Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Welcome to Minne-sow-tuh

In New In Town, Lucy Hill (Renée Zellweger) is an ambitious, up and coming executive living in Miami. She loves her shoes, she loves her cars and she loves climbing the corporate ladder. When she is offered a temporary assignment - in the middle of nowhere - to restructure a manufacturing plant, she jumps at the opportunity, knowing that a big promotion is close at hand. What begins as a straight forward job assignment becomes a life changing experience as Lucy discovers greater meaning in her life and most unexpectedly, the man of her dreams (Harry Connick, Jr.).

Lucy Hill (Zellweger), an ambitious exec for a Miami-based corporation, accepts, with extreme reluctance, an assignment to restructure a failing food-manufacturing plant in the frigid climes of small-town of New Ulm, Minnesota (actually Winnipeg, Canada). Her worst expectations about the isolated place and its rustic populace are quickly realized as she meets Blanche (Siobhan Fallon Hogan), her irrepressibly perky secretary; Stu (J.K. Simmons), the openly insolent and unimpressed-by-outsiders plant foreman; and Ted (Harry Connick Jr.), the hunky union rep for whom she takes an immediate dislike. Like the odious stepchild of Fargo, New in Town gleefully offers up citizens of rural, snowbound New Ulm, Minnesota as a collection of funny-speaking, Jesus-loving, tapioca-making misfits deserving of nothing less than outright mockery. That one of the lead weirdoes has the gall to climactically criticize transplanted city girl Lucy Hill (Zellweger) for looking down on those very traits exemplifies the cluelessness of Ken Rance and C. Jay Cox's script. A lack of self-awareness, however, is no big surprise considering that the narrative—in which high-heeled Miami exec Lucy is sent to oversee a New Ulm manufacturing plant and (duh) learns that simple folk are okay and that her soulmate happens to be a local rube (Harry Connick Jr.) who loves beer and pickup trucks—offers up city-is-bad, country-is-good blather that was cliché before its leading lady was even born. Watching the charmless, strident Zellweger (shot by Elmer in unflatteringly lit close-ups) smirk, pout, and whine is about as entertaining as wrestling a grizzly bear, though presumably there's someone out there (anyone? Anyone?!?) that finds hilarious the idea of her struggling with a stuck hunting-outfit zipper that's preventing her from going pee.  No wonder President Obama closed Gitmo—for any future torturing, all he has to do is make terror suspects endure New in Town. Even the quote-whore blurb that accompanies the film's latest commercials ("It's Legally Blonde meets Sweet Home Alabama!") doesn't do this rom-com's wretchedness justice, so agonizingly inane is its story and so insulting (to its characters and to the audience's intelligence) is its humor. Yet more than its dim-witted socioeconomic-clash gibberish and a lead performance from Renée Zellweger that induces viewer daydreams about the sweet relief of being deaf, dumb, and blind, the most notable aspect of Jonas Elmer's tale is its admission that Hollywood really, really hates Minnesota. To those anonymous few, enjoy. To the rest, remember: If you choose to swim in sewage, don't complain about coming out feeling like shit. It has a couple funny moments, but nothing that's even remotely rememberable. This only gets a 2 on my "Go See" scale.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Outlander, Aliens, and Visigoths Oh My

Science Fiction movies usually don't interest me, so I went into seeing "Outlander" expecting to really hate it, fortunately I found a half way decent movie, once I was able to suspend belief in what I was watching. Usually this works for me during Sci-Fi movies, or comic book adaptation movies. Otherwise I would wonder just why I bothered sitting through this movie.

During the Iron Age, Kainan (James Caviezel) a man from a far-off world, crash lands on Earth, bringing with him an alien predator known as the Moorwen. This creature has many capabilities, it can be near invisible, and it can turn from a blue hue to a bright red when it is angry or attacking. When Kainan reaches land his co pilot is dead and as Kainan searches the valley, he comes across a village, this village lies in ruins, flames and blood are everywhere. The claw marks on the door are recognizable to Kainan, he saw them on the door to his own home when the Moorwen attacked his home village. Kainan is taken prisoner by Wulfric (Jack Huston) and dragged back to the castle of King Rothgar (John Hurt) where he is tied up and beaten by Wulfric and other vikings. Freya (Sophia Myles) comes to tend his wounds but Kainan has already burned through his ropes and escapes from the hut. As he runs out several vikings are being attacked and killed by the Moorwen, they don't even see it coming. As Kainan reaches the outer doors of the village he recognizes the sound of the Moorwen and returns to the village. He is recaptured by the Kings men and taken to a hall, the elders discuss what exactly they are facing, they believe it is a bear, Kainan tries to tell them it is more like a dragon, they scoff at him and tell him he is now part of the team that will hunt the creature.

During the hunt they find a cave that just happens to have a large bear in it. They are able to kill this bear and return to the village, Kainan knows this isn't what killed the men of the village but he knows the King and the others are so happy. A band of survivors from the first village the Morrwen attacked are led by Gunnar (Ron Perlman) they attack the village as the men are feasting, several of the men are killed, but they are able to drive Gunnar away. Latter Gunner will help the men fight the Moorwen, but King Rothgar is killed, Wulfric becomes the king and the men agree they must kill the Moorwen. Kainan returns to his sunken ship in order to retrieve metal from it so they can make swords to defeat the creature, when he sees a Moorwen swim past him with a body. Kainan returns to the surface and sees Wulfric clinging to whats left of their boat, Freya is no longer with them, Kainan knows she is the person the Moorwen has taken. The men now set out to track the creature, they track it to a cave that they believe the creature is using to sleep.

When the men enter the cave they hear what they believe is the creature, but we see that a second smaller creature is feasting on a pile of bodies that have been stacked up like firewood. Freya is among the bodies stacked up and she is trying to get away, but attracts the smaller Moorwen, the creature approaches Freya the men arrive in time to get the Moorwen to attack them, Kainan is able to fight the creature and the men are successful in slaying it, the group of vikings is of course slimmed down, but they are victorious. Just as the men get ready to celebrate the adult Moorwen charges them, the 3 survivors, Freya, Wulfric and Kainan run out through a waterfall, they are trapped on a ledge. The two men fight together to destroy the creature, Wulric is killed in battle and he tells Kainan that he wanted to be King for so long, and that he hopes Kainan wears the crown far longer than he himself was able to. the end of the movie shows the viking funeral for both Kings, Rothgar and Wulric, it also shows how Kainan returned to where he crashed and destroyed his homing beacon, he decides to stay with his new friends.

I give Outlander a 3 and on my avoidance scale a 0, this is a really entertaining movie, it is worth seeing, there is so many movies out now that are not worth seeing, this small limited movie is a hidden gem. Take the time to see this movie, you will find yourself enjoying it as much as any other major studio film of it's type. If you like the Alien and the Predator series of films you will really like this take on the other world creature movie.

