Sunday, December 30, 2007

"There Will Be Blood"

Instant Classic.

Seriously... ManwithaVan can't recall the last release he enjoyed more. Far from conventional, yet "Blood" will surely rank atop many critics' 2007 review and likely earn several Oscar Noms, including Best Picture, Director, and Actor. Daniel Day Lewis, usually covered in filth and oil here, his teeth included, has this complex character piece by the balls from start to finish, exploring a range of themes in frightening fashion. A hardcore Western with unabashed straightforward storytelling, full of sprawling wide shots and long takes, a riveting musical score that makes even a lengthy scene of men laying metal stakes intense, and already drawing comparisons to "Chinatown", "2001: A Space Odyssey", and "Citizen Kane", it looks like we've got an American masterpiece on our hands.

"American Gangster"

Surprisingly good.

Seriously... With a title as generic as "American Gangster" and with actors as huge as Russell Crowe and Denzel Washington, ManwithaVan was expecting a typical Hollywood shoot-em-up. But the story Director Ridley Scott ("Gladiator") tells here of a low-key Harlem Kingpin and a by-the-book Jersey Cop is far more exciting; unique in its utterly gritty and honest portrayal. Both Crowe's and Washington's real-life characters (Richie Roberts and Frank Lucas) were consultants for the extensive locations shoots in New York City, which doubles terrifically as its filthy 70's self.

"Eastern Promises"


Seriously... "Eastern Promises" scores in its very tight narrative and clever plot twists. So tight is this film (in camera coverage too) it seems hardly populated outside of its core characters. Here, Director David Cronenberg, aka "The Baron of Blood", culls some strong performances. "I'm just de driver", explains Viggo Mortensen to Naomi Watts, and as one hell of a Ruski he slowly but surely starts to drive the film, including a tense bathhouse scene where he goes all primeval on some thick-headed hooligans.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

"No Country for Old Men"

Best Film of '07... so far.

Seriously... With "No Country" the Coen Brothers have delivered a master work and undoubtedly solidified themselves as 2 of the greatest modern Directors. "No Country" is at once a beautiful Western and an incredible thriller with a slew of stand-out performances-- Javier Bardem, Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, Woody Harrelson; and it's always a treat to see that guy from "Office Space" and TV's "NewsRadio", Stephen Root. But what makes this film special, as the title suggests, is that it's a story about humanity. ManwithaVan predicts a Best Picture Oscar Nomination.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

"Michigan vs. Ohio State: The Rivalry"

Should have been called "Bo vs. Woody: The Ten Year War"

Seriously... ManwithaVan could not have been more enthused for a documentary Ohio State Football (and their 110 year-old border rivalry with those nancy-boys from Ann Arbor). While this HBO doc is a fine introduction to the greatest rivalry in sports as well as an historic memento for its followers, it can be mighty glossy and shallow at times. "Rivalry's" brightest segment is its in-depth coverage of the "Ten Year War" between famed head coaches Bo Schembechler (in interview footage shortly before his death) and Woody Hayes (in footage of his infamous conniption fits). But this leaves little room for much else, including any meaningful exploration of the contemporary culture that “The Game” has spawned.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


Not bad. Pretty good.

Seriously... When ManwithaVan was in high school he got lowbrow skin flicks like “American Pie”, which was admittedly funny at the time, but still felt… removed… over-produced and unrealistic. Enter Judd Apatow (credited here as a Producer) and his ongoing saga of laugh-out-loud yet down-to-earth fun-fare. While “Superbad” indeed packs in its fair share of outlandish shenanigans, it’s the first movie about high school I can remember that seems like a more honest portrayal of the times, boldly manifested in it’s humanistic characters. And it manages to be pretty damn funny in doing so, sporting a fabulous cast of Apatow familiars and some super sharp dialogue. Although it's a bit long.

"The Darjeeling Limited"

Wes Anderson is 5 for 5.

