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411mania » The 411 » Chad Webb » Blog
The Ides of March Mini-Review (10.19.2011)

With a cast as powerful as in The Ides of March, it seemed like a no lose situation. Ryan Gosling as your lead, followed by George Clooney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Jeffrey Wright, Marisa Tomei and Evan Rachel Wood. The disappointing reality is that this is a passable film that should have been great. The problem is not the direction. Clooney shoots this political thriller with a steady hand, evoking a All the President’s Men vibe. The primary flaw is the screenplay, which was adapted from Beau Wilmington’s play Farragut North. Having not seen that show, I have no clue how the translation holds up. But I can say that The Ides of March story stumbles when the focus relies on the romance between Wood and Gosling. They are both talented, but when you throw viewers into a pit of intriguing political turmoil, we could care less about the flirting of co-workers.

That sub-plot soaks up too much of the already short running time, but then there’s the twist to consider. I won’t spoil it here, but the trailer certainly lets you know one is coming. It’s safe to say that this development is supremely disappointing. Clooney, along with screenwriters Grant Heslov and Beau Wilmington, resort to soap opera shenanigans and mediocre melodrama when a line-up of this caliber deserves so much more. The dialogue is not snappy enough and the pace is not smooth or exciting. Once you know the surprise, the rest of the story is easily predictable. Gosling is a superb actor, but since he is the focus, his trouble with wading through the shoddy script is evident as the action progresses. Giamatti and Hoffman shine above the rest, and if any nominations arise from this, it will be to them. Clooney is solid as the candidate that genuinely wants to make a difference, and Wood is fine as “the intern,” but her character is plagued with the worst aspects of this effort.

In the end, the brilliance of the actors carries The Ides of March to not being a failure. As I left the theater, my reaction was “That’s it?” This is certainly not a bad film from Clooney, but it does not reach its potential. Thinking of The Candidate, The Contender, and Bulworth, The Ides of March is clearly not in that league, which is a shame, because I predicted this as Best Picture nominee darnit.

Final Rating = 6.5/10.0
Warrior Mini-Review (09.13.2011)

After a largely mediocre summer at the movie theater, Warrior was exactly what I needed. Here is a formula viewers have seen numerous times before, but director Gavin O’Connor keeps it fresh and exciting. Many have cited the similarities this film has to titles like Rocky, The Fighter, and The Wrestler. True, if you enjoyed those, it is likely that you will dig Warrior. However, by changing the stage to an MMA octagon, and balancing the underdog storyline with the struggling family bond, Warrior develops its own identity with ease. And unlike The Fighter, the main characters are not upstaged by any supporting role, thus the conclusion remains absorbing and meaningful. O’Connor, who made the exemplary Miracle, understands how to inspire an audience and get them invested in the action. Combine the brilliant acting with a rousing score from Mark Isham, and you have a near triumph. Up until now, the only other noteworthy MMA film was Redbelt, from David Mamet, but Warrior is what fans have been waiting for.

Warrior is aided by the dark and moody direction from O’Connor and cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi, but the performances are what catapult it to the next level. Tom Hardy (Bronson) and Joel Edgerton (Animal Kingdom) are sensational as estranged brothers vying for the same $5 million prize in an MMA tournament. Nick Nolte delivers his finest work in years as their father, a former drunk trying desperately to win back their affections. O’Connor recruited two stars that are believable as real fighters who need money, and he crafts the matches with electricity and emotion. Even Kurt Angle is praiseworthy as Koba, the intimidating Russian, which is an obvious nod to Rocky IV. Angle is best without lines. The relationships act as the glue in Warrior. This is a family that was broken in half, with two halves going their separate ways and being thrown back together through the sport of mixed martial arts. All the best sports films are not really about the sport, but what transpires away from those competitive events. Warrior follows that trend as a powerful, elegiac piece that I can’t wait to watch again.

Final Rating = 9.0/10.0
Colombiana Mini-Review (09.07.2011)

Colombiana is an unintentionally hilarious and somewhat awful action film. It has also possesses a hefty chunk of awesome in the vein of campy 80’s fare. Think Scarface meets Sylvester Stallone, and change the burly dude with a sexy slender female in Zoe Saldana, and you’ll understand what to expect. The story is weighted in revenge and defies all logic from start to finish. The main character, Cataleya, sees her parents get killed by a ruthless drug kingpin, and swears vengeance. The rest is…relatively predictable. She is an expert marksman the likes of which you’ve never seen. She can escape cells by picking the lock without even concentrating, scale walls with her bare hands, and become invisible from any enemy no matter how what the circumstances. Saldana (Avatar) is quite attractive so there is plenty of her to admire as she dances, takes showers, and has sex (all of which add nothing to the plot...woohoo!). She plays the role straight and serious, while director Olivier Megaton controls the substance by embracing its silliness.

Luc Besson co-wrote the script, and together, they know a thing or two about cheesy action flicks. Megaton previously helmed Transporter 3, the most tolerable entry of that series. The rest of the cast is over the top in a “so bad it’s funny” sort of fashion. Jordi Molla (Blow), permanently typecast as a Hispanic drug goon now, is always entertaining as Marco, while Lennie James (The Next Three Days) is wonderfully exaggerated as Agent Ross and Cliff Curtis (Training Day) falls right in line as the aggravated father-figure Emilio. Cataleya is the type of hero/heroine that can do anything, so the audience is just hanging on for the ride. There is nothing wholly memorable about Colombiana except for its absurdity. The dialogue is packed with side-splitting lines, not necessarily quotable, but easy to make fun of. After a summer of cookie-cutter comic book adaptations, Colombiana is a deeply flawed, but kooky breath of fresh air.

Final Rating = 7.0/10.0
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps Mini-Review (10.13.2010)

It's good to have Gordon Gekko out of jail rocking wall street once again. Sure, he's more of a spectator (perhaps even hero) in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, but he is still full of priceless one-liners and riveting speeches. Michael Douglas steps back into the shoes of his Oscar winning character with ease, and it goes without saying that he owns the picture. That's not to say Shia LaBeouf, Carrie Mulligan, Frank Langella, Eli Wallach, and Josh Brolin aren't fantastic as well. Everyone brings their A-game. Director Oliver Stone may not have needed to deliver this sequel, but it is appropriate for the period and that instills the snake-like trading practice dilemmas with urgency and emotion. He convinces us that there was something new to say, and he supplies viewers with a satisfying blend of authenticity and allegory.

Stone, along with cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto, shoot the wheeling and dealing with energy, clarity, and tension. The locations look terrific, and like most Stone efforts, this one has a likable slickness. Susan Sarandon and Carrie Mulligan are underused, but not wasted. The ending is conventional and contrived, but not completely out of left field. Stone is one of the most intelligent filmmakers in terms of finesse and pacing, and he succeeds here. This is not intended to delve deep into the money culture or global finance, but instead offers a glimpse of that world and tosses it into a storyline of drive and romance with fascinating personalities and enthusiastic performances. If you want more information, take a gander at the numerous documentaries out right now. And how can you not smile at the Bud Fox cameo? Revisiting some iconic characters can be disastrous, but this is not. Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is a worthy second chapter, one that was suitably patient and extremely enjoyable.

Final Rating = 8.0/10.0
Devil Mini-Review (10.13.2010)

The Night Chronicles, a new company from consistently sinking filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan, will churn out films based on his own stories. He will oversee each production, and will handpick each writer and director. It sounded like a promising plan, but after seeing Devil, I am dreading the next adventure, supposedly titled Reincarnate. I don't need to dwell on the problems with this travesty very long. The acting is uniformly horrible. The scares are cheap, and every kill occurs in darkness, which is boring, deceitful, and dumb. On the surface, this seems like a premise that would be easy to knock out of the ballpark, but the "twist" is not only a letdown, but so manipulative and idiotic that I regretted every penny I spent on the ticket. The religious angle on the story was also hamfisted and handled in a most corny manner. The narration from Jacob Vargas is incredibly annoying to the point of justifying walk outs. I have not seen any of Director John Erick Dwodle's other efforts, but I'm certainly hesitant to now. I was amazed that the screenplay was written by Brian Nelson, who penned Hard Candy and the 30 Days of Night adaptation. He bombs here, though I will give credit for the portrayal of security guards. The circumstances inside and outside the elevator are eye-rolling and inert. This has little gore, no suspense, and no thrills. It is sad that the laughter during the trailer was so appropriate to the full feature.

Final Rating = 3.0/10.0
You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger Mini-Review (10.13.2010)

Woody Allen pumps out films faster than most directors. At this speed, he has generated an average of 4 or 5 haphazardly made efforts as he has worthwhile successes. You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger falls into his category of films that were simply not well thought out. I must admit, even though the premise was mediocre, I was still eager to see this because of the names Allen was working with for this venture. Unfortunately it boils down to a talented cast being dealt careworn, sporadically amusing, and meandering material.

First of all, the narration, which was implemented so wonderfully in Vicky Cristina Barcelona, makes little sense here. I love narration when used properly, but when it's not needed, it can be damaging. The plot is comprised of characters and situations Allen could have created in his sleep. It feels disappointingly familiar. The Anthony Hopkins/Lucy Punch storyline is just stupid, not to mention predictable. It has to be one of Hopkins goofier turns, and the fact he has zero chemistry with Lucy Punch hurts his exertions even more. Josh Brolin and Naomi Watts are a married couple who start (or want to) relationships on the side. They veer off the straight path too quickly, as if they had been waiting for the opportunity. The scenes involving Watts and Antonio Banderas, or Brolin and Freida Pinto are too riddled with cliches and lack a sufficient amount of the Allen wit to skate by with a passing grade. The funniest scenes have Gemma Jones giving advice to Brolin and Watts through her phony psychic. The sessions with Jones and Pauline Collins are solid too.

No matter how many star caliber names you have on the poster, they need to gel at some point, and most of these people fail to achieve that. Luis Bunuel made a film called The Phantom of Liberty, where each story was cut off the moment they became interesting. Bunuel's approach was intentional and engaging. A similar scenario unfolds in You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, but Allen was not striving for that effect. As soon as the stories get complicated, it all ends, leaving us wondering why we bothered to pay for a ticket. The whole package feels recycled and Allen is obviously not totally invested in any of it. This is just another bland effort in theaters, one that will be forgotten very soon. And I'm sorry, but the way Brolin picks up Pinto is just creepy.

Final Rating = 5.0/10.0
The Town Mini-Review (10.13.2010)

Ben Affleck's sophomore outing as a director is just as competent, thrilling, and poignant as his debut, Gone Baby Gone. He clearly has a sense of how to balance characters, themes, action, and drama. He gathers a superb cast under his watch and in turn receives equally as superb performances while his camera moves fluidly with the story and the universe. The Town is basically Set it Off with men instead of women. Amazingly, few (if any) critics have cited this comparison, but indeed almost every aspect of the story mirrors that 1996 F. Gary Gray offering. The Town is better though. Where Set if Off focused on the robberies and the action, this allocates more time to the characters, why they act in this manner, and what their lives in Charleston are like.

Affleck also stars in his film, and shows once again that he is one of the most misunderstood and underrated actors of his generation. He has a dynamic presence, and delivers each line with conviction and gusto. Jeremy Renner nearly steals the show from him as James Coughlin. It's a gritty, searing piece of acting. Watching him makes you nervous. Jon Hamm plays the FBI agent as a person that is just as strong and human as the criminals themselves. Rebecca Hall is outstanding as the bedazzled and vulnerable woman, Pete Postlethwaite is subtly intimidating as Fergie, and Chris Cooper definitely makes an impression during his brief moments as Stephen MacRay. Affleck, his talented cinematographer Robert Elswit, and film editor Dylan Tichenor prove that you can still film bank robberies in fresh, exciting, and enthrallings ways. I loved the quotes displayed at the beginning. They were a relevant and thought-provoking intro. Affleck has not just made a movie about robberies, but about life in the city of Boston as well. He captures the atmosphere and the locations with assurance and adeptness. This is a fine, worthwhile experience that moviegoers of just about any age will find absorbing.

Final Rating = 9.0/10.0
Machete Mini-Review (09.30.2010)

Much like The Other Guys, Robert Rodriguez's Machete, based on the faux trailer from Grind House, does not really know what it wants to be. All at once, it tries to poke fun at exploitation films, wants to be one of them, and also reaches to be a political satire on illegal immigration. Those building blocks just do not effective together. The pro-illegal immigration message, no matter what the intent was, will rub many people the wrong way. It comes off as almost snide, but definitely misguided. The acting is probably the best part of this adventure. Danny Trejo is ok as the titular character, but his performance fluctuates with the changing tone of the picture, so it's hard to gauge. Jeff Fahey, Steven Seagal, Don Johnson, and Cheech Marin are all terrific. Robert DeNiro chooses to coast in the middle of straight and exaggerated, so the reaction to him will be indifference. The women shine with Michelle Rodriguez, Jessica Alba, and Lindsay Lohan looking sexy and turning in outstanding work.

Rodriguez (helped along by co-director Ethan Maniquis) amps up the gore for the fight scenes and action sequences and the result is cartoonish violence, which is fine as long as the other elements click. A big thumbs for the gardening tool attack though. No one can say that Rodriguez doesn't understand this genre. He bludgeons the viewer with everything they would normally crave from it: cheesy one-liners, over the top violence, and lots of female nudity. Unfortunately its uneven qualities, lack of balance, and blurry focus make really sitting back and reveling in the mayhem difficult. The insertion of silly fake trailers as a break from Planet Terror to Death Proof was genius, but now that one of them is a movie it really didn't seem worth dampening the Grind House objective. It's an unapologetically slapdash conglomeration of themes and messages. This has been unfairly compared to The Expendables, a mindless action pic, but at least it stuck with its goal. Machete strives to simultaneously be bloody, wacky, and preachy, but the latter isn't desired for this genre. On a side note, Alba's gun flask is super bad ass.

Final Rating = 6.0/10.0
The Other Guys Mini-Review (09.30.2010)

The Other Guys, the 4th collaboration between Will Ferrell and Director Adam McKay, proves the duo have not grown or changed their tired routine at all. Ferrell plays Detective Allen Gamble, who acts like every other Ferrell character, and Mark Wahlberg tries to channell his sharp and intense portrayal from The Departed via spoof as Det. Terry Hoitz and it produces sporadic chuckles at best. This is just a disappointed picture, plain and simple. McKay and Ferrell can't decide if they want to mock cop movie cliches or embrace them. Towards the end, they rely on them in a straightforward, typical actiony manner, so what's the aim exactly? The problem is, Ferrell vehicles are funny in bits and pieces, but the package as a whole are lackluster and not worth thinking about again. Michael Keaton is one of the story's consistent pleasures as he plants his tongue firmly in cheek for the duration. The Rock and Samuel L. Jackson also have nice chemistry, but are disposed of too quickly, and in a way that is too stupid.

Many of the running gags are just repeated, as if they are trying to make us laugh at the same thing over and over again when it wasn't that funny to begin with. Gamble's ability to score hot chicks and the TLC references are two examples. Steve Coogan is comedically underused as the white-collar crime villain. Taking a financial fraud case and incorporating that into a police action film is just silly because the two don't mesh. Narration from Ice-T, freeze frames, slow motion, and odd Little River Band shout outs are just some of darts The Other Guys attempts to throw at the bullseye. They miss most of the time. Ferrell and Wahlber are a solid pair, as they showed at the 2007 Academy Awards, but just teaming them together is not enough, neither is sticking them in the spotty Ferrell/McKay fomula. The "Faceback" joke can sum up the entire film. It is a program that is discussed but never seen. The Other Guys teases us, but never fully delivers.

Final Rating: 6.0/10.0
Dinner for Schmucks Mini-Review (09.28.2010)

Dinner for Schmucks is a prime example of how not to remake a movie. This is based on the 1998 French comedy from director Francis Veber (writer of La cage aux folles), and at a crisp 80 miutes, it is a delightful experience...that also shows reestraint. That is a word director Jay Roach ignores for this updated version. One of the highlights about the original was that we never saw the actual "dinner." We see it here, and what a coincidence that the result is the worst part of this garbage. Another huge problem in this film is the character played by Paul Rudd. He is supposed to be a jerk, yet Roach wants us to simutaneously hate and sympathize with him. It sends mixed signals and makes the events overly mean spirited. The pacing is also off, and the dinner portion conveys that Roach allows the audience too much time to think about the bad gags. The fact is this is torturously long at nearly 2 hours. In addition, the humor is over the top to the point of exhaustion for the cast and forcing the viewer to rip their hair out. Jemain Clement could have been funny, but the horrid material his odd character is dealt ruins that. Carrell, Rudd, Galifiankis,and Livingston know better than this.

Final Rating = 3.0/10.0
Eat Pray Love Mini-Review (08.26.2010)

There is a portion in Eat Pray Love where the main character Liz says she wants a divorce from her husband Stephen out of nowhere. During the divorce proceedings, Stephen declares his love for her again as he obviously doesn't understand her sudden feelings. She tries to explain that they were not right for each other. Later she tells someone they were young and immature, yet somehow almost everytime we see them on screen they are a loving couple, and the husband, played earnestly by Billy Crudup, is very nice and normal. As he fails to win her back at the divorce meeting, he gets into the elevator with tears in his eyes. This is our image of Liz before she destroys a marriage so she can frolick in 3 countries for a year using the advance from a book deal. It's safe to say I hated her from that moment on.

I suppose Eat Pray Love is a fantasy for women in a similar way that The Expendables was a guilty pleasure for men. It has handsome male love interests, trips to beautiful countries, delicious looking food, and plenty of relaxation time. What I found interminable about this film is how preachy it is regarding self-fulfillment because not only are we supposed to identify and connect with Liz, but Director/Co-writer Ryan Murphy adapts Elizabeth Gilbert's popular book as if trying to tell us we should live life the way Liz did. Unfortunately, most earthlings do not have the funds or time to take a year off. Who wouldn't want to do that? It is simply not realistic, and the film seems to be arguing that Liz's happiness is right around the corner for everyone with issues. The Bucket List suffered from the same flaw.

I will confess that Liz's adventure reminded me of how spectacular the food in Italy is. However, her journey comes across as little more than a travelogue to the audience. One never really feels they are with Liz in these places. This is the movie equivalent of a postcard. Murphy's direction doesn't help either as he settles for the stereotypical touristy view of each place. Another gripe is that language is never a factor for Liz. In each country, she meets a new friend that speaks both languages and can steer her in the right direction. Must be nice, but again, it's unrealistic. She does take Italian lessons, and in 4 months, can speak it fluently. Wow. I studied German for 3 years and still have trouble. I should divulge that I did appreciate some scenes. One where Liz's Italian friends lecture her on how burned out and uptight Americans are is glorious. Later, Liz gives some advice to a female friend that is worried about her weight that also rings true.

Julia Roberts is probably perfect for this role, and in truth, her performance is fine, but her character is extremely selfish. She discards many people in her life, and in the end Murphy incorporates throwaway scenes where they are seen as happy. This manipulative nature made me want to shout "Bullshit!" Murphy also shoots her with incessant angelic lighting. No one else is on screen for a sufficient amount of time. Javier Bardem is ok, James Franco is odd, Viola Davis is adequate, and mostly everyone falls into the same category of average. Richard Jenkins is the sole stand out, regardless of the fact that he plays a cliched wise old man. The scene where he spills his guts about his life is the best 5 minutes in Eat Pray Love. That is a guy who needed a year off. He has real problems. Liz created her own, and then forgave herself. Lucky her.

Eat Pray Love tries to disguise itself from what it really is underneath the surface: a common romantic comedy. Murphy is terrific in the realm of TV (Glee, Nip/Tuck), but on the big screen he doesn't have a clue. Just watch his awful debut Running with Scissors from 2006 for proof. This is a shallow, overlong piece of tripe that missed the mark in almost every way.

Final Rating 3.5/10.0
Centurion Mini-Review (08.26.2010)

After recently returning from a vacation that included stops at Rome, Italy, I decided to re-watch some of my favorite films from that city. Gladiator was among them. The next day I watched Centurion, the new film from Neil Marshall. I probably would have noticed anyway, but it's safe to say that Centurion "borrows" more than a few scenes and lines from that Best Picture winner (among others). Like Marshall's Doomsday, which was a post-apocalyptic adventure, this is a clumsy patchwork of its genre, in this case historical epics (or sword and sandle if you prefer).

But Marshall has stated in interviews that he wanted to make a B-movie that eliminated the drama and focused on action. Well, he accomplishes to a degree, but there is no denying that he wants this to be more than just an action flick. Plus, the drama is the glue that holds these pieces together, and this was in dyer need of some. Marshall just wanted to avoid the lengthy running time. In other words, he wants to have his cake and eat it too. That is not the only problem. I will say that the sword battles, chases, and fights in general were bloody and brutal. There are a handful of juicy kills, including one where a poor sap gets speared in the nutsack, and another where one man sacrifices himself by shoving a spear through his own stomach so it reaches the enemy behind him. As neat as these were, they are definitely not praiseworthy enough to give Centurion a recommendation. We've seen great deaths before, only combined with superior storylines.

