Friday, November 28, 2008

Gimme some more Milk

His life changed history. His courage changed lives. In 1977, Harvey Milk was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, becoming the first openly gay man to be voted into public office in America. His victory was not just a victory for gay rights; he forged coalitions across the political spectrum. From senior citizens to union workers, Harvey Milk changed the very nature of what it means to be a fighter for human rights and became, before his untimely death in 1978, a hero for all Americans. Sean Penn stars as Harvey Milk under the direction of Gus Van Sant in Milk, filmed on location in San Francisco.

Academy Award winner Sean Penn takes the title role in Gus Van Sant's biopic tracing the last eight years in the life of Harvey Milk, the ill-fated politician and gay activist whose life changed history, and whose courage still inspires people. When Milk was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977, he made history for being the first openly gay man in American history to be voted into public office. But the rights of homosexuals weren't Milk's primary concern, as tellingly evidenced by the wide array of political coalitions he formed over the course of his tragically brief career. He fought for everyone from union workers to senior citizens, a true hero of human rights who possessed nothing but compassion for his fellow man. The story begins in New York City, where a 40-year-old Milk ponders what steps he can take to make his life more meaningful. Eventually, Milk makes the decision to relocate to the West Coast, where he and his lover, Scott Smith (James Franco), found a small business in the heart of a working-class neighborhood. Empowered by his love for the Castro neighborhood and the success of his business, Castro Camera, Milk somewhat unexpectedly begins to emerge as an outspoken agent for change. With a growing support system that includes both Scott and a like-minded young activist named Cleve Jones (Emile Hirsch), the charismatic Milk decides to take a fateful leap into politics, eventually developing a reputation as a leader who isn't afraid to follow up his words with actions. In short order, he is elected supervisor for the newly zoned District 5, though this seeming triumph is in fact the catalyst for a tragedy that starts to unfold as Milk does his best to forge a political partnership with Dan White (Josh Brolin), another newly elected supervisor. Over time it becomes apparent that Milk and White's political agendas are directly at odds, a revelation that puts their personal destinies on a catastrophic collision course. Two remarkable transformations are at the heart of Milk, Gus Van Sant's affecting portrait of Harvey Milk, the slain 1970s San Francisco politician and civil rights icon. First and foremost is Sean Penn's title performance, which woos gold in the coming awards season. Here he's hope personified, easily adopting his subject's ready smile that is so much in evidence in The Times of Harvey Milk, Rob Epstein's Oscar-winning 1984 documentary on the first openly gay politician in California's history. The other impressive transformation is director Van Sant, who has spent most of the past decade avoiding linear narratives. Working from a screenplay by Dustin Lance Black (TV's Big Love), Van Sant embraces conventional biopic format as he tracks Milk's progress from a closeted Wall Street money man who, on the eve of his 40Th birthday, decides to out himself and move west to enjoy San Francisco's supposedly more liberal climes. Milk makes the leap with Scott Smith (James Franco, making the most of a small role), a man 20 years his junior whom he brazenly propositions in the New York subway. The two set up a camera shop in San Fran's Castro neighbourhood, where a wave of pink immigration is shocking the city and the nation. As a gay man himself, Van Sant might have been expected to try to elevate his subject beyond the near-sainthood status accorded him from his 1978 assassination at the hands of a deranged fellow politician. Instead he takes the more honest and dramatically satisfying route. He astutely uses documentary footage to remind viewers of how unliberated the 1970s really were. But he leaves Penn's magnetic empathy to speak for itself. The actor portrays Milk as a flawed and self-interested man for whom personal epiphany came slowly, but who experienced a history-altering "road to Damascus" moment when it did. He is at first happy to play the hippie businessman, dubbing himself "Mayor of Castro Street" as he quickly builds alliances by organizing popular street festivals and promoting the lifestyle he had until recently practiced in secret. Politics beckon when he becomes frustrated with conservative agendas, which contrary to perceptions are very much a force (and remain so today, as the recent Proposition 8 vote to reverse gay marriage rights demonstrated). Milk's repeated attempts to attain public office are stymied as voters react with fear to the prospect of a gay takeover of city hall. Ever the optimist, beginning every public speech with, "I'm Harvey Milk and I'm here to recruit you," the charismatic chameleon successfully mobilizes public support against a proposition to fire gay teachers, a civil rights landmark. He forges ties with everyone from Teamsters to conservative politicians, the latter including fellow rookie supervisor Dan White (Josh Brolin, brilliantly understated), a Vietnam vet and former fireman who will later shoot Harvey and Mayor George Moscone over a political dispute. That killing, which the movie portends with an elegiac score and scenes of Milk predicting his assassination in tape-recorded statements, is presented with little varnishing of the known facts. Milk's one weakness is that it attends to political triumphs and defeats more faithfully than it does personal ones. Lovers and friends played by Franco, Emile Hirsch, Diego Luna and others are well presented, but make little impact next to Penn's imposing take on martyred idealism. The film understandably and movingly centers itself on Penn's portrayal of a hedonist-turned-activist who discovered that in order to change his world, he had to find his voice. This is definitely one to see, so don't miss it. A hefty 5 on my "Go See" scale.
WTF? Moment: Midway through the movie there is a scene where San Fran citizens storm the streets after Proposition 6 gets passed, Milk and Jones (Penn and Hirsch respectively) rally together to calm them down. As Milk takes Jones to get his bullhorn, there's a brief moment where they stop and talk. As they are talking in a fairly close up shot of them, the boom mike can be seen hovering overhead for most of the scene.

Not so sure that I want to go back to Synedoche


Theater director Caden Cotard (Hoffman) is mounting a new play. His life catering to suburban blue-hairs at the local regional theater in Schenectady, New York is looking bleak in Synedoche, New York. His wife Adele (Keener) has left him to pursue her painting in Berlin, taking their young daughter Olive (Sadie Goldstein) with her. His therapist, Madeleine Gravis (Davis), is better at plugging her best-seller than she is at counseling him. A new relationship with the alluringly candid Hazel (Morton) has prematurely run aground. And a mysterious condition is systematically shutting down each of his autonomic functions, one by one. Worried about the transience of his life, he leaves his home behind. He gathers an ensemble cast into a warehouse in New York City, hoping to create a work of brutal honesty. He directs them in a celebration of the mundane, instructing each to live out their constructed lives in a growing mockup of the city outside.


However, as the city inside the warehouse grows, Caden's own life veers wildly off the tracks. Somewhere in Berlin, his daughter is growing up under the questionable guidance of Adele's friend, Maria (Jennifer Jason Leigh). His lingering attachments to both Adele and Hazel are causing him to helplessly drive his new marriage to actress Claire (Michelle Williams) into the ground. Sammy (Tom Noonan) and Tammy (Emily Watson), the actors hired to play Caden and Hazel, are making it difficult for the real Caden to revive his relationship with the real Hazel. The textured tangle of real and theatrical relationships blurs the line between the world of the play and that of Caden's own deteriorating reality. The years rapidly fold into each other, and Caden buries himself deeper into his masterpiece. As he pushes the limits of his relationships, both personally and professionally, a change in creative direction arrives in Millicent Weems (Dianne Wiest), a celebrated theater actress who may offer Caden the break he needs. Like Charlie Kaufman's earlier movies — "Being John Malkovich" and "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" — "Synecdoche, New York" is bizarre, whimsical and at least a little confusing. The previous films also had unexpected heart and warmth. This new film is a dour, depressing and somewhat cold work. As a result, audiences will be less likely to wade through its complexities and various self-indulgences as they were in those other movies. Also, the comic fantasy has the unsure, tentative feel of the work of a first-time filmmaker — it marks screenwriter Kaufman's debut as a big-screen director, after all. Philip Seymour Hoffman stars as Caden Cotard, a New York stage director with personal and professional issues. His marriage to artist Adele Lack (Catherine Keener) has become strained, and he's become a hypochondriac. Not too surprisingly, Adele leaves him, and takes their young daughter, Olive (Sadie Goldstein), with her to Europe. The depressed Caden finds a sympathetic ear in pretty ticket taker Hazel (Samantha Morton), as well as Claire (Michelle Williams), an actress in his current production. He's also won a fellowship, which has given him the financial freedom to stage a more personal work. So Caden has decided to create a massive "theater piece" based on his own life and those of his friends and family. Unfortunately, we don't particularly like any of these characters. Hoffman's Caden is too self-involved and whiny, and it seems ridiculous that he would have all these women competing for his affections. There are amusing bits here and there, though — Hazel's house is apparently on fire all the time. But the whole production-within-a-production thing is almost as pointless as it is confusing, even if it does afford a part for always welcome Dianne Wiest. In the audience, you pine for the end credits. It's a shame because you can sense every now and then that Kaufman is latching onto something deep and moving. Like many of Kaufman's screenplays, "Synecdoche" dwells on the misery that comes with artistic creation and the pain and paralysis caused by love, but was it enough to keep me satisfied? Not really. While I liked Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine, this one just didn't do it for me. A saddened 2 on my "Go See" scale. Go and see it for Hoffman's performance if not for anything else.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

