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Complicated but ultimately worthwhile films
24 October 2018
Warning: Spoilers
This is a complicated film to evaluate:

The first 90% of the film is an absolutely brilliant character-driven thriller set in the claustrophobic confines of an emergency bunker and was as sharply acted as a cerebral Broadway play. The tense, complex plot included the ever fluctuating question of Howard's sanity, in stellar performance by John Goodman; the chemistry between the 3 actors is top-notch as their characters' relationships shift and deteriorate; and then the suspenseful, violent semi-finale was ultra compelling. But then there's the controversial final ending:

I agree with other reviews that the sudden alien attack is extremely disjointed, but altogether, I actually think it kind of works. First of all, it turned out that Howard _was_telling the truth, and the world as they knew it was no longer safe. And yet, given how things unfolded in the bunker, it raises the core philosophical theme of the movie: What is worse, the monsters that attack us, or the monsters in ourselves?

Secondly, this also worked as a sequel--the first film was about the initial invasion of the Godzilla-like creature and similar monsters, while this movie was about the full blown invasion.

Also, I actually think the Cloverfield films are refreshingly realistic depictions of what what would happen in such a disaster: Will Smith doesn't zoom in with a fighter jet to save the day, and The Rock won't march us to safety as he punches out everything in his path. As both Cloverfield films depict, people will freak out, turn on each other, make incredibly stupid decisions, but somehow a few survive to fight another day. And each movie shows a distinct perspective: the first Cloverfield movie could be taken as a broad depiction of how the disaster sweeps through millions in the cities, while this second film is an intimate portrait of how people in isolation deal with the same/similar disaster.

Overall, I highly recommend this as a strong stand-alone film, as well as the clear standout of the Cloverfield series.
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The tale of tragic hipsters
6 April 2014
Warning: Spoilers
This meandering little film is centered around one of those fleeting little romantic dramas that often occur in our 20s and 30s: Luke and Kate work together at Chicago brewery--they constantly flirt and banter, but never quite cross that line and have significant others they're seriously involved with. They take a page from the Book of Bad Ideas and decide to go on a double-date weekend getaway. Minor disaster ensues that makes the couples to reconsider why they're together, and somewhat forces Luke and Kate to confront their feelings for each other.

But this summary actually makes the movie sound more coherent than it plays out: I just learned on here on IMDb that the acting involves a lot of improv, and it shows both good and bad ways. On one hand, the scenes feel very naturalistic: it feels like you've been dropped into these people's lives, and see them realistically grapple how to grow up in emotionally (or not). On the other hand, some of the interactions don't quite sync, perhaps because the actors were playing off the cuff--when my friends and I watched it, we didn't think that Luke and Jill interacted like people who had just started dating, rather than a long-term couple. There were one too many slow and dull transitions that made the movie seem a lot longer than the 90 minutes, and ultimately, the two main characters were just plain annoying and shallow.

In short, I felt like it was attempting to be a Robert Altman film, but didn't quite meet the mark. Altman films set the standard for a undefined plot structure with overlapping dialogue, and no matter how different of a world it's set in--whether in conservative Nashville, upper-class Britain, haute couture fashion, or war torn Korea--there's always some type of subtle higher stakes that cuts across all characters and keeps me engaged.

In contrast, "Drinking Buddies" seemed rather small and insular: I never was convinced why I should care about these drunken hipsters, their "will they won't they" situation, and I'm still mystified at how these two emotionally immature people got paired up with two mature, focused people who were actually doing something with their lives.