Seriously... Director Wes Anderson crafts yet another terrifically impressive film; this one the tale of 3 brothers who set out across India on a spiritual journey, even if on their own terms. And all 3 leads (Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman, & Adrien Brody) turn in solid performances backed by the film's best attribute-- its writing, which is clever, creative, fun, funny, and even very self-aware. Just one thing... ManwithaVan could have done without all those unmotivated slow-mo shots pretentiously set to rock tunes, which only detract from the film's otherwise strong sense of style. Why's Wes always gotta be doin' that crap?

Monday, November 19, 2007


Everything a Doc could be.

Seriously... "Darkon" Directors Andrew Neel & Luke Meyers manage to cover all angles of a relatively unfamiliar topic – a full-contact adult war-gaming society – practically leaving no questions unanswered. Who are these guys? Who marries them? And what of their kids? It's all there and it's all worth it. It's also a very fair outlook on their lives, making it easy to both sympathize with them AND laugh at them. e.g. It's pretty ridiculous to watch these characters swinging foam swords 20 meters from a parking lot of minivans, and yet when the picture noticeably receives a boost in budget halfway through, suddenly incorporating sweeping crane shots, one can't help but feel happy for these guys, who are finally starring in their own epic.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

"Rescue Dawn"

Herzog hasn't lost a step.

Seriously... Leave it to the jungle to make Director Werner Herzog feel right at home. "Rescue Dawn" is the true account of a U.S. soldier's escape from imprisonment, Vietnam, and his own government. It's also a flawless and refreshing throwback to the 1960's in terms of filmmaking form and style, once again demonstrating Herzog's mastery. And ManwithaVan can't think of a better performer than Christian Bale to tackle the role of an isolated survivalist. Apparently he's the go-to guy for roles that require extreme malnourishment and severe pain. But where do filmmakers keep finding these Asian actors willing to play psychotic Vietnamese soldiers? You'd think at some point they would all take a stand.


"Mulholland Drive" on street crack.

Seriously... For his latest feature, Director David Lynch operates under complete creative control boldly experimenting with digital filmmaking and further exploring the art of "diving within" to produce what is probably his most raw, honest, and personal project since the 1970's. But what the f*ck does it all mean? For starters, the film's title certainly does not refer to any physical place, rather the vast treasures or rewards that can be found by searching within one's self, as an actor or actress (i.e. Laura Dern) is often required to do for a role. To help make the best sense out of "INLAND EMPIRE", ManwithaVan recommends Lynch's short book, "Catching the Big Fish."

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

"Spiderman 3"

Even worse than "Spiderman 2".

Seriously... If you seek anything in a movie other than special effects then look away. And even then, this crams in so much story that it's ultra-swift pace leaves even the action sequences unsatisfying. Each scene feels like its sole purpose is to get out of the way quickly so the next scene can begin, and much of the story flat-out makes no sense. Who is this bad Spidey guy? And why is he pointing at chicks? Toby Maguire is just awful. But I think I get it... This entire franchise is marketed to the kiddies, hence all of the random cutaways to children in the streets watching Spidey. But come on... why are all these kids walking around New York City alone?! And at night too! The "Mighty Ducks" trilogy is better than this crap.

Friday, August 17, 2007

"Shrek The Third"


Seriously... Stupid. I'm sure that a massive amount of effort and passion went into creating this movie and that the legions of kiddie fans all adored its lighthearted tom foolery, but it obviously relies on the novelty of the Shrek franchise more than anything else, just like the God awful Spiderman sequels. ManwithaVan thinks this one was really "phoned in".

Monday, August 6, 2007


“Independence Day” meets “Terminator”.

Seriously… Director Michael Bay delivers a high-caliber, catastrophic action movie of man and machine. Like most action movies attempting to cover so much ground, there are issues— the dialogue can be aloof, character development is minimal, and the world of suspended disbelief eventually begins to unravel. But with so much stellar action, this is entirely forgivable. Plus a cast of welcome familiars lead by rising star Shia "Even Stevens" LaBeouf and supported by Jon “Midnight Cowboy” Voight, Bernie “Mr. 3000” Mac, and John “Don't F*ck with the Jesus” Turturro.

