Wednesday, July 29, 2009

He Wished That He Had all Of The Answers

The Answer Man is like a great big breath of fresh air on the first nice day of spring. It is a story with characters who feel real, as they try to find real answers to real problems. Yes, occasionally there is a brief moment that feels slightly sitcom-ish, but even those bits didn't spoil the fun for me, because somehow they felt in keeping with the weird, unpredictable, quirky nature of life. Writer/director John Hindman has managed to create a comedy/drama about faith in a chaotic world that manages to stay grounded rather than going over the top philosophically. The approach befits his idea that the true "answers" in life are not written on flashing neon signs; indeed, they are usually much more subtle. Jeff Daniels plays writer Arlen Faber who, twenty years ago, penned a massively influential book called "Me and God," in which he claimed the Lord spoke to him and provided him with answers to life's big questions. The impact of his work was so immense that it scared Arlen, and when we first meet him, he's a bitter, angry recluse who continues to hide from his own admirers. His editor (Nora Dunn) attempts to lure him out of hiding to help promote the 20th anniversary of his book, but he refuses to cooperate in any way.

Arlen's life is changed when he meets two people. The first is Elizabeth Danson (Lauren Graham), a single mother/chiropractor who just opened her own business and treats him for a back injury. Arlen, against all odds, is smitten with her. Elizabeth initially does not know who he is, but when she finds out, he is more than happy to play the role of sage, as he figures it will impress her. The other person is Kris (Lou Taylor Pucci), a young used bookstore owner who is just out of rehab and trying to save his shop while maintaining sobriety. Kris's father is also an alcoholic, which breeds a certain type of resentment he doesn't know how to deal with. After meeting Arlen in his store, Kris makes a deal that allows him to ask questions about Life, which the writer does his best to answer. Or, at least, he fudges it. The Answer Man doesn't have a lot of major "stuff" happening in it; instead, this is the kind of movie where the pleasure comes from watching the characters bounce off one another. Thankfully, these characters bounce in very interesting ways. Why is it that Arlen starts to tear down his walls for these two? With Kris, it has to do with some level of identification. He recognizes another lost soul. This is not to say that he always treats the guy well. Arlen fights his newfound sense of burgeoning compassion, for reasons that become clear near the film's end. Elizabeth manages to have a similar effect, but for different reasons. For the first time in a long time, Arlen discovers that he actually wants some sort of companionship. That he can directly shape her image of him - rather than her having preconceived notions of his "gift" - is enticing. In her own way, Elizabeth has a lot of questions too. She's pushing a healthy lifestyle on her young son that she herself does not lead, and she is unable to figure out how to tell him that his absentee father is never coming back. You get the sense that all these characters are trying to figure themselves out, and somehow understand that the others can help in that process, even when the ways that might happen are unclear. Arlen doesn't really pull the old softie switch that we might expect; he's a miserable S.O.B. for much of the picture, yet Elizabeth and Kris are as drawn to him as he is to them.

What I liked most about The Answer Man is that the characters do not learn big life lessons; instead, they learn small truths that have wide-ranging repercussions. Human emotional and spiritual growth seldom (if ever) comes in tidal waves, but rather in a series of small ripples. The movie knows that, and suggests that people often look directly to God for answers when, in truth, He gave us each other to funnel His answers through. It's interesting how Hindman has crafted such a religious movie that doesn't necessarily feel like one. There's no preaching and no proselytizing, just acute observation. Jeff Daniels is one of the great actors of our time, although he too rarely gets credit for it. His performance as Arlen is one of his finest. Daniels doesn't shy away from the ornery, mean side of the character, yet possesses enough inherent likeability that we side with him, even when he's being an ass. I think a lot of actors would have been tempted to over-dramatize Arlen's spiritual crisis. Daniels avoids that, giving us a more honest portrait of a guy who knows nothing, except for the fact that he knows nothing. The supporting actors are just as good. Lauren Graham specializes in capturing the domestic dramas of everyday women. She gives us an Elizabeth who is confident in what she wants for her kid, and less so in what she wants for herself. Lou Taylor Pucci is currently one of the "It" poster boys for independent film, and for good reason. He makes all of Kris' angst authentic without ever turning mopey or annoying. Olivia Thirlby and Kat Dennings also appear, playing Elizabeth's assistant and Kris' co-worker. Both make an impression in smaller roles, as does Tony Hale, who portrays one of Arlen's most fervent devotees. The Answer Man has moments that made me laugh out loud, moments that touched me, and things I identified with. There's a real charm to the picture, in that it locates great meaning in the little things: the ways people listen to each other, the tiny bits of healing that lead to more later on, the knowledge that love and friendship are powerful antidotes to sorrow and heartbreak. The Answer Man is an indie that may not get a very wide release. Be on the lookout for it, or remember the title for when it comes to DVD. A lot of movies - especially ones that deal with any kind of weighty subject - try to bludgeon you with profundity. It's nice to see a terrific little film that's confident enough to just give us simplicity and truth. This gets a 3 on my "Go See" scale.

He's The Man With The Answers To Life's Mysteries

Hollywood has been willing to take a chance with unknown directors, some have been successful while others make direct to video trash. Now first time director John Hindman brings a rare gem to the silver screen, a small market independent movie that is touching as well as entertaining. "The Answer Man" is a movie that gives its heart and soul and asks for nothing in return. There are only a few movies that can make you laugh and move you at the same time, this movie may well be one of them. The movie doesn't push religion or anything else, it just asks you to believe in it's message and take it for what it implies, that no one man has the answers to life great mysteries.

Arlen Faber (Jeff Daniels) is the self imposed reclusive author of Me and God, a book that has redefined spirituality for several generations, and his follow up books have all been translated into hundreds of languages. On the eve of the 20th anniversary of his still wildly popular book, Anyone who reads it thinks that Arlen has all the answers to life's problems, but these days the author barely ventures outside of the house. Arlen is still sought after as the man who has all the answers, but he of course doesn't want to be bothered. Arlen suffers from an ailment that reduces him to crawling across town to a doctors office for treatment, the doctor, Elizabeth (Lauren Graham), is a single mother struggling to raise her seven-year-old son, and Arlen is taken with her simple way of making life magical. Arlen also runs into another man, Kris (Lou Taylor Pucci), fresh out of rehab, he is still wondering why he bothers with everything, Kris has a father who is also an alcoholic. He owns a used book store that Arlen comes into to try to sell some books, when Kris can't buy them Arlen tries to just leave them on the shelves.

Elizabeth has done such a great job on fixing Arlen's problem that he keeps going back, when he works up enough courage he asks her if she would like to go for a walk with him, she agrees and they walk around, ending up back at Arlen's house he shows her his collection of monster memorabilia, she tells him to spread it around the house instead of keeping it locked away in a small cabinet. When Kris feels his life has hit rock bottom he confronts Arlen and tells him he will take a couple of books if Arlen can answer his questions. Arlen agrees reluctantly, Kris comes back everyday with another question, and Arlen gives him the books when he is done. Arlen takes Elizabeth out several times and even meets her son Alex (Max Antisell) this one kid exudes charm and charisma where no other character does, his performance is one of the best in the film.

Arlen understands what it is like for Alex, Arlen has just lost his father, and Alex's father has walked out on them, when Alex asks him how long two weeks is, you heart will ache for him. Elizabeth is with Arlen when Kris comes over, he has just suffered a loss of his own and he doesn't know how to react to it. Arlen can't find the words, so it is up to Elizabeth to help Kris in his time of need. Elizabeth sees Arlen for what he is, she tells him she has to leave, Arlen realizes what he has done and when Elizabeth calls him to go pick up Alex he is more than willing, but when she comes to thank him, Arlen once again just confronts her with his idea of what she should be doing for Alex. Elizabeth doesn't want his advice and walks out.

Arlen comes to his senses and remedies the situation, he asks forgiveness of the people he cares about and by doing this he opens himself up to exposure. He makes the first public appearance in his life. His fans show up but when Arlen tells them he don't have the answers, everyone is heartbroken, Elizabeth leaves the store but is followed by Arlen. Of course the ending is the sugary sweet happy ending that Hollywood thinks we all want to see. Maybe we would like to see the truth reflected once in a while, life isn't easy, the answers are not always there and happy endings, if they come, are as rare as four leaf clovers.