Outlander is rated R for Violence
Running time is 1 hr. 55 mins.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Telling Of Biggie's Life Is Notoriously Enjoyable

Notorious is the story of Christopher Wallace. Through raw talent and sheer determination, Wallace transforms himself from Brooklyn street hustler (once selling crack to pregnant women) to one of the greatest rappers of all time; The Notorious B.I.G. (Biggie Smalls) Follow his meteoric rise to fame and his refusal to succumb to expectations - redefining our notion of "The American Dream."
This movie about hip-hop icon Christopher Wallace lifts its title from its subject's primary stage name. Yet one of the Notorious B.I.G.'s posthumous hits might've been more appropriate: "Mo Money Mo Problems." Thankfully, Notorious strips away a lot of the societal context of the rap feud and puts the focus more on the personal. The main character of this film is not really the Notorious B.I.G. but Christopher Wallace (Jamal Woolard), the son of a Jamaican immigrant named Voletta (Angela Bassett) and an absentee father. Basically a decent kid, the teenaged Christopher decides that he doesn't see a lot of money-making opportunities for black folks in his Brooklyn neighborhood - a teacher telling him he'll never be more than a garbage man doesn't help - and so he begins hustling drugs. What he fails to initially realize is that he has a talent that could take him further than he could ever imagine: he could rap. Christopher is introduced to a hungry young music producer named Sean "Puff Daddy" Combs (Derek Luke), who helps him put together a stage persona and a demo tape. The newly dubbed Notorious B.I.G. (a.k.a. Biggie Smalls) soon becomes the top-selling artist on Bad Boy Records. He romances a young department store clerk named Kimberly Jones (Naturi Naughton) and helps launch her to rap stardom as Lil Kim by encouraging her to play up her sexuality. Later, Christopher falls for and marries another recording artist, Faith Evans (Antonique Smith). There is a downside too. Biggie's stardom helps launch a whole thriving New York rap scene and, subsequently, a rivalry with West Coast rap star Tupac Shakur (Anthony Mackie). That rivalry, of course, left both men dead. I guess Notorious would have been interesting enough as a straightforward account of Christopher Wallace's brief life and tragic death. However, director George Tillman, Jr. and screenwriters Cheo Hodari Coker and Reggie Rock Bythewood are interested in going a bit deeper. This is very much a character study in which a young man named Christopher uses his talent to tell the story of the streets. He finds wealth, fame, and groupies in the process; it's a story many people relate to. He also finds trouble: romantic trouble, business trouble, personal trouble. The movie suggests that, in spite of his stage persona, Christopher Wallace didn't always want to just be the badass that his image made him out to be. He ultimately decided that he wanted to be a better husband, a better father, a better businessman, and a better friend. While Notorious doesn't sanctify him (far from it, in fact), it does imply that his life fueled his material, rather than the other way around. Too many have written off the deaths of Biggie and Tupac with the whole "live by the sword, die by the sword" cliché when, in fact, these were two men who had more depth, sensitivity, and business savvy than they got credit for. The reason why that's important is that rap music is really the only form of entertainment where you can go from the streets to the suites overnight. Not literally, of course, but close enough. Unlike many forms of show business, which are difficult to break into, the rap world is potentially accessible to anyone, no matter how humble or rough-hewn their beginnings. In fact, the tougher you've had it, the more "cred" you carry. The possibilities are intoxicating for any young dreamer with a rhyme and a desire to rise up in life. Notorious really conveys this idea, both in plot and in style. The story progresses quickly, conveying how quickly one can get swept up in the business once a foot is in the door, and the visuals are alternately glitzy and gritty, just like the rap game itself. Jamal Woolard makes a sensational debut as Christopher Wallace. Aside from the strong resemblance, he also gives an accomplished performance, showing us all sides of the man he is playing. When Biggie is trying to do right, we believe his sincerity. When he's doing wrong, we understand that he has disappointment in himself. The other great addition is Christopher Jordan Wallace (Biggie's real life son) as the pre-teen Christopher Wallace. Naturi Naughton is also a virtual dead ringer as Lil Kim, especially in her musical numbers. Derek Luke and Anthony Mackie do not resemble Puffy and Tupac as closely, yet both actors accurately convey the distinct physicality of the men they are portraying. And, of course, Angela Bassett is terrific, as always. Despite top billing, her screen time is limited. Even so, she serves as the moral center of the film, as Voletta is the woman who gave Christopher his drive and ambition, as well as an underlying sense of morality that ultimately brings him full circle before his untimely end. My one question about Notorious has to do with stuff that may have been left out. While all the ups and downs of Biggie's life are detailed, the film is somewhat hazy about the connection between his murder and Tupac's, never really exploring the East Coast/West Coast grudge with much specificity. If the movie is to be believed, Christopher Wallace was essentially an innocent in the feud - someone who tried to stop it but got caught up instead. While there is evidence that may be true, everything I've read/seen suggests it was more complicated than Notorious lets on. Check out Nick Broomfield's excellent documentary Biggie and Tupac, which posits that Biggie's slaying was a diversion to throw blame for Tupac's murder onto L.A. street gangs and off of West Coast impresario Marion "Suge" Knight. It's also interesting that Sean Combs, who serves as an Executive Producer on Notorious, comes off clean as a whistle. The movie's Puffy is something of a guardian angel to Christopher, constantly trying to guide him in the right direction. While Combs no doubt had his friend/business partner's best interests at heart, one can't help but wonder if he was always as noble as he's shown to be here. Those thoughts didn't nag at me too much, though, because the film is not fundamentally about the murder, and it's certainly not about Puffy. It's about Christopher Wallace - the person behind the persona. Notorious is a well-made, compelling, and ultimately humane film, even if you don't like rap music. This Biopic gets a strong 4 on my "Go See" scale.

Friday, January 23, 2009

This Prequel Expands On What We Already Knew

This prequel story traces the origins of the centuries-old blood feud between the aristocratic vampires known as Death Dealers and their one-time slaves, the Lycans. In the Dark Ages, a young Lycan named Lucian  (Michael Sheen) emerges as a powerful leader who rallies the werewolves to rise up against Viktor (Bill Nighy), the cruel vampire king who has enslaved them. Lucian is joined by his secret lover, Sonja (Rhona Mitra), in his battle against the Death Dealer army and his struggle for Lycan freedom.