This time Frank can't say no

In Transporter 3, Frank Martin (Jason Statham) has been pressured into transporting Valentina (Natalya Rudakova) , the kidnapped daughter of Leonid Vasilev (Jeroen Krabbé), the head of the Environmental Protection Agency for the Ukraine, from Marseilles through Stuttgart and Budapest until he ends up in Odessa on the Black Sea. Along the way, with the help of Inspector Tarconi (François Berléand), Frank has to contend with the people who strong armed him to take the job, agents sent by Vasilev to intercept him, and the general non-cooperation of his passenger. Despite Valentina's cynical disposition and his resistance to get involved, Frank and Valentina fall for each other, while escaping from one life-threatening situation after another.

"Transporter 3," the third installment of the popular franchise, leaves much to be desired as a movie, but it continues to display the appeal of Jason Statham as a viable action star, at a time when the genre desperately needs new actors. In this chapter Statham plays Martin as a courier assigned under pressure with transporting by car Valentina, the kidnapped daughter of Leonid Vasilev, the Ukrainian head of the Environmental Protection Agency. In due time, despite Valentina's cynical disposition and his resistance to get involved, Frank and Valentina fall for each other, while escaping from a series of risky situations. It's too bad that after a decent beginning, the movie devolves into a bunch of cliches. Is there need for a love affair in this sort of picture? Probably not, but the producers do not want to alienate completely the female viewers, even if they are well aware that what drives the series is the support of very young males, the primary target audience. The arduous journey--and the saga is a road picture--takes him from Marseilles through Stuttgart and Budapest, culminating in an exotic locale, Odessa on the Black Sea, a site seldom seen in Hollywood flicks.

Jason Statham is back as Frank Martin. For those who need a reminder, in 2002, Cory Yuen's "The Transporter" introduced audiences to former Special Forces officer Frank Martin. A skilled courier for underworld criminals, Frank is the quintessential man of action and few words. He is paid luxuriously for not asking questions, and never really looking at his cargo. Of course, his superiors know that things will change as soon as Frank discovers the contents of his "packages." This time the villian is the mysterious Johnson (mind out of the gutter folks, please!) played by "Prison Break" star Robert Knepper. He has kidnapped Frank to make a delivery for him when the previous driver that Frank suggests for the job fails. He has to pick up where Malcolm (David Atrakchi) left off when he literally comes crashing in on him. He awakes with a device on his wrist set to explode if he gets too far away from his car. His cargo is Valentina (Rudakova). She firsts comes of all dark and gloomy going on and on about how she knows that she's gonna die. Soon she perks up a bit when after making a stop by his friend Otto's (Timo Dierkes) place to take a look at the device on his wrist Johnson sends guys to "help him get back on track", where he ends up half dressed after taking care of all 5 of them by himself. In one of the best fighting scenes of the series he single-handedly takes down a "Giant"(Semmy Schilt). Slowly the two start to fall for each other along the way to their final desination in Odessa. Which then entails Frank to rescue Valentina from the bad guys who've taken her to make their escape by train.

The end result is Statham taking care of the bad guys and getting the girl. This wasn't meant to be dramatic or over the top funny, just a guy trying to do the job that he was paid to do without being killed in the process.It was good for what it was and seeing Jason shirtless is always a treat. LOL Although it wasn't great, it still satisfied me, but it only gets a 3 on my "Go See" scale.
WTF? Moment : During the big chase scene where another driver is brought in to drive Valentina , Frank chases him down on a bicycle to keep from being blown to bits for being far away from the car (crazy enough, but there's more). Once the guy stops outside of an obvious sweatshop window, Frank jumps through the window feet first into the car on the driver side smashing the window and then proceeds to kick the driver out of the car. Explain to me how in the next scene the window is magically restored? He's got the window up like the previous scene never happened.

If my family was this nuts I'd stay away too

When upscale, happily unmarried San Francisco couple Kate (Reese Witherspoon) and Brad (Vince Vaughn) find themselves socked in by fog on Christmas morning, their exotic vacation plans morph into the family-centric holiday they had, until now, gleefully avoided in Four Christmases. Out of obligation—and unable to escape—they trudge to not one, not two, but four relative-choked festivities, increasingly mortified to find childhood fears raised, adolescent wounds reopened…and their very future together uncertain. As Brad counts the hours to when he can get away from their parents, step-parents, siblings and an assortment of nieces and nephews, Kate is starting to hear the ticking of a different kind of clock. And by the end of the day, she is beginning to wonder if their crazy families’ choices are not so crazy after all.

Kate (Witherspoon) and Brad (Vaughn) have a good life. They love each other without having the need to get married. They role play at bars to keep the relationship exciting and they avoid their families as much as possible (because you can't spell families without lies). Like at Christmastime they lie to their families about doing charity work in order to not have to spend time with them. They plan vacations to Fiji and mail their gifts. On the third year of doing this nothing goes as planned when a heavy fog rolls in preventing them from traveling. To make matters worse there is a TV news station reporting on the flight delays and the newscaster picks Kate and Brad to interview prompting calls from their families. Both of their parents are divorced which means spending the day with each parent. First stop, Brad's father, Howard (Robert Duvall). Howard shares his house with his other sons Dallas (Tim McGraw) and Denver (Jon Favreau) and their families. Dallas and Denver are trained UFC fighters and love attacking Brad for fun. Once things calm down we soon find out that Brad changed his name from Orlando (each son was named after the city that they were conceived in). Kate is a little upset by this because after three years they should know these things. To make the visit even more upsetting the family had set a ten dollar limit on gifts which Brad didn't know about so when Dallas' son Connor is surprised with an XBox from his Uncle Brad and then accidentally told by Brad that there is no Santa Claus he upsets his brothers. Brad also bought a satellite dish for his father which then Howard insists on installing together. This goes so badly that in the end the satellite ends up broken along with half of the living room being trashed. All the while Kate is getting to know Denver's wife Susan (Katy Mixon) and her child. While they converse in the kitchen Kate is asked to hold Susan's nine month old daughter who at first doesn't stop crying. Once she stops crying Kate discovers that she may just like the idea of kids. Next stop is Kate's mothers (Mary Steenburgen) house where Kate is teased for not wanting children by her sisters. In one of the funniest scenes Kate is holding her niece who then proceeds to throw up Exorcist-style on her black blouse. Brad, sitting nearby at the time, retches and suddenly gets sick saying " You gotta get outta here. I can't breathe. I'm gonna do it too!" While she cleans up she finds a pregnancy test and decides to take it, but when her niece bursts into the bathroom and takes the test after thinking its a magic marker she's forced to take drastic measures to get it back when her niece leads her to the Jump Jump in the backyard where the kids play keep away. At the same time in the house Brad is learning about how Kate went to fat camp when she was younger and how she may have had lesbian tendencies high school because she hung out with a butch girl named Jo (Sue Fletcher). Kate's mom is a devout Christian and they go to a church service lead by Pastor Phil (Dwight Yoakam), who she is also dating. When Pastor Phil announces that the people who were scheduled to play Joesph and Mary in the church pageant have the flu, Kate and Brad become unwilling volunteers. When Kate gets stage fright, Brad takes the lead by doing his and her lines then throwing in a little improvisation, which in turn upsets Kate. Next up is Brad's mom (Sissy Spaceck) . She's a little neurotic and she's dating Brad's ex-best friend promting Brad to say "We used to be friends. We used to be best friends, but now you're sleeping with my mom and it's a little bit weird for me." Things then get a little strange when the family plays Taboo and it seems that Denver and Susan know more about each other and score the most points. On the way to see Kate's father (Jon Voight), Kate expresses her feelings that she may want more out their relationship, but Brad likes things as they are and they decide to go their separate ways. While Kate talks to her father and her sisters about what she's feeling Brad goes back to his dads house and decides that maybe wanting more wouldn't be such a bad thing.