Thursday, August 2, 2007


The Anti-Hollywood. And good.

Seriously… For ONE, There is no swooning alpha-male hero. Jake Gyllenhaal is a nerdy cartoonist who never grows out of his shell, Mark Ruffalo is an understated Inspector, and Robert Downey Jr. is a neurotic print reporter. TWO, there are no real female roles. Chloe Sevigny has the only significant screen time and she's relegated to a helpless housewife. And THREE, the story is rather unconventional. Unlike the title’s suggestion, this film is really about a few people who become obsessed by the Zodiac and their ensuing triumphs and defeats. Once you stop expecting the typical Hollywood fare, it’s easy to appreciate Director David Fincher's "The Zodiac" as a welcome change to the usual, unrealistic, predictable crap.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

"Happy Feet"

This one’s for the kids. And that’s about it.

Seriously… Unless you’re a small child or a parent of one, this film serves little purpose. “Happy Feet” is essentially a super-extended music video starring animated penguins, who are unanimated creatures to begin with. To its credit the artwork is stunning. Unfortunately, the musical numbers are awful and the story doesn’t take form until the 70th minute when Mumble finally decides to do something with his life, turning the film all badass-“The Lord of The Rings”. Mumble, voiced by Elijah Wood, AKA Frodo, sets off on a treacherous journey with his hobbit-sized penguin buddies across lands never before waddled, directly into the hands of imminent danger. For this brief moment, the film reaches the dramatic heights of a “Finding Nemo”, but quickly recedes back into the depths of a hellish musical underworld I’d rather forget. Sorry, kids.

Monday, February 26, 2007


It's about time. Marty Scorsese finally won the Oscar for Best Director while his film "The Departed" won for Best Picture. And ManwithaVan told you so.

Friday, February 23, 2007


A big fat piece of shameless crap.

Seriously... What appears to be a light-hearted everyman’s comedy dives into lowbrow trash as fast as Rasputia’s fat ass flies down a water slide. “Norbit” amazingly manages to blatantly offend a gamut of groups, including Fat and Skinny, Men and Women, Blacks, Whites, Chinese, Italians, Jews, Mexicans, even the Elderly and the Young. It’s like Eddie Murphy and his brother wrote this in one night over a case of warm Colt 45’s. The most interesting part of the movie was actually the reactions of the audience who was really only comfortable laughing at the ridiculous physical antics, like the spear-in-the-asshole gag. The one redeeming quality is Murphy’s insatiable talent as the massively obese and overbearing Rasputia. But what does that say anyway?

Monday, February 12, 2007

"Jackass 2"

How are these guys not dead yet?

Seriously… The first Jackass was insane. But “number two” is worse, and significantly so. It’s incredible to witness these guys willingly endure such traumatic events, some with brutal consequences, and to see how they face and deal with these extreme decisions. To know that they are all banking a nice paycheck is probably the one and only comfort in this film. I mean, Steve-O shoves a giant hook & line straight through his cheek and jumps into a school of swarming sharks as human bait. It’s certainly creative, but it’s also so arresting sometimes that it's just not right to laugh. And then what is beyond this? I'd hate to think about that for too long.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

“Nacho Libre”

Best Comedy of '06.

Seriously… Everything about this film rocks. Director Jared Hess, fresh off the cult-hit “Napoleon Dynamite,” gets the opportunity to play with a bigger budget, brighter stars, and better Hollywood material. Hess maintains his stoic and understated tone of humor that thrives on awkward situations and the unordinary, while indulging in the subtleties of highly unique characters. Enter the reigning champ of physical comedy, Mr. Jack Black. Just turn the cameras on and move over rover because Black entertains with even the simplest of gestures ("Nachooooooooooo"). Then throw in some of his signature musical numbers, tons of clever dialogue, and a spectacular supporting cast… you’ve got yourself a main event.

