Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Social Network

I’ve been hearing great reviews for this film about Mark Zuckerberg and his creation of Facebook ever since it came out four weeks ago.  But I haven’t rushed to see it because it just didn’t sound that appealing.  Well, I must tell you that all the good word of mouth was spot on.  This movie is spectacular.  It’s definitely one of the best films of the year, and I think could be nominated for Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director (for David Fincher), Best Actor (for Jesse Eisenberg), and maybe even Best Supporting Actor (for Justin Timberlake).  I must admit I didn’t know anything about this story, and so I can’t really say how much of it is true, but it was totally fascinating.  I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling after watching it that anyone out there working for the ‘man’ is wasting their lives.  Of course, most of us are not as brilliant as Mark Zuckerberg, so unfortunately we have no choice.  (And somehow I doubt that this blog will be as successful as Facebook.But it’s an inspiring film.  I do fear that every college kid who sees it will immediately stop looking for real jobs and spend their time trying to invent the next big thing.  And that’s a recipe for disaster.  But enough about my prediction of the downfall of society as we know it.
I won’t say anything about the plot, because each and every scene is fantastic and the less you know of the story the better.  But Eisenberg is tremendous as the fast talking and brilliant, yet socially inept, Zuckerberg.  And Andrew Garfield (now in ‘Never Let Me Go’ and soon to be a household name as the next Spiderman) and Justin Timberlake are both perfectly cast as well.  And Fincher, who has made amazing films like ‘Seven’, ‘The Game’, and ‘Fight Club’ has done it again, in a totally different genre.  (I think I might need to have a David Fincher tribute week.)  And the script from writer Aaron Sorkin is perfect.  This was truly an all star team, and it shows.  Go see this one!
Grade:  A+

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Paranormal Activity 2

Let me begin by saying I’ve been anxiously waiting to see this film for almost a year.  But before I give you my thoughts on it, let me share a little background on my screening experiences for both the original and the sequel.  I first saw ‘Paranormal Activity’ a little over a year ago at the Telluride Film Festival.  It was an advance screening of a film very few people had heard of, and was supposed to be terrifying.  It was scheduled to play outside at 10:00 PM and the brief synopsis in the guide said very little, but warned that we not plan on walking home alone after the film.  Well, I’m a sucker for good promotion, so I was sold.  Unfortunately due to rain, the screening was cancelled.  I ended up seeing it the next afternoon indoors at a so-so theater with a so-so crowd, and the experience just wasn’t right.  So I only found the film to be decent, and derivative of ‘The Blair Witch Project’.  However, when I saw it a second time a few months later in Orlando with my buddy David, and no one else in the theater, I enjoyed it much, much more, and now see it as one of the best horror films of recent years.  I tell you this story to point out the obvious:  the environment you see a movie in has a huge impact on how much you enjoy it.
Cut to tonight, where I just had one of the worst screening experiences I can recall.  There were only about 20 people in the theater and about 16 of them were under the delusion they were in their living room and they could therefore have non-stop conversation at full volume for the entire length of the film.  And that’s not uncommon at this particular theater (The Rave at 40th and Walnut.)  I absolutely despise seeing films at The Rave.  My experiences there range from horrible to just pretty bad.  But if you want to see a non-art film at a movie theater in Philly then sadly you have little choice.
Well, despite the ridiculously poor environment, ‘Paranormal Activity 2’ was actually decent.  It’s not nearly as good as the original, and that was to be expected, but it wasn’t the debacle that the ‘Blair Witch Project 2’ was.  I won’t say anything about the plot, but I will say it’s a nice companion piece to the first one.  And just like the first, the film begins innocuously enough and then slowly builds to terrifying.  That seems to be the format for a lot of the documentary style horror films, which gets a bit old, but it still works.  And I like that they didn’t get too fancy and dump a ton more money into the sequel.  (According to IMDB, The budget on the first one was only $11,000 and the film made almost $200 Million.  The budget on the second was $2.75 Million but it still looks about as raw as the original, and that’s a good thing.  I’m not quite sure where the money went to be honest.)
In summary, I enjoyed the film but it’s not as good as the first one.  So, if you liked the original I definitely recommend checking this one out.  Just not at the Rave.
Grade:  B-

