31 December 2008

The Best of 2008 ...

... According to me, anyway. Keep in mind that I have had a busy year and have not been able to see some of the smaller, more obscure titles that are appearing on many critics' year-end lists. So take this for what it's worth.


This might be the easy way out, but how I can choose between the two best films of the decade without “lord” and “rings” in their titles?


Pixar Animation’s WALL•E is pure movie magic, that rare film with the power to unite an audience of all ages in absolute delight. Written and directed by Pixar veteran Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo), it draws much of its inspiration from some of the movies’ earliest stars—comedians like Chaplin and Keaton—with its near-silent first half and its endearing hero, Waste Allocation Load Lifter, Earth-class, better known as WALL•E.

25 December 2008

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

"My name is Benjamin Button, and I was born under unusual circumstances."

And so begins Benjamin's story in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, a beautiful, heartbreaking film by David Fincher packed with tender, loving performances and some of the most astounding visual effects we have ever seen.

With his last movie, Zodiac (2007), Fincher reinvented himself with a focus on character over his usual stylistic flourishes. Now he's gone unapologetically sentimental with Benjamin Button, which uses an F. Scott Fitzgerald short story as its jumping off point.



When it comes to fact-based movies, I'm not a stickler. When a filmmaker fudges the details, I'm OK with it, as long as the changes are done to make the movie better and don't alter history.

So when a movie comes along about a German plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler—with exclusively German characters—I don't care that the dialogue is in English. I don't even mind that the characters don't speak with German accents. (And they shouldn't; after all, foreigners don't sit around in their own country speaking to each other in accented English.)

In Valkyrie, Tom Cruise, as the assassination plot ringleader Col. Claus von Stauffenberg, sounds exactly like, well, Tom Cruise. British actors Kenneth Branagh, Tom Wilkinson, Terence Stamp, Bill Nighy and Eddie Izzard sound like—you can probably figure it out. Other actors, such as David Bamber as Hitler, speak in German accents.

19 December 2008



Two men sit down and talk to each other. Sounds like the stuff of a great film, huh?


How about if one of those guys is British talk show host David Frost? What's that do for you? What if the other is the most infamous figure in the history of American politics?

Interesting, sure, but cinematic?


Frost/Nixon, directed by Ron Howard and featuring Michael Sheen as Frost and Frank Langella as Richard Nixon—the roles they played in Peter Morgan's stage play in Britain and on Broadway—plays like an epic tragedy and is nothing short of riveting.

02 December 2008

Role Models

Role Models

Christmas cheer, teenage vampires, James Bond and heroic animals are crowding the multiplexes, and the end-of-the-year “prestige” pics are just around the corner. Yet a little comedy has shown enough legs to remain in wide release for the past month, quietly grossing nearly $58 million at the box office. It’s also one of the fall’s best movies.

The movie in question is Role Models. It’s not a Judd Apatow production, but you’re forgiven if you get that impression. The cast features several Apatow veterans, starting at the top with The Great Paul Rudd, as well as Elizabeth Banks, Jane Lynch and McLovin himself, Christopher Mintz-Plasse. Just as important, Role Models has that distinct Apatow flavor, blending raunch with both wit and heart.

The titular characters are Danny (Rudd) and Wheeler (Seann William Scott), energy drink reps who peddle their product, Minotaur, at schools, promoting it as alternative to drugs. Wheeler, who wears the Minotaur costume, loves his job, but it’s not exactly the high life for Danny. After his lawyer girlfriend, Beth (Banks), dumps him, he goes on a rampage at a school that results in both he and Wheeler looking at some time behind bars. Thanks to some legal maneuvering by Beth, Danny and Wheeler, ordered to perform community service, end up in a Big Brother-style program called Sturdy Wings instead of the big house.

01 December 2008



So this is what all the fuss is about? I guess it’s different for teenage girls, who have turned Twilight, the vampire novel by Stephenie Meyer, and its three (and counting) sequels, into the biggest literary phenomenon since a certain boy wizard. But I would hope that even those whose hearts wilt at the mere mention of the eternally-17-year-old, pretty-boy bloodsucker Edward Cullen would notice and take offense to wooden acting and shoddy special effects.

The story is told through the eyes of Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart), a high school junior who moves from sunny Phoenix, Ariz., to rainy, dreary Forks, Wash., to live with her father (Billy Burke), the local police chief, while her mother (Sarah Clarke) travels with her new husband, a minor league baseball player.

22 November 2008

Chinese Democracy

For a little change of pace, let's take a look at one of the most anticipated albums, well, ever ...

