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If one were to say that "Halo 3" is just another video game release, they'd be wrong. "Halo 3" isn't just any game; it's the biggest game in history. \nAbout 4.3 million units have been shipped with 1.7 million of them pre-ordered; within its first 24 hours it made $170 million in sales and on release day more than 1 million gamers signed on to Xbox Live to get their frag-fest on. \n"Halo 3" features a full four-player co-op campaign, similar to the two-player co-op found in "Gears of War." With a full party, you can beat the campaign in less than six hours, but by yourself it can take as long as 10 hours.\nFor most gamers, though, campaign mode isn't the point behind the "Halo" series; it's all about the multiplayer mode. Whether it's getting frags in Team Slayer or a heated game of Capture the Flag, multiplayer is where it's at, and that's exactly the area Bungie Studios expanded upon for the latest installment. Two new modes are the most noticeable: Theater and Forge. With Theater Mode, you can save your game play and upload clips of your favorite shoot-outs and various other antics that occur. With Forge Mode, you're in full control of your online experience via a map editor, which allows you to control every detail of weapon and vehicle placements, spawning points, etc.\n"Halo 3" is so big that it comes in three different editions. You have the standard game ($60); a Limited Edition version ($70), which comes in a metal case and includes a bonus disc of "Halo"-related content and an art book; and finally the Legendary Edition ($130), which is comprised of the game, two bonus discs and your very own life-sized Spartan helmet. In case you're wondering, yes, I was a big enough geek to buy the Legendary Edition, and yes, I would wear the helmet if I could. Too bad the helmet is only designed to sit on the stand it comes packaged with.\nSure, I could complain about the short campaign and the fact that it sometimes takes a while to connect to multiplayer matches (I blame my internet connection), but the simple fact is that "Halo 3" is everything I expected it to be and more. I can't count how many hours I've already put into it, but "Halo 3" is one of the best games on Xbox 360. Now, if you don't mind, I think it's time I got in a few more rounds of Team Slayer.
Subtlety and nuance aren't familiar elements when it comes to the\nhorror works of director David Cronenberg. Here is a man who deals in the grotesque, whether it involves Jeff Goldblum mutating into a fly or\nJames Spader having sex with a leg wound. "Eastern Promises" is a whole\ndifferent kind of monstrosity where it isn't the gore that unsettles\nthe audience - it's what's going on in the minds of the central characters.\nOn a cold London night, a woman gives birth to a little girl and the\nmother dies in the process. Anna (Naomi Watts) is the nurse on duty to \nrecord the death and, in a bout of curiosity, lifts the dying woman's\ndiary from her purse. Unable to translate the Russian writing, Anna\ndiscovers a business card tucked in the pages which leads her to a Russian restaurant where the owner, Semyon (Armin Mueller-Stahl), is more than delighted to translate it for her. What Anna doesn't know is this seemingly harmless grandfather is one of the heads of the "Vory v Zakone" a.k.a. the Russian mafia, and the diary tells a lot more than what the dying, pregnant woman was eating on a daily basis.\nSemyon has a son named Kirill (Vincent Cassell) whose loose-cannon behavior could cost Semyon his position. But it's Kirill's driver and underling Nikolai (Viggo Mortensen) who is the real centerpiece of "Promises." He speaks softly and shows little emotion; his hair is perfectly groomed, his eyes are hidden by sunglasses and his face looks to have seen a few Siberian winters. When a man spits in his face, all Nikolai does is raise two fingers to his throat and point at the man to\nsummon fear.\n"Promises" is a movie that haunts the mind. Sure it's violent, featuring a brutal bathhouse fight that'll go down in the cinema history books for Cronenberg's unflinching vision, but what sticks in your head is the performances. The way Mortensen's eyes seem like giant black holes when the sunglasses are off or when Mueller-Stahl cracks a smile of deceptive reassurance. The dead woman's diary entries serve as narration throughout and you can hear the shift in her voice as she comes to realize that her hopes of finding a new life in London slowly\ncorrode into a horrifying mess. All of this perfectly accented by a somber score from composer Howard Shore who has been with the body horror auteur since 1979's "The Brood."\nSome of Cronenberg's most devout fans have lamented recently that he's \nsold-out, that he went mainstream with 2005's "A History of Violence"\nand "Eastern Promises" only reaffirms their suspicions. For a director\nwho has mostly dealt in the fantastical, of a man who becomes a fly or has a cavity in his stomach which plays video tapes, it only seems\nlogical for Cronenberg to head in a new direction towards the horrors that are all too real in our world.