Monday, October 25, 2010

Philadelphia Film Festival: Final Thoughts

Well, it’s been a fun and exhausting 11 days.  I’ve seen some amazing films and some truly terrible ones.  And even though I’m exhausted now, in two weeks I’ll miss it and wish the festival was back on again.  Thank you Andrew Greenblatt, Jared Miller, and all the folks at the Philadelphia Film Society for putting on a fun 11 days.  (Too bad the Phillies in the playoffs killed attendance.)  I enjoyed myself as always and will forgive you all for programming some terrible films if you’ll forgive me for trashing them.
By the way, everyone in the Philly area should consider becoming a member of the Philadelphia Film Society at  Your membership gets you year-round free advance screenings for two to lots of big, upcoming films, as well as tickets and passes to next year’s film festival.  The membership pays for itself after just attending a few of the free advance screenings.  It’s the best deal in town.  Alright, enough plugs for the PFS.  Below is a quick summary of the films I saw and my grades:
Unbreakable (10th Anniversary)                   Grade:  A+

Make Believe                                                 Grade:  A+

Black Swan                                                     Grade:

127 Hours                                                       Grade:

Trust                                                               Grade:

Every Day                                                       Grade:

Life 2.0                                                            Grade:  A-

Welcome to the Rileys                                  Grade:  B+

Hesher                                                            Grade:  B+

Richard Garriott:  Man on a Mission           Grade:

Do It Again                                                     Grade:  B-

Red Hill                                                           Grade:  B-

Cafe                                                                 Grade:  C+

The Best and the Brightest                           Grade:  C+

Happy Poet                                                    Grade:  C-

Cold Weather                                                 Grade:  C-

Fair Game                                                       Grade:  C-

Kings of Pastry                                               Grade:

Outcast                                                           Grade:

High School                                                    Grade:

Lebanon, PA                                                   Grade:

Tiny Furniture                                                Grade:
Alrighty then.  Keep checking back for my upcoming review on ‘Paranormal Activity 2’.  Oh, and I will hopefully be posting my 2nd FOX News Orlando appearance later in the week.  Now I just have to figure out what I’m going to review on FOX this Friday!?!

Philadelphia Film Festival: Day 8 through Day 11

Unbreakable  (10th Anniversary Screening)                        Grade:  A+
What can I say about this film from M Night Shyamalan starring Bruce Willis and Samuel Jackson from 2000 that won’t ruin it in case you haven’t seen it?  Nothing.  So I won’t say anything about the plot.  I will say this is the 3rd time I’ve seen it.  When I first saw it 10 years ago in the theater I thought it was very good.  Then, when I saw it a second time a few years later I realized it was actually great.  And now I truly believe it’s a masterpiece.  Unfortunately it’s always compared to Shyamalan’s previous film, ‘The Sixth Sense’ which is also one of the greatest films of all time, so it often gets criticized for not being as good.  Well, I’m not sure I agree, and technically speaking I think it’s even better.  Some of the shots in this film are truly unbelievable long takes.  Hitchcock would be amazed.  If you’ve never seen the film, you should definitely check it out.  And if you have seen it and already dismissed it as just being ok, see it again.  I think it’s brilliant.
I should also add that at the Philadelphia Film Festival we were treated to a nice, long Q&A with Shyamalan after the film.  He could not have been better or more humble.  He discussed how the initial poor reviews of the film after its release devastated him, and how meticulous he was storyboarding and filming each scene, and how insane his ambitious camera work was.  Well, it shows.  And even though his films have clearly gotten worse over time, he’s still one of my all time favorite directors. 