If there's any depth to this movie, it might be by accident: The characters and their lifestyles are set squarely in the hipster world of Chicago's North and Northwest Side, and the characters' insularity from the vibrant, multi-cultural Chicago community says volumes. We see Kate buzz into her boyfriend's glass-fronted condo building surrounded by chain link fences and abandoned sidewalks; the hipster bar they frequent has a cultivated atmosphere of a neighborhood dive, but not a single cutomer looks like they've known a hard day in their life; and we never see a character use the El or CTA bus to get around (another aspect that's hard to believe), but rather they drive their cars or in the case of Kate, her custom-made bike. So the movie does say something about the gentrification happening in Chicago, San Francisco, New York, and many other cities that once had rich, diverse neighborhoods that made up the essence of the cities' characters. The utter insularity and obliviousness in all of the characters' attitudes as they stumble from dive bar to beer tasting to trendy coffeeshop is a telling reflection of how once-great cities like Chicago are turning into economically homogenous clustered neighborhoods of privilege that ignore the surrounding, struggling communities and cultures that make up the heart of the city life.
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Tin Man (2007)
Steampunk take that falls just short
5 January 2014
I just watched "The Tin Man" on Netflix: I badly wanted to see it when it debuted on SyFy a few years ago, but being cable-less, I had to wait until now.

This turns out to be both a sequel and modern-day updating to the Oz tale: The heroine DG is an twenty-something aspiring artist who lives at home on her parents' farm and works at a diner, while having mysterious dreams that promise something more beyond her small town. When the evil sorceress Azkadellia learns of DG's potential to thwart her plans for permanent power over Oz, a series of events are set in motion that sweep DG into a dystopian Oz where she joins up with a forgetful wanderer named Glitch whose brain was taken by the sorceress, a hardened fighter Wyatt Cain who was a policeman (a "tin man" in Oz slang) before his family was destroyed by the sorceress's army, and Wookie-like seer named Raw. Together they race to save Oz from Azkadellia's permanent evil darkness.

Unfortunately the mini-series is a bit of a disappointment and it doesn't quite reach its potential for a couple reasons.

First of all, while the contemporary/steampunk approach to the story is a great concept and the plot has a couple interesting twists, SyFy obviously didn't make an investment in the script. I'd liken it to constructing a solid steel building framework and then filling in the walls with plywood. The dialogue is glaringly banal and clichéd to the point that even the admirable casting of solid actors like Richard Dreyfuss, Alan Cummings, and Neal McDonough can barely do anything for it.

And speaking of casting, I think it was a mistake to cast Zooey Deschanel as the lead: I know they are going for an alternative take on Oz, but her bored hipster routine is a little too one-note for this production. Her character of "DG" is an annoyingly inconsistent mix of too-cool-for-school woodenness, manic pixie girl naiveté, and forget about her effectively conveying any deep emotion: Her sad/emotional scenes are merely her being pouty. I think another TV starlet like Alexis Bleidel, Leighton Meester, or Emily Van Camp could have better depicted this character of DG, who is a mix of an independent rebel with ambitious dreams and a emotionally torn young woman who's trying to piece together her true life and destiny.

The pacing of the episodes is also a bit uneven: The exposition-heavy first episode drags interminably to the point that I actually paused the video to see how much longer was left. Part 2, however, is far more exciting and engaging despite being virtually the same length, and Part 3 is decent as well.

Overall, it's an impressively CGI-laden but rather mediocre TV movie that doesn't quite live up to its promise, but still is a entertaining way to pass 4 1/2 hours all the same.
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a sweet little film
22 April 2007
Warning: Spoilers
If you're in the mood for a ordinary 1980s romance-drama, then this movie will probably fit the ticket. Set in the rough streets of a working-class immigrant neighborhood in Hoboken, New Jersey, it follows the story of Dean Costello and his family. Dean is a small-time hood who works as the muscle for a local gambling kingpin, spending his nights beating up indebted gamblers with his partner Manny. He and his wife are also struggling to raise their young autistic son, Shane, and they finally take him to a New York doctor for tests. The doctor says there's nothing they can do for Shane, but a pretty and idealistic doctoral student and researcher named Stevie believes differently.

Stevie convinces Dean's wife to let her do home visits with Shane, but after a month, the wife becomes resentful and tells Stevie to go back across the river for good. But not long afterward, Dean discovers his wife in bed with his rival, and when he kicks her out, she leaves him with Shane. Dean persuades Stevie to come back and work with Shane, and the three of them begin a whole new life.