As far as historical accuracy is concerned, I am not bothered by any liberties the filmmakers took. The exact information on the 9th Legion is cloudy, so if you want something more realistic, go read a book. Michael Fassbender is our star, and he acts as a solid hero. Fassbender is a fine performer, but he can do better (See Hunger, Fish Tank). Dominic West and David Morrissey hand in healthy supporting roles as fellow soldiers. Olga Kurylenko, always looking sexy, is one bad ass mute chick that aims to hunt down these Romans. Marshall has an affinity for tough females, as he proved with Rhona Mitra in Doomsday, and Kurylenko does admirably here. The acting is just dandy from top to bottom, even the ridiculously shoehorned role Imogen Poots plays is tolerable.

The sad fact is that the story is rather sloppily constructed. First of all, the narration is completely unnecessary. Usually I don't mind it, but all Quintus Dias does is state the obvious. Many events are skimmed over and one wonders how the characters got out of certain situations or accomplished certain things. In addition, Marshall starts out Centurion with a not so subtle commentary about guerilla warfare. Mercifully he does not harp on the subject. He also stated in interviews that he wanted the Romans and the rebels to occupy a "gray area" in terms of being heroes or villains. This would have been fine if it was conveyed better, but it comes off as a total mess where the aim is murky.

I wanted to like Centurion, but Marshall makes it hard. After The Descent, I couldn't wait to see his future projects. Now I wonder if he has any inventiveness left. Centurion and Doomsday are nothing more than bad hodgepodges of their genres. Like The Expendables, there are some Magnificent Seven elements to this, but that picture didn't pretend to be something it wasn't. At least we get to see every aspect of a stag being eaten right?

Final Rating = 5.0/10.0
The Expendables Mini-Review (08.26.2010)

It is not rare in this day and age for a new film to receive huge buzz long before it is released. Many big sequels or exciting adaptations are eagerly anticipated. However, every once and awhile a film comes along that acquires such positive word of mouth, a film that people simply can't wait for. It happened with Snakes on a Plane, and it happened again with The Expendables. The pedigree of the cast members that Sylvester Stallone began assembling was impossible to ignore. As a fan since childhood, I was amped for this project. As time rolled along though, I got worried that the film was being built up so much that it could never reach the expectations people had. Thankfully, it met my expectations with a solid bang. It was neither better or worse than anticipated. When you hear the name of Stallone, you should automatically know what type of movie you're getting. This is a mindless action film as only a legend could create. It's the type of action flick that has become scarce in a Hollywood smitten with CGI.

In an interview with Cigar Afficionado, Stallone said The Expendables was intended as a throwback to titles like The Magnificent Seven and The Dirty Dozen. It is not meant to incorporate any social commentary. He does not shy away from the fact that this is just big, loud, and accessible piece of entertainment. This is something Salt was confused about, and as I predicted, the critics comments about The Expendables displays their hypocrisy quite clearly. The story follows a group of mercenaries who are hired to overthrow a dictator regime in a small country. It doesn't get much simpler than that. Stallone proved with Rambo that he understands how to craft the action according to what current audiences like. What he presents to us here is mind-blowing and just plain awesome. The beginning shootout was fantastic, the chase/escape in the middle was gripping, and all the 1-on-1 fights near the end were just brilliant. To see Dolph Lundgren vs Jet Li and Stallone vs Steve Austin is an action nerd's dream come true. All we need now is Chuck Norris.

I usually take notes when I see movies now, but I decided not to for this. I just wanted to sit back and enjoy the carnage. You have hot women, big guns, shiny knives, loud motorcycles, cigars, beer, darts, and anything else a man could ask for. yes, this is indeed a guy movie all the way through to the bone marrow. The acting is credile from everyone involved. Stallone knows who is weaker and therefore needs less lines of dialogue. Eric Roberts is suitably cheesy and menacing as the chief villain, Giselle Itie is appropriately sexy and convincing as Sandra, and David Zayas is effective as General Garza. The much talked about encounter between Schwarzenegger, Stallone, and Willis was funny and short, just as Sly said it would be. Was it an iconic moment? Who knows, but I'm glad it was there. The action is at times heavily edited, but remember that this cast did a lot of their own stunts. Many of them, especially the director, suffered injuries. The strong box office showing for this movie means that we might see a couple more Sly extravaganzas before he retires or cripples himself on set. I am certainly happy about that.

Final Rating = 9.0/10.0
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World Mini-Review (08.23.2010)

It won't take long for viewers to realize whether or not they accept the style of Director Edgar Wright's new film. He is incredibly faithful to the source material, and in the case of Bryan Lee O'Malley's superb comics, that is a positive choice. One must give themselves over to the video game graphics and wacky fights. The whole scenario of a newly smitten 23 year old Canadian who must battle 7 evil ex-boyfriends of his new girlfriend Ramona Flowers is loads of fun from start to finish. The plot is not much deeper than that. Wright and company infuse the picture with visually arresting images that are reminiscent of video games such as opportunities to continue, gain an extra life, obtain coins, and so forth. You know what to expect when the Universal logo appears at the beginning like an 8-bit game. The movie is almost entirely smoke and mirrors, but it's also increasingly effective and hilarious.

Wright understands, like O'Malley did, that you cannot drown the viewer in this razzle dazzle. It is balanced quite adeptly with deadpan humor, a touching love story, insights on relationships, and terrific music. Yes, the soundtrack is a significant part of this film as Scott plays bass in the band Sex Bob-Omb. Nothing is meant to be taken too seriously, and that is the key to it all. The special effects are used in a way that enhances the story, but they are not overwhelming. It might take some folks a few minutes to get accustomed to the method of storytelling, how the dream sequences work, the tone, and so forth, but once you get on board the train you won't want to get off. There are numerous sequences that are simply side-splitting, almost too many to mention. Stephen Stills, one of Scott's band-mates, goes on a rant right before their show, but no one can hear him because of the band that plays while he talks. However, with subtitles, we can see what he is yelling about. Another moment shows Scott as extra happy, and his every line has sound effects similar to that of a sitcom (i.e. laugh track, etc.).

The performances are collectively brilliant, especially Michael Cera, who was perfect for the titular role. Mary Elizabeth Winstead might be yet another quirky love interest for Cera, but she rocks as Ramona, and has a sexy Kate Winslet/Eternal Sunshine vibe going on. Chris Evans, Brandon Routh, and Jason Schwarztman are great as a few of the ex-boyfriends, while Kieran Culkin is equally as terrific as Scott's roommate Wallace. Animation similar to that of the graphic novels appears via flashback sequences, and that was integrated well too for more diversity. The Matthew Patel fight, which involves female demons, is a bit lame, but other than that this flick rarely misses a beat. The other battles are outstandingly witty mayhem. In addition to the visuals and the comedy, it is also a sincere coming-of-age tale that manages to say a lot about immaturity, self-doubt, and ambivalence. This universe is coherent and inventive, yet never tries to deceive the audience. And you need not be a fan of gaming, anime, or the original books to connect with this. It all comes together in one glorious package.

This is probably the best video game ever that isn't really based on a video game (on a side note, they did make a game from this movie). Somehow though, Edgar Wright was intelligent in dealing with the story, and the result is a blast of a time at the theater. I can't wait to watch it again.

Final Rating = 9.0/10.0
Salt Mini-Review (07.23.2010)

Salt is a film that starts out with potential, for all of 10 minutes, but once Jolie starts leaping from speeding semi-trucks down the highway, someone decided to throw caution to the wind. On the surface, this is standard summer action fare. At one time, this project was offered to Tom Cruise. He opted for Knight and Day. That had humor, this doesn’t. The problem is Salt takes itself very seriously. Evelyn Salt is not painted like an action hero waltzing through an absurd premise. This double (or triple) agent is presented as someone who is simply better trained than…the whole world. We are supposed to believe in the shootouts, chases, and dangerous stunts as legitimate entertainment, not mindless fun. Angelina Jolie is a solid action star when she wants to be (See Wanted), but unlike other talent that has explored this terrain, she does not have her tongue planted firmly in cheek. She is a no nonsense female.

Director Phillip Noyce has made a career out of lackluster action flicks that borrow bits and pieces from superior titles and franchises. The most glaring comparison is James Bond. The Saint, Clear and Present Danger, and Patriot Games all suffer from atrociously choreographed action. At least The Saint showcased Val Kilmer having a blast. Jolie eliminates men twice her size, leaps inside an elevator shaft like Spider-Man, drives a car by using a tazer on a stunned cop, scales tall buildings, and escapes nearly every trap. Either she is a genius or every other character is dimwitted. None of it is effective because it’s all sloppily constructed and free of levity. The plot is incredibly incongruous, full of holes, and more convoluted than I ever anticipated. By the time the final credits rolled, I was shaking my head in disbelief, not sure if what I saw was laughably awful or just plain pathetic. Live Schreiber is tolerable, but any positive qualities of his acting are overshadowed by a twist involving his character. Chiwetel Ejiofor is too boy scout-ish, and everyone else is forgettable or underused.

While watching Salt, the scenario became so preposterous and was being executed with such a straight face that Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove sprang to mind. Salt is the type of movie that was making fun of. I’ll give credit to whoever made the trailer because it barely reveals a fraction of the outlandish situations contained here. The comments and praise from many critics are downright hypocritical. So, if we accept that this is confident and not arrogant, we must therefore appreciate that and dismiss the sheer stupidity of it all? I find that impossible, and I can wager that most critics will not be making those statements once The Expendables arrives.

Some intriguing ideas are introduced early on, and Salt does possess some underlying slickness, but in the arena of action movies, this is should be declared insane. No matter what anyone claims, this is not intended to be “so bad it’s good” or brainless enjoyment. Kurt Wimmer is the screenwriter, and nearly everything he has penned is crafted to be important and significant. If that wasn’t enough, the ponderous score from James Newton Howard supports it all in the most generic way. I personally feel that there is supposed to be a message here, but I have no clue what that would be, and to be truthful, I don’t care.

Final Rating = 4.0/10.0
Inception Mini-Review (07.20.2010)

Since 1998, Christopher Nolan has not made a bad film. He continues to amaze and astound viewers with his level of skill and incredibly versatility. With Inception, a motion picture being described as a “mind-bender”, he presents 2010 with its second masterpiece. Here is a science-fiction story, set within the architecture of the mind that is complex without being deliberately confusing. When dreams and reality merge, filmmakers tend to go crazy, and forget that coherency should not be totally forgotten in favor of embracing madness and unpredictability. Thankfully this does not suffer from that weakness. Inception is not self-indulgent, but rather a profound and intricate journey that will reveal new layers with subsequent viewings. This is a movie of genuine vision, one that packs so many scenes and lines that are instantly classic.

The visuals are simply breathtaking, and the use of computer generated images is among the finest of any live-action film in years. The fact that they look so convincing augments the illusion and enhances our elation. Nolan has created a world that audiences will want to explore for themselves, a mesmerizing process that causes the mind to drift far into a fantasy world where dreams can be controlled and changed. The score from Hans Zimmer is perfect as it stirs the suspense and keeps our hearts racing without fail. This is more ambitious than anyone could have hoped for. It is clever, but not condescending. This trip through mental labyrinths combines action, comedy, adventure, sci-fi, drama with sharp writing and nuanced filmmaking and puts it all on a grand scale. The more one discovers about this wholly original idea and universe, the more fascinating it becomes.

It took nearly 8 years for Nolan to complete this script, and we should all be thankful he took his time because the final product may not have been nearly as slick or flawless. Nolan has made each project he is apart of highly anticipated, yet he delivered here above expectations. That is rare. The performances are nothing short of phenomenal. Leonard DiCaprio leads it all in another masterful turn, but you will se great acting from Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Michael Caine, Cillian Muprhy, Tom Berenger, Ken Watanabe, Tom Hardy, and lastly Marion Cotillard. This is a rich, absorbing, and stimulating piece of entertainment that is about as fulfilling as any summer blockbuster could be. If I start listing my favorite moments, we’ll be here all day. This deserves oodles of nominations, and I can’t wait to see it again. That seems to be a quality most of Nolan’s films possess. This one left me speechless. It is one of those movie experiences that everyone will remember.

Final Rating = 10.0/10.0
Predators Mini-Review (07.20.2010)

I thought Director Nimrod Antal’s Vacancy was much better than it had any right to be, but it was far from perfect. I would say the same thing here for this sequel/reboot/re-imagining, or whatever this is. He has not improved much. Here is a franchise that was better left alone after 1 terrible sequel with Danny Glover and 2 horrid Alien vs. Predator crossover flicks. But with Robert Rodriguez as Producer, a mixed bag helmsman, and bizarre cast, anything could happen. The first observation is that Adrien Brody has stepped into the lead hero role similar to what Arnold Schwarzenegger did in 1987. Mentioning them in the same sentence is odd, but Brody is appropriately bad-ass here. The rest of the cast is a hodgepodge of colorful personalities such as Danny Trejo, Topher Grace, Alice Braga, Oleg Taktarov, and even Laurence Fishburne is a juicy Col. Kurtz type part. The acting is acceptable and nothing more. These are thin stereotypes that get gradually picked off, but it’s a fun gathering nonetheless. Listening to them exchange theories of where they could be and what could have happened are intriguing.

This expands on the Predator universe without going too far. The journey through the forest to the first skyview is terrific. We also see only 1 new brand of creature aside from learning more about the different types of predators. Antal films the story during the day and night, in darkness and in light without seeming manipulative or shady. We can see the action clearly. The biggest problem with this picture is that it recycles the first film’s pacing, approach, structure, and climax too bravely. This walks a fine line between regurgitation and an original spin. I would also say that Brody’s character is too smart at times, but he is the one that makes this neat. He takes the material very seriously, but does so in a way that works well. The script from Alex Litvak and Michael Finch unloads plenty of one-liners and cool fights to conceal the obvious copying from the ’87 film. Still, this angle fits better. The twist at the end is rather dumb, and unfortunately gave me flashbacks of Venom in Spider-Man 3. The weapons are big and brutal, the CGI is solid, the gunfire is paced well, the scares are not cheap, and it has a few memorable moments that prevented me from giving it a thumbs down. I’m not sure this is worth buying, but it was a summer experience that left me remotely satisfied.

Final Rating = 7.0/10.0
The Kids Are All Right Mini-Review (07.20.2010)

Could this be the quirky family independent comedy of the summer? It’s certainly possible. This is an affable, hysterical, and delicious film that takes a unique premise and makes gay related storylines more accessible for mainstream audiences. The comedy and melodrama on display here is exaggerated in very few circumstances. Much of the joy and laughter of watching stems from situations we’re not familiar with. For instance when the gay couple is engaging in oral sex while watching a porno at the same time, the volume gets kicked up and the kids hear. In addition, every time the kids refer to their parents as “Moms”, it’s hard not to chuckle. In fact, this film has many different types of humor including witty lines, slapstick, dark elements, and some that derive from awkward situations. Observing the reactions and body language when the kids first meet Clay is terrifically honest.

In terms of acting, The Kids Are All Right brings together 2 ladies I generally am not fond of, but in this instance I adored them. Annette Bening and Julianne Moore are sensational as Jules and Nic. Josh Hutcherson, finally starting to grow out of kid flicks, is fabulous, and Mia Wasikowska proves here that she is a wonderful new talent as Joni. Mark Ruffalo turns in one of his most memorable performances as Clay, the hippie organic farmer and bachelor restaurateur that shakes up their dynamic. Everyone delves deep into the characters, but what’s more is that Director/Co-Writer Lisa Cholodenko cares for these characters and this story. The tonal shifts are not as smooth as they could be, but Cholodenko understands that a mixture of the comedy and the serious are important.

The visuals will influence anyone to visit Southern California as the neighborhood seems friendly, the weather is bright and sunny, and the food looks amazing. Only during the final portion does a villain emerge, and it makes sense, but could have used better closure. The wealth is spread competently by covering lesbian marriage, sperm donors, and teen angst all as vital ingredients. This acts a slice of life, and damn enjoyable one at that. The family has a chemistry that is so rare. Not only do they “click”, but they convince us that they have been a family for almost 2 decades. Cholodenko takes family values down an entirely new path, and it is piercingly effective. The direction is not flashy often. Cholodenko, along with cinematographer Igor Jadue-Lillo are steady and credible, maintaining the dramedy atmosphere. She gets inventive once when Nic learns of a secret and the sound is blocked off because the character is only thinking of the distressing realization.

The Kids Are All Right has a pleasant aftertaste that reminds me of Sideways, and that is about as positive as I can get. I have not seen any of Lisa Cholodenko’s past efforts, but I can assure you readers that I will soon. She and Co-Writer Stuart Blumberg are responsible for one of the year’s smartest and most entertaining films. Her movie also gets Julianne Moore to sport a pair of aviator sunglasses again after Next. They fit better here Jules.

Final Rating = 9.0/10.0
Knight and Day Mini-Review (07.02.2010)

Now you could say this film doesn't pretend to be anything it isn't, and that it doesn't take itself too seriously, and both statements would be true. A couple other breezy summer action pics can make the same claims. Those are strengths of this movie, but they weren't the main reasons why I would recommend it. What makes this fun are the cool action sequences, the fresh characters, and the chemistry between the actors. That is not to say the action is perfect however. One involved a plane landing, and another had Cruise being thrown from speeding car to speeding car. Those are the types of scenes that annoy me, ones where the CGI is sloppy. For the most part though, Director James Mangold integrates the special effects smoothly and intelligently.

The production was riddled with cast, crew, and script alterations, and of course the studio threw in the towel before it was even released. Oh well. It doesn’t deserve such intense hatred. Many moments stood out. I loved Roy Miller's island hideaway, and the escape from it. The chase during the middle of the running of the bulls was inventive as well. This is a mixture of many different films such as North by Northwest, Charade, so on and so forth. You have this device that everyone wants called the Zephyr, which is such typical name for a MacGuffin like this.

Tom Cruise is pitch-perfect in this role. If Ethan Hunt enjoyed his job and didn't look so solemn all the time, he might be close to Roy Miller. Cruise uses his charm and comedic skills to give a terrific performance. Cameron Diaz meshes with him very well. She looks good, and is also quite funny. This is an on screen team that was not smug, and they're not just going through the motions. They seemed like they enjoyed the material. Peter Sarsgaard nails his creepy glare shtick with a Southern accent. Viola Davis was fine as the woman in charge of the secret agents at the FBI. Paul Dano was effective as the geek who invented the Zephyr, but his facial hair was an issue. And I'm always happy to see Jordi Molla in a mainstream movie. He was great in Blow, and was the only positive quality of Bad Boys II.

Mangold and screenwriter Patrick O'Neill (his debut script) understand that the characters are just as important as the explosions and gunfire. Listening to them converse and flirt is part of the entertainment, and it's nice to see those elements click when the cast believes in the story. The fact that we hold June's point of view was also a wise move because being in the dark makes everything more interesting. Phedon Papmichael's cinematography captures the beauty of the scenery in the various countries. There's a bunch of moments where June wakes up in a gorgeous place, and that heightens our view of it I feel.

Cruise has a motion detector/phone that is focuses on a specific address, and I liked where that tangent lead. The action-comedy genre has plenty of hits and misses (past and present). The reason I would give the ol' thumbs up to this and not say Mr. and Mrs. Smith is because it's not as snarky and blends the action and humor better. There are a handful of missteps, and this is not designed to be free of holes, but this is the sort of pleasant summer fare that leaves me satisfied.

Final Rating = 7.0/10.0
Grown-Ups Mini-Review (07.01.2010)

I have to give credit to the people who made the trailer for this movie. While it didn't look like anything I was crazy about seeing, overall it struck me as mediocre. Boy was I wrong. I honestly did not think it was possible to get worse than Adam Sandler’s previous efforts like You Don't Mess with the Zohan and I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry. Sadly, Grown Ups equals them, and that’s being generous. This is one of the worst films of 2010. The fact is Adam Sandler is a fantastic actor, but he needs to be pushed. Funny People was brilliant, but I credit that more to Judd Apatow. He is a very lazy performer, and that is why he continues to do comedies with his buddies. Most of his vehicles are basically just he and his friends hanging out. The difference is that the majority of the time, they kept it hidden. With Grown Ups, they are right up front and in our faces about the agenda. Most of the scenes here are just the group of guys making fun of each other, in a manner that is probably reminiscent to their real lives.

You also have plenty of poop/fart humor, urine jokes, shots in the crotch, milk shooting from a breast, and much more. When is Sandler going to learn that this is funnier to him and his pals than it will ever be to us? Well, when people stop paying for tickets I guess. I hated this movie so much that I laughed out of sheer amazement due to how awful it truly was. I sat there and shook my head in astonishment, while my fiancée was prepared to leave 30 minutes in. Does Director Dennis Dugan give any orders on set, or does he say "Go nuts!"? You know, I really wonder. This is not a movie. This is a "making of" featurette. There is no plot here. You have Sandler and company sitting on their butts, tossing wisecracks at each other, each one with grins from ear to ear as they imagine the paychecks coming soon.