Comedies are usually a tough sell for me. It's hard to find something that makes me laugh when most of the "comedy" programming out there consists of garbage like "The King of Queens." But then I found "Weeds" and proceeded to watch the first two seasons in the span of two days, officially developing a dependency that will only be satisfied by subscribing to Showtime to catch Season 3. \nSeason 1 ended with Nancy Botwin (the talented and beautiful Mary-Louise Parker) moving marijuana and accidentally falling for a DEA agent, which is exactly where Season 2 picks up. It's hard in the 'burbs to be a single mom, sell weed and get laid every now and then. What was once a small chance for Nancy to make ends meet has fully blossomed into a chronic enterprise co-headed with friend/partner-in-crime/wannabe-lover Conrad (Romany Malco), where the hottest bag on the block goes by the deserving title of "Milf Weed." Even Snoop Dogg shows up for a few tokes, but nobody said it was easy being a drug dealer. \n"Weeds" works not only because it is high-concept but also because it is high-content. It is incredibly smart, uproariously funny and has a cast that you love or hate on an episode-by-episode basis. \nI've never been one for TV supplements, due mostly to them being uninteresting. This season of "Weeds" offers seven episode commentary tracks, four featurettes (including one on how to properly grow, um, "tomatoes"), a gag reel, Huskeroos commercials and photo montages set to variations of the theme song. All in all, there's nothing too fancy or out of the ordinary, but those featurettes are worth a viewing. \nIf the end of Season 1 left you anxious, by the end of Season 2 your head will be spinning. That's all right though, it just means the effects are finally getting to you.
"Perfume: The Story of a Murderer" is a film that makes an unusual demand of its viewers: It asks them not only to watch with their eyes but also to use their noses for all the olfactory experiences contained within. A free scratch-and-sniff card would make this easier for some, but who really enjoys the scents of fish guts and patchouli?
For quite some time, I've been one of those people who feels that reading a book prior to watching the film adaptation can be disastrous. I never had any desire to read the "Harry Potter" novels, nor much interest in the films, until a friend's 7-year-old sister demanded I borrow the first film from her. Much to my surprise, I enjoyed it, just as I've enjoyed every one of the "Potter" films since. Of course, I'll never forget seeing "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" at the midnight release. As the credits began to roll, the group of 12-year-olds behind me lamented, "Oh, they left out this and this and even this!" Who knew kids had such high demands from cinema? Then again, they didn't seem to realize that turning a 900+ page novel into a film requires a bit of trimming. \nWhile "Prisoner of Azkaban" was my favorite of the "Potter" films, "Order of the Phoenix" is a close second. Potter (Radcliffe) and the gang are a bit older, and now it appears Hogwarts is on the verge of civil war, all thanks to new teacher/dictator/Bush-metaphor Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton, "Vera Drake"). She's ridiculously gaudy, with her ugly pink coats and mewing kitten plate collection, not to mention a major bitch who wants to take away all the freedoms the young wizards and witches used to have. To make matters worse for Harry, Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes, who is not nearly in the film as much as the trailer leads one to believe) is attacking him in his dreams and haunting him at every turn. \nSome have complained at the lack of magic in this outing, but for me it worked wonders. Finally, the series has come to a point where it must fully develop and mature these characters onscreen and thus prepare them for the battle at hand. It cannot be fun and games all the time for these now young adults. Most of the major players (Dumbledore, Snape, McGonagall, etc.) take the backseat this time around, allowing the focus to remain on the students. Oh, and Sirius Black (Gary Oldman) is nothing short of fantastic here -- certainly my favorite character in the "Potter" assemblage. \n"Order of the Phoenix" is incredibly fun and entertaining, despite the serious attitude it so deservingly takes. You don't have to read the books to enjoy the films, and I fully plan on seeing "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" come 2008. I'd even jump at the chance to join Dumbledore's Army if I could.
