I've been a fan of the Final Destination series since the beginning. I maintain that the first one is still the best, but the sequels are entertaining enough. The second movie added an interesting twist to the story, and some say it's better than the original. Then came the third, where it dropped some of the darkness and started to cliche and camp it up. The fourth follows the same path.

The story is basically the same for each film (the second's is slightly altered due to the twist, but is nonetheless the same). This time around, the film starts off at a Nascar race, where a series of events unfolds until a lot of people--including the main characters--die. However, one of them, this time a young man named Nick (Bobby Campo), foresees it in a vision and warns everybody to leave ASAP. So the friends, as well as some others that are dragged into the mix, leave right before the accident occurs. These include friends Lori (Shantel VanSanten), Hunt (Nick Zano), and Janet (Haley Webb), as well as a security guard (Mykelti Williamson), a racist (Justin Welborn), a mechanic (Andrew Fiscella), and a mother (Krista Allen). But what they soon realize is that they were never supposed to survive, and Death comes after them in the order they were supposed to die, killing them off in unique and imaginative ways.

I had a few problems with this film that I didn't really have with the others (even the third). In the past films, the clues about how the next person was going to die was reality-based and simple. This time, the main character has full-out (though vague) visions of exactly how the next person is going to die. My problem is that this takes away some of the mystery... not to mention it gives us some pretty campy CGI.

Though the deaths were still creative, and there are plenty of fake-outs (you think it'll be one thing, and it's another). One particularly suspenseful scene is the beauty salon scene. I was cringing the entire time, as it sets up about a dozen different ways she can go. Of course, it goes with the least interesting. On a similar note, practically all the deaths are given away in the trailer, which took away a lot of the suspense (there is one pleasant surprise... one that doesn't actually happen, but I won't give away which one). And the climax is pretty suspenseful, I'll give it that.

However, another issue is that while they were creative, they weren't nearly as creative as some of the previous films. The previous movies sometimes acted more like a Rube Goldberg machine, which is totally interesting. And you see that used in these, but mostly as fake-outs, while the real deaths are a little more lame (not always, but sometimes). Also, a lot of the deaths were mainly caused by the stupidity of workers. At least half, if not more, of the deaths could have been prevented if everybody in that town who had a job was actually competent. Seriously, there should be a lot of people getting fired.

I also saw the film in 3D, and the 3D was definitely utilized. Things flew at you left and right during the death scenes. So if you go to see this in 3D, you won't be disappointed.

The one thing I absolutely loved about the movie, though, were all the allusions and homages to the first film. You can still see 180 all over the place. The main guy has a picture of the Eiffel Tower in his house. The name of the swimming pool place is "Clear Rivers." If you look closely on the TV at one point, I believe it says the name of the racist is "Carter." And just a whole other slew of things that, if you pay attention, you'll see. There's at least one in every scene (or just about).

There really isn't much more to say. There's some decent humor in the movie. There's a particularly funny scene with a talk about suicide (I know not a happy subject, but in context, it's funny). But otherwise, it's just a movie to see if you're a fan of the series. You don't really feel anything for the characters, and the acting is pretty bad. But you came to see the movie for creative deaths, and on that front, the movie delivers. In almost all respects, the movie isn't all that great, but it's still strangely entertaining. Though I totally miss the Tony Todd character from the first two films. He was awesome.

Stop Saying Okay! Okay.


Book Review: "Percy Jackson, Book Four - The Battle Of The Labyrinth" by Rick Riordan.

Warning: Again, beware spoilers if you haven't read the previous three books.

In the spectrum of the series, this fourth installment (in my opinion) isn't as fun as the third, but it's still pretty good. As the previous book took place during the winter, this one picks up the following summer, going back to the formula that the first two books used (and the third mostly skipped over). Percy is about to start high school, and his mom's new boyfriend pulls some strings to get him enrolled in his school. Though during orientation, Percy stumbles into another new student, somebody he met the previous winter--Rachel Elizabeth Dare--a mortal girl with the ability to see through the Mist. Needless to say, havoc ensues, and Percy is forced to flee with a visiting Annabeth, and they make their way to camp. 

Once at camp, they see Dionysus is busy doing godly things, and a swordsman named Quintus is there to help out Chiron for the summer. Grover is in trouble with his elders, as he can't back up having sensed Pan last winter. Nico di Angelo is still missing, and Percy keeps receiving disturbing Iris-messages that show what Nico is up to. But then Percy stumbles upon a secret entrance within the camp boundaries... an entrance to the massive, underground Labyrinth. And this brings up many new issues--they realize that Luke can bring forth his armies into camp this way, getting around its defenses. But they know it can also help find Pan somehow. So now a new quest begins, led this time by Annabeth, into the Labyrinth to find its creator--Daedalus--before Luke does, to persuade him not to help Luke find his way through the Labyrinth.

If you've noticed, there are really two plots to this one, the "stop Luke" plot and the "Pan" plot, though the Pan plot is more secondary here. Important, but secondary. To cut right to the negative, what I didn't like the most about the book was how it was a bit all over the place. Like the Labyrinth itself, the book was, at times, chaotic. But I don't fault it for that. My issue lies in how that chaos comes off as too organized. Half the book feels forced, and the other half feels rushed. It's like there were a bunch of ideas the author wanted to put into the book, but (with most of them) he wouldn't give them the amount of time they deserved. And then, as I said, some of the things just felt forced in there, just there to go "hey, I'm important to the plot later, but I just needed to be introduced now so it makes sense when the time comes. kthxbai." I don't know. I just think there was a good chunk of the book that was handled too sloppily.

That being said, the book has a strong first few chapters and a strong last half (or thereabouts). There are a couple really good twists toward the end. And I knew way ahead of time that these characters would be involved in twists, I just didn't know how. And no, I'm not talking about Rachel Elizabeth Dare, though I did love her involvement. Right about the time I started going "okay, what the heck was her point?," the book brings her back into the equation. Though the lead-up to the reveal brought back bad flashbacks to the first book, where Riordan took an unbelievably long time to reveal the completely obvious.

On a related note, I did really enjoy how the book started to focus more on the romantic relationships between some of the characters. Though Percy is completely daft about it all. But still, I can't wait to see it all resolved in the last book.

One thing I loved about the second and third books were the involvement of some really fun gods and goddesses. Unfortunately, the two central ones this time around aren't nearly as interesting as the others have been. Hephaestus is interesting, but his personality is dull. And Hera is barely in the book for me to really care. I wanted to see Hermes or Apollo again. Though there is a great, though much too short, section with Calypso (not a goddess, but immortal) that is utterly heartbreaking. I hope she comes back into the story in the last book, because I really liked her character, and you can't help but feel horribly for her.

Also taking a larger role is Nico di Angelo. The character is annoyingly stubborn and dangerously naive, but I still can't help but like him for how cool his powers and whatnot are. I think the ending of the book bodes well for the last book. Hopefully Nico is a little less annoying and a lot cooler, because he is a character with a lot of potential.

I know I said some negative things here, but I did enjoy the book. In my current list from favorite on down, it'd probably come in second (after Titan's Curse). I should start reading the fifth soon. But as for this one, maybe my expectations were too high after the third. Who knows? It's still a good read.


Short Review: Attack The Gas Station!

Premise: Four friends with troubled pasts rob a gas station. A little bit later, just out of pure boredom, they decide to rob it again. But since the station only has a little money, they decide to take everyone hostage and run the gas station themselves and rip off the customers... which just continues to escalate, and nobody (including the cops) is ever the wiser.

Starring: Sung-jae Lee, Oh-seong Yu, Seong-jin Kang, Ji-tae Yu, Yeong-gyu Park, Jun Jeong, and Yu-won Lee. 

