Tuesday, January 25, 2011

DVD Review: Buried (by Dave Machado)

Buried is film about an American truck driver named Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds) who gets sent over to Iraq as an employer of a corporation helping to rebuild the damage that has been done since the war began. Paul is working a job of transporting kitchen supplies across a region of Baghdad when his convoy is attacked by insurgents. He gets knocked out during the attack and wakes up to find himself trapped in a coffin which he can only believe to be buried deep in the ground. Surprisingly, all of this setup is found out by the audience through expository dialog as every scene takes place with Paul already in the coffin. It is hard to believe that despite having no prologue, epilogue, or flashbacks during the course of the movie, Buried actually works despite the static location and single starring character. 

The thing I was most struck by after viewing Buried was that it is not based on a preexisting short story but an original screenplay (by Chris Sparling). Though I enjoyed the movie quite a bit, I found myself thinking how much better the story would be if it were in the medium of a tightly worded short story. Not to say that this was a failed experiment, I just felt the Director (Rodrigo Cortes) had to resort to countless instances of slowly panning away from Paul's face to show the darkness he is engulfed within. I'll admit that it was an powerful shot the first time, but as he kept going back to it, I couldn't help but feel this was being done to simply pad the running time of a story that can not support a feature length (Buried ends up clocking in at a fairly lean 95 minutes).

Of course the movie is not just Ryan Reynolds in a coffin screaming to himself for an hour and a half. Luckily, we find out early on that he has access to a cell phone with ever dwindling power and shoddy reception. The movie then becomes a series of intense phone calls as he tries to figure out who can actually get him out of this situation. Reynolds had one important task in this movie and that was to make us care about Paul Conroy getting out of this coffin. Without that, there really isn't a movie to enjoy. Fortunately,  I think he succeeded on this level as by the end, I found myself actually invested in his outcome, which typically does not happen to me when watching horror/thriller movies.

There are lots of interesting twists in Buried to keep the story moving along to the grand finale. I found myself early on having to turn off the part of my brain that always tries to piece together a movie's final twist way before it happens. I realized this is a movie that doesn't have that many options as far as plausible endings go so it would be better to simply enjoy the ride. Having said that, I really loved the ending they did go with. It's a great moment that reminded me of the best Twilight Zone episodes where even though it's fairly easy to see how it's all going to end, you still feel like you got punched in the stomach when the ending actually happens. Too many modern B-movies are based on a hook that fails to deliver (Snakes on a Plane, Machete, Precious), so it's always good to see one actually stick the landing.

Overall, I'd categorize Buried as a cool experiment that while it doesn't work out perfectly, is something worth seeing. Aside from a few lackluster camera/editing choices (Buried actually includes the cliché scene of the main character replaying key points of other character's dialog from the movie), it really holds up as a smart thriller. Kudos also goes to whoever created the fun title sequence which is set to a great "Bernard Herrmann-like" score, making you feel like you are about to watch an old Hitchcock thriller. It really helped set the tone and made it feel more like an event movie instead of the low budget thriller it really is. I definitely recommend Buried and look forward to hearing more people's reactions to this interesting, yet potentially polarizing, flick.

You're Welcome,

Friday, January 14, 2011

Best of 2010: Top 10 TV Shows (by Dave Machado)

There was a lot of great TV in 2010. So much so that I didn't really get a chance to watch everything that was being offered. So I'd like to preface this list by saying these were my favorite ten shows of the year, and I am in no way saying they are the ten best on TV. You'll find obvious omissions (Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Boardwalk Empire) not because I didn't like the shows, but because I either still have most of the season on my DVR (Boardwalk) or I'm still behind on previous seasons as I slowly go through the DVDs (Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Modern Family). Having said that, I still believe the following 11 shows (I felt the need to include an honorable mention) provided some great entertainment throughout 2010.

Honorable Mention: The Walking Dead
I really wanted this show to end up in my top 10 of the year but it simply had far too many problems with bad dialog. The show debuted with a lot of promise, as it was directed by Frank Darabont. But as the short series went on (6 episodes), it started to show less and less promise. I'll admit the show picked up again during the last episode but that execitement quickly died when I realized I now had to wait 10 months for Season 2 to begin. Let's hope they use that time wisely and come back a much stronger show. I believe in the end, Season 1 will be considered just a small tease to what the show would really become.