The first film in the Underworld franchise hit our screens back in 2003, with director Len Wiseman cooking up his tale of the ancient feud between Vampires and Lycans (werewolves), which had evolved over centuries and was still raging right up to the present day. He continued the story with Underworld: Evolution, where the heroine of the piece, Selene (Kate Beckinsale), discovers the true bloodlines between the Vampire and Lycan clans. Set centuries prior, the prequel Underworld: Rise Of The Lycans is an "origin" tale, and tells the story of Lycan (soon to be) leader Lucian (Sheen), his forbidden love for Vampire Sonja (Mitra), and his struggle for freedom from the oppressive rule of head Vampire Viktor (Nighy). Even though the foundations had been laid with the two previous efforts, former creature designer Patrick Tatopoulos has created a stylish entry into this well worn horror franchise. Filming in the same blue hue, Tatopoulos has not changed anything too drastically, and the buckets of blood, violence and gore still reign supreme. With the ancient story of the slaves (werewolves) rising up against their oppressive, tyrannic rulers (vampires), the film borrows heavily from various famous films of the past (Kubrick's Spartacus, Gibson's Braveheart) and glosses it over with a fantasy/horror fable sheen. There's admittedly nothing new here, but first time director Tatopoulos has created a moody, atmospheric, stylish work (shot in New Zealand), and loyal fans will find that there's still bite left in this franchise. In the typically gloom-laden yet surprisingly entertaining prequel to the first two vampires-versus-werewolves flicks, head vamp Viktor has trouble with his captive turncoat-werewolf Lucian who has fallen for his ultra-sexy daughter, Sonja. Vampires and werewolves, of course, are not allowed to date, so this leads to all manner of bother. Viktor's right hand man, Tannis (Steven Mackintosh) sees them one night as they part, but keeps it to himself. Amid much spilling of blood, clanging of swords and gnashing of teeth, the bare-chested Lucian becomes fed up with being a slave and plots to escape the vampires' sprawling lair so he can help his Lycan-thropic brethren get some payback. With the help of Sonja and Tannis, he makes his escape and starts plotting his revenge. Lucian also wants to go steady with Sonja, but to do that he must bring an end to Viktor's horrendous overacting. Those Goth-savvy filmgoers who enjoyed the first two Underworld epics will have no complaints here. Everything they love is delivered in spades: foreboding sets, sexy costumes, mock-serious dialogue about destiny and bloodlines, frenetically edited action, and very straight performances. To non-Goths who weren't all that psyched by the first two epics, this third has three big things going for it. The film benefits by coming to us immediately after Twilight, so those who were bored witless by the wimpy emo version of vampires will delight in seeing them portrayed as they should be - with fangs, blood, growling and, as mentioned, much gnashing of teeth. The whole thing also works by being set in a time before vampires hooked up with gun dealers. There was always something a bit odd about seeing a supernatural Kate Beckinsale blasting away with high-powered sidearms. Somehow swords and giant arrows seems more appropriate for this particular other-world. The film's cherry, though, is the study in contrasts offered by Sheen. A brilliant stage-trained actor, Sheen can be seen playing David Frost opposite Frank Langella's Nixon in the superb Frost/Nixon. But while that performance is more likely to win him awards, Sheen certainly deserves credit for the high level of high-volume conviction he pours into his Underworld werewolf. They sure don't do screaming, snarling and gnashing of teeth like this on Broadway. The one real letdown was that there was no Kate Beckinsale. Okay, let me fix that, she's in there but there is no new dialog. You just get that one scene of her that we first saw in the original Underworld. This cool prequel gets a 3 on my "Go See" scale.

Here is my first WTF? Moment of the year : In the big battle scene where the Lycans are making their way to Viktor's castle, Lucian's second in command Raze (Kevin Grevioux) is leading the pack while the vampires are shooting harpoon-like arrows at them. In one scene he is still in his human form, but when the scene switches then goes back he has changed into his Lycan form, but immediately after another quick scene change we see Raze again in his human form.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

....And The Winner Is....I'm Hoping..

The Oscar nominations have been made. There were a few surprises, but here is where the fun begins. The Optimist and The Cynic are looking forward to finding out who will win this year and the best way to make it even more enjoyable is by making our own predictions as to who will win. So, lets get started. ...And The Winner Is.....

Some tough choices when it comes to Best Actor in a Leading Role, but I think that i'm gonna have to go with Sean Penn for Milk. This man has been snubbed before with "I Am Sam" and "Into The Wild", but this year he DESERVES the award for his portrayal of Harvey Milk as he took the movie and made it more about the man and not just a GAY man.

Next up is Best Actor in a Supporting Role, while I think that Robert Downey Jr. had a great year and should be hailed as the comeback king of '08, i'm gonna have to to give this one to Heath Ledger for the Dark KnightHe WAS the Joker, hands down better than past incarnations. No one in the near future will be able to do a better job.

Best Actress in a Leading Role, should go to Anne Hathaway for Rachel Getting Married. Seeing her play a recovering addict returning home for her sister's wedding was a surprise for me. After being typcast as the funny girl she took a chance and tried a dramatic role and pulled it of flawlessly.

Best Actress in a Supporting Role is a tough category. I liked all the nominees in their roles, but i'm gonna go out on a limb and say that I think Marisa Tomei will win for The Wrestler. As the stripper who just seems too old (in the patrons eyes) to be doing what she's doing, but you also understand it because she has a child. The budding relationship between her and Mickey Rourke is quite memorable.

Best Animated Feature Film! My kinda category! I loved all the nominees in this category and although I LOVED Bolt, Wall-E will win. Great animation yet again by Pixar about a lonely trash compacting robot who finds love in another robot named EVE. Beautifully done with a solid story that brought out the kid in us all.

Best Art Direction will go to The Curious of Benjamin Button. The movie story of a man living his life literally backwards as he was born old and steadily gets younger as his life goes on. The sets and style of the film made you believe that this was actually possible, that it really happened.

Best Cinematography should go to Changeling. The 1920's never looked so well. Lighting and settings set the flow of this dramatic story of a woman that mysteriously loses her child and is forced to come to grips and listen to the LAPD as they try to cover up their own mistakes as they seem to look for her child.

Best Costume Design should go to Australia. I don't know if Hugh Jackman in a half opened shirt qualifies as a costume, but it gets my vote! Seriously, Kidman's outfits and Jackman's rugged look fit well into the film that was being represented.

Best Directing,  I believe should go to Slumdog Millionaire. A story so good that it could only be told on the big screen. As the tale unfolded you find yourself really getting involved with each character.

Best Writing (Adapted Screenplay) goes to yet again...Slumdog Millionaire. From book to screen it transfers beautifully. A story of a young man doing all that he can to find the girl that he loves is depicted wonderfully on the big screen.

Best Writing (Original Screenplay) goes to one of my favorite movies last year, Happy-Go-Lucky. A look at a few chapters in the life of a cheery, colorful, North London schoolteacher whose optimism tends to exasperate those around her.

Now, onto the biggest honor of them all....

Best Picture will go to Slumdog Millionaire. The story of the life of an impoverished Indian teen who becomes a contestant on the Hindi version of "Who Wants to be A Millionaire?", wins, and is then suspected of cheating.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Your Wedding Better Watch It

Liv (Kate Hudson) and Emma (Anne Hathaway) are best friends who since childhood have planned every detail of their respective weddings. At the top of their bridal "must have" list: a ceremony at New York's ultimate bridal destination, the Plaza Hotel. Now, at age 26, they're both about to get married; they're about to realize their dreams; and they're about to live happily ever after. When a clerical error causes a clash in wedding dates - they're now to be married on the same date! - Liv, Emma and their lifelong friendship are put to the ultimate test. Liv, a successful lawyer who is used to getting what she wants, including the perfect job and the perfect man, won't settle for anything less than the perfect wedding she has dreamed of for years. Emma, a schoolteacher who has always been good at taking care of others, but not so much in looking after herself, discovers her inner Bridezilla and comes out swinging when her own dream wedding is imperiled.

