Friday, October 31, 2008

Halloween DVD Treat

Today is Halloween and for those who are either too old to go out and Trick-Or-Treat or not really interested in going to costume parties I suggest you stay in and watch a good movie. Classics like Child's Play, Halloween, Friday the 13th, or even Carrie come to mind, But my pick will always be Shaun of the Dead.

Edgar Wright's horror-comedy film, SHAUN OF THE DEAD, follows the title character (Simon Pegg) through his mundane life in London. Joined by his immature and ever-present roommate, Ed (Nick Frost), Shaun excels at nothing except drinking pints of ale and watching television, which causes friction with his girlfriend, Liz (Kate Ashfield). Before Shaun can save his relationship, however, he's got to fend off a horde of zombies that are slowly taking over the city. Armed with a cricket bat and a vague sense of direction, Shaun must rescue his friends and loved ones, and bring them to the only safe place he can think of--the pub.
Cowritten by Wright and Pegg, SHAUN OF THE DEAD succeeds remarkably well at combining droll British humor with good, old-fashioned zombie cinema. While the movie is often hilariously amusing, it takes its horror pedigree seriously, offering up moments of genuine suspense, and even a healthy dose of gore. Pegg is oddly charming as the put-upon lead slacker, and Frost is appropriately oafish, but the living dead themselves also take up a fair amount of screen time, shuffling and limping in their best Romero form. For lovers of zombie films and other chills-and-chuckles outings like EVIL DEAD II and DEAD ALIVE, SHAUN OF THE DEAD is an instant cult classic. The first half of the film contains many of its best moments, as when Shaun walks through his zombie-ridden neighborhood so concerned with his own problems that he doesn't even notice the undead surrounding him. How did it get so bad so without Shaun noticing? Well, he had ample opportunity what with the non-stop news and radio coverage, but Shaun and his couch-potato pal Ed have itchy remote control fingers. Plus, Ed took Shaun on a weekend-long bender to drown his sorrows after his girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashfield, smart without being too perky) dumped him. It seems that Shaun only ever wants to sit around and go down to his favorite bar, The Winchester. When the zombie menace (which, thankfully, is never explained) becomes clear, Shaun (and, to a lesser degree, Ed) springs into action, rounding up Shaun's mom, Liz and her two annoying friends Dianne and David, and bringing them to - where else? - The Winchester. In a series of amusing flash-forwards, Shaun and Ed try to determine the safest possible haven. They decide on the local pub because, among other reasons, Ed can smoke there. The whole outlandish situation is treated with typical English stoicism, leading to some wonderfully funny moments. Shaun’s mother (Penelope Wilton) doesn’t want to be rude, so she describes the zombies as being “a bit bitey.” And Shaun’s step-father (Bill Nighy) isn’t worried about having been bitten, because he ran the wound under a cold tap. Throw in Shaun’s best friend, Ed , who manages to work a fart joke into his death scene, and you have one of the better comedies of the year. Oh yeah, it’s also a horror flick with buckets of blood and crowds of unrelenting zombies. If there’s a downside, it’s that the film’s not very scary, although what zombie flick is? Every time something horrific happens, Shaun and his mates diffuse the tension with a cheeky one-liner, which makes for a terrific comedy but only and an even funnier horror flick. Pop this one in for a double dose of horror and comedy. Hell, i'd put this on just for Simon Pegg alone. This gets my holiday DVD pick. And it gets a much deserving 5 on my "Go See" scale.

Watch this Slumdog become a millionaire


SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE is the story of Jamal Malik (Dev Patel), an 18 year-old orphan from the slums of Mumbai, who is about to experience the biggest day of his life. With the whole nation watching, he is just one question away from winning a staggering 20 million rupees on India’s “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?” But when the show breaks for the night, police arrest him on suspicion of cheating; how could a street kid know so much? Desperate to prove his innocence, Jamal tells the story of his life in the slum where he and his brother grew up, of their adventures together on the road, of vicious encounters with local gangs, and of Latika (Frieda Pinto), the girl he loved and lost. Each chapter of his story reveals the key to the answer to one of the game show’s questions. Intrigued by Jamal’s story, the jaded Police Inspector (Irfan Khan) begins to wonder what a young man with no apparent desire for riches is really doing on this game show? When the new day dawns and Jamal returns to answer the final question, the Inspector and sixty million viewers are about to find out.


Slumdog Millionaire, a sweeping, hopeful story about a boy in the slums of India who becomes an instant celebrity after he wins millions on India's version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire?. Adapted by Simon Beaufoy (The Full Monty, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day) off the novel Q &A by Vikas Swarup, the tale is framed within an interesting narrative structure that revolves around the young man, Jamal, being interrogated for fraud by the police, who cannot believe that a "slumdog" orphan could possibly have known the answers to the questions on the show. Boyle uses this conceit to take us back and forth from the police station, where Jamal ( Patel) is tortured to get him to confess how he cheated, to his appearance on the show, to the events throughout his youth that led to him knowing the answers to the game show questions. How did a boy growing up in the slums amid piles of garbage and filth know which US president is on the one hundred dollar bill, or who invented the revolver? Boyle takes us back through Jamal's life story to show us the mean-streets education that led to him knowing the answers, while managing to avoid making the set-up feel contrived. The scenes that take place during the game show are a masterwork of interplay and intellect, as Jamal duels verbally with wealthy, narcissistic host Prem Kumar (veteran Bollywood actor Anil Kapoor), who's sort of a Hindi version of Regis Philbin. There's a certain level of class struggle going on within the framework of the game show, pitting the wealthy, arrogant host against the soft-spoken, affable kid from the slums. Kumar, fearing that the eminently likable young man might detract from his own popularity with the audience, taunts Jamal for being a poor chaiwalla (tea bearer) and subtly -- and not so subtly -- tries to get Jamal to cash in and end his winning streak. What Kumar doesn't get is that Jamal's not really in it for the money at all. This is a character-intensive story, with the narrative lens focused firmly on Jamal, who, in spite of growing up amidst filth, abuse and the threat of starvation, emerges with his spirit, honesty and courage intact. The heart of the film, though, is the thread of love and friendship between Jamal and another young orphan, Latika, who's befriended by Jamal and gruffly tolerated by his older brother. The trio call themselves "The Three Musketeers" -- Jamal and his brother, Salim (Madhur Mittal) having been enraptured by the classic tale when they attended school before their mother died. Fate, life, and adults preying on the vulnerable youth of Mumbai's slums conspire to keep Jamal and Latika apart, but Jamal never sways from his belief that he and Latika are destined to be together. This love story, interwoven throughout the film, lends a classical, metaphorical level to the film that adds depth to its mainstream-audience friendly, accessible surface. Orphaned children in places like Mumbai are easy prey for adults who force or coerce them into servitude as beggars, prostitutes, and criminals. Jamal's older brother succumbs to the lure of crime as a path out of poverty; Jamal, on the other hand, does what he has to in order to survive -- when you're five years old, homeless and starving while the adults around you kick you around like a dog for merely trying to scrounge enough to keep from dying, the morality of theft and ownership doesn't really amount to much -- but he never loses his sense of fairness, justice and compassion. Jamal's pursuit of Latika is single-minded; She is the only thing in his hard-knock life that he's ever cared about other than his mother and brother. Even when Latika gives up and resigns herself to the life of abuse that it seems fate has mapped out for her, Jamal is her white knight, relentlessly fighting to free her from the prison in which beauty and destitution have trapped her. Patel, with his wide-eyed openness and mournful brown eyes, utterly charms as Jamal -- I want to see much more from this young actor in the future -- and all the cast, including the kids who play Jamal, Latika and his brother in their childhood, bring life and energy to their roles. Sweeping cinematography by Anthony Dod Mantle brings the slums of Mumbai to life, finding the beauty and humanity amidst crushing impoverishment that most of us who will see the film could never imagine surviving, much less thriving in. There's sadness and tragedy within Slumdog Millionaire -- starvation, genocide, child prostitution and overwhelming oppression -- but there's humor, humanity and dignity as well. Boyle, stepping outside the UK to focus his lens on India, seems to have freed himself here to bring his brilliance as a director to its fullest fruition. Slumdog Millionaire is Boyle's best film to date, which is saying quite a lot; He's made a joyous, fun, and wonderfully accessible film that should play well, but even though this turned out so well, it MAY get overlooked by most moviegoers. I say go and see this one, you won't be disappointed. A definite 5 on my "Go See" scale

Was this the Sixth Sense all over again?