Trust                                       Grade:  A
David Schwimmer directed this film about a teenage girl who falls victim to an internet predator pretending to be a teenager.  Clive Owen and Catherine Keener give tremendous performances as the girl’s parents struggling to keep their family from falling apart.  I don’t want to say too much about the plot, but it’s a very emotional film.  And although I haven’t heard any Oscar buzz, I wouldn’t be surprised if this one gets some nominations.

Every Day                               Grade:  A
Liev Schreiber and Helen Hunt play a couple struggling to deal with the trials of life.  Hunt is dealing with her aging, cranky father, played by Brian Dennehy, who is no longer able to take care of himself.  Schreiber is a writer for a trashy TV soap opera, dealing with his recently out teenage gay son, pleasing his perverted boss, played by Eddie Izzard, who wants his scripts to include more ultra-shocking moments, and the temptations of a sexy coworker, played by Carla Gugino.  This film is a dramedy for adults.  But considering the heavy subject matter, it’s actually dealt with in a light, yet realistic way that leaves you feeling satisfied and even hopeful.  Well, at least it did for me.  Some might find it depressing.  But I think it’s a great film with a great cast.  Schreiber is always amazing and makes everything he does better just by being in it.  If the film sounds like something you might like then I think you should give it a try.  Unfortunately I suspect it won’t get a wide theatrical release, and will probably die a quiet death on DVD.

Welcome to the Rileys          Grade:  B+
There have been an awful lot of films lately about parents dealing with the death of a child.  Some have been great (like ‘The Way’ and ‘The Greatest’ which I’ve talked about before.)  This one is another good entry in the genre and didn’t feel like a repeat of its predecessors.  This time James Gandolfini and Melissa Leo are the grieving parents.  They’ve already been grieving for quite some time by the time the movie begins, so they’ve already adapted to the situation and learned to deal with it as best they can.  But their relationship is distant.  However, when Gandolfini meets runaway stripper Kristen Stewart on a business trip to New Orleans, things change as he begins to act as a father figure to help get her back on track.  That sounds corny, but it’s done well and doesn’t feel it.  I’ve heard that the director gave Gandolfini and Stewart the note that they should model their characters after Baloo and Mowgli from ‘The Jungle Book’.  And that pretty much sums up their relationship better than anything else I could add.  The film premiered at Sundance and is opening soon.

Red Hill                                   Grade:  B-
There are a lot of interesting movies coming out of Australia these days.  (e.g. ‘The Square’, ‘Beautiful Kate’, and ‘Animal Kingdom’ to name a few recent titles.   But that’s a blog topic for a different day.)   This one is a neo-noir Australian western.  That alone makes it interesting enough to see.  It’s about a small town police officer who moves to an even smaller town to de-stress, and ends up in the middle of a crisis, when an escaped convict returns to get even with the local police department.  The cast is good and the cinematography is amazing, but unfortunately the movie doesn’t reach its full potential.   It’s kind of like ‘No Country for Old Men’, but not as good.  I’m still glad I saw it though.  At a film festival, this one’s a success.

Cafe                                         Grade:  C+
I mentioned a few days ago my opinion on films filmed locally.  More often than not they aren’t very good, and are only shown at the festival because they were filmed locally.  Well, this one actually isn’t terrible.  It’s about a variety of stories that take place at a cafĂ© in West Philly.  Many of them aren’t very engaging, but the film does include Jennifer Love Hewitt and ex-boyfriend Jamie Kennedy, and I was reminded of how good looking Hewitt is and what a good actor Kennedy is (when he’s not acting like an idiot).  So that’s something.  But as for the film in its entirety?  It’s ok.  It’s basically Jim Jarmusch lite, and I’d rather see ‘Smoke’, ‘Blue in the Face’, or even the so-so ‘Coffee and Cigarettes’.

Fair Game                               Grade:  C-
This political ‘thriller’ starring Sean Penn and Naomi Watts, based on the true story of exposed CIA agent Valerie Plame, which opens in a few weeks, didn’t do it for me.  To be fair, I don’t normally go for political/CIA/espionage films.  And I also think Sean Penn is WAY overrated.   So nothing about this one was working for me.  I was terribly bored.  But I suspect the public might end up disagreeing with me on this one.  We’ll see. 

