I apologize for delivering this holiday gift guide so close to the end of the season. This would have come sooner if I did not have to prepare for final exams. Nevertheless, as long as it is not yet December 25th, I can still offer movie fans some good holiday gift ideas.

This was the year in which I converted from DVDs to Blu-rays, and I have not regretted it once. The picture quality is such that you can see every cobblestone in the road, every shingle on the road and every line in person’s face. If you haven’t considered a Blu-ray player before, I’d say it’s about time to start. My model is a Panasonic DMP-BD45, which works fine despite not having Internet capability. If you want a regular player, I suggest a higher-level Panasonic unit. The best one I’ve seen, however, is Sony’s Playstation 3, which is Internet capable and loads discs at a much faster speed (not to mention Batman: Arkham Asylum is one of the best video games I’ve ever played).


Disney celebrates its 50th animated feature by releasing Tangled, a loose adaptation of the fairy tale “Rapunzel” that combines the storytelling conventions of the old classics with today’s computer animation. In many ways, the placement of this movie at that particular studio tally is a very fortuitous one. Tangled is a mostly harmonious work that pays reverence to Disney’s traditions and embraces the continuing advances in the medium of animation.


Have you ever had to perform a long and seemingly pointless task and realized there is still more to do after the job is done? Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, the penultimate installment in the fantasy movie franchise, is slightly similar to that. There is nothing in this movie that will compel audiences to skip the final film next July. Still, it tends to feel sluggish thanks to the meandering plot and interrupted tone.


To offer an idea of what sort of movies you can find here in New York, I pay tribute to my favorite nonprofit theater, Film Forum. Located in Greenwich Village, this theater offers new independent works, fictional and nonfictional, and revival screenings of beloved and forgotten classics. Here are three examples from their recent schedule:

My Dog Tulip

My Dog Tulip is one of the strongest examples in recent years of an adult animated film. The movie is a dramatization of J.R. Ackerley's memoir about his relationship with his German shepherd. Ackerley's recollections (adapted by director Paul Fierlinger and exquisitely voiced by Christopher Plummer) are more earthy and mature than the cute kid-friendly stories one often finds in dog movies. Despite remarking on matters like Tulip's bowel movements and Ackerley's attempts to find her a mate, these comical moments are not too crude. In fact, many of them are funny to anyone who has owned a troublemaking pet. For the more philosophical film viewer, the screenplay also features plenty of wit and wisdom as Ackerley contemplates the fulfillment Tulip gives him that humans have not. My Dog Tulip is alternately thoughtful and humorous, possessing a more adult sensibility than is usually found in American animation.


My first big assignment for the Fordham Observer this semester is to cover the New York Film Festival. I think it is with this task that I may get my most substantial learning experience since I decided to become a critic. I have already met a couple of writers who have given me valuable advice that I know will aid me in the future. If nothing else, at least I'm finally seeing and reviewing movies for free!

I could not attend nearly all the press screenings because of my school schedule, but here are the ones I did see in order of public exhibition date. This slate will be updated as I see more movies. Trailers and clips are provided for the movies that have them available.

The Social Network (PG-13)

Anytime a new technology is invented or an old one is reformed, there is bound to be somebody who asks if the change is necessary. I expect many will ask that question when they leave The Social Network, David Fincher's terrific dramatization of the creation of Facebook. They won’t be pondering so much about their relationship with the website as they will about the impact it has on the characters. As written by Aaron Sorkin and played by a remarkable ensemble of rising stars, the young entrepreneurs are personable figures whose lives are damaged by their unpredictably successful product.

An Apology and A Preview

To whatever number of readers I have acquired so far, I apologize for not posting anything for the last month. I have been settling back into my school life here at Fordham. Now that I have begun classes and reestablished my post at the Fordham Observer, I am going to wade back into my reviewing routine. I may not always get to post something every week due to school work, but I will continue looking for writing subjects.

In actuality, that school work may appear on this blog or influence my writing subjects. My next two major classes, American Film Comedy and Movies and the American Experience, will educate me about the patterns of filmmaking and the sociological causes and effects of cinema. Numerous films will illustrate the professors' topics, and a bountiful percentage of those movies are ones I have not seen or heard of. Since the classes began, I have seen silent classics from Chaplin and Keaton (Modern Times and Steamboat Bill, Jr.), Orson Welles's compromised classic The Magnificent Ambersons, and the lovely Depression-era drama Make Way for Tomorrow. I eagerly await the rest of the semester to see what other treasures I will examine.