I think all of those people who get pissed and feel cheated at efforts from M. Night Shyamalan or manipulative love stories should be more upset after spending money on this garbage. Sandler is cheating moviegoers worse because he is using the star power he possessed in the 90's to lure viewers in to comedies that should not be made. Fans of his will show up for anything, and in the long run, they'll come to a realization of how bad this is (I have to believe some of them will see the light). Just like those previous Happy Madison efforts, I found this to be offensive in many ways. There is inappropriate funeral humor, Rob Schneider eats KFC with human ash on his hands, and you see the rear end of Spade and Norm MacDonald (which is offensive on many levels).

I cannot really label these as performances since the guys play versions of themselves. Kevin James has the lone comical moment when he caves in the side of his above ground pool (and the only reason I laughed at that is because I saw it happen in real life). The women are just as bad. Maya Rudolph, Maria Bello, and Salma Hayek are all lovely, but their talents are wasted here. They drown in bad comedy, and it is evident that Dugan’s kindergartener party atmosphere rubbed off on them too. Even the children in this movie are grating to the point where I wished someone would poke out my ear drums. Any attempt at drama or a legitimate plot is laughable.

They break a cardinal rule of comedy here and that is that the characters can't know they're in a comedy. These 5 not only know that, but are proud of it, and could care less if anyone else thinks they're funny. Now most people would point the finger at Soderbergh's Oceans Eleven franchise, but those are not strictly comedies. Not only that, Soderbergh knew enough to concentrate on plot once in awhile. Dennis Dugan has "grown up" into a terrible filmmaker. I hated this movie with a burning passion. Some might make the statement that it can get much worse than this, possibly something from Uwe Boll is destined to hit the bottom harder. In my eyes, the laziness of Adam Sandler and the blatant carelessness with which he makes his movies these days is worse than anything Uwe Boll could concoct. The difference is clear. Boll wants to make a good movie. Sandler doesn't care. This should serve as a warning to Vince Vaughn and Will Ferrell. If they are not careful, this could turn out to be them.

Final Rating = 1.0/10.0
Micmacs Mini-Review (07.01.2010)

This is the newest film from Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet. I am a very big fan of his work. He has delivered great films like Amelie, Delicatessen, and A Very Long Engagement. He is a quirky filmmaker, whose offerings are almost always fun and fresh.

This follows avid movie-watcher and video store clerk Bazil who has had his life all but ruined by weapons of war. His father was killed by a landmine in Morocco and one fateful night a stray bullet from a nearby shootout embeds itself in his skull, leaving him on the verge of instantaneous death. Losing his job and his home, Bazil wanders the streets until he meets Slammer, a pardoned convict who introduces him to a band of eccentric junkyard dealers including Calculator, a math expert and statistician, Buster, a record-holder in human cannonball feats, Tiny Pete, an artistic craftsman of automatons, and Elastic Girl, a sassy contortionist. When chance reveals to Bazil the two weapons manufacturers responsible for building the instruments of his destruction, he constructs a complex scheme for revenge that his newfound family is all too happy to help set in motion.

This is imaginative, but it gets carried away with itself. Basically the film is a series of practical jokes on these arms dealers, but the scenes fly by so quickly and become so convoluted that it becomes unclear as to why certain things are happening. Jeunet spends so much time conjuring up humorous situations and inventive means of revenge for the characters to be in and dish out that he forgets about character development. Unlike his other pictures, we do not care as much about this central hero. I will say that the set-ups on the poor arms dealers are funny and neat to observe, but it seems as if the lead loses track of why he wants revenge. You might even start to question why he takes aim at these particular guys.

Micmacs resembles a live-action Pixar story strangely enough, and incorporates some Mission Impossible elements. Jeunet himself described it as "Amelie meets Delicatessen", and I can see that, but this is undoubtedly weaker than both of those. At times this is like a Wyle Coyote/Roadrunner cartoon in nature. The acting is solid, and the group of eccentrics are entertaining and likable, but the shtick gets old. Dominique Pinon, a Jeunet regular, steals the show as a former human cannonball guy. The villain de Fenouillet is a superb character, predominantly because he collects spare parts from the cadavers of evil men.

Danger is barely a factor, and you just kind of wait for the situation to escalate. This is easy to watch though, and never boring. I appreciate that Jeunet is embracing lighthearted fare again, but he gets so caught up in the zaniness of the plot that story depth and layers for the characters are skimmed over. I wanted to like this, and to be truthful, many people will, but everything moves too fast, and I wish Jeunet had taken a break from the creative pranks once in awhile for some drama down time. The problem is that you have a lot of neat pieces, but the glue that should be holding it all together isn't sticking. I don't mind thin movies, but this is careless enough for me to give a marginal thumbs down. You smile, but that's it. I hope anyone reading is not discouraged from checking out Jeunet's other efforts. Too many Americans know him only as the guy who directed Alien: Resurrection. He does deserve more than that.

Final Rating = 6.5/10.0
Toy Story 3 Mini-Review (07.01.2010)

What we have here is one of the best third installments of all-time. This is such a wonderful film from start to finish. The characters we know and love have returned, but along the way we meet plenty of new characters. In imagining what anyone could do with Woody, Buzz, and the gang, the idea of sending them to a daycare makes sense and provides ample amounts of enjoyment.

I will only briefly touch on the voice acting we're already familiar with by saying they are all fabulous. The new additions warrant need commenting on more though. Ned Beatty is outstanding as Lots 'O Huggin Bear, Richard Kind is good as the Bookworm, Whoopi Goldberg is solid as Stretch, and Timothy Dalton is fantastic as Mr. Prickle Pants, but it is Michael Keaton that steals the show as the Ken doll. Keaton is so perfect for the part, and if you don't laugh at the modeling sequence…seek help.

The prison break aspects of the storyline were significantly darker, but the geniuses at Pixar knew when to ease back on anything excessively frightening. This film was intended to be darker in spots because after all, we're focusing on the possible demise of the toys. Buzz Lightyear's various modes were hilarious. The intro scene, which was such cool part of the first sequel, is thoroughly entertaining and I loved the transition to what that fantasy really was. To say this is not as witty or that the action has faltered is simply a falsehood. This sequel has everything it needed to, even Buster the dog who got really old.

What makes this such a great film though is what Director Lee Unkrich, along with screenwriters John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, and Michael Arndt did with Andy and the little girl Bonnie. Between those two characters (and of course Woody) lies the heart of Toy Story 3. I really loved the Bonnie character. Her shyness and the way she played with the toys were so authentic and true to life. The way Andy treats his toys at the beginning was also very realistic. On a side note, I also think that Lotso's reasoning for how he acts makes perfect sense. The final segments of this movie are thrilling and poignant, and I'm not afraid to say, almost had me in tears.

Randy Newman's music was golden as usual, the CGI was flawless, and the new environments the toys explored were colorful and interesting. Some of the characters from the past were noticeably absent, but since years have gone by, that was believable. And when you have a nod to Hayao Miyazaki with a Totoro doll (There's also an homage to Spin & Marty), you have won me over. I truly could go on and on about my favorite scenes. I did so in the car with my fiancée afterwards. Mr. Potato Head having to use a tortilla was classic. The balance between humor and drama is handled so delicately and skillfully. The creators are smart at what they should and shouldn't do. I actually think this hit something deeper for grown-ups. I'll use all the clichés: Pixar has done it again, this movie is magical, and it's also a masterpiece.

--I have to take a moment and touch on the bonus treat before each Pixar feature. I absolutely loved it. The title of this short is "Day & Night". The little message that they inserted was not subtle, but it was not meant to be, and it was spot-on. I really hope viewers were paying attention.

Final Rating = 10.0/10.0
Winter's Bone Mini-Review (07.01.2010)

This was a hit at Sundance and has received some of the best reviews of the year. The story takes place in the Ozark mountain territory and follows a girl who needs to find her drug dealing father (Jessup Dolly - what a name!) because in order to get out of jail, he put their house up as collateral. Unless he shows for a court date, they lose everything. This is directed by Debra Granik, whose debut effort, Down to the Bone starred an up and coming actress named Vera Farmiga. That one is well worth a look as well.

This is a terrific film, one that takes an unflinching look at these people and the area they live in. The obvious comparison is Deliverance, but this embraces more of a noirish/mystery feel to it that is increasingly effective. The film is saturated with memorable characters and superb performances. The life these folks lead is a hard one, and that is reflected in each portrayal. You will not see a phone, a TV, or a computer. The kids play on a trampoline and hunt animals for meal time. Both of Granik's pictures show a woman who is involved in a situation she has trouble controlling, and that is certainly the case with Ree Dolly. Everyone in the area seems to be related, but no one wants to help her. That is how people in these "middle of nowhere" type areas act. They want to be left alone and basically keep to themselves.

Remember the name of Jennifer Lawrence because she is a talent to watch. She is brilliant as Ree, a tough 17 year-old girl who is stuck with raising her brother and sister because her Dad is a meth-cooker and her mother is sick. Lawrence has passion and conviction, and you will probably see her again come awards season. John Hawkes is also magnificent and scary as Teardrop, Ree's Uncle. There are a bunch of names like that. One intimidating fellow is named Thump. Granik integrates plenty of horror elements throughout the story. Her shots definitely aim for that sort of mood, and the music only compliments it. There is a scene in a cemetery and then one at the end at a secret location, which were extremely creepy. Granik wants us to view this journey as an unpredictable one, thus many of Ree's encounters are shocking and induce jolts.

Part of the intrigue with this story is that Ree and many of those around her are living under a specific mindset, a distorted one for sure, and a conversation with an Army recruiter changes her perspective. I found myself laughing during many sequences, and the reason is because much of what occurs is incredibly intense and startling. But I do think Granik strives for humor every now and then from the staging of certain scenes to how the cast delivers some of the dialogue. This is not a perfect film. The biggest problem is the lack of details about the family blood ties and their unusual way of living. Perhaps the movie is unconcerned with this for a reason, but who knows? There is also an out of place interlude. Winter's Bone has a naturalism to it that is augmented by the performances, and it all really draws you in adeptly. Let's face it; the terrain plays an important role too. The sense of place adds that significant ominous tone. This is a thrilling, eerie, suspenseful, comical, and altogether gripping tale that will have you on the edge of your seat. It does not overstay its welcome at a crisp 100 minutes, and I can promise that you many of the characters and images will linger in your head after you leave the theater.

Final Rating = 8.5/10.0
The A-Team Mini-Review (06.20.2010)

You know, I’m glad I decided to watch a few episodes of the show again to get my mind back into that groove because it helped with my thoughts on this film (Mexican Slayride to be exact). The A-Team series was silly and formulaic. The movie version replicates that as comparably silly and formulaic. Make no mistake; this is faithful to the spirit of the show. But what works on the small screen does not always translate the same way to the big screen. I understand that many people will just be excited to see these characters again kicking butt and taking names as only they know how. I respect that, and was fully prepared for what type of action flick this would be, but if the action doesn’t stand out, than it fails to win me over. That was my main problem.

There seems to be this tendency with action pictures these days where everyone thinks they need to be bigger and more explosive. And then they say, “Well, we can do whatever crazy stunt we want with computers.” It’s as if they think CGI is the answer to everything, and I hate this mindset. If the action used the least amount of CGI possible, and was perhaps a bit more restrained, people will still respond accordingly. The opening chopper chase, the escape from the crematorium, the plane explosion and tank parachute drop, and big finale with all the huge crates is too outlandish and too ridiculous. The action looked weak and was haphazardly handled. Director Joe Carnahan’s reliance on “the crazier the better” as we saw in Smokin’ Aces goes off the deep end here.

This does have some fantastic performances though, at least three that I counted. Otherwise the cast is a mixed bag. Bradley Cooper is easily the best as far as the A-Team foursome is concerned, and I’ll tell you why. He approaches the character the way he would play it. The other three are just doing impersonations of the 80’s characters, even resurrecting the same costumes, hairstyles, and accents. Admittedly, they do so in a competent fashion, but I personally did not want to see imitations. I also hated how Liam Neeson and Quinton Jackson kept reminding the audience of their catch phrase every 5 minutes. “Pity”, “Fool”, and “I love it when a plan comes together” are uttered non-stop. Once is enough thanks. And the “Pity” and “Fool” lines associated with Mr. T. emanated from Rocky III, not The A-Team. Patrick Wilson was awesome as Lynch. He is such an outstanding actor, and he has all the memorable one-liners. Jessica Biel is not an action star. She demonstrated that with Stealth, and is only marginally better here. Out of nowhere though came Gerald McRaney, who was just magnificent as General Morrison. I loved seeing another face from the 80’s. It reminded me to pick up a season of Simon & Simon soon.

You have plenty of nods to the show, including cameos. They are not subtle, and are sometimes so obvious that even a person who has never seen an episode would understand. Some critics have called this self-conscious, and it certainly is, but so was the show. I didn’t care for this, but if all you were hoping for was a retread of the show, this achieved that. Take Michael Mann’s vastly underrated film adaptation of Miami Vice. Audiences wanted the 80’s costumes, music, and cheesiness, but we have the show for that and Mann knew enough to change it. His vision was truly fresh and complex. Carnahan’s A-Team is a regurgitation of the series. I just was not impressed with the action, thought the plot was a tad convoluted, and overall it was a smidgen long.

Final Rating = 5.5/10.0
The Karate Kid (2010) Mini-Review (06.20.2010)

I never thought I’d say this, but compared to the fight scenes in this update, the crane kick and the tournament matches in the first film were actually grounded. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the fight sequences in this remake. They were brutal, quick, and fun. The central kid villain Cheng does a nip-up quicker than I have ever seen before, and makes me feel out of shape. However, the concluding one-on-one battles, while enjoyably rousing for the audience, were not very believable, and that is not arguable by any stretch. Let’s break it down. In the first film Daniel moved to California from New Jersey and faced more experienced karate fighters there. He learned from minimal training at his YMCA. In this story, Dre moves to China and learns how to beat them from scratch. Just that is hard to swallow, but he does flip kicks and flying leg scissor twists. It was cool, but way over the top.

I recently read an interview with William Zabka (Johnny from the original) who was looking forward to this because it was a re-imagining and not a remake. I would disagree with him. The location has changed, and the running time is longer, but the majority of the key scenes are simply copied from the original film, and that was a little disappointing. For a 2 hour and 20 minute family film, I expected more. Having said all that, this is an engaging and well acted film. The classic underdog story is hard to screw up, and this had people at my showing cheering throughout. Jaden Smith is fabulous as Dre in the fish out of water role. Daniel had some of that too by moving from the west coast to the east coast, but moving to China is definitely different. Jaden is the son of two famous actors, but he has proven that he is a charming and likable lead all on his own. Jackie Chan shows that he is a polished performer in the maintenance man role. It’s basically the same thing that Pat Morita delivered, but Chan nails it with confidence and really shines during the fight scenes and training montages.

My favorite skirmish can be seen in the trailer where Mr. Han saves Dre from a group bashing. He is an adult and they are kids, so he lets them beat up themselves, and never actually hits them. It’s humorous and thrilling and you can tell Chan had control of that choreography. Taraji P. Henson is fine as the mother. It’s a relatively unimportant role because all we care about is the relationship between Mr. Han and Dre, which is effective because Smith and Chan have excellent chemistry. Wen Wen Han is also sweet and compelling as Dre’s girlfriend Mei Ying.

I still think the original by the great John G. Avildsen is better, but one thing this version excels at is taking longer to develop the characters, even if it is only 13 minutes compared to the original’s running time of 127 minutes. These performances did have time to stretch, and without the acting, this would have been a complete dud. There are some comical moments such as Dre realizing Spongebob Squarepants is in Chinese even after the theme song was in English. The ping pong match was terrific, though the arcade date was ruined by shoehorned pop tunes. The whole picture suffered from a lack of appropriate music. There is nothing wrong with recycling Joe Esposito or Ace of Base. This film was not afraid to use subtitles when they were necessary. That is healthy for the kids watching. The trip to the mountain exhibited some colorful and gorgeous locations augmented by Roger Pratt’s cinematography. I just didn’t like how the technique Dre sees there, which takes ages to learn, is then used by him at the end after only a little bit of training.

This was directed by Harald Zwart, who does not have a strong track record in this genre (The Pink Panther 2, Agent Cody Banks), but I did like One Night at McCool’s. This is Christopher Murphey’s first official screenplay, and that was clear since it struck me as a cut and paste job. I do need to emphasize that because unless the remake puts a sufficiently fresh spin on the story, I will just watch the original. This movie teeters right on the edge of imitation and barely fresh. I thought this was an entertaining picture, but it did contain some notable missteps. I loved the “put on your jacket, put it down, hang it up” segments. They might not be as quotable as “wax on wax off”, but they accomplished the same idea. I was on the fence with this one, but I do think kids will enjoy it, and was pleased enough that I will recommend it.

Final Rating = 7.0/10.0
The worst sequel in years, a ludicrous Persian Prince, and a passable concert at the Greek... (06.10.2010)

Sex and the City 2 - You know, I go see a lot of movies on my own, and it never bothers me. I'm not Roger Ebert and my version of Chaz cannot accompany me to every screening. It doesn't bother me, and usually no one blinks an eye. I had to see this sequel though, for many reasons. But let me tell you, for a brief moment when I entered the theater, I felt like John McClane when he held that sign up in Harlem in Die Hard 3. It is also worth noting that most of the people who glanced at me funny, left early. Ha. Joke on them. I had a gift card. I have to say, this is the worst film of the year. I admit that I liked the show, but the first movie almost killed any fondness I still had for the characters. This movie kills it, destroys it, and stomps on any positive legacy this name could have possessed. Secretly, I was tapping my fingers together like a maniacal villain as to how I could sabotage the projector, so that this painful experience could end sooner.

Words really can't describe how truly awful this is. I don't even know where to start. Let's start with the script. 90% of the lines are the worst puns imaginable. Every character has them, even the new ones, and it is a relentless assault. For example, one of the beginning sequences is a wedding between two males. Carrie sees her friend Stanford and says "You're wearing white." He replies "Like a virgin!" She adds, "Touched for the very first time." Yeah. The entire film is exactly like that. Many characters keep commenting on how "gay" the wedding is, but more than that it's just stupid and way over the top. You should see the set design. What would make that worse? How about Liza Minnelli singing "Single Ladies" by Beyonce AND doing the dance? That night Carrie and Big are sandwiched between Charlotte's crying children and Samantha's sexual triathlons. Now, Samantha's hook ups were a regular part of the series, but here the moaning has gone to extreme lengths and is faker and more ridiculous than any porn star you could ever see (or hear). There's another scene of Samantha in her office with glass walls, panties down, putting ointment between her legs.

So Samantha has a PR deal and is able to get herself a trip with the girls to Abu Dhabi, you know the place where Garfield sent Nermal. They get anything and everything they could ever want. Miranda says they have lots of things to do in Abu Dhabi..."Abu Dhabi Do!" And on it goes. You have camel toe jokes, the dumbest karaoke performance in history by the foursome belting "I Am Woman", and Lawrence of Arabia references to a guy named Dick Spurt. These characters have gotten more annoying than they ever were before, and the "women power" message makes no sense here. These women have everything, yet they are still pissing and moaning about men keeping them down. The acting is horrendous across the board, primarily because everyone involved has outgrown these personas. Sarah Jessica Parker, Cynthia Nixon, Kristin Davis, and Kim Cattrall are horrible and unlikable, Chris Noth (who portrays Big) tries so hard but can't improve anything, and the other husbands are almost an afterthought. You have obligatory appearances by Jason Lewis, Penelope Cruz, and even Miley Cyrus just because they had the funds to do it.

Writer/Director Michael Patrick King doesn't have a clue during this torturously long 150 minute disaster. He packs it with one failed gag and/or segment after another. After all this time, Carrie still hasn't changed from the first episode of the show. She wants Big, and then she doesn't. She enjoys marriage, but wants to make her own rules. She wants to have her cake and eat it too. She even meets an ex-love in Abu Dhabi, thousands of miles away from home, and you can guess what occurs. King is still trying to manipulate the characters to do things that are not in their nature, or simply refusing to have them develop or grow at all. Most critics are making statements such as "This is like 5 episodes strung together." Where were you for the first film? They also ask "When did Sex and the City become so meaningless? Please refer back to my previous question. This is one of the worst sequels ever, and I didn't think that was possible. You have so many bad stereotypes with Middle Eastern characters, absurd outfits, and oodles of offensive material.