Finding a little balance and compromising is the end result here. Loving someone means really getting to know them. While Vaughn and Witherspoon are the stars here, you can't help but love the supporting cast. Vaughn and Witherspoon work well together as the couple that seems to have it all figured out. It's got little chuckles and laugh out loud scenes and it's one of those movies that'd make you appreciate your own family. I laughed. I loved it. Go see it and laugh too. This movie is perfect for the holiday season. A jolly 4 on my "Go See" scale.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Sink your teeth into this dark love story


TWILIGHT is an action-packed, modern-day love story between a teen girl and a vampire. Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) has always been a bit different, never fitting in with the girls at her school. When Bella is sent to live with her father in the rainy little town of Forks, Washington, she doesn’t expect much to change. Then she meets the mysterious and dazzlingly beautiful Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), a boy unlike any she’s ever met. Edward is a vampire, but he doesn’t have fangs and his family is unique in that they choose not to drink human blood. Edward has been waiting 90 years for a soul mate, which he finds in Bella. They are soon swept up in a passionate and unorthodox romance. Edward must struggle to resist the primal pull of her scent, which could send him into an uncontrollable frenzy. But what will they do when a clan of new vampires – James (Cam Gigandet), Laurent (Edi Gathegi) and Victoria (Rachelle Lefevre) – come to town and threaten to disrupt their way of life?

Last night the AMC River East 21 here in Chicago was THE place to be when a theatre filled with teen and twenty-somethings (and me) and critics from all over sat down to see the pre-screening of Twilight based on the best selling novel with the same name written by Stephenie Meyer. The story of Bella Swan's love for the vampire Edward Cullen has captured many hearts on paper since the book came out in 2005. Now it finally makes its jump to the big screen and I'm glad to say that it holds true to the book.

When her mother remarries, Isabella Swan (or Bella as she likes to be called) decides to give her and her new husband some space. So, she moves from sunny Phoenix to cloudy, rainy Forks, Washington to live with her father Charlie (Billy Burke) where she is welcomed with open arms. She first meets Charlie's closest friend Billy Black (Gil Birmingham) and his son Jacob (Taylor Lautner) who she apparently used to make mud pies with when they were younger. Once at her new school she's instantly shown the ropes by Eric (Justin Chon), Mike (Michael Welch), Jessica (Anna Kendrick), and Angela (Christian Serratos). Angela likes Mike, but he has a crush on newcomer Bella. Soon, it's lunchtime on her first day and she sees these pale teens come into the lunchroom. Here we meet Rosalie (Nikki Reed), Emmett (Kellan Lutz), Alice (Ashley Greene), Jasper (Jackson Rathbone) and finally Edward (Pattinson). The Cullens have been marked as freaks, but Bella can't keep her eyes off of the captivating Edward (and neither can he keep his eyes off of her). Next up she has Biology where she gets to finally meet Edward. It turns out that the only open seat is next to him, but he seems repulsed by her (What's up with that?). Soon after he disappears for a few days and she can't get him off of her mind. When he does return he finally introduces himself to her. The next day she almost gets hit by a van in the school parking lot and Edward saves her. From here on their romance blooms when she soon figures out that he's a vampire, but not a bad one. He also has a unique power where he can read minds, but it troubles him that he cannot read hers her response is as follows "Is there something wrong with me?" To which he replies "I tell you that I can read minds and you're worried if there is something wrong with you?" We then see that she is not afraid that he is a vampire. His family and him don't drink human blood to survive, they only hunt animals. Thanks to his "father and mother" Carlisle (Peter Facinelli) and Esme (Elizabeth Reaser), the Cullens lead a "vegetarian" lifestyle. All while Bella and Edward are steadily growing closer, people have been attacked by what seems to be some kind of animal. Although, the Cullens know better. When the Cullens invite Bella to play baseball with them their thoughts are confirmed when their game gets interrupted by a small vampire group consisting of leader Laurent (Gathegi), James (Gigandet), and Victoria (Lefevre). James becomes so enticed by Bella that he decides to hunt her not caring about his actions at all. As the Cullens move in to protect her, James pulls all the stops in tracking her down even going as far as to find out where she previously lived and using an old video of her and her mother Renee (Sarah Clark) to lure her to him at her old ballet studio. He then proceeds to attack her and film it just so he can send it to Edward later on. Luckily Edward and the rest of the family make it to her, but not before James has broken her leg and bitten her. Without their help she would turn into a vampire herself. James is killed by the Cullens but it's now Edward's choice to save her by sucking out the venom that would make her immortal. It ends with Edward taking Bella to the prom (even though her leg is broken and she really can't dance to begin with) where they promised to love each other forever, even though she would like to be turned into a vampire to make that possible ('cause she'd get old and die and he would not). There is an ending shot here of Victoria watching the couple as they dance the night away. With revenge in her eyes (James was her lover) she sneaks away in the night....
Just as with the book, this movie stole my heart. The love that Bella and Edward have is something that most of us wish to achieve in our lives. I did have a few complaints about the movie though. In the first scene where Edward takes Bella running with him just looked plain weird. Showing his legs was NOT a smart move because it just didn't look believable. Then there is another scene later on where he's telling Bella about how he came to be immortal and its raining as they sit in a tree and his hair is wet like he'd just stepped out of the shower, but in the next scene where he is still telling his story his hair is magically perfect once again. Bah! What's up with the crappy editing? Other than that, it was just as I expected to be. 100% true to the book. The characters were played very well and I can't wait for the sequel. So, if you've fallen in love with the books as I have you'll definitely want to see the movie. You won't be disappointed. A dark 4 on my "Go See" scale.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Kym makes it to her sister's wedding

When Kym (Anne Hathaway) returns to the Buchman family home for the wedding of her sister Rachel (Rosemarie Dewitt), she brings a long history of personal crisis and family conflict along with her in Rachel Getting Married. The wedding party’s abundant cast of friends and relations have gathered for an idyllic weekend of feasting, music and love, but Kym — with her black-humor and knack for bombshell drama — is a catalyst for long-simmering tensions in the family dynamic.

Anne Hathaway started off in her teens as the cheery lead of "The Princess Diary" series, but in the decidedly adult, Bergmanesque drama "Rachel Getting Married," you need to double-check the credits to make sure it's the same actress. Hathaway reinvents herself as Kym, the family's black sheep who gets out of rehab just in time for her sister's wedding. From the first scene, in which her dad, Paul (Bill Irwin), picks her up when she's released, it's clear Kym is nobody's princess. She's been through years of drug addiction, and the maelstrom of pain spread to all those around her. She's lost the trust of her family, testing the boundaries of their love. And now she's back, with a sardonic flip of the hair and self-deprecating wit. In her twisted, self-centered view, the marriage is just another way for her sister to prove her superiority. Kym may not be too far off target. Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt) has some series issues of her own, and snipes at Kym in a passive-aggressive manner that chips away at her fragile self-confidence. But Rachel treats Kym like royalty compared to the indifference shown by their flighty mother (Debra Winger), who tellingly isn't helping Rachel plan the wedding. Paul, a warm but emotionally numb figure, acts as a referee between Rachel and Kym. Overshadowing all of the family interactions is a dark moment from the past — Kym's low point — that hardly anyone will acknowledge. The secret comes to light in offhand snippets of dialogue and solemn moments of awkward silence.
"Rachel Getting Married" is Hathaway's coming-out party, and even if she doesn't land any major awards or nominations, it establishes her as a performer of awesome depth. She makes you care for Kym, fear for her and even despise her — much the way her family reacts. Given to jarring shifts between lucid insight and cataclysmic meltdowns, Hathaway makes Kym seem like a real person rather than a cartoonish concoction. Thing is, Kym isn’t a villain. Surrounded by opportunities to backslide she stubbornly resists and religiously attends the local 12-step meetings. Even here, though, she can’t hang back, sneering at the banal testimony of the other addicts. Then she delivers her own story, and it’s so horrifying and riddled with guilt it’s a wonder Kym’s family hasn’t disowned her. Or that she hasn’t killed herself. Hathaway's vulnerable turn as Kym makes a character that could have been unlikable very sympathetic instead. Supporting performers DeWitt and Bill Irwin, who plays their doting father, are good, too. (Debra Winger pops up briefly as his estranged wife.) I would have to say that this is THE best movie that Anne Hathaway has done so far in her career. She made a good choice when she decided to do this movie and so did I in choosing to see it. Make a good choice also. See this movie. A strong 4 on my "Go See" scale.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Who? What? Where am I? Take me back to the casino!