I give The Answer Man a 3 and on my avoidance scale a 1, this movie is light on emotion and heart but it has depth, some of the characters are introduced and we never see their real potential, it's like here I am and nothing more, Arlen is the heart of the movie but his character is the weakest by far. This is still a good movie to watch, it doesn't require you to do any thinking, it leads you from point to point and requires nothing from you.

The Answer Man is rated R for Language
Running time is 1 hr. 35 mins.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Little Band That Could

When gifted singer-songwriter Charlotte Banks (Aly Michalka) asks new kid in town Will Burton (Gaelan Connell) to manage her fledgling rock band, she appears to have just one goal in mind: go head-to-head against her egotistical musician ex-boyfriend, Ben(Scott Porter), at the biggest event of the year, a battle of the bands. Against all odds, their band develops a sound all its own with a real shot at success in the contest. Meanwhile, romance brews between Will and Sa5m(Vanessa Hudgens), who plays a mean guitar and has a voice to die for. When disaster strikes, it's time for the band to make a choice: Do they admit defeat, or face the music and stand up for what they believe in in Bandslam.


A pleasant surprise on several levels, the film tells the story of Will (Connell), a geeky kid with an unpleasant life in Ohio. How unpleasant? He jumps up and down with delight when he finds out that his mother has a new job and they're moving to Lodi. Nothing against Lodi, mind you -- home of the Misfits and the Bada Bing. But when was the last time you saw a Hollywood movie in which someone was excited about moving to Jersey? As I said, "Bandslam" is a pleasant surprise. Not just for Garden State boosters, either. For one thing, the plot, in which Will helps the school's prettiest girl (Michalka) start a band while being simultaneously drawn to the school's quirkiest girl, Sa5m (Hudgens), is nicely skewed. Basically, it's the standard teen picture -- girl torn between bad boy and nice guy -- with a gender switch.) For another, the film itself is clean without being cloying. Authority figures aren't predictable simpletons (Will's mom, played by Lisa Kudrow, is funny, but not foolish), and the high school romances are limited to a few awkward kisses. There are no four-letter words, drugs or bathroom jokes. Perhaps that isn't such a shock; the movie is from Walden Media, a company that specializes in family fare like the "Narnia" series. Yet it's done so skillfully that even jaded teens may have too much fun to realize they're watching a PG movie. Admittedly, some of the film doesn't work. Parts could be funnier, or faster; a crucial dating mistake that Will makes seems more a product of the screenplay than his character.

But the movie gets a lot right. For starters, it cast real muscians (Connell and Michalka are both professioanlly involved with music), rather than actors who'd look foolish bursting into song. And that cast is effective. Connell is sympathetic as the geeky Will; Michalka is dangerously pretty as the school's Queen Bee. And the overexposed Hudgens is pleasant in a change-of-pace emo-girl role. But the most valuable player in Bandslam is Kudrow. Playing Will's concerned, overprotective, but still good-humored mother, she brightens up every scene. She's the definition of a great supporting actor. Bandslam is hardly the definition of a great movie, but it is pleasant and bright and doesn't insult its audience's intelligence. And that's as rare and welcome as a well-crafted three-minute pop song. This isn't just for the teens. I'm sure grownups will find something to cheer about in this movie as well. Very well put together musical dramedy. This gets a 3 on my "Go See" scale.

Bandslam Turns Misfits Into Overnight Sensations

Every so often Hollywood releases a movie that is kind of an inspirational story for teenagers, the stories all center around a teen with some tragedy in their past, and then the showcase a means that this person uses to overcome that tragedy and make friends and become popular. In the newest teen inspiration movie, "Bandslam" one such teen uses his knowledge of music to help form a misfit ragtag group of high school seniors into one of the most popular bands.

Will Burton (Gaelan Connell) is a misfit, he just doesn't fit in with any other group of kids at his high school, his mom Karen (Lisa Kudrow) asks him what would make him happy, he jokingly tells her to let him leave the school he is at and enroll in another school, she tells him that she has been offered a new job in New Jersey, so yes he will be enrolling in another school. Will is happy to be getting a new chance but then he realizes that he will be the same Will wherever he goes to school. When he gets to his new high school, Will notices that the kids are nearly the same here, they have almost the same clicks and groups that his last school had. Except here the students rally around an event called Bandslam, where student formed bands compete for a record contract. Will is in awe that the students are so rapt up in this contest, everyone except for Sa5m (Vanessa Hudgens) she tells Will that the contest isn't her thing. Will is immediately taken by her lack of enthusiasm, later that day in one of the classes the two share they are given a project where they have to describe who the other person is.

Will meets another girl, Charlotte Banks (Alyson Michalka) and Will isn't sure why this perfect girl would pay attention to him, but he doesn't object to her friendship, Will helps her out in a school daycare program and the two become friends. Karen of course doesn't like the fact that Will is now spending so much time with his new friends, Charlotte finds out that Will knows alot about music and asks him to come listen to her and some friends during a rehearsal in her garage. When Will gets there he finds the band in full swing, Charlotte and her two friends, Bug (Charlie Saxton) and Omar (Tim Jo). Will tells them that they could be good if they didn't try to out duel each other. Will tells Charlotte that she sings great. When Ben Wheatley (Scott Porter) comes and to where Charlotte works she tells them that she and her friends are going to compete against him at Bandslam this year.

Will tells Charlotte that if they want to win they have to form a new band, they look at other students in the school and they convince Kim (Lisa Chung) to play keyboards, Basher Martin (Ryan Donowho) to play drums, Irene Lerman (Elvy Yost) to play Cello and a host of others to play sax, trombone, and trumpet. Together they form a new band calling them I can't go on I'll go on. When the day draws near for Bandslam, tragedy strikes Charlotte family and Sa5m, who Will has been spending alot of time with and has grown closer to decides she will take over the lead vocals for the group. When the group gets to Bandslam, Charlotte comes to wish them luck, it seems that her new character and the reason she was friends with Will is a selfish one. Another near tragedy occurs when Ben Wheatley and his band perform the same song that Will's band was going to do. Of course the band regroups and comes up with an alternative song to sing. Whether the band wins or not isn't the moral of the movie, it's that kids of all types can join together and become not just friends but be support and help to overcome any obstacle, Sa5m tells Will to do what scares you the most, and at Bandslam Will confronts a personal issue that he has been trying to hide almost his entire life.

I give Bandslam a 3 and on my avoidance scale a 0, this is a very good movie to take the entire family to see, there isn't anything remotely offensive in this movie, it is the type of feel good movie that parents can go to and not worry about foul language or sexual themes. There is a sad aspect that comes is a part of the story line, that may not fully be understood by young children, but it is something that parents can explain and use as a means to ask how something like this makes them feel.

Bandslam is rated PG for some Thematic Elements and Mild Language
Running time is 1 hr. 51 mins.

Friday, July 24, 2009

A New Kind Of Bromance

It’s been a decade since Ben and Andrew were the bad boys of their college campus. Ben has settled down and found a job, wife, and home. Andrew took the alternate route as a vagabond artist, skipping the globe from Chiapas to Cambodia. When Andrew shows up, unannounced, on Ben’s doorstep, they easily fall back into their old dynamic of heterosexual one-upmanship. After a night of perfunctory carousing, the two find themselves locked in a mutual dare: to enter an amateur porn contest. But what kind of boundary-breaking porn can two dudes make? After the booze and “big talk” run out, only one idea remains—they will have sex together…on camera. It’s not gay; it’s beyond gay. It’s not porn; it’s an art project. But how will it work? And more importantly, who will tell Anna, Ben’s wife? "Humpday" is a buddy movie gone wild. Shelton expertly mines this clever construct for every possible comedic and irreverent moment in Humpday.