I will also see new and old movies in my leisure. My school is next door to Lincoln Center (with a resident film society), and I have a low-level membership to the independent theater Film Forum. Both of these venues house limited release films as well as new prints of restored classics. Hopefully, I can catch up on perennials I have not seen yet and develop a view on international films. It may not be feasible every week due to monetary cost and homework time, but I will use what time I can spare to furthering my film education outside the classroom.

As far as specifics go, expect themed reviews of old movies. I plan to watch Psycho and/or The Exorcist when Halloween approaches, and I may take in some holiday movies throughout December. I'll review Jean Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast when the Disney version arrives on Blu-ray, I may review Tron in preparation for Tron: Legacy, and I hope to write an essay on Fantasia to celebrate the movie's anniversary and Blu-ray release. I plan to review big-name releases (Harry Potter and Tangled are locks), and I'll try to review Oscar contenders as the buzz builds.

Lastly, don't by shy if anyone has a request. I will definitely consider it and see if I can fit it into my schedule.


I didn’t walk into Piranha 3D expecting much of anything, but I walked out thinking that this movie may actually accomplish something. It may become a harbinger for the eventual downfall of the current 3D craze.

Inspired by Joe Dante’s 1978 feature Piranha, this new movie about killer fish aims to be like the cheesy 3D horror films from the 1980s. I have not seen movies like Jaws 3-D all the way through, but I think I’ve seen enough to consider them pretty tame. Consequently, Piranha 3D strikes me as being much more violent and tasteless than anything to which those earlier films would aspire. Every scene has one or more of these three goals in mind: kill something, flash breasts and rip off the original Jaws. It fulfills these goals with sickening aplomb. The nudity is pointless, the Jaws moments are too blatant to even be funny and the overdone violence ruins some of the movie’s few amusing moments (like the ironic fate of a chauvinist director played Jerry O’Connell). Piranha 3Dis simply a piece of junk, and I say “junk” because to call it “chum” would be an insult to sharks.

Piranha 3D is bad by itself, but many of its crudest moments are present because of the unnecessary 3D effects. When it isn’t employing the technology to highlight topless girls, the movie uses the same 3D horror tricks as Jaws 3-D, which involve bringing floating objects (usually body parts) towards the audience. I usually refrain from detailing movies so I don’t spoil anything, but this time it is because director Alexandre Aja’s choices in floating objects reach the height of disgust. The only useful aspect of the 3D is that the shaded glasses dim some of the gore. Consider that a godsend if you see some of the abhorrent deeds that occur in this movie.


Video game adaptations, a film genre with a dearth of good examples, have now found a champion. I’ve never seen a movie capture the sensibilities of video games (with a few traces of comic books) as well as Scott Pilgrim vs. the World does. This is a film that compiles the commonalities of those two media forms and delights in exposing their inherent silliness. Writer and director Edgar Wright, who spoofed zombie movies in Shaun of the Dead and action films in Hot Fuzz, has adapted Bryan Lee O’Malley’s manga-inspired series into a bright and hugely entertaining comedy.


Sylvester Stallone’s new action movie about a band of mercenary good guys is as brawny, loud and rapid as the advertisements have indicated. What I did not expect is how much of a boring checklist this movie is.

This is a typical dumb action movie in that its script (by Dave Callaham and Stallone) contains insipid dialogue and a plot only meant to bridge the numerous fight scenes. The screenplay takes a further step towards mediocrity by not even bothering to exploit the clichés it uses. Familiar plot threads like Stallone’s troubled past and Jason Statham’s conflict between work and love are mentioned minimally and dropped for good when no longer useful. They add almost nothing to the plot and only seem to be there due to action movie regulations. It feels like Stallone was just obligated to give the action a context and was not really interested in creating potentially likable characters.

The Expendables relies on the chemistry of its seasoned action stars to fill in for story and personality. The actors succeed moderately at making the movie worth watching, but the plot favors Stallone and Statham so much that the others have little opportunity to prove their usefulness (I honestly cannot remember a thing Randy Couture does in combat). Of course, how can you tell what any of them are doing with the movie’s dizzying editing and cinematography (seriously, the movie looks like its camera was fastened onto a housefly)? When the camera does sit still, The Expendables features some nifty moments that show how much fun it could have been. Regrettably, Stallone’s slapdash style leaves the rest of the movie flavorless and dreadfully routine.


