Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Grandson Teaches Grandpa How To Play The Game

Play The Game is an original comedy with surprising and clever twists about a young ladies' man, David, who teaches his dating tricks to his lonely, widowed grandfather Joe, while playing his best mind games to meet Julie, the woman of his dreams. But as David's supposedly foolproof techniques fail him, Grandpa Joe quickly transforms into the Don Juan of the retirement community. Slowly, the teacher becomes the student, and it's up to Grandpa to teach David that the best way to win the game of love is not to play games at all. But both David and Grandpa Joe may have met their match in more ways than one, leading to a surprise twist ending that makes the audience look back at the entire film in a new light.

It’s rare these days to find a film that appeals to a wide range of ages. Play the Game aims to do that on several levels, and with just the slimmest margin, might satisfy multiple-aged targets. David (Paul Campbell) possesses the typical knack of a car salesman – a PhD in “I can sell anyone anything.” It’s a good thing, too, because his boss is his grumpy dad (Clint Howard) who owns the dealership. Though not exactly overly emphasized here, one gets the feeling there’s no strong father/son relationship between these two. That’s why David would rather spend time with his grandfather. Joe (Andy Griffith), now a widower, lives in a senior complex and spends a lot of time alone even though there are many women around for companionship. David realizes he might be able to teach Grandpa the very “Steps To Get a Woman” that he and his friends use. Slowly Joe comes out of his shell. He makes innocent conversation with Rose (Doris Roberts), but her boyfriend frowns when Joe keeps giving her roses. It’s when he meets Edna (Liz Sheridan) that Joe really scores. She turns him into a real hot commodity in the senior home. While David seems delighted with Grandpa’s new zeal for life, he’s not so celebratory about his own female conquests. He set his eye on the beautiful and independent Julie (Marla Sokoloff). Yet none of his tricks work on her. She sees him more as a big brother. Slowly David starts to understand the advice his grandfather gave him about finding real love. But is it too late? Play the Game is based on writer/director Marc Feinberg's own real experience with his grandfather. How he got his story to the big screen is almost as interesting as the film. The struggle took 12 years during which time he served as writer, director, producer, distributor and now marketing machine. Feinberg is most pleased that the film is attracting a mixed audience. “From baby boomers to seniors there are not a lot of movies targeted to all ages,” he said. “Of course, the seniors love it, but as weeks go by we’re seeing high school and college age kids coming. They like the dating story line and walk out feeling they learned something. And it’s nice to see them make a connection with their grandparents and laugh together.”

Although the story is occasionally slow – and I wasn’t quite ready to see Mayberry’s Sheriff Taylor rolling around in a love nest – Play the Game receives a boost from its capable cast. Griffith, Roberts and Sheridan tackle their roles like the professionals we’ve come to cherish. They deliver heartfelt, interesting and believable performances. Sokoloff is absolutely charming as the controlled Julie with a few tricks of her own. I hope to see more of her on the big screen. Clint Howard never needs a lot of time to make an impression, and his nasty attitude as Dick instantly raises eyebrows. Likewise for his own father, Rance Howard, who is also Ron Howard’s dad. His brief appearances are nicely noticeable. Paul Campbell is perfect as David, especially in the way he frets while struggling to keep Dad happy. He finds his own way, but he’s always thoughtful and open with his grandfather. Personally, I like the unexpected twist in his movie and appreciate its lack of violence, murders, doom & gloom and unending profanity. There are many good moments to savor in Play the Game. I definitely recommend it. This gets a 3 on my "Go See" scale.

The Rules Stay The Same When You Play The Game

Family comedies rarely give the entire family something to laugh at, but when they come along they are a joy to watch, some have a little bit more of an adult theme and shouldn't be watched by the very young, such is the case with "Play The Game" a very good family movie that will have you laughing. The jokes tend to side on the more adult level but they are not overtly sexual or gross. Written and directed by Marc Fienberg Play The Game tells the story of a ladies man brought to his knees by love.

David Mitchell (Paul Campbell) is a ladies man who has a few problems he is trying very hard to avoid, namely he doesn't get along with his father, Dick (Clint Howard) who has turned his back on his own father, Joe (Andy Griffith). David has bought and paid for a retirement home for grandpa Joe and tries to see him as often as he can. David tells Joe that he has to get out and enjoy what is left of his life. Joe joins David and his friend Rob (Geoffrey Owens) for a boys night out. David shows Grandpa Joe how the game is played. Picking up a girl in the bar seems easy for David and it so impresses Grandpa Joe that he decides he is going to try it out back at the retirement house.

Joe meets a few woman and takes them out, he doesn't meet the one woman that he wants to spend the rest of his life with until he meets Rose (Doris Roberts), the only problem is that Rose is dating another man. David in the mean time has met his match in Julie Larabee (Marla Sokoloff), David meets Julie one day on the football field where Rob has goaded him into playing, David is so taken with Julie that he starts to hang outside her building, even bribing her doorman to get information about her daily routine. Of course both Joe and David find that life is harder when you try to hard and Joe at least decides to try things his way and meets Edna Gordon (Liz Sheridan) while David pretends that a friendship with Julie is enough for him. David drives Rob and his wife Carrie (Juliette Jeffers) crazy with his problem.

