So the Potato watched “Legion”…

The plot in a nutshell:  God has lost faith in humanity. The worst parts of the Bible are starting to come true, and God’s avenging angels have arrived from heaven to make sure this happens.  The Archangel Michael (Paul Bettany) believes humanity isn’t beyond saving and tries to stop said apocalypse.  The key to our salvation lies in a young pregnant waitress named Charlie (Adrianne Palicki), for the baby she carries (for some reason) is humanity’s only hope for survival.  Michael finds Charlie and the rest of the middle-of-nowhere-diner patrons already under attack by humans possessed by angels.  Much chaos, and much more talking ensues.

Paul Bettany shows a different side to his range, playing Michael more crass than saintly.  For an action film with a lot of talking, the lead role would have to be someone who is compelling to watch, and Bettany fills that role effortlessly.  The cast as a whole would be considered an all-star cast, just not major league.  More of a AAA squad than anything.  Lucas “Sling Blade” Black is an actor of a very specific type (read: southern), and he has a strong ability to communicate earnest and pensive emotions.  In “Legion”, Black makes you care for his fraidy-cat character, but fails to connect with any other actor on screen.  Same goes for Friday Night Lights’s Adrianne Palicki.  We care for her unwed-soon-to-be mother-of-the-possible-messiah character, but she makes no connection with the other characters.  It felt like these two actors were starring in different films with the same plot.  Tyrese and Charles “Roc” Dutton both make memorable moments with their limited screen time, and Private Practice’s Kate Walsh gets an honorable mention for turning in a good performance of a character that completely destroys her own likeability by the end.  As the biggest name involved with the film, Dennis Quaid is entertaining but is unfortunately the weak link in the cast. Extra props to “that guy” Canadian actor Kevin Durand for his performance of Archangel Gabriel, and pretty much for making Gabriel the most badass angel ever. If Jesus need bodyguards, this guy’s the one to call.

“Legion” is a film that asks the audience to make gigantic leaps of logic while permanently suspending disbelief.  I am no snob to these types of films.  It’s a very slippery slope when a director attempts to create a universe from the ground up that is separate from our own.  Director Scott Stewart obviously had a vision when making this film, and I give major effort points to him for that.  The special effects are solid and vibrant, if not a bit unoriginal.  We’ve seen this story before in films like Frank Darabont’s “The Mist”, and that film is more effective because Darabont keeps the audience in the dark about the source of the terror.  The premise behind “Legion” seems to be plucked from the pages of an obscure Stephen King short story, but it spends far too much time explaining the pseudo-biblical universe and not enough time with the scares.  It has elements of horror, action, suspense, and drama (believe it or not), but none of them gel together to create a complete film.  Other critics have been harsher, specifically targeting the amount of talking that occurs.  I would agree that there is a lot of talking, but the script and the acting were strong enough to carry the film’s verbosity.  I enjoyed the “follow your dreams” scene between Quaid and Black in the first half of the film.  The scene illustrates the film’s potential for greatness.  As a whole, however, “Legion” is an entertaining talkfest of a horror-action film that will satisfy the action junkie, but will leave everyone else wanting much more.  If you have to see this film in the theater, make it a matinee show.  Otherwise, make this one a rental.

Nice try, guys.

The Potato’s “Best” of The Decade

Ok, so there are too many films.  I wish I had a team of researchers to track down every film I have ever seen so that I could come up with a really awesome list.  In fact, I’m making it one of my resolutions for 2010.  I really do need a team of something…but I digress.  The only two criteria for the list are that the film must have been released between the years 2000 and 2009, and the film must not suck.  That’s it.  I also tried to pick films that hold some sort of significance in the film world/pop culture.  Some of my favorite films didn’t make the list, and other critically acclaimed films didn’t make the list.  I suppose I would need a top 50 in order to capture them all, but who has time for that?  In chronological order, here’s The Potato’s “best” films of the decade list:

Memento (2000)

Christopher Nolan payed homage to the classic Hitchcockian thriller while also managing to reinvent the genre.  With this film, Nolan declared that he would be one of the directors to watch in the coming years, and he delivered on that promise.

The Lord of The Rings Trilogy (2001-2003)

Peter Jackson captured lightning in a bottle three times with his Epic-with-a-capitol-E fantasy series.  In the post-9/11 world, we prefer even our diversions to be as realistic and as dangerous as ever, but LOTR dared audiences to suspend disbelief and use their imaginations once again.

