Thursday, March 19, 2009


I admit that when it comes to horror, I am a glutton for punishment. I'm sure I have seen more bad horror movies in recent years than most people have seen movies, period. But I can't help it -- after becoming almost completely desensitized to blood, gore, etc., at a very early age, I'm now on a lifelong quest to find horror movies that can really get under my skin and affect me in some way. There's a part of me that wants very much to be scared shitless... but that part is disappointed more often than not. These days, horror movies need to go above and beyond the call of duty to elicit a real response from me -- which pretty much means crossing the lines of common decency and eschewing standard scare tactics for sheer, sickening, unbridled brutality. The last time I saw a movie on the big screen that really disturbed me was the 2006 remake of the '70s Wes Craven classic THE HILLS HAVE EYES... that is, until the other day, when I saw ANOTHER remake of a '70s Wes Craven classic, THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT.

The story is simple but rife with madness: A gang of psychotic ne'er-do-wells capture and brutalize two pretty young girls, killing one and raping the other and leaving her for dead. Later, during a rainstorm, the gang finds refuge at a lakeside home belonging to a seemingly-normal married couple... who, of course, are the parents of one of the victims. When their daughter, clinging to life, manages to find her way back to the house and the parents realize the truth about their houseguests, they decide to take matters into their own hands and dish out their own eye-popping brand of justice.

As far as plot and characters and dialogue and such are concerned... well, it's nothing to write home about, though I've certainly seen worse. The movie is noteworthy only for its cringe-inducing violence. The rape scene... jesus... it's bad. I mean, it isn't the WORST of its kind I've ever seen -- that title still belongs to a little French film called IRREVERSIBLE, which makes me shudder just thinking about it -- but it is rough to watch. And then there's the main event: the parents' vengeance against their daughter's assailants, which occurs in systematic, increasingly gruesome ways, with plenty of "holy shit!" moments. I found myself wincing with revulsion and exulting with satisfaction at the same time, which is kind of an odd feeling. Even though it gets a bit over-the-top (especially the final scene, which is a doozy), it's effective because you are rooting for the parents every step of the way. Frankly, I'd like to think that I'd be able to dish out the same level of punishment if someone dared mess with my loved ones!

Another random observation: This marks the second movie I've seen this year in which the protagonist happens to be exactly the right person in exactly the right place at exactly the right time. I feel like it's more common to see "fish out of water" type situations, presumably because it's more entertaining to root for an underdog. But in this movie, the father happens to be a surgeon, so who better to treat his daughter when she is found beaten, bloody and near death? And then, who better to exact surgically-precise vengeance upon the bad guys (see the aforementioned final scene, in particular)? The other movie with this "theme" was TAKEN, starring Liam Neeson as a former CIA agent who embarks on a mission across Europe to find and rescue his kidnapped daughter. Again, who better to do that than a man who has been well-trained and armed with every possible skill needed for such a job? It's an interesting twist, because while it is indeed fun to root for the underdog, it's also pretty cool to root for the person doing exactly what they are meant to be doing!

Coming soon: My long-awaited WATCHMEN observations, and (God-willing) more ALL-TIME TOP 5 LISTS! Speaking of which, if anyone has any suggestions for Top 5 lists they'd like to see, don't hesitate to send'em along! More likely than not, if you suggest something, I will give it a shot.... :)

Saturday, March 14, 2009


Yeah, yeah, I know I promised a WATCHMEN review, and I intend to fulfill that promise... as soon as I'm done reading the book so I can compare and contrast and all that good stuff. In the meantime, let's talk about this weekend's new release, RACE TO WITCH MOUNTAIN, starring Dwayne "Don't Call Me The Rock" Johnson. I saw it at a free advance screening a few days ago and had no real expectations, but it turned out to be a serviceable, even enjoyable, kiddie alien flick.

The Rock plays Jack Bruno, a wise-cracking Las Vegas cabbie with a checkered past who picks up a fare from a couple of kids carrying a giant wad of cash and asking to be driven into the middle of the desert. Naturally, the kids turn out to be friendly aliens with all sorts of coooooool supernatural powers, on the run from both the U.S. government AND a Predator-esque alien hitman, as they desperately try to get back to their home planet and prevent an imminent invasion of Earth. Slightly ridiculous, sure... but the movie moves at a breakneck pace, laden with absurdly huge explosions and car chases, barely giving you a chance to catch your breath before the next big action sequence. What it lacks in, y'know, character development and plot and dialogue, it makes up for in sheer kiddie exhilaration.

If you ask me, The Rock is one of the more underrated actors around these days, and by all powers of the universe, should be a premiere action star. He's better and more charismatic than Schwartzeneggar ever was, yet has never scored a role even remotely as good as Arnold's most mediocre, which is a shame. But thanks to his WWE conditioning, he can ham it up with the best of'em, and he is entertaining here. The kids, played by AnnaSophia Robb (from the excellent BRIDGE TO TEREBITHIA) and Alexander Ludwig, are quite good, as well. Rounding out the solid cast are the luscious Carla Gugino as a UFO expert who gets caught up in the action, and the great CIARAN HINDS, slumming big-time but making it look good, as a heartless government agent.