Joe finds out that life may be better when you are ready for it to change and David finds out that be honest can bring him his dreams. Both guys end up with the woman of their dreams but the journey is long and that is what makes this movie one of the better love stories to come out in a long time. The story moves at a pace that feels right, one story is that the movie is based on the life of the Grandfather of director Marc Fienberg. That this movie may be a tribute to a man who influenced his life is a great thing to do, and along the way Marc gives us a shining example of what it takes to truly be happy.

I give Play The Game a 3 and on my avoidance scale a 0. Sometimes simpler is better, and Play The Game gives us a simple story about moving forward and meeting the person who will most influence your life. The cast plays so well off of each other that it's hard to believe that none of them have acted together before, the movies little jokes will keep a smile on your face, and the jokes of the dirtier variety will have you laughing out loud. It is a shame that a movie this good won't find a big audience, Play The Game has no graphic nudity or violence so the younger crowd won't go see it and it is being released among some of the late summer blockbusters, so it may be missed by the older audience as well. If you find this movie playing my recommendation is that you not only run out to see it but take the one person in your life that you can't live without.

Play The Game is rated PG-13 for Sexual Content and Language
Running time 1 hr. 45 mins.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

In These Games X Means Exciting

Documentaries have covered many topics some objectionable, some questionable topics have also gotten the documentary treatment, we have seen how our food industry has become a huge money making cow, pardon the pun. We have seen just about every subject and person in one documentary or another. So it's no surprise that a huge television network gets in on the act. Over the last decade the ESPN X- Games have become a huge fan favorite, pulling in fans fro mall over the country, as well as viewers from all over the globe. Just to watch grown men ride skateboards, BMX bikes and motor bikes. YES grown men. In "X Games 3D: The Movie" we see how this sport has grown and who its heroes are. The men who risk severe injury for the rush. For the glory in their own minds.

The men who risk injury and even death for the thrill of the speed, the thrill of the competition these are the men who have become heroes to many of the kids in the world, these men ride skate boards, Tony Hawk, arguably the single most influential skateboarder of all time. Snowboards, Shaun White, who became a pro at the age of ten. Then there are the men who can do whatever it is they think will give them the next rush. Travis Pastrana is the first Person In MotoX history to land a double back flip, he did this amazing trick in X games 12. now he has become one of the top professional motocross racers.

The fact that the movie is shot in the 3D format is an added bonus to the many fans of these games. We get behind the scenes at every event, we listen as the men describe what it is that they feel when they are travelling down a seventy foot high ramp on nothing but a small board and air under them. we hear about the crashed these men have endured and the broken bones they have suffered. Jake Brown suffered what looked like the worst spill in X games history and just got up and walked away on his own to feet. We learn that these men have spent years learning these tricks perfecting them, to perform them in seconds in front of several thousand screaming fans.

The 3D effects of this picture are more for depth then to have things jump out at the audience. The race footage is shown at high speed and we get a look at just what it's like inside the cab of the car. The skateboard competition is extrem and dangerous, each contestent pushes himself to the max for the thrill that he gets. The awards and money are like free candy to these men. The race footage is spectacular and we get as close to being in the race as possible, I for one am willing to stand o nthe outside and watch, where its safer.

I give X Games 3D: The Movie a 3 and on my avoidance scale a 0 this is a close look at what pushes men to do the things the ydo, its for the rush its for the thrill, it;s for us the fans. Go see this movie, it is only going to be in theatres a week. Thats it, then its gone.

X Games 3D: The Movie is rated PG for Extreme Sports Action and Accidents
Running time is 1 hr. 31 mins.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Life May Not Be What You Expected Post Graduation

Ryden Malby (Bledel) had a plan. Do well in high school, thereby receiving a great college scholarship. Now that she’s finally graduated, it’s time for her to find a gorgeous loft apartment and land her dream job at the city’s best publishing house. But when Jessica Bard (Reitman), Ryden’s college nemesis steals her perfect job, Ryden is forced to move back to her childhood home. Stuck with her eccentric family – a stubborn do-it-yourself dad (Keaton), an overly thrifty mom (Lynch), a politically incorrect grandma (Burnett), a very odd little brother (Coleman) – and a growing stack of rejected job applications, Ryden starts to feel like she’s going nowhere. The only upside is spending time with her best friend, Adam (Zach Gilford) – and running into her hot next-door neighbor, David (Santoro). But if Ryden’s going to survive life as a post grad, it may be time to come up with a new plan in Post Grad.