My Reaction: I'm always on the lookout for a good heist movie. With a high score on imdb and a great premise, this one was promising. And "promising" is about where it stays. I have a feeling that the movie is primarily for South Korean audiences, and some things were missing in translation. There were some fun or funny bits, but they were too few and far between. I didn't care for any of the characters. The movie is entirely too long (about the 45 minute mark, I thought it had to be about over. But there was still over an hour to go). The movie is often slapstick, and sometimes just strange, though mostly unrealistic. Though the acting is good, and it has a good climax. There are bits of the story that I would have liked to see delved into more, but which weren't. I honestly believe (and I felt this way while watching the movie) that, if handled right, with just the right things cut/changed/added, it would make a good American remake. As it is, the movie has a good stylistic eye, but there aren't enough "that's cool" moments to win the style over substance fight. It should have been more thrilling in the suspense moments. It should have been funnier in the comedy moments (though that's probably where a lot of the 'lost in translation' comes in). But for the most part, it just feel a bit too muddled and overlong. It's not a bad movie by any means. I just don't think it lived up to its promise, or the bits of inspiration it showed at times during the film.

Stop Saying Okay! Okay.


TV Review: Dragonball Z - Season Seven.

Season 7 picks up right where the last left off. Goku, King Kai, Bubbles, and Gregory head for Otherworld and the Grand Kai's planet. There, we also get an explanation of the deity system. There are four regular Kai's, one for each of the four quadrants of the galaxy. King Kai happens to be king of the north quadrant. Grand Kai is over all of them, and is basically like God... a God that looks like an old man stuck in an 80s cliche. And then there's the Supreme Kai, who is like the God of God and everything else, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

Remember a few seasons ago when I mentioned that there were mini-sagas every now and then? Sagas that are just fill and really don't mean much of anything to the over-arching story? Well, that's how the season begins... a 5-episode mini-saga about the Otherworld Martial Arts Tournament, a tournament suggested by the four Kai's to see which quadrant has the strongest fighter. But the only two the mini-saga makes any real fuss about are Goku and a Piccolo-esque guy named Pikkon (pie-con). Pikkon is so strong that he's able to take out both Frieza and Cell, who are making trouble in Hell, single-handedly.

After that whole mini-saga, we pick up with... another mostly pointless saga. But the story picks up years later back on Earth. Gohan is now a teenager and, although he had been home schooling for years, decides to try out high school... though the closest one is some 500 miles away in the newly renamed Satan City (renamed after Hercule Satan, the man who got all the credit for defeating Cell). While there, Gohan has some issues fitting in with the crowd, and accidentally catches too much attention from a girl named Videl, who happens to be Mr. Satan's daughter.

And what does Gohan decide to do? Become a superhero, of course. He
 has to get out all his super energy somehow, right? So he dons a costume and becomes The Great Saiyaman (I'm not kidding), fighting thugs and stopping crime. It's so beyond lame and embarrassing, it actually makes the Ginyu Force bearable. Get this, besides the stupid positions he "shows off" in, he actually, at one point, does a rap. Seriously.

Other things that have happened over the years? Well, apparently Chi-Chi was pregnant before Goku died, and she had another son named Goten, who is friends/rivals with Bulma and Vegeta's son, Trunks (both of whom are already, at their young ages, Super Saiyans. Man, I remember back when Super Saiyans were rare and were hard to become, and Gohan was such a shocker due to being the youngest ever). Krillin actually, and bizarrely, grew out some hair and married Android 18, and they have a daughter named Maron (yes... Krillin named his daughter after his first girlfriend. I wonder how that conversation went with the wife).

In other words, Dragonball Z has become a sitcom. From the new slapstick opening credits to the overall tone of the season thus far, it's become nothing more than a family-friendly sitcom. Even the Otherworld Tournament was toned down considerably. Granted, it was a friendly competition, but still. Everything has gotten rather ridiculous... at least at the start.

Of course, the season does have somewhat of a point. Videl finds out Gohan's true identity as Saiyaman and blackmails him. Along with teaching her how to fly, she makes him enter the upcoming world martial arts tournament. Gohan tells all the others about this, as well, and they all decide to enter. And not only them. Goku gets a bit of present and is offered 1 full day on Earth to compete in the tournament, as well. And everybody is excited, including Vegeta, who now has yet another chance to fight him.

One of the better things about the mostly pathetic excuse for a season is Gohan's relationship with Goten. They're really the first siblings the show has had, and to show them interact is at least mildly entertaining. Also, the budding relationship between Gohan and Videl is nice, even though it's your classic case of falling for somebody like your mother (anger issues). Though once she gets a haircut, her personality seems to shift altogether. Seriously, it's like a whole different character.

After a few more episodes of nothing important, we get to the tournament... and continue to watch not much of importance. Though by this point we know that the newly formed "Juniors Division" will come down to Trunks or Goten, while the adult group will come down to either Goku, Vegeta, or Gohan (if the plot allows them to stay in that long). And then there's the mystery of who is actually gonna take down Hercule and show him for the lame fraud he is.

But finally, at the end of the final episode on the 4th of 6 discs for the
 season, we get some semblance of a purpose. Two mysterious and potentially dangerous strangers appear and talk to Goku (well, one of them talks, anyway), saying that they traveled a long way to have this chance to fight him. The smaller one, Shin (the one that talked), for some reason totally freaks out Piccolo, and Piccolo can't figure out why he's so freaked out by this guy. Of course, he figured it out... and I won't give it away, but let's just say I've already brought it up once in this post.

After a whole episode dedicated to drawing numbers to see who is going to fight who instead of just getting to the fighting, we get our opening fights, including Videl versus a very large, scary man with a Russian-esque name I can't be bothered to remember (he's also with another smaller, though still large and scary man who looks similar and with a name I also can't be bothered to remember). And something is up with this guy, as he won't stay down (no pun intended). There's also some kind of connection between this guy and Shin, but what could it be?

Turns out, the whole thing is basically a setup for the rest of the series. At the very end of the final episode, we find out what's really going on. I'll save the details for the next season review, but let's just say it basically involves an ultimate superpower/evil (shocker). Unfortunately, the season ends there. There's no overall story arch that's tied up. The tournament hasn't ended. Nothing is closed. It's just... in the middle of everything. Even the Ginyu Force saga had an ending (the Ginyu Force was defeated). But this... nothing.

Overall, the season is one of those that is necessary (I guess), but it feels almost entirely pointless. Though in a strange way, chunks of it were still entertaining and fun. Most of those bits were the growing relationship between Gohan and Videl, as I'm a sucker for romance in these kinds of stories. Mostly, though, the season was all over the place, tonally and otherwise. It really doesn't pick up until the tournament stuff (the Earth one, not the Otherworld one), but even then it takes a bit. Though I must admit, the big Videl fight is actually painful to watch, mostly due to a mix of sound effects and the voice actress' heartbreaking screams. And that has to be one of the only times in the full series where the violence actually got to me. It wasn't all cool and special effects and whatever. It was brutal and crushing. But I digress.

Would I recommend this saga? If you're going to continue watching after the Cell Saga, you don't have much of a choice. It introduces all the new stuff and characters necessary for the remainder of the series. Honestly, I ragged on this saga a lot, but it (at least the latter half) isn't really all that bad. The Great Saiyaman stuff is painful, yes, but the tournament stuff is better. But you still have to get through the former to understand the character relationships of the latter. Though as it stands, it's probably one of my least favorite seasons thus far.


Book Review: "Percy Jackson, Book Three - The Titan's Curse" by Rick Riordan.