The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

Wes Anderson was considered a director to watch back when he released 1996’s Bottle Rocket and 1998’s Rushmore, but this is the film that made even the mainstream film fan stand up and take notice.  A director with uncompromising, intricate visions, Wes Anderson has never been better.

28 Days Later (2002)

The film that changed horror, reinvigorated the zombie craze, and the film that made people finally appreciate how great a director Danny Boyle is.  It’s scary, it’s intelligent, and it’s a ride from start to finish.

The Bourne Identity/Supremacy/Ultimatum (2002, 2004, 2007)

The film series that changed spy films, action films, and Bond films.  It also made Matt Damon both an action hero and earned him a spot on the moviestar shortlist.  The Bourne series convinced us that we want our heroes to be recognizable, fallible, and still extraordinary.  They are also action films that film buffs can enjoy openly.  Also, the film Casino Royale, in its current form, wouldn’t exist without this series.

Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind (2004)

Charlie Kaufman is one of the greatest screenwriters working today, and this film is the reason why.  Michel Gondry is one of the greatest directors working today, and this film is the reason why.  Both have had success before and since, but Eternal Sunshine is an achievement that transcends any lines or labels such as “indie” or “mainstream”.  The film immortalized Kate Winslet and Jim Carrey as one of the great complicated screen couples, and it revolutionized the way we think of storytelling and how it relates to human nature.

Spider-Man 2 (2002)/The Dark Knight (2008)

So this is another listing cheat.  I wanted each film to have their own spot, but we all know that superhero films have pretty much blanketed the Hollywood landscape, and we don’t need another reminder.  These two films, however, are both superb and also changed how superhero films are made.  While on both sides of the spectrum (Spidey being more comic-book-ish, Batman being darker and more realistic), both films are the benchmarks of the genre, and have not been topped since.

The Incredibles (2004)

The film that changed mainstream animation.  Pixar and Disney proved with this film that even adults could enjoy PG-rated animated action.  The visuals are eye-popping, the voice talents are awesome (with special shoutouts to Jason Lee and Craig T. Nelson as Syndrome and Mr. Incredible, respectively), and the music is super cool.

The 40 Year-Old Virgin (2005)

The film that changed comedy, and also made the name “Apatow” into an adjective.  The film introduced us to Steve Carell, Seth Rogen, Jane Lynch, and reintroduced us to Paul Rudd.  The film speaks for itself, since nearly every critically acclaimed comedy since has been compared to it, and will be listed as one of the most influential comedies ever made.

No Country For Old Men (2007)

The film that finally made me a forever Coen brothers devotee.  I was always a fan, but had never fully appreciated their genius until this film.  It also introduced us to one of the scariest film icons in decades, in the form of Javier Bardem’s sublime portrayal of assassin Anton Chigurrh.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

I’m sorry, Mr. Soderbergh.  If I had a top 20, you’d rule it for sure.  Same goes for Mr. Tarantino, Sr. Del Toro, Mr. Reitman, and Mr. Abrams.

Traffic (2000)

Kill Bill vol. 1 & 2 (2003-2004)

Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)

Juno (2007)

Star Trek (2009)

The Potato celebrates “Humpday”

Every film invites the audience to emotionally include themselves in the events unfolding on screen. While Hollywood is now using 3D technology and IMAX screens to draw audiences in, sometimes all you need is a good story about people we can relate to on some level. When I turned on 2009’s “Humpday”, I expected to watch a comedy about two random dude friends who decide to make porn together on a whim. I had seen the trailer months ago and had decided that it would be a rental, as the trailer played up its bromantic comedy elements, and I had already seen “I Love You, Man” a few months prior. As I scoured my Netflix instant play options for something new, I noticed that “Humpday” was available for streaming. After some technical difficulties with the internet connection, I was ready to experience 100 minutes of male bonding gone awry.

You first! No, you first!

The plot is simplicity itself: Ben is just a normal suburban guy with a great wife, a good job, and a white picket fence existence. Andrew is an artist who travels the world looking for the great inspiration that will allow him to finally complete an art project. When Andrew unexpectedly drops in on Ben and his wife Anna (at 1:30 in the morning, no less), it shakes up all their worlds in ways that no one could anticipate. During a drunken stream of consciousness, Ben and Andrew decide to shoot an amateur porn scene together on the pretense that two straight male buddies having sex on camera could be the “next great artistic statement” and of course, Anna has no idea of their plans.