Adorable and absolutely perfect for the ambitious tween and teen girl demo, Post Grad is an update to the driven-girl-unmoored-by-the-real-world trope explored in past films like Reality Bites. Alexis Bledel plays Ryden, a girl at the top of her class. While Ryden knows precisely what to say and how to play the game, promptly after graduation she finds reality can’t conform to her expectations. It makes sense. She jumped through all the hoops—now she wants her prize. She just didn’t realize the claw-game was rigged. Like its protagonist, Post Grad plays well by the (genre) rules but still manages to be surprising, charming and quite funny. That said it should be popular fare at slumber parties for diligent girls well into the next decade. Theatrical prospects seem good, but DVD prospects look stellar. We meet Ryden on the day of her graduation. In direct address to a video blog protocol we’re befriended in that sort of way you’re befriended on Facebook. She tells us she’s had a plan since she was young. It includes getting good grades, going to a good college and getting a job at Hepperman-Browning, the best book publisher in Los Angeles. This post-MySpace, late-CNN intro both humbly introduces Ryden and (while facile in a way) also hints at the over-busy universe she’s done quite well to fit into. She’s smart, savvy, diligent and assertive—all the stuff you need to be to get rejected by any company worth its salt. And that’s just what happens. Ritually upstaged by the valedictorian of her college and turned down for jobs at dozens of companies, she suffers the summer after graduation at her family’s home. In the process she meets a hot Brazilian (Rodrigo Santoro) and wounds her ever-loyal best friend (a lovable Zach Gilford) who’s long held the torch for her.

A film centered on a female protagonist can’t really follow the non-conformist lead of other late coming of age stories like Rushmore or Adventureland. Add that to the fact that Ryden’s greatest accomplishment (her conformity) is also the thing that makes her the least able to live happily and we have a noteworthy subtext. Ryden’s family is odd in a myriad of charming ways: her mother (played by the famously “out” Jane Lynch), prizes her garden gnomes; her father (played perfectly by Michael Keaton), wants to make his millions selling belt buckles on the internet; her grandmother (the always fantastic Carol Burnett), is making a career out of her slow death. While Ryden goes from interview to interview, repeating lines like “what I lack in enthusiasm I make up for in vision,” the thing it seems she’s really mastered is mimicking the words. What is this vision she’s talking about? Her father sells belt buckles. It’s odd but at least it’s inventive. What she wants, on the other hand, is magnificently inflexible. Though the final few scenes may present you with a bit to ponder (how she got her cake and ate it too) it’s still a hopeful wish fulfilled. And while I’d rather have seen her make good with those belt buckles, what she does will keep young girls believing adulthood is grand, and really, what else is so important? This little comedy gets a 3 on my "Go See" scale.

Friday, August 14, 2009

I Left Thirst(ing) For A Better Movie

Horror movies are a thrill to watch, they make you cringe and they make you laugh. Foreign horror movies can make you jump as well as cower in fright. Director Chan-wook Park brings Romance, Religion, Madness as well as blood suckers in "Thirst" a take on the age old tale of vampires, this time with a twist.

Sang-hyun (Song Kang-ho) is a priest who cherishes life, hates death and cries when a patient dies. His desire for life is so strong, that he volunteers for a deadly experiment, a secret vaccine development project meant to eradicate a deadly virus, the virus kills every volunteer including the priest, just prior to his death he is given a blood transfusion, unknown to anybody the blood he receives is infected, and Sang-hyun becomes a vampire. Struggling with his new found desire for blood, Sang-hyuns faith is further strained when a friends wife, Tae-joo (Kim Ok-vin), comes to him asking for his help in escaping the life she endures.

Tae-joo lives the life of a slave, her husband Kang-woo (Ha-kyun Shin) is a simpleton who is under his mothers thumb. When Tae-joo and Sang-hyun become lovers the power of the vampire is a draw that Tae-joo can't escape. She tells Sang-hyun that Kang-woo is beating her and he that together they must kill him. Taking a life isn't really what Sang-hyun wants to do, but his love and desire for Tae-joo overrides his senses. After doing the deed Tae-joo lets it slip that she wasn't a victim of abuse after all, she was just tired of living her life the way it was. Sang-hyun is so mad that he decides he can not abide by her lies, he turns Tae-joo into a vampire and here is where the blood starts to really flow.

Tae-joo is so overwhelmed with the new power she now has that she goes on a rampage and starts to kill with a reckless abandon Sang-hyun determines that the last straw was when Tae-joo attacks her mother in law and kills her house guests. He decides that he has to end the life of the beast he has created and takes her out into the world just prior to sunup. Tae-joo fights him when she realizes what it is he is trying to do. The ending is sad and poignant the everlasting power of love has a control over everyone. The movie as a whole takes more time then it should to develope a story line, but if taken in spurts, this movie has a gripping story that will haunt you long after walking out.

I give Thirst a 2 and on my avoidance scale a 1, this movie is one that could best be watched in the comfort of your own home, where you will have the option to watch at your leisure, where you can rewind and watch several scenes over. The cunning way that Sang-hyun is able to acquire blood is a rather new and cool way.

Thirst is rated R for Graphic Bloody Violence, Disturbing Images, Strong Sexual Content, Nudity and Language
Running time is 2 hrs. 13 mins.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

A Compelling Sci-Fi Drama

Aliens become refugees in South Africa where they are kept isolated from any human contact. While being contained in the refuge being ignored of their welfare, their weapons become the sole interest of Multi-National United (MNU). But only one man , Wikus van der Merwe (Sharlto Copley), can activate these weapons. He becomes hunted for and only one place can give him refuge, District 9.