GUNS N’ ROSESChinese Democracy (Geffen)

Chinese Democracy

Apparently, it’s been awfully noisy inside Axl Rose’s head during the past decade and a half. And he’s spent that time pouring all of the sounds rattling around his brain into the 14 songs that make up Chinese Democracy, possibly the most anticipated album in rock history. Spending millions, employing a small army of musicians, producers and other collaborators, and recording in more than a dozen studios, the disc sounds like Axl spent every day of the last 15 years working on it. It’s almost too much to take in a single listen, with the entire recording threatening to explode into chaos at any given moment. There are layers upon layers of guitars (as many as six guitarists appear on a single song), bass, drums, percussion, keyboards, piano, strings, electronic loops, hip-hop beats, samples of Cool Hand Luke dialogue, even a few words from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. And, of course, there are Axl’s one-of-a-kind vocals. An inhuman shriek near the start of the album-opening title track lets us know his pipes are still intact. His familiar wail dominates most of the tracks, though he also throws in a meaner, edgier tone and an occasional falsetto. The vocals, too, are often layered, adding to the density of the recording.

17 November 2008

Quantum of Solace

Quantum of Solace

I was not a James Bond fan until Daniel Craig took over the role in Casino Royale (2006). Before then, a slavish devotion to formula ruled the series above all else. Even more bothersome was the self-referential tone that marked much of the Pierce Brosnan era.

By the time the franchise turned to Craig, a previously little-known, stage-trained actor who had appeared mostly in small, independent films, two important things had occurred in the film world:

1. The Bourne series (The Bourne Identity, 2002, and The Bourne Supremacy, 2004, were released prior to Casino Royale) redefined the spy genre with a grittiness, intensity and relevance the Bond movies could not hope to match with their established milieu.

28 October 2008

Shaun of the Dead

Originally written in October 2004.

Shaun of the Dead

I have seen the best comedy and the best horror movie so far in 2004. Guess what? They're the same film.

Simply put, I loved virtually every frame of Shaun of the Dead. Possessed of a crackling British wit and sharp social commentary, it simultaneously gets big laughs and is a credible entry in the recently revived zombie subgenre.

Many horror films these days play more like comedies, but in those cases we're usually laughing at the movie. In Shaun of the Dead, we're laughing with it.

24 October 2008

The Devil's Rejects

Originally written in July 2005.
The Devil's Rejects

As I write this, it has been about a week since I saw The Devil’s Rejects, writer-director Rob Zombie’s follow-up to his 2003 debut House of 1000 Corpses. The thing is, I liked it—quite a bit, actually—and that thought is a little unnerving and nearly as disturbing as the movie itself.

The Devil’s Rejects is a gritty, mean, violent film in which the only truly sympathetic characters meet horrible ends. The words “protagonist” and “antagonist” are irrelevant. People on both sides torture, kill and mutilate. The only difference is some do it with a smile and one does it out of a bloodlust fueled by vengeance.

22 October 2008

Secret Window

Originally written in March 2004.

Secret Window

The tone of Secret Window, one of the best psychological thrillers in years, is set in a complicated early shot.

The camera glides across a lake, heading toward an isolated cabin in the woods, reaches the shore and continues forward, entering the cabin through a window. Meandering about, it gazes at various rooms and objects, including a laptop computer with a decidedly dull paragraph written on it, before settling on a large mirror. The camera pulls in ever closer until the reflection of a man asleep on a couch has become a real room.

The elaborate staging instantly brings to mind the slick stylization of David Fincher, not surprising considering Secret Window's writer-director, David Koepp, wrote Fincher's Panic Room. The transition through the mirror pulls us inside the world of the film, a world that seems slightly off-kilter compared to our own.

20 October 2008


Originally written in May 2003.


The “twist movie” is always risky. The director and screenwriter must sprinkle it with clues or the twist will come out of nowhere, causing more confusion than surprise (Basic). That's no good.

There should be clues, but they must be subtle enough to elude the audience the first time around. If they are too overt, you and I will put it together and beat the movie to its big reveal (The Life of David Gale). That's no good either.

Ideally, the movie will draw viewers in, make them feel comfortable and appear to be heading in some definite direction. But then it goes somewhere completely different and provides that rare moment of clarity where everything leading up to it comes together in a logical, though unanticipated, conclusion (The Sixth Sense).

14 October 2008


Originally written in April 2006.


With awards season finally in the rearview mirror and some time remaining before the summer blockbusters hit, this is the perfect time for the slimy fun of a movie like Slither. It’s not for everyone, but those who don’t mind a little splatter and gore should find it to be a hoot. It’s noteworthy not just for its lack of scares but for its refusal to try to make moviegoers jump out of their seats. Slither is more comedy than horror, though on some level it is a satisfying entry in both genres.

James Gunn, writer of the 2004 Dawn of the Dead remake and both live action Scooby-Doo adventures—how’s that for range?—makes his directorial debut, crafting a love letter to movies like The Thing, George A. Romero’s Dead films and the infamous, campy Troma pictures. As the screenwriter, Gunn also displays a sharp wit executed by a fine group of actors led by Serenity’s Nathan Fillion.

11 October 2008

House of 1000 Corpses

In honor of my favorite holiday, I'll be taking a look back at some of my favorite recent horror/suspense films. This review was originally written in April 2003.
House of 1000 Corpses

“Rated R for strong sadistic violence/gore …” And that’s the MPAA-approved version.