Not a perfect movie by any means, but certainly a pleasant surprise considering how low my expectations were. I've never seen the original, so I don't know how it compares -- but you could do a lot worse than this if you need to keep your kids busy with some popcorn fun... if ya SMEEELLLLLL... what THE ROCK... is cookin'!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Ben's All-Time Top 5 Superhero Movies

As you may or may not be aware, a little film called WATCHMEN opens at midnight tonight, and it has caused quite a stir throughout the comic book geek community. I have never read this book, and indeed, I know very little about the subject. But apparently it's, like, the holy grail of comics... the comic to end all comics... the comic by whose greatness all others are measured... you get the picture. Well, I will be seeing this movie on Saturday in all its IMAX glory, and I will try to have my unbiased, untarnished review for you at that time. But for now, just for kicks, in honor of this highly-anticipated release, let's take a look at my All-Time Top 5 Superhero Movies. Ready? GO!

5. SPIDER-MAN 2 (2004) -- The SPIDER-MAN trilogy is a mixed bag. I loved the first half of the first film but thought the second half was severely flawed. The third film was an epic disaster on practically every level. But the second film was when Raimi & Co. managed to get everything right. It strikes a perfect balance of action, drama, humor, inner turmoil, webslinging... basically everything you could possibly want from a Spider-Man movie. Plus Dr. Octopus is easily the best villain in the trilogy, and one of the most kick-ass comic book movie villains ever.

4. BATMAN (1989) -- Spare me your arguments about how and why THE DARK KNIGHT is the greatest Batman movie ever. The one I keep coming back to is Tim Burton's version, with Michael Keaton in the title role (still the best portrayal of both the Dark Knight and Bruce Wayne thus far) and of course, Jack Nicholson as the Joker. Is it as dark, visceral and gritty as Nolan's opus? No. But to me, it's just flat-out more fun to watch, and if I sit down to watch a Batman movie, that's kind of what I'm looking for. Plus, with all due respect to Heath Ledger's Oscar-winning performance, I think that Nicholson's Joker is just as iconic and even more quotable. I'll take "Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?" over "Why so serious??" any day!

3. UNBREAKABLE (2000) -- Man, remember when M. Night Shyamalan was one of the best filmmakers in the world? Unfortunately that streak only lasted for two years and two movies... and one of them is one of the best superhero origin stories ever. It's about an everyman who comes to realize that he has real-life superpowers -- and his polar opposite (read: arch-nemesis) who is cursed with brittle bones but superior intellect. Sound familiar? The film is a study of superhero mythology and the relationship between hero and villain, and it is, in my opinion, Shyamalan's deepest and most masterful work.

2. THE INCREDIBLES (2004) -- Now that I think about it, I wonder if this movie was directly influenced by WATCHMEN, what with its vision of a society in which superheroes are forced into exile by a fickle public. Whatever the case, this was my favorite Pixar film until WALL-E took over the reigns last year, but it is no less of a work of absolute genius. Bob Parr used to be known as Mr. Incredible, the greatest of all superheroes... but is now forced to live a mundane life as an insurance salesman with his family, all of whom are also blessed with superpowers that must be suppressed. But when a mysterious call to action turns out to be a trap set by an old nemesis, it's up to the entire family to show their true selves and save the day. This is Pixar at its best, and sheer perfection on every level.

...and finally...

1. SUPERMAN (1979) / SUPERMAN 2 (1981) -- I have been a Superman fan for pretty much my entire life, and in my opinion, these first two films are nothing short of the end-all/be-all of all superhero films... the ones by which all others are compared. Christopher Reeve may have been the single greatest bit of casting in movie history -- he IS the Man of Steel. The first film is a masterpiece, from the opening scenes on Krypton with Marlon Brando, to young Clark Kent coming of age in Smallville, to the scene where Superman catches Lois Lane in midair after a helicopter mishap -- "You've got me? Who's got you?!"... it's sheer poetry. And then comes SUPERMAN 2, which takes things up a notch by bringing in three awesome supervillains, led by Terence Stamp's iconic performance as General Zod. While it was cool to see Superman go up against Luthor's evil genius in the first film, it was even cooler to see people throwing buses at each other. And that classic John Williams score doesn't hurt, either!

Okay, now I know that a lot of you will have some things to say about this list, so come on and let me have it! I'm also thinking that I'd like to make this "All-Time Top 5" thing a regular feature here at (yes, a tribute to one of my personal All-Time Top 5 movies, HIGH FIDELITY). Probably too ambitious to say that it'll happen once a week, but who knows. Anyway, if you have any ideas for Top 5 lists you'd like to see, by all means let me know!