After a plane crash, a young therapist, Claire (Anne Hathaway), is assigned by her mentor (Andre Braugher) to counsel the flight's five survivors in Passengers. When they share their recollections of the incident – which some say include an explosion that the airline claims never happened – Claire is intrigued by Eric (Patrick Wilson), the most secretive of the passengers. Just as Claire's professional relationship with Eric – despite her better judgment – blossoms into a romance, the survivors begin to disappear mysteriously, one by one. Claire suspects that Eric may hold all the answers and becomes determined to uncover the truth, no matter the consequences.
As the film opens, we see Eric Clark (Patrick Wilson) trudging dazed along a beach, with a horrendous airplane wreckage all around him. He has evidently done what few people ever have --- walk away from a plane crash. In fact, he has barely a scratch. We later learn that out of 109 passengers, six managed to survive. The section of the fuselage that remained relatively intact after impact contains at least six undamaged seats, as we see from the effective set design by Carol Lavallee, and lends some credence that six people could have actually lived through this nightmare. A while later we are introduced to Dr. Claire Summers (Anne Hathaway), a grief counselor who is prepared to work with the survivors to help them over what surely will remain a traumatic experience. Of course, Eric is immediately smitten with Claire, and while she resists his obvious flirtations, we know the inevitable will happen, albeit their first kiss occurs in a most unlikely place. Their evolving relationship is so gradual we wish they would get on with it, already, and oh yeah ---- where is this story taking us??The rest of the cast features veteran actors David Morse, Andre Braugher and Dianne Wiest, but Wilson and Hathaway dominate most scenes. Once the plot is unraveled, there is one pretty good jolt which comes out of the blue. The premise here is not new, though ---- WARNING: SPOILER ALERT: it is reminiscent of Nicole Kidman's eerie The Others, as well as the Haley Joel Osment/Bruce Willis thriller The Sixth Sense that made M. Night Shyamalan a household name (well, almost). But Passengers isn't quite in that class.You will leave the theater with more questions than answers, which could either promote a lively discussion afterwards or leave you less than satisfied.Passengers is a haunting little movie that builds ever so slowly to an electrifying climax. Some films take their time reaching their destination, and the payoff is disappointing or non-existent. Here, although the plodding story is irritating, at times, you will likely agree that the end justifies the means. Although it tried too hard to be another Sixth Sense, it still held my attention to the very end, but this only get a 3 on my "Go See" scale.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Kevin Smith does it AGAIN!!

After the success of KNOCKED UP, Seth Rogen pairs up with another comely comedienne in ZACK & MIRI MAKE A PORNO. In this Kevin Smith comedy, two desperate friends (Rogen and Elizabeth Banks) decide to earn a little extra money by creating their own adult film, but they also discover that they may be more than just pals.

When Kevin Smith’s Clerks came out in 1994, who could have known that the first-time filmmaker from Jersey was paving the way for filmmakers like Judd Apatow to take over the world? “Bromance” may not have been in our cultural lexicon 14 years ago, but that’s what Mr. Smith was dealing with—whether it be Jay and Silent Bob, or Ben Affleck and Jason Lee in Chasing Amy, or Matt Damon and Ben Affleck in (the underappreciated!) Dogma. But now, Mr. Smith has turned his attention to a more typical kind of romance, even though at the beginning it’s obscured by, well, porn. In the descriptively titled Zack and Miri Make a Porno, Seth Rogen plays Zack, a coffee barista who lives with his longtime best friend Miri (Elizabeth Banks) in a crumbly apartment under a mountain of unpaid rent and bills. After the water is shut off, and the heat, too (and gosh, it looks awfully cold in Pittsburgh—good thing Elizabeth Banks has so many homemade knit scarves and hats to be draped in), the two come up with a plan to save themselves: a homemade porn movie. One best not trouble themselves with the question of whether there was some other way Zack and Miri may have raised some money before resorting to onscreen sex—what’s the fun in that? Especially when it means you can come up with fun porn title spoofs on popular films (Star Whores!).

Still, it’s hard to imagine this film succeeding on any level without Mr. Rogen and Ms. Banks as the leads. The two of them share a natural chemistry, and while the film has some clunky moments and a couple of beats-off jokes leading up to the, um, climax of the film, when Zack and Miri inevitably get together (in quite an unusual fashion), the movie takes a surprising turn from the somewhat crass to heartwarming. Mr. Smith does an admirable job creating a character such as Miri, who can hang with the boys in a totally fresh and believable way. Some of Mr. Smith’s old reliables show up; warning, you might be shocked to see how the once baby-faced Jason Mewes has aged. Mr. Rogen brought some of his own friends into the mix, too—Craig Robinson (Darryl on the American Office) in particular walks off with a couple of scenes. As expected, there are a handful of obligatory racial and homosexual gags, and maybe a wee bit too much physically raunchy humor, but hey, if it gets seats filled, who are we to argue?

Kevin Smith’s fans are always eager to point out that without him, there would be no Judd Apatow. The foulmouthed, pop-culture-and-sex-obsessed guy pals of The 40 Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up and Superbad are the spiritual children of Dante Hicks and Randal Graves in Clerks. With Zack and Miri Make a Porno, Smith seems eager to retake the fast-talking-filth crown, and also get in on a little of Apatow’s racket of throwing in some sentimentality. On the first count, the collaboration of Smith and Seth Rogen yields solid results. When it comes to handling romance, the director can’t resist putting one of his characters on a toilet for the climactic admission of love. For the two old friends, though, actually having sex — even in front of a video camera and a crew of low-budget porn-makers — winds up being a game-changer, which is what “Zack and Miri” is for Smith. As the filmmaker matures, so do his characters, and after getting the amusing but featherweight “Clerks II” out of his system, it seems that Smith is ready grow as a filmmaker while still embracing his very R-rated comic sensibilities. The result is his smartest and funniest film since “Chasing Amy.”Smith has always had a gift with young actors — he is, for better or worse, responsible for launching the careers of Ben Affleck and Jason Lee — and his streak continues here. Rogen has become comedy’s favorite Everyman, and his rapport with Banks confirms his status as a dashing romantic lead in a schlubby stoner’s body. Even old dogs can learn new tricks, and thus Kevin Smith just directed a good movie. Highly recommendable! You'l laugh from beginning to end! I sure did. A Strong 5 on my "Go See" list.

Friday, October 24, 2008

You won't believe how it ends....or how it began

With everyone else dead and rotting, it's up to Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) to continue Jigsaw's murderous traditions. When he feels that his identity might be discovered, the killer has to use all his training as a detective to track down anything--and anyone--that might expose him in Saw 5.

