Jinn and Life Itself

Jinn and Life Itself are currently available on instant Netflix

Jinn

 

Jinn (2014) – Rated PG-13

An earthly crisis prompts a race of beings called the jinn, who’ve walked invisibly among us since the beginning of time, to make themselves known.”

Jinn is a fantasy/horror/thriller hybrid with aspirations higher than its budget. Unfortunately the lack of funding periodically rears its ugly head. The CGI is cheap but generally effective. Good choices were made on when, where, and how to use it. There is a laughable car chase that, thankfully, doesn’t run very long.

For a low budget though, casting is pretty decent. Dominic Rains (Saeed The Pimp in A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night) is our nominal star as Shawn but is overshadowed a bit by his co-stars. Ray Park is well cast for his movement prowess (X-Men, Star Wars Phantom Menace) as Gabriel. He gets what amounts to an extended martial arts scene/montage/dream sequence. William Atherton finally gets a break from playing a professional asshole (Ghostbusters, Real Genius, Die Hard) and gets to be the helpful priest, Father Westhoff.

Faran Tahir (Star Trek, Iron Man), a very recognizable ethnic actor, is good as Ali. Serinda Swan is our resident damsel in distress (darn you stereotypes!), Jasmine. Walter Phelan, who plays the titular character, has made a career out of playing monsters. Interestingly, Phelan previously played a Djinn in Wishmaster.

The story is an odd hodgepodge, trying to take something from Islam and shoehorn it into judeochristian belief. It is certainly a laudable attempt at cross-denominational co-operation. It just comes off a little, well, off. There are a few nice horror sequences, especially the opening one. Jinn is not a great movie but it is an interesting one and makes for a passable waste of an hour and a half, particularly if the description seems to be your bag.

Strangely, like Joss Whedon’s Avengers, there are two post credits sequences, one after credits begin and another at the very end. People know to expect them at the end of various summer movies (so much so that Regal put up a sign during Godzilla, informing patrons that there was no credits sequence) but not so much on small horror productions.

Life Itself

 

Life Itself (2014) – Rated R

Follow Roger Ebert from his school newspaper days to his status as America’s premier film critic in this documentary drawn from his memoir.”

Occasionally I poke my head out of the clouds of fantasy, horror, and science fiction to watch a documentary. One I missed at the theater but recently caught on Netflix was Life Itself.

Given that it was a film about Roger Ebert by Steve James, I was a bit concerned that it would be a hagiography. Roger Ebert was an early and fervent champion of Steve James’ Hoop Dreams, helping to put James on the map. I need not have worried.

Life Itself is a good movie and a perfect title, referencing not only the movies that Ebert loved so much but nearly half the movie deals with Ebert’s end of life struggle and his movie review partner’s passing (Gene Siskel). The two of them were where I got all my film criticism when I was growing up and I watched their television series religiously.

Life Itself serves as a nice biography of Roger Ebert but also a harrowing struggle with cancer. Warning: most of the film has Ebert on screen without his jaw, much of the film is devoted to his losing medical battle and this may be disturbing to some.

If you love movies and/or Roger Ebert, this is a fascinating documentary. It is not all that it could be but the access to Ebert at a time when he knew his life was ending is something you won’t forget.

I definitely give this a thumbs up.

R.I.P. Roger and Gene

Roger Ebert’s Top Picks on Netflix

Life Itself

As part of an article on the Roger Ebert documentary, Life Itself, Entertainment Weekly published a list of Ebert’s top movie for each year from 1967 through 2012. Here are the seven from that list streaming on Netflix:

Five Easy Pieces (1970) – Rated R

“A promising concert pianist chucks it all to work on an oil rig but returns home to face the family he left behind when he learns his father is ill.”

Three Women (1977) – Rated PG

Co-workers Pinky and Millie find their unusual friendship turns strangely eerie when they become roommates and begin to change in unexpected ways.

An Unmarried Woman (1978) – Rated R

Jill Clayburgh received an Oscar nod for her poignant portrayal of a woman dealing with the dissolution of her marriage in this groundbreaking drama.”

