Monday, December 29, 2008

LET THE RIGHT ONE IN: The Jack Sack Movie Review

Kids are like people- they have some quirks to them. Take Eli, a preteen girl who befriends Oscar, a boy of the same age. Eli likes to walk outside at night without shoes or a jacket, despite the freezing cold. She doesn't go to school, she doesn't eat candy and she can fly. Oh yeah, she's also a 200 year-old vampire.

So unfolds the story of LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, a slow-moving Swedish film that explores a relationship built on secrets and private lives. Oscar's private life is vast- he hides that he's a victim of violent bullying at school. Oscar's mother has not told his school that she has separated from Oscar's father (it is inferred in a later scene that Oscar's dad is gay). And Oscar harbors homicidal thoughts, seeking revenge against those who threaten him. Based on this set-up, the vampire girl seems like the normal one. She kills for food- out of necessity. Oscar's bloodlust is much more dangerous in theory. But that's where Oscar's violent tendencies exist- in theory only. Eli and Oscar are fascinated by one another, and the film's central concern is watching their curiosities keep them moving together.

The movie is interesting, I won't say I was blown away by it. The characters are compelling, mostly due to excellent acting, but also benefiting from a sparse script that forces the audience to think things through. There is a sense of urgency surrounding Eli, as she has to convey to Oscar the limitations she has, all of them hints to his ultimate realization that she's a vampire. The plot, however, has problems that cannot be ignored. A small village in Sweden is just that- a small enclave of civilization. If people started getting murdered, the town would cease to function. While the body count ticks upwards, there seems to be little reaction by the people. It's not the point of the movie, I know, but these logical inconsistencies have a way of adding up. If this wasn't some foreign film, if it took place in Pennsylvania, starring an American cast, I guarantee you film critics would be less forgiving.

LET THE RIGHT ONE IN is an original take on the vampire film genre. I like the characters and the concept a lot. Unfortunately, I think the story is half-baked. This is a move that flirts with being great, but ends up being a decent film at best (which is good).

Sunday, December 28, 2008


See the last paragraph for the update-- it validates my inital thoughts on this movie.

If FORREST GUMP was never made, I might have bought into this movie.

THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON is a decent film-- not "amazing" as some critics have decided. To be clear, I am prejudiced by my strong dislike of the aforementioned FORREST GUMP. Both movies cover similar territory- an outcast due to some birth defect (Button born an old "baby", Gump born an idiot) meets the love of his life early in childhood and spends the next few decades making his way through historical events (running into a few notable folks along the way) until finally finding some brief happiness with their woman. Both Forrest Gump and Benjamin Button even find adventures on boats, befriending salty sea cap'ns.

Now, BUTTON is a stronger film in most respects- acting, story, and technical craft. And it's far easier to hear Brad Pitt do a Southern accent than to endure Tom Hanks' semi-moronic drawl. But I couldn't shake my crankiness towards GUMP, despite all of BUTTON's strengths. I felt like the gimmicks were all too familiar, that my (frayed) heartstrings were being tugged on a little too earnestly.

It's a frustrating movie in that respect. There are great elements to BUTTON that could have been explored. Button, who ages in reverse (turning more and more into the real Brad Pitt) is given only slight scrutiny for this fantastic characteristic. Most people either ignore it or just go "Wow, you look good, Benjamin!" Benjamin is kind of a unremarkable guy in all other respects. We don't know what he thinks of things, just that he's in love with his girl Daisy (and Daisy, like Jenny in GUMP, goes through a whore stage that makes Button sad). We never see Button contend with segregation, despite the fact that his adopted mother was black. Nor do we see Button actually deal with a crisis. He just floats through life, meeting colorful characters and becoming rich as a matter of course (like Gump), not through any concerted effort.

Towards the end of BUTTON the worst question one can ask started to creep into my head about this movie- "So what?" Remove the reverse aging gimmick, this is not a particularly compelling story. Sure, Button has to make a tough choice about his life with Daisy at a certain point, but it felt like a coward's decision more than a selfless act on his part. For a movie that kept beating you over the head with the message "Life is precious, embrace what you have while you can" Button makes some pretty dull decisions in his later years (mopping floors, working as a parking garage attendant, becoming a grunge-hippie, etc.).

I admit that I'm being harsh on BUTTON because of its critical acclaim. If there was no Oscar-buzz surrounding this film, and if nobody gave it any attention, I might even say I liked it. But I'm holding this movie to a higher standard because it seeks to be great. Unfortunately, BUTTON apes GUMP too much to be ignored- right down to the use of symbolism (GUMP had the floating feather, BUTTON has a hummingbird that shows up at important moments). If these types of films don't bother you, then I recommend BUTTON. It is a diverting movie-going experience. Otherwise, beware of the overrated "Oscar-begging" taking place here. I just hope SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE weathers the hype surrounding BUTTON and wins all of the awards it deserves (and that would be most of them).