Lynn Shelton's highly-buzzed Humpday is a very good dissection of friendship, sexuality, ego, domesticity, and our perceptions about who we are and how far we are willing to go to prove that we are not so easily-defined. We are all labeled on a nearly daily basis – "Husband," "Single," "Straight," "Gay" – and most of those labels do a horrible job of telling the whole story. Humpday is about two old friends who have gone in very different directions since college. One wanders the world, choosing where he's going to go and who he's going to bed on the spur of the moment. The other has a nice house, loving wife, and is trying to start a family. For one, sex has become random and, for the other, it has become determined by ovulation schedules. But the wanderer wants to prove that he can commit to something and the husband wants to prove that he isn't the "Mr. Picket Fence" that his old friend thinks he has become. How? By banging each other. Humpday may not be the single best movie I've seen so far this year—though it's certainly a contender for the title—but it's without doubt the most surprising. To listen to a description of the plot (two straight male friends somehow psych each other into collaborating on a gay porn film starring themselves), you'd think you knew exactly what kind of movie this is. The pitch meeting is drearily easy to imagine: Zack and Miri Make a Porno would be invoked, as would I Love You, Man, with the proper name Jonah Hill and the adjective Apatovian thrown in there somewhere. But Humpday exists in a realm blessedly apart from the mass-produced homosocial comedies of recent years. It's not even a response to, or a critique of, the Hollywood "bromance." It's a brainy, sparkling riff on friendship, marriage, sexual identity, and art. As the movie opens, Ben (Mark Duplass), a Seattle-based transportation engineer, lies in bed with his wife, Anna (Alycia Delmore). The two seem genuinely happy and in love, but there are the subtlest hints of marital ennui. Ben's wedding ring is just little too prominently foregrounded in the shot, and when the two agree that they're both too tired for sex, they're giddy with relief. As they're drifting off to sleep, the doorbell rings. It's Andrew (Joshua Leonard), Ben's best friend from college, a bohemian drifter who thinks nothing of showing up without calling at 2 a.m. Andrew beds down in the basement for a few days, his larger-than-life presence trying Anna's patience even as it puts Ben in touch with an earlier, edgier version of himself. Andrew drags Ben to a party hosted by a lesbian couple, where, after a few bong hits and glasses of wine, the conversation turns to Humpfest, an annual amateur porn-film festival hosted by the Seattle Stranger. (This event really exists, and you still have a few months to ready this year's submission.) Fueled by THC and sheer bravado, Ben and Andrew come up with a concept: They'll rent a hotel room, turn on a camera, and film themselves having sex. The resulting video will be "beyond gay," whatever that means, and for reasons that are never quite clear even to Ben and Andrew themselves, the experience of filming it will be both an act of creative expression and a character-building challenge.

As the clock ticks down toward Humpday, Ben and Andrew repeatedly talk themselves into and out of the project, tiptoeing all the while around the question of how to break the news to Anna. It's a talky movie, but the (partly improvised) talk is marvelously intricate and precise. Somehow the director, Lynn Shelton, manages to keep her high-concept premise afloat in a purely naturalistic setting. Ben's and Andrew's motives are at times comically self-serving and absurd, but their characters aren't set up as targets of satire. They're not clueless homophobes rigidly guarded against the possibility of real intimacy, nor are they the postmodern groovesters they'd like to believe they are. When the day of the big porn shoot finally arrives—I wouldn't dream of spoiling what happens physically between the two men, but I can say that it's accompanied by an epic, hilarious, and unpredictable conversation. Each hopes the other will back out of the idea, and they warily circle each other in the days and hours before the planned shoot. Ben, in particular, smarts against Andrew's condescension toward "the weird paradigm" in which he and Anna live. "You are not as Kerouac as you think you are," he tells Andrew in a moment of clarity, "and I'm not as white-picket-fence as you think I am." How do things work out? Well, I'm not going to tell you. Suffice to say that the talented Shelton gets honest, nuanced performances from her trio of actors; really, the most naked thing about the film is the way the cast bares the characters' souls. Their late-night conversations feel as natural as our own, with each pair within the trio (including a powerful scene between Anna and Andrew) creating their own intricate relationship. Though the film at times gets a little too talky, and the camerawork sometimes feels unnecessarily claustrophobic, Humpday surprises us from beginning to end. It's a fresh take on the familiar topic of friendship — and a wise one. A strong 4 on my "Go See" scale.

Humpday Gives Friendship A Whole New Meaning

Love stories come in all styles, throughout the ages we have seen just about every conceivable type of story, the "new" type is the male bromance movie, this year alone we have had several, the best of these was I Love You, Man, this movie dealt with every typical mans idea of friendship and the lengths we as men will go to keep that friendship. Now comes a different type of bromance movie that will push the boundaries of what most men think of friendship. In "Humpday" two friends make a drunken pledge that almost goes to far.

Ben (Mark Duplass) and Andrew (Joshua Leonard) have been friends since college, they don't really see each other that much, Ben has done the Man thing, he has grown up and even has gotten married, he and his wife, Anna (Alycia Delmore) are even trying to have a baby, they feel that they are now ready to have a complete family. While Andrew is off globe hopping. One night while in an airport in Mexico Andrew thinks why not drop in on an old friend, and he does so at two in the morning. The two men share a chemistry as friends who can take a step back and look at the other’s life with a touch of envy.

After hooking up with a polyamorous woman, Leonard tells Ben to come over to her house to pick him up, meanwhile Anna is at home cooking dinner for the three of them, and you can sense that when Ben gets to the house, it is going to be a long night. When Ben and Andrew start drinking, Ben has enough forethought to call Anna and tell her he is going to stay awhile. The party turns into an all night affair and Ben and Andrew get drunk, the group talks about an amateur film fest called humpday, where people enter homemade "artsy" porn films and are judged by the other contestants. The two are basically talked into making a film themselves.

The movie takes a turn here that most men would find creepy,how far are two friends expected to go for the sake of art? each man once the plot has been hatched is afraid of being the one to call it off, Ben doesn't want to be thought of as a straight laced family man and so he goads Andrew into sticking with the idea, even though he knows Anna won't approve. Once the game is set in motion the men think that it would be worse to back out, so their idea of two straight men having sex is about to become a reality for them.

Anna is of course upset with Ben, she doesn't understand why it is he thinks he has go through with what she thinks is a stupid idea, but after a confession of her own she tells Ben that if this is something that you feel committed to then he has to do it. When Ben gets to the motel room he has reserved for the taping, he has enough time to reconsider his options, when Andrew gets there the two decide that they will do it, but it takes some encouragement from each other to get started. The two start the tape rolling and explain what it is they are going to try to do. Things get off quickly and the two men decide that it may have been to quick, they sit on the bed and discuss what it is they are doing. In an interview with writer/director Lynn Shelton she claims that the two men were given Cart Blanche to do what ever they wanted, the ending of the film is all ad libbed, Lynn claims that even she didn't know what direction the two stars would take. These scenes in the motel room are some of the best on film today, the two men are so quick with their lines it is hard to fathom that they are ad libbed, these scenes also save the movie from being just another male bonding movie that we have seen over and over before.

I give Humpday a 3 and on my avoidance scale a 0, this is a small market film that may be able to compete for a major part of the market, it won't appeal to every one, it's theme is a little harsh for some people to sit through, but you should know, that there is no male frontal nudity and the worse thing the two men do is ...... Kiss.

Humpday is rated R for some Strong Sexual Content, Pervasive Language and a Scene of drug Use
Running time is 1 hr. 34 mins.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Big Things Come In Small Packages

Producer Jerry Bruckheimer brings his first 3-D film to the big screen with G-Force, a comedy adventure about the latest evolution of a covert government program to train animals to work in espionage. Armed with the latest high-tech spy equipment, these highly trained guinea pigs discover that the fate of the world is in their paws. Tapped for the G-Force are guinea pigs Darwin (voice of Sam Rockwell), the squad leader determined to succeed at all costs; Blaster (voice of Tracy Morgan), an outrageous weapons expert with tons of attitude and a love for all things extreme; and Juarez (voice of Penelope Cruz), a sexy martial arts pro; plus the literal fly-on-the-wall reconnaissance expert, Mooch, and a star-nosed mole, Speckles (voice of Nicolas Cage), the computer and information specialist.

There are five credited screenwriters on the kiddie action film G-Force, which sums up the frantic, suffocating thinking that ends up marring the picture. This is a team of super spy guinea pigs getting into all sorts of hijinks, there’s little need to add pathos or rigid character arcs. G-Force feels the urge to present audiences with a sympathetic portrayal of talking animals, when it’s clear that potential viewers, both young and old, would rather see these heroes in all stages of miniature combat and furry teamwork instead. Members of a top secret government spy squad, guinea pigs Darwin (Rockwell), Juarez (Cruz), Blaster (Morgan), and mole Speckles (Cage) make up the G-Force, guided by human agents Ben (Zach Galifianakis) and Marcie (Kelli Garner). On the hunt to uncover the insidious plan of global industrialist Saber (Bill Nighy), the team is unexpectedly shut down by a bureaucratic stooge (Will Arnett), retreating to a pet store to regroup and reassess the plan of attack. Meeting fellow cage inhabitants Hurley (Jon Favreau) and Bucky (Steve Buscemi), Darwin comes to learn his past might not have been as glamorous as originally thought, but his future and his country need his services to stop Saber from taking over the world through household appliances. I was taken with G-Force during the introductory sequences. The marriage of visual effects and distinctive voice work from the actors generates a special distraction of comedy and action, constructing a plucky matinee playground to enjoy. Boosted by 3-D imagery, G-Force has a unique personality, bountiful CG flair, and enough boomy, peppy Black Eyed Peas songs to keep the motor humming acceptably. Kids should be enthralled. 