This is the smartest alien movie in quite a while. But then movies about creatures from other planets are never about the aliens; they're about the humans, and about what being human really means. It has cool and creepy giant insect-looking aliens and there are very cool sci-fi weapons and shoot-outs and chases and space ships and a super-cool giant insect-robot thing, and it is very exciting and scary and sometimes extremely gross (but in a cool, sci-fi way). But, like all great science fiction, it is in aid of speculative allegory. The interactions between humans and aliens all the more powerful for being understated, taken for granted, and filmed in an intimate, low-key fashion that makes it feel like a documentary. Instead of running around and shrieking, this story posits an even more believable human reaction to an alien invasion --- a bureaucratic one. Humanity's history sometimes seems to come down to the lines we draw, metaphorically and literally. Boundaries establish real estate ownership, communities, and countries, and battles over those boundaries have continued, in some cases, over millennia. We draw lines to distinguish ourselves from others and we draw lines to separate others from ourselves. This movie is not about an invasion from outer space. It is about life twenty years after an invasion. At first, the huge spaceship just hovered over Johannesburg. There was no attack, no communication of any kind. Finally, the South Africans went up to the ship and broke in to find the creatures badly malnourished and ill.  Two decades later, as this movie begins, the humans and aliens exist in uneasy proximity, assigned to "District 9," fatuously assigned generic human names like "Christopher Johnson" and provided the flimsiest of "rights." In the name of "humanitarianism," they are living in the title area, little more than a junkyard. The government has outsourced the supervision responsibility to a contractor. The creatures are exploited by crooks, and called by derogatory epithets like "prawns" (the South African term for shrimp), based on their physical resemblance. The alien population has grown and so the entire community is about to be "relocated" (evicted) to a new facility, a slum even more remote and meager than the current one, with tents instead of corrugated huts. Wikus Van De Merwe (brilliant newcomer Sharlto Copley) is selected by his boss, who is also his father-in-law, to oversee the "relocation." This involves, for some absurd reason, going hut to hut with clipboards eliciting some form of "consent." Copley, much of whose dialog is reportedly improvised, is terrific as the well-meaning but hopelessly overmatched bureaucrat, who has no idea of how offensive he is or how much he is missing as he talks to the company's camera recording what he thinks will be his triumphant moment. When he unexpectedly inhales an alien substance, he is at first more worried about looking like he knows what he is doing on film than about any possible harm. But soon he is feeling sick. And then things really get out of, uh, hand. This is where Copley really takes off as Wilkus has to draw on depths of courage, skepticism, analytic ability, and trust he never anticipated. He goes through external and internal changes raising questions about who and what is truly human and he shifts loyalties more than once. The movie shifts, too, combining the documentary footage with news accounts and other perspectives to show us what Wilkus is seeing but to get a glimpse of what lies ahead of him -- or is chasing him. With the help of another Prawn, named Christopher Johnson, Wikus must use all he has to stay alive before he becomes a specimen for the research team.

Its setting in Johannesburg immediately suggests the metaphor of apartheid. The film is more clever and ambitious than that. Just as the classic original "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" is claimed by both the right and the left as representing their side, this is a movie that is designed to be discussed and argued over. It is those conversations about Its meaning in light of the way that struggles with the notion of "the other" can inspire both the best and the worst of what it means to be human. District 9 could have been your average clichéd film. Films like 'Enemy Mine' and 'The Day The Earth Stood Still' come to mind, along with TV series such as 'V', 'Alien Nation' and 'Battlestar Galactica.' This is not another version of 'Starship Trooper.' What Jackson and Blomkamp have done is inject substance and style in almost a perfect synergy. Not only is the story line as relevant to today's racial tensions in some countries, but the CGI effects aren't overboard. As gory as the film gets toward the end, it's the story that's keeps you from closing your eyes. You start to care about both human and aliens and how this will play out. While many of the characters go unnoticed, it's Wikus who is the focal point of the film. Wikus is a man who had no regard for the creatures initially but ends up identifying with their plight. Overall, District 9 is a uniquely moving, heartfelt and provocative drama that stays with you after you've left the theater. What happens when you get a sci-fi film that goes beyond your average check-your-brain-at-the-door feel? You get a very intense, intriguing and entertaining film like District 9. This gets a definite 4 on my "Go See" scale.

Humans Relocate Another Alien Race Into District 9

Science Fiction movies tend to have a greater struggle to pull in audiences, when the director is an unknown, when the movie doesn't have a big money star, or in the case of "District 9" contains a hidden agenda, one that is political. District 9 takes place in Johannesburg South Africa, and has many little parallels with the now defunct apartheid. This movie works because it doesn't try very hard to give us a much too complicated history of the aliens or where they come from or why they stopped in South Africa, they are just there.