After being dropped by two studios and threatened with an NC-17 rating, Rob Zombie finally welcomes us to his spookshow, House of 1000 Corpses.

Zombie’s directorial debut was shot nearly three years ago on a modest $7 million budget. Universal Studios was first up, but dropped it due to graphic content.

Next was MGM, which picked up the film in early 2002. But by midyear, it had been dropped again, this time because of a comment Zombie made about MGM during an MTV interview. (“Apparently they have no morals over there,” he said. “They're happy for some blood.”)

06 October 2008

The Happening

The Happening

The honeymoon has long been over for filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan. Take a look at the reviews of his latest movie, The Happening, available tomorrow (Oct. 7) on DVD.

With 163 reviews counted, the Web site Rotten Tomatoes calculates only 18 percent are positive. Just 12 percent of 33 "top critics" gave positive reviews.

That's down even from Shyamalan's poorly received fairy tale—and box office flop—Lady in the Water (2006), which has a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 24 percent.

The Happening is far from a perfect film, but it's hardly deserving of the vicious reviews it received when it opened in theaters back in June. Many critics seemed to take delight in attacking both the movie and Shyamalan himself:

03 October 2008

Interview: 'Flash of Genius' director Marc Abraham

Marc Abraham, a producer with a long list of credits that includes Children of Men, The Rundown, Bring It On, The Hurricane and Air Force One, makes his directorial debut with Flash of Genius. The movie, starring Greg Kinnear, Lauren Graham and Alan Alda, is based on the true story of Dr. Robert Kearns, a college engineering professor who, in the 1960s, created and patented the intermittent windshield wiper only to have Ford and other automakers steal his design. Undaunted, he took them to court and, though it took years and the strain on his family was great, he eventually won millions.

I had the opportunity to interview Abraham last month when he was in Easton, Md., for the movie’s premiere on opening night of the first-ever Chesapeake Film Festival.

Marc Abraham

Greg Maki: You’ve been a producer for a number of years. Were you looking to direct a movie or was it this in particular that made you say, “I want to direct?”

Flash of Genius

Flash of Genius

Were it fiction, Flash of Genius would be a hard movie to wrap your head around. But that’s a problem it doesn’t have to face and its true story, filmed and acted with great skill, has an uncommon poignancy.

In 1967, Dr. Robert Kearns (Greg Kinnear), a college professor, family man and part-time inventor, creates and patents what would seem to be the most mundane of inventions — the intermittent windshield wiper.He takes the invention to Ford, which immediately strikes a deal with him and brings him on as a consultant. Eighteen months later, the deal is off.

A few years go by before Kearns sees a car—a Ford—with windshield wipers obviously using his “Kearns Blinking Eye Motor.” Without hesitation, he takes on the daunting task of suing the Ford Motor Company for patent infringement.

23 September 2008

Chris Moore on 'The People Speak'

EASTON, Md. — Why would Chris Moore, producer of hit films like Good Will Hunting and American Pie, make a documentary inspired by a history textbook?

“My mom says I make too many R-rated movies,” Moore, an Easton native, said during a presentation of The People Speak at the Chesapeake Film Festival.

About a year ago, “I had just made this horror movie, I was getting tired of killing teenagers and I thought I needed to do something that feels a little better,” he said.

Chris Moore

The seed for The People Speak was planted more than a decade ago in Good Will Hunting. In one scene, Will (Matt Damon) advises his therapist, Sean (Robin Williams), that he should read Howard Zinn’s A People's History of the United States if he wants to read a real history book.

20 September 2008

Chesapeake Film Festival: Opening night

EASTON, Md. — More than a year in the making, the inaugural Chesapeake Film Festival has taken over Easton this weekend, starting Friday evening with a gala at the Tidewater Inn and a screening of Universal Pictures’ Flash of Genius at the Avalon Theatre.

“Our mission is to entertain, educate, inspire, enrich,” said Doug Sadler, the festival’s artistic director.

“If you look at what we’re offering and the people we’re bringing in, I feel we have totally met our goal this year,” he said.

The slate of films includes premieres of major Hollywood studio movies (in addition to Friday’s Flash of Genius screening, New Line Cinema’s Western Appaloosa starring Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen closes the festival Sunday night); issue-driven documentaries such as I.O.U.S.A., which examines the national debt, and At the Death House Door, which focuses on the death penalty; work of local residents, including The White Pony, written by Laura Ambler of Easton, and Charlie Obert’s Barn, a documentary by Kurt Kolaja of Queen Anne’s County; screenings of classics The Best Man (1964) starring Henry Fonda, followed by a political panel, and William Castle’s House on Haunted Hill (1959) enhanced with live effects provided by ArtHouse Live; and more.

05 September 2008

Chesapeake Film Festival

EASTON, Md. — The first-ever Chesapeake Film Festival will open and close with premieres of major Hollywood films.