The film opens with an EXTREMELY graphic torture scene that involves a pendulum. Seth Baxter plays a very important role to the story. We find out here that he mudered Hoffman's sister. He was sentenced to 20 years, but was let out after 5 due to a technicality prompting Hoffman to create a Jigsaw-like contraption to exact his own brand of justice. This catches the eye of the REAL Jigsaw. We found out in the 4th film that Detective Hoffman (Mandylor) was helping out Jigsaw (Bell) with the murders. Since Jigsaw is now dead, he needed someone to continue his legacy and that is what Mandylor was used for. This time around, Mandylor is now considered a hero because he saves a little girl in the beginning and basically "takes down Jigsaw," even though he is already dead. He becomes the hero but the problem lies in the fact that one of his victims, Agent Strahm (Patterson), makes it out alive, in what I would say is a pretty brutal scene. Strahm makes it is his goal the entire film to piece this together to find out who the accomplice is. He finds out pretty shortly that it has something to do with Hoffman and wants to bring him down. While all of this is occurring, there is a new game being played between five new characters that are somehow connected. Therefore, you have Strahm looking for Hoffman, a new five person jigsaw game and Jigsaw's ex-wife, Jill (Betsy Russell) participating in the fun as well. Though, her character was very vague throughout the film and we never really figure out her whole deal. Surprisingly, the fifth installment of the series has a nice flow to it and is still being able to dish out newly designed horrific torture scenes. Just when you thought all of the torture scenes had been used up in the past 4 films, think again. It turns out they spit out a very decent torture flick yet again.
We start off with 5 new victims who are connected, but it's not yet revealed how. We meet Brit (Julie Benz), Luba (Meagan Good), Charles (Carlo Rota), Mallick (Greg Byrk), and Ashley (Laura Gordon). They awake to find that they are in neck harnesses and are on a pulley system with sharp blades behind their heads. Jigsaw tells them that they have to work together to get the keys to get loose or they lose their heads and if they can't figure out how to within 5 minutes there are nail bombs also in the corners of the room that will dispose of them if they don't make it out of the room in time (these are in each room so I'll only explain it this one time). First they argue then do their best to get their keys. Needless to say one doesn't make it. The second room displays what looks like a section of an underground sewer. Overhead are jars that hold keys with shapes on them that unlock the drains so that they can get in before the time runs out (there are bombs in the room). Again, one doesn't make it. The last two rooms are quite creative. The next room has a tub of water in the center of the room and 5 electrical boxes which the currents need to be stopped in order to open the door in time. The electric cables don't quite reach the tub. With 3 people left by this time, one is sacrificed to get the door open. Now, it's down to 2 people and now they have figured out how they were all connected. For someone to get their hands on some property to build upon, they all find out that they had a hand in the deaths of the 8 people that resided in the building and now they are being judged or being given a chance at redemption if you look at it from Jigsaw's point of view. Now, in the last room the last two standing are faced with a new contraption that involves blood and a beaker that has to be filled with 10 pints of blood. This one is SO gruesome that it needs to be seen to be believed! Also they figure out at this time what exactly Jigsaw said back in the first room about working together and they realize that it's too late to turn back now and they perform the last task. All while this is going on Detective Strahm is pursuing Detective Hoffman who he knows is the Jigsaw accomplice. Back in the beginning (exactly where 4 ended) Strahm finds a tape from Jigsaw basically instructing him NOT to go ahead with his deeper investigation and that if he did that it would be his undoing...which it does.
I've noticed quite a few things from these Saw movies....the people being tested NEVER listen or fully comprehend what Jigsaw says until the very end. Best noted was Saw 2, where Detective Eric Matthews is instructed by Jigsaw to just give him a bit of his time and to talk to him and no harm would come to his son. He gets so agitated that he flips out and ends up being captured himself in a trap while his son was in the same room the whole time unharmed. In this one he instructs the 5 victims to work together to stay alive. In the first room where they wake up in the last 2 figure out that they only needed 1 key to get all of them out because the keys were ALL the same. In the 3rd room with the tub of water and electricity, if they had all worked together to make it to that point they would've gotten a small shock enough to open the door instead of one person taking it all. The last room would have still been brutal, but it would've taken 2 pints from them all to fill up the 10 pint beaker to open the door. Jigsaw gives these people the choice to redeem themselves, but they never quite figure that out...mainly because they end up dead before they do.
Jigsaw is DEAD, but his legacy will continue. During the movie we see how Hoffman was trained to take over and we see that he was connected to it all the way back to the first movie. It wasn't the best of the series, but interesting enough to keep any Saw fan intrigued (like me). Just to see the new traps alone is enough to bring me back time and time again. A definite addition to the franchise and a must see for any Saw fan. A gruesome 4 on my "Go See" scale.

How do I sign up to be a RockNRolla?

The action comedy RockNRolla, takes a dangerous ride into high crime and low life in contemporary London, where real estate has supplanted drugs as the biggest market, and criminals are its most enthusiastic entreprenuers. But for anyone looking to get in from small-time crook One Two (Gerard Butler) to shady Russian billionaire Uri Omovich (Karel Roden) theres only one man to see : Lenny Cole (Tom Wilkinson). A Mobster from the old school, Lenny knows the right wheels to grease and has his hand on the throat of any bureacrat, broker or gangster. But as Lenny's right-hand man Archy (Mark Strong) tells him, London is ground zero for the changing times, with big-time mobsters from the East, hungry criminals from the streets, and everyone in-between, all vying to change the rules of commerce and crime.

Archy (Mark Strong), our narrator, works for London kingpin Lenny Cole (Tom Wilkinson), who double-crosses charming thugs One Two (Gerard Butler) and Mumbles (Idris Elba) on, of all things, a semi-lucrative real estate deal. As can be the case with Ritchie, this deal is the tip of a filthy, dirty iceberg that sweeps up Russian money-man Uri (Karel Roden), crooked accountant Stella (Thandie Newton), and One Two's loyal crew, the Wild Bunch. Ritchie, who wrote the Rock script, keeps us guessing which game will eventually take center stage. Will it be the house One Two and Mumbles hope to acquire? Or will it be the Euros Lenny owes to Yuri? How about Yuri's missing painting, which we're never shown (a la the glowing whatever-you-think-it-is in Marsellus Wallace's briefcase)? Or will Ritchie's focus fall on Johnny Quid (Toby Kebbell), Lenny's oft-mentioned rock star son-in-law with a debilitating drug habit? A scrawny drug addict who has faked his own death in an attempt to boost album sales, Johnny should be laying low but can't resist turning up to throw a wrench into his father's carefully laid plans. Kebbell so effectively steals this show. We're witnessing the birth of a star in Rock, as Kebbell unleashes a wild-card performance from his gut. When he's on screen, it's impossible to look away. And that's impressive when you consider the eye-catching insanity Ritchie attempts in Rock. One Two and Mumbles pull off the most gentle carjacking you'll see on screen this year. Later, they endure the longest (and strangest) footrace, as they are relentlessly pursued by unstoppable Russian war veterans. It's one of many scenes played for big laughs.Ritchie has gone back to writing lyrical dialogue, tough-guy poetry delivered by a hardened but extremely polished cast. And for the first time in a long time, you can understand almost every spoken word. Butler's quite at home in Ritchie's underbelly. Newton manages to be more than eye candy, and Kebbell's an exhilarating treat. With even stellar and memorable performances by co-stars Tom Hardy(as Wild Bunch member Handsome Bob), Jeremy Piven (Mickey), Chris "Ludacris" Bridges (as Roman, a HUGE step up from the disappointing Max Payne), Matt King (Cookie), and Jimi Mistry (The Councillor), just to name a few.
Near the end of the film, I realized I was going to miss these original characters. So, apparently, is Ritchie. A brazen title card dropped before the credits promises more adventures with Archy, Johnny, and the Wild Bunch. Even more good news for fans of Ritchie and RocknRolla. I can't wait! In the end RockNRolla does NOT disappoint. It does everything that it set out to do and more. Highly recommendable. A definite 5 on my "Go See" scale

Eastwood and Jolie work together to create a compelling sory

CHANGELING is a historical thriller from Oscar-winning director Clint Eastwood. Angelina Jolie stars as a mother whose son disappears in 1928 Los Angeles. When he returns months later, she realizes that he is not her child.

In March 1928, Christine Collins' (Jolie) nine-year-old son Walter (Gattlin Griffith) vanishes. Five months later, the LAPD, already under the gun for other unsolved crimes, calls out the press and delivers to Christine a boy who claims to be her son but is not. To avoid embarrassment, Captain Jones (Jeffrey Donovan) demands she take the boy home on a "trial basis." When she continues to insist that the LAPD needs to find her real son, Jones does what the department always does with troublesome citizens -- he locks her up in a psycho ward. A radio minister, Gustav Briegleb (John Malkovich), takes up her cause and challenges the police version of events. Meanwhile, another officer, Detective Ybarra (Michael Kelly), launches an investigation into a potential serial killer (Jason Butler Harner) that not only proves Christine's contention but exposes the force, its chief and the mayor to the wrath of a citizenry fed up with living in a police state.
The fact that they would bring her someone that was not her son is enough to shame any police department. Christine repeatedly tells them that it's not her son. And only she would know and after 5 months there would not have been much of a change. ANY mother would recognize their child no matter how long apart they were. And then the LAPD try to classify her as crazy. How wrong is that? I must works. and the fact that it is a true story makes it even more compelling. Written by J. Michael Stracyznski, directed by Clint Eastwood, and starring Angelina Jolie in this extraordinary, but true story. A beautifully directed period piece which shows corruption in the LAPD that in the midst of covering their own asses decide to stop doing their job and pass off a child to Ms. Collins and claim that it's her son. Then the later revelation that he was picked up by some psycho child killer was intriguing and terrifying at the same time. The ending was a little sad for me because we find out that little Walter Collins may have gotten away, but its never revealed if he makes it home or if he was caught and murdered later. A sad story with strong performances from Jolie, Donovan, Malkovich, and Harner (as the serial killer). This is one to see, if not for the emotional ride then for Jolie alone in one of her best performances. A Strong 5 on my "Go See" scale.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Another City that should've been burned to the ground

For generations, the people of the City of Ember have flourished in an amazing world of glittering lights--underground. Built as a refuge for humanity and powered by a massive generator, this City will only sustain for 200 years. Now Ember is falling into darkness as the generator fails. Despite growing concern for the future of their beloved City, Ember's students find themselves confronting the next step in their lives. A rite of passage for all graduates, it is Assignment Day, the day on which the Mayor (Bill Murray) himself will stand before the graduating students as they choose, by lottery, how they will spend their lives working for their society.