Following the betrayal and death of Vesper Lynd, James Bond (Daniel Craig) makes his next mission personal in Quantum Of Solace. The hunt for those who blackmailed his lover leads Bond to ruthless businessman Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric), a key player in the organization which coerced Vesper. Bond learns that Greene is plotting to gain total control of a vital natural resource, and must navigate a minefield of danger and treachery to foil Greene's plan.


QUANTUM OF SOLACE, which has possibly the worst title of a major motion picture this year, is the latest in the long running and extremely successful Bond series, of which I am a big fan. Sure, the franchise has had its ups and downs, but QUANTUM OF SOLACE has the dubious honor of being the first Bond film that manages to be downright boring. Previous Bond movie disappointments, such as ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE, had enough good parts and characters to keep our interest. But there isn't anything worth seeing in QUANTUM OF SOLACE, save the traditional Bond theme music, which is relegated to the closing credits. Don't even get me started on the disastrous opening credits, which features the blandest and worst Bond song ever. Elevator music makers would reject it as too pathetic. The problems with QUANTUM OF SOLACE, which are many, can't be blamed on Daniel Craig's second rendition of James Bond. In CASINO ROYALE, Craig proved that he was a terrific choice to be the latest actor to play the super suave 007. Indeed CASINO ROYALE was so good that I ranked it as one of the best films of 2006. While QUANTUM OF SOLACE probably isn't quite bad enough to make my worst of the year list, it would undoubtedly top any list I might make of this year's most disappointing movies. Although I went into the theater fully expecting to love QUANTUM OF SOLACE, or at the bare minimum, to at least like it and be entertained by it, I should not have been so naive. I should have remembered my own trailer rule. As I have said in many other reviews, the trailer for a movie can be a dead giveaway. If the trailer is good, it reassures you of very little. The movie itself may or may not be worth seeing. It's actually pretty easy to make an exciting trailer by using the best bits from any movie. But, if the trailer is bad, as QUANTUM OF SOLACE's trailer certainly is, one can be reasonably sure that the movie will stink. After seeing this film, I am surer than ever of my trailer rule. So what is wrong with QUANTUM OF SOLACE? A lot. I'd start with the director, Marc Forster. He appears clueless as to what he is trying to attempt. As the movie starts, it doesn't even appear to a Bond movie at all. In a dizzying series of blurry shots, cut to a spastic microsecond metronome, we watch an action hero who wants badly to be the next Jason Bourne. Although I hated seeing Bond transformed into a cliched knockoff of an action hero from another series, this turned out not to be the worst part of the production. Eventually, the film slows down enough to let the actors speak. It was at this point that the film really began to sag. Normally, Bond movies feature wonderfully outlandish villains with great diabolical schemes to destroy the world. This time, however, the movie's villain is as bland and his aspirations are as pedestrian as his last name, Greene (Mathieu Amalric). Trying for pseudo relevance, something Bond films normally and wisely eschew, the villain this time just wants to secure controlling interest in the oil field of Bolivia. Ho hum. Besides being saddled with an insipid villain, Bond is also paired with a lifeless Bond girl. Not all of the women in Bond films have been good, but, at least they have all been fairly alluring. Olga Kurylenko's Camille brings nothing to the movie. She isn't particularly tough, smart or sexy. She is just there -- the token female opposite Bond. I had high expectations, but this time I was let down. A saddened 2 on my "Go See" scale.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Bolt is fully awesome!

For super-dog BOLT (John Travolta), every day is filled with adventure, danger and intrigue – at least until the cameras stop rolling. When the star of a hit TV show is accidentally shipped from his Hollywood soundstage to New York City, he begins his biggest adventure yet – a cross-country journey through the real world to get back to his owner and co-star, Penny (Miley Cyrus). Armed only with the delusions that all his amazing feats and powers are real, and the help of two unlikely traveling companions -- a jaded, abandoned housecat named Mittens (Susie Essman) and a TV-obsessed hamster named Rhino (Mark Walton) -- Bolt discovers he doesn’t need superpowers to be a hero.

Last night was the prescreening of Bolt and I gotta say that I LOVED it! LOL I'm a huge fan of animated movies and I've been excited about this one ever since I saw the first trailer. So, Bolt is this incredible dog with superpowers (super speed, laser sight, and a super bark). His biggest job is to protect his owner, Penny from the green eyed man, Dr. Calico, but when he fails and loses her it becomes his mission to rescue her....the thing is...none of this is real. Bolt is the star of his own television show, but he doesn't know it. None of the world he knows is real (except the love that Penny feels for him). When he breaks free of the Hollywood set that he calls home and accidentally shipped to New York he slowly gets a reality check like no other. Since Dr. Calico uses cats as his pets he enlists the help of Mittens to lead him back to Penny. Along the way in a Ohio campground they meet Rhino the hamster who just happens to be Bolts biggest fan. Mittens is the first to realize that things are not as they seem with Bolt. She then makes it her mission to teach Bolt how to be a regular dog. Upon getting back to Hollywood Bolt finds out that he has been replaced (much to the disliking of Penny) and decides to leave her be until there is a fire on the set. Then it's Bolt to the rescue!
Another great Disney movie. The animation was great and the voice actors really did a great job. And even though the movie is titled Bolt, Rhino steals the show with every scene that he's in. Voiced by Mark Walton, Rhino appoints himself as Bolt's sidekick. In one of my favorite scenes, while the duo goes to rescue Mittens from the animal shelter, Bolt sees a guard reading a paper and Rhino's response is "I'll snap his neck." A little guy with a lot of heart. You'll find yourself laughing at everything he says because all the way through he believes Bolt is who he says he is. He's Rhino's hero. There's quite a bit here for all ages. The dog who is a hero even if he doesn't have super powers, the smart talking cat, and the hamster with a hero's heart. Go and see this movie. I highly recommend it! 4 on my "Go See" scale.
WTF? Moment : After Bolt breaks out of the box in New York he's seen running down the street with quite a few pieces of Styrofoam packing peanuts covering his body, but if you notice there is one peanut that is on his side close to his bolt. As he runs through the city looking for Penny the peanut is there, but as he attempts to jump over the hole in the sidewalk the Styrofoam peanut disappears then magically reappears when he climbs out of the hole after his failed attempt to jump it.

A New Addition

Starting with Bolt we will now add our WTF? Moments to our reviews. We will point out the obvious (and the not so obvious) mishaps seen during the movie, because while most are enticed with the movie The Cynic and I notice the lil' things that just don't make sense in continuity during the movie. For example, I LOVED The Dark Knight, but if you pay close attention you'll notice that Heath Ledger's hair changes length during the movie. Highly noticeable is during the scene where The Joker is in the interrogation room. His hair is never the same length during the scene. Didn't notice that? I sure did. LOL So, those are the things that we're gonna point out. Enjoy.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

How come my senior year wasn't this fun?

The first HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL movie to be released straight to the silver screen, HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL 3 finds the cast of the beloved earlier installments, all students at East High, dealing with the ups and downs of senior year. While all the characters have their own dilemmas, the central issue, as in past films, is the relationship between sweethearts Troy (Zac Efron), the captain of East High's Wildcats basketball team, and the bookish Gabriella (Vanessa Hudgens), who face the possibility of imminent separation when Gabriella gets a chance to attend college early.
With this third outing in the wildly popular Disney series, director Kenny Ortega takes full advantage of HSM3's big-screen leap, staging musical numbers that go far beyond the scope of the movie's predecessors (see the lavish "I Want It All" by resident East High diva Sharpay, played by Ashley Tisdale). While the series regulars are in fine form and a few new characters are introduced, the film really belongs to Efron, who gets the most screen time and is clearly on a trajectory for stardom beyond HSM. Rather than hold back their budding leading man, the creators and producers of HSM3 let Efron take the spotlight, much to the movie's advantage. Designed to welcome the few viewers who might be unfamiliar with HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL, SENIOR YEAR certainly offers plenty of valedictory excitement, and will leave fans giddy with delight. As the movie opens it is senior year at East High and the Wildcats are in a battle to be state champions. Team Captain Troy Bolton (Zac Efron) is rallying his team for one final victory. He is being cheered on by his girlfriend Gabriella (Vanessa Hudgens). His best friend Chad (Corbin Bleu) is also on the team and he is being cheered on by his girlfriend Taylor (Monique Coleman). Meanwhile school drama queen Sharpay (Ashley Tisdale) is planning how she and her brother Ryan (Lucas Grabeel) can make it big on the stage. She is also planning to convert the senior musical into a show spotlighting her talents. But then Troy and Gabriella get involved and that makes things more complicated. While they deal with this, the prom, the big game and graduation, they once again put together their spring musical - a celebration of their high school lives. Hudgens is sweet if somewhat insubstantial, but she has a nice chemistry with the vastly more talented Efron. While his teenage angst is occasionally overwrought when translated into song, his dancing has a grace and physicality, and he makes his perfect-boyfriend dialogue more realistic than it has a right to be. Also memorable (though in a very different way) is Lucas Grabeel as the put-upon twin brother of the villainous Sharpay (Ashley Tisdale). It took a while to figure out why he looked so familiar, but eventually it became clear that his exuberant choreographer-wannabe character was channeling the late Peter Allen. So, as I sit here almost in my thirties I will admit that I liked HSM 3 and I would like to see the first two. All The hype was well deserved. I actually had fun. So go ahead and take your pre-teens and teens to see this movie and maybe you parents will enjoy it as well. A hefty 4 on my "Go See" scale.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Can you unlock the door now? This isn't my House.


