watchmenblurayAs I’ve already done a complete review of Zack Snyder’s adaptation of the Alan Moore penned, Dave Gibbons illustrated graphic novel Watchmen, to be found here, and as this director’s cut of the movie, released to DVD and Blu-ray this week doesn’t alter my fundamental opinion of the movie, I won’t repeat myself for this review. Suffice to say, I still regard it as one of the very best superhero themed films I’ve seen to date, and as of this writing, one of the best films of 2009. This director’s cut, which I saw as part of a Zack Snyder moderated live screening at Comic Con in San Diego on July 25, broadcast via the BD-Live feature on the Blu-ray, features 24 minutes of extra footage, though that doesn’t include the Tales of the Black Freighter and Under the Hood footage. The latter footage will presumably be worked into an even longer cut, suggestions of which were evident in this current cut. (Snyder pointed out a transition point between Freighter and the greater narrative.) The most significant new footage, initially cut for time, is a striking sequence detailing the fate of the characters. Other footage added to the film extends some scenes, adding more dialogue here and there, and generally adding more character and story detail. Though the director’s cut has a running time in excess of three hours, it doesn’t feel significantly longer than the theatrical cut, which is a credit to the skill with which the additional footage has been woven in. All in all, it’s an excellent movie made better.

With regard to the BD-Live aspect of the screening, it was essentially the movie featuring a gray chat box superimposed over the top of the frame, with Snyder making comments and taking questions about the movie as it unfolded. When he wasn’t gushing over his cast and crew, he was enthusiastic and funny, and provided a frequently insightful and often funny commentary. It would have been nice to have had more of a sense of the atmosphere at the Comic Con screening, perhaps an audience shot or two, or even sound piped in from it, but otherwise it was an interesting, mostly successful experiment.


(For a brief explanation of the Monkey Review rating system, click here.)


February 8, 2009

coralineAdapted from Neil Gaiman’s novel for children by writer/director Henry Selick (The Nightmare Before Christmas), Coraline tells the story of a dissatisfied young girl who discovers a strange, hidden doorway in her new home, which conceals a portal to another, very idealized version of her life. Coraline’s other parents, who have buttons for eyes, as do all living things there, focus on her in a way her harried parents, both writers, seemingly do not, and life in the other version of her home, which is something of a funhouse filled with fine food and luminous wonders, revolves completely around her. Her other parents, especially her other mother, pressure Coraline to come live with them forever, but Coraline begins to suspect all is not what it seems there. Storywise, Coraline is a bit familiar and not always as involving as one would hope, but visually, it’s frequently dazzling, and if you’re at all a fan of Selick’s past work with stop motion animation, then you should absolutely see this movie, because it’s his best work yet. Selick also makes memorable and often startling use of the 3D format, though I think Coraline would be just as dazzling in non-3D format as well. It’s a visual triumph, and if Coraline‘s story were as strong as its visual presentation, it might’ve been something of a classic. Alas, however, that’s just not the case here. It’s worth noting that it does have some good music, including a couple of original songs, one by They Might Be Giants. As a kid’s movie, it’s probably not suitable for very young children, who will probably find it too disturbing, but it’s fine for older children and adults, who will find it creepy and often eerie, if not particularly scary.


(For a brief explanation of the Monkey Review rating system, click here.)

residentevildegenerationFirst full length CG rendered Resident Evil inspired movie is designed for fans of the series of games rather than the trio of films starring Milla Jovovich, with which it has no connection. Instead, it’s billed by the filmmakers as “Resident Evil 4.5,” a new story that takes place after the events of the fourth entry in the video game franchise, and stars Leon and Clare, characters from Resident Evil 2. Judged on its own merits, it’s an entertaining action horror movie, head and shoulders above the last two Resident Evil movies and most zombie movies in general, truth be told. The animation is pretty impressive for the most part, though the human characters still look notably strange and disorienting, especially compared to the borderline photorealistic representations of buildings, vehicles and backgrounds, not to mention the vivid renderings of the various monsters that pop up from time to time. If you’re new to the Resident Evil universe, some of the plot points will be lost on you, but basically all you need to know the zombies and monsters are the result of corporate developed viruses that have been unleashed on the public. Violence and general mayhem ensue. Some of the action gets a bit silly towards the very end, but in general, Resident Evil: Degeneration is a fun if non-essential ride, recommended mostly for fans of either the games or the films, or people jonesing for a zombie movie that doesn’t totally suck.