10) Eastbound and Down
Kenny Powers is such a great television character. While Season 2 may have had slightly less laugh out loud moments than Season 1, I was still in love with every episode. It was good to see Kenny in a new element (Mexico) but I am really looking forward to the third and final season where we can see him back in his Season 1 territory.

09) 30 Rock
30 Rock suffered from a huge dip in quality last season. Thankfully this seems to have only been a temporary problem as this year has produced some of the funniest 30 Rock episodes since Season 2. My biggest complaint from last year was that the characters were becoming too one-note. While I think the show still suffers from that problem from time the time (mainly Jenna and Kenneth), they've done a better job of opening each character to more stories.

08) Parks and Recreation
Parks and Recreation wins the award for biggest improvement for a show between Season 1 and Season 2. It was sad to see this amazing show so low on the list but the only reason is that it had so little shows on the air in 2010. Last airing in August, Parks and Recreation was an unfortunate victim of network programming issues as it was shelved for midseason to make way for the terrible new show Outsourced. I'm at least thankful for the small amount of episodes I did get to see this year as each one contained some of the best comedy on TV this year. Thankfully, Parks and Recreation is coming back Jan. 20. I really need some more Ron Swanson in my life.

07) The Soup
I debated on whether or not to include this on the list as it's not a sitcom or a drama but there is no denying that The Soup really is one of the best shows on TV. Thanks in large part to Joel McHale (making his first of two appearances on this list), The Soup is consistently one of the funniest 30 minutes on television, thanks in large part to the huge amount of crap that is currently being shown on TV. I make it a point to stay away from any show on VHI, MTV, or anything "reality" based, but I still love nothing more than seeing these insanely unimportant humans make fools of themselves in bite sized clips only to then be further beaten down by a cruel joke about their lack of purpose on earth.

06) Daily Show/Colbert Report
Like The Soup, this may not be a traditional "show" but it's one of the best things going for television right now. I consider these shows two sides of the same coin so it's fair for them to split #6. They both perfectly compromise each other by providing different (but equally important) takes on what's currently going on in the world. The Daily Show provides more of the cynical "Are you kidding me" anger towards the broken system of current politics while The Colbert Report dishes out amazing mockery of the blow hard types currently trying to pass off opinion as facts. While I consider The Daily Show to be the better important show, The Colbert Report is the necessary dessert of absurd humor that's needed after such a filling meal.

05) It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia
Similar to 30 Rock, It's Always Sunny has had quite the resurgence in quality this season as opposed to the previous few years. I would say that It's Always Sunny actually went one step further than 30 Rock this year though and actually had their best season to date. I've already talked about my love of the Blackface Debate from the Lethal Weapon 5 episode, but almost every episode had at least one scene that was almost just as funny (Dennis' idea of luring women on a boat, Charlie and Dennis getting trashed at the fundraising event in Atlantic City, Mac searching for his "God Damned Bible", etc...). Part of me wishes this was the final season because it would have been a great way to go out (especially considering how many past characters they brought back for the season finale). The writers and cast have their work cut out for them this year and I look forward to see what they try out.

04) Supernatural
Supernatural is the show that I love but have no one to share that love with since it seems nobody else I know watches it as much as me. While I admit the beginning of the latest season was a bit rocky due to the planned "5 year story" now being stretched beyond it's original ending point, I'm glad to see that at the mid-point of the season, I am now fully on board to see where they take the show. Last year's final push to the finale was one of the best I had seen in a show in a while. It's a shame the real ending was ruined slightly by many forced twists in order to allow the show to continue, but it doesn't take away from the fact that they did a very good job of ending a planned story without too much compromise. It's great to see a show that is still able to mix-up "Monster of the Week" episodes with dense myth building ones and never really miss a beat. Now if only they could ease on the episode ending "heart to heart" talks that I'm pretty sure use the same conversation week to week.