In rural Alabama, two couples find themselves in a fight for survival in House. Running from a maniac (The Tin Man) bent on killing them, they flee deep into the woods and seek refuge in a house. They soon realize the killer has purposely lured them to this house and that they are now trapped. As they huddle around an old fireplace, a tin can falls through the chimney. Scrawled on its side is a message from the killer, establishing his House Rules. The rules call for their deaths unless they kill at least one of the four. They have less than 12 hours to find a way to survive. At sunrise the game is over and everyone dies if the killer's demands aren't met. What they quickly learn is that the only way out... is in. But going further into this house--where unknown challenges await them--is equally deadly.


If you wanted to look up the word "clusterfuck" in a cinematic dictionary, this is the film they would recommend to you. Horrible acting, horrendous editing, and possibly one of the most retarded stories I've ever seen committed to celluloid. There were so many plot holes that my head nearly exploded from the sheer stupidity of the film. And what the hell was Michael Madsen thinking? He's an actor, unlike the rest of the people in this horrid excuse for a film. I like Michael Madsen and the plot seemed like something I might enjoy. I watched this film and I regret it. At no point throughout the film does it explain what is going on and why. The characters just second guess as to what is happening and I was frustrated at the lack of explanation for what was going on. The character development in this movie was rushed to the point that you did not care either way what happened to them and the characters were also stupid, bland and very gullible. Miscast of the year has to go to Michael Madsen here. He was in the film for all of 5 minutes and he pretty much did nothing within that time.The director does not explain what is going on and why. When I watch a film I want answers and the fact that this film does not give any, ruins it entirely. In closing, House was a big let down. I'm not even gonna try to explain the plot, It's SO not worth it. One of the worse of the year, House gets a 1 on my "Go See" scale. Don't bother with this one.

Woody Allen weaves a tale of love & lust

Two young Americans spend a summer in Spain and meet a flamboyant artist (Javier Bardem) and his beautiful but insane ex-wife (Penelope Cruz) in Vicky Christina Barcelona. Vicky (Rebecca Hall) is straight-laced and about to be married. Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) is a sexually adventurous free spirit. When they all become amorously entangled, the results are both hilarious and harrowing.
A four-way romance between Penélope Cruz, Scarlett Johansson, Rebecca Hall, and Javier Bardem, is a flatfooted tour of female dissatisfaction. Vicky (Hall) and Cristina (Johansson) are American abroad in Spain for the summer. Like a nature host, Christopher Evan Welch narrated their inner lives before either breaks the seal on her lip-gloss. Brunette Vicky is the brains—a master’s student certain she’s making the smart move in marrying a stable, well-connected, well-off young businessman (Chris Messina). Blonde Cristina is busting with emotions, unfounded artistic ambitions, and little else save ScarJo’s ripe natural gifts. She does for loose tank tops what Lana Turner did for sweaters. Allen has said he loves writing roles for the bombshell and he’s done those talents justice by casting her as a bad actress living her life like a role on an outré soap opera. When a confident painter named Juan Antonio (Bardem) struts up to their dinner table and insists that both meet him at the airport in an hour for a weekend holiday where they’ll delight in food, wine, culture, and each other (“Life is short, life is dull!” he enthuses), Cristina leaps aboard and despite Vicky’s damned sensible refusal, she buckles in eventually to keep her friend safe. The girls have a merited debate about Bardem’s attractiveness. Allen considers Juan Antonio a candid romantic. Still, both wind up in bed with him and Cristina moves in. Vicky Cristina Barcelona kicks with naïve Johansson headed for ruin. Neither ingénue’s romance is enough to carry the film. We’re anxiously awaiting the long-hyped entrance of Cruz as Bardem’s tempestuous ex-wife, the suicidal one who stabbed him for cheating and is so erotically charged even his father (Josep Maria Domènech) cops to sexy daydreams of his former daughter-in-law. Cruz detonates the film, drawing the unspoken complications in to glaring focus as she smokes, glares, and freely admits her thoughts of killing her romantic rivals. Johannson is America’s pinup—the clean, soft blonde—but over her decade and a half career, Cruz has sharpened into a different beast entirely, a fierce man-eater who disdains her prey. As soon as she enters the picture, Johansson’s watery artist is forced to shift gears from free spirit to doting mom, Woody’s savviest observation of the roles women adopt in competition. Christina changes the most throughout the film. She starts out a loving and giving romantic but eventually comes to question if she is ready for the chaos of Juan’s love life. Allen’s screenplay reveals Juan’s personality slowly, peeling away layers that alternate between complete devotion and the childlike selfishness of a man who unknowingly take from those to whom he is closest. Many people will see this film based on the combination of Woody Allen and Javier Bardem alone. Putting that aside, Bardem and Johansson are both simply outstanding. For anybody who was terrorized by him in "No Country" this is a must see. Between those three films he has established himself as one of the best in the business. Johansson was great, again, but probably will not get nominated for the Oscar, again, because she didn't get enough lines. Go and see this one if not for the Cruz/Johansson kiss alone! A risky 4 on my "Go See" scale.

Dubya was never worth my time


Whether you love him or hate him, there is no question that George W. Bush is one of the most controversial public figures in recent memory. In an unprecedented undertaking, acclaimed director Oliver Stone is bringing the life of our 43rd President to the big screen as only he can. W takes viewers through Bush’s eventful life -- his struggles and triumphs, how he found both his wife and his faith, and of course the critical days leading up to Bush’s decision to invade Iraq.


In the first scene of Oliver Stone's meandering examination of the fall and rise, and fall, and fall, of our 43rd president, there is a line intended (accurately, I think) to sum up our American power structure over much of the last century or two. The scene is a fraternity hazing session at Yale. Naked pledges, the scion of the Bush family among them, are in a basement seated shivering on ice while liquor is forced down their throats. One of the upperclassmen smirks: "Honor, decency, and God-given character – that, along with our family fortunes, is why we rule the world." There is very little arguing with the second part of that sentiment. And it is difficult to imaging a man with George W. Bush's résumé rising from the ashes of his prodigal indiscretions to the political heights he has reached without family connections driving the bus. Back then, though, young George tells his fraternity brothers he has no ambition to follow in the family political footsteps. He's one of those boys who just wanna have fun. The young Dubya, not to put too fine a point on it, was a drunk and a wastrel. By many accounts, Stone has soft-pedaled some of the worst of it. There's plenty of excessive drinking on display here, but little or no drug use, a pursuit those who knew the future president in his salad days remember vividly. Business failures and his dodgy stint with the Texas Air National Guard are painted with a light brush, though there is a wry mention of his trading of Sammy Sosa when he was an owner of the Texas Rangers baseball team. Stone jumps from ledge to ledge without always showing us enough of the important landscape in between. The young Dubya we see here has a good deal of natural charm, and Josh Brolin shines his full light on that quality. You can see why good-time girls and poker players and drinking buddies gravitated to him. You also understand how his family connections made him an attractive guy for Texas businessmen to pal around with. We've seen too many documentaries, read too many exposés of this administration and its misdeeds, to be satisfied with this. Even so, a lot of what it does show us is fascinating. W's courtiers are portrayed in a one-dimensional way. Richard Dreyfuss's Dick Cheney is the scheming neo-con, trying to manipulate W and always making digs at Jeffrey Wright's Colin Powell, who is the voice of reason and restraint. Thandie Newton's Condoleezza Rice is brisk but prissy. Subtlety and humour aren't Stone's strong points. Some of the jokes (the use of Robin Hood music on the soundtrack) are heavy-handed. The tone of the storytelling shifts in disconcerting fashion. Some sequences are satirical in intent. Others seem to belong in a family melodrama. The romance between W and Laura (Elizabeth Banks) is handled in surprisingly delicate fashion. Oliver Stone has a terrible sense of timing. This is a film that has been overtaken by events and already seems out of date. The debate about George W Bush's presidency is already long since surely over. With capitalism in near-collapse, the exit strategy from Iraq still not negotiated, his approval rates plummeting and even former followers turning against him, there are few who would argue that his term in office has been anything other than disastrous.If Stone had made this film four years ago, it would have had far more relevance and urgency than it does now. The director has said that his aim in making the movie was to ask "who the man is". His problem is that few audiences are likely to care any more. They just want to move on and so do I. A 2 on my "Go See" scale.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Lucky to be Happy