(For a brief explanation of the Monkey Review rating system, click here.)

David Fincher’s The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button, loosely adapted from a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald about a man who is born with an aged body and proceeds to get younger as the years pass, easily jumped in the ranks of my favorite movies this year, almost from the beginning moments, filled as they are with charm, wonder and sadness. Those moments set the tone for the rest of the film, which, at 165 minutes, is a long haul, but never feels overlong. It may well be that Benjamin Button, played by Brad Pitt in a beautifully modulated performance, is a simple tale elaborately told, as Fincher is one of the most unique cinematic stylists working today, though when the beautiful closing image fades, this hardly seems like a criticism. Part of the reason I enjoyed the movie so much was not because it has anything profound to say about aging, loss and death, but because it doesn’t strain to do so. It nevertheless makes simple, but affecting points about the inevitability of both loss and recovery, and the joys of finding the things that make you happy, and finding ways to incorporate those things into your everyday life. Pitt is supported by an impressive supporting cast, including Cate Blanchett, who is simply luminous as his lifelong love. The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button isn’t perfect by any means, as it loses some narrative momentum in its third act and is guilty of occasionally meandering, but in general, this is a gorgeously made, richly entertaining film.


(For a brief explanation of the Monkey Review rating system, click here.)


October 5, 2008

The second film from actor turned director Ed Harris is an amiable, deliberately paced Western, based on a novel by Robert B. Parker and featuring an impressive array of actors, including Harris, Viggo Mortensen, Renée Zellweger and Jeremy Irons. Appaloosa isn’t done in an epic mode, nor would you necessarily call it an action film, though there’s enough violence to earn it an R rating. (There’s some cussin’, too.) It’s primarily a study of the friendship between two professional lawmen, Virgil (Harris) and Everett (Mortensen), who’ve been roaming the west cleaning up towns, then moving on, for well over a decade. Their latest job is in a town called Appaloosa, tormented by a murderous rancher named Bragg (Irons). The appeal of the movie isn’t the plot, which is familiar even if it does take some interesting turns, but rather the interaction between the characters. The dialogue between them is terse, sometimes quirky and frequently very funny, i.e., one exchange after a gunfight: “It happened quick.” “Everyone knew how to shoot.” The movie nevertheless resists the full on move into comic mode, which is probably to the good, really. (That said, there’s a tongue in cheek song co-written and performed by the director as the end credits roll.) If you like Westerns and don’t mind an easygoing pace, then I think you’ll find Appaloosa to be a rewarding entertainment. It’s well written and ably directed, and it’s got that great cast, so it’s hard for Western fans to go wrong here.


(For a brief explanation of the Monkey Review rating system, click here.)