Anne Hathaway and Kate Hudson make charming frenemies in the new comedy Bride Wars. Hathaway has a shy demeanor that grows into assertiveness while Hudson is snappy and sparkling from start to finish. This isn’t comedy on a grand scale but it is pure enjoyment for those who get into the spirit of the film. Liv (Hudson) and Emma (Hathaway) have been friends since childhood. They played dolls and dress up together and always wanted to be part of each other’s wedding. Plus the wedding had to take place at the Plaza Hotel in New York in June. Liv grew up to be a successful attorney while Emma opted for the life of a grade school teacher. Though different in lifestyles and surroundings, their friendship has remained strong. So of course they are thrilled when they get engaged within days of each other. Their fiancées, Fletcher (Chris Pratt) and Daniel (Steve Howey), handle the female bonding without comment. The serpent enters this garden of glee when the young women find that through a mistake the weddings have been booked at the Plaza for the same day. This means in order to be part of each other’s weddings someone will have to change their date. At first things go friendly and cooperatively but then things escalate and “bride wars” break out. Both Hudson and Hathaway are good enough actresses to keep the fun flying and the sentiment in check – until the end. Then it is sweet time for the women and for the audience. This ends the movie on a bright note and satisfies all who attend. Hudson shows some Goldie Hawn talent in this film. She looks great and does the physical and verbal comedy with ease. Hathaway is a more reserved actress but she throws herself into this part and makes Emma’s transition believable. Candice Bergen, who has suddenly become the grande damme of Hollywood, plays the wedding planner. This would seem to be a fertile field for comedy but Candice plays it straight, to the detriment of the film. Bergen can be hilarious in the right role but this obviously isn’t the right role. Bride Wars is just a fluffy, puffy bit of fun that will take your mind of your problems and focus them on someone else’s. Hudson and Hathaway provide you with laughs while not over complicating a semi-silly situation.Hathaway is terrific as the vulnerable, slightly submissive schoolteacher (although it would have been nice to show her inevitable transformation more fully). Hudson makes good use of the spoiled, kittenish calculation that always lurked behind her daisy-fresh charm. The whole thing goes by quickly and painlessly, providing a few laughs, some decent lines and the requisite hard-core, high-fashion details -- the sort of vicarious window-shopping that movies like this need to deliver as regularly as punch lines. All in all, it's a good girlfriend movie and a decent date-night picture. It won't change your life, of course. But it might begin to change Hudson's career. Go see it, relax and enjoy it. A 3 on my "Go See" scale.

A New Breed of Cuteness

When their new guardians forbid 16-year old Andi (Emma Roberts) and her younger brother, Bruce (Jake T. Austin) to have a pet, Andi has to use her quick wit to help find a new home for their dog, Friday. The resourceful kids stumble upon an abandoned hotel and using Bruce’s talents as a mechanical genius, transform it into a magical dog-paradise for Friday – and eventually for all Friday’s friends. When barking dogs make the neighbors suspicious, Andi and Bruce use every invention they have to avoid anyone discovering “who let the dogs in.”

Canine charmers fill the screen in Hotel for Dogs, but the heartwarming relationship between a brother and sister gives this movie fantasy its greatest appeal. Emma Roberts and Jake T. Austin steal the show as siblings placed with foster parents more interested in themselves than in the welfare of their charges. These two young actors deliver endearing performances and make us care deeply about the characters they play. Andi (Roberts) and Bruce (Austin) try their best to hide their dog Friday from the Scudders, the latest foster couple they’ve been assigned to live with. It’s not easy, for Friday even sneaks bacon right off the counter behind Mrs. Scudder’s (Lisa Kudrow) back. Thankfully, the mutt is quick -- but Andi and Bruce fear it won’t be long before Friday will be discovered. They have to find a good home for their beloved pet. Friday himself, however, discovers an old hotel where a couple of other dogs have been hanging out. The place turns into a godsend for canines, especially after the inventive Bruce designs areas and contraptions any dog would love. Unfortunately, even with help from three other youngsters (Johnny Simmons, Kyla Pratt and Troy Gentile), Andi and Bruce may not be able to save the 30 animals who come to reside in their doggie hotel. But, oh how we want them to succeed! Roberts and Austin excel at showing their characters’ strong feelings and support for each other here. Sixteen-year-old Andi looks out for 11-year-old Bruce and vice-versa. And they don’t want to be separated. It’s refreshing not to be bombarded with the hostility between brother and sister we’ve been exposed to in many other movies and television shows. Andi and Bruce emege as excellent role models for kids: they help each other out while rescuing dogs and creating a loving family they so desperately want.  Dogs of many breeds, shapes and sizes appear in this entertaining comedy -- and even the scruffiest ones look adorable. Not surprisingly, they perform impeccably. Called upon for such stunts as sitting quietly at a dinner table, fetching objects tossed by a strange invention, running frantically through the streets, howling and barking on cue, and so forth, these canny canines bring excitement and humor to their scenes.  Among the human supporting cast, Don Cheadle and Kevin Dillon stand out as a caring Social Services worker and an uncaring foster father, respectively. Cheadle exudes warmth in every sequence with the lead youngsters, whereas Dillon comes across as a first-class jerk -- exactly what his funny role requires. It's pretty far-fetched, but director Thor Freudenthal gives it all a fairy-tale quality, complete with plenty of whimsical inventions created by Bruce. Friday responds to a loudspeaker on their apartment balcony projecting the sound of a can opener; at the hotel, the dogs enjoy conveyor-belt meals and a very large, convenient fire hydrant with an elaborate drainage system. (Just when you think this movie's going to totally ignore the dogs' elimination practices, it gives you much more than you ever wanted to know.) Mostly aimed at grade-school-age kids, the film delicately handles the issue of Andi and Bruce's grief over their lost parents: We see it, without having to be told. As the siblings plot to save their four-legged friends — and discover that the perfect human parents were standing close by, after all — kids should warm to their adventures. Hotel for Dogs is ultimately a sweet reminder of the importance of family and community, human and canine alike. A happy 4 on my "Go See" scale.

A Moving History Lesson

The year is 1941 and the Jews of Eastern Europe are being massacred by the thousands. Managing to escape certain death, three brothers take refuge in the dense surrounding woods they have known since childhood. There they begin their desperate battle against the Nazis. At first it is all they can do to stay alive. But gradually, as whispers of their daring spreads, they begin to attract others – men and women, young and old – willing to risk everything for the sake of even a moment’s freedom.

Most movies about the Holocaust rightfully depict Jews as victims of the genocidal terror that spewed forth from the Nazi regime. After all, 6 million dead provides plenty of tragic material. But relentless tales of stoic suffering can also help create a culture of victimhood, which is why films like Defiance are a nice change of pace within the litany of "never-forget" stories. Without neglecting the ultimate horror of those years, the film presents a tangible example of potential victims fighting against their oppressors and even achieving victory. And, better yet, it's based on a true story.The story opens in 1941, as the Germans have overrun the country, 50,000 Jews have been arrested and thousands more summarily executed, including the parents of the Bielski brothers -- Tuvia (Daniel Craig), Zus (Liev Schreiber), Asael (Jamie Bell) and Aron (George MacKay). Escaping into a dense part of the national forest that the two older brothers know well from their time spent hiding out from the law, they form a partisan band to avenge their parents' deaths, fight the occupation and eliminate Belorussian collaborators who support it. In time, more endangered Jewish families find their way to the Bielskis' protection, and the hidden forest camp is gradually transformed into a small town with its own underground housing, a hospital, metal shop, bakery, theater and synagogue. But this "Jerusalem in the Woods" is soon split between Tuvia, whose concern is rescuing Jews and keeping the community safe, and Zus, who's obsessed with revenge and wants to join their band with the (anti-Semitic) Soviet partisans. Meanwhile, the Nazis are closing in. But while it works as a rousing historical footnote, Defiance also rises above this specific intention to be an absorbing family saga, a thrilling combat movie and a backwoods epic that conveys the feel of a frontier-community-under-duress with the vividness of a John Ford classic. And though it's primarily a character-driven drama, it powers along as a genre war picture with a visually offbeat location (the woods of Lithuania), more than a half-dozen expertly paced and executed battle sequences and some of the most realistic CGI augmentation of any action movie of the past year. While the large British and American cast is never completely convincing as Belarussians, the acting is sincere and compelling -- and Craig anchors the movie nicely with his charismatic portrayal of a mostly peaceful leader who occasionally rises to a violent occasion with a pleasing touch of "blunt instrument" James Bond bravado. The two older siblings differ in their tactical approaches. The hotheaded Zus believes the only way to win is to match the Nazis in ferocity, targeting civilians if necessary and taking no prisoners. Tuvia, his elder, counsels a more restrained approach. It's a meaningful conflict and shows that Defiance isn't interested in painting its protagonists as innocents. The Bielskis were criminals before the war, a fact briefly acknowledged, and some of the same skills that allowed them to prosper as thugs makes them ideal partisans. A strong 4 on my "Go See" scale.