G-Force is undeniably weird. It's not every day you see a coffee machine (Saber's plan involves appliances coming to life) attack a talking guinea pig in 3D. Kids like to see something new when they head to the theater, something they can talk about on the playground. "Remember when THAT happened?" And I really feel that G-Force delivers in that department. For the adults, the script isn't nearly as stupid as most of these types of films are. Yes, it's flawed. The villain could have been more than a two-line plot description and there could have been some more clever dialogue, but I never felt like my intelligence was being insulted and there are enough references aimed at the parents to keep them from regretting the family night at the movies. There's also an over-reliance on the "throwing things at the audience" angle of 3D although I don't feel like the kids in the audience will mind going "ooh" and "aah" every time they think a cute guinea pig is going to fall in their lap. There's a moment in G-Force that captured my imagination more than anything else I've seen in this summer's blockbuster movies. Certain nefarious activities in the film — which, by the way, is a genuinely enjoyable romp with talking guinea pigs working for U.S. intelligence — require a satellite circling our planet to make a mechanical adjustment of some sort. There's a cut to the satellite's position in space, similar to other shots of solo orbiters seen in action films. But the image in G-Force is different: While the essential satellite is in the foreground, we can see scores of others rounding Earth in varying directions and at different distances from the surface. One can't help but think, wow! This must be what it really looks like up there, with all those sedan-size machines crisscrossing the sky. The image lasts barely a second — G-Force never rests — but what lingers is the rarity of a fresh approach to an overly familiar idea and it works perfectly here. Go and see it with the little ones. You may just enjoy it as much as they do. This gets a 3 on my "Go See" scale.

Disney's Next Giants Are The G-Force Guinea Pigs?

In November of 1928 a man with a simple idea gave America what would later become a little giant, Mickey Mouse appeared in his first carton with sound. Since his introduction on the silver screen Walt Disney has shown us that if we just believe, we can see an elephant fly, and a lion become a king. Now comes Special Agent Guinea Pigs. "G-Force" is the newest creation from the studio behind the ears.

G-Force is a covert Government team of Guinea Pigs trained by Ben (Zach Galifianakis) comprised of three agents, Darwin (Sam Rockwell) is the squad leader, Blaster (Tracy Morgan) is the explosive expert with an adrenaline junky, Juarez (Penelope Cruz) and a mole Speckles (Nicolas Cage), who is the teams computer specialist. On the eve of a special over site meeting Ben tells the team that they need to prove themselves or they will be shut down, he sends the team on a covert mission to infiltrate the mansion of a diabolical billionaire, who plans to taking over the world with household appliances. Saber (Bill Nighy) has been secretly adding his own personal chip to his products and now he plans on turning them on.

The team is actually able to retrieve the information that they were sent to recover, unknown to Darwin though, at the time he downloaded the file he also captured a virus, the information once uploaded would look harmless. When Special Agent in Charge Kip Killian (Will Arnett) sees this he tells Ben that he is going to be shut down. The team is watching Ben get chewed out by Killian and they decide that to save the day they have to escape from the lab. The team escapes by getting onto a delivery truck that unfortunately takes them to a pet store, there they meet Hurley (Jon Favreau) and a hamster named Bucky (Steve Buscemi) who may or may not be part ferret. The team tries to get away but Blaster and Juarez are bought by Connor (Tyler Patrick Jones) and Penny (Piper Mackenzie Harris) while Speckles will pretend to be dead so he can be buried in the back yard and burrow his way to freedom. That plan goes awry from the start and he is tossed in a garbage truck. The G-Force team is chased by two Agents, Trigstad (Gabriel Casseus) and Carter (Jack Conley) they make these guys regret that as they regroup to save the day.

Bucky is the one who inadvertently frees Darwin and then pushes Hurley out as well, Darwin is not to happy that Hurley is now in the hunt for the right chip and Darwin reluctantly lets him tag along. When Darwin is attacked by one of Saber's machines he knows that they must get the info to Ben so that they can come up with an idea together. when he gets back to where Ben is he finds that Blaster and Juarez have escaped from the family that bought them. Ben tells the group that they are the last hope because no one else believes him, the team goes into action once again and decides they have to destroy the super chip by downloading it's own virus into its memory. The team that now includes Hurley springs into action, they meet the man behind Saber's quest for domination and it isn't who you would expect. The team saves the day with help from the one member they didn't think would be so desperately essential.

The G-Force team gets the recognition they wanted and some new friends join the flock, Bucky and three mice are now a part of the group, Darwin gives Hurley his own Rookie Agent badge and he celebrates with the rest of the team. This is the first 3-D movie produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, his touch of magic can be felt in the story, his tendency for loud action scenes even comes out here in a Disney movie. The voices all seem to fit the characters and Blaster seems to always be having the most fun. Darwin takes his leadership role to heart and when he learns he can relax and have fun, the rest of the team enjoys themselves right along with him.

I give G-Force a 3 and on my avoidance scale a 0, this is a movie that families will enjoy and parents can relax and not worry about language or more darker themes, this movie will be loved by children of most ages and dads you can sit back and have a great time with this movie as well, the 3-D effects seem to work the best if you sit to the right or left of the screen, they seem to jump right off and into your lap.

G-Force is rated PG for some Mild Action and Rude Humor
Running time is 1 hr. 28 mins.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Think Twice Before You Adopt

Devastated by the loss of their unborn baby, Kate (Vera Farmiga) and John (Peter Sarsgaard) decide to adopt a child. At the orphanage, both feel drawn to a little girl (Isabelle Fuhrman) named Esther, and soon the couple take their new daughter home. But when a dangerous series of events unfolds, Kate begins to suspect that there is something evil lurking behind the child's angelic exterior in Orphan.

The tragic loss of their unborn child has devastated Kate and John, taking a toll on both their marriage and Kate’s fragile psyche as she is plagued by nightmares and haunted by demons from her past. Struggling to regain some semblance of normalcy in their lives, the couple decides to adopt another child. At the local orphanage, both John and Kate find themselves strangely drawn to a young girl named Esther. Almost as soon as they welcome Esther into their home, however, an alarming series of events begins to unfold, leading Kate to believe that there’s something wrong with Esther—this seemingly angelic little girl is not what she appears to be. Concerned for the safety of her family, Kate tries to get John and others to see past Esther’s sweet facade. But her warnings go unheeded until it may be too late…for everyone. Farmiga and Sarsgaard play Kate and John Coleman, a composer and an architect who we meet after a series of tragedies. They recently suffered the unbearable pain of a stillborn child that they named Jessica, past infidelity on John's part is implied, and Kate is dealing with alcoholism that nearly caused a horrible accident with her other children, the precocious Daniel and the deaf Maxine. Seems like the perfect time to adopt a foreign pre-teen! Supposedly to deal with their grief about Jessica, the Colemans adopt a child who they feel they can give all the love that they've been denied the ability to give their deceased baby girl. So they adopt Esther (Fuhrman). Bad, bad idea. Esther is purportedly a Russian child whose family died in a random fire. (Hint: If a possible new member of your family has a mysterious past that includes death and potential arson, do some research before you sign the papers.) At first, Esther is well-spoken, interesting, and the kind of unique personality that Kate and John like to encourage. She wears dresses to school and ribbons around her neck and wrists. The fact that she NEVER takes the ribbons off and screams if you come near them might be a red flag to most normal people. Not the Colemans. Things start to go all "Bad Seed" when Esther has a run-in with a girl she doesn't like at the playground. She pushes her backwards off the slide and the girl breaks her ankle. There's a bit of "she said, she said" that would probably have blown over, but when the nun (CCH Pounder) who handled the adoption comes to check on Esther, the girl panics and thinks that she's being taken away. She kills the poor woman and the cover-up only leads to bigger problems. When an insane nine-year-old Russian girl turns to her younger deaf sister and signs for her to help dispose of a body, the over-the-top ridiculousness of it all is hard not to laugh at. 

