Weekly Mini-Review: Johnny English (2003)

Story: When all the other spies are killed in one swoop, an over-confident, under-competent British spy and his slightly smarter, under-confident sidekick must save England from a madman’s plot to overthrow the kingdom.

Review: The protagonist sort of feels like a cross between Black Adder and Maxwell Smart and the writing sometimes feels like it’s trying to be a bit too American at times, but the movie still does a considerably better job than Carell’s Get Smart or Chan’s The Tuxedo at the whole comedy spy thing. There’s a great example of classic toilet humor in there too. I know I shouldn’t think it’s as funny as I do, but I can’t help myself. Overall, not fantastic, but worth seeing if it’s handy.

Recommended for: Fans of spy comedies, or Rowan Atkinson.

Content Notes: (PG) – Some innuendo in dialog, but it would likely go over kids’ heads.

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Weekly Mini Review: Toy Story 3 (2010)


Story: When he goes away to college, a boy packs some of his toys in the attic – causing them to think about running away. When they all accidentally end up at a daycare center, they meet yet another insane toy. Eventually, it becomes a story about the importance of moving on.

Review: First, let’s get the obvious out of the way: the graphics are unbelievable! The fur on that teddy bear in the nighttime scene was absolutely realistic. Secondly, this is not a movie for little kids. It’s a dark, sometimes creepy, thriller that just happens to involve toys. That said, it was rather well done. It didn’t veer too far into comedy or tragedy before pulling back and the voice acting was excellent.

Recommended for: Fans of previous Toy Story movies and people who like psychological thrillers.

Content Notes: (10+) – Although I would almost call this movie too dark to be a kids’ movie, it’s probably fine for older kids.

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Weekly Mini Review: The Forbidden Kingdom (2008)

(Left to right) Jet Li,, Jackie Chan, Michael Angarano, Yifei Liu

(Left to right) Jet Li,, Jackie Chan, Michael Angarano, Yifei Liu

Story: A young martial arts movie geek finds that he’s destined to save ancient China as its savior. Basically, The Last Starfighter with Kung Fu.

Review: Those who watch this just to see Jackie Chan perform his usual stunning choreography might be disappointed by the use of wire tricks and other special effects in place of actual acrobatics. However, the writing and acting are quite palatable. And, after all, both of the stars of this flick are getting pretty old. It’s worth a watch if you can’t find something that you know is better.

Recommended for: martial arts movie geeks, die-hard Jackie Chan and/or Jet Li fans who will watch anything they’re in.

Content Notes: (PG, ages 10+) – somewhat genuinely violent, a few minor toilet-humor jokes, some off-putting special effects.

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Weekly Mini Review: The Adventures of Robin Hood (1955-1960)

Story: A TV show about Robin Hood and his men of Sherwood.

Review: This is a great show for a number of reasons. Firstly, it has a lot of obscure, yet interesting, historical information in it like archaic laws and holidays. Secondly, despite the frequent reuse of actors, the acting is quite good (except the replacement Maid Marian. She’s an annoying wuss). Thirdly, the writing is witty and often unpredictable. Definitely give this show a watch – notice I embedded the pilot above this review so you can watch right now! Do it!

Recommended for: Anyone not expecting angst or tripey melodrama from a 1950s kids’ show.

Content notes: (G)

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Weekly Mini Review: The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (2010)

Sorcerer's Apprentice

Cage and Baruchel’s costumes are pretty basic here, but look at that nice set design, framing, and SFX! That’s how filmmakers really create magic.

Story: Merlin’s apprentices battle for supremacy, until the young and bumbling “chosen one” of the modern age saves the day. . . with science!

Review: As much as I dislike Nicholas Cage, this movie was good enough where I could pretty much ignore his naturally obnoxious personality. The real star of the piece was young comedian Jay Baruchel, who played the “chosen” apprentice with excellent comic timing and expert physicality. Aside from that, the dialogue is quite sharp and witty, the plot is lively, and the parody/homage to the original Sorcerer’s Apprentice scene from Fantasia is great!

Recommended for: kids/families, science nerds, Disney fans, comedy fans.

Content Notes: (G)

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The 100 Movies Every Film Student Should See

All of the film production students in my program were emailed a list of 100 films recommended by the faculty. I thought this was such a fun idea that I decided to make my own – using my own criteria. I’ll probably fine-tune and republish another one at some point.

And now, without further ado, the 100 movies every film student should see:

A Trip to the Moon (1902)
Nosferatu (1922)
The Thief of Bagdad (1924)
College (1927)
The Public Enemy (1931)
The Antique Shop (1931)
King Kong (1933)
The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934)
Bright Eyes (1934)
Rainbow Valley (1935)
Great Guy (1936)
My Man Godfrey (1936)
Shall we Dance (1937)
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
Renfrew of the Royal Mounted (1937)
The Saint in New York (1938)
The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)
Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939)
The Four Feathers (1939)
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)
The Wizard of Oz (1939)
The Grapes of Wrath (1940)
The Ghost Breakers (1940)
My Little Chickadee (1940)
Fantasia (1940)
Our Town (1940)
Pimpernel’ Smith (1941)
Shadow of the Thin Man (1941)
Sons of the Pioneers (1942)
Laura (1944)
Henry V (1944)
My Darling Clementine (1946)
Welcome Stranger (1947)
Copacabana (1947)
Call Northside 777 (1948)
Treasure Island (1950)
Harvey (1950)
Scrooge (1951)
People Will Talk (1951)
The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
The Magic Box (1951)
Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)
House of Wax (1953)
Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier (1954)
To Hell and Back (1955)
The Red Balloon (1956)
The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958)
The Tingler (1959)
Dr. No (1962)
The Raven (1963)
Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1964)
A Hard Day’s Night (1964)
The Ipcress File (1965)
The Endless Summer (1966)
How to Steal a Million (1966)
Wait Until Dark (1967)
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Yellow Submarine (1968)
Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town (1970)
Le Mans (1971)
Dirty Harry (1971)
American Graffiti (1973)
Sleeper (1973)
Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)
Star Wars: A New Hope (1977)
The Muppet Movie (1979)
The Magic Christian (1969)
Superman (1978)
The Blues Brothers (1980)
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
Chariots of Fire (1981)
TRON (1982)
Yentl (1983)
Back to the Future (1985)
Fletch (1985)
F/X (1986)
Labyrinth (1986)
Roxanne (1987)
Back to the Beach (1987)
Big (1988)
Willow (1988)
Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)
The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988)
The Wizard of Speed and Time (1988)
Young Einstein (1988)
Henry V (1989)
Cyrano de Bergerac (1990)
The Rocketeer (1991)
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
A League of Their Own (1992)
Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992)
The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
Dracula: Dead and Loving It (1995)
Rumble in the Bronx (1995)
Toy Story (1995)
Independence Day (1996)
Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
Sicko (2007)
Avatar (2009)

