Monday, December 28, 2009

INCEPTION: The Movie That Will Break Your Mind in 2010

What is this movie about? I just watched the second trailer to Christopher Nolan's brain-bending movie, and I'm still baffled. And that's a great thing to be completely confounded. I'm sold- tickets bought emotionally as of now and in actuality subject to availability. Behold the glorious confusion!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Jack Sack interviewed by

I guess my movie reviews during the off-season of "24" have made an impression. Shane of Only Good Movies recently conducted an interview with yours truly on a wide array of subjects related to film. Go check it out here. Thanks again, Shane!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

24 Season 8 Premiere Has Been Seen!

Herc of Ain't It Cool News has seen the first 4 episodes of Season 8- while he is under embargo by FOX from writing an official review, he does hint that he liked what he saw.

And more importantly, he declares that The Jack Sack™ is indeed featured in these first 4 episodes. I just hope TJS isn't the mole this season... anyway, here's the official preview which has been out there for a few weeks:

Monday, December 07, 2009

PONTYPOOL: The Jack Sack™ Movie Review

What are words? Are they merely ideas? Emotions? Tools we use to accomplish tasks simple and complex? Whatever their purpose or value, words exist because we need them. Now, imagine a world where words cause everything to unravel. Perhaps one doesn't need to imagine this happening- we live in an age where more words are being communicated than at any other time in our history. People seek meaning in those words- but what if words betray us?

All of this sounds philosophical and nonsensical, but imagine a film that takes on this issue, but does so with its own version of zombies! "Pontypool" is a recent film by Canadian director Bruce McDonald. McDonald and writer Tony Burgess revisit a classic set-up for the sci-fi/horror genre- the telling of a fantastic series of events by a radio broadcast. Like Orson Welles' "War of the Worlds," the world is interrupted by a series of inexplicable events that threaten our existence. Unlike "War of the Worlds," this threat is really happening- not a radio hoax or some other flight from reality. Radio DJ Grant Mazzy and his skeleton crew of a broadcast team attempt to filter through confusing pieces of information as they flow into the radio station, trying to construct a narrative of why the world is falling apart outside their snow-encased building. Mazzy is a Don Imus-like character, donning a cowboy hat and hitting the booze liberally for breakfast. His cocky veneer is slowly worn down as he becomes more aware of the horrors taking place outside the station. Actor Stephen McHattie is reliably fascinating in this role- carrying the film with his face, which literally serves as the barometer of the movie's tension-level. It's a fantastic performance, one which makes the movie worthwhile on its own.

Now, I'm going to spoil something big for the movie here, so stop reading if you want to keep clear- it's how the people become "sick." Your typical horror/zombie flick blames a virus or some infection with making people flesh-hungry maniacs. That would have been enough to keep "Pontypool" a very entertaining movie. But what the filmmakers have done here is something completely new for the genre- something cerebral and worth discussion. People lose their minds as a result of the words they hear and speak. It's an uncertain combination of trigger words, but generally terms of endearment and words in English are the ones that set off the madness. The human brain gets caught in its own quicksand of understanding words' meanings. Madness soon develops and cannibalism ensues.

Yeah, there's a message beneath all of that- what I interpret it to mean is that words can control us, and we become capable of doing things that may betray our values. Throughout history, terrible acts have been committed as a result of the right combination of words being used. The only way we can protect ourselves from losing control is to define what words mean to us as individuals. Basically, think for yourself, do not blindly submit to another person's definition of the world. It's a good message, one that fits perfectly within the zombie-movie genre. Find "Pontypool" and redefine your world for a little while.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

HARRY BROWN: The Jack Sack™ Movie Review

Okay, so I'll come clean from the start- when I'm bored driving, I talk aloud in the voice of Michael Caine. I yammer absolute nonsense; I'll have Caine give instructions on how to make a sandwich ("A proper sandwich starts with good bread- something you'd only give to your mum! Wonder Bread? Nevah!"). Caine is, to me, a freakin' legend. He's a personality beyond that of even some of the best actors working today. He's in the class of Jack Nicholson and Clint Eastwood. And like Eastwood's "Gran Torino," Caine gets his old-guy hands dirty while battling the local riff-raff in "Harry Brown," a new film by neophyte director Daniel Barber.

This is not an action-movie. Nor is it "On Golden Pond" with guns. This is a rare blend of social commentary mixed with a very poignant character study. It's slow in parts- but underneath everything is this gut-wrenching tension that never feels false or manipulative. The violence (oh there's a decent amount) has weight- when a person gets shot, you see the aftermath and you are left to consider what has happened. And violence is this movie's main obsession- the senseless violence that comes from the drug-dealing gangs that run the neighborhood versus the vigilante violence of Caine's Brown Like many revenge films from decades past (the original "Death Wish" being the most influential), we are left to consider the moral questions that come when a person takes it upon him or herself to bring balance to a situation in which society has little or no control.

As someone who practices the law, I've had it drummed into my head that the legal system is sacrosanct. While imperfect (and certainly very flawed) the law is the last defense against society's downfall. I intellectually buy into that notion- and we have thousands of years of history to consider which bears that out. I recently read an account by the Newsweek reporter who was held prisoner in Iran over the past year- and if there was ever a reason to embrace our screwed up system, it's made clear by Iran's example. But humans abuse, misuse and manipulate the law like they do with anything. And there comes a time when a flawed system becomes a dangerous one because it fails to function. This is where we find Harry Brown- mourning the death of a close friend who was a victim of a horrific murder. When it becomes clear that the killers are not going to be punished, Harry moves into the situation with brutal and focused force. And I found myself empathizing with Harry's decision to act (and disagreeing at the same time).

But this is just a movie, right? We can root for guys like Dirty Harry and Jack Bauer because the alternative is a pretty mundane story. Who wants to watch the police do paperwork? Well, the best part about "Harry Brown" is that it consciously rejects that storytelling cop-out. It forces the viewer to keep in mind that Harry is not only killing the bad guys, but he is causing larger problems along the way. But instead of preaching a message, the film just plays out its events and lets the viewer decide whether Harry made the right choices. This is a cold film, but it's an intellectually honest one.

On the technical aspects, "Brown" is a very solid piece of filmmaking from such a young director. There's a minimalist approach at work here and this allows the actors to create very believable characters. And the character work provides the film with a realism that separates it from other, similar stories. When one of the killers makes sexually threatening remarks to the female investigator, you look to her face and see her react with professional, steady resolve. Words alone cannot convey that quality, only self-assured storytelling. And while there's really no lyrical quality to it, like Eastwood's "Gran Torino," "Brown" succeeds in evoking strong emotions. I don't know which approach I prefer (probably "Torino" because it was far less depressing) but both movies force us to think about the civility we've lost over the past few decades. "Harry Brown" is a sober, difficult film, and one which I highly recommend.