While it didn't contain the massive line-up that Woodstock touted, the Monterey Pop Festival of 1967 was the event where two of the greatest images to define rock history would occur: The Who obliterating their equipment and Jimi Hendrix setting his guitar ablaze during "Wild Thing." As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words.\nThanks to The Criterion Collection, this documentary shot by D.A. Pennebaker is available today. Whether it be Otis Redding's wildly entertaining soul set or the hypnosis-inducing sitar wizardry of Ravi Shankar, every passing minute captures something uniquely exciting that no festival nowadays possesses: the birth of music that would change a nation and shape a generation.\nJanis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, Simon & Garfunkel and plenty more are showcased here. Sure you could purchase the DVDs individually, but if you call yourself a rock fan and don't own the three-disc set, you're certainly committing blasphemy.
Director Craig Brewer knows the South. There's something to be said about a man who makes his viewers feel every ounce of sticky humidity as if they were in the dirty bars or on the long dirt roads he depicts so clearly. Brewer's first film "Hustle & Flow" was a damn fine directorial debut, and "Black Snake Moan" only goes to show this guy is going places. \nRae (Christina Ricci) has a sickness -- call it a sexual appetite -- that intensifies when her boyfriend Ronnie (Justin Timberlake) heads off to boot camp. She doesn't want to cheat on him; rather, she becomes possessed to do so. When one of Ronnie's "friends" tries to make his move and Rae denies him, he beats her up and leaves her for dead in the road until an old bluesman named Lazarus (Samuel L. Jackson) finds her. After Rae awakens, Lazarus soon realizes he's got something ferocious on his hands, someone who needs to be exorcised -- so what better way of doing it than chaining a half-naked woman up to his radiator?\nRisque? You bet it is, but we need more filmmakers like this with original ideas worth bringing to light. These are all fascinating characters portrayed with skill and passion. Samuel L. Jackson's Lazarus is an old ghost of a man, surely one of the better roles he has taken in recent times. Ricci handles the accent well and has no trouble becoming a sexpot. Even Timberlake is beginning to become a decent actor. The problem with these characters, though, is that we don't get enough interaction between them to build a solid story. There needed to be more exposition and conflict to truly sell it all the way home. \nThe supplements of "Moan" are pretty standard fair. A commentary by Brewer laments the struggles it took to bring his picture to the big screen and why the blues is so great -- both topics further commented on in a 30-minute making-of documentary and featurettes on the music. A handful of deleted scenes and still photographs round out the disc. \nBrewer narrowly missed his sophomore slump with "Black Snake Moan." Perhaps in time it'll grow on me, but for now I'll stick with "Hustle & Flow"
Here's my list of the required viewing for anyone who doubts the genre's greatness:
n 2002, terrorists in Pakistan kidnapped Wall Street Journal correspondent Daniel Pearl while he was on his way to a supposed interview with Shiekh Gilani. Despite the best efforts of Pearl's pregnant wife Marianne and Pakistani officials to meet the terrorist's demands, Daniel Pearl was brutally slain. "A Mighty Heart" is Marianne's story.\nBased on a riveting true story, "Heart" really only has two problems. However, they are major ones. \nFor starters, its 100-minute run-time feels like three hours. The film struggles to show every ounce of time and manpower put into the investigation of the kidnapping of a man we never fully understand. We're never told why he so badly needed this interview (which many warned him against pursuing) or even what attracted the Pearls to Pakistan and the war in the Middle East to begin with. We aren't even given any type of background into how Daniel and Marianne met -- all we see is their wedding.\nSecond, I refuse to hop onto the potential Oscar nomination bandwagon for Angelina Jolie's performance. Granted, she plays the part well, keeping herself together through the ordeal up until the fated breaking point, but it was nothing spectacular. For an actress who generates so many headlines about the latest kid she is adopting, it is hard to see past Jolie's star persona in a role that demands shedding it entirely. Had a more unknown actress taken the part, it would likely have been more believable.\nAs the political thriller it sets out to be, "A Mighty Heart" works OK at best. I've grown weary of these films that find it necessary to photograph the Middle East with shaky, pseudo-documentarian camerawork. Here it only makes the viewing more complicated and a chore to keep up with. \nThree elements of the film are exceptional -- Dan Futterman's brief-but-committed performance as Daniel Pearl, Ifran Khan's weighty performance as the Pakistani captain in charge of the manhunt and director Michael Winterbottom's pursuit to make every film he tackles seem completely different from all the rest -- but "A Mighty Heart" fails to live up to its potential.