It might be unprofessional to admit this, but The Kids Are All Right was so lovely and rapturous that not even once could I concentrate on critical analysis. When this dramatic comedy was over, I saw that I had written down only one note the whole time, and it was just a line of dialogue I wanted to remember. But heck, I won’t need to spout technical information or present theories to just tell you how good this movie is. Directed and co-written by Lisa Cholodenko, The Kids Are All Right is exquisite in every way.


Tim (Paul Rudd), an ambitious executive, learns about a secret dinner his bosses arrange where they invite oddballs to ridicule them. Tim sees his chance to earn a place with them when he meets Barry (Steve Carell), a meek fellow who taxidermies dead mice and uses them for portraits and dioramas.

Everyone knows that the funny man of a double act is supposed to be funnier than the straight man. In Dinner for Schmucks, Rudd is one of the most sympathetic straight men I've seen in recent comedies. His physical and verbal reactions to the absurdity surrounding him are some of the movie’s funniest moments, but they work to little avail. Despite the efforts of Rudd and the amusing supporting cast (Jermain Clement is a hoot as an earthy and eccentric artist), the film is weighted down by the overbearing presence of Carell as Barry. So much of the film is spent pitting Tim’s rationality against Barry’s naiveté that the truly funny material is not given enough exposure (one might forget about the dinner subplot if the characters did not continually mention it).

Both the character and Carell’s performance are largely obnoxious and partially endearing. To paraphrase a line from Futurama, Barry’s awkward brand of humor is the type where you wish he would end his stories a sentence earlier. Carell's delivery of this material seems forced and emphatic. That’s not to say the character is unbearable. The moments of compassion towards him are performed affectingly, even if some of them feel shoehorned. Still, Barry would have been more likable if played in a lower key (John Candy would have been perfect) and with less panache.

SALT - PG-13

Most action movies are episodic to varying degrees, but Salt particularly feels like multiple pieces with little connection between them. Angelina Jolie plays Evelyn Salt, a CIA operative on the run when a Russian defector claims she is a Russian mole sent to trigger another nuclear war. The first 40 minutes build this movie as a wrongful accusation story, like The Fugitive. It shows Salt improvising her way out of the CIA base in a fun, if far-fetched, set of sequences. The movie also includes a couple moments where Salt takes a breath or assesses the situation, clearly intending to build sympathy for her. This fretful atmosphere is ruined by jarring plot twists that occur around the halfway mark. From that point, the movie sloppily throws in scene after scene of Salt doing various tasks, aiming to make us question whether she is on the American side or the Russian side.

Salt does such a clumsy job establishing its title character that the mystery of her loyalty feels completely improvisational. There is almost no foreshadowing prior to each change, and there is usually nothing after the change to suggest another one is coming. Much of this is a timing issue. For example, the first details of the Russian terrorist plan appear at the same time that the accusation towards Salt does, and both events happen in the first 15 minutes. We have no time to meet Salt and to percept clues in her personality that may suggest a shadier dimension. Therefore, when she does seem to act on behalf of Russia, it feels like a sudden about-face rather than the validation of our suspicion. Salt would work better if it took the time to build the character’s mystery. Instead, it makes her alternate two roles back and forth in a choppy and indecisive fashion.


Christopher Nolan's cerebral science-fiction thriller Inception is an absolute dream by two accounts. First, it is a godsend to every mainstream movie fan deprived of anything truly involving this summer (aside from Toy Story 3). Second, it mirrors our subconscious apparitions by being an entrancing reverie as you watch it and a confounding puzzle when pondered in retrospect. In his first film since the megahit The Dark Knight, Nolan has intricately shaped an adventure more marvelous and mystifying than practically every other movie this year has seen so far.


The exclamation of predictability can be heard loud and clear within the first five minutes of Despicable Me, the new animated feature from Universal Pictures and Illumination Entertainment. The opening sequence uses the old joke of somebody trying to catch an object and saying, “I got it!” just before he or she misses the target. At the screening I attended, a child anticipated the joke and loudly said, “I don’t got it!” before the character could (the character did not say that line, giving the routine a bit of moot surprise). The child did not say anything else the rest of the movie, which surprises me considering how much else in Despicable Me is recycled material. The film is as hackneyed as many other recent computer-animated features, though a few elements save it from being truly disposable.