UPDATED: I just read that FORREST GUMP and BENJAMIN BUTTON were scripted by the same guy- Eric Roth. In light of this information, I can comfortably say that I dislike this film. I thought the similarities between the two pictures were too much to take at first, but now... now I'm just pissed off. BUTTON is recycled GUMP.

Saturday, December 27, 2008


Ok, folks, here's the big news: is now

The cool part is nothing changes. The old URL is still active, so there's no need to change bookmarks or links. And if you're coming here with no link, just type "thejacksack" into the address bar (you don't even need the ".com").

And we're lightening up our look a little to reflect CTU's demise on "24" (yes, this is still a "24" blog!). The color scheme may change again pending developments on the show.

Friday, December 26, 2008

GRAN TORINO: The Jack Sack Movie Review

Ever stop and think "Why are there so few real men nowadays?" I guess the better question is "What's a real man?" I think of my grandfather as this type of guy. He worked hard, provided for his family and left a mark by the time he died. I guess he was a product of his times- he served in World War II in the Pacific with Gen. Douglas MacArthur. After the war, he was an inventor, working on products that we all have used in our lives. He never bragged, had a hearty laugh and earned the respect of a great many people that knew him. But he also never told his kids he loved them. It's not that he didn't love my mother or her siblings, he just never found the words to say it. Like I said, he was a product of his times.

GRAN TORINO is a story about that kind of man. Clint Eastwood plays Walt Kowalski, a Korean War vet who is widowed at the film's start. He lives in a neighborhood that is ethnically diverse and plagued with gang violence. He drinks Pabst Blue Ribbon, eats beef jerky and relates to his only friend, Daisy, a yellow lab. When his neighbors, an ethnic Hmong family, enter into his quiet life, he has to recognize his own past prejudices and come to terms with remaining guilt from the war.

Clint Eastwood makes quiet movies. GRAN TORINO is a typical Eastwood film in that respect. Despite his (very) colorful language towards any ethnic person he encounters, there's a slow-simmering sadness to his Walt. But before you think this movie is an indictment on bigotry, it's actually the opposite- the film's weakest characters are those who pander and bend to bullies because they happen to be minorities. In one scene, a young white guy tries to act cool around three black men that are threatening to beat him up and rape his girlfriend. The white kid calls one of the black guys "bro," and it's at that point that we see what's really happening here. There's something insincere about that behavior. The black guys see it and so does Walt, who enters the situation with a pistol and absolutely no filter on his foul-mouth. After the confrontation, it's clear that Walt is the only real man involved.

This movie is a relevant take on our society. Walt's two grown sons are assholes- whiny and selfish. And Walt's disrespectful grandchildren are worse- texting during his wife's funeral service. And as for the young man living next door, Thao is a boy with no male role model. He is likely to either join his cousin's gang or be killed. Walt refuses to let this happen, and becomes Thao's mentor, teaching him about women, work and how to be a foul-mouthed bigot! These scenes between the two are brilliant, a reverse KARATE KID if you will. If there is a fault to this movie, it's the ending, which turns quickly into violence. But despite it overreaching into a different film genre, GRAN TORINO is still a very worthwhile film- go see it.

SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE: The Jack Sack Movie Review

Yes, this movie is as good as you've heard.

I want to be careful about how I write here- because I just finished watching a movie in which great care has been invested. SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE is 75% harsh reality and one quarter fable. Set in current-day India, this film follows a young man's wayward path to being a contestant on "Who Wants To Be a Millionaire." The concept sounds like a gimmick, and it could have easily been so were it not for a brilliant narrative. For each question the "slumdog" Jamal has posed to him, there is a story from his past behind the answer. And the sum of his life is the real story here- a childhood of brutality, lawlessness and inexplicable hope.

Jamal and his brother, Salim, are Muslim youths who wander throughout a country with no shelter. They, along with their only other friend, Latika, improvise constantly in order to survive. I will not ruin the movie by getting into specifics. I strongly urge you to watch this and discover the film for yourself.

I will say that the acting is flawless. The film covers these "three musketeers" throughout their lives, thus employing the use of several actors. The child actors are actually the most compelling performers. A good portion of the film follows these characters in their early years, which was a risky choice that worked out very well. Without these flashbacks, the story would not have any deep emotional content. I didn't feel like I was watching a movie. I was completely immersed in the story.