I really zipped through this book. I read a few chapters yesterday, then read the rest--over half the book--today. I couldn't put it down. In my opinion, this third installment is better than the first two combined. Before I get into the review, let me just warn now: if you haven't read the first two, there might be some spoilers in this review. It is about the third of a series, after all. So if you haven't... I'd stop reading this review now. There also might be one or two hints of spoilers (as in, if you think about it, I'm sure you could figure it out, but I won't say it directly) for this third book.

The book starts off differently than the other two. Whereas the previous books begin at the start of summer and are heavy in exposition, this one starts in the heart of winter and gives exposition the finger. At first it's a bit disorienting, seeing the end of the previous book ends introducing the human form of Thalia. This one picks up with Percy, Thalia, and Annabeth going to meet Grover at a military school, as he had found a couple more half-bloods. There's no immediate explanation of why Grover is searching for half-bloods again, or how they all got so buddy-buddy with Thalia. It does explain, but briefly, and not right away. Don't get me wrong, this isn't really a complaint. It was actually somewhat refreshing, not having to have things I should already know beaten over my head.

Anyway, there's a scuffle, and Annabeth ends up kidnapped, while Percy, Thalia, Grover, and the two half-bloods he found--Bianca and Nico di Angelo--are saved by The Hunters (or Huntresses, rather), the elite group of warriors led by the goddess Artemis. Artemis goes off to hunt a powerful monster that the bad guys are after, leaving her followers, including the tough Zoe Nightshade, to go back to Camp Half-Blood. They hitch a ride with Artemis' twin brother Apollo and make it back to camp. One thing leads to another, and there's another prophecy and another quest. A team of five must search for the now-kidnapped Artemis, though with the knowledge that two will die and one will hold the burden of the Titan's curse. And then there's the whole issue of rescuing Annabeth, which Percy takes to heart, especially when it's declared that he's not one of the five going on the quest.

Almost right away, the book seems darker than its predecessors. There's still a lot of fun action. I particularly liked the brief fight between Percy and Thalia early on. And speaking of Thalia, if there's one thing that I would have liked to see done just slightly differently, it would be her relationship with Percy. Or rather, how Percy perceives her. The first half of the book sets it up as if Percy is going to have this on-going rivalry with her, where everybody follows Thalia and she gets all the glory, leaving Percy behind as just some other, average hero. But the latter half of the book drops this. I thought it would have really played better if he would have gotten more angsty with her and her sudden spotlight... kind of like how Ron got with Harry in Goblet of Fire, I suppose.

And speaking of Harry Potter, there were still a few parallels, but they're getting further and further away, much harder to just point out and go "that's totally Harry Potter." There really wasn't anything major or blatant, at least not that I can remember. So that's a good sign.

My favorite thing about the previous book was Hermes, so it's not that much of a surprise that some of my favorite bits for this book involved other gods and goddesses, namely Artemis and Apollo. We also see Aphrodite and Athena up close and personal for the first time, too. Though what I really liked was the reveal of the General. Strangely, I picked up on a certain myth going on earlier, but I didn't make the connection until right before it was revealed. Similarly, I had a hunch of who Nico and Bianca's immortal parent was for most of the book, but I think only because I've been hoping to see a child of this particular deity since the first book. I also think Rick Riordan handled the clues much more subtly for them than he did Percy, which he bashed repeatedly over our heads for over 100 pages of the first book.

One interesting note that I'd like to bring up that I haven't yet in any of these reviews is something I noticed that is rather prevalent in these books. Mr. Riordan quite often likes to make sure that the characters, usually Percy, grabs anything important from wherever, because he/they have a feeling that he/they "won't be returning to/won't be seeing this place again and/or for a long time." It just seems too coincidental that Percy or the group just know, for no reason, that they're about to be forced from wherever they're at and so they better take their things, because they'll need them for the rest of the plot. I've seen this happen in each book so far, sometimes more than once (I think it happened at least 2-3 times or so in the second book).

A few final notes... the book was not only better written and more intricate than its predecessors, but it was also funnier. I loved the Hoover Dam chapter; it actually made me laugh out loud. Also, for the first time, the book didn't feel self-contained. There were some things left hanging, such as Clarisse's quest, the di Angelo "lawyer," or anything about the mortal girl from the Hoover Dam (I know she has to be important later... too big of a deal was made of her). And speaking of things important for later, the Lotus Hotel came back into play, though it still really wasn't explained. Its magical properties were used (rather cleverly, might I add) for plot purposes, but I'd still like some kind of explanation of its existence. I need to go out and buy the last two books (I only got the first three), because I really want to start up the fourth. There's so much I left out of this review that I liked (from Bessie to Blackjack, and even Dionysus... who, though I had a small quibble about regarding his interesting though almost completely out of nowhere explanation of why he hates heroes, has a good moment toward the end of the book). So again, I loved this third installment. To me, it was clearly the best thus far, and I can only hope the next two are even better.



Not everybody will "get" this movie. I'd place bets that at least half the people who see it will probably not like it. I wager that based on, as I walk out of the theater, I hear a redneck on his cell phone telling somebody not to bother seeing the movie because it sucked. Seconds later, I hear some teen girls talking about how cool the weapons were.

There are three types of "good" movies, in my mind. The first is the "entertaining" movie. This can be anything from a cheap B-movie to a brainless Hollywood blockbuster. As long as it's entertaining and fun, it's all good. Then there is the "respectable" movie. These movies aren't entertaining, per se, but they're respectable in what they pull off. In other words, these are mostly your Oscar-bait films. And then there's the most difficult to pull off, the "respectable and entertaining" film. These can be deep in theme and purpose, high class films... but they're still entertaining and fun to watch. They aren't your run-of-the-mill depressing Oscar-bait film. District 9 tries to pull off this third type. Does it do it? Yes and no.

The movie is an alternate history movie, wherein aliens landed over Johannesburg, Africa in the 80s. They're subjected to slums, poor treatment, and basic apartheid behavior. And now the government agency in charge of controlling them (as well as their weapons, which only the aliens can operate) is wanting to move them into what is essentially a concentration camp. Enter Wikus (Sharlto Copley), a young man who just doesn't know any better and is promoted to the in-charge position of this eviction and transfer mission. But something happens on this trip, and it starts to change him... inside and out. Wikus starts becoming one of these aliens and goes on the run, learning more what it's like to be on the other side, while continuing to try and recover his old life.

I said before that the movie tries to be both respectable and entertaining. And it succeeds at both... for the most part. I knew while watching the movie that I was seeing something special. This is a highly respectable film in many ways, from its apartheid themes and symbolisms all the way to its stunning visual effects. And its visuals are oh-so-stunning.

And the movie is entertaining, as well. All the action/suspense scenes, primarily anything where alien weaponry is used, is amazingly awesome. Those are truly the best parts of the film. But what takes it all away for me, what ultimately stops the film--in my opinion--from being totally outstanding, is its main character. Wikus is likable at times, but I found him to be a mostly unlikable character. The majority of what he did was wrong or selfish, and I couldn't latch on to him. Moreso than him being unlikable (because really, I didn't hate the guy), he just didn't make me care about him. I cared more about Christopher and his son (the two main aliens) than Wikus. Now those two characters were incredibly likable. But unfortunately, the film focuses more on Wikus.

Another issue was that the beginning "documentary" bits went on way too long. I felt those could have been trimmed down a bit. I know it was adding realism and setting up the movie, but it felt like 30 minutes of exposition... and the worst kind, too, where the characters are actually talking to you, right into the camera. I started wondering if it was ever going to end, or if the whole movie was gonna be like that. Thankfully it stopped, but it could have stopped sooner (it does come back to it from time to time, but I didn't mind, as there was plenty of "movie" bits in between, if that makes sense).