The movie opens in what looks like raw footage of a alien space craft, we learn that it just appeared over the skies of South Africa one day and just stayed. As the movie continues we get a documentary-style series of interviews that introduce us to the fact that twenty years before the ship appeared and just hovered over the city until eventually humans take the initiative and cut into the ship. They discover a large group of aliens who are malnourished and sick. More grainy footage shows part of the ship, supposed to be a command module falling to Earth, but nobody has been able to find it, this leaves the ship inoperable. The creatures, called "prawns" as a derogatory reference to the sea creature which they resemble, are housed in a government camp. The alien race's true name is also never explained or learned. The camps quickly become slums where a massive black market is set up between the aliens and a group of Nigerians primarily led by Mumbo, a paralyzed warlord. In addition to inter-species prostitution, the Nigerians exchange canned cat food for alien weapons. Patience over the alien situation has run out and control over them has been contracted to Multi-National United (MNU), a private company that shows little regard for the aliens' welfare. The MNU corporation is only interested in using the aliens' advanced weaponry, but its integration with alien biology makes it useless for humans.

An MNU field operative named Wikus van der Merwe (Sharlto Copley), is set with a task to move 1.8 million aliens to a new District 10 camp with the help from private security forces working for MNU. While inspecting a suspicious alien residence, Wikus handles an alien device which squirts a dark liquid into his face. He becomes very sick and collects the device as evidence. he returns back to the company to fill out forms, he experiences several side effects of this liquid. Side effects that get progressively worse as time passes. shortly after exposure to the liquid, Wikus's left arm mutates into a claw exactly like that of a prawn. After collapsing at a surprise party in his house, and a doctor at a local hospital discovers his alien left arm, Wikus is taken into custody and a series of tests and experiments are performed on him; these reveal that his alien DNA allows him to operate alien weapons. The scientists discover that his DNA is currently "in balance" with the alien DNA, which is gradually taking over. They decide to harvest his body for biological material at this critical point, to have the greatest chance of replicating his ability to use alien technology in other humans later. To reduce any side-effects, no anesthetic was used. However, during the attempted vivisection Wikus escapes after overpowering his captors, and flees from MNU.

Thus begins the chase and where this movie actually picks up its pace. Wikus seeks refuge in the run-down shack of an alien called Christopher Johnson, the same alien who Wikus attempted to evict earlier, who created the alien device that infected Wikus. The device contains fuel that Christopher scavenged from various alien parts scattered around District 9. Although initially hostile towards Wikus, Christopher eventually agrees to help him reverse the transformation if Wikus will retrieve the fuel from MNU labs. Christopher promises to undo the mutation by getting Wikus aboard the mother ship hovering over Johannesburg, and shows Wikus the ship's command module, which has been hidden under his shack.

Wikus steals some alien weaponry from Mumbo and his gang, with Mumbo vowing to capture Wikus and eat his mutated arm. With Christopher's help they launch an assault on MNU and successfully retrieve the fuel sample. While there, Christopher discovers that MNU has been experimenting on his people. Wikus and Christopher fight their way back to District 9 and Christopher begins preparations to leave. He tells Wikus that he must first return to his home world to seek help for his people before he can cure Wikus. Furious, Wikus knocks Christopher unconscious and powers up the ship himself. The MNU mercenaries target Wikus and destroy one of the command module's engines, causing it to crash land inside District 9. After Wikus is captured by MNU, a battle between the MNU mercenaries and Mumbo's gang breaks out. After a protracted firefight, the Nigerians capture Wikus. Just before Wikus' arm is chopped off, Christopher's son activates several systems in the mothership, including the autopilot routine of a mechanized battle suit; it slaughters Mumbo and his men after they fire on it. Wikus enters the alien walker battle suit, and after initially attempting to flee, returns and rescues Christopher. Armed with a lightning cannon, tracking missiles, and a high-powered machine gun, Wikus begins to fight the MNU men. After being knocked over by a anti-tank sniper round, he convinces Christopher to return to the shuttle without him, over Christopher's objections. Christopher promises Wikus that he will return in three years to repair his body. Christopher then boards the shuttle and activates a tractor beam which returns the command module to the mother ship.

Wikus is shot in the back and the walker suit ejects him. Wikus, heavily wounded, begins dragging himself away from the leader and sole survivor of an MNU squad, but is quickly caught. As Wikus prepares to die, aliens burst out of the surrounding slums and dismember the mercenary. The film concludes with another series of interviews and news broadcasts, providing human opinions on the events that unfolded. The aliens are successfully moved to District 10, which now has a population of 2.5 million and is growing. One of Wikus' coworkers hacks MNU's database and publicly exposes their illegal genetic experiments. There are many differing theories on Wikus' fate. Some people believe that he either left on the mother ship, is in hiding, was captured by MNU or a government agency. Some interviewees hypothesize that the aliens are planning to return with a full army and declare war on humanity. An interview with Wikus' wife Tania Van De Merwe (Vanessa Haywood) reveals a small metal rose was left on her doorstep she thinks maybe it was from her husband.

I give District 9 a 3 and on my avoidance scale a 0, the movie is slow to start but it does pick up the pace and when it does my advice is to hold on. This movie runs with the adrenaline of a stampeding elephant. The special effects are insane, the alien weapons, once they can be fired are so intense they have to be seen to be believed. Go see this movie it is one of the better surprise hits of the summer season.