There are a lot of subtle things going on here as well- between Jamal feigning a proper English accent while moonlighting as a tour guide at the Taj Majal for the benefit of the Western tourists, to the skeptical police detective's "interview" with Jamal that guided the majority of the film. Each scene feels like a look into what really takes place in certain parts of India.

But the fable aspect of the film works too. Jamal is an agent of hope, but he's not a foolish optimist. He has a destiny, to save his true love, Latika. But, like most people, he doesn't have a plan. Instead, Jamal observes everything around him and reacts according to instinct. And his instincts are not contrived. Conceptually, this movie is on such thin ice that one "Hollywood" convention would betray the whole effort. There's a difference between things conveniently falling into place and events happening for a reason. And because it consistently goes for the latter, SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE is a success.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

As Local As Punches Get!

Santa and I work on Christmas- he with the delivering of gifts, me with the punches. Today, I cite a local attorney who found himself in trouble with the law. And yes, he threw the first punch (allegedly). Click here to read more!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

BENJI THE HUNTED: The Jack Sack Movie Review

Let's get one thing straight, I've got anger issues. I get impatient for little or no reason. To say I'm irritable is an understatement. I enjoy yelling at people. Most people are jerks. Sure, I've probably yelled at some nice people along the way, but you can't make an omelette without cracking some eggs, yes?

But for all my anger towards mankind, I possess an equally powerful love of the animal kingdom. I get really fucking weepy at movies involving animals in dramatic situations. A couple of years ago, I saw "Two Brothers" a movie about a pair of tiger cubs who happened to be born of the same mother (hence their titular reference). And about a half-hour into the movie, things got ruff for the cubs, so much so that I had to get up and walk out. That's right, I walked out of the movie because the cute, fuzzy cubs were in distress. It was a kids movie and I couldn't make it through the first-half of the show.

So, earlier today WPIX was playing "Benji the Hunted" (1987)- a movie about a small-breed mutt with a really big heart. And a really big set of cojones too. The movie starts out with Benji finding himself stranded in the wilderness. He happens to come across a hunter who shoots a cougar, orphaning her four cougar cubs. Benji decides to involve himself with these orphans, despite the obvious risk to his own safety from predators in the wild. The next 70 minutes or so involve Benji trying to keep the cubs out of danger (unfortunately one of the cubs doesn't fare that well).

Like other great action-movie heroes, Benji improvises a lot. He's resourceful, gutsy and deep-down maybe a little crazy. You could say that Benji is a dog-version of Mel Gibson's character from the "Lethal Weapon" movie series. You see, Benji has no family in this one. He's stranded, kind of a dog-drifter going through the motions of life. But upon seeing those cougar cubs, Benji finds a new purpose in life. He becomes single-minded in protecting these cats. And by the movie's end, when he succeeds in reunited the cubs with their mother (this part of the movie was unclear, we were led to believe the mother was killed in the opening, so the cougar at the end could be their Aunt Doris) Benji asks for no reward. Nor does he want to become a member of the cougar population (I mean these movies have to retain some credibility!). Benji is just doing his job. And damn, if he doesn't lose many a night's sleep over the one cub that didn't make it. We like our heroes tortured- Bauer loses his wife, Benji loses cougar cub #4 to a bird of prey.

And that's where the brilliance of "Benji the Hunted" exists- it has adopted the best conventions of other '80's action movies to the animal-adventure genre without suffering from their faults. The advantage this movie has is that it's a completely cinematic experience. There's hardly any dialogue in this film. 90% of the action takes place with barks, growls and yelps going off. The movie's plot is engrossing without any maudlin declarations of love or devotion. There is no plucky sidekick making wisecracks. And not once does Benji grumble "I'm gettin' too old for this shit."

I'm not saying this is the best movie of the last 20 years. It's not even on the top 300 movies of the last 20 years. But it's a unique genre of films that I personally find fascinating. I mean, they had a cougar and a small-breed dog interacting with one another in the same frame! And how did they get the wolf to play an asshole so convincingly? If you find yourself nodding along while reading this review, go watch "Benji the Hunted" and see a real action star earning your adoration.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Some More People I Wanna Punch!

On our affiliate blog "People I Wanna Punch" the big snowstorm has inspired today's post. Go check it out.

Snow day for snow dogs

Man, I got no reason to post this other than to brag that I have the best dogs ever. And on this day, they look especially regal. Bow down before my huskies, Jessie and Sophie! Kneel before DOGS!

(Imagine how annoying I'll be when I have kids...)

Saturday, December 13, 2008

I have reunited with my SONY MHC-2600 Stereo

I'm feeling pretty damned nostalgic right now.