In Happy-G0-Lucky, Poppy is an irrepressibly free-spirited school teacher who brings an infectious laugh and an unsinkable sense of optimism to every situation she encounters as a single woman in London. When Poppy’s commuter bike is stolen, she signs up for driving lessons with Scott (Eddie Marsan), who turns out to be her polar opposite – a fuming, uptight cynic who takes himself extremely seriously. As the tension of their weekly lessons builds, Poppy’s story takes alternately hilarious and serious turns -- careening from flamenco classes to first dates--becoming a touching, truthful and deeply life-affirming exploration of one of the most mysterious and often the most elusive of all human emotions: happiness.


Sally Hawkins shines as the lead, Poppy, in one of the best performances of the year, a seemingly naive extrovert with a very expressive and optimistic attitude towards life and all her hardships. She laughs at unfortunate events that she "suffers", such as getting her bicycle - her form of personal transport, of which she enjoys to wave at people whilst riding - stolen, as if it were a cruel irony and she gets the joke. This upbeat spirit is rarely broken, even if the polar opposite of attitudes comes into contact with her unless taken to the absolute limit. She is an inviting figure, one that which desires to inspire her mood and thoughts on life. In doing so, she becomes a primary teacher, when the mind is at it's spongiest. There is a scene where she experiments creativity with her long term roommate Zoe (Alexis Zegerman) in the form of cardboard boxes and more materials to make a bird-like costume. Poppy is the definitive authority figure in the film. To match her personality is the excessive clothes with often delicate unnecessary items just to provide bright colours in the darkest of hues in the scenes. This brightness transcends her performance and makes her my absolute favourite leading performance of the year. The most expressive supporting performance comes from Eddie Marsan, as Scott, Poppy's driving instructor. However, his character is the opposite to Poppy's, always agitated and enraged when flaws occur. His character does not mix with her at all. The driving scenes are the utmost emotionally engaging scenes in the entire film and form the structure of routine giving a basis and understanding of the time frame therefore the development the characters go about in their relationships with each other - especially since they meet during his last shift so he wants to escape the working mode and enter the more relaxing mode of no responsibility. Scott constantly misinterprets Poppy's actions, as if she's sexually teasing him for her pleasure or patronizing his behaviour. During their rather short journeys of stopping, starting, arguing, repeating explanations - the tension really builds up. Every time Scott's rage is starting to show Poppy strikes him down with a joke to calm him; or maybe herself. I won’t tell you where the situation with Scott goes, but it’s probably not anywhere you’d expect. He is, though, the perfect would-be foil for Poppy... were she foilable. Everything makes her laugh, even pain, and it seems she is constitutionally incapable of not trying to spread her joy. And the longer she endures in that -- not that she’s “enduring”; she’s not faking it and not putting it on -- the more real it starts to become for us. Happy-Go-Lucky had the power to make a grin evolve across my face then wipe it straight off again within the same shot. Her comfort is very limited and only appears again with the most prominent support of Zoe (a wonderfully sarcastic performance which is an absolute joy to see every time) - even more so than her family that do appear not necessarily in an agreeable situation. There is also a rather striking and bleak scene in which Poppy encounters a tramp (played by Stanley Townsend) where he confronts her in a strange gibberish without a seeming understanding of his correct surroundings. This hobo is a symbolism of freedom, of complete and utter creativity with his language and imagination. When Poppy is presented with this person she is in a state of confusion as what to do. Poppy is the ultimate expression of the dictum that life is what you make it: you can be happy, or you can be angry, but it’s not going to change a damn thing, except how much fun you have along the way. And particularly considering the dismal state of the world today, that’s a wonderful possibility to consider as you’re walking out of the theater. A happy 5 on my "Go See" scale. Go and see this movie!

An Arc that really works

They're back to tie the knot--or not? Noah (Darryl Stephens), Alex (Rodney Chester), Ricky (Christian Vincent), Chance (Douglas Spearman) and their significant others travel to Martha's Vineyard for a weekend wedding getaway. Drama ensues as, one-by-one, their relationships start to crack under the pressure of closer examination. Newly successful screenwriter Noah looks to his friends for advice as he prepares to move his relationship to a more serious level while struggling to keep his first studio movie alive. But the friends are of little help as they juggle their own issues. Elder statesmen Chance and Eddie (Jonathan Julian) attempt to scratch their seven-year itch, but they worry their marriages have permanently lost their spark. And playboy Ricky flaunts his barely legal college student fling, Brandon (Gary LeRoi Gray), in the face of his monogamous friends but hides a surprising secret that threatens to rock the house.

The television series “Noah’s Arc,” which began on the Logo network in 2005, has yielded, “Sex and the City” style, its own feature: an agreeable melodrama unlikely to reach an audience beyond that of the show, which concerns the lives of prosperous gay black men in Los Angeles. The movie, taking place two years after events at the end of the second season, follows the nuptials of the sensitive Noah (Stephens) and the cautious Wade (Jensen Atwood) on Martha’s Vineyard. In attendance are the flamboyant Alex (Rodney Chester), managing the food and preparations; Chance (Spearman), a work-obsessed professor, accompanied by his neglected partner of four years, Eddie (Jonathan Julian); the promiscuous Ricky (Vincent), who secretly covets Noah; Brandon (Gray), a student of Chance’s, who is dating Ricky and fretting about coming out to his family; and a closeted British rapper, Baby Gat (Jason Steed). Given the Jacuzzi and two bachelor parties, the occasion prompts a flurry of flirtations, jealousies and amorous encounters. And yet, despite some drinking (with nary a hangover afterward) and a fling or two, the prevailing mood isn’t campy or disco-decadent. Rather the emphasis is squarely on heartfelt communication, monogamy and child rearing: this group shares a prayer at the dining room table. Jumping the Broom tests the supposed openness of gay culture by the casual way it celebrates Noah’s identity. Noah’s wedding to straight-acting Wade (Jensen Atwood) takes place in Martha’s Vineyard, down the road from P. Diddy’s estate—a rare admission of black class advancement. This revelation continues with Noah’s persistent suitor Baby Gat, a closeted British rapper whose wealth and suave machismo broadens gay stereotypes. The film’s implicit sponsorship of gay marriage follows its extensive view of black society and genuine endorsement of African-American tradition (such as the ceremonial broom-jumping, an ethnic marriage ritual dating from slavery that symbolizes community). A new character, Brandon, Ricky’s twenty-something trick who was also Chance’s student, pushes against the clique’s tenuous, desperate privilege. Struggling with coming out to his parents and the confusions of out-gay life, Brandon asks, “Is this all there is to being gay—being a slut who can’t say no or being bitter and pretending you’re happy?” It offers a subtle revolution: The snap of Ricky telling Brandon: “I’m too old to be mind-fucked and you’re too young to do it.” The image of Noah tenderly braiding Wade’s hair into cornrows breaks masculine tradition—but it also makes history. Written and directed with restraint by the show’s creator, Patrik-Ian Polk, the film ends just as you’d expect: with vows of conjugal commitment. A Hearty 4 on my "Go See" scale.

The perfect Ice for any occasion


Mystery novelist Richard Stevenson's character Donald Strachey comes to life thanks to the acting talents of Chad Allen in this suspenseful film. ICE BLUES centers on gay detective Strachey as he investigates a murder connected with a sizable donation to a youth center.