Together Dean and Stevie make progress with Shane, and Dean quickly realizes that he has to make a choice: Continue with his increasingly violent and dangerous work on the wrong side of the law, or get a real job and try to provide a stable life for Shane.

This is your standard drama with some romance, some violent action, and the requisite suspenseful and tearful moments, but it's unique in how it looks at the trials of raising an autistic child. Not an overlooked Oscar contender, but if you come across it on a Sunday afternoon, don't change the channel.
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Good but pretentious
28 January 2006
I've seen Road to Perdition twice, and I've had about the same experience as when I watched American Beauty multiple times: The first time, I thought, "This is a beautiful film with so many symbolic scenes and deeper interpretations to think about." But when I saw it again, I was like, "Good lord, can you make the symbolism any more obvious?!" Road to Perdition holds up better over time than American Beauty, but even still, a consistent trait is emerging with Sam Mendes' films:

The film will have a star-studded cast, solid screen writing, innovative cinematography, and so on--all the elements needed for a great, Oscar-caliber film. The problem is, Mendes seemingly can't just let these elements naturally carry the movie to the upper echelons of film-making. Instead, he floods the film with an avalanche of visual and verbal symbols, so that the audience staggers out of the theater overwhelmed by the film's portentous importance. (There's Michael Sullivan and Michael, Jr. racing across the Illinois plains to escape the crime syndicate and look, they just drove through a crossroad! Oooh, the symbolic crossroads of Sullivan's decision to exact revenge. . . .) In the end, you actually have an oddly hollow film with tons of glitter but not a lot of gold.

Road to Perdition is certainly not in the realm of The Godfather, the definitive American movie about organized crime in which the plot unfolds with unassuming immediacy and the powerful deeper meanings subtly seep through. But it is a good movie, and probably the most re-watchable of Mendes' major films so far (I have a feeling that Jarhead would grate on my nerves the second time around too).
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Fifteen (1990– )
Pioneer in the teen soap genre
31 August 2005
This show popped up in my memory one night as commercials for "One Tree Hill," "The OC," and "Smallville" bombarded my TV screen. I was in fifth or sixth grade when "Fifteen" was on the air, and I remember sitting with my sisters in front of my grandparents' TV on a random Saturday or Sunday afternoon, eagerly awaiting the next episode. I only watched it sporadically, since we didn't have cable TV ourselves, so Ashley would be dating Matt in one episode and then the next episode I saw had Ashley running off with Dylan. I was fairly young and easily bedazzled by the "drama," but I still vaguely remember thinking that there had to be more than just those ten people at the school!

It may have had corny plot lines, low-budget sets, and clichéd cardboard cut-out characters, but even so, I consider "Fifteen" to be one of the pioneering shows in the contemporary teen soap genre along with "Beverly Hills 90210." The WB network should thank their lucky stars that "Fifteen" ran and did well enough for this type of TV show to continue.
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Grey's Anatomy (2005– )
Rather soapy but pretty good overall
25 April 2005
So the show is about the trials and tribulations in the lives of five surgical interns (that is, first-year surgeon residents who just graduated from med school). I see "Grey's Anatomy" as actually a cross between "ER" and "Dawson Creek" or "The O.C."--a show primarily centered around the growing pains of a group of young adults, but plunked down in the middle of a Seattle hospital instead of the picturesque coast of Massachusetts or California.

Also in the same vein of "The O.C." and "Dawson's Creek," my favorite characters aren't the bland starring ones but the quirky and FAR more interesting co-stars: Sandra Oh is just plain awesome as the intense and ambitious resident Christina Yang, infusing her personality with a unique combination of ruthlessness and sensitivity that defies the generic stereotype of the overachieving Asian; George O'Malley (T.R. Wright) is absolutely adorable; and the handsome jerk of Alex Karev (Justin Chambers) looks like he may turn out to be more interesting than at first glance. But the characters of Meredith Grey and Izzy Stevens blur together as two generic pretty and smart blonde doctors.