03) Louie
Louie was the best new show of 2010. It's amazing this show exists and that Louis C.K. was able to take a chance to make his own show in his own voice and not screw up at any point. Each episode was like a mad genius mix of stand-up comedy and absurd sketches that combined to form a perfect half hour of TV. Every aspect from this show came from Louis C.K.'s mind and it really shows in the end product. I'm extremely happy the show is getting a second season and hope this time it's audience continues to grow as more people discover just how great it really is.

02) LOST
It was hard to put this show at #2 because it really is my favorite show of all time. But considering it was only on the air for 1/2 of 2010 (added to the fact that I still feel let down by the final season) I think this is where LOST belongs. This season was a mix of highs and lows as the final mysteries started to unveil themselves. But after spending a whole season trying to figure out the mystery of the "sideways universe" only to discover it was all some "afterlife" holding pen caused much anger, especially the night of the finale. I've since come to terms with the finale and find it quite touching, though there are still lots of issues I have with the show. The most of which would be the total waste of time that was the Temple arc. For a show with so many questions as LOST to throw in a new location, only to never have any of the questions raised there really pay off, has left a sour taste in my mouth when looking back on the last season as a whole. I'm sure as years pass and I revisit LOST I'll find myself enjoying it much more the second time around (there were lots of great episodes, such as Happily Ever After, the final Desmond-centric episode).

01) Community
Community is the best comedy on television right now. Mostly everything this show does is perfect and it's the best mix of character vs. pop culture related jokes. It can weave its structure into pretty much any genre (post-apocalyptic, mob family, claymation, zombies, etc...) and never at the cost of moving the story forward. Community has formed a real tight ensemble so any of the main characters can bounce off each other, giving the show a large number of combinations to explore. I know a show is good when I'm left saying "Well that was their best episode ever" after roughly 2/3 of all episodes in 2010. It's exciting to have a show like Community on TV and I just hope it is able to stick around for many more to come. While I find it hard to believe that they will ever top the perfection that was the paintball episode ("Modern Warfare"), it doesn't take away from the fact that most episodes since have only been slightly less amazing.

You're Welcome,

Monday, January 10, 2011

Best of 2010: Top 15 Movies (by Dave Machado)

2010 was a good year for movies. All total, I was able to see 58 movies from 2010 (and I only really hated two of them).  Though there are a few I never got around to seeing, (mainly The King's Speech and 127 Hours) I feel like I was able to see mostly everything else that had a chance of ranking high. I've already covered films #58-16 in a previous post so without further rambling, here are my top 15 movies for 2010.

15) Winter's Bone
This movie reminded me of Brick in that it took an already great story and dropped it into the fantastic universe of Film Noir. I may have a hard time praising Jennifer Lawrence for her amazing role because I've yet to see her in anything else, but I thought her character was one of the best in all of 2010. She does a great job, especially considering she is surrounded by fantastic character actors like Garret Dillahunt and John Hawkes.

14) Splice
I went into Splice not expecting much and ended up being blown away by what I saw. It was great to see more original sci-fi this year (along with Inception) that was able to stand on it's own away from the sequels and remakes. I had a few problems regarding the last act of the movie delving too much into straight up horror but overall it's a very fun flick that should have a larger audience. It finally teaches the long needed lesson that humans should not have sex with genetically created hybrids.

13) Despicable Me
One thing 2010 will always be remembered for is my obsession with the Minions. In fact, without them in this movie, I doubt it would even crack the Top 20 (thus showing just how much I loved them). Though I should give some credit to Despicable Me for making me laugh more than any other animated movie I saw this year. I was brought to the movie without having any desire to see it and ended up enjoying it more than Toy Story 3.

12) MacGruber
The funniest movie of 2010. Like most of America I stayed away from this in the theaters and that was a stupid mistake. It may not bat 1.000 with jokes but it comes pretty close. It's wonderfully absurd and very R-Rated, combining raunchy humor with fairly graphic violence. MacGruber also contains the funniest "sex scene" joke I have ever seen. Please see this movie.

11) The Ghost Writer
The thing I loved most about The Ghost Writer was how perfectly it was paced. Every scene seemed to build on top of the previous one as the story became increasingly more engaging. This should be no surprise considering it comes from Roman Polanski (One of the best example of loving the work but not the man behind it). A great political thriller that actually managed to surprise me at the end. I would also like to point out that a movie featuring Jim Belushi is my 11th favorite movie of 2010. I'm a little upset about that.