Kings of Pastry                       Grade:  D
A documentary about the best pastry chefs in France?  Sounds fun and mouth watering, right?  Nope, it was a bore.  The chefs were annoying and unlikeable, and the pastries didn’t even look that tempting.  Stay home and watch the food network.

Outcast                                   Grade:  D
I love a good monster movie.  And I love a good Irish film.  But this film was terrible and unintelligible.  I couldn’t even follow it.  But it definitely had the tone and atmosphere right, and Irish actor James Nesbitt is always good, so it gets spared an F.

Well, that about does it.  Check back tomorrow when I give my final thoughts on this year’s Philadelphia Film Festival.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

In Theaters Now

Looking to head to the theater this weekend, but don’t know what to see?  Can’t find your latest issue of Entertainment Weekly to help you?  Oh dear, whatever will you do?  Well, here are my grades at a glance:
It’s Kind of a Funny Story             Grade: A+   (see my brief review published on Tuesday 9/28 as part of my Toronto Film Festival blog)
Buried                                  Grade: A   (see my brief review published on Tuesday 9/28 as part of my Toronto Film Festival blog)
Never Let Me Go             Grade: A   (see my brief review published on Tuesday 9/28 as part of my Toronto Film Festival blog)
Inception                            Grade: A-  (Is there anyone who hasn’t heard about this film?  Whether you love it, or just like it, you’ll probably want to see it a second time.  I know I do.)
Let Me In                             Grade: B+   (see my brief review published on Tuesday 9/28 as part of my Toronto Film Festival blog)
Easy A                                   Grade: B+   (see my brief review published on Tuesday 9/28 as part of my Toronto Film Festival blog.  Note: I’m upgrading from a B to a B+.  It’s my blog, I can do what I want.)
I’m Still Here                     Grade: B   (see my brief review published on Tuesday 9/28 as part of my Toronto Film Festival blog)
The Town                            Grade: B    (see my brief review published on Tuesday 9/28 as part of my Toronto Film Festival blog)
Wall Street:  Money Never Sleeps          Grade: B   (It’s been 23 years since ‘Wall Street’.  This one isn’t nearly as good as the first, but it’s worth seeing if only to see Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko just one last time.  ‘Greed is Good.’  Gekko is great.)

Red             Grade: B
Stone                                    Grade: B-   (see my brief review published on Tuesday 9/28 as part of my Toronto Film Festival blog)
Hereafter                            Grade: C

Conviction                          Grade: C  (Hilary Swank devotes her life to getting her brother played by Sam Rockwell out of prison.  Unfortunately, the film just doesn’t get the joys or the sorrows right.)
Catfish                                  Grade: C   (see my review published on Sunday 10/3.  But note that upon further thought I've downgraded from a C+ to a C.)
You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger          Grade: C    (see my brief review published on Tuesday 9/28 as part of my Toronto Film Festival blog
Jack Goes Boating           Grade: C-   (Philip Seymour Hoffman is one of the greatest actors working today.  Unfortunately his directorial debut isn’t a winner.  The characters are awkward and unlikeable.  And PSH needs a shower.  Big time.)
Devil                                     Grade: D    (see my review published on Tuesday 10/5)


‘Hereafter’ is the latest film directed by Clint Eastwood, who in recent years directed ‘Invictus’, ‘Gran Torino’, ‘Changeling’, ‘Mystic River’, and Best Picture winner ‘Million Dollar Baby’.  The film stars Matt Damon and Bryce Dallas Howard, and is about three seemingly unrelated storylines that share the common themes of death and the afterlife.  Now, I realize that sounds like it could be scary and suspenseful, especially since it’s opening a week before Halloween, but it’s neither scary nor suspenseful.  It’s also not very engaging.  It IS, however, very, very slooooow.  Now, the last thing I need is to have Dirty Harry upset with me, so Clint, if you’re reading this, please forgive me for what I’m about to say, but I’m not a big fan of this film.  And although I’ve been hearing some Oscar buzz and it may get some nominations, I don’t think the public is going to embrace ‘Hereafter’ now, or in the hereafter.
Grade:  C

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Philadelphia Film Festival: Day 7

I’ve got a short post today with just one sub-par film from the festival. 