Don Strachey (Chad Allen)

Don Strachey (Chad Allen), America's most famous gay private eye, is back. Don's life partner, Tim (Sebastian Spence), is approached by a mysterious man who offers him three million dollars for his pet charity, the Albany Youth Center. After finding the man’s cold, dead body in the front seat of their car, Don and Tim are pursued by hit men determined to get the money back. Don sets off with his sidekick, Kenny (Nelson Wong), to try and unravel the deceased man's story. They soon find themselves involved with a twelve-year old murder mystery, shady business deals, and missing persons. As events begin to spin out of control, Donald and Tim join forces in a violent showdown between the dangerous kiddie-porn ring leader Frank Zaillian, his cold-blooded associates and the wealthy and deceitful Lenigan family. Tim finds himself waist-deep in Donald’s mystery and the couple unites to fight against big business, personal demons and family betrayal. This oft-funny mystery will keep you entranced with every chilly twist and turn. The fourth installment in the Don Strachey Mystery series is quite enjoyable. It's got laughs and suspense that will keep you interested from beginning to end. A dangerous 4 on my "Go See" scale.

Friday, November 7, 2008

My pre-teen girlfriend is a vampire

In Let The Right One In, a fragile introverted boy, 12-year-old Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) is regularly bullied by his stronger classmates but never strikes back. His wish for a friend comes true when he meets Eli (Lina Leandersson), also 12, who moves into the apartment next door with a man who is presumably her father. But coinciding with Eli's arrival is a series of disappearances and macabre murders—a man is found strung up in a tree, another frozen in the lake, a woman bitten in the neck. Captivated by the gruesome stories and by Eli’s idiosyncrasies (she is only seen at night, and unaffected by the freezing cold), it doesn't take long before Oskar figures out that Eli is a vampire. Nevertheless, their friendship strengthens, and a subtle romance blossoms as the youngsters become inseparable. In spite of Oskar’s loyalty to her, Eli knows that she can only continue to live if she keeps on moving. But when Oskar faces his darkest hour, Eli returns to defend him the only way she can.

"Let the Right One In," a spooky Swedish thriller that manages to break the rules of the genre while holding on to many of the rituals that remain dear to the hearts of vampire fans. The twist here is that the vampire is an adolescent girl named Eli (Leandersson), who has been 12 years old, as she puts it, "for a very long time." Almost immediately she's smitten with Oskar (Hedebrant), a geeky blond kid who gets picked on by school bullies. Eli and Hakan are newcomers in a small town of sullen drunken locals who are suspicious of all newcomers -- let alone ones who act strangely while towns-people turn up dead and drained of blood. Hakan's efforts to carry on his work inconspicuously are ultimately as futile as Eli's to be invisible. It isn't long before she is left to her own vampiric devices, even as her feelings for Oskar deepen. Loneliness keeps them together, but the reality of their situation and the separateness of their private hells ultimately dooms them. Both Hedebrandt and Lena Leandersson are marvelously affecting in that minimalist Nordic acting style. While Eli shows Oskar how to stand up for himself, her ties to her serial-killer companion are loosened, and "Let the Right One In" becomes a perverse variation on a coming-of-age romance. It's at its most twisted when Oskar cuts himself and Eli responds with a frightening display of blood lust. This, however, turns out to be a rare example of her restraint. When she attacks an older woman, who quickly becomes a member of the undead, a colony of cats rips into the victim's flesh and makes mincemeat of her. And that's far from all; Eli is just saving up her energy for a shocker finale. There's just something vampirism and adolescence that makes for a perfect fit. If you think about it, the legend of the vampire has always been one of the outcast, the count in his castle who can never find love because he's only going to outlive his mortal beloved or end up sucking her blood. And when did you feel the most like an outcast? Like someone who will never find true love? The filmmakers do not feel the need to constantly advance the plot; one of the sweetest scenes has Oskar and his mother wandering around their apartment together while brushing their teeth! Alfredson brilliantly employs the Swedish snow and chilly, gray weather, and the climactic showdown, set in a swimming pool, is a stunner. But what finally emerges is a tender, moving relationship between two confused, lost young people. As a bonus, to the best of my knowledge, this is also the first movie to depict exactly what happens when a vampire enters a dwelling without having been invited. The bloody payoff stuff is there, the wall-crawling and flying, the vampire bursting into flames under sunlight, a decapitation. And yet, a movie with no small amount of blood (and some wicked revenge turned against the school bullies -- only one of whom is actually remorseless) manages to evoke sympathy and a weird sort of ennui-driven pathos. Eli and Oskar are a love story with all the subdued passion and subtext you'd never think to expect from a Swedish film. very surprising and very satisfying for any fan of the genre. Don't be afraid to let this one in. A hearty 4 on my "Go See" scale.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Why do you wear pajamas?

Through the lens of an eight-year-old boy largely shielded from the reality of World War II, we witness a forbidden friendship that forms between Bruno, the son of Nazi commandant, and Schmuel, a Jewish boy held captive in a concentration camp. Though the two are separated physically by a barbed wire fence, their lives become inescapably intertwined. The imagined story of Bruno and Shmuel sheds light on the brutality, senselessness and devastating consequences of war from an unusual point of view. Together, their tragic journey helps recall the millions of innocent victims of the Holocaust in The Boy In The Striped Pajamas.

THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PAJAMAS is a wrenching Holocaust story about a young German boy and his forbidden friendship with a Jewish child. Bruno (Butterfield) is living a charmed life in Berlin as the son of a high-ranking Nazi soldier, when his father (Thewlis) is suddenly transferred to a job out in the country. Bruno, as well as his sister Gretel (Amber Beattie) and mother (Vera Farmiga) must all join him at his new post. Bruno is lonely and confused by his new surroundings, and he doesn't understand why he can't wander the grounds or play at a nearby farm. The "farm," of course, is a concentration camp, though Bruno doesn't know this. He soon sneaks away to explore, and meets Shmuel (Scanlon) a prisoner of the camp. Shmuel is eight, the same age as Bruno, and the two form a timid, careful friendship, playing checkers and catch through the barbed wire fence. Bruno knows that his friendship with Shmuel is dangerous, but after witnessing brutal violence perpetrated against some very kind people, he has begun to question the Nazi doctrine of hate. He is no longer sure what to make of his soldier father, whom he once believed to be a hero. When he learns that Shmuel is in trouble, he vows to help him, and together the boys form an outrageous plan that culminates in the film's devastating climax. Farmiga and Thewlis put in excellent performances, while Scanlon and Butterfield, are equally impressive, doing a fine job of carrying the weight of such a heavy film. The BOY IN THE STRIPED PAJAMAS is a deeply moving and--it must be said--disturbing movie. But it is a remarkable story, told with masterly intelligence and grace. This intriguing wartime tale has an otherworldly quality that draws us into a gentle and increasingly haunting story. From Bruno's point of view, we see the cracks in his father's kind facade and his mother's struggle against the dawning truth. We explore the steely resolve of his father's young assistant (Friend) and how Gretel instantly attaches herself to him. And the prisoners (both Scanlon and Heyman's handyman) are likeable, interesting people, rather than the "evil, dangerous vermin" the Nazis see. That said, the film sometimes abandons Bruno's perspective to give us more traditional movie moments, especially in the heart-stopping final act. And there are a couple of obvious shock-tactics, such as the clouds of black smoke above the trees or a gruesome discovery in the basement. But when Bruno's father says, "We're in a war, we have to do this," the film suddenly sets itself in a much more resonant present that simply shouldn't be ignored. Unquestionably one of the saddest movies ever made, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas left me profoundly shaken. Since it is a child’s view of monstrous world events framed by the open-hearted perspective of innocence and vulnerability, it seems oversimplified at times. But that is its charm. And it is beautifully served by an exemplary cast. Mr. Thewlis is oiled and shiny as the spit-and-polish commandant whose duty overwhelms his life until his humanity as a father is discovered too late. Ms. Farmiga as the helpless mother caught up in the festering menace of lethal times is marvelous. Richard Johnson and Sheila Hancock are perfect as the grandparents who sense the coming terrors too soon and pay a dear price for their wisdom. But it is the two children—blue-eyed Asa Butterfield as Bruno and newcomer Jack Scanlon as the tortured Shmuel—who find the dignity to pare away the poisoned peel and flesh out the heart within. It doesn't provide a feel-good happy ending. It just tells an unforgettable story in very human terms as easy to follow as a textbook for first graders. It would be churlish to complain about so honorable an effort as this, but I think it might have been doubly powerful acted by Germans instead of Brits and Americans. Still, to be honest, that would have been an even harder sell, and I want as many people to see The Boy in the Striped Pajamas as humanly possible. A tragic 4 on my "Go See" scale.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Mac shines in last role


In Soul Men, two former backup soul singers Louis (Samuel L. Jackson) and Floyd (Bernie Mac) travel cross country to perform at a tribute concert in honor of their famous former band leader. They haven't spoken to each other in 20 years but reluctantly agree to travel together for the tribute performance.