New Line Cinema's Appaloosa, a Western starring Ed Harris, Viggo Mortensen, Renee Zellweger and Jeremy Irons, will close the festival Sunday, Sept. 21, at the Avalon Theatre.

Directed by Harris and adapted from a Robert B. Parker novel by Harris and Robert Knott, the movie is set in the Old West territory of New Mexico and tells the story of two friends and lawmen (Harris and Mortensen) hired to police a dangerous town run by a ruthless rancher (Irons). A young widow (Zellweger) arrives and further complicates matters.

Viggo Mortensen, left, and Ed Harris in a scene from New Line Cinema's Appaloosa.

Knott, who also served as a producer and appears in the film, played one of the lead roles in Swimmers, a film shot locally by the festival's artistic director, Doug Sadler.

20 August 2008

The Rocker

The Rocker

Take a helping of the Jack Black family-friendly, rock 'n' roll comedy School of Rock, a dose of the Mark Wahlberg rock 'n' roll fantasy Rock Star, a touch of Almost Famous, throw into the mix one of the funniest actors working in television today, and what do you get? A movie that is much less than the sum of its parts.

The biggest problem with The Rocker is that it simply does not rock. It begins in 1986 with Vesuvius, a clone of Poison and countless other "hair" metal bands, ready to take over the world. You can try to suspend your disbelief all you want, but nothing can hide the fact that this band is a joke and probably would have been considered such even when this type of thing was huge.

14 August 2008

Tropic Thunder

Tropic Thunder

Tropic Thunder is a movie you know should be good just from hearing the names of the actors involved and the characters they play—and, boy, does it deliver on that promise.

Ben Stiller, who directed and wrote the screenplay with Justin Theroux and Etan Cohen, is Tugg Speedman, a once great action star whose career has fallen on hard times. His attempt at respectability, starring as a mentally-challenged man in a movie called Simple Jack, was a colossal flop. The Vietnam war epic Tropic Thunder might be his last chance to salvage his flailing career.

Jack Black is Jeff Portnoy, the drug-addicted star of the Fatties comedy franchise, in which he plays every character in a morbidly obese family.

06 August 2008

Pineapple Express

Pineapple Express

Strange as it may seem, Pineapple Express is, in a sense, an experimental film—an action movie from a bunch of guys who look like they've never even seen a fight.

It comes to us from producer Judd Apatow (The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up), whose name has become its own brand within the comedy world.Apatow shares a story credit on a screenplay written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, longtime friends who previously collaborated on the semi-autobiographical Superbad.

The director is David Gordon Green, known for small-scale indie dramas like George Washington, All the Real Girls and Snow Angels.

The stars are Rogen and James Franco, best known as Harry Osborn from the Spider-Man movies and the one person here who has significant experience with this type of production.

It all adds up to an action-comedy that falls a little short in both areas.

01 August 2008

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor

It must be nice to have $175 million to pump into a sequel for which there appeared to be no real demand.

That’s problem No. 1 for The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor.

Problem No. 2 is the choice of director: Rob Cohen, the man behind the Vin Diesel vehicles The Fast and the Furious (2001) and XXX (2002), and Stealth (2005)—a movie that still makes my head hurt when I think about it. He replaces Stephen Sommers, director of both The Mummy (1999) and The Mummy Returns (2001). (Sommers retains a producer credit here.)

Cohen has specialized in action movies, yet has little idea of how to shoot an action scene. In this movie, he has the services of Jet Li as the titular emperor, a ruthless man who conquered ancient China and enslaved his foes. His cast also includes Michelle Yeoh as the witch the emperor employs to give him immortality. Instead, the witch curses him, mummifying him and his entire army.

28 July 2008

The X-Files: I Want to Believe

The X-Files: I Want to Believe

It turns out that there aren't nearly as many would-be believers today as there were a decade ago.

The X-Files: I Want to Believe opened in theaters last weekend to the tune of about $10 million in domestic box office receipts—roughly one third of the opening weekend tally of the first X-Files feature in 1998.

As an X-Files fan, I enjoyed the new movie. There is comfort just in spending time with Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) six years after the series ended. But it's far from a triumphant return and unlikely to win over non-"X-Philes."

Written by series creator Chris Carter, who also directed, and longtime collaborator Frank Spotnitz, I Want to Believe ignores the confusing alien/government conspiracy plot in favor of the "monster-of-the-week" format. It is anything but a "standalone" story, however.

25 July 2008

Step Brothers

Step Brothers

The Judd Apatow comedy family tree has two branches (though there usually is some crossover). One includes actors like Seth Rogen, Paul Rudd, Jonah Hill and Leslie Mann, and has resulted in some of my favorite films of the last few years—The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Superbad, Forgetting Sarah Marshall.

Then there is the Will Ferrell/Adam McKay/John C. Reilly branch, which is responsible for Anchorman, Talladega Nights, Walk Hard—movies that have their moments but lack the honesty and heart of the other group's output. That would be a kind description of their latest effort, Step Brothers, a movie that seems to have never evolved beyond the basic concept stage.