10) Kick-Ass
If you had asked me a month ago where Kick-Ass would fall in my list for 2010, I would have said #3. Then I made the mistake of re-watching the movie where I sadly found out that it does not hold up to a second viewing. Clearly I still love the movie but watching it a second time really brought out the flaws (mainly anything to do with Dave's love life). I think the combination of seeing it in a packed theater and not knowing what to expect made the movie seem a lot better. The only thing that didn't get worse was anything featuring Hit-Girl and/or Big Daddy. It's those scenes that make this #10 for the year.

09) Black Swan
Darren Aronofsky is amazing. I've really loved his previous 3 movies (I still need to see Pi) and think Black Swan is a new high point in his career. He should also be thanked for directing Natalie Portman in her best role yet.  I really think she deserves all the hype that is being generated for her right now and it will be good to see her win some awards. I'm still not sure what was real and what was her imagination but it doesn't matter because the movie itself tells such a great story. Bonus points are rewarded for the graphic scenes of body horror that caused me to both cringe in my seat and smile at the same time.

08) The American
I'm surprised how little love The American got as 2010 came to an end. I understand some people might have expected Jason Bourne: The Senior Years but you can't deny that The American is a fantastically made character study of an aging hitman. I'll admit a few scenes could have used a bit more subtlety but it's forgivable considering how smart and gorgeous most of the movie is. I don't want to call people who didn't like this movie "stupid," so I'll just stop here. But seriously, if you missed out on this movie, go see it now.

07) Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Pt. 1
I'm glad that I decided to finally watch the Harry Potter series last year because it allowed me to be able to see this one in the theaters. I've said many times before that I am not a Harry Potter Fanboy (never read the books and I've seen each movie once), but I easily consider The Deathly Hallows to be the best of the bunch. I don't buy the complaint that it was boring as I was fully engaged from start to finish and found the quieter moments to be quite touching. It made me laugh, it made me cry, and it made me wish it was July 2011 so I can see the finale.

06) True Grit
I wanted True Grit to be my favorite movie of the year. I spent months counting down to the release, awaiting the chance to see the best movie the Coen brothers ever made. Maybe it was that insane amount of hype that made me feel let down by the movie, but I really think it was my hope that the movie was going to be more gritty and not have as much comic relief that let me down the most. I'm not saying it made me hate the movie (seeing as how it ranks this high) but it just made me wish that the story was taken a bit more seriously. Having said that, the performances in this movie are outstanding and it's also one of the nicest looking movies that I saw this year. It has a lot of "Coen Brothers charm" (read that as both a positive and a slight negative), and I was happy that the ending felt a bit more fleshed out than their past few movies. I really think this movie will only get better with repeat viewings.

05) The Fighter
This is the surprise of the year to me. I expected to enjoy The Fighter but I never thought it would be my fifth favorite movie of the year. As with the remaining Top 5 movies in this list, I spent the better part of The Fighter actually saying "this is an amazing movie..." over and over in my head as it continued to amaze me. Yes, Christian Bale deserves an Oscar for this movie. Yes, David O. Russell and Amy Adams deserve Oscar nominations for this movie. Yes, whoever picked out Amy Adams outfits should get an honorary Oscar for this movie. But the real standouts of this movie are The Sisters. I've read them described as a dysfunctional Greek Chorus and that really sums it up better than I could. I saw this movie pretty late in the year but if I redid my Top 30 Pop Culture Moments of 2010 now, the fight scene on the front porch between the sisters and Amy Adams' character would easily crack the top 15.

04) The Social Network
Obviously a movie about Computer Programmers would end up as one of my favorites of 2010, but The Social Network is a lot more than a simple movie about computer geeks. From the opening scene at the bar, The Social Network came right out of the gate as one of the best written movies I've seen in quite some time. People can argue all they want about about how factual the movie is and whether or not it is sexist,  but I'm simply not interested in either of those arguments. Every role in this movie was perfectly cast and I applaud the use of groundbreaking technology (the creation of the Winklevoss twins) as a way to further the story and not simply wow a crowd (see: Avatar, Alice in Wonderland).

03) Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
Everything about Scott Pilgrim vs. The World works and it's a shame that it didn't get the attention it deserved this summer. Edgar Wright is now 3/3 as far as feature films go and at this point it's safe to say that he's my favorite director currently making movies. Unlike Kick-Ass, Scott Pilgrim actually seems to get better the more I watch it (which has already been 3 times). While it may seem a bit crowded at times due to the desire to only make one movie while keeping the number of evil ex-boyfriends ("evil exes!") to seven, it's also fairly unbelievable how well made the movie is considering how much is going on. People will be talking about the innovative way the movie was edited for years to come as it will become a blueprint for how to make this type of movie. Anyone who doesn't like this movie, can tell it to the cleaning lady on Monday.

02) Piranha 3D
I had a real hard time deciding on the final ranking for my top 2 movies of the year. But as much as a I loved Piranha 3D when I saw it in theaters (best movie theater experience of my life), I still think it belongs at #2 on my list. I still can't believe this movie exists and I'm even more amazed that it got a release in theaters. Hatchet II gets pulled after 2 days in theaters because it was released Unrated due to not being able to get an R, yet Piranha 3D was allowed to skate by on a R despite being far more graphic than anything in Hatchet II. The genius of the MPAA at work! Regardless of that, Piranha 3D is simply my favorite over-the-top horror movie since Dead Alive. I felt guilty at first loving something with that much nudity and violence in it but that quickly faded into me accepting it as the greatness that it is. Let's see if Piranha 3DD (the actual title) can top it. I highly doubt it but it will be fun to see them try.

01) Inception
It almost felt lame picking this as my #1 movie of the year because I feel like the backlash for this movie has really hit a new high lately as people create their best of 2010 lists. But to be honest, it was my favorite movie of 2010 and what I consider the best science fiction film since Children of Men. I was blown away by the effects, engaged by the story, and entertained by all of the excellent performances (though special praise goes to Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Tom Hardy). Christopher Nolan took a giant chance with this movie and nailed it out of the park. Sure it's a bit heavy on expository dialog but I don't consider that as big of a fault as others do. I still go back and forth on my reading of the movie but I'm fairly settled on the belief that most of the movie is actually Cobb's dream. I believe his team is putting him under as a way to try and have him get over his wife's death after they see how much it is starting to affect his life and their line of work. Why do you think the first time we see Mal (Cobb's dead wife) is when Arthur asks Cobb "What is she doing here?" It was him planting that thought into his head as a way to start putting everything into motion. As for the ending, I don't think the top stopped or kept going. I think Cobb woke up.

You're Welcome,

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Best of 2010: The Leftover Movies (by Dave Machado)

2010 was a good year for movies. All total, I was able to see 58 movies from 2010 (and I only really hated two of them).  Though there are a few I never got around to seeing, (mainly The King's Speech and 127 Hours) I feel like I was able to see mostly everything else that had a chance of ranking high. In order to make this easier to digest, I'm splitting it up by first listing the movies that did not make my top 15 (yes, I ranked all 58). I'll try to say a quick line about each movie and open it up to longer responses in the Top 15 post. So for now, enjoy the movies that didn't quite make my list of favorites for the year.