As the viewer, you have to believe that these two guys would come up with such an idea and actually want to realize it. I think that the film being set in Seattle helped me believe the premise right away. If it were set in a place more thematically obvious like San Francisco, the film could almost be read as satire. Putting the film in Seattle allows the viewer to believe that these guys could be open minded enough to shoot a pseudo-gay art-porn scene while not having to pay lip service to any gay stereotypes. Not to say that San Francisco is full of gay stereotypes, but some viewers who have never been to San Francisco or only have a limited exposure to alternative cultures might unfairly judge the film or write it off as just “another one of those crazy indies.”

As Ben and Andrew respectively, Mark Duplass and Joshua Leonard have great chemistry. I could see how these two disparate characters would be friends, and their performances suggest a past that the characters shared without having to use a lot of expository dialogue to explain it. Duplass reminds me of John Krasinski while Leonard’s performance has shades of Owen Wilson (with a sprinkle of Zach Galifianakis, and I’m not just talking about the beard). As Ben’s wife Anna, Alycia Delmore gives a very honest performance. Anna serves as the female perspective to all the male-centric craziness that it happening around her and Delmore’s performance keeps the viewers (and the male leads) grounded in reality. She’s the one that gets to ask the questions that we all want to initially ask: “Hey, what do you mean you’re going to make a porn with your best friend? What the f*ck is up with that?” I only wish that Delmore had more screen time, as her character unfortunately takes a back seat to her male co-stars. I would love to see these three do another movie together.

Alycia Delmore

Writer-director Lynn Shelton frames the actors in simple, home video style scenes that feel intimate almost to the point of sheer discomfort. I kept listening to the dialogue but sometimes I couldn’t look at the screen as they were saying it. I was so embarrassed for these characters at times because they felt so real and familiar. It very much feels like you are in these conversations, and that you are a party to the events that are unfolding in front of your eyes. Shelton directed the film from her own script, but I wonder about how much the actors improvised because the dialogue feels very natural and flows as real conversations would. The opening scene with Ben and Anna in bed together is one of the most true to life moments between a man and a woman I have ever seen in a film, and it’s not even that shocking or important to the story. It isn’t necessarily a film about sex or pornography or even art. It’s about all of these, and none of these. It’s a film about two men discovering what it means to be close friends, and the crazy ends that some friends will go to understand the nature of that closeness. Mainstream films like “The Hangover”, “Pineapple Express”, and “I Love You, Man” deal with the same issues but use homoeroticism as more of a sight gag than a statement, which is fine because these films do it well and it’s good to laugh at masculinity sometimes. “Humpday” plays less like an addition to the new bromantic comedy pantheon, and more like a deconstruction of it. The film simultaneously questions male masculinity while reaffirming it as well. The film ends in exactly the way that it should, but you have to see it to believe how it all turns out. All around, “Humpday” is one of the best films I’ve seen all year, and I recommend it to anyone who loves independent film as well as people who might have thought “I Love You, Man” played it a little too safe. I give it a 9 out of 10.

KHAN!!!! The Potato and Star Trek find each other.

In preparation for my purchase of J.J. Abrams’s reboot of Star Trek on blu-ray, I’m revisiting the film that made all of the other sequels possible: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. I try to watch this film once every couple of years, and it never disappoints.  I came late to the Star Trek party overall, not being a fan of the original series and only being a casual watcher of TNG in the 90’s.  My mom is the Trekker of the family.  Back when mail order VHS tapes were the rage, my mom bought every Star Trek episode that Time Life offered.  They’re still piled in her closet to this day.  I watched Star Trek: Generations and Star Trek: First Contact when I was in junior high, and at the time it was only because I liked sci-fi action.  I followed the TNG films through the years.  I didn’t think Insurrection was that bad.  The film just felt more like a long episode of the TV series.  Nemesis was a good try, and there are some very good acting moments, but it just felt like another TNG series finale.

It’s 2002, and I had pretty much given up on the Trek.  When First Contact premiered on Special Edition DVD, I went to Best Buy to pick it up, and I also saw that Paramount had released a Special Edition of Star Trek II.  All of my trekker friends insisted that it was the best film in the series and that I was crazy for never seeing it.  I don’t like to be looked at as crazy after all, so I picked it up on a lark.  I don’t usually buy DVDs sight unseen, but I had a good feeling.  Thank Starfleet that my feeling was right, because right away I was hooked.  I was 21, yet I felt like a 10 year-old again.  Every room on the Starship Enterprise looked like a swinging 70’s bachelor pad strapped to a warp drive.  The early special effects were bright and interesting.  The acting was classic.  Nimoy may have been the talent, but Shatner was the charm.  James Horner’s score was lively and made the scenes even more fun.  The action sequences were large and reckless, yet had the timeless poise of an old sea epic.  If Shakespeare were alive, he might have been a script doctor on this film, especially for Khan’s dialogue.