Anyway, I really do respect what the movie did and what it represents. And I also think the movie was rather entertaining, primarily the action bits with the alien weaponry. I also enjoyed the realism of the film, as well as how seamless the CGI and other visuals were with the rest of the movie. But it still had some issues. Besides what I already said, there is still something I can't put my finger on. But it was just something about the film itself that makes me not enjoy it as much as I want to. After all, I went into this movie with average expectations, so I really didn't go in with any reason to be let down. And on one level I wasn't, but on some strange level, I was. Still, the movie is respectable and entertaining... I just wish it could have solved a few of the aforementioned issues.

A Keanu 'Whoa'


Book Review: "Percy Jackson, Book Two - The Sea of Monsters" by Rick Riordan.

So I finished the second Percy Jackson book, The Sea of Monsters. I have to say, I enjoyed it more than the first. It still has some obvious Harry Potter parallels (Gray Sisters Taxi/Knight Bus, Chariot Racing/Quidditch, The "mentor" being forced to leave as to be replaced by somebody who goes out of his/her way to torture and humiliate the hero and others). But unlike the previous book, this one has very few HP connections, so it really isn't distracting.

Instead, this book pulls a lot from The Odyssey, which is ironic considering I recently found out that I'm gonna be teaching that this year. Anyway, the book starts off as Percy finally having lasted nearly a full year at a single school (which is kind of an HP parallel, too... instead of DADA teachers not lasting a year, Percy can't stay in a school for more than a year). He's also befriended Tyson, a rather large and unpopular guy, who was brought in as an educating the homeless project of some sort. He's a bit slow, though nice and misunderstood, unlike the rest of his kind... but I'm getting ahead of myself. In other words, he's like a mentally handicapped version of Hagrid (I know Tyson is supposed to be just a "little kid," but he seemed more "special" to me, if you know what I mean). Anywho, Annabeth shows up and drags Percy (and Tyson by extension) to Camp Half-Blood, where Thalia's tree-o-protection has been poisoned and monsters are attacking. Not long after, Percy realizes he must save Grover, who has been captured by Polyphemus, the cyclops defeated by Odysseus, and who is also guarding the Golden Fleece. And, imagine that, they also realize that the Golden Fleece could be the only thing to heal Thalia-Tree and save the camp. So off on adventure they go... even if they were told not to.

I really didn't have any major issues with this one. It strongly followed the same outline as The Odyssey, but that didn't bother me. Some of the previous characters get bigger roles, such as Clarisse, who I'm actually enjoying as a character (she's kinda like Draco-lite: she doesn't come off as completely threatening, and is at times likable). It introduces some fun new characters, too. Tyson is a great character, mostly due to how innocent he is (I loved the whole "Rainbow the Hippocampus" bit). I also really liked the god Hermes, introduced in this book. His bits, though there are only two, are really funny.

And that's another thing. This book had more humor than the previous. Well, I mean that the humor didn't seem as forced as the first, or was at least witty enough for me to appreciate. But there was an overall good mix of humor and action.

This book also wasn't nearly as predictable as the first, despite following the Odyssey outline. I knew how it was going to end merely because I had it accidentally spoiled for me beforehand (some stupid person on imdb brought it up in a topic for the first movie). Though, and you'll know what I'm talking about if you've read the book, I liked the reasoning behind why the ending bit happened. I didn't see that coming, honestly. And although the baddie is ripping off Voldemort more by the second, he's actually beginning to become more threatening by showing his cunning and deceitful ways.

If there was anything about the ending that I didn't like, it was the end of the penultimate chapter (at the end of the chariot race). It was so cheesy. Like, the ending of the movie version of Chamber of Secrets cheesy (which is an ironic comparison as I've already made the Hagrid/Tyson comparison). It just felt... forced and fake and incredibly cheesy. But maybe that's just me.

Maybe I can get through the next three books without spoilers or easy predictability. I've been told that, like Harry Potter, these books do get darker and more intricate as the go, which makes me happy. If it keeps going on this path, the next few books will be great and fun. Though the series thus far has been fun already. And this second installment was no different. If you enjoyed the first one, you'll really enjoy the second.



I wasn't sure from the trailers if I wanted to see it or not (I like Steve Zahn, Milla Jovovich, and Timothy Olyphant), but then I found out it was written and directed by David Twohy, who also wrote/directed one of my favorite horror films, Pitch Black (and later The Chronicles of Riddick). It bumped up much higher on my list. And then I started reading really good reviews for it, which bumped it up more. So I finally went and saw this yesterday.

A Perfect Getaway (double entendre and all) is about newlywed couple Cliff (Steve Zahn) and Cydney (Milla Jovovich), honeymooning in Hawaii. Along the way they meet creepy hitchhikers, Kale (Chris Hemsworth) and Cleo (Marley Shelton). And not long after that, they meet the slightly strange, but mostly endearing couple Nick (Timothy Olyphant) and Gina (Kiele Sanchez). But then they discover that on the neighboring island of Oahu, there was a murder, and the police are looking for a man and woman couple as suspects. And with all three couples having been on Oahu on the day of the murder, it could have been any of them... though nobody's about to come out and point fingers.

The movie isn't the horror/slasher flick that the trailer makes it out to be. This film is more of a slow-burn paranoid thriller with the action picking up in the third act. And although it does make you second guess yourself on who you think the killer is, your first instinct is probably right. I figured it out just by watching the trailer... but that doesn't necessarily ruin a movie for me. I did the same thing for the film Identity, and I still really liked that movie. Though, while you might guess the whodunit, you might not figure out the whydunit. I felt that really helped bring it up a few notches to save it from overall predictability. The writing of the film was so detailed and great that everything is kept ambiguous and out in the open to keep you second guessing yourself, only to figure out later how all of those second guessing moments fit together with the plot. And, again, the WHY was so much more interesting than the WHO (I'd actually go out on a limb and say that David Twohy knew this from the start and focused on the story more than relying on the whodunit twist).

As for the actors, they all did a pretty good job. Milla Jovovich has some good moments, and Steve Zahn really does a bang-up job. The other couple (Marley Shelton and Chris Hemsworth) aren't really in the movie all that much, but they do an all-around decent job of being creepy. But the true scene stealer is Timothy Olyphant. Seriously, this guy really stole the show. He was charismatic, interesting, and sometimes a little strange. But he really pulls it off and becomes the real star of the movie.

Something else I really liked about the movie was its meta-qualities. It's a movie that talks about movies, as Zahn's character is a screenwriter. And, of course, like in Scream, there are things that are discussed about the genre at hand that must always happen (red herrings, the second-act twist).

As I said before, the movie is a slow-burner. It builds up the suspense and paranoia (and the clues) until the third act. And then, after the red herrings and the second-act twist, the movie really shifts into gear. And it really changes in all respects. The action in non-stop, keeping the adrenaline pumping until the end. Even the gore--as before this point, there really isn't any at all--picks up. It's not overwhelming for people who can't handle gore; it's not Saw-level or anything. The film also becomes rather stylish. There are some flashback moments that explain scenes earlier in the film, and then there are some other flashback moments that take us before that to do a bit of character building and other explanations. And all of these moments are done in a silvery overtone that looks pretty cool. Then, when the chasing starts, there's an awesome bit where the screen keeps shifting in these wipe-kinda things that looks really cool and was a great little bit of editing. And then the overall use of the camera in general.

Overall, the movie was very good. It had beautiful shots of the island, great camera and editing work, good-to-great acting, some really fun characters, and great writing with a surprisingly intriguing story (once it all comes to light). The only things I could point out as negative were that it is a slow-burn and therefore has moments that almost drag before picking up again, as well as that the movie is a bit predictable. But again, I think the movie and story was good enough to trump the predictability. So really, it was another good job by Mr. Twohy.