*Expanded Review in "Comments"

"Talladega Nights"

Will Ferrell at his best.

Seriously… Here, Ferrell plays a good ole country boy with rocks for brains and only one worry in the world and that’s winning. Sound like a familiar past TV character of his? Ferrell is also a Writer on this film with Director Adam McKay, who together have made a solid comedy team since those SNL days, including 2004’s “Anchor Man.” But standing just as tall in this picture is the surprising man-about-town, Mr. Sasha Cohen (Borat, Ali G, Bruno) as Ricky Bobby’s French nemesis, Jean Girard. This guy is such a great character actor it was difficult to even spot him at first. But who else would be brave enough to kiss Ferrell on the lips?

Monday, February 5, 2007

“World Trade Center”

Should have been called “Rescue 9-1-1”

Seriously… Its title sounds fairly imposing. However, rather than making a grand statement on a catastrophic American event or coloring the issue with politics, “World Trade Center” smartly maintains a narrow focus in subject by concentrating on the lives and experiences of its 2 main characters and their families. It’s really a film about survival and love with 9/11 as the backdrop. Not a bad hand from Director Oliver Stone who can also be known for the eccentric. It’s also reassuring to see Nic Cage cast in a good role, and one that actually portrays an authentic blue-collar New Yorker. Or is it just the mustache?

Sunday, February 4, 2007

“Casino Royale”

Bond is back, baby.

Seriously… With “Casino Royale,” an intricate story is woven chock full of action, and yet the film is not overproduced, making this the most buyable Bond flick of late. Furthermore, this James Bond is not your typical clean-cut pretty boy. He is rebellious and arrogant by nature, and willing to make extreme decisions. And doesn’t it make sense that a guy who does this kind of work is not just a yes-man, but in fact has his own agenda too? Daniel Craig makes for a sensational Bond, and at times he even manages to blur the role between good guy and villain, given his cool demeanor and icier stare. Oh, and of course, we are blessed with a perfect entourage of Bond girls to provide ample eye candy as well. Keep ‘em comin’.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

“An Inconvenient Truth”

An Inconvenient Truth about who… the planet? or Gore?

Seriously… Thank goodness the documentary format is reaching mass audiences. This is a highly informative presentation piece that should really be required viewing, while moderator and recent Nobel Prize Nominee Al Gore demonstrates a welcomed charisma. However, the lecture is oddly inter-cut with artsy segments exploring Mr. Gore’s personal battles in life, which leads the doc in a more political direction, and can actually defeat its own purpose by turning away the conservative base and preaching to its own choir instead. Why haven’t liberals learned to make a bi-partisan film yet? Then they might be taken seriously. Nevertheless, the point is clear… Manwithavan may soon be Manwithabike. Great movie.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

“Match Point”

What a hack job.

Seriously… Did Woody Allen write this as he was shooting it? This story is strung together so whimsically and motivated by dialogue so tough to swallow that even the actors seem at sea, painfully demonstrated by a chorus of flat-as-a-board performances… namely the highly overrated “Scleavage" Johansson. Who told Allen it was a great idea to make a 2-hour melodrama on the metaphor of luck between love and tennis, anyway? It would be more forgiving had he incorporated any of the usual witty and comedic banter, but sadly, this film takes itself far too seriously. To top it off, lead actor Jonathan Rhys Meyers, who courts 2 lady lovers in the film, comes across as flaming gay. Talk about unconvincing.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

"Pan's Labyrinth"

"The Never Ending Story" meets "Schindler's List" ... !@#&!!

Seriously… Writer/Director Guillermo del Toro presents a highly unique and flawless fusion between a dark fantasy world and a hyper-real war story. The film is extremely well crafted on all technical fronts as evidenced by its 6 Oscar nominations, and is worth the viewing based on this alone. However, given its decision to evade the meaning and methods of its own madness, or without offering more explicit explanations for connecting the two contrasting genres outside of "escapism", is it still effective? Or is it just a badass movie? It’s like that Metallica album “S&M” that was recorded live with the San Francisco Symphony... you want to like it, but do you really?