September 18, 2008

Probably the best way to describe Brett Morgan’s compelling and absorbing docudrama Chicago 10 is how the movie’s website describes it, “contemporary history with a forced perspective.” Morgan combines motion capture animation and archival footage to tell the often infuriating and scarcely believable story of the turbulent 1968 Democratic National Convention and the subsequent trial of some of those who demonstrated outside the convention. Initially referred in the press at the time as the “Chicago Seven,” there were in fact eight men charged with conspiracy and inciting to riot, among them Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, David Dellinger, Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis, John Froines, Lee Weiner, and Bobby Seale. All were represented by attorneys William Kunstler and Leonard Weinglass. The 1969-70 trial, represented in the film in highly stylized, often wittily done animated segments, was presided over by Judge Julius Hoffman, who was clearly hostile to the defendants and their legal representation, to the point where it was clear to them that no justice was going to be served. This was, after all, the trial in which Bobby Seale was literally bound to a chair and gagged after demanding his Constitutional right to represent himself be granted. (It was not.) Chicago 10 does an admirable job of putting the 1968 convention, which ended in what was later characterized as “a police riot” in which scores of anti-war demonstrators were beaten, tear-gassed and arrested, into context for modern audiences, in particular younger audiences, at whom this film is probably mostly aimed. The voice cast for the animated segments is top notch, and includes Hank Azaria, Mark Ruffalo, Jeffrey Wright, Liev Schreiber, Dylan Baker, Nick Nolte and Roy Scheider, whose performance may seem mocking, but is in fact based on tapes of the court proceedings obtained by the filmmakers. A major minus of the DVD in general is the almost complete lack of special features. A film like Chicago 10 would have benefited from at least some supplementary materials, even a filmmaker’s commentary, but that said, the lack of those materials shouldn’t deter potential viewers from seeking the movie out. It’s a unique film experience, and unfortunately, far more timely and relevant than one would probably like, forty years on.


(For a brief explanation of the Monkey Review rating system, click here.)

“You were looking in the wrong place.”

Director Alex Proyas followed up his moody, heavily atmospheric and richly imaginative film debut The Crow with another moody, heavily atmospheric, richly imaginative film called Dark City, about a man who wakes in a city where it is perpetually night with no memory of who he is, though he quickly finds he is being pursued by police for a series of gruesome murders. He is also being pursued by the Strangers, led by Mr. Hand in a memorable performance by Richard O’Brien. Though it tread on much the same ground as The Matrix, released a year later, Dark City was nowhere near as successful as that film, nor was it even as successful as Proyas’ own The Crow. It did have some champions, Roger Ebert among them, who hailed Dark City as the best film of 1998. Ten years later, Proyas has released his own cut of Dark City, and unlike a lot of other so-called director’s cuts, which too often tend to be self-indulgent or flat out pointless, the changes made here have enriched it, and indeed made this the definitive version of this movie. If you are one of the few who saw Dark City during its original theatrical run, or else have seen since on DVD, I highly recommend seeing this directors cut. If you haven’t seen it, you will be watching one of the all time best science fiction films, and certainly one of the most stunning to behold. Obviously, some of the grandeur and beauty of the imagery, inspired chiefly by German Expressionism and film noir, will be diminished somewhat on a smaller screen, but it still retains much of its visual power. The changes Proyas made to the film are immediately apparent at the outset: The opening voiceover narration of Dr. Schreber (Kiefer Sutherland, in one of his most unusual and effective performances) is gone, along with some footage that has been moved to later in the movie, thus preserving the initial mystery of the plot, allowing viewers to discover what’s really going on in Dark City along with its central character, John Murdoch (Rufus Sewell). I’ve read that some viewers actually turn down the narration in the original cut, as the narration immediately gives so much of the movie away. The narration was not a directorial decision, however, but one enforced upon Proyas by New Line Cinema. Other changes include more scenes including William Hurt’s detective character, Frank Bumstead, elevating what seemed more of a glorified cameo in the original cut to a major role. Some of the special effects have been subtlely modified as well. Some critics have accused of Dark City as emphasizing style over substance, but this is just wrong. It is a movie about individuality and control, anxiety about the nature and purpose of human lives, and finally, about the nature of that thing we called the human soul. Proyas’ directorial style, which presents the story with the intensity of a fever dream, serves but does not overwhelm these weighty themes. Clearly, I admire this film quite a lot, and I was happy to discover Proyas had improved with this new cut what was already a great movie in my mind. If you are a fan of this movie, you should see this version as well, and if you have never seen it, this is the only version you need watch, Dark City as it was originally meant to be seen.


(For a brief explanation of the Monkey Review rating system, click here.)