This is definitely more of a soap opera than a medical drama: A lot of times, it seems like they just throw in a couple token surgery scenes every so often and then rush back to Meredith telling Dr. Shepherd for umpteenth time that she doesn't want to date him. And there is enough angst on the show to fuel a couple new WB dramas. But Meredith's struggle with her mother's Alzheimer's Disease is a unique and heretofore overlooked type of story, and the show does reveal the interesting facets about the dynamics of the patient-doctor relationship.

"Grey's Anatomy" doesn't have the realism of "ER," the utterly hilarious absurdity of "Scrubs," or the intrigue of "House," but it suits nicely as a soapy drama with just enough medical context to keep it from being just a guilty pleasure.
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The Wonder Years (1988–1993)
A true classic
14 August 2004
Unlike the angst-ridden dime-a-dozen teen dramas clogging the schedules of the WB and FOX networks today, this show was a great family drama that both young and old could appreciate. The acting was superb, the storywriting was compelling, and I don't think it ever "jumped the shark" and veered from its high quality.

I didn't really start watching The Wonder Years until I hit my teen years and the reruns started showing on cable, and I swear that every time I watched it, Kevin was going through the same things I was: starting high school, having fights with friends and family, and so on. The Wonder Years deftly captured the exhilaration and frustration of adolescence, the trials and tribulations of the average family, and it was all smoothly set against the backdrop of the turbulent 1960s. Forget that "American Dreams" flag-waving show: The Wonder Years truly conveyed the pain and joys of a family living during a pivotal period of American history, and I'll never tire of watching its episodes over and over again.
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Eve (2003–2006)
Funny and unique
24 May 2004
It looks like I may the lone positive voice here, but the show grew on me as the season went on, and I actually find "Eve" to be a rather funny and unique show. Yes, the first few episodes were flat and slightly aimless, and when Shelly got together with J.T. right at the beginning, I was like, "So where can they go from here?!" But I think the actors have developed a great group chemistry and the story lines have gotten better: Brian Hooks is really funny as Nick, J.T.'s wisecracking roommate who's just too nice to be the player he tries to be; Natalie Desselle is hilarious as Janie, the practical, yet gossip-loving friend; and there have been some great episodes involving J.T. and Shelly's families, including the episodes when Shelly met his upper-crust parents and when Queen Latifah guest starred as Shelly's older sister.

I also like "Eve" because it reminds me of Queen Latifiah's 1990s sitcom "Living Single," and it served as a shot of reality in the "Friends"-dominated TV world of this last season: I think it presented interesting and somewhat realistic plots about a young and ethnically diverse group of friends dealing with issues like personal bankruptcy, familial loyalties versus your own needs and wants, and the ups and downs of friendships and relationships. Overall, I like "Eve" because it's sassy and funny, and I think it's one of the best sitcoms UPN has put out so far.
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The Company (2003)
Beautiful in its simple ordinariness
23 January 2004
The Company is one of the best movies ever made about the life of artists. It doesn't have a climactic plotline and swelling music; on the contrary, it's relatively quiet, matter-of-fact, and rather ordinary. So if you're in the mood for a wrenching drama about one dancer's struggle to succeed, then don't shell out your $10. But for those who are truly interested in the dance world, in all its pains and joys, and want to explore the simple human struggle to get by, The Company is the perfect way to spend two hours.

In an interesting way, it's a reality drama in the truest sense, without all the self-conscious posing, garish people, and horrific ploys: it's a quiet observation of members of a dance company as they go about their day-to-day lives during the course of a year. Neve Campbell plays a young, talented dancer named Ry in Chicago's Joffrey Ballet Company--she's not the prima donna ballerina (in fact, I don't think the Joffrey Ballet has any hierarchy like that), but she's not on the bottom rung either. For one ballet piece, she's an understudy; yet then she dances in a star duet to "My Funny Valentine" (one of the most beautiful performances I've ever seen on film). But the film isn't just about her: a Robert Altman film is an orchestral piece, with tons of interesting threads running everywhere. The other primary character is Malcolm McDowell's artistic director, a artistically brilliant but slightly out-of-touch man who flits here and there creating maelstroms of emotion wherever he goes. Then there's Ry and her boyfriend, Josh (the always hot James Franco), and glimpses into other dancers' lives as well. And throughout the film, "My Funny Valentine" plays as a poignant ironic theme.