They are catering to the obsessive fans regardless of how much that kills its legacy. There is no genuine emotion here, no uplifting message, and the ending made me want to rip the hair out of my head. But hey, at least we can stare at Alice Eve. This is a movie that kept getting worse, kept trumping itself in terms of badness, and what finally did me in was Carrie imitating a Claudette Colbert scene from It Happened One Night while dressed in Middle East women regalia. Final Rating = 1.0/10.0

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time - So even though I have made the statement that I have never seen a video game adaptation I would whole heartedly recommend, I did pay for my Prince of Persia ticket with an open mind. This is a harmless popcorn flick, and I understand that, but it has a boatload of problems. The main one is that it reminded me too often that it was based on a video game. Jake Gyllenhaal's Dastan swings, flips, and jumps more than any character I have ever seen, kind of like a character in a game. This would have been fine if it was used sparingly or didn't look ludicrous, but it gets old because he keeps doing it, and by the end he is outracing sand and flipping through the air better than Evan Bourne on speed. As for Gyllenhaal's performance, I got used to it, but he was still a bit smug and irritating. He handles the action sequences better than I would have expected, but he was a mixed bag overall. Gemma Arterton is nice eye candy. She and Gyllenhaal actually have solid chemistry when they jab back and forth at each other with typical blockbuster flirt banter. And Ben Kinglsey is a fine actor, but as a villain, he often drops the ball. Here he reminds me too much of his role in BloodRayne. The Alfred Molina character was incredibly dumb to me. He spouts off about taxes and the rich coming down on small businessmen, and it seems out of place.

I also greatly hated the entrance of the Hassansin leader, played by a gentleman named Gisli Orn Garaorsson, and he resembles Jared Leto if he never saw the sun and took a lot of downers. As we learn more and more about this mystical dagger, it keeps getting more complicated as Tamina (Arterton) continues to divulge secrets. At times, it seems like the characters were making it up as they go along, and you stop caring. The action is slick and very deliberately choreographed, perhaps excessively so. I did enjoy the fight between two knife/blade wielders. This is directed by Mike Newell, who is an experienced filmmaker for the adventure genre, and has even stood at the helm for some Young Indiana Jones movies. Imagine if this was an Indiana Jones tale. It would be laughed at and dismissed quickly. I do think this was paced well. It is longer than it needs to be, but never grows weary. This contains bits of a thousand different films, many popular ones, and that would have been fine, but Newell and Producer Jerry Bruckheimer just get sucked into their own quicksand. It ends on with some really preposterous moments and then just feels like a letdown after everything wraps up too neatly. This is disposable family entertainment, but it's too silly and I think not bad enough or good enough to be remembered for very long. Final Rating = 5.5/10.0

Get Him to the Greek - This is a spin-off sequel to Forgetting Sarah Marshall (also directed by Nicholas Stoller), and all the usual suspects can be found in the credits. It is Produced by Judd Apatow, is based on characters created by Jason Segel (who Co-Produced it as well), and it stars Jonah Hill. The only person missing is Seth Rogen. This follows Aaron Green, who is an intern at Pinnacle Records, and is assigned to watch rocker Aldous Snow, keep him sober, and make sure he’s safe so he arrives at the Greek theater on time for an anniversary show. By the way, you do not need to see the Forgetting Sarah Marshall to enjoy this.

The film is basically a raunchier version of My Favorite Year, a superb film from 1982 starring Peter O'Toole and Mark Linn-Baker with the innocent newbie being pulled into the star's debauchery. This is the big outrageous comedy event of the year. Last year it was The Hangover. This type of humor is tailor made for big audiences. There is definitely a lot of laugh out loud moments, but how they age is another story. I'm entertained by efforts like this, but feel they wear thin quickly. That was my feeling here. There is no point to this story aside from what you can grasp from the title. You have lots of partying and then the show at the Greek. There should be no doubt in anyone's mind as to what the ending will be. The absence of any mystery about the conclusion is an issue. This movie can be summed up by looking at one of the many comical songs. Aldous Snow broke up with fellow celeb Jackie Q, who had a music video called "Ring (Round)" where the chorus goes "Ring round my posy." The video focuses on her backside, and it's amusing, but then it goes too far at the end when out of nowhere she says something to the effect of "It's my asshole." We didn't need it spelled out. You see the clip and you get it. Most of the movie is similar to that: Funny set pieces that are dampened by going overboard. The movie also relies too heavily on drugs, vomit, booze, and sex jokes. That kind of material can be hilarious, and I laughed, but it does grow repetitive. Compare a vomit scene in My Favorite Year to one of the many included here. Mark Linn-Baker got sick, but we never saw him throw up. We heard it. In this story we have to see Jonah Hill spew his guts each time.

Speaking of Jonah Hill, he has always been a memorable part of the films he's in. He always has priceless exchanges, and his wit remains his biggest strength. This focuses more on the physical comedy, kind of like the end of Superbad. Hill proves his versatility as a comic actor here, and he keeps us laughing. Russell Brand, who was fine in small doses in Forgetting Sarah Marshall carries the added weight competently. Brand is a very unique person and this persona fits him well. Hill's reactions to him help. Sean "P Diddy" Combs does his best Les Grossman impression as Sergio Roma, the head of Pinnacle. He was quite good, but we've seen this character dozens of times before. This is packed with Infant Sorrow songs, some are terrific, and others are just strange. Some of the songs are slow and serious, but are meant to be funny, which doesn't work. Others like "The Clap" and "Furry Walls" are the best. There are not as many colorful supporting characters as I would have liked. Colm Meaney is good as Aldous Snow's father, but he only has one segment. Elizabeth Moss and Rose Byrne do a fine job of looking pretty.

The film gets so chaotic in the later stages that it gets stupid. Stoller keeps it moving at a hurried pace, which makes sense, and even though the running time is a bit padded, it was still never dull. I prefer a certain brand of Jonah Hill. Here his character makes fun of Tom Felton (Draco from Harry Potter) and imitates a band called The Mars Volta. It's those perfunctory and throwaway scenes I love because there's only so much of him getting wasted that I can handle. The films with the Apatow stamp of approval have always balanced the tawdry and the touching, but the balance clearly shifts to one side here. You have slapstick, record company satire, cheap humor, vulgarity, nudity, and gross-out gags all put into and blender with the volume turned way up. At times the structure feels sloppy, as if it's only a series of scenes strung together, but nonetheless, it deserves a pass for the two great leads and for keeping me laughing. Final Rating = 7.0/10.0
A Robin Hood prequel, Shrek's disastrous final bow, and one of SNL's worst sketches makes an even worse movie... (06.10.2010)

Robin Hood - The Robin Hood story is pretty hard to screw up. It's been done so many time since the beginning of film that it will be apart of every generation. Just about every era has a Robin Hood they are familiar with. The most popular versions for me have been the 1938 masterpiece starring Errol Flynn, which is as perfect as the tale could be. The first one I grew up with was Kevin Costner's Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, which was ok for what it was. Now Russell Crowe fills the role at the age of 45, making him the oldest person to date as Robin Hood. Sean Connery was almost 45 when he played the archer in Robin and Marian. This has received mixed reviews, and one of the arguments seems to be that this is a Robin Hood film in name only. That is what I liked about it. One of my only requests for this version was that it not be a straight retread of the tale we've seen countless time before. It wasn't. Now, it is especially close to Gladiator and Braveheart, but I'd rather it be that than another telling of the same story. Plus, I love those two movies, so it's right up my alley.

Ridley Scott's Robin Hood is a sort of origin story or a prequel if you will, and as such it is a thrilling and mesmerizing one. It starts out with these ancient looking pages of text, followed by Robin Longstride in King Richard the Lionheart's army as an archer. These were fresh and exciting in that we have rarely explored this phase of Robin’s life, and on top of that you have Danny Huston as a wily Richard the Lionheart. Crowe is excellent as Robin Hood because he approaches the part in a way that says "I'm going to play him in a manner that suits me and damn honoring anyone else." I respect that. His rapport with his buddies such as Little John and Will Scarlett provides some nice moments of laughter and merriment. There is a key sequence where Robin interrupts an ambush and then assumes the identity of Sir Robert Loxley, and I thought that twist was effective. Douglas Hodge did well in his brief time as the real Robert Loxley. Cate Blanchett makes a terrific Marion and establishes solid chemistry with Crowe. Max Von Sydow steals the film as Sir Walter Loxley. Every scene he's in is fabulous. There is one moving scene where Marion helps Robin take off his armor that conveys their feelings in a subtle manner. Mark Strong, who gets paid by the hour now in the department of villains, is a ruthless one here with a nasty scar. He also eats bloody clams, which is super gross. Other nifty performances are handed in by Oscar Isaac, William Hurt, Mark Addy, and Matthew Macfadyen as the most memorable Sheriff of Nottingham in years. He is portrayed here as a sloppy fool of a man.

This universe struck as more expansive and detailed than most Robin Hood worlds have been. The film has a wonderful sense of location. It always reminds us of where we are and what the time period is. The set designs and costumes were impressive. The score left a little to be desired compared to music in past Ridley Scott flicks, but oh well. There is an energy and starkness to the action and battle sequences that I love about Ridley Scott's historical epics. He films these better than just about anyone. Brian Helgeland's script is smart and adequately structured. This is a darker version of Robin Hood, and I think this was a proper time to attempt that. Crowe's Robin is a tough sonofabitch and absolutely not a flashy archer that prances around. It's far from perfect. It does drag in spots and it is not groundbreaking, but it does re-imagine the myth in a way that I found satisfying. Most summer epics of this ilk are disappointing, but this was not in my eyes. It was a pleasing way to spend 140 minutes, and despite the fact that the final battle looked odd on a beach, I dug it. This was good, not great, but proves that Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe still make a winning tea. Final Rating = 8.0/10.0

Shrek Forever After - After 4 films, a Christmas special, video games, and much more, Dreamworks prize franchise is finally finished, and I think it's long overdue. I was hoping this installment would turn me around; possibly show me that there was life still in the series. Sadly, that is not the case as this is thus far the worst summer release. Shrek 4 has plenty of flaws, and they are important, but one stands above them all. It is something crucial that Shrek seems to have lost: HUMOR. This film simply isn't funny, not at all. A couple of donkey one-liners were comical, but not enough to make me laugh. If the Joker watched this movie, he'd say "Why so serious?" because that's the problem. Shrek is incredibly straightforward and has lost his spark. This disaster proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that Dreamworks watered Shrek down to the point of exhaustion, and now I don't care if I never see the character again. That is not the reaction you want, but when you shove something down the views throats too often, it will have the tendency to age poorly. I also find it disappointing that after all these adventures Shrek is now recycling its own material. What started with true love's first kiss now ends with that as well. Who cares? The Shrek films have always been lackluster in terms of villains, and here they finally get one that is intriguing, and they toss him the worst storyline of the pack. I hated the plot here, and thought it was extremely uncreative and lazy.

The voice casting is still credible, but the enthusiasm seems to have dissipated a bit when I listen to Mike Myers and Cameron Diaz. Eddie Murphy and Antonio Banderas still seem to be having fun though. No one in the supporting cast and no new additions stood out. Mike Mitchell directs this, and it is his first foray into animation, which is obvious. He was responsible for Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigalo and Surviving Christmas and he's supposed to close out this successful franchise? He fails to capture the imagination, freshness, and wit that made Shrek enjoyable. Plus, Shrek always prided itself by being different than other fairytale classics because it dealt with ogres. That philosophy is lost to them now. Shrek is ordinary and worst of all, schmaltzy and sappy. This is also drowning in pop music and other random song selections. They show up more frequently and for no reason other than to stir our emotions a certain way. It's eye-rolling when a film does this in such a manipulative fashion. Most the action scenes only work in 3D and that is a huge annoyance. The best scene here is when a bounty is issued on Shrek, and Pinocchio dresses up Geppetto in green. Other than that, this is a tired, lousy excuse for one last grab the pocket of moviegoers. You will see my rating and think I'm being too harsh, but if you say that just because it's Shrek or intended for kids, in time you will all see that I'm right. Final Rating = 3.0/10.0

MacGruber - So, in order for a Saturday Night Live based film to be effective, shouldn't the sketch it's based on be funny? I think so, and those parts of the shows are always the dumbest. The only one worth remembering was the one which featured MacGyver himself Richard Dean Anderson. Of course a lot of sites fail to actually cite that this is a parody of the series MacGyver, and it might seem obvious, but it's important. Lee David Zlotoff, the creator of the original series sent cease and desist letters to the studio and is planning a suit, so there that is. The thing is, MacGyver is still cool. Yes, there are some aspects to joke about, but there has still never been an action hero like him. I'm just not sure whether or not this movie is making fun of the show out of love or just making fun of it. I don't think it's clear enough. Aside from that, this suffers from the same issue Shrek 4 did, which is, this isn't funny. He assembles a team of wrestlers and then accidentally blows them up. Ha. The villains name is Cunth, and they beat that like a dead horse.

You see Will Forte and Ryan Philippe with celery sticks up their rear ends, a topless old lady, and even a sex scene between Forte and Wiig, which is a little creepy in my mind. I mean, Kristin Wiig is attractive, but it's still weird. MacGruber has sex with a ghost, he offers to perform oral sex on Philippe, and there are plenty references to defacating, vaginas, and...you get the idea. This is what passes for solid comedy. When stripped bare, MacGruber is just a conventional action picture, and it's never very engaging. You have moments where they poke at MacGyver's hair and the fact that he doesn't use guns, and those are too obvious. At times, it feels more like Rambo actually. I did enjoy the 80's music he plays, probably because the tunes were good. He takes his cassette player out of his care each time he parks it, which is comical. The acting is a mixed bag. Will Forte and Kristin Wiig try their best, but if the material sucks, their efforts don't mean much. Powers Booth and Ryan Philippe are never quite sure how serious or how tongue-in-cheek to play their characters. Val Kilmer is ok I suppose, but his character is pretty stupid. MacGruber is essentially a one joke film, and the fact is, I have never laughed at that on TV, so it wouldn’t be humorous on the big screen. Towards the end, the movie finally pulls out the exact events of the sketch and integrates them into the plot. MacGyver does have enough to make fun of, but it was already done, adequately, in a MasterCard commercial with the man himself. Who better to make fun of it than Richard Dean Anderson? This is just a bomb in every sense of the word. MacGruber is an idiot, and Director/Co-Writer Jorman Tacconne seems to think that the idiocy (laced with profanity) is enough to carry this cinematic version. It's not, and I hated this. I was secretly hoping MacGuyver would clean house at the end, but I was disappointed. Final Rating = 2.5/10.0
A disappointing sequel, an average tale of adoption, and a superb Korean western... (05.12.2010)

Iron Man 2 - Well, Iron Man 2 is fun, but that fun stems from the positive qualities of the first film, namely Robert Downey Jr. and the special effects. While the sequel sports some truly terrific performances, the story convolution and character development is a definite problem. This time around Stark's identity is not a secret and we've seen Downey Jr. play the part before. These knocks combine with the fact that a sequel has more to live up to. Director Jon Favreau understands how to craft a slick, suave, and entertaining superhero adventure flick, but this time he introduces too many new elements, and doesn't know how to balance, juggle, or expand them.

Robert Downey Jr. has cemented himself as the one and only Tony Stark. Any actor of any age that steps into those shoes in the future will have a tough time winning the hearts of viewers. His one-liners, combined with his drinking and the issue of him dying makes his character intriguing, but not unlikable. Mickey Rourke, the hardcore method actor that he is, visited Russian prisons to help with the character of Ivan Vanko. He also learned to speak Russian. He is fabulous, but not given any room to stretch. As villains go, he is weak because his character is basically forgotten until the final act. Sam Rockwell appears to be loving the role of Justin Hammer. It's not Rockwell's finest hour, but he adds his signature blend of witty delivery to it and that makes Hammer enjoyable as a foe. Scarlett Johansson is solid as Natalie Rushman, and I read she had the most physical work to do of anyone, which is evident. She does a wonderful job looking tough, sexy, and smart. Don Cheadle is perfectly acceptable as Rhodey. The hardest aspect of that role was to establish chemistry with Robert Downey Jr. and that's pretty easy. Cheadle is a credible actor and does not disappoint. The stand out for me was Garry Shandling, who is just sensational in his small part as Senator Stern.

You have a bunch of new characters to contend with, and none of them are adequately fleshed out because of the running time. You can't toss in all these new faces with a 2 hour running time, and I'm sorry but random newspaper clippings and a casual read of a resume does not constitute character development in my eyes. "The Avengers" foreshadowing is a mistake because they're not saying anything about it. Imagine if all you knew about "Iron Man" was through the first movie. Even after this one, you still don't know what that will be unless you have someone beside you to explain it (and relying on that is lazy filmmaking in my book). Furthermore, it makes no sense whatsoever that Stark approaches General Ross in The Incredible Hulk about a “team”, yet here he is not allowed to know anything about the project and says initially he doesn't want to be apart of it. The last scene here after the credits was particularly pointless as it had nothing to do with Stark. At least the exchange in the first film with Nick Fury involved our main character. This was a letdown.

I appreciated the Monaco action sequence, but the rest was anti-climactic, especially the ending, which was a problem at the end of the first film as well. Favreau never seems to know how to wrap things up with a bang. As I said the acting makes this somewhat fun, but there are a few scenes that got under my skin. One was the stupid fight between Iron Man and War Machine, and the other was Stark’s creation of the element, which was described as impossible to do. A couple minutes later, Stark has completed the experiment. Boy, I hope he didn't break a sweat. Instead of the army of screenwriters, you only have Justin Theroux for this venture, and this is only his 2nd script, so it should come as no shock that this is a bit uneven. I wanted to like this, truly I did, but it feels like they just made a sequel just to make it. The action is relatively mediocre and it lacks sufficient emotion. Instead of rushing the movies along, I think they should take some more time and really concentrate on a better product next time. Final Rating = 6.5/10.0

Mother and Child - This is the new film from Rodrigo Garcia, a director who has made a number of exceptional female-geared films like Nine Lives, Things You Can Tell Just By Looking at Her, and Ten Tiny Love Stories. You could call them anthology films or hyperlink films, but there is a difference. Anthology stories are separate, whereas hyperlink ones interweave with each other. Garcia's new film only has three interlocking stories, and the focus is motherhood (specifically adoption). They center on characters played by Annette Benning, Naomi Watts, and Kerry Washington. Benning’s character gave up a child in infancy, when she was just a teenager, and it’s plagued her life ever since. She works as a professional caregiver, while taking care of her elderly mother at home. Watts is a career-driven attorney who refuses to put down roots, personally or professionally, which one might trace to the fact that she never knew her mother. Washington is a young married woman who can’t bear a child but does want to adopt, even though her husband has reservations about the process.

The acting in this picture is outstanding. Annette Benning is excellent as a bitter woman who does not make friends easily, and it really delightful to see Jimmy Smits the love interest trying to locate her warmness. Kerry Washington's turn is up and down. Occasionally she goes overboard, but she has enough scenes that showcase how strong she is. I think there is a lot of truth in her role as a mother who just desperately wants a child. She's like Jennifer Garner in Juno. The stand out is Naomi Watts though, who is spectacular as an attorney with no desire to settle down. Garcia could have made a whole film about her and it would have been great. I would even go as far as to say this is one of the better female performances so far this year. For the perverts out there, there is nudity involving Ms. Watts, and one weird sex scene with Samuel L. Jackson, who really is a convincing actor when he's not doing stuff like XXX and Soul Men. This packs a large load of first-rate supporting performances, many from people who have worked with Garcia before, but you'll see Tatyana Ali, Shareeka Epps, Amy Brenneman, Lisa Gay Hamilton, and more.

Garcia is proof that films can revolve completely around women and still be profound and compelling. This has no connections to romantic comedies. It's not heavy-handed either. I will say there are a few contrived moments mixed in, and the sporadic soap opera like transition, but those are not large enough issues for me to give a thumbs down. I was initially on the fence, but I appreciate how Garcia casts his films and how he can communicate important topics without seeming overbearing. His stories possess a natural emotional core and smooth fluid movements that make then quite intriguing. This is not Garcia's finest effort, but it still made a positive impact on me. Having children can be a sensitive issue, but I think many will be able to relate to what happens here and will be able to understand the characters. This is not overly sentimental or manipulative and if you enjoy the strong acting and poignant substance, this will not be a total disappointment. Final Rating = 7.0/10.0

The Good, the Bad, the Weird - Obviously influenced by Sergio Leone's The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, South Korean filmmaker Kim-ji Woon puts his own spin on a similar tale with nods to Mad Max, Indiana Jones, and Ben Hur. He creates a supremely entertaining film which focuses mostly on action, and does a magnificent job of it. The story follows three Korean outlaws in 1940s Manchuria and their rivalry to possess a treasure map while being pursued by the Japanese army and Chinese bandits. Every set piece is superbly staged and executed, especially one where “The Good” character glides over a village with a pulley system shooting down vicious thugs. This is known as a kimchi western, which was coined by the director himself because he feels that it is spicy and vibrant like the Korean culture and people. This is a rollicking and lackadaisical adventure that blends multiple genres very well. It seems the Koreans do this better than anyone these days. There are so many amazing chase sequences to rave about. One takes place at the beginning when the treasure map is taken from the train, and the other transpires at the end in one of the most epic action desert chases I have ever seen. If you see this, you’ll know it deserves a round of applause just imagining how they filmed it.

