Jason Morgan
Former Contributor

WRITTEN BY Jason Morgan

Rocket Science

What is so difficult about rocket science? It’s merely the combination of complex scientific systems such as aerodynamics, propulsion, control engineering, materials science and electronics. Alright, so the subjects might be a tad over most of our heads, but those problems pale in comparison to the multitude of life questions and quandaries we all deal with on a daily basis, and that’s exactly the point the aptly named Rocket Science makes.

The 11th Hour

You’ve seen The 11th Hour before, just in a different form. During those late nights either battling stress-induced insomnia or fighting sickness after one too many drinks, you’ve inevitably stumbled upon a Save the Children infomercial, in which the narrator strolls the desolate streets of some impoverished, third-world country with a malnourished, sickly child in tow. With horrific images and endless statistics, The 11th Hour is just as manipulative and guilt-inducing as any poor child in need of your help.

Three Films By Hiroshi Teshigahara (The Criterion Collection)

There is a stigma around "foreign films" in America -- if a movie is in a different language and/or it's black and white, it's obviously not good. Luckily, the fine people have put together a box set of three of Teshigahara's outstanding contributions to film and cinematic life for new viewers to discover. In classic Criterion fashion, the Three Films by Hiroshi Teshigahara is not a box-set trilogy. The three films, Pitfall, The Face of Another and Woman in the Dunes, stand alone, but offer an over-arching view of the director’s work.

Dead Silence (Unrated)

Dead Silence’s inability to scare up chills is a reflection on director James Wan’s own inability to set aside Saw and do something different. Outside of torturous Jigsaw games, Wan turns to other, more successful horror/thrillers, in Tarantino-type “homages,” in hopes of sending shivers down your spine. From the Seven-style opening credits montage and J-Horror rip off of the ghostly villain, Mary Shaw, down to the Evil Dead inspired framing (especially on clocks) and the Halloween fog on the inside of a car’s windows, there is hardly an original idea in the entire film.

Army of Shadows (Criterion Collection)

Filmed in 1969, but only released in the U.S. last year, Jean-Pierre Melville’s Army of Shadows follows the French Resistance against the Nazi occupation during World War II. Yet, this sweeping epic doesn’t capitalize on vast battles between massive forces or national war strategies. Army of Shadows is a personal film that follows a handful of freedom fighters as they struggle with wartime murder, failed missions and the memory of an ideal.

Die Hard - Five-Star Collection

In today’s CG effects-filled action movies, it’s refreshing to go back to Die Hard’s outstanding practical effects and character tension that only comes from solid writing. It’s rare that an action movie actually capitalizes on both – including both Die Hard 2 and Die Hard with a Vengeance. Odds are that the upcoming Live Free or Die Hard will have also forgotten Die Hard’s practical lessons of solid characterization and action. There’s nothing like an original.

Venus

Venus was the Roman goddess of love, beauty and fertility. Her essence was captured by many artists; perhaps none more striking than in The Rokeby Venus by Diego Velazquez. It’s that image that haunts Venus and mocks the film’s emptiness. The film could never come close to capturing the beauty that Venus represented. Instead, it trivializes the image by shamelessly using it to bookend a protagonists’ catharsis.

Bug

Bug is a cautionary chamber piece of trusting love and endless drug use, while the majority of audience will want to see Ashley Judd ripping the “bugs” out of her skin. Predetermined expectations of what the film will be, sight unseen, destroys Bug’s chances of finding its audience based purely on our reliance on marketing. The film makes no concessions for closed-minded viewers, who will ultimately dismiss the film as boring. William Friedkin’s directing is patient and cerebral.

Eli Roth's Hostel Part II

The gore in the first Hostel played out like tongue-in-cheek B-movie violence, stirring the media into a frenzy and helping to coin the term “torture porn.” Ironically, Hostel Part II finally delivers on what the media promised. While some may toss around the clever “torture porn,” there is a simpler for Hostel Part II -- trash.

Deliver Us From Evil

By capturing events as they happen or investigating how they happened, a documentary can elevate its thematic importance through its immediately important content and raise questions that seem personally relevant to the viewer. Unfortunately, it's an overlooked genre, due to being over stuffed with agendas and border-line propaganda. Although the filmmakers don't step into the Michael Moore realm of propaganda, Deliver Us from Evil director Amy Berg is a self-proclaimed advocate, and her closeness to the material only pushes the audience away.