Due largely to the excellent work by Vera Farmiga and Peter Sarsgaard, Jaume Collet-Serra's Orphan is a surprisingly effective thriller that should deliver exactly what audiences expect from it. Bucking the trend of being just another "demon kid" movie, Orphan features a clever mix of honest emotion and ridiculous, over-the-top, Mommie Dearest-esque insanity. Are the moments of insanity – mostly involving kid-on-kid crime – MEANT to be funny? I'm not sure that it matters. Movies are enjoyable for what they are, not for what they mean to be. And I have to admit to mostly enjoying Orphan. It runs way too long and features a few plot twists that stretch credulity but it is a genuinely intriguing and entertaining summer adult thriller. We haven't seen too many of those in recent years.  Farmiga and Sarsgaard do everything they can to ground their characters in reality, but the script by David Johnson does them a few disservices. Of course, Esther's plan is to turn her new parents against each other and John seems to go along with it way too easily. Sure, his wife had drinking problems, but would he really trust the new kid over her so easily? I like when directors go for atmosphere over breakneck pacing and it's refreshing to see two lead characters that are way more fleshed out than the cardboard cut-outs that we usually see in the genre, but over two hours is ridiculous for a film like this one. Ultimately, Orphan is a rarely seen mixed bag of styles – the realism of Farmiga and Sarsgaard combined with the lunacy of the story they're involved in – but that's why I like it. Nine times out of ten, the actors in a film like Orphan let the jump-cuts, action scenes, and twist ending do all the heavy lifting, but these two, especially the always-great Farmiga, fully commit. Horror story, thriller, cautionary tale about shoddy adoption practices, funnier comedy than Matthew McConaughey has made in years – Orphan is one of the weirdest major studio summer movies in a long time. It's the kid at the summer movie school that no one wants to play with because he's more than a little odd. I always liked kids like that. Maybe they should've adopted one that was a little younger and avoided all the tragedy of dealing with a nine year old. This is one to see. A definite 4 on my "Go See" scale.

This Orphan(age) Should Be Shut Down

Horror movies have taken on many guises, the slimy Alien in space, the dream killer, the serial killer and even killer babies. So now we get a young child who has developed her own taste for murder. This seems like an idea out of some twisted fairy tale. The sad thing about it is this move may be the beginning of the next trend in scary movies. "Orphan" is more of a suspense movie than horror but the previews and commercials sell it as a horror story.

The movie starts with every expecting parents nightmare, the loss of their infant child. This not only devastates them but almost breaks their marriage. Kate (Vera Farmiga) and John (Peter Sarsgaard) Coleman struggle each day with this loss, Kate seems to struggle the most, she has nightmares and turns to alcohol as a solution, this only makes the marriage weaker. One day while drunk, Kate has their younger child out on the water, the ice breaks and if it wasn't for John turning up when he did the families horror may have included the lose of their other daughter Max (Aryana Engineer). Struggling to regain some semblance of normalcy in their lives, the couple decides to adopt another child, turning to a local orphanage run by Sister Abigail (CCH Pounder), the couple take a tour of the facility and there John comes across a child alone in her room painting, John is immediately taken by Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman). Kate comes into the room and begins a conversation with the young girl and is also swayed by the child.

Almost as soon as they welcome Esther into their home, however, an alarming series of events begins to unfold, a young girl who has picked on Esther in school is pushed from a slide and breaks an ankle, Max witnesses Esther push her but because Esther pays so much attention to Max and has even learned sign language to communicate with her, Max tells her parents that she saw Brenda (Jamie Young) slip. The Coleman's oldest child Daniel (Jimmy Bennett) wants nothing to do with Esther, he says his friends make fun of him in school because of her. Things take a decidedly worse turn, when Sister Abigail come to the house and mentions the fact that she has been looking into Esther's past, she says she has found several odd things, and she also mentions the fact that Esther's last adopted family was all killed in an arson fire, Esther just barely made it out alive.

This information leads Kate to believe that there's something wrong with Esther, the sweet little facade is just a ruse, if she knew that at the same time Esther and Max were out on the road planning on stopping Sister Abigail Kate would have never believed how far Esther was willing to go to keep her secret. Esther pushes Max into the road when Sister Abigail is passing by, this cause her to swerve her car, using this Esther sneaks up on Sister Abigail and kills her, Max is so scared that she will be next she helps Esther hide the body. No longer trying to pretend to be anything but cold and calculating in front of Max, Esther tells Max that she will shoot mommy if Max tells. Seeing the two girls come out of his tree house Daniel tries to hide but is seen by Esther, that night while he is asleep, Esther comes into his room and holds a carpenter blade to his neck, she asks him what it was he saw in the woods, Daniel tries to tell her he just saw the two coming from the tree house. Esther holds the blade to Daniels privates and tells him if he mentions anything she will cut it off before he even knows what its used for. This so intimidates Daniel that he refuses to even talk about her after that.

Esther tries to break down the relationship between Kate and John, she keeps telling John that mommy doesn't love me, John tells her to do something nice for mommy, Esther picks the roses that Kate has planted in memory of their daughter Jessica. This breaks Kate's heart and in an act of true madness Esther puts her arm in a vise and breaks it, telling John it was Kate. Esther also sets the family cars gear shifts in reverse while Max is still in the car. The car narrowly escapes an accident. When Daniel is able to get alone with Max he asks her what happened in the car, Max points out some of her drawings and Daniel figures out what Esther was doing in the tree house, of course Esther hears Daniel talking to Max, when Daniel goes to the tree house he is surprised by Esther and she proceeds to lock him in as she sets it on fire. Later at the hospital she tries to finish the job of killing Daniel, she is stopped only because Max isn't willing to let her go that far.

By now Kate has contacted an agency in Russia and the information she gets is shocking, it seems the institute where Esther was is not an adoption agency but a mental hospital. The child has a long history of trouble following her. By the time Kate is able to make it to the house Esther has taken control of the situation there, John is getting drunk and Esther is making her move. Telling Esther that she is wrong and that they have to do something about this situation John seals his fate. The ending give us the expected confrontation between Kate and the real Esther, in the one place that the movie makes obvious from the beginning. Marketed as a horror movie, Orphan fails to entertain, as a thriller though this movie has it's moments, the psychological horror is there and it makes this movie tolerable, still all in all, I still can't find anything here worth a recommendation.

I give The Orphan a 1 and on my avoidance scale I give it a 1 again, wait a few weeks and this one can be watched in the comfort of your own home. One thing I can say for this movie, they never give us the scene where someone closes a medicine cabinet and standing behind them is the "bad" guy we do get such a scene but the person in the background is just John. There isn't any thing in this movie that will make your pulse race, not even the expected conclusion.

The Orphan is rated R for Disturbing Violent Content, Some Sexuality and Language
Running time is 2 hrs. 03 mins.

The Truth Isn't Always Ugly


In The Ugly Truth, Abby Richter (Katherine Heigl) is a lovelorn TV producer who, despite a long and arduous search for the perfect mate, is hopelessly single. The battle of the sexes heats up when her employers team her up with Mike Chadway (Gerard Butler), an opinionated TV celebrity who plans to put Abby through the wringer to prove his own theories about what makes men and women tick.


In the past year, movies aimed primarily at women -- including "Sex and the City," "He's Just Not That Into You" and "The Proposal" -- have scored at the boxoffice, demonstrating the potency of an underserved audience as well as the value of counterprogramming. The latest chick flick, "The Ugly Truth," may not scale the boxoffice heights achieved by some of these films. But with clever appeal to the guys as well as the girls, it seems likely to become a medium-size hit for Columbia. Robert Luketic directed two other successful female-oriented comedies, "Legally Blonde" and "Monster-in-Law," and while this film is unfortunately closer in quality to the latter than the former, it has just enough laughs to squeak by. "Truth" hopes to add a raunchier spin to the Doris Day/Rock Hudson comedies, such as "Pillow Talk" and "Lover Come Back," which focused on two professional rivals who hate each other at first sight and only gradually recognize the attraction simmering beneath their hostility. Katherine Heigl plays Abby, the producer of a morning TV show in Sacramento that is struggling in the ratings. The station manager decides to add a new face to the mix -- Mike (Butler), a late-night cable TV personality who has won notoriety for his blunt commentaries on why lovesick women don't understand men's animal needs. Abby detests everything that the macho Mike represents, but she is forced to work with him when his segment called "The Ugly Truth" becomes a hit with viewers. Along the way, she realizes that her own love life could use some improvement, and maybe Mike's insights into the male psyche can help her to land the handsome doctor (Eric Winter) who lives next door. It takes a while for her to perceive that her true soulmate is sitting right across the TV console. 