District 9 is rated R for Bloody Violence and Pervasive Language
Running time is 1 hr. 53 mins.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

It's Not Easy Being A Time Traveler's Wife

The Time Traveler's Wife, based on the best-selling book about a love that transcends time. Clare has been in love with Henry her entire life. She believes they are destined to be together, even though she never knows when they will be separated: Henry is a time traveler -- cursed with a rare genetic anomaly that causes him to live his life on a shifting timeline, skipping back and forth through his lifespan with no control. Despite the fact that Henry’s travels force them apart with no warning, Clare desperately tries to build a life with her one true love.

Romance and science fiction don't seem to mix too well sometimes. Maybe the last time that they did really well was in Ghost, a fine blend of humor, drama, romance and sexiness, with a guy caught in the world of death who is trying to warn his wife but can do so only through a psychic. This is no Ghost, but it's a nice adaptation of the hit first-time novel by Audrey Niffenegger. It's also funny, dramatic, romantic and sexy, but it has a layer of schmaltz, too. Perhaps because of the utterly preposterous premise that these time-traveling trips are supposed to be some sort of genetic defect has no basis in science at all, he doesn't even attempt an explanation. It's a genetic defect that was initially triggered by stress, and the character fades in and out of time without any control, landing in the new time zone without a stitch of clothes on every time. This may be just another excuse for getting Hulk and Star Trek movie star Eric Bana to show up naked in a lot of scenes (which he does, but mostly from the back side). As the lead character, Henry, he is plagued by this instantaneous time-traveling and then has to find clothes right away, no matter where he lands. The romance between Henry and Clare (played by Rachel McAdams, who will also be in the upcoming Sherlock Holmes film) starts when a 6-year-old Clare finds a naked Henry in a field in her backyard. If that's not strange enough, he then meets Clare as an adult, and she throws herself at him, and he hasn't a clue who she is. He apparently told her throughout her young life that they would be meeting in the future and getting married. She even told Henry the name of a doctor that he would eventually seek out—a Dr. Kendrick, played by Stephen Tobolowsky. Time traveling does get Henry into awkward moments. He zaps out of his wedding twice, once coming back with slightly graying temples just in time to exchange vows. He also is found by his friend Gomez (Ron Livingston) outside a bar in a pink girl's shirt and tight shorts, beating up a homophobe. George immediately thinks that Henry has a big secret to hide—little does he know how big it really is. The schmaltzy stuff happens when distant thunder rumbles just when something bad is going to happen, and when fireworks light the skies when the climax is about to happen, and when songs like "Love Won't Tear Us Apart" play at the ultimate romantic moment. That seems like it's the fault of the director, not any over-the-top dialogue written in the script.

The time travel "rules" in science fiction are pretty well set to some sort of standards, and this movie generally doesn't break those rules. Fate can't be changed, and there's no problem with meeting yourself in the past or the future, but you have to buy in to the premise that this is genetic. That premise leads to fetuses that time-travel out of the womb when Henry and Clare try to have a baby, and allows many interactions between past and future selves. Another over-the-top idea, however, is that the scientist, Dr. Kendrick, is supposedly making a name for himself by treating Henry for his condition, and that leads to training time travelers in controlling their disappearing act. Then there's the creepy idea that a little girl waits in a meadow behind her house for a naked man from the future to come up (she does leave him clothes), but the fantasies cause her a few fantastic diary entries. OK, sometimes the movie gets really weird, but overall it's a very entertaining escapist sci-fi romance—and these days that's a rare event. Go see this one and enjoy it. It gets a 3 on my "Go See" scale.

Time Traveler 's Wife Has An Emotional Tenderness

Love stories have been popular for several reason, the main one is that in every ones life they are touched by that special person, the one that means everything to them, the one who completes their being. Hollywood has given us love stories that touch even the coldest of hearts. Every now and then they throw in a twist, but seldom is it a sci-fi twist, but in "The Time Traveler's Wife" that is what we get, and it works.

Based on the best-selling book by author Audrey Niffenegger, The Time Traveler's Wife tells the story of Henry DeTamble (Eric Bana) who has the ability to time travel and the women that he has spent his life watching grow from a child to a mature woman. Clare Abshire (Rachel McAdams) has fallen so deeply in love with the man who disappears. Henry has little or no control over when he travels or even where. he travels nude and is forced to find or steal cloths every time he jumps. Henry thinks it may be a genetic disorder that causes him to travel through time, Henry visits Dr. David Kendrick (Stephen Tobolowsky) who at first thinks Henry is nuts. After Henry is able to convince Dr. Kendrick that he can in fact time travel, Dr. Kendrick agrees to try to help Henry find a cure.

The difficulties that time travel imply are compounded once Clare and Henry marry, Clare has difficulty in delivering a child, and Henry thinks it is his fault and takes steps to ensure that he can't impregnate Clare again. The story is complicated but somehow still easy to follow, yet the constant skips back and forth through time are rather mind-boggling. The complex ideas of time travel are interesting and well woven into this love story. But the movie isn't so much about time travel as it is about Henry and Clare's deep and everlasting love for each other under trying circumstances. The movies one outstanding fault is that we never understand the sense of danger in what happens to Henry, we never get the details.