The Condemned

The Condemned makes it crystal clear that WWE Films is in it for the money; to find another way to package its soap operatic violence and sell it to the masses. See No Evil (starring Kane) and The Marine (starring John Cena) proved there is an audience clamoring for insulting movies that glorify violence, and The Condemned capitalizes on it.

Epic Movie (Unrated Edition)

The tough argument to make is that Epic Movie is the worst movie ever made because it never once tries to justify its own cinematic existence. It’s merely content with endless pop-culture references and fart jokes. In fact, it might be the first DVD release of a movie that offers a “special” soundtrack to incorporates more bodily noises. Obviously, these producers are sick individuals who still spend most of their time hanging out in middle school bathrooms.

Next

Since the spectacle explosion of the 1980s blockbuster action movie, beginning with The Terminator and Die Hard, the genre has run the course of fresh and exciting to cliché and contrived. It seems that masked heroes sporting spandex have replaced muscling heroes with an endless supply of ammunition. These days, it’s a rare occasion to come across an action movie that doesn’t bore your brain and waste your time. Next does both.

Slow Burn

Between Midnight and 5 a.m., Ray Liotta will have the most confusing five hours of his life. He’s a district attorney who just found out that his assistant D.A. (who also happens to be his secret lover) has killed a man who was trying to rape her. Or was he? A mysterious smooth talker (LL Cool J) shakes Liotta’s confidence with a tale of his assistant D.A.’s involvement with a notorious gangster Liotta has been chasing for years. From there we’re with Liotta every step of the way, as he runs from interrogation room to interrogation room saying, “What’s going on?”

Déjà Vu

To the film’s credit, it succeeds in its suspense and action, mostly due to Washington acting and Scott’s pension for a quick pace. Unfortunately, the horribly complicated and intriguing problem of space-time dimensional travel is illogically wrapped to make Déjà vu just as generic as Bruckheimer's other productions – highly explosive action with a dumb-as-dirt premise.

The Hills Have Eyes 2

Make no mistake, The Hills Have Eyes 2 is the embodiment of everything that is wrong with the mainstream horror genre. As a sequel to last year’s remake, it is the stuff direct-to-video sequels are made of, except that you pay $10 to see it in the theaters. Although this sequel has enough common sense not to offer up a baby-at-gunpoint gang rape scene as its center piece, it comes close. Predictably it’s an empty, grotesque glorification of torture and rape.

Van Wilder: The Rise of Taj (Unrated)

To engage in even a negative discussion about National Lampoon’s Van Wilder: The Rise of Taj would be giving the film much more attention than it deserves. Make no mistake about it, The Rise of Taj is the epitome of cinematic smut, and it’s not even the shamefully enticing kind of smut. It’s the kind of trash that makes you weep for the future of humanity.

Inland Empire

Slick effects and steady-cam shots are replaced with uneven lighting and somewhat jarring camera moves more commonplace in home movies, but in Lynch’s hands, it never feels amateurish. It’s an experience that resides somewhere between a fictional movie and a one-man documentary. It’s cinema for a new age. Although the confrontational avant-garde aspects of Inland Empire will deter the majority of the movie-going public, it’s a film that will rekindle the hope of important cinema in those who have come to feel that cinema is dead.

Believe in Me

Believe in Me offers a paint-by-numbers story that follows a the new basketball coach in a small Oklahoma town in the 1960s who is assigned to the girl’s team. Despite the storyline’s familiarity, the film side steps the common inspiration sports movie pitfall of being over-wrought with sentiment. And that goes a long way in making the film as watchable as a lazy Saturday-afternoon matinee, allowing us to get caught up in the melodrama as you watch the dependable story play out just as you’d expect it to.

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan

Perhaps there is a difference in a theatrical viewing and home viewing on DVD. While the theater would provide a communal event filled with anonymous laughter at the expense of fellow Americans and Borat’s exploits, a solitary home viewing reveals the sadness of close-minded Americans. The people that Borat meet on his journey across the country represent American majorities, many of which are just as extreme or hate-filled as Borat himself.

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