Cold Weather                        Grade:  C-
A lost man stumbles through life, obsessing over Sherlock Holmes, and reconnecting with his sister and ex-girlfriend.   But when his ex goes missing, he tries his hand at sleuthing to find her.  This film takes WAY too long to get to the heart of the story.  And once there, it never reaches its potential.  It’s not terrible, but even the ending is abrupt and unsatisfying.  I love a good mystery, especially a modern day Sherlock Holmes tale.  Unfortunately this is not it.

Check back tomorrow when I post my review of 'Hereafter', and I provide another summary at a glance of what to see and what to skip in theaters now.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Philadelphia Film Festival: Day 4 through Day 6

Wow, there was a huge uptick in pageviews over the last day!   Apparently the public has spoken and they want to see me on TV.  Hopefully I will post more embarrassing video of my upcoming Friday segment early next week.  So look for that.
Alrighty, here are some more reviews of festival films.  Unfortunately, not so good ... not so good…

Do It Again                 Grade:  B-
‘Do it Again’ is a documentary about reporter Geoff Edgers’ mission to get 60’s British rock group ‘The Kinks’ back together again.  A film like this one, where you don't know if Edgers will be successful or not, really lives or dies based on how interesting the journey is, and even more so, how entertaining Edgers is on said journey.  Fortunately Edgers has a lot of charisma and comic delivery and timing, so the film works.  Edgers also managed to score interviews with Kinks fans supporting his mission including John Cusack, Zooey Deschanel, and Sting.   It's kind of a fun ride but ultimately not fulfilling.

Happy Poet               Grade:  C-
The ‘Happy Poet’ in this film is a very unlikeable loser.  This very unlikeable loser has no personality and no money whatsoever, but decides to try to get a loan to start a small business creating a very unlikeable organic vegetarian food truck.  Along the way, he somehow miraculously manages to attract a very likeable girl.  And so we are forced to witness an unlikeable romance.  And all of this is set to a VERY unlikeable soundtrack, which mainly consists of a grating single note on a piano played over and over again, as if by a petulant two year old.  But, with all of that said, there is surprisingly something likeable about this film.  It’s hard to put my finger on, but there is definitely some unexpected dry humor.  And the film was at least shot well.  So it wasn’t a total mess.  But it certainly ain’t great.

High School               Grade:  F
To me, this film was a complete mess.  It’s a dumb stoner high school comedy with some surprisingly good talent attached, including Adrian Brody, Michael Chiklis, and Colin Hanks.  And it even premiered earlier this year at Sundance.  So, I ask myself, am I missing something???  I could not wait for this film to end.  It’s a bad sign when the programmer and producer introduce the film by telling you you’ll enjoy it more if you happen to be high.  Well I wasn’t, and I didn’t.  I will admit, stoner high school comedies are not really my thing, but if you want to see better ones, go back to the classics like ‘Dazed and Confused’, or even ‘Fast Times at Ridgemont High’.  They’re not my favorites, but they’re light years better than this mess.
Tiny Furniture                        Grade:  F
Oy.  This could have been the longest hour and 45 minutes of my life.  The synopsis in the guide describes this as a just-out-of-college girl who moves home and basically does nothing.  Yup, that about sounds right.  The synopsis in the guide compares this film to early Woody Allen.  Ummmm, nope.  I love Woody Allen.  I couldn’t stand this film.  The synopsis in the guide also compared it to Noah Baumbach’s ‘Kicking and Screaming’.  OK that’s just blasphemy.  That movie is perfection.  This one is like watching a really bad film school project.  Really bad.