The script by Nicole Eastman, Karen McCullah Lutz, and Kirsten Smith is wildly uneven. The best scenes are those in which Mike coaches Abby on how to inflame the doctor's interest, and she grudgingly comes to appreciate his savvy intuitions. On the other hand, the TV broadcasts are way too crude; even in a time of relaxed standards, it's hard to believe that Mike's sexually explicit rants would ever make it onto a network newscast. The big gross-out scene, in which Abby wrestles with a vibrator, also reeks of desperation. The movie wastes an excellent supporting cast. John Michael Higgins and Cheryl Hines have promising roles as the married, perpetually squabbling anchors, but they don't get enough opportunity to demonstrate their comic chops. Kevin Connolly has a too-brief scene as one of Abby's hapless blind dates. Only Bree Turner as Abby's ever-patient assistant gets a chance to shine. A romantic comedy depends, of course, on the chemistry between the leads, and here the film is more successful. Both Heigl and Butler find the appeal in very flawed characters. It has been said that every memorable romantic movie requires a scene where the lovers dance together, and Luketic has staged an effervescent dance for the stars. Unfortunately, the director fails to do much with the setting. Sacramento is a pallid presence, indistinguishable from Peoria or Toledo. Even though the picture sputters and stumbles, it arrives at the ending that audiences crave. Heigl and Butler are both bright, likeable and funny. The film, while thin and tacky, is well paced and graced with a modern peppy sound track. Despite the ages of the leads, the film plays to younger audiences, goes for the Judd Apatow crowd. Aside from the last minute resolution which subtracts both cinematically and thematically, the film moves along well enough and provides plenty of not-so-innocent laughs. The two leads work well together and it's what made this one work for me. It gets a 3 on my "Go See" scale.

A Mans Facts Of Life Are A Womens Ugly Truth

Hollywood has been giving us romantic pictures since the very beginning, we have seen every conceivable type of story that has ever been thought of. Most of these stories are told from the women's perspective and are considered "chick" flicks by most men. Now Hollywood has turned the tables and has given us "The Ugly Truth" this is a rare movie, in the fact that it tells its tale from the man's perspective, and in this case the truth will turn match making on its head.

Abby (Katherine Heigl), is an idealistic, producer of a Sacramento morning news show with sagging ratings, her one problem in life is that she is a total control freak, she has everything planned out in advance she even has emergency plans to deal with the emergencies that pop up at work. She even has an assistant, Joy (Bree Turner) who does background checks on potential boyfriends. One night after one such date, one that fails to live up to what Abby expected, she is in her bedroom and happens across a cable access show called, "The Ugly Truth". The shows host, Mike (Gerard Butler) is the one man that bucks everything that Abby believes a man should be, Mike gives advice to men that Abby finds so offensive that she is compelled to call in and tell him. Of course she gets through and after being insulted and called almost every name Mike can think of he hangs up on her. The next evening, after returning home from work Abby has to chase her cat, climbing into a nearby tree Abby happens upon her new neighbor, Colin (Eric Winter) when the limb breaks and Abby falls she is rescued by Colin who is wearing just a towel that Abby in her fright rips off him. She thinks that things may be looking up, Colin is a doctor and had helped bandage Abby's ankle, he also gave her his card with his home number on it.

When Abby gets to work she is walking on air, of course this wont last, her boss Stuart (Nick Searcy) has just informed the team that he has hired Mike to be an on air personality. Abby and the rest of the team are offended and make this point known, Stuart has failed to mention that Mike has already been hired and is in the building. Abby and Mike are like oil and vinegar they just don't mix, but in true Hollywood cliche fashion we already know that they will end up together, this time though its fun to watch as it slowly happens. Abby is against working with Mike so much so that she hides in her closet, Stuart comes in and tells her that the shows ratings have doubled in just one show, and that they are going to give Mike even more time on air, Mike shares that slot with the stations on air talent, husband and wife anchors, Larry (John Michael Higgins) and Georgia, (Cheryl Hines) Mike tells them that they need to make love more, this immediately makes them his friends.

Mike becomes the biggest thing at the station, company CEO's fly in to take him to dinner, he is given free reign to discuss what ever he wants to talk about. As Mike and Abby reluctantly get closer Mike tells Abby he will help her make Colin her bitch or if he fails he will quit the program, Abby agrees and the ensuing mischief is some of the funniest scenes in the movie, Abby and Colin make a trip to the ballgame and they end up on the jumbotron as she is cleaning an area of his pants best left to privacy. As Abby and Colin get closer Mike notices Abby for the person she can be and begins to take an interest in her. The two grow closer and when Abby tells Mike she and Colin are going to Lake Tahoe Mike knows he is not good enough for her. Mike gets a guest spot on the Late Late show and Stuart hears he is going to sign a contract with a rival program, he sends Abby along with Mike to try to get him to turn that offer down, the two spend some quiet time alone on the dance floor that leads to even more closer time in the elevator. When Abby gets to her hotel suite Colin's knocks on the door, he is hoping to spend some time with Abby alone, meanwhile Mike has worked himself up after the kiss in the elevator and decides he is going to tell Abby that he has fallen in love with her, when he knocks on the door, Colin answers it and Mike thinking that Abby and he have planned this decides to walk away, Abby follows Mike and offers to tell Colin to leave, Mike tells her that she doesn't have to do that.

Returning back to Sacramento Abby finds out from Stuart that Mike has quit and gone to another station, Abby tells Stuart that she will find a replacement for the show and finds one that she thinks will be perfect. Jack Magnum (Adam Harrington) turns out to be a bust and when Abby climbs into a hot air balloon to do the rest of the story she begins by saying that all men are just jerks, Mike is watching and gets upset and goes to tell her she is wrong, the two end up on the balloon as it is taking off, unaware that they are still on television and they argue about how they other has made them feel. Mike tells Abby that he loves her and Abby tells Mike that she has dumped Colin, this is one of the more sappiest make ups in picture history but the movie is so good that it doesn't matter.

Heigl and Butler play so well together that they seem as if they have been doing it for sometime, their slapstick is spot on and the jokes are as funny as most you would expect in a family movie. There is nothing vulgar or offensive in this movie, a little foul language but it's something that we have all heard before. Guys you wont be disappointed if you take your date to this movie and they will laugh right along with you.

I give The Ugly Truth a 3 and on my avoidance scale a 0, this is a movie aimed at the older viewer but most younger people will find it amusing, also Gerard Butler is very cute, but I for one can't wait to see him in another action role, he has the body meant for the scenes where his shirt gets torn away.

The Ugly Truth is rated R for Sexual Content and Language
Running time is 1 hr. 35 mins.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Blood...Just As Entertaining As Its Animated Counterpart

In Blood: The Last Vampire, Saya (Gianna Jun) boasts beauty-queen looks and samurai-level sword skills, and her talent as a vampire hunter is unrivaled. But Saya is herself half-vampire, thanks to her bloodsucking mother and human father. This live-action update of the anime favorite finds Saya on the hunt for Onigen (Koyuki), the mother of all vampires.

Blood: The Last Vampire is as good as any Hollywood movie, which is to say it’s got lousy visual effects and generic dialogue. Since we’re already forgiving that anyway, there’s enough engaging action to make it plenty fun and entertaining. Saya (Gianna) is half human, half vampire (though the movie says demon). Since she still looks like a teenager at 400 years old, she can go undercover as a schoolgirl on a military base. Taking place in Post WWII period, vampire hunter Saya is appointed to the local army base to infiltrate a school teeming with vampires under the guise of the living. Gianna Jun is a lion as the vicious but silent Saya who is given the task of being the only living being able to bring down vampires and demons for the US government and this taxes her to the degree where she finds she's (much to her surprise) pretty much outnumbered. If you've seen the original my description sounds pretty closely based on the original except that Saya is more closely characterized with intimate moments between she and her relatives and how she got her start working as a vampire hunter. When the general’s daughter Alice (Allison Miller) catches her chopping up school bullies, she unintentionally gets involved with Saya’s hunt for the evil Onigen. The film looks shiny and polished, so that compares favorably to the big blockbusters. There are unknown faces playing the familiar genre types and they are not as reliable. The crotchety general (Larry Lamb) really hams it up. Lamb can’t even play a bad parent believably. Generic guys in suits say lines that they’ve heard in other movies as exposition. Racist teen bitches are more The Hills than Mean Girls but it sure is fun to see them slaughtered. Giana is quick and strong, and silent, which equals badass as Saya. Who doesn’t like a kick-ass schoolgirl? Miller is actually quite good as the human sidekick. She has a Rachel McAdams quality and feels sincere and sympathetic, even though it’s the standard outsider discovering this magical realm with family issues role. 

