The Texas summer is finally upon us and the weather has turned from the warm spring to death heat.  It’s the perfect time of year to spend by the pool or lying on the couch under the air conditioner with some Fritos and a good movie.  So, here are two movies for when it gets to be more than 100 degrees outside.  Oh, I know it’s been mild and rainy so far!  Don’t you worry, death heat is right around the corner!

Burn (2012) [Rated NR (but it’s got some language and a girl flashing some firemen so PG-13?)]

Burn (2012) posterSometimes you come across a movie that reminds you that you are a part of something bigger than yourself.  Not to sound hokey or sanctimonious but Burn really is a special documentary.  I put it in my Netflix queue a while back and forgot about it.  The other day, it showed up in the mail and I remembered, “Oh yeah!  I totally wanted to see this.”  I’m glad I did.

Burn is a documentary by the directing duo of Tom Putnam and Brenna Sanchez.  Putnam’s biggest directing job before Burn was the Paris Hilton-helmed mess, The Hottie and the Nottie.  Sanchez’s claim to fame is as a producer for Toddlers and Tiaras.  Not exactly award-winning talent behind the camera and yet this is a fantastic example of observational documentary filmmaking.

Over the course of a year, Burn follows the trials and tribulations of the members of the Detroit Fire Department.  Filled with vacant buildings and devastated neighborhoods, the city of Detroit has been written off by most people, but this brave brotherhood of firemen risk their lives every day to try to keep their community together.  It is both awe-inspiring and heartbreaking to watch.

But Burn isn’t just about burning buildings and tough men.  It is also about a city in jeopardy. Facing crushing budget cuts and ineffectual bureaucracy, the viewer watches these men literally risking life and limb to try to save their town.  The filmmakers are present to see the hiring of a new fire commissioner and document his efforts to stem the budget crisis his department is facing by having his men prioritize emergency calls and letting abandoned structures burn to save resources.  Burn is both an ode to bravery and a lament of futility in the face of apathy.

I really can’t recommend this enough.  It may not be the greatest documentary you will ever see.  It has its flaws, but the story is so good, so real and so heroic, even in the face of what seems to be insurmountable problems, you won’t really notice when the pacing slows too much or when they linger on a particular point.  You can check out the trailer here.

8.5 paws out of 10

Journey To The West: Conquering The Demons (2013) [Rated PG-13]

Journey To The West: Conquering the Demons (2013) posterPublished in the 16th century, Journey to the West is considered one of the four great classic novels of Chinese literature.  It is roughly based on the true story of a Tang Dynasty Buddhist monk named Xuanzang who traveled west through China and the Indian subcontinent to get a fuller understanding of Buddhism.  It is a novel steeped in Chinese mythology, Taoist and Buddhist philosophy with a little Chinese folk religion thrown in for flavor.  It’s part spiritual allegory and part adventure novel.  Journey to the West has inspired countless movies, TV shows, novels, manga, stage plays and paintings.

Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons is Stephen Chow’s comedic take on the classic story.  You may say to yourself “Didn’t Collin just review a Stephen Chow movie?”  Perhaps.  If you are a fan of Stephen Chow, you know what to expect and you won’t be disappointed even if a few of the pieces are slight retreads of ideas Chow used in the past.  If you are new to Stephen Chow, this is a good introduction to his work.

This movie takes place before Xuanzang has left for his journey.  It begins with a little girl watching her father, whom she thinks is playing, being attacked by a mysterious underwater demon.  The villagers hire a demon hunter who catches a giant manta ray and assures everyone that the demon will bother them no longer.  Xuanzang arrives and tries to tell the villagers that the manta ray is not the demon and that he will catch the real demon.  The demon reemerges killing villagers and flattening the dishonest demon hunter.  Xuanzang, however, is able to capture the demon.  He begins to sing to the demon in an attempt to reach the good in his heart.  This does not go over well with the demon and another demon hunter arrives, a young woman by the name of Duan, who captures the angry demon in her bag and turns him into a toy.  This won’t be the last time these two demon hunters meet.

Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons is equal parts action, magic, romance and an allegory about the journey towards enlightenment.  Surprisingly, it feels light and entertaining.  This is due to Chow’s creative story telling and to the wonderful bits of humor worked into the piece.  Does it copy a little from his previous films?  Yeah.  Is it a little silly in places?  Undoubtedly.  But it is also a glorious piece of imagination in a time when Hollywood is trying to squeeze every last drop of profit from any little idea lying on the street.  Don’t take yourself too seriously and give Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons a shot.  If you don’t smile a little bit while watching it, well, you may need to lighten up a bit.

7.5 paws out of 10

As always, if you have a movie you think I should check out or you want to talk further about one of these reviews, drop me a line at or leave me a message on Facebook.