The acting is uniformly fantastic with certain characters meant for comic relief, but it doesn’t go overboard. All the tones are balanced skillfully. Song Kang-ho is one of the best and most versatile actors around right now, period. He was in Thirst most recently, but he can be seen in a bunch of notable efforts, and here he steals the show as “The Weird”. His character never seems to die. There is a hilarious opium scene that stands out. Lee Byung-hun and Jung Woo-sung are “The Bad” and “The Good” respectively, and both are excellent. “The Bad” is a villain with flair and “The Good” works as your standard loner gunman. A couple of characters die excruciating deaths with blades right their backsides. Yes, this movie has it all. And everyone wants the treasure, not only the aforementioned three. Japanese troops, a Chinese gang, and the Independent Korean Fighters want it too, but it all comes together with appropriate irony and the guns blazing by the end. Director Kim-ji Woon made the spectacular A Tale of Two Sisters, which was the original Unborn, but has also contributed segments to Three..Extremes II. He is an intelligent, wily, and dependable filmmaker, who takes the familiar skin of a premise and injects it with Korean flavor, which I found extremely rewarding. The cinematography, electronic music, costumes, and set designs are all first-rate and fulfilling as well. This is wacky, disturbing, suspenseful, and absolutely never boring. It is a testament to the quality of a film that can keep me awake on a day when I was exhausted, but I wanted to see this badly, and it did not disappoint. This was one of the most expensive films made in Korea and you will see why, but at least the money resulted in a fabulous film (that was also a favorite at festivals). Final Rating = 9.0/10.0
A triple person, more Romero zombies, and a dull nightmare on some random street... (05.12.2010)

The Human Centipede (First Sequence) - I wasn't sure what to expect from this, but I knew I was intrigued by the premise and was willing to give it a shot. I was surprised (and somewhat relieved) that it was sculpted as a dark comedy and not straight sick horror. You have to have a disturbed sense of humor to laugh, but make no mistake; Writer/Director Tom Six understands the silliness of the concept. The point is to embrace the twisted aspects of the story and chuckle at the same time. The performances are all heavily exaggerated, and at times that is comical and at other times I think they go overboard. Dieter Laser is Dr. Heiter, the renowned surgeon that specialized in separating Siamese twins, but has higher ambitions. In Germany, a stalled car strands two tourists (Ashley C. Williams and Ashlynn Yennie), who take refuge in the woodsy home of Dr. Heiter (Dieter Laser). He drugs the women and straps them into beds in his basement laboratory, along with another victim. He then explains that he plans to make all three of them part of a mad experiment in which he will surgically join them, mouth to rear end, to create a human centipede.

Most of the enjoyment beyond the gross factor is just watching Laser (an anorexic Lance Henriksen) relish in this role. The two females, Williams and Yennie play a pair of stereotypical stupid party girls. I found it amusing that these two girls made the dumb decision to head deep into the woods for a party, had a flat tire, and then stumbled into the Doctor's home where they drank water from a stranger. They make the kids in Hostel look smart. I liked how these clichés acted as the set-up to the plot because it seemed that Six knew what he was doing. The problem is, how can someone that is so smart insert an ending that is so abruptly serious? That is the biggest problem of the film, and unfortunately, that is what you're left with. I liked the look of the picture and the set design as well. There are a lot of memorable moments and lines, most of which stem from the Japanese captive. Many scenes where we just see Laser standing in the doorway looking creepy, or the repeated glances at the grave site of his dog which reads “My sweet 3-dog” stand out. But there are many others that of course are disgusting, but I won’t spoil them all. And note that even though I say "disgusting", this is not nearly as graphic as it could have been. This is an exploitation film that is mostly clear in its objective and generates an entertaining suspense despite the ridiculousness of what is transpiring. This will not be for everyone, and if you try to sell it to the wrong person it will be a definite conversation stopper, and I would like to give it a mild thumbs up, but I can’t see myself watching this again unless it is with a large group of curious people. Final Rating = 7.0/10.0

Survival of the Dead - George A. Romero is now 70 years old and he has unleashed the 6th installment of his "dead" franchise. Is the concept getting old? Maybe. Does it incorporate similar messages and themes? Sure. But that doesn't mean it can't still be a fun-filled experience. There are only so many ways you can spin a new record, but if that record is being played by Romero, I will listen every time. I've seen some of the other efforts that have tried to change up the infected/zombie storylines, and have not been too fond of them, so I'll stick to Romero, who always manages to entertain me even if his most recent offerings aren't perfect. I liked the Western style employed here and the fact that the group from Diary of the Dead was connected. Romero has been wanting to use an island as a setting for years now so it was cool to finally see that realized because it's a fresh setting. I thought the idea that certain zombies stayed within the routine they established as humans was kind of fascinating as well. The characters here are terrific. The rivalry between the Muldoons and the O'Flynns was comical and the humor was positioned well. Kenneth Welsh and Richard Fitzpatrick were fabulous in their roles as Patrick and Seamus. Alan Van Sprang, Devon Bostick, and Kathleen Munroe were all solid in their supporting parts. The dual roles Munroe plays and that whole twist was lame, but oh well. There are a bunch of outstanding action sequences, one of which occurs at a boat docking station, and another goes down at the end. As usual Romero integrates plenty of juicy kills. My favorite involved a flare. Most of these have had underlying messages, and the one given here might not be as deep as the others, but to me this focused on the irrational hate some people have towards each other. One could also say it is about pro-life vs. pro-choice. The CGI is not abused, and Romero shoots this in scope which is fine. Romero's "dead" films are like the Rocky movies for me. As long as he keeps making them, I'll keep watching them. Some are better than others, but I'd say this falls in the middle of the pack somewhere. He hasn't lost his touch just yet and hasn't run out of different ways to shape the material. Final Rating = 7.5/10.0

A Nightmare on Elm Street - So I went to the theater right after work and just barely made it to the show. I wanted to make sure I saw this film before the podcast so I could discuss it. I went up to get my ticket and the computer froze. The employee knew the previews had started and wanted to put me on my way but I was paying with a card, not cash, so he had to restart the computer. I thought "Oh come on. This is ridiculous." So the manager comes over and says "This is our problem. Just go ahead in." So I didn't have to pay, which is always nice. And the movie started and I have to hit myself to stay away because it is dull and excruciatingly awful. When the film was over, I went to the manager and said "Sir, I am so thankful you have a shitty computer because I almost wasted money on that pile of excrement." He gives an awkward "Ok" and that was that. But yes, I hated this film.

First of all, it wasn't scary at all, nor creepy, or eerie or anything remotely related to the word "horror." It is filled with cheap scares and some of the most mind numbingly manipulative dream sequences which gives me a headache even to think about. Before I mention the bulk of the performances, I just have to say why the hell is Clancy Brown (The Shawshank Redemption) in this? He is such a terrific actor and he is wasted here. The main praise I can afford this is that whenever he was on screen, he did well with what he had. The rest of the cast was utterly horrible from top to bottom. Kyle Gallner, Rooney Mara, Katie Cassidy, and Thomas Dekker were all way too serious and had trouble delivering each line of the poorly written script. I was also disappointed with Jackie Earle Haley. Combined with his portrayal, I thought this version of Freddy was unsure of himself. It seemed to me that Haley didn't know how to play him. It was more of an impersonation and less of a fresh take.

The kills were uncreative and laughable. The first one occurs in the bedroom in a type of death that was made fun of in Scary Movie 2 where the invisible ghost rams the girl all over the ceiling and in that movie he starts having sex with her. That might have spiced this one up. It's sad to see that Freddy is not up to date with technology as he rams a poor bloggers head into his own screen. The Quentin character looked like he was imitating Jason Statham from Crank with his methods to stay awake. This was made by music video director Samuel Bayer, which is never a good sign, and perhaps he'll find his legs in the future, but in this remake, the overall package has no life, no soul of its own. The backstory presented could have been interesting, but the dream sequences, which were also flashbacks (?), were poorly constructed.

It unravels as a by the numbers Freddy Kreuger story, and it the company behind it was Platinum Dunes. They do not strive for anything but a box office hit people. They are remaking films and helping to destroy their legacies. To be honest, as I watched this, I wanted to re-evaluate what positive qualities I saw in the original. They have a nudity tease here, which is a big no-no for me when I'm watching an effort I will have forgotten about by the time you listeners hear this. The CGI was sloppy, and just about every other facet was too. I found myself wondering how no one could remember that pre-school. Yes, sometimes you forget a lot of what happened when you're that young, but everyone is clueless?

There is nothing funny here, and nothing intriguing. At the end I asked myself, if you can't sleep, why not just let him kill you? That would have saved the audience time so we could all go home sooner. If they tried too hard to honor the original, it failed completely because it just seems like a copy, which is boring. It is the equivalent to an American Idol cast singing a greatest hits album. This Nightmare is a Kidz Bop edition. If you put together a cast and crew that literally sleepwalked through a Freddy movie, this is what you would see. Final Rating = 2.0/10.0
A movie that kicks butt, mediocre losers, and a dreadful Harry... (04.29.2010)

Handsome Harry - Words can't describe how bad this movie is. Erik Luers recently did a review of it that was more creative than the movie could ever dream to be. I would love to be able to describe certain scenes so you could laugh about how awful they are, but you really have to see this to understand how torturous it is. This is End Game level bad (the DTV film with Kurt Angle). The story follows an ex-Navy man carrying out the last wish of a dying shipmate. He renews contact with old friends to break the code of silence around a mysterious, long-buried crime. The primary flaw, and there are enough to squeeze into the Grand Canyon, is the acting. Every performance here is abominable (except for maybe one), and many of these people are established actors. Jamey Sheridan (from Law & Order: Criminal Intent) plays the titular character and simply tries too hard. He’s not convincing. He’s embarrassing. The dying shipmate is Steve Buscemi, and he’s the only somewhat tolerable person here, but you can tell he’s trying to spin straw into gold. You also have Aidan Quinn, John Savage (The Deer Hunter), and Campbell Scott (Damages). They are either over the top, laughably serious, or too sentimental. Sometimes they suffer from all three. Wrap your head around that. There are plenty of women in the cast. Like the males they can’t deliver a line to save their life. The episodic story is hamhanded, ridiculous, and trite. This is the third film from Director Bette Gordon, and I do not plan on seeing anything else she has made. She wanted Sheridan to resemble Lee Marvin, Steve McQueen, and Ben Gazzara. Did she actually see the movies these actors were in, or did she just see photos of them? She also cites John Cassavetes as an influence and one can tell she is aiming for that, but she is so far off the mark it’s sad. Instead of channeling Cassavetes and his realistic approach, this falls somewhere between a soap opera and a bad soft-core porn B-movie. The screenplay from Nicholas T. Proferes is abysmal, unintentionally comical, and altogether atrocious. The crime is not a twist. What the Navy guys do is the beat the crap out of a friend they discover is homosexual and mess up his hand. Not a good thing, but all of them suffer from decades of anguish. Give me a break. Get over it. In the Q&A I attended, I sat in awe of the nonsensical comments Gordon was making, and tried with all my might not to burst out with laughter after what I had seen on screen. I looked up some reviews on this movie because I wanted to read that someone else felt the same hatred I did. As I started, I found that most articles were positive, and this prompted me to look at more reviews and more and more and aside from fellow colleague Erik I have yet to read one that accurately conveys how terrible this was. Kurt Loder from MTV said he wanted to see again before it ended. Am I crazy? Perhaps. Maybe you will see it and love it. I hated every single minute. Final Rating = 1.5/10.0

The Losers - This was a lot more entertaining than I expected it to be. The fact that this is directed by Sylvain White is amazing since his Stomp the Yard made my #1 worst for 2007 and his I'll Always Know What You Did Last Summer DTV release was the worst for B-movies in 2006. This is much better. For the most part, The Losers is slick, confident, and fun. The cast has excellent chemistry, and the pacing is both brisk and energetic. You also have some neat use of the songs from Ram Jam and Journey. Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Idris Elba, Chris Evans, Columbus Short, and Oscar Jaenada make an engaging, funny, and cool team. Zoe Saldana was also good, and quite sexy. She and Morgan have an outstanding fight scene while a building is on fire. For those who think Marc Strong is the best villain these days, they should watch this and see a terrific performance from Jason Patric as Max. He is evil, but funny at the same time, and he finds a groove that works. His right hand man Wade is played by Holt McCallany and he reminded me of what The Miz would look like as a middle-aged man. The Losers is regular action flick with a tongue in cheek attitude that I appreciated. Everyone is well aware that the material should not be taken too seriously and that makes the experience enjoyable.

Of course this is based on a comic, and the screenplay from Peter Berg and James Vanderbilt has the viewer following a game of hopscotch across the globe and into many different countries, which offers a wide range of settings and scenery. There are some well executed action sequences such as the ambush on the street when the losers attack a line of vehicles belonging to Max. Overall, this is certainly nothing special. It is a thin revenge plot that reminded me of James Bond in many ways. You have cool weapons, one-liners, and a cheesy villain. This is all fine. There were some moments here and there I didn't care for, along with some dialogue that was weak. The slow-motion walk was blatant laziness, but oh well. The snuke is silly, but the special effect was awesome and the idea of it is interesting. Evans was made to be funny too much, but that's not a huge complaint. What broke this film for me was the ending, which had no closure whatsoever and was wholly unsatisfying. It's as if they were too desperate for a sequel. The more I thought about it after I left the theater, the more the ending bothered me (not to mention the logic holes). Still, this is an adequate way to kill time. The fact that it resembles like a dozen or so other films doesn't help it, but that was not what upset me the most. The Losers does not try to be anything it's not, but it left a sour taste in my mouth. Final Rating = 6.5/10.0

Kick-Ass - Well I have to say, Chloe Moretz is my new hero. I’d have no problem letting her fight my battles if I was accosted by thugs. Of course I am talking about Hit Girl, a.k.a. Mindy, and she is not only one of the most memorable heroines of the year, but also one of the most controversial. Critics like Roger Ebert and Leonard Maltin object to how morally acceptable the character is, and they make valid arguments. I would disagree, but it is a fine opinion. I just think you could list numerous characters and/or scenes that could be described as morally unacceptable that these same two critics had no problem with. I can see why some reacted harshly, but I had a blast with this film. I don’t think it’s perfect, but my issue is not the same as some mainstream critics. This has been described as a satire of superhero movies and that might be true in some segments, but Kick-Ass certainly makes a shift in tone. The whole basis for the movie is that real people want to dress up as superheroes. Let me state first though, I don’t care what the intent of the Mark Millar source was. This is a movie, and what I saw to begin with was a story that definitely wanted to be taken seriously. I mean, Dave gets stabbed and hit by a car his first night, showing what? It shows that when real people dress up in costumes, they can get hurt. So the aim is clear initially, but along the way, it changes into an over the top and yes maybe satirical action/adventure. This inconsistency was my primary problem, but other than that, I enjoyed this immensely.

Director Matthew Vaughn has crafted a nifty little resume for himself after Layer Cake and Stardust, neither of which were great, but they were ok. He and his crew have made a very colorful, violent, and mesmerizing picture. It is fast-paced and energetic throughout, which makes the 2 hours fly by. The cast was terrific. I already mentioned Moretz, but Aaron Johnson was quite good as Dave, who gets in over his head. He has a Jesse Eisenberg thing going. Christopher Mintz-Plasse is doing a nice job of trying to eliminate the “McLovin” nickname in place of something with a serious twinge. He is very funny and convincing as a mafia boss’ son. His father is Mark Strong, a common villain these days. I’m still not crazy about Strong, but he is solid here. I have made comments before about Nicolas Cage laughing maniacally. Whenever he does that, you have a top-notch performance from him because you know he’s having fun. He does that here as Big Daddy. Cage’s Damon Macready is the most intriguing character. A significant portion of this focuses on his revenge and how that affects his relationship with his daughter.

This is an insanely fun flick with some juicy lines, creative action sequences, and memorable acting. It is also well made in many respects. The countdown to when Kick-Ass is going to unmask really put me on the edge of my seat. Another great moment involves two people being held hostage and someone saving them, but it is constructed with a lot of flair and eye-popping visuals. Obviously it is similar to Watchmen, but that was a bit deeper. Tarantino and Woo are heavy influences as well. The music is fabulous, the special effects are commendable aside from a device at the end, and the costumes are first-rate. Labeling this with only one genre is a mistake. This incorporates dark humor, tongue-in-cheek action, fantasy, parody, and much more. It also proves that superheroes and comedy can mix when done well (take that My Super Ex-Girlfriend and Hancock). It is smorgasbord of categories wrapped up in a hell of an entertaining package. Yes, the aim is a bit sloppy, but thought it was well worth the price of admission. Final Rating = 8.5/10.0
A disappointing date night, an ordinary wimpy student, and an outstanding portrait of a dictator's forgotten wife... (04.15.2010)

Date Night - This is one movie where the trailer delivered exactly what we thought it would. You have two hilarious stars in Tina Fey and Steve Carrell, both of whom are fun to watch and establish innate chemistry. The problem is, well, basically everything that does not involve them. The story goes that this New Jersey couple gets caught up with a crooked DA, mobsters, and corrupt cops and it feels thin and contrived as soon as those villains enter the picture. However, all of the exchanges, intermittent conversations, and quips from Carrell and Fey are priceless. I just wish they had a better screenplay. I absolutely loved the beginning, which conveys a couple who are stuck in a routine. This is the start of an engrossing story, and if Judd Apatow had stood at the helm, it would have been, but this is directed by Shawn Levy, who is responsible for a very long list of duds including the Night at the Museum films, The Pink Panther remake, and more. The slapstick/screwball moments and action-packed sequences are silly, ridiculous and take all the momentum out of the film from when we laughed at Carrell and Fey. There is a car chase here that might cause William Friedkin to keel over with a heart attack. It's that dumb. Mark Wahlberg, James Franco, Mila Kunis, and especially William Fichtner all have fun with their minor roles. Fichtner is the crooked DA and does as much with it as anyone could. Ray Liotta on the other hand phones in his role like he has with everything he’s done in the past few years. This movie is the equivalent of a mixed bag. Just when you begin start liking it again, the script shifts to the villains and everything collapses. This cycle is recurring. Again though, the stars are outstanding. They really act like a normal married couple, but incorporate their own comedic stylings. They imitate what other couples are saying when they go out to dinner, and my fiancée and I actually do that, so that was neat. I think that this had the potential to be much better. Both Carrell and Fey are huge on television right now, and with a decent script this could have been an easy homerun, but I think it is a disappointment. I laughed a lot, but too much of the absurd story left a sour taste in my mouth. Entertainment Weekly compared them to Nick and Nora Charles from The Thin Man, and that chemistry exists, but the story is nowhere near as sophisticated. There is also some After Hours thrown in, but this is not as gutsy or quirky. Good, but gradually loses its steam. Final Rating = 6.5/10.0

Diary of a Wimpy Kid - I can sympathize with a lot of the story elements focused on here. It deals with a kid named Greg entering middle school, he is short, not altogether athletic, and tries too hard to be popular. I've been there. It also touches on the fighting between best friends. I had actually just watched an episode of The Wonder Years that dealt with that topic, and did so in a very natural fashion. This movie does not aim for realism, but instead crafts a story that is extremely over the top and episodic. I saw this with my fiancée who read the book and did enjoy this adaptation. In short, some of it is effectively funny and some of it isn't. I loved the montage at the beginning which displayed Greg's classmates who had hit puberty hardest during the summer and how they changed. I also dug the moment where he had to wrestle a girl, one that hated him previously. However, there is an ongoing gag with moldy cheese, haunted woods, and a group of bullies that kind of falls flat. This has just about everything a school flick could, including some amusing dance and singing sequences, but it is always teetering between being overly exaggerated and not down to Earth enough. In terms of the acting, I found the cast of kids to be very engaging, innocent, and funny. Zachary Gordon and Robert Capron are Greg and his best friend Rowley. Both are excellent. Steve Zahn and Rachael Harris are Greg's parents and they're ok I guess. Devon Bostick is Rodrick, Greg's brother, who is probably the actor who embraces the over the topness most intensely. He is a band called "Loded Diaper." Chloe Moretz, who you will see in Kick-Ass is a classmate who sort of flirts with Greg, but she mainly hangs around for stories in the school paper. She was not in the books and you can tell because she serves no real purpose except for the paper. She lingers in the background for no reason. Still, Moretz has a spunk that I like. This is directed by Thor Freudenthal, who gave us classics like Hotel for Dogs and The Haunted Mansion. He usually works with children and this is probably his best work, but I think this suffers from the same thing its main character does, which is trying too hard to be liked. It has heart and a nice sense of humor, but in tackling a more exaggerated feel, you have to accept the consequences of that attitude. I will say that on the scale of over the topness, this is still far from Robert Rodriguez's children's efforts, which I do not care for. Worth watching once, but that's it. It’s just not unique or consistent enough. Final Rating = 6.5/10.0

Vincere - This is a powerful historical drama that focuses on Ida Dalser, the first wife of Benito Mussollini, who of course ruled Italy for a long time. This clocks in at a little over two hours, but I really enjoyed it. For a film that long, there is considerably less dialogue than one would expect. At times, the direction of Marco Bellocchio is reminiscent of a silent film with stock footage and big bold text integrated into the storyline. Much of what transpires is during the silent film era so you can understand why this might resemble one. I liked how the central figure was the wife and not Mussollini because through her we see enough of him. She is portrayed by Giovanno Mezzogiorno and it is a brilliant performance that is almost on par with Marion Cotillard’s in La Vie En Rose, minus the singing obviously. It is amazing how she continues to be loyal to Mussollini and contend that he will want her again even after he has treated her like dirt and dismissed her. She refuses to think about other men because she is waiting for him. She gets locked up in a psychiatric institution and there are some truly magnificent scenes during those segments. Filippo Timi is Mussollini, but a wise move here was that Timi only plays a young Mussollini, back when he had hair and didn't look like a pro-wrestler (he later plays Mussollini's son with a slightly different look). He is marvelous as well, and nailing the speeches was crucial to his exceptional turn. We hear Mussollini's speeches as a ruler through actual footage, but the moments when he was younger and still a newspaper man were delivered with gusto by Timi. He has so many memorable lines such as "When I see a priest I feel the need to wash my hands." This is filled with solid supporting performances by a terrific cast. While we see Ida's life gradually get worse, the movie also has a lot to say about Fascism and the state of the country at that point. This is a large plate for a filmmaker to tackle, but Bellocchio juggles it all remarkably well. For Chaplin fans, there is a moving scene where Ida is watching The Kid which has similarities to her own life. The costumes, the set design, the score, and the cinematography are all first-rate. I would say that the second half is not quite as intense as the first, but the more I think about this film, the more I love it. This is not a standard biopic or walk through history. It showcases the attitude and harshness of a dictator through the life of a wife he left high and dry. This is a poignant and enthralling and through all the transitions in time, it never feels jarring or fragmented. I definitely recommend this. Final Rating = 9.0/10.0
An uninspired clash and a really neat tattoo of a dragon.... (04.13.2010)

Clash of the Titans - We talked on the 411mania podcasts about how the trailer made us think that this remake did not retain the cheesy qualities of the 1981 original. Well, I should have been more specific because this remake is indeed cheesy. The problem is that it is not campy enough. There is a difference. This film is bad, but I wouldn't call it one of the worst films of the year or anything. Sam Worthington certainly gives 100%, and that's worth something. He is a star and I think most of the worthwhile moments are because of him. Of course at times he does take the material too seriously, but then again most of the cast does. The cast around him is silly and ridiculous. This may be Ralph Fiennes worst performance as Hades (he’s so scary as a cloud of black smoke), Liam Neeson is dull as Zeus, and the rest of the cast is just mediocre. I've come to the conclusion that a genuinely good film about the Gods is next to impossible because no filmmaker can control all the plot threads and characters. We need to make sure everyone understands that the original was not a good movie. It was really stupid but fun at the same time. With remakes, critics and viewers tend to exaggerate the quality of the original if the remake is a real disaster.