“V for Vendetta”

Hey buddy, lose the mask and shut up.

Seriously... “V for Vendetta” boldly explores a dark political world that sometimes resembles an ideal frighteningly close to our own. Great material, right? But too much of the story is delivered in tedious monologues and philosophical rants by the title character, V, who has a goofy mask fixed to his face. So you spend half of the movie staring at an inanimate object preaching to you… or is that the point? I don’t care. The fact that V is played by bad boy Hugo Weaving doesn’t even alleviate this. Natalie Portman, however, provides a gutsy performance and a welcome change from that Padme crap. And John Hurt never hurts.

“Superman Returns”

Everything a huge Hollywood Superhero movie should be.

Seriously… “Superman Returns” plays like a grand opera. It elegantly explores a story of high heroics equally physical and emotional with a graceful pace and fluidity. Also, given the general knowledge of the man of steel, the film is able to maintain a simple plot that doesn't attempt to cover too vast a tale (a pitfall of so many big-budget pictures that feel forced into distinguishing themselves), and by the end, the weighty groundwork is certainly laid for the following installment(s). People just want to know… if Superman’s weakness is kryptonite, then how the hell does he fly off into space with that chunk the size of Cali at the end? He just does.

*Expanded Review in "Comments"

Friday, January 26, 2007

“The Departed”

A Masterpiece… Except for the usual Scorsese slips.

Seriously… Director Martin Scorsese finally delivers a mind blowing, crowd pleasing, genuine Hollywood heavyweight. As Scorsese testifies, “It was the first picture I made with a plot.” It seems like that is exactly what the people were waiting for, as the opening weekend gross of $26.8 million obliterated all other Scorsese releases. And regardless of its shortcomings, Marty certainly reassures us all that he is still the master of modern mortality with a riveting final half-hour of elegant and exciting violence that is right on par with the ‘Baptism/Murder’ crescendo in “The Godfather” -- when Michael Corleone finishes all of the family’s unfinished business. With “The Departed,” it seems that Marty also finishes some business of his own. Now give him the damn Oscar!

*Expanded Review in "Comments"

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Oscar Nominees

Academy Award Nominees

Seriously... Martin Scorsese has been personally nominated for a total of 8 Academy Awards including 5 for Best Director since 1980’s “Raging Bull” and has lost every single time. Nor has a Scorsese film ever won for Best Picture, despite several nominations. Marty most recently lost to Clint Eastwood’s “Million Dollar Baby” (2004) in both the Directing & Picture categories, and whom he faces again this year with “Letters From Iwo Jima,” again in both categories, and also among other stiff competition. Could this be the year the curse is broken? It better be.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

"Mission: Impossible III"

Tom Cruise is insane… the good kind.

Seriously… So he jumps on couches, he marries strangers, and he might secretly play for the Northern Vermont softball league… Who cares? The bottom line is this: He is an Actor through and through. It’s what he knows and it’s what he does; and he’s not bad. As Star and Producer on all 3 “Mission: Impossible” films there is no doubt that he regards the series as his pet-projects and his real-life babies. In M:i:III Mr. Cruise simply exerts himself to the max and gives the paying public a whopping 150% of Tom! Notice the Chinese canal sequence where he is running so fast and hard he could have gone straight through a brick wall. This guy loves his work and he leads the way every step of the way in a very action-packed action film.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

"The Da Vinci Code"

It would have made a better book.

Seriously… Reading the book it seems that such a thrilling tale should make a great movie, especially one starring Tom Hanks and Audrey Tautou. But things don’t always work out. With loads of details and frequent plot twists the story becomes cumbersome to translate into a feature film. This saturation instead produces a talking-heads routine where the picture depends on constant dialogue to relay the necessary information, and really without enough pay-off. Ian McKellen, however, delivers a superb performance, and even manages to pull of an otherwise boring 15-minute monologue sequence in captivating style as usual.