58) A Nightmare on Elm St. - Hate.
57) Sex and the City 2 - Hate 2.
56) Jonah Hex - A giant mess of a movie. 
55) Nightmares in Red, White, and Blue - History of American Horror that ended up being a cheap Cliff Notes version. Any horror fan would just be bored.
54) Wolfman - Like Jonah Hex, it suffered from so many people trying to improve the movie in the editing room that it ended up being too much of a mess.
53) I'm Still Here - It was a hoax, a boring hoax. Though Joaquin's performance is amazing, the movie is not.
52) Survival of the Dead - George A. Romero made a Western Zombie movie that didn't have enough "western" or "zombie" elements.
51) Iron Man 2 - Fell flat. I can hardly even remember this movie. Something about Super Soldiers, Mickey Rourke, and Scarlett Johansson in a tight black suit.
50) Cyrus - I've never hated characters more than the ones in this movie.
49) Machete - This is what happens when you spend too much time making a cult movie and less time making a good movie.
48) The Losers - Fun and forgettable PG-13 Action flick.
47) Salt - Slightly more fun yet just as forgettable PG-13 Action flick. So many twists!
46) The Other Guys - Surprised how low this is. Nothing about the story clicked. I need to see it again.
45) The Expendables - It was fun but was ruined by the use of cgi blood instead of the over the top practical gore of Rambo. 
44) Best Worst Movie - Fun Documentary about Troll 2 but I became too irritated by the stars after a while. Worth seeing if you are a Troll 2 "fan" though.
43) Hot Tub Time Machine - Funny but forgettable. Saved by having a great cast.
42) Waking Sleeping Beauty - Very good look at the great run Disney Animation had in the late-80s to early-90s. A bit dry but interesting.
41) Predators - Way better than the Alien vs. Predator movies but nothing special.
40) Catfish - Was it real or fake? As time goes on, I care less and less.
39) I Am Comic - Good Documentary on stand-up comedy. Nothing ground breaking but a good collection of interviews.
38) The Human Centipede (First Sequence) - Over-hyped Horror movie. Has some cool ideas but ends up being fairly generic. Not gross enough based on where it could have gone.
37) Frozen - First of two Adam Green movies from 2010 I was able to see. Great concept hindered by a slow beginning and uneven final act.
36) Batman: Under the Red Hood - I wasn't sure if I could include this but it was feature length and a pretty great animated Batman movie. If you liked The Dark Knight, check this out!
35) Devil - Trashy fun that caused me to roll my eyes yet not feel like I was wasting my time.
34) Date Night - Surprised me how funny this was. Lots of great supporting characters.
33) Exit Through the Gift Shop - Another possible hoax Documentary but this time it doesn't matter because the film is well made.
32) Joan Rivers: Piece of Work - Great Documentary that really made me respect Joan Rivers. Again, nothing earth shattering but a fine way to spend 90 minutes.
31) Get Him to the Greek - I enjoy Russel Brand and Jonah Hill together. Funny movie but by no means a classic. Big step down from Forgetting Sarah Marshall.
30) Greenberg - Ben Stiller's best movie. It's very much an "indie" movie but not at all what I expected.
29) Let Me In - I hated that it was made and how closely it stuck to the original, yet I can't deny that it was an extremely well made movie. If I never saw the original, this would be in my Top 10.
28) The Kids Are Alright - I wanted to like this more but the last act just made me angry with how dramatic it all became. Also, too much time is wasted on the friends of the two kids considering those stories go nowhere.
27) Never Let Me Go - This movie didn't hit me that hard when I first saw it but it's slowly crept up the list throughout the rest of the year as I've begun to appreciate the small scale of the movie. Art House Sci-Fi at it's best.
26) The Last Exorcism - I was ready to call the "found footage" gimmick dead until I saw this fun summer horror flick. Doesn't add much to the exorcism genre but is unique enough to stand on its own.
25) How To Train Your Dragon - I wish I saw this in 3D in a large theater. It holds up at home but consistently felt like something was missing.
24) Going the Distance - I was almost mad at how much I enjoyed this movie. Very funny R rated Romantic Comedy with hysterical supporting characters. One of the worst endings to a movie I have ever seen though.
23) Hatchet II - Extremely fun Unrated Horror movie. The kills were exactly how they should be in slasher movies: gory and over-the-top. Had a sense of humor that's missing in horror these days.
22) Daybreakers - Fantastic Vampire movie that made me realize there are still good vampire tales to tell that don't involve teenage drama.
21) Toy Story 3 - I thought this would end up being a Top 10 movie of the year. Just because it didn't wow me like the previous Pixar movies doesn't take away how good the movie actually is.
20) The Town - It was cheesy and a bit "retahded" but I was a huge fan of Affleck's little Boston crime movie. 
19) Shutter Island - Not the best Leonardo DiCaprio movie of the year but a great homage to B horror.
18) The Crazies - Everything A Nightmare on Elm St. remake did wrong, The Crazies did right. One of the few horror remakes that I believe surpasses the original.
17) The Tillman Story - The Documentary that made me the most angry. If you want to hate people, go see this movie.
16) Easy A - The best teen comedy since Mean Girls (only better).

You're Welcome,