Apocalypse Now (1979) – Rated R

During the Vietnam War, Capt. Willard is sent to Cambodia on a top-secret mission to terminate Col. Kurtz, who’s gone completely insane.

Sophie’s Choice (1982) – Rated R

Stingo shares a Brooklyn boarding house with Polish émigré Sophie and her mercurial lover, a union unsettled by violent behavior.”

Hoop Dreams

Hoop Dreams (1994) – Rated PG-13

Two of Chicago’s top high school basketball prospects face pressure on and off the court in this iconic documentary about sports, family and race.

Fargo

Fargo (1996) – Rated R

When a car dealer conspires with dim-bulb criminals to kidnap his wife for a hefty ransom, a folksy — and pregnant — police chief is on the case.”

 

Cancer, Cable, and Costs

* Cancer is a hot button issue at our house with our having lost my best friend after a grueling three-year battle and my beloved father-in-law after a grueling six-year battle. As a result all you have to do to get me to read an article is use the C word in the headline.

I was sorry to hear that Roger Ebert’s cancer has returned. I enjoy his columns even if I disagree strongly with some of his opinions. I thought it was wonderful that even though cancer robbed him of the ability to speak, he still produced quite a volume of work. This latest setback has him taking “a leave of presence”, a phrase I particularly liked.

Beyond the Valley of the Dollsolls

Update: I wrote this the day before he passed. He will definitely be missed. R.I.P. film critic extraordinaire and writer of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.

* We cut the cord here a long time ago. If you haven’t, you should. Barring that, Consumer Reports states that Verizon’s FiOS is the best bundle option although it is not available in our area. We dropped cable TV when the one-year bundling contract ran out and haven’t looked back.

* Both DirecTV and Dish network have some nice bundling plans BUT the plans are good for one year and lock you into a two-year contract. You might have to sell a kidney for what they charge on that second year.

* As if we didn’t have enough streaming services, Intel is working on a streaming service with NBC Universal, Time Warner, Viacom and others. I’m not sure how they think they will do better than Netflix’ $8 a month for all the movies and old TV you could watch or Hulu’s $8 for most current TV. If only Hulu would get CBS on board and/or Netflix get HBO or Showtime.

Game of Thrones

* Speaking of HBO, naturally the third season premiere of HBO’s Game of Thrones was the most torrented episode ever. If you won’t allow access to your program legally (by making the price barrier ridiculously high), people will steal it. I’m not on any moral high ground here but I am annoyed that I will have to wait for the box set next year.

Winter is coming, HBO! Winter is coming!

News of the Weird – 2D vs 3D and DVD vs. Streaming

Two bizarre news stories caught my eye this week

* In a move that smacks of the arrogance Reed Hastings displayed last year for Netflix, Joe Paletta, CEO of Spotlight Theaters had this to say (in an article for Screen Trade Magazine entitled “What’s New for 2012?”)

“Among the bigger changes will probably see the 3D-upcharge disappear. 3D charges will help increase the overall ticket-price but, as an industry, I think we’ll see a blend begin to emerge in 2012, where patrons will have a single price for both 2D and 3D films. 2D prices will increase and 3D prices will decrease.”

I really liked Roger Ebert’s paraphrasing of this:

“Oh, no! In a move to recoup their unwise investment in 3D, theaters discuss, and I quote, ‘patrons will have a single price for both 2D and 3D films. 2D prices will increase and 3D prices will decrease.’ In other words, punishing those who dislike 3D.”

I would just as soon see 3D scrapped – mind you I have to admit being biased as 3D movies give me an awful headache. I’m really liking the trend of re-releasing older movies in 3D as sometimes I get to catch them in 2D (Beauty & the Beast, The Lion King). I am hoping the 3D re-releases of Titanic (April 4th), Finding Nemo (September 14th), Jurassic Park (Fall?), and others allow us to catch 2D versions at the theater.

* The other weird news is that IHS Screen Digest states that 1.4 billion movies were streamed last year and the expectation is that this year it will be 3.4 billion. This will vastly surpass the number of films watched on disc. The future is here! Now if only companies could get their act together and sell online copies for less than their physical counterparts – you know what with their being NO physical component, costs are far cheaper.