Bana and McAdams make this movie what it is, but the actors who play the leads as children also do a superb job. the cast is well rounded, Henry's Father Richard DeTamble (Arliss Howard) has a hard time dealing with the death of his wife Annette (Michelle Nolden), Clare's best friend Gomez (Ron Livingston) is able to believe Henry can time travel when he sees it for himself but his reaction is worth watching every time. The overall effect of the movie is one of joy to watch.

I give The Time Traveler's Wife a 3 and on my avoidance scale a 0, this movie will delight just about any person who has been through the trials and joys of love. The laughter and sorrow, the uplifting power of love and the shattering power of loss. This movie has it's faults and is not close to perfect but it does work and is a simply treasure to endure alone or with your loved one.

The Time Traveler's wife is rated PG-13 for Thematic Elements, brief Disturbing Images, Nudity and Sexuality
Running time is 1 hr. 48 mins.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

An Excellent Take On The Little Mermaid

Acclaimed anime master Hayao Miyazaki returns for his ninth animated feature with Ponyo, which deals with a friendship between a five-year-old boy and a goldfish princess that yearns to be human. The daughter of the king of the ocean, Ponyo is no ordinary goldfish -- she has all the magic of the sea at her disposal. But when five year old Sosuke befriends the spunky little fish near the seaside home he shares with his mother and father, a special connection sparks between the two children, and Ponyo becomes determined to become human. Transforming into a little girl, Ponyo shows up at Sosuke's doorstep, delighted to make herself at home with her new land-dwelling family. But having a magical fish princess walking around on dry land begins setting the mystical balance of the world off kilter, and even though the innocent love Ponyo feels for her dear friend is strong, it will take some help from the greatest powers in the ocean to make things right again.

Ponyo, the star of Hayao Miyazaki's new animated feature, is a young goldfish – although it's unlikely you will be able to tell just by looking. She has no recognisable fishy characteristics such as fins and a tail. All she has in common with the real thing are her large round eyes. Miyazaki has never let himself be constrained by naturalism. With earlier films, such as his 2003 Oscar winner Spirited Away, he has endeared himself to audiences, as well as his peers in the animated feature business, by the strangeness of the fantasy worlds he's created. Manga traditions have some influence on his style but the defining touches are all his own. These worlds, however, have a lot to say about the health of this one, for he's always been a staunch environmentalist. And more often than not, the children who play the hero in his films are girls. Ponyo is another example, for she's his version of Hans Christian Andersen's Little Mermaid. Her dearest wish is to become human. That doesn't quite sum her up, however, since there's not a trace of Danish melancholy about her. Filtered through Miyazaki's robust vision, mermaid has become force of nature. The action begins when she ventures too close to the ocean's surface. She's swept up in a trawler's net and becomes tightly wedged in a discarded glass jar. By the time the jar has drifted free of the net and bobbed towards the shore, she's close to being asphyxiated. Then, just in time, she's spotted by Sosuke, a five-year-old boy who lives with his mother, Lisa, and father, Koichi, a ship's officer, in a house at the top of a cliff. He takes her home, the two of them bond and when the time comes for her to return to the sea, she doesn't want to go. She's resolved to turn herself into a human girl and since her father is a wizard and her mother a sea goddess, she has access to magic powerful enough to make her desire come true.

One of Miyazaki's greatest fans is Pixar's John Lasseter, who has produced an English language version of the film, just as he did with some of the director's earlier work. The line-up of voices includes Cate Blanchett, Liam Neeson, Tina Fey, Matt Damon and Lily Tomlin, while Ponyo is voiced by Miley Cyrus's younger sister, Noah, and Sosuke by Frankie Jonas, whose siblings make up the Jonas Brothers. In any case, Ponyo doesn't need a voice to make herself understood. She's a great clown who takes an anarchistic delight in having put the natural world out of whack when her act of transformation for her defection from the undersea world brings on a tsunami. The story is anchored by Sosuke and his life in the clifftop house with his mother, who works at the local nursing home, where three spirited old ladies further ramp up the comedy. It's one of Miyazaki's funniest and most intimate films so far, partly because of the engaging matter-of-factness with which he marries the extravagantly fantastic with the comforting realities of everyday life. In his view, their happy co-existence makes the world go round. This is, hands down, the best animated movie so far this year. It gets a strong 5 on my "Go See" scale.

Disney Gives Heart To Little Ponyo

Animation has been a movie goers favorite for many years, every decade new fans are born and animation lives on. Many famous directors have lent their talent to making such films, Hayao Miyazaki is one of Japan's greatest animation directors. So of course he would be willing to contribute to a Walt Disney collaboration. "Ponyo" is a vibrant telling of life and how one little change can bring about severe consequences.

The plot is centered on a fish girl Ponyo (Noah Lindsey Cyrus), who runs away from her home in the sea. She ends up stranded on the shore and is rescued by Ssuke (Frankie Jonas), a five year old boy who lives on a cliff. Ssuke's father himself is a seamen. After taking a great liking to her, Ssuke names her Ponyo and vows to protect her forever. Meanwhile, her father, Fujimoto (Liam Neeson), is looking for his daughter, upset that she ran away. He calls his wave spirits to return Ponyo to him. Ssuke is heartbroken by this, and goes home with his mother, Lisa (Tina Fey) who is a care taker for a senior center.