The fights are relentless, which makes them cool even though the effects are bad. Fighting off a horde of vampires while protecting Alice simultaneously is cool multitasking. They utilize some familiar wire moves but throw in some clever kills. They use speed ramping or jump cutting to make Saya super fast, and since I can’t pinpoint the technique on my own, it sold me. The monsters are laughable, but the ideas are worth forgiving. A bat vamp chasing after a plane is much cooler than the Twilight vampire jumping on trees, which didn’t look any better anyway. They attempt a Spielberg sequence with a truck falling down a chasm. Good effort. Saya’s sword kick is a good signature move. Sometimes the villains just line up for a slaughter, but they still deliver good kills. All of the blood splatters are CGI, which look ridiculous. The benefit is that without having to worry about squibs, the choreographer could do whatever wild action he wanted. The downside is we have to look at fake blood sprays. That’s Hollywood though, so can’t blame the little guys if the big guys don’t do it any better. I may watch Blood: The Last Vampire again, despite its flaws. It had enough memorable action, and I’ve certainly praised movies with more exposition. Blood: The Last Vampire earns its keep by doing a lot with a little. As quickie exploitation films go, it fails to rise above decidedly lowered expectations, and anyone hoping for the second coming of Crouching Tiger is in for a big disappointment. The presence of a non-English director (Chris Nahon) does little to improve the less-than-stellar dialogue, and its special effects won't make anyone sit up and cheer. Yet it retains a certain inventiveness when blocking its copious action scenes, and succeeds in delivering some basic thrills in an energetic and quick-paced manner. We've reached the time of year when that's all that really matters. Blood: The Last Vampire works as a dual layered film that adapts the anime while expanding on the mythos of the original in spite of the paper thin plot. Newcomers need apply for this pretty raucous action horror. If anything watch it for the cool vamps and powerful performance from star Jun. Not GREAT, but good for what it is; highly entertaining. This gets a 3 on my "Go See" scale.

Manga Blood Makes The Last Vampire A Must See

Hollywood has given us their versions of many Foreign movies, some were great in it's original language, "Trust No One" was fantastic in French, "Let The Right One In" was superb in its original Swedish. Hollywood loves to either remake or to dupe Japanese movies and release them in America. Few of these hold it's original tension or beauty. The latest Foreign movie to get an American flavor is "Blood: The Last Vampire" a story of blood lust and revenge, a story of Vampires and their power to destroy and their lust for blood.

On the surface, Saya (Gianna Jun) is a stunning 16-year-old, but that youthful exterior hides the tormented soul of a 400-year-old half human half vampire, her sworn duty is to revenge her grand-father's murder at the hand of the vile creature she calls Onigen (Koyuki). Saya tracks down and kills the bottom feeders as they travel throughout the city, she wields her sword and kills these creature before they can turn into the creatures that their human form hides. Saya works for a mysterious Government Agency that supplies her with bottles of blood, so she won't have to hunt humans for her own energy source.

After tracking and killing such a creature Saya is told that a nearby military base is being used for a food source by vampires and that she is going to be placed into the bases school to try to find and destroy these creatures. Her first day at school is like every males idea of a Japanese school girl, she shows up in a short skirt knee high socks and a pixie look with pigtails. Using her superhuman strength and her sword, she begins to rid the base of its evil infestation in a series of spectacular and elaborate showdowns between her and these creatures. Making friends is hard for her, she doesn't want to trust anyone, but when she saves the life of Alice Mckee (Allison Miller) she is sworn to now protect this girl. Alice wants to help rid the base of these creatures, she has influence of course because her father is the bases commanding officer.

When Saya and Onigen have their fated run in, Saya is saddened to find out that the connection between the two is blood deep, it isn't just Saya's need for revenge that is developed here, it is a close bond that Saya must except before she is able to slay Onigen. The battle sequence looks more like a dream state than reality, Alice tries to help Saya, but is unable to, this is a fight only Saya can win, the blood lust is given into and Saya is able to emerge victorious.

The martial arts action is something the movie has in abundance, the plot is weak but is saved by the action that most of this manga's fan will love. The plot line moves right along so hold on tight, Blood has a lot to tell in a short time, this is one movie that doesn't slow down to take a deep breath. It goes and never stops until the credits roll. To make up for the lack of martial arts training of the movies stars, director Chris Nahon decided to spice things up a bit through extremely fast cuts, close ups, and a dash of time-lapse or slow motion here and there. Stylistically it may look gorgeous, but you become well aware that these were employed to mask short-comings in the action sequences, and this alone may be the one thing you remember, after all fans of this type of movie have seen it all before.

I give Blood: The Last Vampire a 3 and on my avoidance scale a 0, this is the movie that you can escape to and not regret it, it has action breaking out of the seams, plus it has plot and is plenty graphic. This is a movie that younger teens will enjoy as well as fanboys.

Blood: The Last Vampire is rated R for Strong Bloody Stylized Violence Running time is 1 hr. 29 mins.

Big Dollars Control This Food Inc.

One way the smaller movie company tries to compete with their big brother type studio is to release a documentary, some of these are fascinating while others are meant to wake the viewer up. One such documentary is "Food, Inc." this movie is not just meant to wake you up, but enlighten you to just what it is you are eating today. Food, Inc. is an unflattering look inside America's corporate controlled food industry, the giants that run this number one money making industry don't want the people that they supple a product for, to get inside and see for themselves just what kind of conditions the product is prepared under.

Food, Inc., directed by Robert Kenner, gives America the chance to see just how their dinner is prepared, packaged and delivered to their grocery store. Kenner is an advocate for greater food safety and the film with commentary by Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation) and Michael Pollan (The Omnivore's Dilemma). Attempts to convince the public of the shortsightedness of the mega-corporations that dominate the food industry and their method of increasing profits often at the expense of public safety. Representatives from food-producing giants such as Monsanto, Smithfield, Tyson and Perdue that control our food supply were invited to be interviewed for the film but declined.

Interviewing farmers and ranchers, Kenner learned that they are mostly at the mercy of mega-corporations like Monsanto which have increased their share of the soybean market from 2% to 98% in the last decade. Monsanto developed and patented their own custom gene for soybeans and now threaten their customers with lawsuits for patent infringement if they save their own seeds to use the next year. The film observes that part of the reason why the food industry is so hard to regulate is that many of the government officials currently assigned to watchdog roles were once employed by the companies they now monitor and notes that FDA food inspections have plummeted from 50,000 in 1972 to 9,200 in 2006. Other subjects covered are the treatment of cows that are forced to eat corn instead of grass, and this diet of corn causes the cows to become infected with the E. Coli bacteria. The dreadful conditions of chickens that are kept in darkened houses (pens) designed to raise them, this has helped to develop chickens that grow bigger, faster and with more breast meat, before they are slaughtered. On that subject, Kenner interviews Carole Morrison who was unwilling to jam her chickens into these house without any sunlight and, as a result, had her contract canceled by a giant chicken conglomerate (Perdue) who refused to have any further business dealings with her. Also discussed are the growing rates of diabetes in young people, the soaring incidence of obesity, and the use of low paying illegal immigrants to work in the food processing industry.

In spite of the horror stories, however, Food, Inc. is not depressing and Kenner seems more interested in educating the public than frightening them. He shows that people can make a difference, he mentions the strangle hold the tobacco industry once had, as well as the efforts of an entrepreneur from Stonyfield Farms who sold his line of organic products to Wal-Mart and a Virginia farmer who insists on raising animals with dignity and respect.

It's hard to keep a balance in such a documentary, the story of one Hispanic family is important, everyday people must make choices of eating healthy or just eating. The one voice that will stick with me the longest is Barbara Kowalcyk, who works in Washington with her mother as an advocate for stricter laws. Her 2 1/2-year-old son Kevin died in 12 days from a virulent form of E. Coli after eating a hamburger while the family was on vacation. She doesn't want your sympathy, she is looking for a means to control an indifferent industry.