So I’m sure you’re all getting tired of reading about movies you’ve never heard of and will probably never hear of.  Don’t worry, I’ll be back with some new releases soon, including a revisiting of ‘Hereafter’ which opens Friday.   I first saw it at the Toronto Film Festival a month ago and just saw it again tonight so it’ll be fresh in my head for my upcoming review on FOX 35 Orlando this Friday.  Stay tuned…

Monday, October 18, 2010

FOX 35 News Orlando – Friday 10/15/10

OK everyone, here it is.  You’re about to see my world premiere on television, where I offer my thoughts on 'It's Kind of a Funny Story', 'Easy A', and 'City Island'.  Be kind, I was nervous.  The beginning is pretty painful to watch but then it gets better.  Considering it was my first time on TV, I think I'll give myself a B+.  After all, I didn't pass out or throw up.  That's key.
The good news is, apparently they liked it enough to ask me back this Friday morning!  So I’m prepping (read: stressing) right now.  Hopefully this Friday is even better, or at least not worse.
Enjoy, and check back tomorrow for some more reviews on the ongoing Philadelphia Film Festival!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Philadelphia Film Festival: Day 1 through Day 3

Well, it’s been a great first few days of the festival.  Here’s the lowdown on the seven I’ve seen so far:
Make Believe             Grade:  A+
This one is what film festivals are all about, folks!  In 2002 a documentary called ‘Spellbound’ travelled the film festival circuit.  It was just a small film about a bunch of kids competing in a national spelling bee competition, but it slowly grew in popularity due to word of mouth.  Since then, there have been documentaries on the best crossword puzzle enthusiasts, best scrabble players, best Donkey Kong players, best ventriloquists, and pretty much every niche hobby you can think of.  (But my reviews on all those are a blog for another day.)  Just when I thought they’d done it all, we get a film about the best teenage magicians, and their journey to reach the annual teen magic competition in Las Vegas.  Every kid has his own story and you can’t help but root for each and every one of them.  The film is well shot, well produced, and has the perfect soundtrack.  I absolutely love everything about this movie.  And you will too, guaranteed!   When or if it has a limited theatrical release, or else just shows up on DVD, I’ll be sure to let you all know.

Black Swan                 Grade:  A
I already briefly reviewed this one in my Toronto Film Fest post, but since you’ll all be hearing about it a lot between November and March, I figure I’ll bring it up one more time so you remember you heard it here first.   It’s a psychological thriller about the ballet ‘Swan Lake’.  Natalie Portman stars and it’s directed by Darren Aronofsky.  Up until now I haven’t been a fan of Aronofsky’s work (and you can read more about that in the Toronto post as well.)  But this one is a winner for sure.  It’s not for everyone, though.  It’s dark, erotic, and suspenseful throughout, kind of like watching a nightmare for two hours, but with ballet and set to the soundtrack of Tchaikovsky.  Well, almost Tchaikovsky.  Composer Clint Mansell actually decomposed and reconstructed Tchaikovsky’s actual score to have it mesh better with the film.  And it totally works.  The music is the true star of the film.  I love it.  But, you be the judge if it sounds like your cup of tea or not.

On a side note, a last minute surprise on Opening Night was a Q&A with Aronofsky after the film.  I never saw him in person.  He’s kind of an arrogant jerk.  I like him even less than I did before.   He could learn a few things from Danny Boyle.
Grade for Darren Aronofsky’s Filmography excluding Black Swan:  C-
Grade for Darren Aronofsky as a person:  D

Life 2.0                        Grade:  A-
Perhaps people reading this have heard of a computer game / virtual world called ‘Second Life’, but I had not.  So I found this documentary fascinating.  Apparently computer games have come a long way since I used to play them on the Commodore 64.  (Commodore, anyone?  Who’s with me?)  People can now create an avatar that looks just like them and essentially live a second life, similar or completely different, than their own.  They can build homes, create businesses, get rich, and even form relationships and have sex.  Now of course I’m aware of the ‘Sym City’ games, but this ‘Second Life’ seems to have gone much, much further than I remember ‘Sym’.  This doc follows several people who have had very different life changing experiences due to this game.  I won’t spoil it, but it’s fascinating.