It has been twelve years since John McClane (Willis) was last seen on the silver screen and time surely has taken its toll. McClane is older, a bit wrinkled but also wiser from all the previous near-death experiences he's encountered, whether it was the time he escaped the destruction of Nakatomi Tower or raced around New York disarming bombs. Yet, in the modern world where technology rules all, McClane is beginning to feel like a dinosaur -- All that isn't going to stop him from kicking ass and taking names.
"Paris, Je T'aime" is the kind of film you'd find decades ago: a big omnibus occasion for a bunch of talented filmmakers to band together, shoot some shorts and compile them into one long, cohesive picture. A team of more than 20 directors creates 18 postcards declaring love from the City of Lights, and most of them are worth keeping. \nIt's all about love and everything that comes with it -- the joy and the pain, the good and the bad, from birth all the way to death. "Paris, Je T'aime" celebrates love between couples, family, strangers, even monsters (see Elijah Wood falling for a vampire).\nSave for the disappointing segments offered up by directors Gus Van Sant and Olivier Assayas -- whose films come off as dull and uninspired -- the rest of the segments are wondrous. From the Coen Bros. comes a sad sack tale of a man (Steve Buscemi) who accidentally spies on lovers in the metro and manages to get both a kiss and a black eye in the process. Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón shows us a conversation done in one shot/one take between two people who we think must be lovers but are quite the opposite. And who knew horror maestro Wes Craven had a bit of romantic comedy in him? Love-struck mimes, surreal Chinese hairdressers and the ghost of Oscar Wilde -- these are just a sampling of the onscreen delights. \nPerhaps the best part of the collection (or the worst part, depending how you view it) is how quickly viewers can fall in love with the characters. Almost every short could be expanded to full-length because each ends so quickly you just want to know what happens next to these very real, very fascinating characters. \nForget all the fake romantic comedies found on the big screen nowadays. Here are short films that say more about love in a matter of minutes than most movies do in two hours. "Paris, Je T'aime" is the real feel-good movie of the summer.
Even though I lauded "The Departed" as the best film of 2006 -- and it certainly was the best film made last year -- my true No. 1 was Jean-Pierre Melville's "Army of Shadows," from 1969, which finally received a U.S. theatrical release after Rialto Pictures restored it. Thanks to The Criterion Collection, the DVD is available for those who missed it or, like myself, have been dying to own a copy. \nIn the wake of Hitler's occupation of France, numerous resistance factions banded together to topple the Nazi war machine. "Shadows" tells the tale of one of those factions, led by Philippe Gerbier (Lino Ventura), and the complex lives of its members, from the false identities they assume to the backstabbing they commit to save their own hides. \nThe film is dark, moody and has enough atmosphere to suffocate someone -- all trademarks of the Melville style, but also a historical reflection from Melville, who actually fought in the French Resistance. This is one of Ventura's greatest performances, which says a lot, considering he hated Melville and they never spoke on the set. Ventura is so effective at getting into the mind of the character that he remains dead silent most times, only muttering a few lines here and there and letting his supporting cast, which includes the likes of Jean-Pierre Cassel and Simone Signoret, do most of the talking.\nThis is easily one of the best DVD releases of 2007. With an in-depth commentary track by film historian Ginette Vincendeau and on-set interviews with Melville, the cast and even real-life Resistance fighters, the release reveals plenty of information on this almost-forgotten masterpiece. Perhaps the greatest artifact on this compilation, though, is a 1944 black-and-white documentary short which shows footage of the Resistance finally toppling the Nazi regime in the streets of Paris. \n$40 might be a hefty price tag, but filmmaking of this caliber is a rarity. Whether you rent it or blind-buy it, "Army of Shadows" won't disappoint you.