This story flows beautifully from the book to the big screen

Mo Folchart (Brendan Fraser) is a father who possesses a secret ability to bring characters from books to life when he reads them aloud. But when Mo accidentally brings a power-hungry villain, Capricorn (Andy Serkis) from a rare children’s fable to life, the villain kidnaps Mo’s daughter, Meggie (Eliza Hope Bennett) and demands Mo bring other evil fictional characters to life. In an attempt to rescue his daughter, Mo assembles a disparate group of friends - both real and magic - and embarks on a journey to save her and set things right. 

Inkheart is one of those rare films about the power of stories that magically connects with adults and children. It’s based on Cornelia Funke’s novel about a father and daughter who travel the world’s antiquarian bookshops in search of a potty medieval fantasy called Inkheart. Finding a copy of the book is the only way Brendan Fraser’s Mo Folchart can rectify a ghastly mistake.
Folchart was born with a mythical gift: he has a supernatural ability to bring characters and entire chapters of literary prose to life simply by reading a book out loud in his sonorous, crooning voice. Fraser is not the first actor who naturally springs to mind when it comes to the slippery business of shaping a killer line. But his luminous charm and panicky looks when the camera shudders and a baffled peasant drops out of the sky, is absurdly perfect. The ingenious twist is that when Folchart brings a character to life, a real person is sucked into the pages of the story, which is how he originally lost his wife (Sienna Guillory) a decade ago while reading Inkheart to their daughter. The only way to free the beauty now chained to a medieval sink is to find the missing book and “read” her back to life. In Iain Softley’s rip-roaring adventure, the clashes between the real world and the realms of fiction are a chaotic, hilarious, eye-popping joy. The wit and invention is breathtaking. There are inky words still printed on the faces of the fictional goons who kidnap Folchart and his feisty 12-year-old daughter, Meggie, played by Eliza Hope Bennett. The exotic menagerie of beasts — set loose from tales as madly removed as The Wizard of Oz and Peter Pan — crash through the action with hilarious, sometimes hair-raising, anarchy. Andy Serkis’s terrific Inkheart tyrant, whom Folchart accidentally swapped for his wife, has not the slightest intention of returning to a fusty old fantasy. He has shaved his head, bought a snappy suit, and armed his goons with machineguns. He threatens to murder Helen Mirren’s batty aunt unless Folchart conjures an apocalyptic monster called the Shadow to life from the darkest chapter of Inkheart. The sublime irony of this medley of state-of-the-art special effects is how earnestly Softley’s film champions the superiority of the written word. Inkheart shows why books are wonderful yet dangerous places; how a well-told story unlocks the imagination; and how words unleash the most unpredictable emotions. Thoroughly enjoyable to see books come alive. A 3 on my "Go See" scale with a "Happily Ever After" on the end. 

Friday, January 16, 2009

Be Careful What You Wish For

Coraline Jones (Dakota Fanning) is bored in her new home until she finds a secret door and discovers an alternate version of her life on the other side. On the surface, this parallel reality is eerily similar to her real life and the people in it – only much better. But when this seemingly perfect world turns dangerous, and her other parents (including her Other Mother voiced by Teri Hatcher) try to trap her forever, Coraline must count on her resourcefulness, determination and bravery to escape this increasingly perilous world – and save her family.

Coraline (Not Caroline!) has moved into a big house in the country with her parents. The house is shared by elderly, retired actresses Miss Forcible (Jennifer Saunders) and Miss Spink (Dawn French), who live in the lower flat, and Mr. Bobinski (Ian McShane), who claims he trains mice, who lives in the upper flat. Coraline is a typical young girl, curious and easily bored. While waiting out a rainy day, she decides to explore the big house and finds a door with a brick wall behind it. Her mother (Hatcher) explains the house was separated off when it was turned into apartments. But Coraline cannot help but be inquisitive about the mysterious door, especially after it is open when she knows she saw her mother lock it. One day, with her parents away, Coraline opens the door to find the brick wall gone and another apartment on the other side; an apartment almost like her own and yet subtly different. She steps through to find herself in an alternate world. Here, her parents are attentive to her every need and are not busy with work all the time. But her new mother is not quite like her real mom. Her fingers are longer and bonier, and she has coat buttons where her eyes should be. She wants Coraline to stay with her forever! Coraline retreats back to her apartment only to find her parents missing. Now, she’ll have to go back to the other mom and use all of her wits and resources to find her real parents and escape back to her world. Coraline is a work of dark, and sometimes disturbing beauty. The last third of the movie features very intense imagery as Coraline gambles in a game of wits with her otherworldly mother. As Coraline makes progress in their wager, we see the new mom’s loving, cheerful guise begin to fade as a darker side manifests itself. Besides her new parents there are twisted versions of the elderly women and Mr. Bobinski to contend with although Caroline will find aid from an unexpected source as she uncovers the secrets in the other apartment. Coraline is a young girl who has some complaints: life is boring, people mispronounce her name as Caroline and her parents don't give her much attention. She discovers a house similar to her own on the other side of a door in her new house where things seem better. But Coraline soon finds herself a prisoner held captive by her "other mother", a paler (and evil) version of her own mother. In order to escape, Coraline bets her that she can rescue the trapped souls that her other mother has captured and all she has to help her are a talking black cat (Keith David) and a stone with a hole in it. The young adult novel of the same name got high marks for writing style, mood and characterizations. The scenes here are as vivid as anything done before and in 3-D I was drawn in instantly. I felt like I was there right alongside Coraline, exploring the mysterious world parallel to our own. The other mother, for example, is a much paler version of Coraline's real mother and has big, black buttons sewn over her eyes. And all she wants is to do the same to Coraline. Yikes! The characters are very well done too. Coraline is a smart and determined girl who is immediately likable. The other mother is an equally strong character matching Coraline's likeability with evil. And the black cat is a hoot! Every character and it dark counterpart are easily enjoyable. This one will definitely have fans of young and old. If you've had the honor of reading the book, this will be a great treat for you and even if you haven't you'll still like this one. I sure did. A grand 4 on my "Go See" scale.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Be Mine In 3-D