Seeing these big food conglomerates penning up animals hoof deep in their own excrement, chickens packed to the point of suffocation and force fed vitamins and antibiotics so they can be slaughtered in a shorter period of time will continue to stay with me, the one point I hope everyone takes from this film is why does my hamburger need to be mixed with Clorox to be safe for me to eat it?

I give Food, Inc. a 3 and on my avoidance scale I give it a 0, this is something that everyone should be talking about, see this movie and then demand that your elected officials make some hard laws for these companies to live up to, it's not just your health at risk, but theirs as well. We must make these companies conform to a higher standard in the preparation of our food.

Food, Inc. is rated PG for some Thematic Material and Disturbing Images
Running time is 1 hr. 34 mins.


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

See The World In A New Way With Adam

Romance can be risky, perplexing and filled with the perils of miscommunication -- and that's if you aren't Adam, for whom life itself is this way. In this heartfelt romantic comedy, Hugh Dancy stars as Adam, a handsome but intriguing young man who has all his life led a sheltered existence - until he meets his new neighbor, Beth (Rose Byrne), a beautiful, cosmopolitan young woman who pulls him into the outside world, with funny, touching and entirely unexpected results. Their implausible and enigmatic relationship reveals just how far two people from different realities can stretch in search of an extraordinary connection.

Adam has a very specific way of living. He has his clothes lined out and he eats the same meal all the time. He follows a very specific pattern which is threatened after the death of his father. Specifically, Adam has Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of high functioning autism that makes his ability to connect with others nearly impossible. And once a new neighbor named Beth arrives, she begins to see Adam as someone unique and possibly even attractive. As the two continue to see each other, a romance begins, yet one that is a little more difficult than your average rom-com. Romantic comedies are like any other genre. There is a formula to follow and everything that follows fits exactly where it should. Yes, they can be a little more challenging or sometimes as far from it as you can get, but they generally have the same recipe. With Adam, the specific guidelines are followed pretty closely as a woman falls in love with an unusual man, but somehow the two grow to love each other. Yet what makes Adam unique is the fact that the title character has Aspergers Syndrome. It is a form of autism that can leave those diagnosed severely troubled when it comes to social situations, among other issues that come with the diagnosis. There are no two people with Aspergers that are alike, and therefore, they are very unique in whatever else comes with the disorder. With Adam (Dancy), he has an obsessive love for the universe and all the stars and planets that light up the nighttime sky. He eats the same meal and wears the same type of outfit, and with his father’s help, he has managed to find a job where he helps design toys. This is an absolutely unlikely romantic lead as he is scarcely able to understand society, and why what they say is almost always different than what they mean. Up until now, he always had his father to take care of him, but after his father’s death, he is left alone. That is, until a new girl moves into the building and shows interest in her quirky neighbor. The girl, Beth Buchwald (Rose Byrne) finds Adam’s behavior a bit odd, yet still seems to notice a sweet natured human being underneath it all. What is utterly refreshing is that most films use the “special needs” character as either a joke or a way to grab the audiences sympathy, Adam uses it to make a surprisingly touching love story. Both he and Beth are given some very human dilemma’s as they try to co-exist with each other. While the young man can barely give you a hello without really thinking about it, he can surely tell you everything you need to know (and much more) about the universe. And Beth, a teacher who has a patient and nurturing soul is both intrigued by him and possibly even in love with him. But sometimes, she is completely in the dark about who he is. 

Now, Adam is not a perfect film by all means. The biggest problem I had is a sad one indeed. As much as I was thrilled to see Amy Irving on the back on the big screen as Beth’s mother, I felt that the SAY ANYTHING… relationship between Beth and her parents was unnecessary and took a little bit of the heart away for my liking. Her father played by Peter Gallagher is the guy who may or may not be doing something illegal in the company he works for, but he also feels that Adam is certainly no match for his lovely daughter. After all, this is Adam’s story and the focus needed to remain on him and the challenge he and Beth faced trying to keep a blossoming romance. Again, that really is the life blood that flows within the film. It is touching and sincere and it may even frustrate audiences at the difficulty of these two just being together. I found a lot to like in Adam. While the film does have a few flaws with where the story goes, it is a brave new world to see a love story that presents a bigger challenge then infidelity or selfishness or whatever. There is a warm and charming tone that is brought to life by writer/director Max Mayer, but the key really lies with the strong and beautiful performances. Add to that a very sweet and fitting collection of songs that are used incredibly well throughout the film. They are eclectic and sweet, yet not overtly so, in fact, the soundtrack is much like the quirky romance it inhabits, just plain warm and charismatic. Adam is a sweet lil movie that is a definite must see. 4 on my "Go See" scale.

When Your This Adam Love Can Be Hard To Understand

Hollywood has a habit to over explain situations or diseases to the viewing audience, sometimes it's important and sometimes, well it makes sense only to be used as an plot explanation of sorts. Take "Adam" for example, there is a character in the movie whose sole purpose for being there, is to explain what it is that is wrong with one of the main characters in the movie, and of course they just happen to have a book that deals with this infliction handy. After this one scene that character is never seen or mentioned again, once their role is finished the story moves on. This little tendency of most Hollywood studio's usually ruins a movie for me, but Adam is such a well acted movie, that I can overlook what must be the studios fear that I won't like the movie if I don't understand what it is Adam is dealing with.

Adam Raki (Hugh Dancy) is a single man dealing with Asperger's Syndrome, a form of Autism that is characterized by impaired social interaction and communication, and by restricted and repetitive behavior. Adam's father has just passed away and his life seems to crash around him, his everyday simple chores are written out for him so he won't forget to do them. One day he meets the new tenant, Beth Buchwald (Rose Byrne) who has just ended a bad relationship and wants away from everything that would remind her . When she meets Adam she at first seems at a loss for his behaviour, she is of course unaware of what it is Adam is dealing with.

Adam has a very close friend, Harlan (Frankie Faison), who was in the service with Adam's father and knows how to help Adam when he is having a bad time. One such case is when the fathers will is being read, Adam, who helped designs toys has just been fired, and with no income the lawyer suggests Adam sell his apartment, being the only home Adam has ever known he of course freaks out at the idea of selling. So Harlan tells Adam he has to get a job, and along with the help of Beth, who by now Adam has befriended, he studies for the interview process, and when the friendship between the two turn into a more serious relationship it is Beth's father, Marty Buchwald (Peter Gallagher) who has the biggest problem with it. Marty is under investigation because he has hidden a few things for a client and the FCC has found out, Beth is in shock, she was under the assumption that her daddy was above reproach.

When Adam meets Marty he doesn't fully understand that when he asks if Marty will be going to jail, that the question is inappropriate and Beth gets mad at him. Adam doesn't really understand what it is he has done wrong, Beth leaves Adam alone on the sidewalk, a few days later Beth brings him a box of chocolates and Adam says "I'm not Forrest Gump you know". When the day comes for the trial to start both Beth and Rebecca Buchwald (Amy Irving) are in the court room, when Marty admits to having an affair with the daughter of the client he is being investigated for, the news shocks Beth. She refuses to go back in the court room and when Rebecca calls looking for Beth Adam answers, finding a book with some notes in it that the dinner where Adam met her family was staged Adam gets upset that Beth lied to him, and starts to throw things.

Adams actions scare Beth so bad that she agrees to go home with her parents, the trial is over and Marty has been sentenced, Harlan tells Adam not to make a mistake, at least talk to Beth give her a chance, Adam goes to where Beth is to ask her to go to California with him, one of the jobs he applied for panned out and he was offered a job. Standard Hollywood cliche would have Beth and Adam living happily ever after, but here director Max Mayer throws a little bit of the unexpected at the viewers. This only increases the likability of this picture. Hugh Dancy should be applauded for his efforts to bring Adam to life, all his tendencies and action seem real and not faked, that is a hard thing to pull off, usually only dedicated actors are willing to make that much effort.

I give Adam a 3 and on my avoidance scale a 0, this is a touching movie that unlike My Sisters Keeper, won't make you cry. You will enjoy watching as Adam grows before your eyes and you will cheer for his every success. Adam is touching and funny, it will make you care about what happens and you will share his every disappointment with him, and rejoice as he finally obtains the one element he is at home in.

Adam is rated PG-13 for Thematic Material, Sexual Content and Language
Running time is 1 hr. 37 mins.