Movie Review: Monsters vs. Aliens

“This place has been X-filed, wrapped in a cover up, and deep fried in a paranoid conspiracy.”

I laughed pretty hard when I saw the first trailer for Monsters vs. Aliens from Dreamworks so I was expecting an extremely funny movie. While there were quite a few laughs in it, I think that this movie has a lot more heart and story than I was expecting.

The movie begins on Susan Murphy’s (voiced by Reese Witherspoon) wedding day. As she prepares to tie the knot, we quickly see that the groom and his family are not going to be as appealing as she may have thought they would be. Still, she’s convinced that marrying her fiancé Derek Dietl (voiced by Paul Rudd) will make her happy, so she resolves to take the plunge.

Unfortunately, mere moments before her nuptials, she’s hit by a meteor. This puts a damper on her wedding as she begins to glow, and then grow into a 30-foot tall giant.

The military quickly shows up, takes her into custody and locks her away with 4 other monsters they’ve apprehended over the years. First there’s the hilariously brainless, gelatinous mass named B.O.B. (voiced by Seth Rogen), the brainy Dr. Cockroach Ph.D. (voiced by Hugh Laurie), the half-man/half-fish The Missing Link (voiced by Will Arnett), and the gigantic Insectosaurus (voiced by what sounds like Godzilla)

Just like most Dreamworks animated movies, there are plenty of pop-culture references in this flick, but I enjoyed all of them as they played homage to many of the B-movies from years back and often included references to Stephen Spielberg’s movies E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

My least favorite parts of this movie involved the military and government characters. It’s easy to see that the filmmakers don’t have a high opinion of the military and poke fun at them a lot. I especially groaned when they introduced the military leader, General W.R. Monger (voiced by Kiefer Sutherland). Giving a character the name “War Monger” immediately gave me the impression that he was going to be a bad guy, but the total opposite was true so I concluded that it was just bad writing that was just trying to put in digs at anything they didn’t like.

iconThe only other aspect of this movie that I didn’t enjoy relates to the animation. With computer graphic technology improving so much over recent years they can make human characters so realistic with their skin and modeling that I thought the human characters in this movie verged on the creepy side.

Fortunately, the President (voiced by Stephen Colbert) and the other humans in the government don’t take up too much of the movie. Contrary to what the trailers show, the story revolves almost entirely around the character Susan Murphy, who is codenamed Ginormica, and her struggle to become a person who takes charge of her own life and destiny. All while battling an alien invasion led by the dastardly Gallaxhar (voiced by Rainn Wilson).

All in all, I really enjoyed this movie. I would recommend it to anyone who’s up for a fun time, although it wasn’t as full of laughs as I thought it would be, what it lacked in constant hilarity, it made up for with heart. Bear in mind, though, that there are parts that might be seen as inappropriate and even scary for little children—an unfortunately common staple for Dreamworks movies—but nothing was terribly over the top and should be enjoyed by most everyone.

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TV Review: Lost, “He’s Our You”


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“A 12-year-old Ben Linus brought me a chicken salad sandwich. How do you think I’m doing?”

Beware of Spoilers!

Tonight’s episode of Lost on ABC started with a flashback that showed Sayid when he was a child doing what his older brother was unwilling to do—kill a chicken. It seems like the message we were to get from this was that he is willing to do what it takes to get things done no matter how cruel it might seem. The next flashback seemed to confirm this because we see an adult Sayid Jarrah (Naveen Andrews) hunting down a man and killing him with no more hesitation than he had when he killed the chicken when he was a kid. But in this case he was working for Benjamin Linus (Michael Emerson) and we come to learn that Ben sees Sayid as a useful killer, plain and simple. We also learn that Sayid wishes for something different out of life and resents Ben for using him to do his dirty work.

While there were minor brushes with the stories of Jack, Kate, Hurley, and Juliet, most of tonight’s episode, “He’s Our You,” revolved around the interrogation of Sayid by the Dharma Initiative. It’s was funny to see Sayid given a truth serum by the Dharma initiative’s scary interrogator (their version of Sayid—where this episode got it’s name). Funny because, when the true story that the serum brought out was as fantastic as Sayid’s was, the only conclusion the interrogator could come to was that he had given Sayid too much of it and it’s making him crazy.

The main dillema presented by this episode was what would Sayid do with young Benjamin Linus once he realized that he was in the past and could possibly have a chance to change the future, and in doing so stop some of the horrible things that he perceives were caused by Ben once he got older.