There isn't really any plotline, just little individual dramas that mean nothing and yet everything at the same time. And that's the main point of the film that makes it so wonderful: how it shows the beauty, the sexiness of ordinary life. Sure, being a ballet dancer has a glamour to it that being an accountant doesn't have; yet these aren't famous ballet dancers making tons of money and jet setting around. In fact, this is probably a more realistic portrayal of most artists today: barely scraping by, but doing what they love. The movie shows the pain and sacrifice that these artists put into their work, adding a striking element of realism that makes you appreciate the finished product all the more. And the scenes outside of the studio are interestingly compelling too--ordinary scenes of going to dinner with friends, hanging out at the bar, dealing with parents--things that most of us could relate to.

Not only did I gain a better understanding of the dance world from this movie, but a new perspective on life as well. Life doesn't have to be an epic drama with passionate love affairs and tragic situations; there's a richness and value in just being with the people you love and doing something that, however unrecognized, underpaid, or ordinary, is worthwhile to you.
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Jake 2.0: The Tech (2003)
Season 1, Episode 1
Definitely check it out
29 December 2003
The perennially bottom-dwelling and much-maligned UPN is known for its rather eclectic and not-so-great programming. But "Jake 2.0" is a suspenseful, smart show that combines an intriguing sci-fi premise with classic crime drama.

Basically, Jake is this NSA computer lackey who has an accident in one of their research labs, and is infected with these tiny little computer nodes that make him a superhuman type of Robocop. He's then promoted to a full-fledged NSA agent/secret weapon and prevents crime and national disasters with the help of his fellow agents. It received great reviews at the beginning of the year, and despite its small audience, it's been picked up for a full season (being on a small network like UPN does have the benefit of not necessarily being axed within 2 episodes).

Christopher Gorham is perfect as Jake with a mix of endearingly cute dorkiness and a tragic "I'm all alone as Superman" kind of attitude, and the show deftly mixes the exciting, fast pace of a crime drama with human interest stories.

Jake 2.0 is up against some pretty heavy competition on Wednesday nights, but if you get tired of watching the Washington politics of "The West Wing" or the golden Cali shores of "The O.C.," Jake 2.0 is a great alternative.
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The best film EVER made.
29 December 2003
I'm not an avid movie buff, but I've seen a good number of movies in theaters, on TV, VHS, DVD, and so on. I've seen many of the classics, old and contemporary: silent films, Golden Age epics, classic romances, landmark trilogies like The Godfather, Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Oscar winners, not-so-great movies, and many others.

But up until now, I had NEVER seen anything that left me as thoroughly entertained and satisfied as "The Return of the King." With all other films, my reaction has been, "That was good, BUT..." There was too much violence, too much sex, the acting wasn't that great, the plot dragged in parts, the story became confusing, the special effects were corny, and the list goes on.

But "The Return of the King" lived up to every inch of hype and was a stellar film in every aspect: the battle scenes were as exciting and brutal as any action movie sequence, yet the deep bonds of friendship and love between the members of the Fellowship and other characters provided some the most moving drama I've ever seen. Every acting performance was superb, the production and special effects were amazing, and the overall film was an absolute triumph that leaves viewers with a lot to think about.

I personally think that the entire LOTR trilogy is the best film EVER made in the history of film, and you don't have to be a Tolkien fan to appreciate it. My entire family went to see the film: first of all, considering how picky my parents are about the films they watch, the fact that they LOVED it is a sure sign of its quality; secondly, half of my family had never read the books, and they still enjoyed the film; and finally, we could not stop talking about the movie for DAYS.

I highly recommend that you go see it!
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