Director Louis LeTerrier does inject some humor here and there. Not every second is taken seriously. The special effects are extremely poor and that in turn affects the action scenes. The CGI looks better at a distance if you ask me. It has an epic feel at times. The characters are just all very boring. The dialogue is eye-rolling though, and the love story is just retarded and underdeveloped. Gemma Arterton's character is an enigma. I'm kind of indifferent to this movie. Parts of it didn't bother me and other parts were really dumb. Final Rating = 5.5/10.0

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - It seems I've seen quite a few exceptional murder mystery films as of late. First Mother, then the Oscar winning The Secret in Their Eyes, and now this. Year after year we see numerous entries into this genre, and it always has an audience, but too many of them are cookie-cutter stories that are pedestrian and ultimately forgettable. Thankfully some directors from around the world are striving for more than just the murder investigation aspect of the plot. The mystery is suspenseful and thrilling, but the character development and sub-plots with them are just as engaging, if not more so. The film is based on the novel of the same name by author Stieg Larsson, who cited various well-known mystery writers as inspirations. Larsson died in 2004, a year before The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was published. He wrote two more books featuring the same characters. The entire "Millennium" trilogy has been filmed and released in Europe, and the other two will find their way here this summer.

One of the joys in watching this is the subtle acting from Michael Nyqvis and Noomi Rapace. These two have wonderful chemistry and are fascinating studies. There is a lot going on, but it is not convoluted. Every tangent and break from the central story is important. The locations definitely add to the allure of the film. Most of it takes place on a remote island in Sweden, which is isolated and seems like a lonely spot, but it's beautiful in its own way. There is action, but it makes sense to what's going on and is not manipulative. This is an intense and graphic movie as well, but not excessively so. I found this to be riveting and complex, and I loved the distinct look to the heroine, but I felt the film in general contained a very distinct look. Director Niels Arden Oplev balances the themes and the story threads remarkably well, and establishes a smooth, yet consistently brisk pace throughout. This is a long movie, but not a dry one. You get wrapped up in this universe and the end will arrive before you know it. After it is all set and done, it is Noomi Rapace's Lisbeth that carries the film. She's one of the most hypnotizing heroines in years. I will also praise the scenes which display the computer hacking and photo doctoring. Most of the time computers work ten times as efficiently as they do in real life, but here it seems more believable. There are a lot of memorable scenes in this, but I don't want to spoil too much. Do yourself a favor and see this before the American remake. If you wait for that one, I can promise you'll regret it. This is a haunting and nail-biting effort. Final Rating = 9.0/10.0
Entertaining dragons, mediocre runaways, and average hot tubs... (04.03.2010)

How to Train Your Dragon - This was certainly a surprise for me. Honestly, from the trailer, it struck me as another mediocre Dreamworks offering. I like to be proven wrong in these situations, and this did that. Here we have a really simple tale that is told with humor, emotion, and action. There are few pop-culture references (if any at all), the soundtrack is not filled with recognizable hits, and in terms of 3D, it was not tailor made just for that bonus. In fact, I did see it in 3D, only because it the best available showtime, and it was terrific in that respect because at times I forgot I had the glasses on. Whether or not it was in 3D meant little. There were a bunch of action sequences though that were even more outstanding because of it, but this is recommended no matter what. The aim is not make us fall out of our seats laughing, which is a blessing in my opinion. There is comedy, but in sporadic doses, and always conveyed in an intelligent way that is never overbearing. There is one scene where Hiccup gets his own helmet that is spectacular. I loved the voice casting. Jay Baruchel was fantastic as Hiccup, America Ferrera is excellent as Astrid, Gerard Butler is good as Stoick, and Craig Ferguson might be my favorite character as Gobber. Jonah Hill and Christopher Mintz-Plasse lend their talents, and are funny, but if you've seen one film with them, you'll know their voices right away. I loved the steadiness and patience as the story unfolded. Hiccup does not befriend the dragon he shoots down immediately. It takes him time. I also enjoyed how he got through the dragon killing training courses. This also contains some moving and enthralling conversations between Hiccup and his father Stoick, as well as between he and Astrid.

How to Train Your Dragon is not afraid to stop and develop the story appropriately through talking. In other words, there is not an urge to bombard us with action. The action that is on hand is top-notch, especially the ending, which will keep you eyes glued to the screen. The visuals are elegant, yet magnificent at the same time. This is not Pixar level color, but it is not meant to be. Watching Hiccup fly with Astrid through the clouds and past the northern lights is arresting and gorgeous. There is another shot of the biggest dragon going upwards through the clouds that is unbelievable. The dragons themselves come in many types, sizes, and colors. Their features are highly exaggerated, but that makes them interesting and fun. I found there to be multiple memorable scenes that linger in your head after it is all done. There are important lessons about family, but one of the other messages I noticed was that creatures/animals we don't know much about are probably more scared of us than we are of them. Nothing in this film is necessarily fresh or new, but it is constructed in a dignified manner. This is a touching, suspenseful, and truly satisfying motion picture. We've seen movies about a child and animal connecting before, but this does not feel artificial, and it makes wonderful use of animation to make the story engaging. It is a fantasy adventure, but it is also a coming-of-age tale, and unlike a recent effort by Spike Jonze, this is actually entertaining and not a cure for insomnia. Final Rating = 8.5/10.0

The Runaways - This new music biopic follows the all girl rock group known as "The Runaways" as their popularity rises. You know, I'm a fan of the group. I've always enjoyed all girl rock groups like The Donnas, Drain STH, and even Kittie to a degree. The Runaways are also one of the groups Juno (I guess Diablo Cody is a fan) listened to. One of the problems with this film is that it only focuses on two out of the five girls, and since Jackie Fox did not give her consent for her name to be used, Alia Shawkat plays a combination of their bassists, which is weird. This was made by music video director Floria Sigismondi, and when the sequences deal with music, this movie is electric and engaging. Off stage, it's a different story, with the plot retreating into familiar vH1 Behind the Music territory with drugs, petty arguments, and so forth. Eventually it veers away from music because it's more interested in the drugs and the bad girl image of the band. Of course, The Runaways were not all that popular in the US. They were sensations in Japan, and that fact is sort of conveyed in the long run. Now, for those of you who saw That Thing You Do, you'll remember that every member of the band was featured in the ending text that told us what their future was like. The Runaways does that with only 2 band members and the Producer, Kim Fowley. If you can do it with a fictional band, you can do it with a real one. In my eyes, this is unforgivable; especially considering Lita Ford went on to become a successful solo artist. She is portrayed here as the bitchy member of the group, which is true, and she'd probably be the first to admit it, but we could have used more. Why did they do this? Well, Joan Jett is the Producer and it is based on Neon Angel: The Cherie Currie Story, so that is why it focuses on those two, but I still think it was a poor choice.

On the bright side, the acting is quite good from Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning as Jett and Cherie. They did their own singing and spent a month prior to filming rehearsing and recording the songs. Both prove to be suitable for the roles. Oscar nominee Michael Shannon is Producer Kim Fowley, and he plays it way over the top, but if you see clips of this man, you'll understand why Shannon had to play it that way. He kind of steals the show. Scout Taylor-Compton, Stella Maeve, and Alia Shawkat are all satisfactory as the rest of the band, but they are backgrounds only. You should also know that this condenses the entire story significantly and ends on a rather odd note. You can find an interview with Joan Jett and Kim Fowley conducted by Tom Snyder on the Tomorrow show, and it was really fascinating because they discuss how the term punk was media created and so forth. It takes place in 1977 when Joan Jett took over the band, and the movie does not touch on this period. I would have loved if this embraced an American Splendor type structure with footage of the real people mixed with scenes of the actors. There is a lot to recommend in this movie, but not enough, and the title is somewhat misleading I feel because it's really only about two Runaways. If you're really into this group, check out the documentary Edgeplay, which was put together by one of the former bassists, Victory Tischler-Blue. It isn't perfect, but I highly recommend it because it is much more in depth. This film is a mediocre effort that didn't need to be, and I'm not sure if viewers will leave this wanting to buy the music. I wish this had been a bit braver. Final Rating = 6.5/10.0

Hot Tub Time Machine - I have to say, when in the first 10 minutes we were bludgeoned with shit, piss, and vomit jokes I was extremely worried. I thought "Please don't tell me that this movie is going to be like that." Thankfully it eases back on that. This is a film that relies on nostalgia. There is literally no point to it other than that. Everything from the soundtrack to the costumes and basically the whole package is steeped in 80's memories. The humor is crass, vulgar, and often ridiculous, but the story is constantly moving and always crazy, so the bulk of it is fun. Generally, I do not like Rob Corddry, but this movie was made for him. Normally his style of comedy is just dumb and loud, but that actually fits well here. John Cusack does his usual John Cusack shtick, Craig Robinson is solid, and Clark Duke is amusing as well as Jacob. In terms of time travel laws, this one violates every single rule in the book, and even Craig Robinson said he hoped no one paid too much attention to that because they made it up as they went along. That is evident, and it does become frustrating at times. To further reinforce the 80's nostalgia, you have Crispin Glover from Back to the Future, Chevy Chase, and ...wait for it...Billy Zabka, who was Johnny from The Karate Kid. How cool is that? Taking all the pop-culture references into account, this is still probably more of a guys movie. There are plenty of attractive women to be found. Lizzy Caplan looks tasty, Cusack's 80's girlfriend is hot, and Craig Robinson gets with a nice looking young lady in the bathtub. You will find yourself enjoying various jokes, but the humor is all over the map as far as style goes. They mention Wild Hogs, they have blowjob gags, and they even break the 4th wall. I give absolutely no credit to Director Steve Pink, who gave us the horrible Accepted. This is reminiscent of The Hangover in many aspects, but I can also say that the marketing campaign is extremely faithful to what you eventually see on screen. This is an idiotic effort that makes you laugh out loud enough that is makes for a pleasing experience overall. Considering how much we talked about it, I am a bit disappointed, but I liked it enough to give it a passing grade. Final Rating = 7.0/10.0
A bad bounty hunter, silly repo men, wonderful new Baumbach, and a riveting mother.... (04.03.2010)

The Bounty Hunter - To no one's surprise or shock, this is a painful way to spend 110 minutes. This is a pointless exercise from beginning to end that just goes through the motions of a romantic comedy action thriller flick. It does not represent any of those genres well. One wonders why the studios continue to pump out sludge like this, especially with these two stars. Jennifer Anniston is rarely good as a movie actress and Gerard Butler has just gotten lazy. Together I suppose they are a couple that audiences are interested in seeing. I know there were rumors of a real life romance between them, but this movie proves that they have zero chemistry on the set. If that transfers to their personal lives, trouble will be a brewin'. I truly loathe efforts like this because they have such an unabashed smugness to them, and it is mystifying. Look at any of Matthew McConaughey's garbage as proof. And the connection between The Bounty Hunter and McConaughey is Director Andy Tennant, who made Fool's Gold.

The biggest offense is that everything that happens here is just dull. Critics often joke that they just wasted X amount of time from their life, but this movie was literally made for that line. Jennifer Anniston has been is solid films. The problem is the studios think she can carry a picture and she can't. Friends With Money, Bruce Almighty, and Office Space are all examples of recommended performances from her. Gerard Butler became a star because of 300, but did nothing worthwhile before or after that. He has charm and has the look for an action star, but the scripts he chooses are dreadful. And alongside Cop Out, this should be considered for worst villain lists. The man they pick here is Peter Greene, and if you don't know that name, I would ask you to think back to 1994 when The Mask landed in theaters. Greene was Dorian Tyrell, the foe of Jim Carrey. He is the chief adversary again here and looks like he will fall asleep at any moment. The rest of the supporting cast is bad too. The soundtrack uses plenty of recognizable tracks, all of which are included to distract us from how idiotic the story is. Now, some reviewers have stated that if they focused more on Aniston and Butler and less on the ridiculous corrupt cop/drug ring story thread that this would have been better. I disagree. If the leads have no chemistry, and more importantly, are not likable, that might make the experience worse. Please, if you prefer crap such as this, go rent His Girl Friday or any of The Thin Man entries. The Bounty Hunter is contrived, lifeless, and one of the worst movies of the year. What puts it over that edge? Gerard Butler's shirt during one dinner scene, which is the ugliest I've ever seen on a man. Final Rating = 2.0/10.0

Repo Men - So I keep reading that this would have been better if it embraced a satirical tone, and my initial thought was it could have been better if it was a cartoon too. The point is this is not a satire, no matter how much anyone wants the audience to believe it is. This is a sci-fi thriller that wants to throw in dabs of comedy, romance, and noir tendencies and be convincing at balancing all of them. It fails. For starters, the first hour or so is simply tedious action and a repeating of the line: "A job's a job." I swear if I hear it one more time, I will freak out. We endure Jude Law's idiotic narration about a cat and a box and we never really care. Rza gives us a quick lesson on how to mix a song. Fabulous. Was that improv? Repo Men takes itself way too seriously because it wants to be a futuristic sci-fi classic like Blade Runner or something similar. Eventually, when Remy won't quit being a repo, his wife leaves him. There is no room for talking it out or anything. She wants him gone. And he doesn't seem to care because he gets with a homeless drug addict jazz singer without even thinking twice. Oh, and I should mention she has more fake organs and body parts Joan Rivers and Dolly Parton combined. I missed the attraction. As the end drew nearer, this film got increasingly silly and reached lengths of ridiculousness I never thought it had the guts to touch. There is a disturbing sexual butchering scene with Law and Alice Braga that is unintentionally one of the funniest moments of the year and recalls Videodrome oddly. The twist is insulting, stupid, and vomit-inducing as well.

I have to be honest. I thought this would just be mediocre, but when Alice Braga's character is introduced, it takes a downward spiral of epic proportions. Jude Law sets a trap akin to Kevin McCallister in Home Alone by setting a tarp over a large hole, there is a little girl surgeon, and a typewriter is used as a weapon. Yes, in this futuristic society, Remy must write his memoirs on a typewriter. Surely this douche can find a laptop. Another puzzling aspect was the pessimistic view Remy has on his situation. He knows he will be hunted and probably killed, yet he hides anyway and doesn't seem to have a plan until the story remembers it needs a final act. The direction is from newcomer Miguel Sapochnik who graduated from the Marcus Nispel school of filmmaking by shooting everything in dark or dimly lit rooms. In the trailer you can see they enter an all white room and you will be so excited once they get in there because you can actually see what's going on. The acting is mostly horrible. Jude Law is the wrong person for this role because he rarely can juggle multiple tones, Forest Whitaker is just kind of there, Carice Van Houten is sorely underused, and Liev Schreiber is the only person who knows the material is insane. The reason for Remy getting his heart transplant is absolutely moronic. The script is filled with pretentious dialogue and it even tries to copy the famous fighting scene in Old Boy when Jude Law storms down a hallway killing a bunch of thugs. I hated this. Final Rating = 2.5/10.0

Greenberg - This is the newest film from Noah Baumbach, the filmmaker who gave us gems like The Squid and the Whale and Margot at the Wedding. This stars Ben Stiller as Roger Greenberg, a man in his 40's that has just gotten out of a mental hospital and is at a crossroads in his life as he house-sits for his brother's family in Los Angeles. He doesn't have a job, but occasionally works as a carpenter. Baumbach's films are always so very personal and that is the main thing that draws me to them. His sharp sense of humor and knack for crafting witty dialogue is also a positive. This is not set in New York, which Baumbach is used to, but this is still similar to his previous offerings in terms of tone and pace. That is a good thing. I loved watching Greenberg try to reconnect with his former bandmates and friends, but his relationship with his brother's assistant Florence is the real pleasure of the story. Baumbach captures the awkwardness and eccentricities of daily life so brilliantly, and does not shy away from the fact that Greenberg is a jerk. The point is he does not know any other way to be. He's not trying to be intentionally hurtful or mean, but that's how he comes across.

Stiller gives a terrific performance and is consistently funny. Looking at his resume, the more self-absorbed his characters are, the better his acting is. Popular indy actress Greta Gerwig is fantastic as Florence, a very normal girl, and Gerwig exhibits a natural quality that is attractive. Rhys Ifans and Baumbach's wife Jennifer Jason Leigh are also outstanding in supporting roles. At times the script strikes me as episodic as we watch Greenberg from day to day, and the ending is abrupt, but neither of those are glaring detriments. Baumbach selects a great soundtrack as usual and Greenberg is always wearing a Steve Winwood - Back in the High Life T-shirt. I decided to get the album from my local library and listen to it, because in my twisted logic listening to the CD will connect me better with the main character. I think most the characters would make interesting studies. Analyzing their attitudes and behaviors is fascinating. Gerwig and Stiller have excellent chemistry. One of my favorite sequences is a party towards the end, which serves up most of the memorable moments. This is an honest and melancholy film that has a lot to say about real life and Baumbach seems to understands what life can be like better than most directors. Greenberg is about coming to grips with the fact that the life you wished for hasn't happened. Don't forget this one when it comes to DVD because I doubt it will open wide enough. Final Rating = 8.0/10.0

Mother - Mother is the latest film from Korean director Bong Joon-Ho, who made The Host and Memories of Murder, two masterpieces from the last decade. This is in the vein of Memories of Murder because a murder mystery is involved, but this is more of a thriller than a police procedural. It also contains Bong's strength for mixing genres by incorporating dark humor, drama, and horror. This is a magnificent piece of work that displays how talented Mr. Bong truly is. This follows a mother who will stop at nothing to clear the murder charges against her son. Like Memories of Murder, this is not just about the murder itself, but something deeper. In this case it is the relationship between a mother and son and how overprotective she is. This features a splendid performance from Kim Hye-ja as the mother, but the entire cast is wonderful. I loved the pacing and how the clues were gradually unraveled. There are multiple scenes of greatness, one of which involves an interrogation of two students at an amusement park. Another takes place when the mother is hiding in the closet of another character and must creep out after he's had sex. The cinematography from Hong Kyeong-pyo is beautiful, the score is effective when it needs to be, and the editing makes the running time go by fast. The locations really help certain moments linger in your head. The story takes its time in the beginning, but you're still glued to the screen as the characters develop. Studying the mother and how she teeters on the line between hero and villain is spellbinding. Bong Joon-Ho's films have everything and are incredibly bizarre at the same time, but it’s the sort of strangeness that is beguiling and not a turn off. This also says a lot about mentally challenged and/or those who have deformities of varying types. I had wanted to see this for months as it toured the festival circuit, but better late than never. This is a remarkable and impressive film that does not fall victim to conventions and will offer more upon repeated viewings. I recommend this just to see how a director properly juggles numerous different tones. South Korea has some immensely talented filmmakers and this is one of them. This also disproves Roger Ebert's theory that their aren't any funny golf cart sequences in movies after enduring The Bounty Hunter. Final Rating = 9.0/10.0
Greengrass' muddled zone, a French masterpiece, and a fun Tolstoy... (03.20.2010)

Green Zone - Here is yet another entry into the Middle Eastern war genre. This is a tough category for filmmakers to explore, and the box office has not been kind to it. The recurring problems lie in the intentions of the pictures. Despite your political affiliation, audiences do not want to preached to, treated like they're dumb, or have the story overwhelmed with an alternate agenda. I also think the dry and barren terrain of those countries plays a part, but that's another story. This film does not shy away from its political aim, and in truth, that did not bother me as much as I would have expected because I felt it was just being up front with its objective rather than trying too hard. I will say that the politics and jabbing was integrating well in some scenes, and poorly in others. One character I loved was Brendan Gleeson's Martin Campbell, a CIA agent that has been in the Middle East for awhile. In one meeting with Greg Kinnear's Clark Poundstone he predicts that civil war could break out in 6 weeks, and is pleading with the government to make the right decisions. On the other hand, there is a moment where, after everything that has happened, we see George W. Bush on the TV proclaiming that America has prevailed, and a room full of people cheers him on. It's like, ok we get it, move on. So I was mixed with that aspect.