Lina (Saoirse Ronan) , praying with all her might to be a messenger, is devastated to be assigned to the Pipeworks, the vast network of pipes underneath the City. Her classmate, Doon Harrow (Harry Treadaway), who wants more than nothing else to work in the Generator, panics when he pulls the messenger assignment. Doon offers to swap assignments with Lina. She is thrilled and grateful and eagerly changes jobs. Thus, an unlikely friendship is born. Lina finds herself zipping all over Ember, delivering important missives to even more important people, including the mayor himself. At home she cares for her aging and forgetful grandmother, and her baby sister Poppy. When an old metal box is discovered in their closet, Lina's grandmother (Liz Smith) is overjoyed. Completely sure that the contents of the box are of the utmost importance, she is completely bereft of any memory as to why. Lina manages to jimmy the lock open, and discovers some cryptic papers inside. Unable to piece the papers together, but sure that they are important, Lina resolves to decipher their meaning and enlists Doon's help. As blackouts in the City become more frequent, Lina and Doon realize that the information inside that box could lead to the salvation of their City and their fellow citizens. Now racing against the clock, the two follow the clues, cleverly maneuvering around corrupt politicians and unsavory characters hoping to keep them from their goal: restoring the light in the City of Ember.
You would think that all this along with the knowledge that it was produced by Tom Hanks would be enough to hold my attention....sorry, but no. This one just wasn't worth it. Another city underground and "Wow, we are underground. What's up there?" movie. Enough. Bill Murray wasn't even on screen enough to keep me interested and I like Bill Murray. That was an hour and 39 minutes of my life that I'll NEVER get back. I DON'T recommend this one, but don't worry it won't be in the theatres for much longer. It will be gone and forgotten. My first 1 on my "Go See" scale in a very long time.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

This wasn't THAT much of a Payne

Rockstar Games' antihero Max Payne gets his own movie with this video game adaptation. Mark Wahlberg plays the titular cop who is still trying to get over the death of his family while investigating several murders, while Mila Kunis costars as an assassin desperate for her own revenge when her sister is murdered.

Based on the popular 2001 video game, “Max Payne” is what it is: an action packed thriller that, at first, leads you to believe that a supernatural battle between the forces of good and evil is in the offering. However, as the plot unfolds, it becomes clear that the mystical world is not the fighting ground between good and evil. The good and the bad are mere mortals with justice being sought by the former and plain greed the agenda for the latter. As we get to know the troubled Max Payne, we find that there is more to his mission than just uncovering the perpetrators of the recent string of heinous crimes. His wife and child were murder several years before but the case has never been solve. Max gets himself assigned to the Cold Case File where unsolved crimes go to rest without resolution. He scours the dead files to try to find a clue, even miniscule ones, to locate his tiny family’s murderers.The mortal-based greed is based on a secret military contract to create a drug that would make super soldiers. But the test results are not predictable ­ some do become uber troopers but most succumb to horrible hallucinations of giant wraith-like creatures and insanity. “Max Payne” becomes a revenge flick that drives frenetically through its shootouts and slow mo action. There is more than a nod to actioners like “The Matrix” in the execution of the action. The film squarely hits the bull’s eye as it takes aim at the 18-30 video game obsessed male audience. The film does have some fun action, but you find yourself quite often wishing either to have more action, or a better mystery, because the film just hangs out in the mediocre middle. To its credit, though, the film moves ahead and doesn't drag. In the end it's just something you could do with your time, if you couldn't come up with anything better to do, and not hate yourself afterward. The performances were okay here. Wahlberg didn't really have to stretch his acting chops here, which was just right for this role. The most unbelievable for me was Chris "Ludacris" Bridges. I just couldn't believe his role as I.A. Detective Jim Bravura. I guess I shouldn't complain too much. He's not really an actor, just another rap artist doing a little acting on the side. Quite a few critics have bad mouthed this movie (my partner included), but I knew exactly what to expect. Having played the video game, I already knew the story and I was looking forward to seeing how it would be done on screen and I wasn't really disappointed. BUT this one won't be for everybody, so I'll suggest that you wait until it's released on DVD, or better yet find a copy of the game and play it. A 3 on my "Go See" scale.

Monday, October 13, 2008

This Death Note just barely satisfied me

Death Note : The Last Name is the second part of the live-action manga adaptation. It succeeds thanks to its wicked concept, though the film's uninspired direction and questionable acting do hurt matters. As an overall film, Death Note: The Last Name is barely passable, but those versed in the manga will likely find this a must-see.

When we last left Light Yagami (Tatsuya Fujiwara), he had just perpetrated the most elaborate and successful demonstration of his Death Note, the supernatural notebook that kills anyone whose name is written inside it. As a result of his clever scheming, Light was invited to join the investigation team chasing the mass murderer known as Kira - who just so happens to be Light, anonymously using the Death Note to kill scores of criminals daily. However, oddball super detective and avid sugar-lover L (Kenichi Matsuyama) truly suspects that Light is Kira, and he's not shy about letting Light know. During their initial and subsequent meetings, L basically rubs Light's face in his obvious suspicion. However, instead of avoiding potential capture, Light embraces the chance to work side-by-side with his sweets-loving rival. Now that L and Light/Kira are working together, the stage is set for an epic battle between two insanely smart guys who like to talk a lot. It's a showdown of acrobatic mental geniuses, who use keen reasoning and elaborate mindgames to outwit their wily opponent. Who will be the last name written in the Death Note? Will it be the megalomaniacal Light, or the wacky but honorable L? And will Death Note fans pissed at the fate of the manga characters find this new cinema version to be satisfying? The answer to that last question: yes and no. One portion of the Death Note fanbase won't be that happy because the fate of one character doesn't stray very far from his destiny as detailed in the manga. However, another portion of the fanbase should be tickled pink because the other character is served much better than his manga counterpart was. What does that mean to those not versed in Death Note lore? Probably nothing, though there's still some enjoyment along the way. That is, if you can stay focused. Death Note is a very cerebral manga, and derives its thrills from mindgames, obtuse mental jousting, and layers of doublespeak that play much better on paper than on celluloid. Director Shusuke Kaneko doesn't do much to make the already wordy events of the manga more enthralling on film, and inserts plenty of wooden exposition to keep the audience tuned in - if they haven't fallen asleep. The first Death Note movie ended with the promise of L and Light's coming conflict, but because the sequel has to compress many volumes of manga into 141 minutes, much of the back-and-forth rivalry between L and Light gets excised in favor of talk, talk, and more talk. The uninitiated could get bored, and simply wonder why the two male leads wear so much eyeliner. The unitiated might also be bothered by Erika Toda, who plays teenybopper popstar Misa Amane. Misa is perky and pouty, and the adorable Toda can be as annoying as she is charming. Misa enters the picture as the possessor of a second Death Note. Since she's a huge fan of Kira, she also uses the Death Note to punish criminals, and even becomes known as the "Second Kira". However, Misa is sloppy and not very smart - she's easily pinched by L, who figures that if Misa is the Second Kira, then her new boyfriend Light is the first one. It's smart thinking, but Light has his own elaborate plan built upon the rules of the Death Note itself. Light's plan involves handing the Death Note to a third party, Kiyomi Takada (Nana Katase), and getting her to do his dirty work for him. Kiyomi was also in the manga, but her film counterpart is actually an amalgamation of three separate characters. Still, her function is more or less the same as the manga. Basically, she's a pawn used by Light to prove his supreme smarts, and it works just as entertainingly on film as it did in the manga. Seeing Light's elaborate plans getting played out onscreen can be quite exciting, even though it basically invites whole pages of exposition to explain it all. Not helping matters is the acting, which ranges from effective (Kenichi Matsuyama makes a lovable L) to labored (Tatsuya Fujiwara strains a bit as Light) to wooden or overdone (most of the supporting actors). Again, director Kaneko's handling is far from imaginative. Nearly everything that happens in Death Note: The Last Name also occurred in the manga (though perhaps in a less truncated form), and Kaneko translates it to the screen in a slavish and entirely too-routine manner. Still, the ending does serve up a bit of creativity, utilizing the Death Note's rules to deliver a climax that departs from its source material in an enjoyable and satisfying manner. For people who devoured the manga, Death Note: The Last Name has an undeniable payoff. The film largely succeeds based on its built-in popularity, and those who read the manga will easily get the most out of the screen adaptation. Those who didn't read the manga will likely be more distracted by the film's obvious shortcomings (direction, pacing, acting), but there's still a major positive: Death Note's hook - a supernatural notebook that allows its bearer to play God - works in any medium, and makes for intriguing, and sometimes enthralling moral discussion. Is Light correct in using the Death Note to reshape the world in his own image? Is his brand of justice worth the necessary sacrifice of innocent lives? Or is he just a megalomaniacal murderer who's so in love with himself that he thinks the end justifies the means? The moral debate can keep people talking long after the movie, manga, anime, or traveling stage musical of Death Note has long since passed. In the end, it's the concept that's truly the star of Death Note, and The Last Name delivers enough of it to succeed. A hefty 3 on my "Go See" scale.