I must confess that I have missed out on chances to really vent about a remake or recreation of a story I like. The Star Wars prequels began when I was only nine, and my taste in film was not mature enough at the time to see how bad they were. Likewise, I had only seen the original versions of The Karate Kid and A Nightmare on Elm Street once before reviewing the remakes, so my understanding of those movies was informed yet rudimentary. The Last Airbender, director M. Night Shyamalan’s adaptation of the Nickelodeon series Avatar: The Last Airbender, has now granted me an irresistible opportunity. Shyamalan’s movie is such a hollow and anemic version of that superb show that the fan in me cannot wait to tell you how slipshod this product is.


This action comedy about a rogue FBI agent paired with an ordinary woman is supposed to mark the reestablishment of Tom Cruise as a desirable star. The cinematography and mise-en-scène are valued accomplices of that goal, tracking all of Cruise’s actions slowly and bathing him in whichever light is available to make him look the most attractive. It is a good thing that those stylistic elements are showing that much love, for the screenplay robs Cruise of a real showcase. It is unfunny and confusing (Cruise’s agent alternates between hero and villain too many times), and Cameron Diaz’s character receives so much more screen time than Cruise that she becomes the story’s focus. Though the adoring camera would have you thinking otherwise, Knight and Day gives Cruise little material for rebuilding his star status.

It does not help that neither Cruise nor Diaz are particularly good in this movie. Cruise seems to be trying to make his role an everyman type of secret agent. That direction fits with his character's back story, but it ruins the already tenuous believability of his combat scenes. It is hard to take this agent seriously as a viable ally or threat when he acts so distractingly boyish and goofy in his downtime. At least he is more amusing than Diaz, who should have taken an earthier approach to her character. This girl is said to know how to repair a car and how to pick out usable parts out of scrap. Diaz does not look nearly casual enough for a hobby like that, let alone to make us conceive that she will become a willing assistant in international intrigue. Her weakness is not only with her appearance, for her half-hearted line delivery drags down the already lame humor (her truth serum scene is especially awkward). The film is forgettable by itself, but these two actors are insufficient to steer this supposed star vehicle.
First published in The Coastland Times


Almost 11 years after the release of Toy Story 2, Pixar Animation Studios is revisiting their biggest franchise with Toy Story 3. The span between the second and third film may have been primarily the fault of the Disney/Pixar ownership negotiations in the mid-2000s, but that time has been an unequivocal boon to the series. Many of the kids who saw the first movie in 1995 have reached the age where their childhood will be tucked away and reserved for rainy days or for time with their own children. What better way to signify that transition than with one more adventure with the toys that simultaneously enraptured the youth of the world while creating the art (or craze, to some) of the computer-animated feature?


DreamWorks Animation’s most successful franchise finally ends with this fourth chapter. The movie takes stock of everything that has happened to Shrek by placing him in an alternate reality, created by the twitchy trickster Rumpelstiltskin, in which he was never born. This darker story focuses more on action and character than on humor, and it allows Shrek and his friends to be their most heroic and sympathetic since the original film.

“Shrek Forever After” is a serviceable finale that emphasizes the series’ strengths and flaws. The main characters are as appealing as ever, largely because of their voice actors’ seasoned yet still likable performances. However, the anachronistic pop culture humor remains as hit-and-miss as ever. These modern jokes are less numerous than in the other sequels, but they still beg the question of whether they will date these movies. The film also seems the most chaotic, using quick editing and rarely stationary cinematography that render the proceedings somewhat exhausting.

The best moments occur when the alternate universe offers variations on jokes and scenes from the other movies. These details, which range from appearances of old props to direct quotations, are easy to recognize and help tie the series together into one story. A few recollections do rely too much on fond memories of the other movies (“I’m a Believer” is far less magical here than it was in the first “Shrek”). Still, “Shrek Forever After” is almost like a yearbook in how it allows fans to view highlights (albeit twisted ones) of their years in the kingdom of Far Far Away. It may not be as special as the first two movies, but it is a mostly satisfying conclusion.

First published in The Coastland Times


Based on the long-running video game series of the same name, this film is centered on Prince Dastan (Jake Gyllenhaal), whose quest to undo the usurpation of the Persian throne involves a time-reversing dagger. It does not aim to be more than easy escapism, but its frenetic style leaves it less than comprehensible. It presents fight scenes with confusing and rapidly-edited close-ups of weapons and reactions instead of comfortable medium shots of the actors' bodies. How can you savor the fight choreography or the performers’ skill if you cannot discern which character or whose weapon is in the shot? In classic action movies like "The Adventures of Robin Hood" and "The Empire Strikes Back," one can at least focus one who is attacking and why he made that move. "Prince of Persia," however, indulges in technique over clarity to create a marginally understandable spectacle.