Hesher                        Grade:  B+
OK let me be clear, this film is not for everyone, but I really dug it.  It centers around a teenage boy named T.J. whose mom has just passed away.  He is struggling with grief, as is his dad, played by Rainn Wilson (who is just as spectacular here as he was in ‘Super’, which you can also read about in my Toronto post).  T.J. is also trying to deal with an older bully, a crush he develops on an older girl played by Natalie Portman, and a mysterious long-haired psycho, bad-ass, heavy metal, pyromaniac named Hesher, played by Joseph Gordon Levitt.  It’s hard to figure out what the deal is with Hesher.  In fact, every character in this film is hard to put your finger on.  And every situation is unexpected.  The film is very dark, but still has comedy sprinkled throughout.  It’s not perfect and it’s not for mainstream audiences, but it’s a wild ride and I liked it.

Richard Garriott:  Man on a Mission                       Grade:  B
Have you ever wanted to be an astronaut?  Well, you can apply to NASA and hopefully meet all their requirements or you can do what pioneer role-playing computer game designer Richard Garriott did, and just pay 30 million dollars.  This documentary isn’t nearly as polished as some of the other films I’ve seen, but the subject matter is fascinating.  Garriott is a very interesting subject.  Even his history of how he made his millions is worthy of a documentary.  And his 9 month training for his dream space mission is a joy to watch.  My only critique is that it really doesn’t have the look for a theatrical release.  This one would play much better at home on the couch on a weekend afternoon.

By the way, when I got to the Ritz 5 which has three festival films screening simultaneously, I walked up to the ticket taker and said, ‘Richard Garriott’?  She looked puzzled and replied, ‘Ummm … I think I just saw him go outside.’  I chuckled and replied, ‘No, no, the man is not here, I’m just looking for the movie’.  I found that particularly funny.  Good help is so hard to find.

The Best and the Brightest               Grade:  C+
This one was neither the best nor the brightest, but it has some moments that are good.  This comedy stars Neil Patrick Harris and Bonnie Somerville as a financially strapped couple that move from Delaware to New York City for one last shot at their dreams.  The problem is, they can’t find a private school that will take their 5 year old daughter.  (This isn’t implying their daughter isn’t worthy, but apparently you need to apply for these schools while you’re still pregnant.)  So they enlist the aid of wacky Amy Sedaris to help them get their kid into school.  The cast is strong and the comedy is outrageous and wildly inappropriate at times, and that’s the good news.  The bad news is that the audio and video are kind of amateur and the movie drags on even though it’s really not that long.  It could have been better, but unfortunately something’s just not right about the production.  So you should probably skip this one.  Although, for all you Philly fans, I will note that although it’s set in NYC, some scenes were filmed in Philadelphia.

Lebanon, PA               Grade:  F
Oh boy, where do I began?  This film, about an advertising executive in Philadelphia whose father has passed away and has to go back home to deal with it, is absolutely unwatchable.  First off, when you do a film about the death of a child, spouse, or parent, you really need to hit all the notes exactly right or it just doesn’t work.  I don’t think director Ben Hickernell hit a single note right, so no, it doesn’t work … at all.  The cast is terrible.  The writing is terrible.  The plot is terrible.  It’s one of the worst movies I’ve seen all year.  But it’s set in Philadelphia and there are plenty of scenes and references to Philly!!  Big deal.  At this point I should also point out something I’ve learned.  When you go see a locally made film at a film festival, you have a much less than average chance that the film is any good.  Because, good or bad, the film will get programmed for the mere fact that it is filmed locally.  This film drops the ‘P’ bomb so many times that it’s almost as if they KNOW the only way it’s going to get programmed is by screaming ‘Filmed in Philadelphia’!!!   Terrible.   And chances are the audiences will be filled with friends and family of the crew, so the film will get better audience votes than it deserves.  (I did observe two people at the screening who absolutely gushed about this film, but I’m convinced both of their last names are Hickernell.)