See, I just hooked up my old SONY stereo after having it stored away for the past few years. This is a 15 year-old mini hi-fi system-- my high school and college stereo. The thing has a tape deck for crissake! But it was also a breakthrough sound system for its time, with 100 watts of power, 3-way shelf speakers and nifty options like DBFB (dynamic bass feed back) and artificial surround sound (which has tremendous depth). This little guy is the Muggsy Bogues of home stereos.

Well, after some searching for its (removable) power cord, I was able to set this thing up in no time. It now sits atop my file cabinet in the home office. I was able to find the right cables to hook up my iPod to it as well. No more listening to music on my computer. It's like I reconnected with an old friend.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

People I Wanna Punch

Maybe all this "House" has had an effect on me. I just christened a new blog (let's see if it lasts!).

I often show up late to these things: The Jack Sack watches "House"

Back around 2004, when FOX's (quasi) medical (quasi) drama "House" premiered, I was completely disinterested in what this show had to offer.

I recall FOX's terrible (and ubiquitous) ad campaign kicking off a show where a furious, counter-culture doctor with a scruffy beard and walking cane yelled to anybody who cared to listen "You're risking a patient's life!" I, like Bill Simmons, found the whole thing pretty silly on its surface. So, when friends told me they thought the show was actually decent, I wrote them off as being jagoffs. I do not listen to my friends well at all.

But I get internally uppity with stuff like that all of the time. If something is popular, I generally become skeptical of it for no reason in particular. If something is a trend, it usually pisses me off. I've never watched "Survivor", "CSI" or "The King of Queens." I don't like 99.9% of hip-hop, country or anything that lands in the top 40. And I'm sorry but "The Lord of the Rings" movies sucked. I know a lot of people loved those movies, but they were bloated, melodramatic and painfully sentimental films. It's a story about a bunch of dudes fighting over a piece of jewelry. I don't watch the Bravo network for the same reasons, people.

So, I'm a stick in the mud. And sometimes (not often) I'll take back my snap judgment on something. Now, don't get me wrong, "House" is not God's gift to television programming. It's formulaic and... well really formulaic. But the formula is durable and works. And that's the mark of good entertainment. Thanks to the USA network (words I never thought I'd write) I have had a chance to get sucked in.

Why do I like this show? Because Gregory House, M.D. is a prick-bastard version of Sherlock Holmes. The show is a fantasy play featuring what would happen if one guy knew he had leverage in a situation and used it to the hilt in every way possible. House is a mean, deceitful, drug addict and he's usually right. He's the guy I want to be for an hour at a time. I'd love to hobble about, loaded on Vicodin, telling people that they're idiots (I'm a low-grade misanthrope with a side-order of anarchist). But I need to keep my job (in this economy, especially) so I skip out on being the *real* me and leave the theatrics to guys like Gregory House and Jack Bauer.

Therefore, I am tendering this formal apology to "House." You sold me, 4 years after the fact. Now, could somebody get the USA network to stop running the same 3 promos during each break? I don't care about "Psyche", "Monk" or "The Starter Wife"... (yet).

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Rickey, thanks for nothing...

Rickey Henderson got me in this meme scheme. Here it goes:

1. Five names I goes by:
L-Roy (a work nickname), The Mayor (a law school nickname), "The Ad-man" (a family nickname), "Day-Ad" (what my mother called me growing up when she tried calling out my name, but accidentally started with my brother David's name first), and Puff (what my friend Jenn calls me, and no, it has nothing to do with drugs. I have poofy hair).

2. Three things I'm (NOT) wearing right now: No watch, no wedding band and no belt (rushed out of the house and forgot it this AM).

3. Two things I want very badly at the moment: A rib roast and a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle's bourbon.

4. Three people who will probably fill this out: I DO NOT PUSH THESE MEMES ON OTHERS.

5. Two things I did last night: I looked up pictures of women in the Israeli Army for an hour and I watched Heroes as well (Rickey, you're right, it's picking up some steam).

6. Two things I ate today: A cheeseburger and thin ginger cookies.

7. Two people I last talked to on the phone: One of my clients, and my mother, who told me of a dog that rescued another dog off a highway after being hit by a car in Chile.

8. Two things I'm going to do tomorrow: Eat a bagel (Wed. is bagel day at work) and play with my dogs.

9. Two longest car rides: Not sure to be honest- maybe a drive to NH I took as a kid from NY and the other has to be my (multiple) trips to Montreal for bachelor party goodness. I got one more of those left in me, Rickey.

10. Two of my favorite beverages: Chocolate milkshakes and a good scotch.