Just as frustrating as the action is the story that loosely strings them together. The screenplay follows the example of "Pirates of the Caribbean" (swashbuckling heroes, breathy beauties, magical MacGuffins) with haphazard results. Many and ideas are not carried out to their full potential, and the characters are depicted as incapable of making some rather obvious choices (not once does Dastan wonder if he can travel back to stop the takeover himself). Such inattentive writing may have been forgivable if performed by a more enthusiastic cast, but most of these actors (especially the overly dramatic Gemma Arterton) are just plain boring. To its credit, “Prince of Persia” is afforded some decent special effects and an amusing performance by the always welcome Alfred Molina. Nevertheless, those elements do little to elevate this forgettable, albeit digestible, movie.
First published in The Coastland Times


Geneticists Clive (Adrien Brody) and Elsa (Sarah Polley) combine human and animal DNA to create Dren, a marvelous being that becomes too dangerous and intelligent to control. Contrary to the film’s horror-centric marketing campaign, “Splice” is primarily a science-fiction story that offers a parental twist on classic Promethean themes.

The film has a grisly atmosphere from the beginning, but the intended alienation becomes harder to stomach as Dren becomes more predatory. The evolution of Dren from a small computer-animated creature into a formidable humanoid (presented through appropriately disorienting makeup and the naturalistic performances of Abigail Chu and Delphine Chanéac) makes an absorbing first two-thirds. During the last half-hour, the film takes a few distasteful and weirdly sensual turns involving Dren’s maturity and its interaction with Clive and Elsa. Though these events produce a nicely ambiguous ending, their nature is unsettling enough to mar this intriguing film.

"Splice" is most effective when it focuses on the familial aspects of the experiment. The story asks whether certain people, geneticists or ordinary citizens, are unfit to be creators. It is clearly questionable how qualified Clive and Elsa are as scientists (at one point, Clive holds a scalpel in his mouth after making an incision with it), and Elsa's abusive childhood has distorted her judgment on how to raise offspring. Dren demonstrates the consequences of both of those inadequacies. Her mixed genealogy and her oppressive surroundings make her a physical abomination, a psychological riddle and eventually a complete monster. If she were borne of better hands, perhaps she could have become something beautiful.

First published in The Coastland Times


The most successful difference between the 1984 underdog story and this remake is the new Chinese setting. The lead character’s need to embrace traditional kung fu (not karate) to defeat his bullying adversaries is made more meaningful when set in a China that seems to favor autocratic instruction over the peaceful ancient ways. The Chinese culture also permeates through the script, modifying scenes and details from the original to fit this new version. Even if the footage of famous locations become a little gratuitous by the end, the setting contributes enough narrative changes that the switch from American to China does not feel like a gimmick meant to justify the remake.

The rest of the movie is much less successful at revitalizing the story. The new “Karate Kid” succumbs to using current filmmaking trends (quick cuts, handheld cameras, etc.) for its fighting and training scenes. The use of medium shots makes the action scenes more comprehensible than the fights in recent movies like “Prince of Persia,” but the fast cutting looks systematic in comparison to the deliberate long takes in the original film. Perhaps the worst component is the casting of Jaden Smith as the titular student. While the character is supposed to be defenseless and unappreciative anyway, Smith just comes across as whiny and uncharismatic. He might have performed better if he were older and a more developed actor, but his current level of expertise is not quite enough to carry a film.

“The Karate Kid” remains entertaining thanks to its likable story, its location change and a memorable performance by Jackie Chan as the teacher, but the flashier style and inexperienced lead render the film less effective than the more tranquil original.

Initially Published in The Coastland Times


As my profile states, I am a student journalist at Fordham University with a penchant for film criticism. The school and local newspapers for which I have written reviews have afforded me invaluable opportunities to practice and develop my writing style. However, I still have attained relatively limited exposure, and I need another objective hand in my education. Therefore, I turn to you, fellow movie fans, to help me better understand the craft of criticism and to help me perfect my writing style.

Allow me now to explain my mission and to establish the format of this blog. Consider this my Declaration of Principles and do so with the knowledge that I will follow it far more than Charles Foster Kane did to his.