Ten years ago, a tragedy changed the town of Harmony forever. Tom Hanniger (Jensen Ackles), an inexperienced coal miner, caused an accident in the tunnels that trapped and killed five men and sent the only survivor, Harry Warden (Rich Walters), into a permanent coma. But Harry Warden wanted revenge. Exactly one year later, on Valentine's Day, he woke up...and brutally murdered twenty-two people with a pickaxe before being killed. Ten years later, Tom Hanniger returns to Harmony on Valentine's Day, still haunted by the deaths he caused. Struggling to make amends with his past, he grapples with unresolved feelings for his ex-girlfriend, Sarah (Jaime King), who is now married to his best friend, Axel (Kerr Smith), the town sheriff. But tonight, after years of peace, something from Harmony's dark past has returned. Wearing a miner's mask and armed with a pickaxe, an unstoppable killer is on the loose. And as his footsteps come ever closer, Tom, Sarah and Axel realize in terror that it just might be Harry Warden who's come back to claim them.

As someone who's not overly fond of horror remakes or eye-straining 3-D crap, I went into My Bloody Valentine: 3-D knowing all the facts, but with fairly muted expectations. The movie, which does employ several 3-D "gotcha!" gimmicks as well as subtle immersion into the story and character-driven moments, begins with a flashback of what happened in Pennsylvania's Hanniger Mines 10 years ago. It was February 14, when the owner's college-age son Tom (Ackles) set a chain of events into motion which led a psychotic miner Harry Warden (Walters) to kill some 22 people. Careless Tom was enjoying himself at the big holiday dance when it happened. Having fled in shame, Tom returns home a decade later to collect his now-dead dad's ashes and inherit the family's tarnished legacy. Nobody's exactly leaping with joy to have the stern young man come back to town. His old flame Sarah (King) is now married to his ex-best friend Axel (Smith), who has recently become the town's sheriff. Axel took over from retiree Burke (Tom Atkins), who always harbored bitter feelings after having to shoot and kill Warden. Even the executor of the Hanniger Will, the seemingly benign elderly local gadabout Ben Foley (Kevin Tighe), has nothing but outright dislike for Tom. Then, a strange thing happens: The grisly pick-axe murders start up again. It is the ghost of Harry Warden? Has Tom's return triggered fury in a latent killer? Is it (and was it) Tom himself? All these questions are answered in the end, which is what makes the movie so much fun to see twice… now, don't get me wrong: it's no Usual Suspects puzzle, but armed with your knowledge, it's a kick to go through the motions again and pick up all the hints and clues showing whodunit. Having seen far more 3-D than I'd care to admit (Friday the 13th 3), I must say that My Bloody Valentine: 3-D makes the very best use of the medium I have ever experienced. The gory and violent death scenes spatter blood most gleefully outward, while the breasts bounce up and down in the gratuitous nude scenes (totally expected and welcomed in this hard-R horror world!) — but what you may not realize is how drawn in you get into the everyday worlds of these characters.  There are people with shades of gray; a plausible pool of (ever-dwindling) suspects; indoor and outdoor locations, including expanse and claustrophobia; and just enough comic relief to punctuate the seriousness of the situations. The actors all do their parts very well — from the bit players (Selene Luna) to the main attractions (King) — but there's a certain scene-stealer I'd like to single out. Not because she is buck-naked throughout one drawn-out and pivotal suspense scene, but because Betsy Rue is a damn fine actress. As the feisty and spirited Irene, she gives a truly fearless performance in every sense of the word. Rue's definitely got the chops to make to wear the scream queen crown if she so chooses. This was gory, good fun in 3-D and I have to admit that I liked every bit of it. A bloody 3 on my "Go See" scale.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Safety never takes a vacation

As a mall security guard, Paul Blart (Kevin James) is devoted to keeping crime and mischief out of the New Jersey shopping center where he works, even if he isn't allowed to wear a gun. But Santa's helpers decide to be naughty, taking Paul's loved ones hostage, so he has to use all his training to save them.

Paul Blart: Mall Cop answers the pressing question - Can a chubby guy be a superhero too - in the resounding affirmative. TV's King of Queens lovable working stiff Kevin James relocates to suburban Jersey in an even larger than life silly but good natured laughathon on the big screen as the crimefighter mall cop in question, who's more than a little obsessive about cornering anyone shopping around for trouble. Paul Blart: Mall Cop stars James as the hapless 21st century Jackie Gleason, scorned and ridiculed both on and off the job, but not hearing any of it. Between nurturing elaborate fantasies of supersized superheroics, Blart spends a typical day running over a neighborhood dog tailgating his scooter on the way to work, directing civilians to exactly which stores the heated toilet seats are located in, and being subjected to a Victoria's Secret beatdown by an irate shopper dissing the slutty underwear. Paul Blart has always wanted to become a law enforcement officer, but sadly has not been able to make that wish a reality due to his hypoglycemia. Instead he has had to settle for a job as a security guard. Blart is also a single dad duped into a green card marriage by an even more rotund illegal alien femme fatale, who left him to raise preteen daughter Maya (Raini Rodriguez) alone. But he's showered with plenty of maternal doting, emotional support and platefuls of food at home by both Mom (Shirley Knight) and surrogate parentally inclined Maya. And though the family is eager to match him up with a mate online, Blart wears his heart conspicuously on his sleeve at work, nursing a crush on perky wig saleslady Amy (Jayma Mays). But running interference on his courtship moves, is a gang of cutthroat shoplifters who show up one day, intent on conspiring a hostile takeover of the premises on skateboards, and committing assorted acts of mall malice. Not to worry, Blart singlehandedly sets his sights on finally getting a chance to seriously show his stuff chasing down these athletic accomplices. Which includes making the most of his mountainous assets like gargantuan sliding and slithering around the mall, and flattening the felons with the advantage of his ample torso, when not beating up a perp with a handy tanning machine. He also gets a little help from a jar of some sort of wickedly spicy condiment called The Devil's Crotch, enough said.
Paul Blart: Mall Cop is an affectionate if often sitcomish ode to creative copping and mindless mall madness. In any case, James sweats it out lifting the material above the mundane and derivative, and nicely proves that in an emergency, size matters and extra large superheroes can rule. James rules in this comedy about a mall cop destined to do great things. A definite 4 on my "Go See" scale.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Jumby wants to be born now

Casey Beldon (Odette Yustman) hated her mother for leaving her as a child. But when inexplicable things start to happen, Casey begins to understand why she left. Plagued by merciless dreams and a tortured ghost that haunts her waking hours, she must turn to the only spiritual advisor, Sendak (Gary Oldman), who can make it stop. With Sendak’s help, Casey uncovers the source of a family curse dating back to Nazi Germany—a creature with the ability to inhabit anyone or anything that is getting stronger with each possession. With the curse unleashed, her only chance at survival is to shut a doorway from beyond our world that has been pried open by someone who was never born.