These Bees have a secret that will last a lifetime

The Secret Life of Bees is set in South Carolina in 1964, the tale of Lily Owens, a 14-year-old girl who is haunted by the memory of her late mother. To escape her lonely life and troubled relationship with her father, Lily flees with Rosaleen, her caregiver and only friend, to a South Carolina town that holds the secret to her mother's past. Taken in by the intelligent and independent Boatwright sisters, Lily finds solace in their mesmerizing world of beekeeping, honey and the Black Madonna.

Haunted by memories of her late mother, 14-year-old Lily Owens (Dakota Fanning) runs away with her friend and caregiver Rosaleen (Jennifer Hudson) to the South Carolina town that holds the key to her mother's past. There, Lily meets the Boatwright sisters (Queen Latifah, Alicia Keys, Sophie Okonedo), who take her in and teach her about beekeeping, honey and the Black Madonna. Little Lily Owens hates her life, she's plagued with nightmares of the last time that she saw her mother (we find out early in the movie that she accidently killed her when she was 4) and her father (Paul Bettany)isn't the best parental figure in her life. The only good thing she has is Rosaleen and a small box of things left behind by her mother. One item is a post card with an address and a picture of the Black Madonna on the back. After Rosaleen is beaten for standing up to a white man in the neighboring town she decides runaway with Rosaleen in tow. She soon comes across the home that the address goes to where she meets the Boatwright sisters August, June, and May (they had a late sister April). She comes there to seek answers about her mother, but holds tghis info from the sisters. August and May welcome their new guests with open arms while June is skeptical. The Boatwrights operate a successful beekeeping and honey business and august is more than happy to teach Lily all that she knows. While living with the Boatwrights a young black apprentice named Zach catches her eye. As she starts to get comfortable her past life catches up with her after Zach comes up missing (but later found nearly unharmed) and the sad suicide of Boatwright sister, May (that'll bring a tear to anyones eye). Soon Lily thinks that she's causing all of this and lets August in on why she was really there. August knew Lily's mother very well because she was her caregiver. After her father realizes where she's gone he confronts her and says he wants her home. In the end she decides to stay with the Boatwrights. A Powerful story with enough for everyone. I suggest that you bring your tissues, you'lll need them. A strong 4 on my "Go See" scale.

Quarantine me, I'm hiding in the closet!

In Quarantine, television reporter Angela Vidal (Jennifer Carpenter) and her cameraman (Steve Harris) are assigned to spend the night shift with a Los Angeles Fire Station. After a routine 911 call takes them to a small apartment building, they find police officers already on the scene in response to blood curdling screams coming from one of the apartment units. Unbeknownst to them, a woman living in the building has contracted a rare strain of rabies. After a few of the residents are viciously attacked, they try to escape with the news crew in tow, only to find that the CDC has quarantined the building. Phones, internet, televisions and cell phone access have been cut-off, and officials are not relaying information to those locked inside.

Do I want to help my career by following the LAFD around for the night? Hell, yeah! Do I bring my best cameraman along with me in hopes of getting some good footage of the night? Absolutely! Do I learn all I can from the two firemen that I'll be tagging along with for the night and then when there is finally an emergency, do I hop on the fire engine to get to the scene? I sure do! I'm even right there when they confront the old lady that they've come to help. But, what's wrong with her face? She looks a little afraid. Oh my GOD! Did she just attack that fireman? She sure as hell did! Do I run? No...the police have got it all under control... My name is Angela Vidal (Jennifer Carpenter) and my cameraman is Scott (Steve Harris). We were sent here and assigned to tag along with firefighters Jake (Jay Hernandez) and George (Johnathon Schaech) for the night. Everything goes to hell after an old woman has a fit in her apartment and the LAFD are sent in. We see her erratic behavior firsthand as she attacks a fellow firefighter and has to be killed. Officer Wilensky (Columbus Short) is a little agitated and takes control as he insists that everyone make their way to the lobby while we figure out what's going on. Next thing we know, we're being quarantined! What the hell is this all about? I'm scared shitless as people start disappearing left and right! We come across some of the others later and they are behaving just like the old lady (foaming at the mouth and such) and have to be killed also. What are they infected with and how is it being passed around? And why have the CDC quarantined us? Once we finally get some info we find out that it could be and advanced form of rabies. With symptoms that usually take weeks and even months to appear the victims get them instantly. It's just down to me and Scott now. George fought heroically, but it wasn't enough. Wait, there is someone here with us....It got Scott!!! I'm all alone now. To whoever finds this footage, this is the truth that the police hid from you all.
Having a bit of deja vu didn't stop me from enjoying this movie one bit, but it wasn't SCARY scary. I found it FUNNY scary. I was laughing more than I cringed. The scene where the cameraman Scott attacks a lady with nothing more than his camera is priceless and has to be seen to be believed. Yeah, this is seen through the cameras view (not unlike The Blair Witch Project or the recent Cloverfield), but I STILL enjoyed this movie. Maybe because I didn't find it scary (not many these days surprise me). This is one to just enjoy, whether it'll scare you or not depends on the person, but see it. I recommend it. A scary 4 on my "Go See" scale.

Fireproof your relationship

Samuel Goldwyn Films' Fireproof
At work, inside burning buildings, Capt. Caleb Holt (Kirk Cameron)lives by the old firefighter's adage: Never leave your partner behind. At home, in the cooling embers of his marriage, he lives by his own rules. After seven years of marriage, Caleb and Catherine Holt have drifted so far apart that Catherine (Erin Bethea)wishes she had never married. Neither one understands the pressures the other faces--he as firefighter and she as the public relations director of a hospital. Regular arguments over jobs, finances, housework, and outside interests have readied them both to move on to something with more sparks. As the couple prepares to enter divorce proceedings, Caleb's father (Harris Malcom) challenges his son to commit to a 40-day experiment he calls "The Love Dare." Wondering if it's even worth the effort, Caleb agrees, but more for his father's sake more than for his marriage. When Caleb discovers the book's daily challenges are tied into his parents' newfound faith, his already limited interest is further dampened. While trying to stay true to his promise, Caleb becomes frustrated time and again. He finally asks his father, 'How am I supposed to show love to somebody who constantly rejects me?' When his father explains that this is the love God shows to us, Caleb makes a life-changing commitment to love God. And--with God's help--he begins to understand what it means to truly love his wife. But is it too late to fireproof his marriage? His job is to rescue others. Now Caleb Holt is ready to face his toughest job ever--rescuing his wife's heart.