Would someone who knew what was going on in Germany during World War II, if they were able to go back in time to when Adolf Hitler was a child, would they kill him before he could do the terrible things he did? I believe that the honest answer has to be yes, and I think that it was honest storytelling on the part of the writers to have Sayid, when given the opportunity, pull the trigger and attempt to kill Ben—even though he’s still a young boy. In Sayid’s eyes, this is his “reason” for returning to the island and is an attempt to free himself from the hellish life he’s made for himself.

I said “attempt to kill” because I’m thinking that Ben isn’t really going to be dead and that this event won’t really change anything at all. It’ll be interesting to see what would happen, though, if Ben actually did die. How would that change the circumstances that got them off of the island? Would they have made it back? Will Ben suddenly phase out of existence only to be replaced by Ethan who ends up being the one who does the exact same things?

To answer some of these questions, it’s helpful to look ahead to some of the names of future episodes for clues. Next week’s episode is called, “Whatever Happened, Happened.” This sounds like something Daniel Faraday would say and it makes me think that the creators of the show may be sticking to the premise that, although the characters have traveled back into their own past, they will ultimately be unable to change it.

The following week’s episode, however, is called “Dead is Dead,” which makes me wonder if that’s referring to Ben’s mortal state after Sayid shot him.

3 weeks from now is where looking forward to future episodes stops giving useful clues because that episode is named, “Some Like it Hoth.” Well, we all know that Hoth is the snow planet in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back where the rebellion suffers a terrible defeat at the hands of the Empire. How this refers to the Lost storyline is anyone’s guess. Could it mean another visit to the frozen donkey wheel? Is there going to be an uprising of some kind that will be quickly thwarted? Is this where Jacob, A.K.A. Christian Shepard appears to Jack and says, “I am your father!” Who knows?

For me, all of these questions are why I love this show. So far I’ve been intrigued enough by the questions to keep tuning in and satisfied enough with the answers to be patient and let the show run it’s course naturally. I’m excited to see how all of this plays out!

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Movie Review: Knowing

“What happens when the numbers run out?”

What do you do if you know that a devastating disaster is about to occur and where it will happen? Do you make sure that you are far away from the event so you can be kept safe? Or do you try to warn as many people as you can and even try to be on the scene to aid as many victims as possible? What if there is nothing you can do about it? Does knowing about it make it better because at least then you can prepare? Or would you want to be kept in the dark?

These and many other questions are raised in the latest film starring Nicolas Cage entitled, Knowing, which was made by Alex Proyas, who directed one of my favorite films, I, Robot.

Knowing begins 50 years ago, as a new elementary school is about to bury a time capsule. A classroom assignment has all of the children drawing pictures to put into it depicting what they think the future will look like. One oddity is a little girl, Lucinda Embry (Lara Robinson), who is inexplicably writing what appears to be random numbers on her paper, which also gets placed into the capsule.

Fast forward 50 years, we see the time capsule opened and Lucinda’s strange paper with the numbers on it finds it’s way into the hands of Caleb (Chandler Canterbury), the son of John Koestler (Nicolas Cage). John takes the paper, and in a surprisingly easy turn of events discovers that the numbers are the dates when a disaster occurred, how many people died and where they happened. What’s disturbing, though, is that the last three dates on the list are in the very near future.

Armed with this knowledge, John has the overwhelming dilemma of what to do with it. How hard should he try to convince people of its truth? Should he warn the people where the disasters are about to occur? Is there any way to stop them?

What follows is a movie filled with mystery and tense, edge of your seat suspense. I had my cell phone in my shirt pocked and jumped in my seat at one point when it vibrated with an email during a suspenseful scene. There were times when the feel of the movie goes from disaster film, to horror flick, but all of it is engaging and, for me, very satisfying.

Since the date of 9/11/01 is the catalyst for John’s deciphering of the numbers, I can’t help but think about the impact that tragic day has had on my ability to watch movies like this.

I remember sitting in the theater in 1996 watching the Will Smith blockbuster Independence Day and being in awe as the alien ships destroyed the cities and important landmarks. I remember being rather charged up by the intensity of it all and then the satisfaction of payback that the rest of the movie brought.

But now, I have a hard time watching that movie. Partly because there are many parts that I’ve come to regard as just plain goofy, but mostly because of the reality of what such destruction can bring which was tragically brought to light when terrorists brought down the twin towers in New York on September 11, 2001. I remember the devastation caused by such a sudden and real loss of life and I haven’t been able to watch so-called “disaster movies” with the same air of entertainment since. Before 9/11, occurrences like that were pure fantasy, but now we know that things like that can really happen, and we know the heavy cost that events like that have on our psyche and society.