I'm a big Paul Greengrass fan, along with Matt Damon, and both bring their A-game in the first half, which shows that distinctive Greengrass directing style that is urgent, chaotic, and gripping. We get to know Damon's Roy Miller, and the fact that the lack of solid intelligence for WMD's is frustrating him because his men are putting their lives on the line. It's a fabulous performance, and Greengrass does wonderfully at conveying the corruption spreading through the area. However, the second have retreats into conventional action story fare, complete with obvious clichés and a disappointing ending. We began with such an intriguing, thrilling, and I think relevant premise, that simply loses its steam. This film has the same flaws that Peter Berg's The Kingdom had. It starts out fine, but in the end, it settles for a lame and hackneyed climax that does not fit with what we had seen. I feel that Miller gets away with too much, too quickly, and that was irritating. There is a character named Freddy, whose point is clear, but I enjoyed him and the way he shaped the main character. Combining fictional and non-fictional elements could have been effective if they had not veered off the tracks. I was entertained by the action, loved the acting from Kinnear, Gleeson, and the rest, but Brian Helgeland's script cuts corners too frequently, and in the end this was a letdown from a director whose resume was spotless last decade. I'm right in between our two reviews. Final Rating = 6.5/10.0

A Prophet - This is the Academy Award nominated Foreign Language film from France, and if you like prison films, drug related films, or any combination thereof, you need to see this because it is a brilliant piece of work, and the running time absolutely flies by at 155 minutes. It is directed by Jacques Audiard, who also made The Beat My Heart Skipped, which was highly acclaimed, but this is what he will be known for, and I hope this becomes one of those foreign crossover films that receives enough attention from people who usually don't like subtitles. The way Audiard juggles so many different plot threads is just incredible, and that is what makes this experience inimitable and so unforgettable. Class, religion, the prison system, and many other ideas are all touched upon with elegance and intelligence. The acting is uniformly fantastic, but two stand out. Tahar Rahim is the main character of Malik, and it is absorbing to watch how he goes from a stupid young kid to a first-rate criminal. Niels Arestrup is also exceptional as Cesar Luciani, a man who runs the Corsican gang inside the prison, and they control everything. Both actors are strong despite the fact that not a great deal is revealed about their characters. They are intense, yet reserved, and filled with conviction. There are plenty of memorable sequences, one of which includes a song by Nas, which would sound like an odd artist to have in a film like this, but trust me, it is successful. There have been a lot of comparisons to The Godfather, and they are legit, but the similarities are positive. This is not sugarcoated, but blunt, profound, and moving. There is a slickness and a grace to Audiard's direction that is infectious and exciting, and I promise that the final scene with leave an impact. This should have received more nominations than it did. Final Rating = 10.0/10.0

The Last Station - This was an independent film that flew under most people's radar, but was nominated for a couple Oscars. This covers the last years in the life of Leo Tolstoy in 1910, who is being persuaded to sign a new will, which would leave the rights to his novels to the Russian people instead of his family. He was a crucial figure at this time to a lot of people. It is based on Jay Parini's semi-fictional novel of the same name. If this does not sound like a riveting storyline to you, know that the performances are exaggerated enough that it transforms a straight biopic style of a figure you may not be familiar with, into a theatrical and engrossing movie. The superb acting is from Helen Mirren as Tolstoy's wife, Christopher Plummer as the man himself, James McAvoy as his newly appointed secretary, Kerry Condon as a sexy Tolstoyian, and Paul Giamatti as a type of advisor. They are marvelous, and this is more of a performance film than anything else, but it is still worth seeing whether or not you know of Tolstoy's work. The glimpse we get of Russia and the mood of the people at this time is just as fascinating as the central story. The locations are beautiful, and the Tolstoy's home is eye-catching. Roger Ebert said it reminded him of a Merchant-Ivory production, which I agree with. What prevents this from rising above the level of average is the story, which can only go so many places. This is worth watching once, but that's about it. The Last Station does accomplish the goal of showing us just how revered Tolstoy was, which is important. The director is Michael Hoffman, who made One Fine Day, A Midsummer's Night Dream, and The Emperor’s Club among others, and generally I don't care for his work, but I would recommend The Last Station for the acting and the heartfelt nature with which the substance was conveyed. Hoffman basically allows the cast and the locals do the work. The real pictures of Tolstoy and company in the final credits are neat as well. Good, but not great. Final Rating = 7.5/10.0
Alice's perplexing return to Wonderland, a glorious fish tank, an Irish secret, and mediocre Brooklyn cops... (03.20.2010)

Alice in Wonderland - Well well, Wonderland has certainly changed hasn't it? Everything is so solemn and serious now. I was both excited and apprehensive about seeing this, and I've thought a lot about Tim Burton's take on this, and I have to say I consider this a failure in many respects. The first thing is that this story timeline is like Superman Returns confusing. Obviously Alice is returning to Wonderland, but is this happening after her adventure in the book, or the Disney animated movie? This is a Disney feature, so logically I assumed it was after the cartoon, but Burton and company use many aspects from the book, so I'm not sure. Why wasn't it just called "Return to Wonderland"? Because they wouldn't have landed that $115 million dollar weekend, that's why. To increase the confusion, Alice does not remember her first trip. Since it was a dream in the movie, this makes sense. We don't remember all of our dreams. But this take tries to argue that it's real, and so we're left with that, and it makes no sense. One thing is for sure, Alice has a new attitude. She is now a teenager, and a crabby one at that. The carefree daydreamer we knew before is gone. This reminded me a lot of Return to Oz in terms of weirdness compared to its predecessor, and Hook as well, which is not a compliment by the way. Taking all that into account, what I found most disappointing is that Alice was lured back to Wonderland to fight a dragon. Now, I've called it a dragon and not a Jabberwocky two times in front of people, and I've been corrected both times. Yeah, I know what it's called, but if it smells like a turd and looks like a turd, it's a turd. That's really the foundation of this adventure, fighting a creature. Boring. You also have this prophecy like paper that is reminiscent of countless films, but brings Harry Potter to mind on more than one occasion.

We have to remember that Alice is returning to Wonderland, so we should have something to go on from her first trip. As for the performances, I love Johnny Depp, but I'd be lying if I gave him a pass here. This was not the Mad Hatter I remember, and I thought Depp's portrayal was all in the costume and makeup. The character changed from kooky to serious to a hero, and it was never all that convincing. He wasn't terrible, but this does not rank among his best work. Anne Hathaway frolicked around like a fairy, which got annoying, and Crispin Glover (as much as I love him) was just bizarre and appeared to be sexually aroused by the Red Queen. Helena Bonham Carter was great as the Red Queen, but the big head thing was stupid and distracting to me. They kept making jokes about it, but never explained why she had it and her sister didn't. I will praise the majority of the visuals, even though certain scenes did go overboard with CGI, but the Queen's castle looked outstanding. On the surface, Tim Burton would seem to be the perfect person to make a live-action Alice in Wonderland, but in my mind his style did not mesh with the story, or he was unfocused when making it because Wonderland is supposed to be a strange, fun, and unpredictable place, and what I saw was the opposite. They did get the Cheshire cat, the caterpillar, and the hare right. All three were exactly as they should have been, and the voice work was exceptional. I mention Mia Wasikowska last because I thought the film was more concerned with everyone else and not with her. I cannot find it within myself to be generous in any way. I flat out did not like this movie, and think it falls among Burton's worst. Final Rating = 5.0/10.0

Fish Tank - This is the highly praised and awarded British film that stars Katie Jarvis as Mia Williams, a 15 year old loner who swears, drinks, and gets into a lot of trouble. She hates her mother, looks at her younger sister as a brat, and has no friends. She spends hours in an abandoned room above her family's apartment practicing dance routines and eventually taping for an audition. Her life changes when her mother brings Connor home, a new boyfriend, and she takes a liking to him because he's older and because he does not dismiss her as a dumb teenager. And the story goes from there. I don't want to spoil too much because I loved this film. It is a brutal, honest, and gripping depiction of an angry and rebellious girl. Nothing is sugarcoated, and this is not a story of redemption, which I appreciated. It has arrived a bit late in the US, but better late than never, especially with a gem like this. It is directed by Andrea Arnold, and she made another film named Red Road, which I have not seen, but plan to. Her approach is pretty straightforward with lots of extended takes using a handheld camera, but that suits this material. We see things through Mia's eyes, and it really is fascinating to examine the influence of those around her, the environment she lives in, and so forth. Katie Jarvis is incredible, and this is her debut. She was hired after a casting director spotted her having a fight with her boyfriend at a train station. Michael Fassbender is Connor, and he is magnificent. Fassbender was seen in 300, Inglourious Basterds, and Hunger. He is a terrific actor and is one to watch for in the future. The entire cast is top-notch, and the film includes a number of classic tunes from Eric B & Rakim, Nas, and Bobby Womack among others. I could go on and cite the many scenes that were just beautiful and moving, but do yourself a favor and see this. This is an uncomfortable film at times, but definitely suspenseful and compelling. Final Rating = 9.0/10.0

The Secret of Kells - This was the surprise nominee in the Best Animated Film category, and I wish I had seen it before the ceremony, but that's ok. This is a hand-drawn effort (with a couple CGI moments because of 3D), and it truly is gorgeous to behold with complex and delicate patterns, characters of varying shapes and sizes, and mesmerizing terrain. The colors and intricacy of the artwork is amazing. The story involves the Book of Kells, an illustrated manuscript that is one of the most important artifacts in the Irish civilization. It contained the four gospels of the New Testament, and the detail of the book is left a bit ambiguous here, but I liked that because this film is about the beauty of the animation and the adventure and never tries to be preachy in any way. The story follows young Brendan, who lives in a remote medieval village under the protective eye of his Uncle Cellach, who is building a wall to keep the Norsemen from invading. When a revered monk named Aidan shows up with an unfinished manuscript, he needs Brendan's help to complete it. Brendan then travels into the forest and must overcome his fears and meets a fairy girl in the process. This film has a lot to say about the power of books and writing, and uses the animation to showcase various shapes and patterns in the process. The voice work is fantastic from Evan McGuire, Brendan Gleeson, Mike Lally, and more. This is obviously meant for kids, but all ages can appreciate it. It is caringly directed by Tomm Moore and Nora Twomey, and it is their debut. I hope they make more unique animated features like this. One of my favorite sequences has Brendan battling a snake like monster. Some of this is rather trippy, but in a positive way, and I promise the images here will stay with you after seeing it. At 75 minutes, the story has a lot to cover, but that will only make repeated viewings better. Final Rating = 9.0/10.0

Brooklyn's Finest - Here is a film that begins with a bang, literally. Ethan Hawke and Vincent D'Onofrio have a riveting exchange in a car, which results in D'Onofrio getting his head blown off. This was an eye-popping and gruesome opening to what I hoped would be a satisfying cop thriller. You have two types anymore: over the top tales like Street Kings and Fuqua's own Training Day and straightforward efforts like Pride and Glory or Righteous Kill. When the serious approach is taken, the game changes. Brooklyn's Finest is perfectly acceptable entertainment, except for the fact that the story has no point. You have three plot threads, which conclude with all three Brooklyn cops coverging on the same area with different motives. One of them I loved, and the other two were mediocre. What connects all three storylines are some truly magnificent performances. For those who saw Ethan Hawke in Daybreakers and wondered why I criticized him, watch this. He is right at home with this character and is spot-on with the loose cannon persona. Don Cheadle visits territory he did in Traitor as an undercover officer that is calm and assured, yet is close to slipping over to the darkside. Richard Gere's segment was my favorite. He is just brilliant as an aging cop ready to retire that has one last situation fall into his lap. By the way, Gere kills a dude with a zip tie, and it is awesome. Ellen Barkin, Will Patton, Lili Taylor, and yes even Wesley Snipes all bring their A-game.

If only the script was as subtle and engrossing as the acting. Before long, one sees that it will come down to who lives and who dies, and although there are some fascinating one on one sequences, you keep waiting for the overall idea to spring to life, but it never does. Unfortunately it just isn't fresh or unique enough. Fuqua understands the brutality and attitude of the streets, and develops the atmosphere adeptly, but the amount of cliches is impossible to ignore and it seems like the film takes too long to arrive at the conclusion with no apparent message. I love corrupt cop flicks, but you have to do something to stand out, and this settles for being conventional. The cross-cutting between threads is smooth and never jarring, and Fuqua induces suspense in certain moments, but the ending is artificial. I was right on the fence with this because the cast is exceptional, but a mild thumbs down. Final Rating = 6.5/10
Scorsese's Island, Kevin Smith's buddy dud, and the Israeli "Crash"... (03.20.2010)

Shutter Island - So after seeing the trailer for months, Martin Scorsese's new film arrived and delivered the goods. Much was said about the release date change, but it seems that the problem was not the quality of the film, but rather that it is not Oscar material. I loved this from start to finish. I think that the book by Dennis Lehane could have been a disaster in the wrong hands, but because Scorsese knows how to handle the material, how to convey it, and how to shape it, the result is endlessly fascinating and eerie. This is a difficult story to discuss without revealing spoilers, but there is what you could call a "twist" in the final act. Personally, I do not feel it was nearly as blindsiding or M. Night Shyamalan-esque as others did. From the beginning, Shutter Island possesses a mood and atmosphere that does not quite add up. Viewers witness the events through the eyes of Leonardo DiCaprio's character Teddy Daniels, and I did not feel cheated or betrayed by the eventual conclusion because I felt Scorsese did a wonderful job of integrating subtle hints and clues to help the audience gradually ease into the "big reveal." Even if you suspected the twist, the movie delivers because the proceedings up until then were gripping and suspenseful. Similar to The White Ribbon, the narrator role is not completely reliable, and I enjoy that when the filmmaker is not trying to manipulate the viewer. Scorsese understands the exact manner in which he wants to communicate the story, and does not contort us.

The performances are universally superb. DiCaprio gives a frenzied and piercing turn as Federal Marshall Teddy Daniels. That is the man we are following, and DiCaprio never misses a beat. Mark Ruffalo, who is not always praiseworthy, is certainly more than satisfactory as Teddy's partner Chuck. Ben Kingsley's is exceptional as Dr. Cawley, and even thinking back, Kingsley is consistent and terrific with what occurs. Max Von Sydow, Emily Mortimer, Patricia Clarkson, John Carrol Lynch, Ted Levine, Michelle Williams, and Jackie Earle Haley all hand in excellent supporting performances. No one falls short. The initial entrance into Shutter Island lays the groundwork for the ominous tone of the picture, and it was a great sequence. I also loved Chuck and Teddy hiding out from the storm in the cemetery, as well as Teddy scaling the cliffside later on. I don't know as I would describe this is as scary necessarily, but it is creepy and peculiar at times. I read that Scorsese showed his actors the films Out of the Past and Vertigo to prepare for this venture. Scorsese also recently revealed some of his favorite horror films, and glancing at the list with titles like The Haunting and so forth, it is apparent that he diligently studied the brand of suspense and horror that he prefers because he so brilliantly transmits that escalating tension and dread. One of the negative reviews I came across said this was like a Hardy Boys mystery directed by David Lynch. I thought about that, and decided, you know, I wouldn't mind seeing that someday. I'm not sure it's an accurate way of describing this movie, but it was an attempt at bashing I thought failed. This is easily the best effort from screenwriter Laeta Kalogridis, but you also have gorgeous cinematography from Robert Richardson, a perfectly fitting score, and the CGI that is incorporated is not abused or sloppy. I suppose this should be compared primarily with his Cape Fear, but is less a thriller than a mystery with horror elements that addresses the complex nature of insanity. Two big thumbs up. Final Rating = 9.0/10.0

Cop Out - You know, years ago, when I first saw films like Clerks and Chasing Amy, being a Kevin Smith fan was cool. I wanted to shout at the rooftops so people would see his films and discover his talent. My, oh my how times have changed. It is saddening to see that Smith has turned into a bitter and lazy director that can dish it out but can't take it. You might think I'm harsh for calling him lazy. Well, he admitted it himself in one of his An Evening with Kevin Smith shows. On stage, it's funny to hear him say that. The laughs stop when one of his films actually conveys it though. This was my primary problem with Cop Out. It doesn't seem as if he was really trying. Aside from Jason Lee, I challenge anyone to pinpoint signs that this is one of Smith's movies. Chances are if you do, it will be a stretch. His buddy cop movie is derivative in every sense of the word. Most of these efforts have the same set-up, but Smith makes no attempt to be unique or fresh. Let's call this what it is: Smith doing a studio flick and picking up a nice paycheck. This is also an excuse to work with Bruce Willis, who at least understands that the material is silly, but his performance is phoned in. Tracy Morgan is hilarious on 30 Rock because its television and it is short bursts. Transfer that to the big screen and Morgan becomes loud, annoying, and repetitive.