*IDEA: One of the theater chains should replay of “The Lord of the Rings” Trilogy every December.

Friday, January 19, 2007


Without Penelope, who really cares?

Seriously… Director Pedro Almodovar delivers an elegant film with compassionate themes that can be lighthearted, comical, serious, and sorrowful. That’s nice, I guess. But if sweet-pea Penelope is not baking this cake, then I don’t know how far I make it. It’s like taking a cab ride around Dayton, Ohio (nothing wrong with that), but then Penelope Cruz is your driver… not a bad deal, eh? In “Volver” we are often up-close and personal with our leading lady and she rarely lets us down, except to read the subtitles. Suggested title for a sequel: “Volver Returns.”

Thursday, January 18, 2007


I think the term is “Beautiful Disaster.”

Seriously… Selma Hayek + Penelope Cruz, the perfect recipe for success, right? Especially when you factor in the lack of clothing. Unfortunately, the film fails on just about every other level, and miserably so. This troubled, straight-to-video release boasts an incomprehensible script that makes Disney TV movies look brilliant and a supporting cast that simply did not show up to work. I mean was this filmed in 2 days? It was so bad that I barely made it through the whole thing, and when I did I felt a sickness and a deep regret I haven’t felt since “Fat Albert.” I can only imagine how disappointed the girls must have been when they saw it for the first time too… poor, poor things. There, now.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007


Sasha Cohen should win some awards for this one.

Seriously... and he did. How could the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Comedy (or Musical) NOT go to a man who lived, breathed, ate, and smelled like his obscenely extreme character almost 24/7? This is the type of comedy that doesn't just stop when the camera turns off, and herein lies the awe of Cohen and company. The line between script and improvisation; sincerity and levity; and malice and insight is usually impossible to distinguish, and this, my friends, when the comedian cannot be tamed by his audience, is comedy.

*Expanded Review in "Comments"

Tuesday, January 16, 2007


Should have been called “A Night at The Ambassador Hotel.”

Seriously... This film always gives you something to chew on. In the vein of a Robert Altman picture (i.e. “Nashville”), Writer/Director Emilio Estevez assembles a cast of 22 A-List actors and thrusts them into non-conventional roles meant to reflect the tumultuous times, giving you reason to hang on for each scene. But let’s face it, the focus was roughly 10% Bobby and 90% everyone else at the hotel, most of which had no relation to Bobby… So let’s just call it “A Night at the Ambassador,” the whole Bobby thing can be a nice bonus, and bam! We'll call it a day.

Monday, January 15, 2007


Should have been called "The Passion of the Mayan-Heart."

Seriously... Mel Gibson rules. Once again, he lays it all on the line with pure in-your-face insanity. His films emanate a visceral and raw intensity, and he turns violence into an art form. Who else has the balls to shoot a 45-minute chase scene on foot? But what do we see here that is not essentially in his last 2 features? Rape? No. Public executions? No. Mass killings/buckets of blood? No. Decapitated heads? No... OK, about a dozen decapitated heads rolling down pyramid steps followed by a game of human Big Buck Hunter? I'll give him that.

"The Good Shepherd"

Eh... It's a Good Shepherd. Not a Great Shepherd.

Seriously... Matt Damon is at his best in dramatic roles, and not while playing the goofy kid with that wicked grin that reminds me so much of Hillary Swank. In fact, I don't think he smiles once in this film, he walks with a slouch, and despite being a government official he actually takes public transportation to work... all tremendous tonal touches from Bobby D., whose second tour at directing is an improvement from the now 13-year-old "A Bronx Tale", another film that explores a complicated father-son theme.

"Miami Vice"

Why weren't the two lead females hotter?

Seriously... This film would have catapulted from the level of "Exceptional script and execution... A refreshing action film with great focus... It learns from the mistakes of others... Director Michael Mann delivers yet again..." to "(all of the aforementioned) with bangin’ hot chicks." COME ON! That would have hit the spot.