Fireproof will likely find its calling as an instructional tool for moderators of faith-based marriage-counseling programs. Cameron is genuinely compelling as Caleb, a work-obsessed firefighter on the verge of divorce from his neglected wife, Catherine (Erin Bethea), a hospital PR rep. Caleb's born-again dad (Harris Malcom) encourages his son to commit to "The Love Dare" -- not a TV gameshow, as its name might imply, but a 40-day, Bible-inspired program designed to help spouses restore frayed ties. Initially, however, Catherine resists reconciliation. For one thing, she's upset by Caleb's habit of trolling Internet porn sites. (Not surprisingly, the filmmakers are extremely discreet, if not downright evasive, in their handling of this plot wrinkle.) For another, she's increasingly attracted to an attentive co-worker. Happily-ever-aftering is inevitable in this type of pic, especially when characters rely heavily on the power of prayer. But the directors test their audiences patience by unduly delaying the feel-good payoff to Caleb's "Love Dare" crusade. Bethea's lack of acting experience is too obvious by half. But supporting players cast as Caleb's firehouse buddies -- most of them non-pros -- provide snatches of welcome comic relief. A very uplifting and inspirational 5 on my "Go See" scale.

This Flash of Genius teaches us all a lesson

FLASH OF GENIUS, based on a true story is set in Detroit and spanning multiple decades. Dr. Robert Kearns (Greg Kinnear) has a good life. A respected college professor who teaches electrical engineering, he has a lovely wife (Lauren Graham) and six great kids. But first and foremost, Kearns is an inventor. In 1967, he built the intermittent windshield wiper, dubbing it "Kearns' Blinking Eye," and ultimately shared his patented specs with Ford Motor Company so that he could manufacture the wipers for them. Then he spends his life trying to get Ford to admit that they stole his idea when he spots his invention on Ford cars after they bail out of the deal with him. Kearns isn't after money. In taking on one of the most powerful corporations in America, if not the world, Kearns wants Ford to tell the truth and give credit where credit is due. At the same time, he wants to protect the patent process for every inventor. Kinnear gives a nuanced performance as Kearns, a quirky, church-going family man and professor who slowly descends into paranoia and obsession with reaching his goals. Graham fits the bill as a loving but independent wife and mother who finds herself competing with her husband's quest. Dermot Mulroney is solid as Kearns's childhood friend and early business partner. And it's a treat to see Alan Alda as a justice-seeking lawyer who may or not be able to live up to Kearns's high expectations.

FLASH OF GENIUS is based on a John Seabrook article that appeared in The New Yorker in 1993, and his later book of the same name about Robert Kearns (Kinnear), a Michigan college professor who, in the late-1960s, invented the automobile intermittent windshield wiper -- by which a driver can adjust the speed of the blade to the rain flow. Kearns took out a patent, found financial backers, formed his own company and took the to Ford Motor Co., which had been unsuccessfully working on the same idea for years. Ford made a deal with him and studied his device, then inexplicably backed out. In several of Ford's next year's models, however, they introduced a version of his device, claiming they'd developed it themselves. Kearns sued, but quickly found that challenging a major corporation in court is a lengthy, costly and intimidating undertaking. Still, he persisted and the movie follows the epic legal battle he waged from 1969 to 1982, during which he ended up representing himself and turned down a succession of lucrative settlement offers because an admission of guilt of Ford's part was not part of the package. Beautifully acted by Kinnear, the audience really feels for Kearns as he pursues the Ford Corporation to admit their wrongdoings. While most would have taken the money and been satisfied, Kearns stood up to fight right and wrong and in the end he wins. Representing himself in court with the help of his children was a bold step, one that he KNEW had to be taken. Although him standing up for the everyday man may have cost him his wife, his children kept him going, knowing that it was never about the money and all about the principle. This movie really worked mainly because of Kinnear and I highly recommend it. A lovely 4 on my "Go See" scale.

This dog was ALMOST cute enough to not have to be put down


In Disney's unabashedly silly talking-dog movie BEVERLY HILLS CHIHUAHUA, Chloe (voiced by Drew Barrymore), the ridiculously spoiled title pet, is swept away from her comfortable 90210 existence, when the impulsive niece (Piper Perabo) of her wealthy owner (Jamie Lee Curtis) combines dog-sitting with a vacation in Mexico. When Chloe gets lost south of the border, her scrappy Chihuahua admirer, Papi (voiced by George Lopez), embarks on a mission to bring her back home. While Chloe's pint-size dog in shining armor searches for his posh crush, she must contend with the rough-and-tumble side of life, learning a few important lessons along the way.


Directed by Raja Gosnell, who is no stranger to dog-themed live-action/CGI flicks (see SCOOBY-DOO), CHIHUAHUA is an amusing diversion that is custom-made for canine lovers. Barrymore and Lopez are pitch-perfect in their vocal performances, and they are ably assisted by a bevy of Latino talent, including Andy Garcia, Edward James Olmos, and Cheech Marin. Although the film doesn't give its human actors a lot to do, it doesn't matter much, since the dogs are the reason for the entire show. In fact, the more the movie concentrates on its furry protagonists the more giddily entertaining it gets, as exemplified by a fun, fantastical doggie musical sequence that serves as CHIHUAHUA's undeniable highlight. I have seen a lot of bad movies this year and will no doubt see a lot more, but the biggest surprise I've experienced is that Beverly Hills Chihuahua isn't one of them. It reminded me that there are some movies made that are not in fact designed to appeal to folks like me. And while that certainly doesn't excuse its many shortcomings, not the least of which its absence of monsters, superheroes or pneumatically-engineered babes, the bottom line is that at absolute worst Beverly Hills Chihuahua is inoffensive family fun.Drew Barrymore provides the voice for Chloe, a pampered Chihuahua who gets lost in Mexico when her temporary caretaker Rachel (Piper Perabo) decides to head south of the border for a weekend getaway with her girlfriends. Before Rachel can find her, Chloe gets kidnapped and thrown into a kennel where she is scheduled to fight a Doberman named El Diablo (Edward James Olmos). Thankfully, another dog named Delgado (Andy Garcia) intervenes, but not before Diablo's owner Vasquez (Jose Maria Yapzik) notices her diamond-studded collar. Slowly, Chloe and Delgado begin to make their way out of Mexico and back to her home in Beverly Hills, with Rachel frantically trying to track her whereabouts even as Vasquez hunts her down in order to steal her million-dollar collar. Writers Analisa LaBianco and Jeffrey Bushell seem at least to be aware that they're mining the dregs of "human" movies for their compendium of clichés before they embrace them; including a storyline where bored lapdog Chloe is seduced by her passionate gardener Papi (George Lopez) is funny enough, but they go for broke featuring a dog with undiagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder, and much of it almost works because the rest of the movie is equally if not more ridiculous. Ultimately, I can think of only one intentional joke that I laughed at, which involves a mountain lion doing a double take (the first in animal history, if I'm not mistaken) at the sight of a growling army of Chihuahuas. But I found myself surprisingly amused by much of the rest of it, mostly because it's hard to believe that someone actually spent time coming up with the idea for a certain joke or plotline or, yes, a dog with undiagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder. ("Talk to the paw" – seriously?) Really, the only problem with the film is that every time you think it's over, something else happens, which suggests that a kitchen-sink approach to plotting was in fact the only way that the filmmakers could stretch their idea to feature length. Beverly Hills Chihuahua is by no means a good movie, but as plain-old bad ones go, it's as generic and inoffensive as they come. A silly 2 on my "Go See" scale.