Ferrell and Reilly play immature, middle-aged men who never left home and are forced to share a room when they become step brothers. OK. Now what?

22 July 2008

I still want to believe—does anyone else?

"I want to believe."

For years (from 1993 to 2002, to be exact), those simple words were the driving force in the life of FBI Agent Fox Mulder (David Duchovny)—and for many in the legions of die-hard fans of The X-Files (known as "X-Philes"), as well.

Now the question is, do they still want to believe?

The X-Files: I Want to Believe

Today, six years after the groundbreaking TV series ended its nine-year run about two seasons too late (Duchovny was MIA for almost all of the final season), Mulder and his partner (and lover?) Agent Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) are back on the big screen in The X-Files: I Want to Believe.

17 July 2008

The Dark Knight

The Dark Knight

Referring to the The Dark Knight as a “comic book” or “superhero” movie seems to diminish its greatness. This is not light summer entertainment that will leave you when you leave the theater. Christopher Nolan’s sequel to his 2005 origin story Batman Begins is a dark, foreboding picture that grapples with very real issues of heroism and villainy, order and chaos.

The tragedy of Heath Ledger, whose maniacal performance as The Joker will become the stuff of movie legend, casts an even greater pall.

When an Oscar nomination comes early next year, cynics surely will say it is only due to Ledger’s death last January from an accidental prescription drug overdose. Don’t listen to them. His work here is mesmerizing, magnetic. You can’t keep your eyes off of him. He upstages everyone in a cast that includes the likes of Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman and Morgan Freeman.

11 July 2008

Hellboy II: The Golden Army

Hellboy II: The Golden Army

One could spend hours poring over the wondrous sights, the monstrous creations of writer-director Guillermo del Toro’s Hellboy II: The Golden Army. The Troll Market scene alone secures the film a place in movie history. Not since Luke Skywalker walked into the cantina in Star Wars has such unbridled imagination flowed from the screen.

It is here in the Troll Market, amid monsters of all shapes and sizes, that our hero, the red-skinned, cigar-smoking, kitten-loving demon called Hellboy (Ron Perlman), at last feels at home. For years, he and his sidekicks — his incendiary girlfriend Liz (Selma Blair) and the aquatic empath Abe Sapien (Doug Jones) — have been dutiful servants of the U.S. government’s Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense, occasionally venturing out to save the day, then going back into hiding, before the public gets wise to their existence.

Hellboy just wants to live like everyone else. But when he finally gets the attention he craves, people stare at him. They taunt and throw things at him.

03 July 2008

The year so far ...

2008 has reached the midway point, so I thought I'd give you my top 10 from what the year has had to offer so far (or, at least, the movies I've been able to see so far).

2. Forgetting Sarah Marshall
3. Iron Man
4. Cloverfield
5. The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian
6. The Strangers
7. The Incredible Hulk
8. In Bruges
9. George A. Romero's Diary of the Dead
10. The Life Before Her Eyes

By a long shot, Speed Racer is at the bottom of the list.

This month sees the release of three of my most anticipated movies of the year, starting next Friday, July 11, with Hellboy II: The Golden Army, and continuing July 18 with The Dark Knight and July 25 with The X-Files: I Want to Believe.

01 July 2008



It’s Fourth of July weekend, and that can mean only one thing: A new Will Smith movie is opening.

It’s coincidence more than anything else that has so linked him to this particular time of year because his movies open big no matter when they are released. He is as close to a sure thing at the box office as we will ever see. Whether it’s science fiction (Independence Day, Men in Black), drama (The Pursuit of Happyness), romantic comedy (Hitch), mindless action (Bad Boys) or a post-apocalyptic zombie movie (I Am Legend), moviegoers will pay to see Will Smith.

With Hancock, he tackles the booming superhero genre—but not without a twist.

30 June 2008



WALL•E, the latest film from the wizards at Pixar, is pure movie magic, a rare picture of wonder, hope, joy, love and social conscience.

While most of its animated contemporaries are busy trying to be hip with pop culture references, WALL•E, written and directed by Pixar veteran Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo), has more in common with classic silent films.

WALL•E, who speaks in beeps that form only an occasional word, is a direct descendant of Charlie Chaplin’s “Tramp” character, possessed as he is of the same lovable, naive earnestness that made Chaplin such an enduring and endearing screen icon.



Suddenly it’s feeling an awful lot like 1999. That was a pretty good year for movies, and two of the best were Fight Club and The Matrix. What would happen if you melded them together? Their offspring probably would be a little something like Wanted, a comic book-inspired film by Russian director Timur Bekmambetor (Night Watch, Day Watch).