Much like when the first "Hostel" came out, plenty of critical disgust was spewed forth, for it was "too shocking" and "grotesque." What most fail to realize is the first film, and now "Hostel: Part II," came out at opportune times when the American box office managed to be flooded with unnecessary remakes of horror classics, "Saw" sequels and Japanese horror films dumbed down for our audiences. Sure it's a sequel, but its a worthy one at that.\nMuch like in the first flick, this time we find three college girls studying abroad in Europe, when one of their new friends tells them of an amazing new spa in Slovakia. But as soon as they arrive, their bodies are eBayed to the highest corporate bidder who wants to try his hand at murder. \n"Part II" does a lot of smart things, notably showing how the auction process works,and following the two men who win the bid and travel to Europe to commit murder. Once the gals arrive at the hostel, everything takes on an eerie sense of déjà vu, for we see plenty of familiar faces and behaviors, and even the Bubblegum Gang. Perhaps the only thing that doesn't work is Jay Hernandez's reprisal role of Paxton, who he recounts what happened in the first film. Plus director Eli Roth throws another cameo at us: in the first film it was director Takashi Miike ("Audition") walking out of the slaughterhouse; this time we catch Ruggero "Cannibal Holocaust" Deodato dining on some flesh. \n I won't spoil the body count by saying who dies and how, but I still feel the Japanese girl from the first film who has her eyeball cut off is far more gruesome than anything in this film. "Part II" digs a bit deeper to show us how this system really works, but with Roth saying he's done with the series, one must be content with the unanswered questions left at the end for the sequel to really work.
Even though I lauded "The Departed" as the best film of 2006 -- and it certainly was the best film made last year -- my true number one was Jean-Pierre Melville's "Army of Shadows," from 1969, which finally received a U.S. theatrical release after Rialto Pictures restored it. Thanks to The Criterion Collection, the DVD is available for those who missed it or, like myself, have been dying to own a copy. \nIn the wake of Hitler's occupation of France, numerous resistance factions banded together to topple the Nazi war machine. "Shadows" tells the tale of one of those factions, led by Philippe Gerbier (Lino Ventura), and the complex lives of its members, from the false identities they assume to the backstabbing they commit to save their own hides. \nThe film is dark, moody and has enough atmosphere to suffocate someone -- all trademarks of the Melville style, but also a historical reflection from Melville, who actually fought in the French Resistance. This is one of Ventura's greatest performances, which says a lot, considering he hated Melville and they never spoke on the set. Ventura is so effective at getting into the mind of the character that he remains dead silent most times, only muttering a few lines here and there and letting his supporting cast, which includes the likes of Jean-Pierre Cassel and Simone Signoret, do most of the talking.\nThis is easily one of the best DVD releases of 2007. With an in-depth commentary track by film historian Ginette Vincendeau and on-set interviews with Melville, the cast and even real-life Resistance fighters, the release reveals plenty of information on this almost-forgotten masterpiece. Perhaps the greatest artifact on this compilation, though, is a 1944 black-and-white documentary short which shows footage of the Resistance finally toppling the Nazi regime in the streets of Paris. \n$40 might be a hefty price tag, but filmmaking of this caliber is a rarity. Whether you rent it or blind-buy it, "Army of Shadows" won't disappoint you.
After my disappointment with "Spider-Man 3" a few weeks ago, I proclaimed my hopes that "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End" would be worth a damn. And oh, was it so. \nIt seems a majority of the critical masses are clueless as to what these movies are about. "At World's End" is a continuation of "Dead Man's Chest," in which the East India Trading Company blackmails Davy Jones (Bill Nighy, even more fleshed out this time around) to aid them in hunting down all the pirates in the world. With Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) lost in Davy Jones' Locker, Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley), Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) and the rest of the Black Pearl's crew set sail to save Sparrow and unite the nine pirate lords of the world to crush their oppressors. Sure, there's a lot more to it than that, but a movie with layers of narrative devices is a good thing -- much more than just watching a bunch of pirates fire cannons and drink rum.\nSome might call me crazy, but I found "At World's End" to be the best film in the trilogy, although considering the film's box office appeal, we might be seeing more of these flicks in years to come. It works on all levels -- it's entertaining, humorous, action-packed and positively breathtaking to watch. "At World's End" is easily the most visually successful of the three films. From the eerily surreal Davy Jones' Locker (seemingly inspired by Terry Gilliam's earlier work) to the haunting Shipwreck Cove -- a pirate city literally made of thousands of destroyed ships -- the visual FX team behind this films deserve their Oscars and will certainly win more. \nAnd the cast is better than ever. Depp has become a bona fide loon, Knightley has matured into one tough gal, Orlando Bloom manages to give a good performance and Geoffrey Rush is just plain excellent. Unfortunately, the talents of new additions like Chow Yun-Fat (as Sao Feng, the pirate lord of Singapore) and Keith Richards (as Sparrow's father, Captain Teague) are somewhat squandered due to their short screen time. The time they are given, though, is absolutely fantastic.\nThere is no doubt about it: "At World's End" is certain to be the leading summer movie at the box office in both entertainment value and box office returns. I already want to see it again.