Those pecs aren't corinthian leather, but that outfit sure is.

All in all, Star Trek II renewed and expanded my love for the Star Trek series.  Every time I come across the original series on TV, I watch at least a few minutes if not the entire episode.  TNG is a bit more involved, and I’ll only watch it if I catch it at the very beginning.  In addition to the TNG films, I’ve now seen Star Treks II, IV, and VI.  I’m planning on writing a review of the odd numbered Trek films very soon.  I’m a little afraid, since I’ve heard less than positive things about them, but that’s what makes writing about them so fun.

The Potato rants about “Waterworld”

waterworld

Dryland's a myth! Or is it...? (It's not. Spoiler alert.)

A trip down junior high memory lane has led me to do another Twice Baked Potatoes quickie review. This time I’m watching “Waterworld” starring Mr. Kevin Costner as the lead role, also known as The Mariner. The Mariner is along the lines of Mel Gibson’s Mad Max, although Costner plays him as a Dazed, Creepily Quiet Max. There are other actors in the film, but none of them matter whatsoever. Not even the little girl. Sorry. She’s little more than a plot device. The only other performance worth noting is Dennis Hopper as the villain. Hopper was enjoying his mid-90’s Renaissance, where he was more or less doing variations on his performances in “Speed” and “True Romance”. Walleyed heroism versus wily psychosis. Great. Casting. All. Around. Extra special shoutout to awesome that-guy actor Kim Coates as the coolest pseudo-Irish, would-be rapist pirate this side of The Atoll.

To the film’s credit, every cent of the $180 Million price tag shows up on screen. Yet for all that money, would it have killed the production designer to splash on some more colors other than various shades of fecal brown and rust red? Every single room looks like a serial killer’s cleanup shack after it’s been wiped down for evidence. Costner’s sleepwalker acting choices actually fit the film in that respect: Expensive, intentional, and completely boring.

The action, thankfully, is the best part. The setpieces are large and dynamic, chock full of explosions, goop, and blood. More goop than blood. I also appreciate that there are a lot of sets and practical effects. Today, adjusted for quality, this film would have been a CGI cheapfest and most likely have been a SyFy channel clunker starring Lorenzo Lamas. The film also doesn’t waste time with logic. It challenges you to accept the world it’s presenting, and there are so many questions that could be asked, but why bother? It’s an B-action flick masquerading as a summer sci-fi epic. I can forgive the illogics, but where did they get all of the bullets? What about the airplane? Airplane fuel? These things take real science, not just welding torches. I’m just saying.

If this flick is on during late night, it’s not a bad way to spend the hours between 2am and 4am. I just hope that the sequel is called “Desertworld”. You think I’m crazy? They’ll make a sequel to anything. Anything. Just give it 10 more years. 15 tops.

Twice Baked Potatoes: Sure Things For Summer

The Twice Baked Potatoes series is back with a vengeance, and this time it’s all about saving our summers.  If you’ve seen The Hangover 10 times already, Public Enemies has left you with summer blues, or if you’ve seen Transformers 2 and the IMAX ticket prices have plucked your pockets to their linty bottoms, stay home and fire up these five classic crowd-pleasers:

5) Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure

billandted

"Bill, check it out! We're in the middle of a war, dude!"

Keanu Reeves sans the matrixey philosophical mumbo jumbo, various historical periods getting a gnarly awesome 80’s treatment, and one of the hottest moms in movies, time has been very good to this 1988 comedy. I showed this movie to my little sister (born in 1991) a few years ago, and it became one of her favorite movies.  It’s goofy, it’s a romp, and its vibe is totally infectious. Napoleon eating/hogging a giant ice-cream sundae and getting a prize for it?  I’m there, dude.

4) Re-Animator

"I didn't kill him. I gave him life!!"

"I didn't kill him. I gave him life!!"

If you’re looking for some horror that’s heavy on both cheese and gore, look no further.  It’s the horror film that all the buffs talk about, but don’t let them scare you away, because this film is on the level.  My lady showed me this one a few months ago, and I couldn’t stop laughing/cringing.  The movie is self-aware yet feels completely authentic.  It plays like a 50’s matinee fixture with 80’s sprinkled on top.  When the corpses are reanimated and they go into their cyclone of mad zombie rage, it feels like Christmas.