This Express wasn't worth it

Universal Pictures' The Express
This inspirational sports drama, The Express, tackles the true story of Ernie Davis (Rob Brown). The first black football player to win the coveted Heisman, Davis faced obstacles both on and off the field. Dennis Quaid costars as Syracuse Orangemen coach Ben Schwartzwalder. Even though the story of Syracuse running back—and the first African American Heisman Trophy winner—Ernie Davis has never been told on the big screen before, it’s hard to watch the new biopic The Express without feeling a certain sense of déjà vu. Just take a look at the plot elements for a second. A ’60s-era black athlete encountering prejudice in a white-dominated sport? Wasn’t that movie called Glory Road? A gruff coach whose views on life and the game are changed forever thanks to one great player? Sounds a lot like Hoosiers. A football legend-in-the-making whose career is tragically cut short by cancer? Oh man, that Brian’s Song gets me every time!
Dennis Quaid  and Rob Brown in Universal Pictures' The Express
The Ernie Davis story has all the makings of a poignant, rousing triumph over adversity, but it blows it on every count. Young Ernie is just obnoxious. He stutters sooooo badly it's just too much. We already know we're facing racism and underdog issues. Considering Davis overcoming his stutter is not even part of the movie, it's really not relevant to the first act. Then the film gets triumphant way too early. Just making it to college is such a reward, and they start winning games right away, what exactly is the journey? And what are the stakes? If it's for Ernie to overcome the legacy of Jim Brown before him, that would be interesting. It's not that though. Once he starts playing, nobody really mentions Jim Brown again. If it's for Ernie to integrate with the mostly white team, I'm so not invested in that. There's a little infighting, but only between Davis and generic other players who aren't even established as characters. Is it for Davis to set a precedent as the first African-American Heissman Trophy winner? I mean, honestly, are they going to make a biopic about Halle Berry and Denzel Washington's Oscar wins? Is it for Davis to bring tolerance to the sport in the '60s? Well, he didn't seem to do that. That may be culturally important but it's not in the movie. Maybe it's just for Davis to win games, but then so what? Even then, they sweep all their victories so what's the suspense? Perhaps the most compelling minor plot thread is Davis overcoming unfair referees. So they let the other team pound on him and they don't call his touchdown. Boo hoo, you have to make a goal line play to score your points. After all this wondering about the point of the movie, it finally told me. It's dignity. I actually needed the coach's explanation of the entire movie, because it's not evident from the film itself. I wasn’t even roused by the athletic scenes. There are lots of hits and tackles. A lot of coaches and players talk about lines, gridiron, rush, carry, bowl. It sounds like horse galloping noises in the sound mix, for fans of superreality. Then so much happens in the end of the movie that it's like a whole different movie. THAT's the movie they should have made. The one where all the stuff happens to Ernie Davis. A disappointing 2 on my "Go See" scale.

Sex Drive

Summit Entertainment's Sex Drive

In Sex Drive, eighteen-year-old Ian Lafferty sets out on a cross country drive with his best friends Lance and Felicia in order to lose his virginity to a red-hot babe he met on the Internet. But the journey, filled with hilarious misadventures and raunchy escapades, teaches all three more than they expected about life and love. Randy, raucous and unexpectedly romantic, Sex Drive follows three friends on the road trip of a lifetime! Ian Lafferty (Josh Zuckerman) can’t seem to catch a break. He’s taunted by his cocksure older brother Rex (James Marsden), shown up in the romance department by his 14-year-old younger brother and humiliated by his job at a mall donut shop. But Ian’s biggest problem is that he’s about to start college as a virgin! Getting nowhere with the girl of his dreams and longtime “best friend” Felicia (Amanda Crew), Ian resorts to the Internet for dates. He soon hooks up with Ms. Tasty, a flaming hot blonde who can’t wait to get busy. The only catch: Ian has to drive 500 miles from Chicago to Knoxville to consummate the deal. Egged on by his devil-may-care pal Lance (Clark Duke), Ian risks life and limb by appropriating “The Judge,” Rex’s prized vintage Pontiac GTO. With Lance and Felicia in tow, he hits the road for a one-time rendezvous that will rock his world! Car trouble, a stint in the pokey, a buggy tow with an Amish farmer (Seth Green) and an afternoon at a roadside carnival all complicate Ian’s journey. As he presses on to get to Knoxville before Ms. Tasty gives up and goes home, the trio’s trail of mayhem closes in on them with hilarious consequences. Will Rex find Ian before he reaches Nirvana? Will a cuckolded husband exact revenge on Lance just as he seems to have found true love? Will Ms. Tasty live up to her Internet profile? Will Ian realize what he really wants? And most importantly, Will Ian, Felicia and Lance survive the bumpy road to adulthood with all its unexpected twists and turns?


In our era, films like Road Trip or the new Sex Drive filter their leering, gross-out, smash-and-grab antics through a scrim of 80's nostalgia. You're no longer just watching raunchy teen trash — you're watching an affectionate homage to the raunchy teen trash of yesteryear. What is new is the way that Internet culture has ratcheted up the shock value. When Ian (Josh Zuckerman), a virgin who thinks he’s met the online hookup of his dreams, jumps into his brother’s 1969 GTO to drive from Chicago to Knoxville, he and his pals — Felicia (Amanda Crew), whom he secretly adores, and Lance (Clark Duke), who adores himself — undergo a set of escapades that run from the sleazy to the sick. Lance, played with a spew of attitude by newcomer Duke (who could be a baby member of Weezer), finds a few girls of his own, one with a scatological fetish. The sheer pileup of boner gags and the use of a certain three-letter gay slur — I don't even like printing the word, but it's now woefully routine in youth comedy — is relentless. Yet Sex Drive twits its own lost innocence with a knowing backward glance (the winsome leads deserve a more humane movie), and Seth Green is uproarious as an Amish farmer who speaks in sentences so passive-aggressive, they're like tiny slaps. An hilarious 4 on my "Go See" scale, just for Seth Green alone.

I wished this Lie had more Body to it

Body of Lies, based on Washington Post columnist David Ignatius’ 2007 novel about a CIA operative, Roger Ferris (Leonardo DiCaprio), who uncovers a lead on a major terrorist leader suspected to be operating out of Jordan. When Ferris devises a plan to infiltrate his network, he must first win the backing of cunning CIA veteran Ed Hoffman (Russell Crowe) and the collegial, but perhaps suspect, head of Jordanian intelligence. Although ostensibly his allies, Ferris questions how far he can really trust these men without putting his entire operation – and his life – on the line.


Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Roger Ferris, an American intelligence officer based on the ground, in the eye of the storm, as it were, but controlled by his CIA boss Ed Hoffman (Russell Crowe) thousands of kilometres away in Washington, DC. The jet-propelled narrative, which is filled with suspense and action in the best Scott tradition (the director has always been a consummate storyteller), also gives some insight into the impenetrable difficulties of the situation. Ferris speaks Arabic, he knows the region intimately, he's as much at home as it's possible to be in Iraq or Jordan, where he's on friendly terms with the urbane head of the Jordanian General Intelligence Department, Hani Salaam (Mark Strong). Hoffman, on the other hand, podgy and middle-aged and frequently seen coping with the demands of his small children while giving life or death orders over a secure phone line, sees the bigger picture, or at least that's what he claims. Giant television screens afford him the images recorded by spy planes; the chatter of tapped phone lines provides further information. Perhaps because he's usually so far from the action, he cares next to nothing for the little people involved in the US's war on terror; if the innocent are killed, it's just collateral damage and nothing to lose any sleep over. Ferris is more concerned because, unlike his boss, he is in contact with the pawns in the deadly games being played in the most dangerous circumstances. When an innocent Jordanian architect is chosen at random to be set up as the leader of a terrorist cell, Ferris goes along with the scheme in the hope it will flush out the terrorist leader the CIA is really after, but he does everything he can to protect the innocent, sometimes at the risk of jeopardising one of Hoffman's grand designs. Body of Lies may not tell us anything we didn't already know about the way the US does business in the Middle East, but it's not really compelling. Partly this is because of the performances: DiCaprio and Crowe are unbelievable, while Strong is chillingly impressive as the impeccably smart Jordanian security chief. As an Iranian-born nurse whose relationship with Ferris results in not unexpected complications, Golshifteh Farahani is luminous. (There's a fine scene in which her married sister, who has invited Ferris to lunch, peppers him with barely hostile questions about what he's doing in Jordan.) This one was OK, but not good enough to make me recommend it. Wait until it reaches DVD. A 3 on my "Go See" scale.

Treat the friends you have with special care

How to Lose Friends & Alienate People

Sidney Young (Simon Pegg), a smalltime, bumbling, British celebrity journalist, is hired by an upscale magazine in New York City. In spectacular fashion Sidney enters high society and burns bridges with bosses, peers and superstars. After disrupting one black-tie event by allowing a wild pig to run rampant, Sidney catches the attention of Clayton Harding (Jeff Bridges), editor of Sharp, and accepts a job with the magazine in New York City. Clayton warns Sidney that he'd better impress and charm everyone he can, if he wants to succeed. Instead, Sidney instantly insults and annoys fellow writer Alison Olsen (Kirsten Dunst). He dares to target the star clients of power publicist Eleanor Johnson (Gillian Anderson). He upsets his direct boss Lawrence Maddox (Danny Huston) and tries to make amends by hiring a stripper to dance for Lawrence during a staff meeting. Sidney, of course, doesn't stop there, finding creative ways to annoy nearly everyone. His saving graces: a rising, sexy starlet develops an odd affection for him, and in time, Alison whose friendship with him might be the only thing saving Sidney from torpedoing his career.