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Weekly Mini-Review: The Uninvited (1944)

Ray Milland and Ruth Hussey as the lead roles in The Uninvited

Story: A brother and sister buy and old mansion from an old man who wants to keep it away from the girl whose mother died there. But she’s is drawn to the house, and the brother, and the house is haunted – really haunted. There’s a twist at the end, but I won’t spoil it.

Review: One of my favorite ghost story movies. Good acting by Ray Milland, Ruth Hussey (who I also mention because she has a funny name). Also, a great villain played by Cornelia Otis Skinner. The story revolving around the villain *mild spoiler* is reminiscent of the 1940 film Rebecca, but much better carried off.  Nice writing and cinematography all around, and a really jolly good twist at the end.

Recommended for: People who like corny old mystery/suspense/thriller ghost movies.

Content notes: (G) (or PG, if your kids reeealy get scare easily)

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Where’s All the Good TV Gone?

The Situation

With the preponderance of “reality” shows, game shows, and just poorly written primetime soap operas masquerading as sit-coms and ‘dramas,’ it’s getting increasingly difficult to find more than a couple of shows worth watching. Even I (who used to have the TV on all day long while I ate, did homework, exercised, and even had the VCR recording while I slept) have been forced to watch just a couple of new episodes a week and fill in the rest of my media lust by watching (and re-watching) old shows and movies. I don’t even have the option of camping out on a news network like CNN while I wait for another good show to come on because all the so-called news networks fill their air time with gooney talk shows instead of news.

What’s left?

After the loss of 30 Rock, only a handful of shows I actually enjoy to some degree remain – and not all of them are even fictional narrative shows. For the late-night comedy slot, Comedy Central’s The Daily Show & The Colbert Report are the safest bet. Stewart can occasionally be a tad cranky and Colbert sometimes takes the jerky aspect of his character too far, but they do an astoundingly great job for shows that need to crank out new content four nights a week. Also, the bologna surrounding Leno and Conan a few years back put me off of the other ones.

In the arena of real news, as far as I can tell, Moyers & Company is the last holdout (although it also uses the talk show format).

As far as narrative fiction, I’m the most partial to USA Network’s Psych. Despite the facts that every episode is essentially a parody of existing media, and that they did the whole “shipping” thing to a point that shark-jumps most shows, it continues to avoid the pitfalls of predictability and excessive emotional tragedy that most shows fall into. White Collar jumped it sometime around the end of the first season when the protags began their lying tug-of-war, but I’m still watching in hopes of a recovery. What? It happens. . . rarely. Castle is still okay. The banter between the protags and the father-daughter dynamic have diminished some, but the actual stories are as banal as ever.


Outside of those few, it’s down to reruns and movies.

Admittedly, I still keep some track of shows I don’t like as well (just so long as they aren’t actually unbearable). TV is a kind of a cultural lingua franca and I want to be able to talk with others on their own terms if I can. Also, it allows me to be fully armed when debating why certain shows suck so much.

I’m starting to think that asking where all the good TV has gone is about like when we started asking MTV where all the music had gone. Prove me wrong, Television! I charge thee!

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Weekly Mini-Review: Avalon High (2010)

I’m going to break with precedent here and forgo the screen grab because the phrase “Da Mouse is litigious” has been ground into my subconscious.

Story: A girl with King Arthur scholars for parents finds herself attending a conveniently named high school wherein the kids are reincarnations of characters from the Arthurean Legends.

Review: A typical Disney Channel girl-power TV movie with a few notable actors and a formulaic, yet not entirely predictable, plot. It’s cute, manages to do the girl power thing without going overboard, and has some nice character writing. What can I say. I liked it.

Recommended for: Fans of Don’t Look Under the Bed, Halloweentown, and other decent Disney Channel Movies.

Content notes: (G) – Safe for everyone.

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Weekly Mini-Review: Death Wish (1974)

Death Wish Screenshot

Note how this is shot to make the gun appear bigger than his head. Hyperbolic much?

Story: After hoodlums attack his wife and daughter, a man goes on a vigilante killing spree to reduce the number of violent criminals on the streets of New York.

Review: The first, and possibly the least gratuitously (and graphically) violent, of the Death Wish series of movies, this film was released just one year after the first Dirty Harry movie. As with the second Death Wish, it’s fairly good if you just skip over the first 15-20 minutes of the film. From then on, it’s just him running around shooting people and policemen trying to catch him.

Recommended for: Fans of Dirty Harry and other gritty, violent shoot ’em ups.

Content notes: (18+, VV, V L, X) – Very graphic and violent, lots of cussing. Not for kids.

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