3) Encino Man

"Poor stoneager, he spends a million years chilling in a block of ice, and now he's gonna go to high school?"

"Poor stoneager, he spends a million years chilling in a block of ice, and now he's gonna go to high school?"

It’s the 90’s time capsule that made stars out of Brendan Fraser and Pauly Shore.  A caveman that gets frozen for a few million years, geeks thaw him out and teach him to be cool so that he can make them cool.  If you’re not on board already, move on to number 2, because it only gets weirder.  Parents, if you’re kid is currently in junior high, please pass this one on to them.  Pauly Shore teaching Brendan Fraser about the four basic food groups at 7-Eleven = priceless.

2) Almost Famous

"Jim Morrison? He's a drunken buffoon, masquerading as a poet.  Man, give me 'The Guess Who', because they have the courage to be drunken buffoons, which make them poetic!"

"Jim Morrison? He's a drunken buffoon, masquerading as a poet. Man, give me 'The Guess Who', because they have the courage to be drunken buffoons, which make them poetic!"

Music makes everything feel better, and Cameron Crowe’s love letter to 70’s classic rock, rock journalism, and teenage self-discovery makes for a great way to fill two hours.  You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you might sing along (or hum, if you don’t know the words.  I’m horrible at learning lyrics, personally.  Movie quotes stick to me like velcro, go figure).  Billy Crudup keeps the movie grounded, Kate Hudson is the spitting image of her moviestar mom, and Jason Lee turns out his best performance.  Look out for Philip Seymour Hoffman as legendary rock scholar Lester Bangs.  He only gets a few minutes of screen time, but that’s all he needs.

1) Back To The Future

"I, Dr. Emmett Brown, am about to embark on an historic journey...wait, what am I thinking about?  I almost forgot to bring extra plutonium!"

"I, Dr. Emmett Brown, am about to embark on an historic journey...wait, what am I thinking about? I almost forgot to bring extra plutonium!"

The best time travel movie of all time.  I am forsaking many great films to make that statement, but I can’t deny this film’s super-classic status.  If you’re like me, you’ve seen this film more than a few times over the years.  It’s charm will keep you smiling from beginning to end all over again, and its Freudian elements give the film enough quirk to sustain the neurons as well.  The film’s cinematography, musical score, screenplay, and performances are all top notch.  But like the film does with its own science, you can just ignore all that technical nonsense and enjoy the ride.  One of the best soundtracks ever, by the way.

Movie Snacks – Lemon Sour Patch Kids get a bad rap

Upon entering a movie theater and making my way to the concession stand, I always ask myself two questions:

1) Do they have Cherry Coke? 2) What is their candy situation?

If the answer to the first question is yes, I will be drinking Cherry Coke.  You could set your watch to my predictability.

CherryCoke01new

Answering the second question is a bit more difficult.  There are factors to consider:

1) What is their chocolate to gummi ratio? 1:1? 2:1?

2) In the chocolate category, do they have M&Ms? Plain or peanut? Both? Do I want M&Ms that day? It is an awkward snack during a drama, but eating peanut M&Ms during a good actioner is the closest thing to awesome before kissing Buddha’s pinky ring.

M&M peanut

3) In the gummi category, do they have Sour Patch Kids? Classic Sour Patch Kids? Or perhaps Sour Patch Watermelons.  Some days, Sour Patch Kids can be a bit run of the mill, and Sour Patch Watermelons provide a sensory lift during longer movies.  Most days, however, classic Sour Patch Kids is where it’s at.

sour-patch-kids_LRG

Chocolate candies are the guardians of movie theater awesomeness, but gummi candies capture the imagination.  Bright colors, crazy flavor combinations, the pairing of gummi with sour, it’s like a movie in your mouth!  In a given bag of Sour Patch Kids, the flavor that gets the least respect is lemon.  Anyone can eat a cherry flavored Sour Patch Kid, leaving those pesky lemon Kids uneaten at the bottom of the sour powdery plastic bag, but they would be missing out on an underrated snack experience.  When it comes to Sour Patch Kids, Lemon is the perfect flavor.  Lemon is naturally sour, so the tongue need not adjust its receptive powers in possible confusion.  I mean, a cherry isn’t sour, right?  Lemon cleanses the palate as well, allowing the tongue to transition seamlessly between sweeter flavors.  Next time you’re enjoying a bag of Sour Patch Kids at your local movie theater, remember to give all flavors a chance.  The awesome moviegoing experience you save may be your own.

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