He is simply doing the Tracy Morgan shtick, but even a smidgen of range would have been nice. There is also a sub-plot with his wife, played by Rashida Jones, who could be cheating, that is predictable and dumb. Sean William Scott portrays a criminal that ends up riding with the duo, and his idea of humor is to repeat whatever someone else is saying, or throw out knock knock mama jokes. Is this really what we get from the guy who unloaded dialogue about whether or not Superman could have sex? Trust me, the fact that this is Smith's first film where he does not write the script is evident. None of the jokes are sharp or witty, and most of Cop Out features humor with laugh cues where the audience erupts with forced chuckles. Most of the time this is from Morgan, who just yells his lines. With so many clichés of the genre and the quirky 80's score, I detected that this could have been a parody of buddy cop movies, but the aim is too straightforward, hence this never really knows what it wants to be. You have the scared girl along with them, family problems, meetings under the bridge, the rival detective pair, and so on. The villains are perhaps the worst actors in the movie, and are absolutely never a threat. The action is also horrible. There is one moment where a thug tries to shoot one of the heroes and literally stands for a full 30 seconds with the gun to the guy's back until the hero turns and fights him away. There are plot holes, the direction is unimpressive, and after this is done, you will have the urge to go watch Bad Boys or 48 Hrs., which this so blatantly rips off. Smith recently fired back at critics saying "A movie like Cop Out, while an easy target for critics, is clearly not intended to impress those prone to show off their cinema erudition." Guess what? You don't need to be a film buff to see why this is bad. If you've seen either of the films I mentioned earlier, you'll know. He should have known better. This was a waste. Final Rating = 3.5/10.0

Ajami - Ajami is a neighborhood in Jaffa, which also a part of the city of Tel-Aviv, which is in Israel, and it is not a place I would like to visit anytime soon. When the film was over, another guy said "Boy, that wasn't the feel good movie of the year was it?" That gives you an idea of what to expect. This is a hyperlink tale, set in 5 chapters, revolving around 4 characters mainly. The time shifts back and forth as we see different points of view. We've seen this before with Crash, Babel, and many others, and it is easy to call this the Israeli Crash, but that is not a negative statement, and it tells people in one sentence what to expect. This was a nominee for Best Foreign Language Film this year at the Oscars, and it won't win, but it is still a powerful drama that is worth seeing. Among the story threads are: a young Israeli fighting a criminal vendetta against his family, a Palestinian refugee working illegally to finance a life-saving surgery, a Jewish police detective obsessed with finding his missing brother, and an affluent Palestinian dreaming of a future with his Jewish girlfriend. It is not a surprise that the fate of some is not positive, and the cross-cutting of their lives produces some nice irony and twists, but the film blurs the line between good manipulation and bad manipulation of the audience. This is about family honor, religious pride, and reputations. I enjoyed the message writer/directors Scandar Copti and Yaron Shani communicated, but at times they are too overbearing with it. This is their debut feature, and their direction is a bit rough around the edges, but contains a chaotic urgency that suits the proceedings. The shaky camera work wasn't too bothersome. It took the duo 7 years to make this movie. They used people who had no prior acting experience, and most of what we see is improvised. This helps the performances and makes the impact of the scenes genuine. The problem is the huge divide in this country, and the filmmakers want to show us that these people want to lead regular lives, but the morale of the country makes that difficult. The ending is rather abrupt because their can be no feasible tidy conclusion, but this will open your eyes to the various cultures and people in Israel while also telling a fascinating story. It's not flawless, and I'm not sure if I'd watch it again, but I still recommend it. Final Rating = 7.0/10.0
Demi-god kiddies, too many wolves, and an unpleasant Valentine's Day... (02.23.2010)

Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief - For those expecting a film that was really unique and fresh, you bought a ticket for the wrong fantasy film. This adheres to every rule in the book for this genre, and does not shy away from its Harry Potter similarities. I had no problem with that if what we were seeing possessed enthusiasm and a clear sense of exuberance. You have the boy with powers he doesn't understand, he hooks up with another guy and a girl, and he sets off on a quest. We've been there before, but what made this different for me were the mythological aspects, which I always found interesting as a kid. Zeus' lightning bolt has been stolen, and he suspects Percy. Keep in mind; Zeus' brothers are Poseidon and Hades. This is a very silly premise that uses modern parallels with the Greek mythology, which are neat. Percy is told he is dyslexic because he sees letters scrambled, but really he is seeing them in Greek. Logan Lerman plays Percy, son of Poseidon, and is average in the part. He has a protector in the form of a satyr named Grover, who is used entirely too much for comic relief. His love interest is Annabeth, daughter of Athena. The trio doesn't really have great chemistry, but they at least put spirit into the roles. Pierce Brosnan is one of Percy's teachers, named Mr. Brennan, and he turns out to be a centaur. Watching Brosnan trot around is with this CGI get-up is cool, until he says the line "I'm a real horses ass." There are some genuinely cool sequences in this, and Director Chris Columbus knows as good as any filmmaker how to make the goofy entertaining. One segment in a Las Vegas casino involving trance-like lotus flowers is terrific. Steve Coogan is solid as a rock star version of Hades. The underworld where he lives is outstanding, and the effects there are top-notch. At other times though, they are cheap and ugly, as in when Hydra attacks the kids, or the flying shoes, which I thought was retarded. The problems I had with this movie were small ones, but they added up quickly. For instance, after one day of training, Percy is an expert swordsman? And his stepfather's stench is supposed to hide the smell of his special blood? Sure. Uma Thurman pops in as a leather-clad Medusa, and overacts in the process. What this did urge me to do is check out the books because I can plainly tell that a lot of detail has been deleted. As many inconsistencies and dumb things that this contains, it still manages to be somewhat enjoyable. The mystery part of the plot was intriguing. The atmosphere is quite likable, and if the series does continue, there is ample room for improvement. This educates us on mythology in a clever way while simultaneously giving us an adventure, which is not easy. Columbus creates an energetic and amusing movie, but the scale feels limited. This could have been better if it was bigger, longer, and broader. Sean Bean was not what I expected as Zeus, but maybe that was a positive. I do have some questions about how Percy's mother and Poseidon got together, but that's all part of the amusement. I thought this was ok, but not good enough. Final Rating = 6.5/10.0

The Wolfman - Here we are with another Universal horror remake. Almost all of them have been tackled now. People must remember though that to many, Lon Chaney Jr. was the one and only Wolf Man. Benicio and company had a lot to live up to. After all the productions problems and release delays, the main issue with this film feels like it would have been a flaw despite all that. That problem is that this tries to please both classic horror fans and modern horror fans, and with this story, that is next to impossible. The locations and production design are accurate and eye-catching, but the gore and special effects are so heavily influenced by new horror efforts like Saw that is becomes overwhelming. The CGI does not blend well with the proceedings, and they simply go overboard with the wolf ripping out livers, intestines, and so on. That was another bogus aspect. How smart is this wolf? He must be sharp as a razor because his kills are so specific and deliberate. He also leaps over the roof tops like Halle Berry in Catwoman. It looks stupid and makes no sense. I was also reminded of a quote from a movie you might remember. "The problem in this deal is you Tim. You have two race teams. That's one too many chickens in the henhouse." Now, that is a scene from Days of Thunder where Robert Duvall is speaking to Randy Quaid. It applies here because we have two main wolves, and that is one too many because it takes away the impact of Lawrence Talbot changing. Even in Teen Wolf, when Michael J. Fox was the wolf, it meant something. I don't think it induced any emotions here. The acting is a mixed bag. Benicio Del Toro is fine. I like Benicio, and the faults in the movie are not with his performance. Emily Blunt is also ok I guess. Hugo Weaving is, well, Hugo Weaving. Anthony Hopkins is where I'm confused. He acts like a zombie half the time, and even says to Lawrence, "I'm quite dead" due to the death of his wife. Later, he says to him "I love life!" I don't get it, and his portrayal, along with the movie as a whole, was uneven. This is Director Joe Johnston's first R-rated feature, and it is not sufficiently creepy, nor sufficiently campy. It just exists, and is very by-the-numbers, which is sad. Nostalgia only goes so far, and I think they are expecting that to fulfill the expectations of many viewers. It is saturated with cheap scares and pointless visions, which I hate, and it is manipulative in the process. I admire the efforts of the cast, but this film is a failure because it wants to put all its eggs in one basket, but ends up dropping all of them. They tried to honor the original while still providing a different take, but that did not result in a quality film because it seems disorganized and stale. Final Rating = 5.0/10.0

Valentine's Day - This is a hyperlink film, and some of the storylines do not have much screen time. Now, there are some who feel that a limited amount of time like that is not enough for the actors to make an impression. I've heard this argument on Paris, Je T'aime and New York, I Love You, two very good films about romance. I totally disagree with this theory because I think it doesn't take very long at all to make an impression. This movie, and the cast made an impression on me, and it was a bad one. This feels merely like a collection of famous faces wandering through hackneyed stories. There is a pair of joining plot threads that receives the most attention. They involve Ashton Kutcher, Jessica Alba, Patrick Dempsey, and Jennifer Garner, and it such a pile of horse manure. Within 5 minutes of meeting these people, I could have told you what would happen. Garner pulls off her usual wholesome sweet girl shtick rather well, but the other three are dreadful, and Ashton Kutcher as the star will not score many points with me because he just always comes off as so full of himself. Most of these stories just weren't very romantic, and were at times, depressing, which I doubt was the goal. Now, some of the smaller stories could have been tolerable if it wasn't for the abysmal acting. Jessica Biel and Jamie Foxx are horrible and unlikable, George Lopez was funny until he became the bastion of love advice, and the two Taylors are early contenders for Razzie noms. Taylor Swift is intensely awful. Topher Grace and Anne Hathaway were both fine and their story was straightforward, yet solid except for the fact that Hathaway is a phone sex girl, and might I add the worst in history. She has another job, which is strikingly similar to The Devil Wears Prada. I liked Julia Roberts here, and the twist at the end involving her life. There is another twist involving a football player, whose background reminded me of Brett Favre, and that made me laugh. Not sure if that was the point. The dialogue is cringe inducing at times: "Am I about to kiss my best friend?" or "Sorry, I can't talk right now, I'm going go have sex with my boyfriend on Valentine's Day." Yeah. This is directed by Garry Marshall, who I think was just excited that this many stars wanted to work with him after Georgia Rule. I was prepared to be generous, but unlike the aforementioned New York/Paris, I Love You films, this one had no heart, and felt very contrived to me. It does want to be this year's He's Just Not That Into You, which I felt was more creative and relied less on star power. The best character in this movie is a kid named Franklin, who when asked what "Valentine's Day" is, recalls the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre and the curse of the Chicago Cubs. This just didn't work for me. Final Rating = 3.0/10.0
Mel's revenge, Channing gets dumped, and Travolta has energy... (02.23.2010)

Edge of Darkness - Before I start, I have to urge you all to seek out the British mini-series. I realize tackling a 6 hour mini-series is hard to do, but it really is worth it because that is a complex and well structured effort geared more towards a cautionary tale than a thriller. There is a lot going on, but it is all laid out competently. That is the problem with the film version. Both are directed by Martin Campbell, and his heart is in the right place, but he's not smart when it comes to cutting out the necessary material. Condensing 6 hours to less than 2 hours is a tough feat, and the result here is very convoluted, which is a shame. Mel Gibson's return to acting is solid as Thomas Craven. His performance is not anything to write home about, but he is no stranger to the thriller genre. He conveys the proper mixture of emotion, guts, and tenacity to deliver a striking turn. Ray Winstone is sinister and cold as Darius Jedburgh, but what is the point of this character? Now, I know the answer because I've seen the mini-series, but the way he was changed here makes no sense since he has little to do until the finale. That role was played with humor and zest by Joe Don Baker in the original, yet another reason to check that out. Winstone and Gibson have interesting exchanges, but Jedburgh needed something to do. Danny Huston is good as the wicked corporate villain, and Bojana Novakovic is fine as Craven's daughter. The action is satisfactory, and the dialogue has some juicy lines dabbled throughout. In one scene, a person is hit by a car and it made me jump right out of my skin. This is an absorbing film, but Campbell and screenwriter William Monahan do not know how to handle all the characters and motivations. I read after I saw the film that the composer was changed because the studio wanted more of an action movie. Not necessary. We've talked in recent weeks of its similarities to Taken, but this should remind you more of a Death Wish or a James Bond film more than Taken. I did get waves of a Bond villain from Danny Huston in his gorgeous office building. And Gibson escapes one situation way too easily. This is a straightforward piece of entertainment that I know my parents would like. It strives to be serious (not heavy-handed), and that would have been fine, but its gets tangled in its own complexity. I enjoyed more than half of it, but was slightly disappointed. Final Rating = 6.5/10.0

Dear John - So I realize that a romance starring Channing Tatum and Amanda Seyfried is not the type of film 411 readers care about, but it is a movie nonetheless, and one that deserves to be judged fairly. It is based on a Nicholas Sparks novel, an author whose adaptations have been good and bad. I had talked last week about the fact that Lasse Hallstrom at the helm might make a difference in regards to Channing Tatum's performance. I fully admit that I have hated basically every starring role he has delivered, but he is tolerable here. Up until now, it seems that the directors he has worked with have had too much faith in his abilities. They make him the lead and give him all these powerhouse moments where he tries to be serious, but it becomes too melodramatic and goofy. Hallstrom eliminates that by pulling back on the overly dramatic scenes. Tatum is very reserved, quiet, and speaks in short bursts. Why would a director do this? Because he knows what the actor is capable of. I wouldn't go as far as to say I loved his turn here because his looks are still focused on when they didn't need to be, but he was ok. Amanda Seyfried was fine as his love interest. They have fair chemistry. Richard Jenkins plays John's father, and they touch on his possible autism on a few occasions, which was bizarre and gratuitous. He cooks a lot of lasagna. Garfield would love this movie. He collects coins, and a good bit of time is spent on that, which I enjoyed. There are clichés, but what people seem to forget is the romance genre will always use the same clichés. It's about how they are presented and how well the actors mesh. The story was moving along swimmingly until the end, which I hated with a burning fiery passion.

Let me lay it down for you. Full Spoilers ahead. John and Savannah meet. They fall in love. He has to leave for duty for a year. They send letters back and forth. 9/11 happens, and he extends his tour, which pisses her off. While he is away, he gets the inevitable "Dear John" letter and is dumped. He is sad. She gets married to another guy, who John knew and was friends with. Once his time in the army is done, he returns and sees her. She mentions then that her current husband has cancer. At this juncture I thought to myself "No, they won't do what I think they will." Oh but they did. Those mofos killed her husband off with cancer so they could embrace happily and be happy. Give me a break. Lasse Hallstrom does terrific work with the cast. The atmosphere is very light and romantic, which is the key. He and cinematographer Terry Stacey shoot some beautiful scenes on the beach and so forth. Amanda Seyfried sings and plays the guitar at one point, which was lovely. Much of Dear John is quite satisfactory, but every aspect of the ending made me want to vomit. There are a couple other moments in the final half I did not mention that were poor as well. So, whether anyone wants to admit it or not, Mr. Tatum is adequate here, but this movie leaves a sour taste in your mouth. Final Rating = 6.0/10.0

From Paris with Love - If this new action effort from Director Pierre Morrel proves anything it is that John Travolta should play ballsy pricks all the time. As Charlie Wax, a top government operative, he is funny, exciting, and fascinating. Pulp Fiction fans will notice an in-joke about Wax's favorite food in Paris. This movie was a lot more fun than I expected to be honest. The problem is Travolta's strong suits here are all in the line delivery. When it comes to getting down and dirty, he lets the stunt men go nuts. Now, in many action films, one can observe whether or not the star is doing some of his own stunts. This is not as bothersome to me as long as the movie is a blast. The rapid editing in From Paris with Love makes it more apparent that Travolta didn't do much outside of acting, and this can be frustrating, but it is not a huge detriment. With the Wax character, everything is about diversion, and that makes him really cool to watch. Morrel is one of the better action directors around today, and we know this because he is able to craft a reasonably entertaining actioner even though he must disguise the star during the gunfire. Many of the big action sequences are inventive. There is one where Wax and his partner are shooting at the villains in a room full of mannequins. Another takes place in a revolving stairwell, and another occurs in a Chinese Restaurant with cocaine in the ceiling. I enjoyed the screenplay from Adi Hasak, a new writer. It is based on a story by Luc Besson. Hasak includes a bunch of juicy lines for Travolta, which compliments the exaggerated nature of Travolta's performance. The plot is really simply and straightforward, but that doesn't matter if what we see is thrilling. You have government agents vs. the terrorists. There is a twist involved that viewers have seen many times before, and I saw it coming, but it could have been handled worse. The other main issue I had was Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, whose cheesy American accent is grating at times, and believing the fact that he wants to be a top agent like Wax is difficult. They should have used someone else, or just let Rhys-Meyers talk with his regular accent. Kasia Smutniak plays the love interest for Rhys-Meyers, and they establish fine chemistry with little time to do so. Morrel did better with Taken, and he turned this shaky project into something worthwhile, but I doubt it could have been improved to a greater degree. This is a heavily John Woo influenced picture, but not as smooth flowing. It was nice to see all these events go down in Paris because it offers some unique locations, at least for me. This is a mildly fulfilling piece of escapism that never takes itself too seriously, and would be good to rent, but that's about it. Final Rating = 6.5/10.0
Darwin's beautiful mind, the Rock has cavities, and the angels hate us.... (02.10.2010)

Creation - A.k.a. A Beautiful Mind 2: Charles Darwin's Revenge. This does come off like a sloppier version of that film, but trust me it has other problems. First off, let me say that I am a big Paul Bettany fan. He is an underrated actor, and he does wonderful work here. He might be the only saving grace of this picture, but he has next to nothing to sink his teeth into. When I can tell people that they only need to watch the first 10 minutes and the last 10 minutes because those are the portions that actually deal with his book "The Origin of Species", you know the movie has issues. In between the beginning and end are endless scenes of Darwin being sick, his daughter being sick, him talking to his dead daughter, and so forth. Such a small amount of this picture deals with "creation" that one wonders why it was the title. Darwin tells his kids stories about apes and tribes, takes his children on hikes to watch a fox eat a rabbit, he watches a bird get eaten by bugs, and this is more of goddamn nature discovery mission than anything else. Perhaps Darwin just wasn't the best subject for a film. Jennifer Connelly plays the typical frustrated wife of a genius. Jeremy Northam gives a very one-note performance as the priest who disagrees with Darwin. The best supporting role is less than 10 minutes long, and that is from Toby Jones, who calls God a "Vindictive bugger" because he supports Darwin. This film also proves that if you're sick and trying to write a book, a little whoopie with the wife makes it all go away. It reminded me of that ageless song by Limp Bizkit, "I did it all for the nookie, so you could take that cookie." Bettany gives 110%, but we never really get to know Darwin besides him being ill and wanting to finish a book. There is almost nothing for them to draw upon. Darwin sees ghosts, his hands shake, he sweats profusely, he vomits, and all the while his eventual writing seemed like Rocky Balboa getting revved up after a talk with Adrian. Jon Amiel directs, and he's not a very accomplished filmmaker. His finest achievement is Entrapment, but here he is too concerned with worshipping Darwin to make him interesting. Final Rating = 5.0/10.0

The Tooth Fairy - Ok, let me get this out of the way. Since his debut we have heard that the Rock has natural charisma, is very funny, and has potential. That was true. We shouldn't be hearing this anymore. His time to embrace that potential has passed. He plays the character in this film like he plays everything. We know the Rock works well with kids, but can someone please put this chemistry into a solid script? The big quandary is that this jerk is so mean to kids that it comes off as too exaggerated. He has no qualms about crushing a child's dreams of being famous. I will also say that "The Tooth Fairy" is a poor fantasy character for a film. Personally, even when I was young enough to believe in the tooth fairy, all I cared about was the money. He's not Santa, so whether or not he exists means diddly squat to me. Just leave the dinero under the pillow please. This is like a lame and extremely late way to cash in on Tim Allen's The Santa Clause. In truth, much of the comedy is far from offensive, but that doesn't mean it can't be stupid. He has a lot of tools of the trade during his sentence as a tooth fairy: amnesia dust, invisibility spray, shrinking paste, barking tablets, etc. The sequence where he receives these is the best because it allows Billy Crystal 5 minutes to shine. He is still hilarious.

Watching the Rock use these inventions is mildly amusing, but only to a point. There are some inconsistencies in the story such as when the Rock is told supplies are low due to little funding, but this is just so we can have a silly scene with black market versions of them. I admit I chuckled a few times, but ultimately this is dumb. Stephen Merchant is his case worker, and for those who don't know who Stephen Merchant is, he is Ricky Gervais' British comedy partner, and he is hysterical, but not here playing a wannabe tooth fairy. Julie Andrews is cast in a meaningless role as the head tooth fairy, and the Rock's obligatory love interest is Ashley Judd. She's great, but establishing a connection with the Rock is something that does not happen. Director Michael Lembeck has some nifty comic set-ups, but tries too hard with all of them and they end up as cheesy and flat. The hockey moments are out of this world annoying with the phony scoring and the grating commentary. The script is pathetic, and was written by a small army which should tell you a lot. The funniest thing is a three-way montage only because every dumb montage makes me think of that song in Team America: World Police. Overall, imagining the Rock sneaking into your kids’ rooms while they're asleep is creepy, and this is a clumsy follow-up vehicle for him. Final Rating = 4.0/10.0

Legion - Ahh, apocalyptic horror films. Oh how they suck. They rarely work, and this is no different. From beginning to end, this is a waste of time. God has lost faith in mankind, and has sent his angels to exterminate us. Why would he do this? The movie barely touches on this, if at all. "He got tired of the bullshi*" is the answer at the start and end of the story. I wondered what could have set him off so suddenly. I think it was snuggies. He saw that ridiculous invention and said "Alright that's it! I can't stand anymore. Wipe 'em out." This is immensely awful, and its primary offense is taking itself too seriously. The dialogue is so overwritten, vague, and pointless. The cast has some genuinely good names, but everyone embarrasses themselves. Lucas Black, Tyrese Gibson, Kevin Durand, Dennis Quaid, and the girl Adrianne Palicki are all piss poor. Many of the characters have these heart to heart talks that are overacted and eye-rolling. It's also disappointing to imagine that when a rebel angel faces off with his former colleagues, they engage in creepy jaw dropping, spider walking, wild driving, and gunfire. Also, if God himself lost faith, wouldn't we want to give up? I'd say "Uh, ok screw it then. At least let me die knowing Uwe Boll won't be making movies anymore." I mean, God hates us and we’re stuck with an angel who cut off his wings? Well, at least he’s an expert marksman. This is incredibly goofy, the effects are not impressive, and the action is overly chaotic. Director Scott Sanders does terribly in his debut here as most of the film is in darkness, which is usually used to shield how bad what is transpiring is. Marcus Nispel is famous for that too. The score is too overpowering and annoying, as is the scene where they leave the test beep on for too long. Paul Bettany is simply buried in a bad story here, and along with Creation, he did not have a terrific week. His performance is too straight and the angels in this strike me as whiners. The gore is not satisfying either. I am sick and tired of seeing flies gather as a bad omen. There are so many holes and questions in this trash, but I'd be here for hours explaining them. I would love to know what someone religious thinks of this. They could have a field day. This wouldn’t even make a serviceable B-movie because it contains no speck of entertainment. I hated this, and if the angels do fly down to Earth to kill me, I hope they are more intimidating than an evil ice cream truck man and a demented old lady. Final Rating = 2.0/10.0
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