With all of this in mind, let me say that this movie is not for the faint of heart. There are small, personal dangers that our characters have to deal with, but there are also global crises that loom ever more ominously as the last few dates on the list come and go. Much of what we see in the disaster scenes is very realistic and disturbing to see, but I never felt like it was gratuitous—often those events are also realistically accompanied by acts of heroism and selflessness.

Make no mistake, though, Knowingis definitely Science Fiction and is a metaphor that will be colored by your own religious or philosophical beliefs, but I would suggest that everyone see this movie if for no other reason than to start yourself considering some of these dilemmas for yourself. I will not provide any of my own interpretations in this review because I believe that would detract from your own experience with this movie.

One message that I did get out of this movie that I will share, though, is that no matter how tragic the situation is that we find ourselves in, if we can somehow find hope, that will make the outcome so much easier to bear.
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TV Review: ABC’s Lost, “Namaste”


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To start things off on tonight’s episode of ABC’s Losticon, we see the crash of Flight 316 from the point of view of the pilot, Frank Lapidus (Jeff Fahey). Through the course of events we see that the Oceanic Survivors that were on the plane all disappeared except for Sun (Yunjin Kim), and went back in time 30 years to be synched up with Sawyer (Josh Holloway), Jin (Daniel Dae Kim) and the others who are now fully integrated into the Dharma Initiative.

The big question that came out of this opening sequence is why did all of the Oceanic 6 that were on the plane go back in time except for Sun (Yunjin Kim)? Could it be because she wasn’t supposed to return to the island according to John Locke and somehow what Locke wants makes some kind of cosmic difference?

For a while we believe that Sun is going to trust Ben (Michael Emerson) and go with him to the main island until Sun suddenly brains him with an oar from a boat. This is apparently how Ben came to be in the injured state that John Locke found him in at the end of the episode “The Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham.”

Sun and Lapidus make their way to the main island where they see some rustling in the trees shortly after getting out of their boat. They soon come across Jack’s alive-again father, Christian Shephard (John Terry), who tells Sun that she has quite a journey ahead of her because Jin and the rest of her friends are in 1977—hinting that he’s going to set her on a journey to reunite them. What came to my mind after seeing this scene is that perhaps the smoke monster and Christian Shephard are one and the same. It appeared that they found him very shortly after seeing the movement in the trees, and that it might not have been just a coincidence. Just a thought.

In previous seasons of Lost I was getting a little impatient with all of the flashbacks to the character’s past. Now that the series is progressing, we’re not seeing glimpses into their backstories, but instead we’re jumping back and forth in time within the main storyline. For me, this is much more satisfying because they all serve to move the story of their adventures on the island forward. Tonight the flashback was 30 years ago where Jack (Matthew Fox), Kate (Evangeline Lilly) and Hurley (Jorge Garcia) must put their trust in Sawyer as he successfully integrates them into the Dharma community.

All of Sawyer’s plans go almost exactly how he hopes except for a small hiccup where Kate is almost revealed as an outsider when her name isn’t on the new arrival manifest. She is supposedly “saved” at the last minute by Juliet (Elizabeth Mitchell), but I think that it was the first sign of hostility that Juliet is going to have for Kate out of protectiveness of her 3 year-old relationship with Sawyer. It’ll be interesting to see if we can continue to trust Juliet now that they’re all back together again.

Probably the least interesting storyline for me tonight was the capture of Sayid (Naveen Andrews). It was impressive to see Sawyer so on top of things and handling all of the situations so well, but I’m afraid that his incarceration is going to last a while and might get kind of tiring.

One interesting revelation from tonight was that Ethan, the Other who worked with Juliet trying to help women give birth on the island, who kidnapped Claire and who was ultimately shot and killed by Charlie Pace was actually the baby that Juliet successfully delivered in the last episode, “LaFleur.”

An interesting new mystery introduced to night is where in the world is Daniel Faraday? During the van ride to the Dharma compound Sawyer reveals that for some reason, Daniel isn’t with them anymore. The only time we saw him in what we think would be this time period is at the beginning of this season where he briefly showed up during the excavation of the “frozen donkey wheel” at the construction of the Orchid Station. Did something happen there that either killed him or removed him from this timeline? I guess only time will tell, eh?

The final scene in tonight’s episode was the inevitable meeting between one of the time-displaced survivors and a young Benjamin Linus (Sterling Beaumon). The lucky survivor who had the joy of his acquaintance is Sayid who ironically was the beneficiary of Ben’s kindness as the 14 (or so) year-old brought him a sandwich. It’ll be interesting to see if this pairing of characters develops into anything in the future.