Alrighty, three days down and eight to go!  Check back soon for more Philly Film Fest reviews.  You can still buy tickets at

Oh, and I’ve seen the video of my television world premiere on Fox 35 News Orlando.  It’s surreal watching it.  The beginning is utterly painful to watch but halfway through the first movie review it gets pretty decent.  Hopefully I’ll have it uploaded or a link to it soon.  Stay tuned…

Friday, October 15, 2010

State of the Blog

Well, it’s been a crazy 16 days!  So I want to devote today’s post to giving a status of what has gone on and where things may be going.  Don’t worry, I’ll resume movie reviews with the next post.  Just please indulge me.
I only started this blog because so many people have suggested I do so for so long.  The idea was to offer my brief thoughts to a few interested friends and family on all the well known and lesser known films I see year-round in Philly and at other film festivals around the world.  I really didn’t think anyone would care, so I never did it before.  Well I’ve received around 600 page views in the first 16 days and that’s significantly more than I expected.  And the daily hits are increasing, rather than decreasing so that’s great too.  So thank you all for continuing to check back and spreading the word.  I hope you’re finding my lame opinions interesting.
Anyway, the big news is that early this morning I was featured on live TV as a movie critic on FOX 35 News Orlando, taping in Philadelphia but airing in Orlando.  (Yes, you read that sentence correctly.)  Long story short, my best pal David Martin who works for FOX in Orlando put my blog on his Facebook page last weekend, and his coworker noticed it, and less than a week later I’m on live TV.  Crazy, huh?  Well, I’ve never been on TV, so needless to say I’ve been a nervous wreck all week.  (My stomach is just now beginning to unclench.)  But David gave me excellent tips and feedback all week, and I actually think it went alright.  So I want to give huge thanks to David and all of the folks over at FOX in Orlando and Philly for being fantastic.  This was a great opportunity for me and I really appreciate it and just hope I lived up to everyone’s expectations.
FYI, below is a link to my blog on the Fox 35 website:
And keep checking back, because I may be posting the full video of my world TV premiere soon.

I also want to thank John Toner, the executive director at the Ambler Theater and County Theater for mentioning my blog on his websites.  Links are below.  Check them out.  And go check out those theaters as well.  They show great films (unlike many of the multiplexes.)

Oh, hey, if you saw me on the news this morning and are checking this blog out for your first time, welcome!  Thanks for stopping by!  I hope you enjoy my movie reviews and commentary.  And I welcome your feedback, both positive and negative.  After all, I’m not an expert on blogs, or even a journalist or movie reviewer by trade.  I’m just a life-long movie buff with a lot of opinions.  And if you’re reading this right now chances are you probably are as well.  So, keep checking back because I’ve got a lot of improvements to both presentation and content coming.
I’ve been thinking about a mission statement for this blog.  Basically I want this blog to be a celebration of film.  So you can expect more often than not to see positive reviews, especially on older films.  I want to share what’s worth seeing in theaters now, coming soon, and already out on DVD and Blu-Ray.  I want to point out lesser known films that I happen across which are hidden gems, and maybe even great moments in OK films that I really enjoy, and you might too.  And you can expect more tribute weeks like I did for Danny Boyle earlier this week, to appreciate an actor or director’s entire filmography.  Of course, when I see a new release that’s terrible, I’ll gladly say so.  (It’s fun to trash a really bad film, isn’t it?)  My reviews may not reflect the consensus, but they will be honest.  Of course, to the extent your taste differs from mine, buyer beware!
Lastly, I want to mention that you can now find this blog at my new URL  (No ‘blogspot’ required!)
OK, enough about me and this blog.  Blah, blah, blah.  Back to the movies!  Keep checking in, because over the next 10 days I’ll be covering what I’ve seen at the Philadelphia Film Festival.  (Last night I saw upcoming film, and rumored Oscar nominee, ‘Black Swan’ for the second time, but this time with director Darren Aronofsky in attendance doing a Q&A afterward.  Great stuff.  But, more on that later in the weekend.  Stay tuned…