A Keanu 'Whoa'


Book Review: "Percy Jackson, Book One - The Lightning Thief" by Rick Riordan.

I've recently discovered the Percy Jackson series. I mean, I've known about it for ages, but I recently decided to read it. I just finished the first book, and I've decided that I will do a review for each one as I go along. As a Harry Potter fan, I heard this was the series to go to for some good reading along the same path.

And I can totally see why. This book has so many similarities to Harry Potter, it's bordering between freakish and idea-stealing. Granted, I'm no dummy. I know of Joseph Campbell's monomyth and how basically all fantasy stories follow the same rules--from Beowulf to Lord of the Rings to Star Wars, Eragon, and Harry Potter. I can't hold monomythic structure against it (a regular boy discovers he's more than average and becomes a hero... there's possibly a prophecy... and there are specific characters, such as the helpers or the mentor, not to mention the specific paths he must follow).

And these aren't the things I'm talking about with this comparison. Although, some of these I also cannot fault, due to them being steeped in mythology (and since Percy Jackson follows Greek Mythology, well...). But let me give a list of some of the similarities I found between just this first book and the Harry Potter series (there may be some mild spoilers for The Lightning Thief, so be warned):

- The importance of the lightning bolt in general (Harry's scar/Zeus' master bolt).
- An object that, when worn, causes invisibility (cloak/hat).
- A mother 'sacrifices' herself (or at least attempts to) to protect her son.
- The hero is saved by a centaur.
- Hero pulls a jewel-encrusted sword that belonged to an ancient figure from a seemingly everyday object (hat/pen).
- One friend is a brainiac girl with all the answers and who is rarely without a book.
- The other friend is half the time nervous and enjoys eating often.
- The term "Half-blood" in general (I'd say this could go to "mythology," but I'm more aware of the term demigod).
- Being in a school-like place where "students" are sorted into houses (which are named after important ancient figures).
- One of these aforementioned houses is entirely against the hero.
- One person from said "mean" house is specifically antagonistic with the hero, as is (eventually) the character's father.
- There is a "teacher" who hates the hero for his status and his father, but is willing to protect him anyway.
- The line given by said teacher regarding his celebrity status.
  *Note: This one really got to me. Mr. D and Snape are so similar in personality, it's insane... and the line Mr. D says to Percy after Percy discovers who his father is is almost syllable for syllable a line Snape gives when he first meets Harry. Snape's line: "Mr. Potter... our new celebrity."  And Mr. D's line: "Well, well... our little celebrity."
- The hero is forced to live with a despicable person because said person helps to keep the hero protected.
- Characters are afraid to say the names of their enemies and give them other names to call them by instead.
- The hero, at one point, talks to a caged animal right before freeing it.
- The "trio" (which is actually called a "trio" in Lightning Thief, which could be considered another connection in and of itself) must pass by a giant three-headed dog in order to get to their ultimate destination (this one I'll let pass as having the mythology ties to begin with).
- Not really book related, but just for a fun fact... Chris Columbus, who directed the first two Harry Potter films, is directing the film version of The Lightning Thief.

And there are numerous others I didn't even bother to list, but are incredibly easy to pick up on. But all that being said, I can continue with my actual review. The Lightning Thief introduces us to the world of Percy Jackson, a 12-year-old boy with dyslexia and ADHD, who has been kicked out of every private school he's attended. Long story short, he ends up discovering he's a half-blood--his mother is mortal and his father is one of the gods of Olympus from Greek mythology. And not just any god, either, but one of the big three: Poseidon (this is not a spoiler. Granted, he doesn't officially find out until after a 100 pages in, but if you can't figure it out on your own far before that, you probably have no prior interest in or miniscule knowledge of Greek mythology, and this book probably wouldn't be for you anyway). But this is a major issue, as after World War II, Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades (the big three) made an agreement not to have any more kids, as they were too powerful. Zeus broke the treaty first, and then Poseidon, and Hades didn't like either of them for it. But now, Zeus' master lightning bolt has been stolen--which cannot be done by another god--and Zeus blames Percy, recently outed as Poseidon's son. So Percy must go on a quest with his newest friends to find the lightning bolt in 10 days or else World War III will begin.

The book has a fun story, especially for me, who loved all sorts of mythologies growing up--but Greek was, as with most people, my first. I loved a lot of the little allusions and whatnot. The writing isn't very difficult. It's not as deep or detailed as Harry Potter, but it isn't as simplistic as, say, Skulduggery Pleasant.

Though it isn't without its issues. My first issue with the book was how long it took to reveal certain information. Things were needlessly dragged out. Seriously, by the time they actually revealed Percy's father, I thought all the other characters had to be the biggest idiots on Earth. His mother met his father by the sea. They both always felt the most comfortable at the beach. Percy becomes incredibly rejuvenated with water. He actually controls water and attacks people with it. And a whole slew of other clues. But no... none of the characters, some of which are immortal or gods themselves, can't figure it out until Poseidon's symbol appears over the boy's head. And not just with this particular reveal, but with information about the world in general. It took the book way too long to start divulging information about the new, mystical world. For almost no reason, they refused to tell Percy anything about his new life. And it drove me crazy.

Another issue comes at the latter part of the book. I was having no problem with the quest they were on until they came to Vegas. You know when you watch a movie based on a book, and something happens that totally confuses you because it's not really detailed or explained? It's just kind of random, but is necessary to move the plot forward, but you just know that it had to have been given more details in the source material? That's what I felt of the Lotus Hotel/Arcade scene. The scene is an allusion to the Lotus-Eaters part of The Odyssey, but it's never explained or even mentioned again once they escape. It just seemed almost like, and forgive this pun, a deus ex machina or something for the author to pull him out of an issue he'd written himself into and needed to add more suspense or whatever.

The last issue I can't really fault the book. At least, I probably shouldn't. The book was way too predictable. I figured out everything way before I probably should have. Granted, the book is written for middle grade, I assume, so they might not find it as predictable as I did. But there was something about the writing, too. Instead of constantly barraging the reader with clues and "hey, look at this! Make sure to remember this!" moments, it could have been much more subtle so that the big reveals were actually surprising.

Overall, though, the book was very entertaining. It's easy to read and, despite its predictability, fun. The characters were good, the writing was decent, the use of mythology was great, and its moments of action were actually really cool. So I must join the ranks of the others and say, if you enjoy Harry Potter, you'll most likely enjoy Percy Jackson. Don't go in expecting the depth or layers of the aforementioned series (that I can see so far, having just read the first book), but if you're a mythology buff, it's all good. Just don't get hung up (I know, it's hard) on the Harry Potter parallels, because you'll see them on practically every page of the book. If you try to look past that, you'll enjoy it.


DVD Review: Dakota Skye.

This movie is equally brilliant as it is aggravating. Dakota Skye (Eileen Boylan) has a superpower: she can tell when people are lying and know exactly what they really mean. And because of this, her life has made her very cynical and grumpy to the point where she even hates being around her best friend. Her boyfriend, Kevin (J.B. Ghuman Jr.), is an older guy, in a band, and is part time nice guy, part time daft jerk. But then his best friend in the world, Jonah (Ian Nelson), comes to visit from New York, and he turns Dakota's world upside down. How? Apparently, he never lies, which intrigues her immensely. He's like her arch-nemesis. The problem is... what happens when they fall for each other, especially since that leaves Kevin's emotions at play.