If the soul lives on after man, then the movie Soul Men could not have been graced with a more fitting title, and one that incorporate by chance those multiple meanings. A showcase for three extraordinary performers - Samuel L. Jackson, Bernie Mac and Isaac Hayes, the movie is simultaneously an unscheduled farewell tribute to the latter two, whose sudden, untimely deaths occurred within a day of each other this past August, prior to what would be their last movie's release. The story of two backup singer has-beens of a once popular group who are pressured by promoters to get together again three decades later to pay tribute to their lead singer, Marcus Hooks (John Legend) who just died, Soul Men is a kind of musical memory lane road movie with lots of weirdly comical detours in between. Floyd (Bernie Mac) is a down in the dumps, bored and aimless leisure class insomniac, while Louis (Samuel L. Jackson) is a penniless but proud ex-con cellar dweller. The reunion of this depressed duo is far from smooth, to say the least. Resentment has barely subsided over the years, in connection with a long unresolved rivalry for the same woman. But those romantic grudges hardly seem to hold sway while the two make their way cross-country in Floyd's vintage chartreuse Eldorado convertible for the comeback concert at Harlem's Apollo, as both chase women from town to town, and Floyd keeps popping that Viagra. The production could have done without all the crude country yokel jokes as part of the itinerary of this incidental tribute in its own right to Hayes and Mac, but then who knew. Balancing out the vulgarities especially targeting older women for ridicule (okay, we forgive you this last time, Bernie) are musical interludes that just take your breath away. Beyond the language, there are some pretty hard-R scenes of sex, nudity and Viagra (an almost obligatory gag these days whenever the stars are over 50), so bringing the kids isn’t a terrific idea. That raunchiness clashes, however, with the tone of the overly broad supporting characters, including a too-eager intern (Adam Herschman) and Cleo’s hapless, gun-toting boyfriend (Affion Crockett). An impromptu deja vu rehearsal on a dusty road to 'I'm Your Puppet,' a rendezvous with Bernie Mac in a piano shaped coffin, of all places, and Isaac Hayes doing 'Never Can Say Goodby' over the closing credits are just some of the highlights. As for that closing sequence, Mac is shown in various outtakes and off-the-cuff moments cracking up the crew or a crowd of extras and speaking about how much he appreciates his career, saying that he’s determined to “cherish each doggone moment.” Bernie mac is at his best here and Samuel L. Jackson shines right along with him. So sad to see that one of his best movies, just happened to be his last one. Mac and Hayes will be greatly missed, but honor them by seeing this movie. A saddened 4 on my "Go See" scale.

real Pride and Glory in its cast

Pride and Glory shows a gritty and emotional portrait of the New York City Police Department, the film follows a multi-generational police family whose moral code is tested when one of two sons on the force investigates an incendiary case involving his older brother and brother-in-law. The case forces the family to choose between their loyalties to one another and their loyalties to the department.

This movie was a long time coming. Originally scheduled to star Russell Crowe, it was torpedoed by the events of 9/11. Who wants to make an anti-NYPD story after that? Clearly, nobody. But now it’s finally gotten made, maybe in a different iteration, but with a terrific cast, headed by Edward Norton, Colin Farrell, and Jon Voight. The story of an Irish family of NYPD cops, headed by Chief of Manhattan Detectives Francis Tierney, Sr. (Voight). His two sons, both detectives, Ray (Norton) and Francis, Jr. (Noah Emmerich) are members of the NYPD, as is his son-in-law, Jimmy Egan (Farrell). After four members of Francis, Jr.’s crew are murdered by a notorious gang member, Francis Sr. asks Ray to head the investigation. It suddenly becomes clear that Jimmy and his cohorts, all under Francis, Jr., are as bad as cops can get. The main problem I had with this film was its pace. It’s got terrific acting by everyone, but when director Gavin O’Connor (the son of a NYPD cop, from a smart script by Joe Carnahan and O’Connor), delves into the Tierney family’s personal life, the pace lags. There’s a B story about Francis, Jr.’s wife, Abby (Jennifer Ehle) who is in the last stages of a battle with cancer. She’s obviously inserted in the story to add to the pressure heaped upon Francis’ head and a dose of pathos that the film doesn’t need. While the dichotomy between loyalty to job and loyalty to family is appropriate, still every time the film switched to the Tierney family, pace slowed and my attention flagged. Other than that, this is a fine story of a well-meaning Irish family and how things can turn sour when it’s penetrated by one bad apple. It’s a tense story of mixed loyalties, expertly told.

Norton and Farrell give their usual exceptional performances. Not to be left behind is Voight, the controlling father, who thinks he knows what’s right and what needs to be done, forget what his sons think and feel. Ehle is exceptionally moving as the dying mother undergoing chemotherapy, who remains strong for her husband, but shows in a poignant scene how devastating it is for her to have to be taken from her child. Emmerich, as Norton's brother, is particularly fine in the role as a mostly genial, somewhat distracted commanding officer who has let his personal life overshadow work responsibilities. Farrell gives a typical bushy-browed, rough-and-scuff performance as a conflicted officer, but he's never able to make the character his own in the way that Norton does. What does stand out is Norton's quiet verve and the wallop of the film itself. Tremendously violent and bleak -- the city in its rainy winter setting seems dank, cold and listless -- "Pride and Glory" has a hardened, grim feel. “Pride and Glory” breaks no new ground in its ruminations on fathers and sons and the bonds of the NYPD, but it treads well-marked territory with energy and refuses to pull its punches or indulge in cheap sentiment or emotional gimmickry. It’s a film that’s as alive and chaotic as the Christmastime New York streets it depicts. A gritty 4 on my "Go See" scale.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Find out where you belong when you escape


In the highly-anticipated sequel to 'Madagascar,' Alex, Marty, Melman, Gloria, King Julien, Maurice and the penguins and the chimps find themselves marooned on the distant shores of Madagascar. In the face of this obstacle, the New Yorkers have hatched a plan so crazy it just might work. With military precision, the penguins have repaired an old crashed plane--sort of. Once aloft, this unlikely crew stays airborne just long enough to make it to the wildest place of all--the vast plains of Africa, where the members of our zoo-raised crew encounter species of their own kind for the very first time. Africa seems like a great place...but is it better than their Central Park home?


The five-year-old didn’t laugh as much as his 40-year-old father, which, granted, isn’t the basis upon which to conclude too much. Then again, most of the adults at a Saturday-morning sneak preview of Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa were clearly having a better time than the wee ones, which should be expected from a film proffering wisecracks, class-warfare one-liners, smoky backroom union brokering (including a monkey subbing a spark plug for a lit cigarette), and Alec Baldwin reprising his every last dick-boss role as an alpha lion with a shellacked, gray-streaked mane. The kid adored all heck out of the first movie, which, like its subversive sequel, featured the voices of Ben Stiller, Jada Pinkett Smith, David Schwimmer, and Chris Rock; he didn’t have much to say about the second one, save for his fondness for the gag about the crashing plane and the penguins, the latter of whom emerged as the acting-out favorites among the pre-K crowd. Alas, a sad note as Stiller’s Alex is reunited with his parents in Africa—the dad’s played by Bernie Mac, whose performance ranks among his richest. On a happier note: Sacha Baron Cohen’s King Julien has an expanded role, while Rock’s zebra, who isn’t as special as he thinks, provides a kids’ movie with a thoughtful moral about fitting in and standing out. I loved the new addition of characters such as Moto Moto (voiced my Black Eyed Peas bandmate Will.I.Am), and Mukunga (Alec Baldwin). In The end they all realize where they belong. Africa is now their home and it looks like they will be quite happy. Take the kids and there is even enough for the adults to keep you interested. A Happy 4 on my "Go See" scale.