Written and directed David Goyer, The Unborn stars Odette Yustman as Casey, a Chicago coed who suspects something is just too weird for words when both boy and canine ghosts start joining her while out jogging. She eventually tracks down her hunches to an institutionalized mom who committed suicide, a twin brother she never knew about who died in the womb, and assorted other twins dating back to the Holocaust who may or may not hold the key to multiple birth demonic possession. At wit's end, not to mention utterly frazzled, Casey seeks help from Rabbi Sendak (Gary Oldman doing a bad imitation of a rabbi), a Kabbala guru who happens to know a thing or two about exorcism. After enlisting the co-exorcist aid of a basketball coach cleric (Idris Elba), the determined duo tie Casey to a gurney in an abandoned building, and get down to business. After much prolonged mayhem and spirit fleeing, it turns out that just a good swat with a crowbar will do the trick nicely. The Unborn is a mostly outlandish tale of really possessive, attention deficit disorder dybuks who can't make up their mystical minds about which body is cool enough to inhabit. And concocted by inane idea gurus who think that genocide and motherhood make for really effective spooky narrative devices to exploit, but bad taste would be a better description. And though some of the images are on the terrifying side, like those supernatural creatures with their heads screwed on backwards, the same might be said of that what was he thinking filmmaker. Partway through The Unborn, an elderly Holocaust survivor writes an ominous letter to her young granddaughter: "It has fallen upon you to finish what was started in Auschwitz." That's a lot of pressure to put on a petite horror-film heroine, especially one who repeatedly forgets to wear something more than low-rise panties and a ribbed tank while inspecting strange noises in her darkened house. It's also a lot of historical weight to dump on a genre flick. Then again, any film that features Gary Oldman as a rabbi with exorcism powers isn't asking to be taken seriously. Writer-director David S. Goyer pulls every trick he can to get a rise from his audience, with varying results. The freak-out sequences (hey, everything's back to normal!) are overly familiar and the pop-up monsters quickly lose their novelty. But a frenetic chase through an old-age home packs a few punches, as does the crunchy climax. It helps if you haven't seen "The Exorcist," or for that matter any horror film. If the use of Nazi atrocities as a MacGuffin for cheap thrills offends you, The Unborn isn't your movie. If, however, you appreciate the sight of a half-naked beauty being terrorized by potato bugs, look no further.
A saddend 3 on my "Go See" scale and that's being nice.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Broken, but easily fixed

Can This Marriage Be Saved? Dave (Morris Chestnut) and Clarice (Taraji P. Henson) have been married forever; yet the things that they do not know about one another could fill up a small house. That is the basic problem in their marriage. They have grown apart over the years, rather than together. How many marriages are the same way? 

Not Easily Broken is based on the novel of the same name by T. D. Jakes about an upper class African American couple who find that their marriage has fallen into disrepair right before their eyes. Neither one of them seem to be able to acknowledge the truth of the matter. They have gotten used to acting like nothing is wrong until they are involved in a near-fatal car crash and Clarice (Henson) is seriously injured. As David (Chestnut) fails miserably at his attempts to take care of his wife; he finally admits that he no longer feels needed. Her lack of neediness and her inability to trust him with her fears is at the core of their problems. Suddenly; the wonderful life that they have built is no longer enough. The house, the cars and the material possessions are no longer fulfilling because they both realize that they have lost that loving feeling between them. Clarice is a woman who makes you want to actually slap her. Her self-centered persona is portrayed so realistically that she could be someone that you know. And although the Johnsons belong to a church that they attend regularly; they don’t seem to be spirit-filled believers. They aren’t the type that lean on God for guidance; at least not until they find themselves deep in trouble which is the case with most people. While Clarice is caught up with keeping up with the Joneses and climbing the ladder of success in the real estate business; Dave is a down to earth man who is more interested in coaching a little league baseball team in the community than making money. His humble position as the owner of a small  business is enough for him and that bothers Clarice. On the other hand; her disinterest in having children is a thorn in Dave’s side. You wonder what brought these two together in the first instance. Before the accident, Clarice is busy climbing the corporate ladder and keeping up with everyone else while David is content with running his janitorial business and helping out in the community. The accident should have drawn them closer, but instead it pushes them further apart. David finds himself spending more time with Clarice's physical therapist (a single mom) and mentoring her son (Maeve Quinlin & Cannon Jay). In the process, he becomes attracted to her and a father figure to the young boy. He learns more about himself, and what it feels like to spend time with people who care about him and share similar beliefs and dreams. Clarice notices the difference in David and begins to wonder if he's having an affair. After a tragic accident, she confronts David and forces an answer. What follows gives the movie more drama than seen in most drama laced movies. While I enjoyed it, some of the issues seemed glazed over and Clarice's character worked my nerves to no end. I really felt nothing for her, and though I knew David was being led down a road of temptation, I wanted him to find some type of happiness and it didn't seem that Clarice was capable. Her selfish demeanor will turn off many viewers, but others will find her realistic and a portrayal of a woman balancing her career and marriage. On the flip side, Director Bill Duke did a wonderful job of showing David's side of things and there are some very moving areas in Not Easily Broken that will resonate with the viewer. The resolution was satisfying, though predictable, and sends a message that what God puts together cannot be easily broken. I saw myself in this movie (although I won't tell which character) and maybe we can all find a piece of ourselves, no matter how small in this movie as well. I enjoyed this very much and I highly recommend it. A strong 4 on my "Go See" scale.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Spirit Soars

Adapted from the legendary comic strip, THE SPIRIT is a classic action-adventure-romance told by genre-twister Frank Miller (creator of 300 and SIN CITY). It is the story of a former rookie cop who returns mysteriously from the dead as the Spirit (Gabriel Macht) to fight crime from the shadows of Central City. His arch-enemy, the Octopus (Samuel L. Jackson) has a different mission: he’s going to wipe out Spirit's beloved city as he pursues his own version of immortality. The Spirit tracks this cold-hearted killer from Central City’s rundown warehouses, to the damp catacombs, to the windswept waterfront ... all the while facing a bevy of beautiful women who either want to seduce, love or kill our masked crusader. Surrounding him at every turn are Ellen Dolan (Sarah Paulson), the whip-smart girl-next-door; Silken Floss (Scarlett Johansson), a punk secretary and frigid vixen; Plaster Of Paris (Paz Vega), a murderous French nightclub dancer; Lorelei (Jaime King), a phantom siren; and Morgenstern (Stana Katic), a sexy young cop. Then of course, there’s Sand Saref (Eva Mendes), the jewel thief with dangerous curves. She’s the love of his life turned bad. Will he save her or will she kill him?