The movie is witty, clever, and--at times--genius. Seriously, there are some amazingly written (and acted) moments in this film--for instance, the "I can't tell you" scene with Jonah, or Dakota's internal monologue at the movie theater. The movie has some great ideas, as well. The problem is that the movie falls short at times of what it could have been with some of the ideas it presents. For every brilliantly written or acted scene, there seems to be a mediocre one (OK, so maybe the ratio is a little closer to the brilliant side). Though I did really like the main quirk of the film: whenever somebody said a lie, there would be a subtitle of what was really meant, which we knew Dakota knew, as well.

But my biggest issue falls with Dakota herself. While the actress who plays her is hot (or at least more than the "medium-cute" as she describes herself), she's a completely and utterly unlikable character. I know most of that is the point, but something could have been done to make her more likable, or at least shown some kind of change earlier in the film. Instead, the movie has her play with people's emotions and makes her that much more unlikable. Parts of her actually reminded me of Bella from the Twilight series (I don't think she's that bad, though). She has quite a bit of voice-over narration, especially toward the beginning, and most of that is really good--especially for voice-over narration. But it's the way she acts in person. In other words, she's totally Emo.

Part of the problem could also be due to the writing of boyfriend Kevin. At times, the character is presented as a douche (though unintentional on his part) who treats Dakota like crap. But other times, he was a pretty decent person, and I felt bad for him for how Dakota was treating him. If he was written as more of a total jerk, maybe her transition to Jonah wouldn't have made her look as bad as I felt it did.

But at the same time, these things fall under one of the movie's strengths: its realism. From the dialogue down to the character's actions, the movie felt like it could be real (despite the magical realism of her 'superpower'). There was just enough cussing or just enough teen angst to make the dialogue (or sometimes lack thereof) seem absolutely real. It was never really overdone at all. The movie was quirky, but not too quirky to where--with something like Juno--it seems made-up. And the characters aren't your typical Hollywood cardboard cutouts (the jerk boyfriend, the faultless lead female). The characters had depth and ranges of emotions. But I'm just not sure whether or not it worked for this film and with what it was trying to accomplish. As I said, it made the main character come off as completely unlikable and unsympathetic.

As such, this is a very strange movie to review. Part of me wants to give it a really high score due to these streaks of brilliance. But the other part of me is fighting that urge for any or all of the aforementioned reasons. I can compare a handful of things about it to Twilight, which isn't remotely a good thing. At least the writing and dialogue is better. The cinematography was really good; the movie looked great. And the music was decent. I suppose, overall, I'm gonna go, as usual, with entertainment value over more technical aspects (writing, etc.). So with that said...

I Am McLovin!



Before I get into this review, I want to--yet again--discuss a theater experience during this film. First, I wasn't even excited to see this movie, to say straight away. I never played with GI Joe's, never knew any of the characters or any of their stories. But the movie looked to be one of those "so bad it's good" films. I just kinda went to the theater on a whim while I was in the area, and it was between this and The Perfect Getaway, but by the time I got there, the next showing for Perfect Getaway wasn't for a while, and GI Joe started in about 15 minutes. That being said, let me go into the actual theater experience.

There were really only two things this time around. The first was highly annoying, and the second had to be the strangest theater experience yet. The first was a little boy, maybe 2 or 3 years old, who sat behind me. And he literally (no hyperbole here) never shut up, not even for 1 second. If he wasn't talking or rambling or asking the same question 5 times in a row without giving anybody time to answer, he was singing or making incoherent noises. And all of this he was doing loud enough for the entire theater to hear him. And the most the mother (or whomever) would tell him was "shh." I'm a relatively laid back person and I'm not really easy to anger. I never tell off anybody in the theater (or otherwise, really). But this had to be the closest I'd ever come to cussing out both a toddler and his mother in public without care of consequence (again, keeping in mind that I didn't even care about this movie... that's how annoying it was).

Now, the second thing was just strange. Two seats to my right there was a little girl, maybe 9 or 10 years old (at the most). There was an empty seat between us. Let me briefly describe her film-going experience. During the entire previews portion, she had her head turned toward me, which I could easily see out the corner of my eye. I'd look at her, and she's staring up at the far wall (maybe a light fixture)... just... staring. Her body doesn't move an inch, nor does her head. She just stares. The movie starts and she faces forward... but only for a couple minutes. Then she does something with her phone before getting up and leaving for about 15 minutes. When she comes back, she sits back down and, yet again, I can see her face staring in my general direction. I look over again, and her eyes are closes, and her hands go from pressed to folded. And then she makes the sign of the cross. She was praying. So she goes to watch the film for a few minutes before I see her staring in my direction again. Then she gets up and leaves for another 10-15 minutes. When she comes back... yes, you guessed it... more staring. Eventually, she leans forward with her head between her legs and starts playing with a pile of spilled popcorn that's on the floor, and I'm sitting there wondering if she's found Jesus' face in it or something. Once she's done with that, again, turned toward me, though I believe she was sleeping this time. And it wasn't long after that when the movie ended.

So, with the peripheral distraction and the kid I wanted to smack in a movie I was only minimally intrigued in at best... I give you my review of GI Joe. The movie is about Duke (Channing Tatum) and Ripcord (Marlon Wayans), who find themselves involved with a special ops departement called GI Joe, run by General Hawk (Dennis Quaid). Other members include Snake Eyes (Ray Park), Heavy Duty (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), Scarlett (Rachel Nichols), and Breaker (Said Taghmaoui). They're fighting against a group of baddies run by McCullen (Christopher Eccleston) and The Doctor (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), but also include Ana (Sienna Miller), Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Lee), and Zartan (Arnold Vosloo). The baddies are after some bio-chemical weapons that, well, they made in the first place. And each side has super-enhancement weapons and whatnot.

Honestly, story-wise, the movie both does and doesn't make sense. It has its share of logic or plot holes. One of the most annoying being that the Neo-Vipers (or whatever they're called) are stated toward the beginning to not feel pain or have emotions, but they sure do show both when they're being killed. But really, it isn't about the story.

The only redeeming factor in this movie is its action. I have to say, honestly, this movie does have some pretty cool action. The CGI is hit or miss, but the action is pretty dang good. The only real disappointment in the action department was that (and especially with Ray Park involved) the fight scenes between Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow could have been so much cooler (and longer) than they were. But for the most part, the action scenes were inventive, fun, and overall entertaining.

The acting isn't the greatest, either, really. In fact, it's pretty spotty. Stephen Sommers actually brings in a few of his Mummy alums for various roles, such as the mummy himself, Arnold Vosloo. And there are a couple interesting though mostly wasted cameos, like Brendan Fraser and Kevin J. O'Connor. Casting Marlon Wayans was mostly a waste, as well, because the writing of the movie tried too hard to be funny and fell flat on its face. There's maybe one good joke, and it's not good enough to get more than a weak chuckle.

As I said, the CGI is hit or miss. Some of it is really good. Some of it is really bad. Parts of it are mostly unnecessary. And the rest of it looks like Watchmen leftovers--very comic book-ish. Luckily, most of the spotty CGI isn't in the action scenes, so that was good, at least.

Overall, despite all the distractions I had, I was still mildly entertained by the action pieces of the film. I also have to say, for the film's credit, the ending was a pretty interesting surprise (though I wonder if it would have been had I not been as distracted as I was). But this is a movie to see for the action. Otherwise, it's really not worth it, at least from a non-fan's perspective.

Stop Saying Okay! Okay.


Zombieland Restricted Trailer - This Movie Will Be AWESOME.

How is this movie NOT going to be freakin' awesome? Starring Woody Harrelson (as a guy named Tallahassee), Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, and Abigail Breslin... this movie looks like it's going to rival even Shaun of the Dead. Seriously, check out this trailer.


DVD Review: Chalk.