James McAvoy, whose rise to fame has included roles in the Oscar-winning dramas Atonement and The Last King of Scotland, is Wesley Gibson, an accountant who spends his days in a cubicle, enduring the constant torment from his boss (Lorna Scott) and knowing his girlfriend (Kristen Hager) is cheating on him with his best friend (Chris Pratt). He introduces himself in narration dripping with apathy and cynicism. Appropriately, the Nine Inch Nails song “Every Day Is Exactly the Same” accompanies parts of the early sequence.

20 June 2008

Get Smart

Get Smart

So often, when filmmakers adapt classic TV shows for the big screen, the result is a parody. The actors are winking at the camera, saying, “Remember this old show? Look how much cooler we are.”

But now we have Get Smart, based on the 1960s TV series created by comedy god Mel Brooks and Buck Henry. You don’t need to spoof your source material when it’s that good.

In the role originated by Don Adams, Steve Carell stars as Maxwell Smart, an analyst for the spy agency CONTROL. Max is good at his job, routinely presenting exhaustive reports that include foreign terrorists’ coffee preferences. He’s so good, in fact, that the CONTROL chief (Alan Arkin) refuses to promote him to field agent, even though he aced the exam that should get him the job. Field agents are people like the dashing superstar Agent 23 (Dwayne “Don’t-Call-Him-The-Rock” Johnson) and the stunning Agent 99 (Anne Hathaway).

12 June 2008

The Incredible Hulk

The Incredible Hulk

Banish all thoughts of Hulk, Ang Lee's somber, laborious 2003 feature. The Incredible Hulk, which comes from an unlikely source (Transporter 2 director Louis Leterrier), follows Iron Man as this year's second great comic book movie.

An opening montage—depicting the experiment gone wrong that causes Dr. Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) to transform into the massive, green-skinned Hulk when angered and the U.S. military's dogged pursuit of him—makes watching the earlier film unnecessary.

The action picks up several years later, with Banner in hiding in Brazil. Back home, Gen. Ross (William Hurt), the father of Banner's true love, Betty (Liv Tyler), has never given up the hunt. He wants to turn what happened to Banner into a weapon. An accident in a warehouse helps the general trace Banner to South America, to which he travels with a band of goons led by the over-eager Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth).

05 June 2008

Reviews you won't see here

I have no intention of seeing or reviewing the following movies:
Sex and the City
You Don't Mess with the Zohan
The Love Guru

30 May 2008

The Strangers

The Strangers

James Hoyt (Scott Speedman) had it all planned out: Attend a friend's wedding, propose to his girlfriend Kristen (Liv Tyler), spend a romantic night with her at his family's remote vacation home. He didn't plan for Kristen refusing his proposal, creating the ultimate awkward situation when they reach the old house for what he thought would be a celebration of their own.

The opening minutes are crucial to The Strangers, the debut from writer-director Bryan Bertino. The protagonists in most horror movies come in groups of vapid teenagers or random people thrown together for the first time. The history between James and Kristen gives The Strangers a lived-in feel that makes the terrifying events that unfold seem not so farfetched.

At about 4 a.m. there comes a knock at the front door. A girl (Gemma Ward) asks, "Is Tamara home?" No, James and Kristen reply. She is persistent. "Are you sure?"

21 May 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

A lot can happen in a couple decades. Steven Spielberg won a pair of Oscars. George Lucas made his much-maligned Star Wars prequel trilogy. Harrison Ford has reached retirement age for most Americans. Now, the director, executive producer and star, respectively, have reunited for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, a movie that is far from their best work but good, brainless fun nonetheless.

From the moment we see Ford in silhouette as he places that signature fedora atop his head and John Williams teases us with his indelible theme (the one you’re probably hearing in your head or humming aloud as you read this), nothing else matters.

At 65, he’s seven years older than Sean Connery was when he played Indy’s father in 1989’s Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. But it is of little consequence. He's still spry enough to be believable as an action hero and his sardonic wit remains intact. Ford simply is Indiana Jones, and as this movie proves, he always will be.

16 May 2008

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

It has been a year for the four Pevensie children at home in England, a millennium and more for the inhabitants of the magical land of Narnia, and two and a half years for anyone in our world waiting for The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, the sequel to 2005's The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Peter (William Moseley), Susan (Anna Popplewell), Edmund (Skandar Keynes) and Lucy (Georgie Henley) have grown up a great deal since their first adventure, when they defeated the evil White Witch and became kings and queens of Narnia. Best of all, director Andrew Adamson has matured just as much as a filmmaker.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was a fairy tale; Prince Caspian is a war movie, albeit in a mostly bloodless, PG-type of way. It is a darker, grimmer tale with a militaristic bent reminiscent of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. It doesn't reach the heights of that cinematic landmark, but it is not a stretch to say it is the best fantasy film in the nearly five years since its release.

09 May 2008

Speed Racer

Speed Racer

How far the Wachowski Brothers have fallen. It wasn't so long ago—1999, in fact—that they were the hottest thing in the entertainment world. The Matrix revolutionized and energized not only action movies but filmmaking in general, expanding the limits of what can be done with technology and making Keanu Reeves cool beyond all reason—"whoa," indeed.