Post updated: 2/02/09

Second update, with official trailer: 2/28/09

Third update, with Richard Kelly’s official statement regarding S. Darko: 3/5/09

Fourth update – DVD release date pushed back to May 12; new subtitle: 3/16/09

Fifth update – my review of S. Darko 5/14/09

Yes, it’s true, there is a Donnie Darko sequel in the making, though Richard Kelly, the writer/director of the original, has nothing to do with it, nor will profit from it, this according to reports published by Reuters and the Hollywood Reporter. It’s called S. Darko: A Donnie Darko Tale and focuses on Donnie’s younger sister, Samantha, (played by Daveigh Chase, the only returning original cast member), and takes place seven years after the original movie. Samantha and her best friend Corey, according to the IMDB summary, “are now 18 and on a roadtrip to Los Angeles when they are plagued by bizarre visions.” Since Donnie Darko was one of the most self-contained movies I’ve ever seen, S. Darko has to be one of the least necessary sequels imaginable, but since it’s already gone into production back in mid-May, it’s on its way, for better or worse. Though there’s already a Facebook group advocating a boycott of the movie, this only serves to give the movie some free, albeit negative publicity, and any publicity is good publicity, especially for projects like S. Darko. I’m not wild about the prospect of a sequel, but I’m not ready for a boycott, either, as there’s nothing really to boycott until the movie’s finished and being released. Will I want to see it then? Probably not, but the poster’s kinda neat:
“What Would You Do If You Knew The Future?” I guess most Donnie Darko fans feel they already know the future with this one, that it’s going to suck, that is.

I checked at the Internet Movie Database for more information about S. Darko, and came across an IMDB member offering up first footage of the movie here: S. Darko.

Yeah, I know, they’re going for a different look there, but hey, it is surreal, isn’t it?

UPDATE (2/02/09): S. Darko: A Donnie Darko Tale, directed by Chris Fisher from a screenplay by Nathan Atkins, is going straight to DVD. Its U.S. release date is May 12 (formerly April 28). For more details (albeit with original release date), you can go to Fangoria and/or Bloody

Below is the first official photo released by the filmmakers, showing Chase as Samantha Darko:


UPDATE (2/28/09): An official trailer for S. Darko is now posted at the movie’s site. It’s not the one that begins, “The Cult Classic…Continues,” which a fan-made fake:

S. Darko official site:

Below is a slightly lower resolution version of the trailer:

“There are forces at work here. Something evil.”

That’s where the trailer really lost me, by the way. If there was any hope in my heart at all that this movie could be good, I think this trailer pretty much wiped it away. It looks like yet another direct-to-video sequel to The Prophecy, not a sequel to Donnie Darko.

Richard Kelly’s statement regarding S. Darko:

“To set the record straight, here’s a few facts I’d like to share with you all — I haven’t read this script. I have absolutely no involvement with this production, nor will I ever be involved.

“I have no control over the rights from our original film, and neither I, nor my producing partner Sean McKittrick stand to make any money from this film.”

(Source: IGN Movies)

S. Darko review

And finally my review, which I felt compelled to do since so many people have read this article since I first posted it last year. Thanks for reading!

“What do we think of when we think of Cox?”

Frequently hilarious satire of musician biopics, in particular Walk The Line, covering the turbulent life of American rock star Dewey Cox (John C. Reilly) from ages 14 to 71. Though there’s an impressive array of comic actors supporting him, Reilly is really the whole show here, even singing his own songs, which are inspired, dead on parodies of Johnny Cash, Elvis, Roy Orbison, the Beach Boys and Bob Dylan, among others. (The Dylan parodies, written by Dan Bern, are my personal favorites, though “Let’s Duet” and “Black Sheep” are pretty priceless, too.) Walk Hard hits most of the notes you think it’s going to hit comedy-wise, detailing his rock star excesses, failed marriages and repeated trips to rehab, but some of the most memorable moments are when it drifts into the absurd or the random, as with the childhood incident that haunts him or a running gag involving male nudity. Though it’s R-rated for good reason, most of Walk Hard is good natured fun, and easily one of the funniest movies of 2007.


(For a brief explanation of the Monkey Review rating system, click here.)