So guess what? Today I got a teaching job! I'll be teaching high school freshmen English. And in complete irony, I got this movie in Netflix today, as well (I put it on my queue ages ago). So in honor of my new job, I did the stupidest thing possible and actually watched this. Here is my review.


Chalk is a mockumentary (in a style similar to The Office) about 4 new-to-newish high school educators in Texas. Mr. Lowrey (Troy Schremmer) is a first year history teacher, very nervous and shy, which causes many classroom management issues. Mr. Stroope (Chris Mass) is more comfortable in the classroom, as it's his third year, and he's hoping to win the Teacher of the Year award this time... at any cost. Coach Webb (Jannelle Schremmer) is a second year female coach accused of being gay and rather pushy. And Mrs. Reddell (Shannon Haragan) has moved up from being a teacher to being a first year Assistant Principal... though without realizing how much work it would be and how much strain it would put on her personal life.

To me, Mr. Lowrey is the true main character of the movie. He has the biggest character development and overall story arch. He was the most identifiable. When he was awkward, you felt awkward. When he succeeded, you cheered. When he screwed up, you groaned and cried "why why why?" Mrs. Reddell is the next best character, I suppose, and has the next best development of the group. I didn't care for her as much as I did Lowrey, but you do want her to succeed. And when she finally blows up on Coach Webb, you're like "about time!" 

And speaking of Coach Webb, she starts off OK, an then it goes downhill fast. The same could be said for Mr. Stroope. Both seem to be, at least at first, good teachers. But then everything comes crumbling down. Coach Webb falls apart outside the classroom, while Stroope falls apart within. Webb is just a crazy lady, attacking teachers for not writing up students who were 2 seconds late (and subsequently asking them if they wanted to join her exercise group) and getting pissed when people didn't recycle their water bottles. Stroope, on the other hand, tries to be funny, but half the time at the expense of his students. He tells one student using too big of words to stop doing that because he doesn't understand them and tells another girl who knows more history than him to dumb it down a little so that he looks better (on both counts). He then gets all his students to help campaign for him for the Teacher of the Year and... let's just say it doesn't end pretty.

But Lowrey was the real inspiration of the film. You have no idea how connected I felt to his role, even in the social scenes when he's hanging out with the other teachers or whatever. Granted, I don't think I ever came close to his level of nervousness during my student teaching, but I certainly did experience some of the same classroom management issues (and with a class about three times the size).

Which brings us to one minor quibble. These classes were super tiny, especially for a school that seemed as big as it was (at one point, they mention that the whole school has 80-something phones on campus alone). But there were maybe 7-12 kids per class (or thereabouts). Maybe it's just my personal experience, but small classes usually don't get as rowdy as some of those did. But then again, at the beginning, Mr. Lowrey was pretty awful.

The only other real issue is a dream sequence about halfway into the movie. The movie is documentary-style, so any dream sequence is automatically against the style. I learned afterward that the scene was actually filmed as a joke, but they ended up putting it in the film anyway. I'm not sure that was the best decision.

Overall, the movie was a pretty good representation of the life of a high school teacher. Outside of the Assistant Principal, though, they really didn't get much into how it affected home life. They also didn't address the TAKS test, which I think was a mistake if they were going for realism. Hell, they probably could have done a whole movie about teacher strife in accordance with that thing. But the closest they came to even mentioning it was during a song by the AP where she mentions "no child left behind." 

Otherwise, it was close (some things were too over-the-top, and other things could have been more hardcore... there wasn't enough violence, no gang violence at all, no pregnant girls or people having sex on staircases... no sex talk whatsoever, actually. But I suppose this was more of a movie about teacher hardships and not about realism of student life, so it didn't bother me too much). Some of the things they showed, I experienced (from cell phone issues, student arguments, and even students asking me to free-style rap). Not to mention teachers complaining about other teachers all the time. My biggest problem? With my new news, this movie was too real for me right now, so I probably didn't enjoy it as much as I would have in another year or so. However, it did a great job for the most part--especially the students themselves, who weren't really acting, but being themselves--and I commend it for that.

I Am McLovin!



I went in to Funny People with low-to-mid expectations, only really going because it was Judd Apatow (and actually Apatow, not just him producing). The trailers did nothing for me but make me feel depressed. They didn't make me laugh at all. But then I hear all these reviews from people saying the movie is hilarious, and I'm taken aback. But still, I go in with low-to-mid expectations, and my expectations were met. Nothing more. Nothing less.

George Simmons (Adam Sandler) is a famous actor/comedian who suddenly gains the knowledge that he's dying of a rare blood disease. Ira (Seth Rogen) is a wannabe comic who lives with his friends Leo (Jonah Hill) and Mark (Jason Schwartzman), another up-and-comer who is somewhat famous due to starring in a crappy sitcom. George is a loner and a loser who still pines for his almost-wife, Laura (Leslie Mann), who is married to an Australian businessman, Clarke (Eric Bana). Ira just has a major crush on a fellow comedian, Daisy (Aubrey Plaza), but Mark is only giving him 10 days to make him move or he's making his own. But after an awkward stand-up session, George notices Ira and ends up hiring him on as his assistant to write his jokes and do chores and whatnot for him. And... well, there really isn't much of a plot. It's just these people interacting with each other and how they deal with George's sickness.

And for a movie with not a hell-of-a-lot happening, it really has no reason to be 2 and a half hours long. The movie tries to do too many things, I think, and one idea seems to be pushed to the side for another idea, only then Apatow realizes he should probably wrap up that previous idea, so he has to come back to that.

Is the movie funny? Sometimes. There were no real big belly laughs. It was only a chuckle every now and then, some longer than others, but not much more than that. And after a promising opening, it takes quite a while to get even to that point. But I know what you're saying, "this isn't supposed to be a comedy. It's supposed to be a look into the serious side of comics." Because, really, funny people always have the most depressing lives, it seems. And the movie shows that. Similarly, earlier this year we had Adventureland, another movie marketed as a comedy when it wasn't really. The difference? I think Adventureland worked better as a dramedy and didn't seem to try nearly as hard as Funny People.

I think the best thing about the movie was its cameos. The best scene in the whole movie, ironically, was the one with a non-comedian: Eminem (okay, so Ray Romano was in the scene, too, which led to the best line in the movie). I also loved Bo Burnham, as small of a role as he had. They should have given him more to do. That kid's hilarious (watch either his YouTube stuff or his Comedy Central stand-up).

As for the main cast, they actually acted their respective parts incredibly well. Honestly, everybody did a great acting job. But everybody was a freaking a-hole. In fact, the only characters I full-out liked (besides Seth Rogen's sympathetic everyman) were the two characters who were supposed to be the a-holes of the movie: Jason Schwartzman and Eric Bana. I think those two had the best roles in the movie, particularly Schwartzman. Oh, and I think I have a new celeb crush on Aubrey Plaza. She looked amazing in this movie... and she acted well, too, of course. But seriously, besides a couple characters, everybody is near hatable, including Sandler's George, who is the worst of the bunch on the hate-o-meter. I don't think I once felt sympathy for his character, and the ending seemed a bit forced in trying to get you to like him before the credits rolled.

All-in-all, I might enjoy it more after another watch, though it might be a while before that happens. It is a good movie. I liked it. But my biggest fault with Apatow's Knocked Up was that it was way too serious (and probably, if it weren't for Ken Jeong at the end, I don't think I would have liked it too much). Not to mention that movie was also filled with unlikable characters. Apatow did the opposite of what I would have liked. He amped up the drama and the unlikable characters and decreased the funny to the point where the movie mostly feels unbalanced. At least the a-holes in 40-Year-Old-Virgin were charming and funny, mostly due to the wit of the film. The only other thing I can say about this film is that, surprisingly, the cinematography/camera work was really good. It was really different than the other two films. It was more experimental and cinematic, I think. Anyway, my score is probably surprising due to my negative comments, but I honestly did enjoy the film for what it was.