A sweetly boorish British tabloid journalist (Simon Pegg) lands a dream job at a trendy New York magazine, where his behavior earns him nothing but contempt—and the grudging compassion of one co-worker (Kirsten Dunst). Writer Peter Straughan fictionalizes Toby Young’s memoir of his stint at Vanity Fair into a romantic comedy pairing Pegg and Dunst like two mismatched socks that look surprisingly nice together. Not every comic idea works, but the movie is often wickedly funny, and it reaches a special plain in the beautifully written (and played) scenes between the two stars. Jeff Bridges glowers as the magazine’s editor, Danny Huston plays a smarmy associate and Gillian Anderson, in a rare comic turn, sinks her teeth into the role of a carnivorous publicist. Go and laugh because Simon Pegg does it again without his over the top comedic skills seen in "Hot Fuzz" or "Shaun of the Dead". He proves here that he can STILL be funny without going over the top. A laughable 4 on my "Go See" scale.


When a sudden plague of blindness devastates a city, a small group of the afflicted band together to triumphantly overcome the horrific conditions of their imposed quarantine.

The themes of "Blindness" go by in a blur. When residents of a nameless cosmo polis are suddenly struck blind, the vagueness seems so deliberate that the allegory could be steering our attention to AIDS, pacifism, the surreal craziness of Latin American dictatorship or the Golden Rule. Director Fernando Meirelles ("The Constant Gardener") situates the outbreak in an unidentified international-flavored city. When one man suddenly loses his sight while his car is stopped at a traffic light, the shocking ease with which total strangers slip into bad Samaritanism sets the grim tone. You don't normally expect a movie to be this unpleasant to sit through unless it's about the Holocaust or was directed by Edward Burns. Blindness seems to be contagious, and soon so many people have been struck blind that an authoritarian government forces them into an abandoned mental hospital. Among them are an ophthalmologist (Mark Ruffalo) and his wife (Julianne Moore), who can see but pretends to be blind so she can look after her man. Why she alone is immune is a mystery; she's sort of like the doctor in "The Plague." As the wards fill up with helpless victims and the halls teem with human waste, a younger man (Gael Garcia Bernal) declares himself dictator - first jokingly, then not. Things that shouldn't matter anymore suddenly matter more than ever - race, money, jewels.

Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo in Miramax Films' Blindness

I kept hoping the meaning would click into place, but it never quite did. The story seems designed to apply to whatever fear is nibbling around your subconscious. If the moral is that we all ought to be nice to each other, that isn't quite enough with which to close out such a strange, sometimes harrowing and sometimes wicked movie. This was done well enough to keep you entertained, scared and at times downright repulsed, but that's the point. What would you do if you lost the most important of the five senses? Or better yet, what do you do if the one closest to you loses his sight along with the rest of the city except you? How do you cope? Some scenes at times seem a bit too graphic, but it doesn't change the fact that this one was really well done. A hefty 4 on my "Go See" scale.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Death Note is close enough to the manga to please

Death Note follows the mysterious L and others as they try to catch cool and brainy high school student Light Yagami who has come into possession of a notebook that allows him to summon a murderous demon simply by writing the name of his intended victim. Although Light is aware that killing is wrong, he strongly believes that the violent crimes he perpetrates are justified because "evildoers must die in order to create a better society."

Earlier this year I was excited to hear about the US finally having a chance to view Death Note. Based on the manga with the same name, we meet Light Yagami (Tatsuya Fujiwara), a smart high school student who just turns out to be bored with his day to day life until he finds a book which plainly says DEATH NOTE on the front. Inside the cover are the rules on how to use it. The main one stating "The human whose name is written in this note shall die". Light desides to test the notebook on a street thug who he sees harassing a woman. When the thug gets into an accident he realizes that the book is real. Soon after we meet the owner of the Death Note, a Shinigami (or Death God) named Ryuk. We find out that he dropped his notebook on earth because he was pretty bored himself.
Death Note

Light decides to use the notebook to rid the world of evil doers and create a perfect world. This catches the attention of the mysterious and brilliant (if not extremely odd) investigator known only as L (Ken ichi Matsuyama). Light then starts a sort of a figurative chess game with L. Light now aptly named Kira by his followers, has the upper hand. With L not knowing who Kira really is, Light can stay one step ahead of L. And he does this very well. It also doesn't hurt Light that his father Soichiro (Takeshi Kaga) who is the police chief and the head of the Task Force put together to stop Kira along side L (or Ryuzaki as he likes to be called during the investigation). Soon Light gets followed by the FBI (which he disposes of brilliantly with the help of Ryuk), which takes Light to a whole different level because now we see that he won't anyone stand in his way to create his perfect world. Does he care anymore about right and wrong?
By the end of the movie we've met Light's girlfriend and the fiancee of the FBI agent that was sent to track him, Naomi Misora. She gets pretty close to figuring out that Light is Kira and he gets rid of her in a very smart way after trying new things with the Death Note. We also meet someone new in TV personality Misa Amane or "Misa Misa" (Erika Toda) who gets her own Death Note. she has made it very clear that she is a supporter of Kira. What will her story be in part 2? Wait and see. There were a few small details that were changed from the manga for the movie, but they a few and far between. The original plot was still there and that was what got me hooked to the manga in the first place. I LOVED seeing the live action version of a manga that I really enjoyed and I can't wait for part 2 Death Note : The Last Name. This one gets a definite 5 on my "Go See" scale. It's truly a must see!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

These Role Models needed role models

In this comedy, Paul Rudd and Seann William Scott play two men who are hardly model citizens. But their bad behavior puts them in trouble with the law, and soon the men must act as mentors as a part of their community service. Christopher Mintz-Plasse (McLovin of Superbad fame), costars in Role Models.

Danny (Rudd) and Wheeler (Scott) work for energy-drink company Minotaur, driving a novelty monster truck to schools where they -- Wheeler costumed as hairy "Minotaur Man" -- plug their legal-high product via "Just say no to drugs!" slogans. It's a no-brainer job that suits Wheeler fine, leaving him free to obsess 24/7 over his only real interest, which is getting laid. Danny, however, thinks he's wasting his life. Feeling a need for change, he impulsively proposes to longtime girlfriend Beth (Elizabeth Banks), but she's so fed up with his sourpuss attitude that she dumps him outright. An already horrible day ends in a tow-truck altercation that leaves the two boy-men facing 30 days in jail on various charges. Beth, a lawyer, manages to cut them a deal for 150 community service hours instead. They're handed over to Sturdy Wings, a big-brother-type mentoring program run by Gayle Sweeney, played by Jane Lynch as a one-woman Molotov cocktail, equal parts perky, stern and lunatic. Wheeler gets assigned Ronnie (Bobb'e J. Thompson), a fatherless 10-year-old with a vile temper and filthier mouth. Sarcastic Danny gets Augie (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) a teenage dork with no friends outside the realm of his ultra-dweeby live-action medieval fantasy role-playing game. Needless to say, these forced pairings do not start well, though with equal predictability, bonding does eventually occur -- if not always in the most age-appropriate ways. There's also no great surprise to the adult blunders that nearly wreck these intergenerational relationships, or to the big, climactic setpiece in which the guilty parties make sacrifices that prove they care after all. Although, it was overly predictable, it still worked on all levels. Rudd and Scott work well together as friends (or not as Danny repeatedly tells Wheeler) who are polar opposites. Throw in a couple kids, one who is so foul mouthed you'd think that you were talking to "Child's Plays" Chucky, and another who is so nerdy that you'd think he'd feel a lot better all alone in his room (Mintz-Plasse gets another ride out of his "Superbad" persona, endearing in his devotion to a hopelessly dorky hobby but more self-aware and less manic than Fogell was.) Rudd's weary cynicism serves him as well as ever, though one wonders if the actor (who co-wrote the screenplay) isn't enjoying it as much as he appeared to in earlier outings like "Knocked Up. Although supporting players earn their keep. Banks' role is too straight to allow her to get any laughs, but Jane Lynch (as a reformed druggie in charge of the kids) plays up some repeated jokes to good effect. The real scene-stealer is the rock band KISS: They don't appear in the film, but a couple of the biggest laughs rely on them. Role Models is one that will be remembered as one of the funniest comedies of the year right beside "Tropic Thunder". A laugh out loud 4 on my "Go See" scale.