If you were the director responsible for such garbage as "Hollow Man" and the notoriously bad "Showgirls," wouldn't you want to quit filmmaking? In the case of Paul Verhoeven, he dropped off the map for almost six years after a bad run in Hollywood, although he did produce cult hits such as "Robocop" and "Starship Troopers" during that time. Apparently, all Verhoeven needed was to return to his Dutch roots, which he has rediscovered with "Black Book."
"Pan's Labyrinth" may have lost the Oscar for Best Foreign Film a few months back, but that didn't stop the masses from packing into theaters to experience one of the most genius, original creations in recent film history.
Spider-Man 2," in my book, is the pinnacle of comic book adaptations that have found a place on the big screen. It took what made the first movie enjoyable and capitalized on those elements tenfold. However, with a production time of more than two years, it's clear now that director Sam Raimi, Tobey Maguire and the rest of the gang are burned out with these big-budget spectacles. \n"Spider-Man 3" is a joke, and a bad one at that. The kind a friend tells you thinking you'd find it to be hilarious, only to have you roll your eyes and possibly smack them for wasting your time. In the third film we find Peter Parker (Maguire) living up his celebrity status as Spider-Man, all the while balancing his relationship with Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst) and fighting crime. One night while star-gazing, a meteorite holding a mysterious black symbiote crashes and follows Parker home, only to take over his body during his sleep, hence the fancy black outfit. Now Spider-Man must fight the "battle within,": an escaped convict named Flint Marko (Thomas Haden Church) with the ability to become a raging sandstorm and an arrogant new photographer at the newspaper, Eddie Brock (Topher Grace), who will soon become both Parker and Spidey's worst adversary. Oh, there's also Harry Osborne Jr. (James Franco) who is still out to avenge his dead father, and Gwen Stacey (Bryce Dallas Howard), a cute gal who has the hots for Spidey.\nAll that is a mouthful, and that's one of the many reasons why "Spider-Man 3" doesn't work; the film tries to pack way too much into its near 2 ½ hour running time. Spider-Man is my favorite superhero, so I hold this material very dear to me and my childhood. When the black symbiote takes over Parker, he turns into the most emo poster child I've ever seen, wearing all black and sulking until an unnecessary scene, which comes off as an homage to "The Mask" plays out with Parker dancing around the city and in a lame jazz club. \n Character development has been thrown out the window. Sandman, who robs banks to save his dying daughter, maybe has 20 lines of dialogue in the entire movie. You never know what she is dying from nor do you really care because nothing happens with this story arc other than a few great fight sequences. Stacey is completely useless. So useless, in fact, that she disappears halfway through the movie. And after seeing him in this flick, Topher Grace needs to stick to episodes of "That '70s Show."\nIt's clear that the regulars (Raimi, Maguire, Dunst and Franco) are just tired of these films. It shows on their faces and the way they act. Everything feels sluggish, forced at times, with a clear desire they'd just like to pursue work that isn't consuming years of their lives at a time. With all the crying and emoting throughout "Spider-Man 3," it feels more like a melodrama than a fun and exciting comic book flick. The fights are great, but not much else is worth mentioning. And if they do decide to make a "Spider-Man 4," then do it to make up for this embarrassing excuse for what could've been the greatest comic book trilogy ever. I left the theater feeling disappointed and abused -- hopefully I won't feel the same way about "Pirates of the Caribbean" in a couple weeks.