But then, four years later, came the sequels: The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions. Andy and Larry Wachowski crashed back to Earth with a deafening thud, brought down by the weight of their own pretensions and, ironically, the technology that helped them make their names in the first place. Much like the Star Wars prequels, chapters two and three of the Matrix saga are perfect examples of what not to do with CGI. The Wachowskis allowed the effects to become the star to the detriment of everything else.

01 May 2008

Iron Man

Iron Man

Let me get this straight: Having been taken prisoner by guerrillas in Afghanistan, with the resources and knowledge at his disposal to build from scratch one of the deadliest missiles the world has ever seen, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) decides to make his daring escape by building himself a big iron suit? I suppose you have to give him points for thinking outside of the box. It's also pretty darn effective, equipped as it is with flamethrowers, missiles and the ability to fly—sort of.

Iron Man, another Marvel property, doesn't have the instant name recognition of Spider-Man, X-Men, Superman, Batman or even Fantastic Four. That's about to change thanks to this film by Jon Favreau, which kicks off the summer movie season and should become 2008's first blockbuster.

18 April 2008

Forgetting Sarah Marshall

Forgetting Sarah Marshall

The Judd Apatow comedy factory has a new star: Jason Segel. You might know him from the sitcom How I Met Your Mother, a supporting role in Apatow’s Knocked Up or Apatow’s short-lived, yet critically-acclaimed TV series Freaks and Geeks. He now gets his close-up as writer and star of the Apatow Company’s latest instant classic, Forgetting Sarah Marshall.

Segel is Peter Bretter, a musician who pays the bills by composing the dark, ominous music of the hit TV show Crime Scene: Scene of the Crime. His real ambition is to complete his rock opera, which involves puppets and a horror classic. The star of Crime Scene (co-starring with William Baldwin—yeah, that’s right) is the luminous Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell), Peter’s girlfriend of five and a half years. They seem an odd fit. Peter spends most of his days lounging around his apartment in sweat pants, eating cereal and watching Access Hollywood. Sarah often makes the headlines on Access Hollywood. When Sarah poses for photos on the red carpet, Peter is the guy standing in the background holding her purse.

The Forbidden Kingdom

The Forbidden Kingdom

Why is it that when martial arts icons Jackie Chan and Jet Li finally team up on screen the hero is a nerdy white kid from South Boston? If that doesn't raise your eyebrows, check this out: The collaboration comes in a Hollywood production from the director of The Lion King, Stuart Little and The Haunted Mansion (Rob Minkoff), and the writer of Young Guns (John Fusco). The most surprising part? The Forbidden Kingdom is a lot of fun.

For fans of the two stars, the plot is almost inconsequential. But, for the record, here it is: Jason (Michael Angarano) finds himself in the middle of a robbery of the Chinatown pawnshop he frequents to buy bootleg copies of obscure kung fu movies. He flees the store with an old staff and suddenly finds himself in ancient China. The staff, it seems, belongs to the Monkey King, who centuries ago lost his duel with the evil Jade Warlord (Collin Chou) and has been imprisoned in stone ever since. The staff has the power to free the Monkey King. The drunken kung fu master Lu Yan (Chan) explains this to Jason and soon they are on a quest to return the staff to its rightful owner. Along the way, they pick up the beautiful Golden Sparrow (Yifei Lui), whose family died at the Jade Warlord's hands, and the mysterious Silent Monk (Li). The deadly sorceress Ni Chang (Li Bing Bing) leads the warlord's lackeys against them.

16 April 2008

The Great Paul Rudd

After seeing Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Walk Hard last week, and watching The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up again this week, I have decided that henceforth Paul Rudd shall be known on this blog as "The Great Paul Rudd." More on this story as it develops.

Paul Rudd as John Lennon
Paul Rudd as John Lennon in Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story.

13 April 2008

What I Should Have Said Was Nothing

What I Should Have Said Was Nothing

"I have this habit of making awkward situations even more awkward. A few years ago, I was moving a new bed into my apartment and a woman who lived in the building opened the front door for me with her key. And she said, 'I'm not worried because a rapist would never have a bed like that.' This is how she starts the conversation. Now, what I should have said was nothing. What I did say was, 'You'd be surprised.'" — Mike Birbiglia
Storytelling is becoming a lost art in standup comedy. These days it's all about observational humor (Dane Cook) or being a redneck (any of the comics from the Blue Collar Comedy tours). In the right hands, the former can be brilliant (Jerry Seinfeld, Mitch Hedberg); as for the latter, well, I remember being told when I was younger that if you don't have something nice to say, don't say anything at all. Mike Birbiglia, then, is something of an odd duck on today's comedy circuit, an old-fashioned storyteller, with an affable, self-deprecating Everyman persona. Oh yeah, he's also one of the funniest comics around.

12 April 2008

Smart People

Smart People

Smart People, the debut feature from director Noam Murro and screenwriter Mark Jude Poirier, is filled with intelligent, urbane characters. They're smart all right but, with one exception, not particularly interesting or likable. Though not a bad film, Smart People is not as clever and sophisticated as it thinks it is.