Now that they've gone and made Batman all serious and good, the campy comics hero movie mantle has been taken up by "The Spirit." Will Eisner's brilliantly designed and drawn strips about a slightly supernatural crime fighter originally appeared in freestanding Sunday newspaper inserts in the middle of the last century. They were packed with inventive visual effects, hardboiled dialogue and sly satire. But in trying to transfer that approach to the screen, adapter-director Frank Miller, an acclaimed comic book writer and artist who was friends with the late Eisner, loses command of his narrative as thoroughly as he exerts control over the film's imagery. This is the first film Miller has directed by himself. For the movie of his graphic novel "Sin City," he teamed up with the more experienced Robert Rodriguez. The same high-tech approach was used on both productions; actors were shot on soundstages against blank green screens, and anything behind them was later painted in with computers. Colors were generally muted for a close but not entirely black-and-white look. But "Sin City's" ridiculous adolescent fantasy was a lot easier to indulge than "The Spirit's." This one's more pronounced self-mocking tone isn't the only reason for that, but it's the main culprit. There are some scenes that are tremendously cool in the picture. If you can swallow the imitated style, it looks fantastic. And the ladies serve up a nice helping of eye candy, especially Eva Mendes (and her valuable assets) as well as Stana Katic as the rookie cop Morgenstern. If you can get past the film’s ultra-corny dialogue and own cleverness, which is its ultimate downfall, you might enjoy it. In the end, there’s a part of me that really enjoyed “The Spirit,” and I actually recommend it if you want a bit of the comic book flavor this holiday season. However, it would have fit better were it not dropped into the movie houses on Christmas Day against so many other films. All of Frank Miller’s sins are forgivable with this movie, and I do still consider him a creative genius. I just hope that he spreads his creative wings in his next effort. I look forward to what he has to offer in a sophomore effort. Denny Colt (boyishly charming Gabriel Macht) is a rookie cop gunned down in the line of duty. Through mysterious circumstances he doesn’t understand, he’s resurrected as something not quite human. He shrugs off blows that would lay low the mightiest palooka, and machetes and bullets merely irritate him and slow him down. He dons a mask and strikes a deal with Police Commissioner Dolan (gruff and perfect Dan Lauria) to go where Dolan’s officers cannot, to wage a new kind of war on the criminals of Central City, a filth-streaked urban hellhole. Every hero needs a nemesis, and the Spirit has a humdinger in the form of the Octopus. As inhabited by Samuel L. Jackson, he is a former city coroner looking for the secret of immortality, prone to violent outbursts and Cheshire Cat smiles, and assisted by his cloned and none too smart goons Pathos, etc (Louis Lombardi) and Silken Floss (Scarlett Johansson), one of several femmes fatale shoehorned into the plot. The story, created in the 1940s by comics man Will Eisner, isn’t important, anyway. Miller has seen two of his works, “Sin City” and “300,” adapted into hugely successful films. Their directors, Robert Rodriguez and Zack Snyder, established a certain visual style in comic book films, and Miller doesn’t deviate from it in any great measure. Central City, towering gray monoliths wreathed in snow, isn’t too far from Basin City of “Sin City.” It’s a city where the police are overmatched and people hide behind curtains rather than aid a passerby calling for help. Miller’s joy at pairing his astonishing visual sense with a worthy budget is evident in many of his compositions, which are stark and often iconic. The same attention is on display in every scene. But given the Spirit’s Sunday-comics origins and the pulp-turgid nature of the plot, it’s welcome. The dark, hopeless scenery is fortunately leavened with some sharp dialogue, with the Spirit and his various female foils cracking wise in small exchanges that wouldn’t be out of place in a screwball comedy. Lombardi is entertaing here playing off of himself in certain scenes as the Octopus' cloned henchmen with each name across his shirt, each ending in "Os" (Pathos, Huevos, Rancheros, etc). Miller does tend to keep the reins a bit too slack on Jackson, however, and allows him to indulge in his unfortunate tendency to scream his dialogue. But “The Spirit” is terrific entertainment. It’s a better and a more complete film than “Sin City” or “300.” Having a comic book genius create a comic book movie is a very, very good idea indeed. I was thoroughly entertained, being a comic book nerd myself. A happy 3 on my "Go See" scale.

Harvey makes the best of his last chance

In London for his daughter's wedding, a struggling jingle-writer, Harvey Shine (Dustin Hoffman), misses his plane to New York, and thus loses his job. While drowning his sorrows in the airport pub, Harvey meets Kate (Emma Thompson), a British government worker stuck in an endless cycle of work, phone calls from her mother, and blind dates. A connection forms between the unhappy pair, who soon find themselves falling in love.

Falling in love can happen at any age. Last Chance Harvey emphasizes this romantic theme while having a bit of fun doing it. Playing two lonely middle-aged people who find each other during some tough times in their lives, Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson may look ill-suited for each other here, but they deliver the goods with believability and charm. Who would expect these two actors to be the most fascinating on-screen couple during 2008?  Hoffman portrays Harvey Shine, a man disappointed with the way his career has turned out. Although quite talented as a composer and pianist, he’s ended up writing jingles for commercials. And his boss (Richard Schiff) hints about bad things to come. On the personal side, Harvey’s relationship with his estranged daughter (Liane Balaban) couldn’t get much worse. To attend her wedding, he must leave New York City --during what he insists is a crucial time for his job --and travel to England. After arriving across the pond, Harvey faces the humiliation of being the odd-man out at his own daughter’s nuptial activities. Luckily, our sad-sack hero soon meets Kate Walker (Thompson), a woman who spends most of the time answering calls from her quirky mother (Eileen Atkins). Mom can’t seem to stop pestering Kate about her single status or her curiousity of her new polish neighbor (Robert Jezek), who just always seems to be barbequeing. Unfortunately, Kate’s latest blind date resulted in considerable embarrassment for her --so she’s not in a very happy emotional state when Harvey tries to start up a conversation with her.  These two walking wounded believe they are losers and that love has passed them by. However, their amusing interactions and shared misery help them establish a strong bond, one that offers them a chance for happiness. Despite the painful and, of course, humorous obstacles standing in their way, will they be daring enough to risk being together as a couple?  Hoffman and Thompson give great performances as the unlikely Harvey/Kate duo. They are a treat to watch! Because of their brilliant acting skills, it’s easy to feel empathy for the unhappy characters they portray. Hoffman lends Harvey an almost pathetic demeanor during certain parts of the film, and Thompson makes Kate someone we care for from the very beginning. She’s a real pro at changing expressions in the blink of an eye, which serves her well in various interactions with Hoffman. Thompson towers over Hoffman, so they look like Mutt and Jeff. This striking visual reinforces the idea that Harvey and Kate may not be right for each other. And yet a surprising Hoffman/Thompson chemistry comes across in practically every one of their scenes together.  Hopkins's follow-the-dots approach to the up-and-down stages of developing romance between Hoffman's Harvey Shine and Thompson's Kate Walker is familiar and formulaic in the making. When this middle-aged couple is clicking with a renewed enthusiasm it's inevitable that a dash of cheap-minded pathos would be thrown in for good measure. In this case, Harvey's last minute medical emergency threatens the planned noontime rendezvous therefore triggering Kate's cynicism in her previously clogged heart. Other than this convenient bit of sentimental contrivance, Last Chance Harvey is a good-natured valentine to the rigors of unexpected mature love. Hoffman is disciplined and restrained as the bewildered Harvey Shine--an average guy torn by the choices and chances he never truly capitalized on emotionally. Hoffman's Harvey is gently befuddled but believable as a man stuck in an in-between existence of ambivalence. Thompson is soundly radiant and reserved as the uptight Kate confined to a world of lyrical printed pages and disastrous blind dates. Consequently, the undeniably attractive Kate is guarded--her vulnerable exterior unassumingly peeled by the impish Harvey.  Last Chance Harvey is an amiable and earnest examination of maturing adults discovering the giddiness of what they thought would evade their sensibilities--the vague conception of love beyond the restricting boundaries. A nice little Rom-Com deserving of this 4 rating on my "Go See" scale.