I Am McLovin!

Page-To-Film: The Princess Bride.

The Princess Bride is one of my favorite movies. It has some great dry wit, humor, memorable characters and lines. So for a long time I was wary of reading the book it was based on, simply by the almost always true rule that the book is better than the movie. I didn't want the movie to be ruined by reading the book. But now I've read the book... and I don't think I had all that much to worry about.

As usual, let me start off by discussing the book. Like the movie, the book presents itself with two narratives (though the book's first narrative is a bit different). In the book, William Goldman sets up a gimmick. As a boy, William Goldman loved sports, had ADHD, and had no use for books. But then he came down with Pneumonia, and his father decided to read him a book called The Princess Bride, an epic Florinese novel by a man named S. Morgenstern. The book changed his life. He becomes an avid reader and, later, an author himself. He has his own wife and son now (who he's constantly degrading, but we'll get to that later), and he wants his son to experience The Princess Bride like he did. But his son couldn't even get through chapter two. And when Mr. Goldman sits down to read the book, he discovers why: this isn't much at all like he remembered it as a boy. There are endless pages of Florinese history and pointless passages of description that the scholars see as classic satire, but which he sees as dull. So Goldman sets out to write an abridged version of the book, the "good parts" version, cutting out all that pointless or dull stuff. And this is the book's gimmick. Every now and then within the book, there are short interruptions (in italics) where Goldman explains something has been cut and why, or he'll give a story of why his father had skipped these passages in reading to him in the first place and the conversations they had at these points in time.

But we also have the "main" story, which is that of true love, adventure, etc. I'm not really going to bother explaining it because, well, if you don't know the story of The Princess Bride, shame on you.

So how is the book? It's pretty good. The first 30 or so pages, though, is pure ADHD setup of the gimmick, bouncing back and forth between stories of Goldman's life--childhood and adult--and how he both learned to love reading and how he got to this current point in his life. But then it picks up and the real story begins.

The writing style is something you'll either love or hate. There are a lot of fun "statistics" (much like the movie's "there have been 5 great kisses...", which actually is in the book, though around the middle instead of the end). He also uses an incredibly amount of polysyndeton (where he connects many things with 'and' and it seems like a run-on sentence, when it fact it's just a really long one. It's a stylistic thing that most authors don't use anymore. You mainly see it in older works anymore. Hemingway did it frequently, as well). And there are a lot of parentheticals where it'll say something like (this was before THIS but long after THAT), some of which weren't historically accurate, some of which were, but that was the point (at least according to the abridged notes). And then there are the abridged notes themselves, which I didn't find nearly as annoying or tiring as I've read in other reviews. In fact, the majority of them end up in the movie in some form or fashion (with the sick grandson/grandfather bits).

There was really only one thing that surprised me about the book: it was mean. From either characters or Goldman himself, there was a surprising amount of misogyny, superficiality (primarily with women), racism, anti-Semitism, cynicism, and just all around insult-tossing. Honestly, the mix of the "true love" stuff, "perfect beauty" talk, and mistreating of women, there were numerous times I kept flashing back to Twilight, which was really rather painful to even think about making that comparison. Though, thankfully, the difference is that William Goldman can actually write, and write very well. And his characters are actually likeable--when they aren't being uncharacteristically angry for, sometimes, no reason. And that was another strange thing. There were few times in the movie where the characters seemed angry or upset. In the book, they got angry quite a bit, yelling, insulting, etc. Though some of the "angry" lines went to the screen and were acted with wit instead of anger, which is much better, in my opinion.

And to top it all off, the book has a horrible ending... if you can really call it an ending. The "Princess Bride" story just kind of ends (and the "unabridged" ending that's shown is also terrible and such a downer), but it ends with more abridged notes after that... which ends with such a cynicism that it nearly destroys the feel good "true love conquers all" mood of the rest of it.

But then we have the movie. If the book is the abridged "good parts" version of the S. Morgenstern work, then the movie is the "good parts" version of the abridged work. And ironically, the movie was also written by William Goldman. But besides even the writing, the casting is perfect. Cary Elwes, Robin Wright, Mandy Patinkin, Andre the Giant, Wallace Shawn, Christopher Guest, Chris Sarandon, Billy Crystal (et al)... perfect.

Now, don't get me wrong, in retrospect, there are some things better about the book, and some things better about the movie. But for the most part, this is an incredibly close adaptation. Some lines were altered from the book for the movie just slightly (mostly when things had to be condensed), and for the better. But there were also entire lines and scenes that were a bit different from the book that I actually prefer in the film (most specifically, how Westley presents the story of the Dread Pirate Roberts to Buttercup both before and during the Fire Swamp... in the book, it's not even brought up until after Buttercup realizes the man in black is Westley and they're in the Fire Swamp).

So what did the book do better? Character backgrounds. The movie, of course, briefly touches on Inigo's history in terms of his father and his revenge. But there's so much more in the book. Not to mention Fezzik's story is almost all but removed entirely (there are certain points where you can get bits and pieces, such as Fezzik's nearly indiscernible speech to Westley about fighting one person versus groups, or Vizzini threatening to send him back to Greenland). And because Fezzik's character is played down a bit, there's a line at the end that doesn't make too much sense and seems out of place, where Inigo says "You've done something right." Also, I was surprised how how much more rhyming there was in the book than the movie. But I'm rambling now.

Buttercup, Vizzini, Humperdinck, and Count Rugen also have more details to them than the movie grants. Actually, the movie takes what has to be the first 100 or so pages of the book and condenses it down into about 7 minutes. And what else to these characters have in common? They're actually less likable (including Buttercup) in the book. For Buttercup, that's a bad thing, but for the latter three, it's good... for the book, anyway. Primarily Humperdinck and Rugen, they seem much more villainous and dastardly in the book. Rugen is more calmly psychotic (he's really a great and disturbing character, and Christopher Guest played him brilliantly for what he was given). And Humperdinck's hunting skills are hugely downplayed in the movie.

In fact, that brings us to the biggest cut/change from book to film. The book's Zoo of Death becomes the film's Pit of Despair (not to mention The Albino's personality shifts completely for the little screen time he has, though I think for the better). The Zoo of Death is a 5-level containment area, where each level gets more and more dangerous. Humperdinck keeps the world's most dangerous animals there, and depending on what he feels like hunting at the time, he'll have The Albino go and get it for him, and he'll hunt it then and there. The only empty level is the fifth level, saved for the most dangerous animal, which he hasn't discovered yet. Turns out, this is where Westley is held later, what the movie turns into the Pit of Despair. Though the only real reason to have kept it in the movie would be the scene where Inigo and Fezzik have to travel through it to get to Westley, though those descriptions in the book were rather confusing and not nearly as exciting as it could have been (there were hippos and lions, and they end up fighting a giant snake and some bats).

All in all, the book is a good companion piece to the film, filling in some blanks to help things make more sense (though they made sense to me until I read the book, then I realized that there were just some things that were only touching the surface of what was really there). Of course, there are more things than I've mentioned, but nothing drastically important.

I suppose when looking at the two, I must say that the movie is better than the book. The movie does have some great things in it, primarily the more extensive character details, but the best parts of the book come in the humor and dialogue, most of which comes off word-for-word in the movie (seriously, as I said, this was a close adaptation). I did like the statistics in the book, though. If you like/love the movie, I'd suggest reading the book at least once. It really is a really good book. I just happen to prefer the movie.