The episode was named, “Namaste,” which literally means, “I bow to you” in Hindi. It seems like this could inform the future of the relationship between Sawyer and the rest of the Oceanic 815 survivors where it appears that he has found a leadership position for himself where he can make great use of his con artist’s ability to think on his feet.

Lost is a rare show that, at least for me, keeps getting more interesting as they continue to reveal secrets while introducing new mysteries. It has already proven that it’s a very difficult show to predict and I’m looking forward to see what happens next!

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Movie Review: Race to Witch Mountain

>Disney has a recent tradition of taking their older, more dated, properties and making newer versions with mixed results. For the most part they are commercial successes, but I can’t say that I’ve seen any of them that I prefer to the original. It’s probably because I grew up watching and enjoying the originals and I can’t help but compare them. Also it’s probably because most of them star Lindsay Lohan, and it didn’t take me long at all to get tired of seeing her everywhere. Fortunately, in addition to being completely Lohan-free, Disney’s new version of Escape to Witch Mountain, renamed Race to Witch Mountain, is an extremely entertaining and very fun ride!

As it began, Race to Witch Mountain first grabbed my attention by the intense opening credits, which featured a montage of fuzzy UFO sighting video edited together with audio clips of people describing their encounters. The pace of the credits got me interested in the film and hoping that the rest of the movie would be just as exciting.

The story begins as the U.S. Government tracks a UFO as it crash lands in the desert just outside of Las Vegas. Agents are quickly on the scene, led by Henry Burke (Ciarán Hinds), and they soon realize that there were two beings on the ship who most likely resemble human beings, and the agents begin tracking their movements into the city.

Meanwhile, Jack Bruno (Duane “The Rock” Johnson) is a man with a troubled past who is trying to make a clean living as a taxi driver who shuttles people to and from the airport in “Sin City.” After a few brief examples of what his life is like we swing right into some exciting chase scenes as Sara (AnnaSophia Robb) and Seth (Alexander Ludwig) appear in his taxi offering him $500,000 to take them into the middle of nowhere in the desert. From this moment on there were enough car chases, special effects and humor to keep me interested through to the very end.

Along the way they run into Dr. Alex Friedman (Carla Gugino) who is a scientist who has massacred her career by her persistent professing of her belief in extra-terrestrial life. I was entertained by the scenes that introduced her character as she tried to talk serious science to a group of costumed sci-fi fans that were attending the UFO convention where she was presenting. Her coming together with Jack, Sara and Seth at the convention and the antics that facilitated their escape from their pursuers were some of the best parts of the movie for me.

While I really liked this movie, there were a couple moments that struck me as weaknesses. The first was the introduction of the mafia-type thugs who show up and try to bring Jack to see the big boss-man. This is a story thread that I didn’t think went anywhere and only served as a device to make a couple of minor things happen. The whole sub-plot could have easily been jettisoned in my opinion.

Another thing that distracted me was that immediately after Jack and the kids get finished fighting an alien bounty hunter. called a Siphon, and then narrowly escape being pursued by the same bounty hunter who chases them in a space ship, Jack has an bafflingly hard time believing Sara when she tells him that they are from another planet! I thought that the point for him to abandon his disbelief was back when the seemingly indestructible Siphon first fired his Boba Fett-style wrist rockets.

There was another moment that I thought was going to disappoint me, but when it didn’t finish the way I was expecting it to, it only made me enjoy the movie even more. Like I wrote in an article about bad foreshadowing a few years back, whenever a trusted character in a movie tells the protagonists not to trust anyone, we usually see by the end of the movie, that the person they were weren’t supposed to trust is usually that same “trusted character” who says something like, “didn’t I tell you not to trust anyone?” Two movies that do this are Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Minority Report (both Steven Spielberg movies, hmm). Well, all I can say is when a particular character in this movie said, “don’t trust anyone,” I actually groaned because I thought for sure this was setting him up to be a traitor in the end. To my surprise it didn’t turn out at all the way I was expecting it to, and I really enjoyed what they ended up doing with the character.

I was happy to see the two grown-up stars from the original Escape to Witch Mountain, Kim Richards and Ike Eisenmann, in small parts as people who lend them helping hands in a restaurant.

In many ways I don’t think that the marketing for this movie did it justice. I don’t know what I was expecting out of it, but I sure wasn’t expecting to enjoy it as much as I did. The nice thing about this movie is that I never felt like I was patiently sitting through a kids movie waiting for the credits, but I also never thought that I was watching a show that was too mature for my 9 and 11 year old daughters who were sitting with me. The director, Andy Fickman, did an excellent job of making a well-rounded piece of entertainment that all ages will enjoy. Definitely a movie I would recommend and very much worth watching in the theater.

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