Dennis Quaid lets his tousled hair and beard do most of his acting as Carnegie Mellon University literature professor Lawrence Wetherhold. He's a miserable, middle-aged curmudgeon whose lectures impress no one more than himself. Learning his students' names is too much trouble for a man of his intellect; instead, he passes out name tags on the first day of class. His arrogance likely extends to his writing, which would explain why his book has been rejected by so many publishers.

11 April 2008

Street Kings

Street Kings

Now that he is entering middle age and has packed on a few extra pounds, filling out particularly in the face, I can buy Keanu Reeves as a haggard, broken down LAPD veteran, a man who might not be on a path to redemption but at least wants to prove he isn’t the worst of the city’s bad cops.

In Street Kings, Reeves is Detective Tom Ludlow. He has a Dirty-Harry-esque, the-end-justifies-the-means approach to his job. He chugs vodka on the way to crime scenes and doesn’t hesitate to put a bad guy down, even if said bad guy is unarmed and on the toilet. He rests easy knowing his influential captain, Jack Wander (Forest Whitaker), has his back. Killing four suspects during the rescue of two kidnapped girls draws the attention of Capt. James Biggs (Hugh Laurie) from Internal Affairs. Ludlow’s former partner, Washington (Terry Crews), has been ratting out his entire squad to IA. Ludlow follows Washington, ready to give him a stern talking-to, but two thugs get to him first, gunning him down in a convenience store.

07 April 2008

Run, Fatboy, Run

Run, Fatboy, Run

It’s hard to tell what we’ll get when an actor takes a seat in the director’s chair. Just last year, Ben Affleck gave us the brilliant crime saga Gone Baby Gone. More often, though, we get something along the lines of Run, Fatboy, Run, which comes to us from David Schwimmer, better known to millions of TV viewers as Ross from Friends.

There are reasons to have high expectations for Fatboy. The story is from the mind of Michael Ian Black, best known as one of the talking heads from VH1’s I Love the '80s. He shares the screenplay credit with Simon Pegg, star and co-writer of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, two of this decade’s best comedies. Black’s original script had the story set in New York; Pegg was brought in to punch it up when the decision was made to move it across the pond to England. Pegg’s subtler, more natural comedic sensibilities are at odds with the movie’s Americanized sense of humor.

06 April 2008



Leatherheads chronicles the early days of professional football, but it's not really about sports at all. Though set in 1925, it's a throwback to the screwball comedies of the 1930s and '40s, films made by men with legendary names like Hawks, Capra and Sturges. Had George Clooney been their contemporary, we might now be saying his name in the same breath.

It's been obvious for some time that Clooney has a serious case of nostalgia. Just look at his meticulous recreation of 1950s newsrooms in Good Night, and Good Luck. (2005). Or take his choices as an actor: the old Hollywood glitz and glamour of the Ocean's series; the cerebral science fiction of Solaris (2002); the gritty '70s-style drama of Michael Clayton (2007). When it comes to Leatherheads, every frame drips with a longing for simpler days, when fewer rules made football more fun and, more importantly in this case, the strict Production Code imbued movies with an innocence rarely seen since. (The screwball comedy has been defined as a sex comedy without the sex.) Even the characters' names seem to cry out from the past: Dodge Connelly, Lexie Littleton, Carter "The Bullet" Rutherford.

05 April 2008

The Ruins

The Ruins

I will never understand the decisions made by the folks in the movie studios' marketing departments. For example, about three years ago I attended a press screening of the Uwe Boll atrocity Alone in the Dark. (I hope by now someone has told poor Tara Reid it's not pronounced New-FOUND-land.) Advertising for blood-and-gore fests like the Saw and Hostel movies assaults movie-goers on all levels. But here we are with a horror movie that aims to do a little more and DreamWorks has dumped it into theaters with barely a whisper.

The Ruins comes from the mind of Scott Smith, the Oscar-nominated writer of the Sam Raimi film A Simple Plan (1998). He again adapts his own novel for the screen, so he knows the story and characters well. More importantly, he cares about the characters and wants us to do the same. Instead of treating them as pieces of meat to be slaughtered in disturbingly creative ways, he forces us to identify with them. We know they all won't make it out alive, but we hope they will. When someone dies, it has meaning.

04 April 2008

Welcome to the party, pal!

Yeah. I think John McClane said it best. (If you don't get the reference, you probably will not be a regular visitor here.)

Welcome to my exciting new blog, "Maki at the Movies."

A little bit about me ... Since October 2001, I have been a reporter for The Star Democrat, a daily newspaper in Easton, Md., covering local government, schools, crime and whatever else needs covering. Since December 2001, I have contributed movie reviews to the paper's "It's the Weekend!" section. (My first published review was Ocean's Eleven.) A handy index of many of my reviews is available at Rotten Tomatoes.