I have to go!) Now that was a movie that not only had me tense but a truly creepy bad guy, and a great ending. (I know lots of people didn't like the ending but I thought it was a perfect ending for that movie. Too bad the sequel was horrible.)

The second is romantic comedies. Comedies of any type are difficult to write and I applaud those who try because humor writing is not my strong suit. Not only are these extremely difficult to make, when they do succeed the filmmakers usually are successful in the romantic part but fall far short on the comedy level. The last good romantic comedy I reviewed, The Lake House, fell into that category. That movie succeeded it the romantic department (and was a good film overall) but I don't recall laughing much when I watched.

But this last weekend Marathon Girl and I actually saw a romantic comedy that succeeded in the comedy end and mostly in the romantic end too. That movie? Music & Lyrics.

(Yes, I know that movie came out in February but with three young, active kids we rarely are able to see movies as soon as they come out.)

Okay the movie wasn't perfect. It was a little too cheesy in some areas and I'm not a huge fan of Drew Barrymore or her acting, but this movie had me rolling on the floor with laughter. So much so that I stopped caring about all the other faults the film had.

Here's the type of humor you can expect in the film:

Alex Fletcher: The best time I've had in the last fifteen years was sitting at that piano with you. Sophie Fisher: That's wonderfully sensitive... especially from a man who wears such tight pants. Alex Fletcher: It forces all the blood to my heart.

And this:

Alex Fletcher: Theoretically, I could pick you up because I will be taking a cab. Sophie Fisher: I could be standing outside at 9:40 in bright orange clothes, so you wouldn't miss me... Alex Fletcher: Oh, good, you'll get some road work done while you wait, then.

Or even this:

Alex Fletcher: [singing] Sleeping with a clown above my bed... [spoken] "Clown" is not right Sophie Fisher: That's "cloud." Why would you put a clown in your bed? Alex Fletcher: It would not be the first time.

For those who have always wondered how to make me laugh, that's exactly how to do it.

Music & Lyrics is the first romantic comedy in recent memory that I've not only enjoyed more than Marathon Girl but laughed more than a couple of time. I enjoyed it so much that when Marathon Girl's sister came over the next night I watched it again and laughed even harder the second time I saw it.

Three stars (out of four) for the funniest movie I've seen in years. A must see for those who find the above examples funny.