Ponyo and her father have a confrontation where she voices her desire to become human because she has started to fall in love with Ssuke. Her father silences her with difficulty and goes to summon Ponyo's mother. Meanwhile, Ponyo, with the help of her sisters, breaks away from her father, and uses his magic to make herself human. This causes an imbalance in the world, which in turn results in a huge storm. Riding on the waves of the storm, Ponyo goes back to visit Ssuke. Lisa, Ssuke, and Ponyo stay the night at Ssuke's house, hoping the storm will be over, whereupon Lisa leaves the house to check up on the residents of the nursing home she works at.

Granmammare (Cate Blanchett), Ponyo's mother, arrives at Fujimoto's submarine. Fujimoto notices the moon has come out of its orbit and the satellites are falling like shooting stars. Granmammare declares that if Ssuke and Ponyo pass a test, Ponyo can live as a human and the world order will be restored. Ssuke and Ponyo wake up to find that most of the land around where the house has been covered by the ocean. Lisa has not come home yet, so with the help of Ponyo's magic, they make Ssuke's toy boat life-size and set out to find Lisa. While travelling they see ancient extinct fish swimming, neither wonder at just how these fish can be alive and in the water below them.

After landing and finding Lisa's empty car, Ponyo and Ssuke go through a tunnel. There Ponyo loses her human form and resumes the form of a fish. Ssuke and Ponyo are taken by Fujimoto into the ocean and down to the protected nursing home where they're reunited with Lisa and meet Granmammare. Granmammare asks Ssuke if he can love Ponyo even if she is a fish or mermaid. Ssuke replies that he loves Ponyo in all forms. Granmammare then allows Ponyo to become human once Ponyo kisses Ssuke on the surface. Love wins in the end. As a hopeless romantic I too wait for love to return to me.

I give Ponyo a 3 and on my avoidance scale a 0, this is a vibrant movie with colors that will astound you, Disney will have another classic on their hands and Hayao Miyazaki shows once again he is a master. The story will move you, it has a little message about being responsible for what we do in life.

Ponyo is rated G
Running time is 1 hr. 41 mins.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Yo, Joe!

From the Egyptian desert to deep below the polar ice caps, the elite G.I. JOE team uses the latest in next-generation spy and military equipment to fight the corrupt arms dealer Destro and the growing threat of the mysterious Cobra organization to prevent them from plunging the world into chaos in “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra”.

Director Stephen Sommers adapts the beloved Hasbro G.I. Joe toy line with this Paramount Pictures production that pits the Global Integrated Joint Operating Entity against the evil forces of the organization known as Cobra. This is a formula action movie with a lot of fantastic gadgets. It has power suits. G.I. Joe also displays some kind of magnetic energy pulse weapons and lots of fancy airplanes, submarines and earth-drilling vehicles. The main technical device in the film is nanotechnology. Its use in the film is pervasive and this movie provides ample illustrations of how this technology could be dangerous. After seeing this movie you can understand why many scientists are calling for tight international controls of nanotechnology. All this gadgetry, combined with the film's well-staged action scenes and fast pace makes it entertaining. Saddled with the unwieldy name “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra,” and produced in association with the toy company Hasbro this movie is fully expected to be another franchise film. A sequel is built into the plot. Based on this first movie, I expect it will spawn another film or two which will produce a combined worldwide box office total of a billion dollars or more. The movie's main character is a G.I. named Duke (played by Channing Tatum). He and his friend, Ripcord (Marlon Wayans) are the only two survivors of an attack on their heavily-armed convoy by a team of mercenaries led by Duke's old friend Ana AKA The Baroness(Sienna Miller). The mercenaries have superior technology, including those magnetic pulse weapons, which are used to wipe out most of the convoy. Duke and Ripcord are rescued by a secret special operations unit called G.I. Joe. Despite its name, G.I. Joe is not American, but rather is international, comprised of the best soldiers from the world's armies. Duke and Ripcord talk their way into the organization and after undergoing a ridiculously short training program become elite commandos in the secret military organization headed by General Hawk (Dennis Quaid). They are opposed by international arms manufacturer McCullen (Christopher Eccleston). He wants to use nanotechnology bombs to rule the world (yes, just like a Bond villain). He not only uses nanotechnology to build bombs which can destroy whole cities, but uses medical nanorobots to control people and to change their appearance. McCullen is aided by a mysterious mad scientist, of course. G.I. Joe's mission is to stop McCullen from using the nanotech bombs. This is accomplished, but acres of room is left in the conclusion of the movie for a sequel.

The story has a lot of coincidences in it. Duke and Ripcord just happen to be the only survivors of an attack. They also just happen to be the only people in the entire G.I. Joe organization who know the person who led that attack. They also just happen to be the only people who happen know that mysterious mad scientist. Another member of the G.I. Joe team, Snake Eyes (played by Ray Park of “X-Men & Star Wars: Episode 1,” who AGAIN has no dialogue in this film at all) just happens to be the only person in the organization who knows the true identity of the arch-villain Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Lee). Granted, this is not nearly as many coincidences as it takes to get the ridiculous plot of Atonement off the ground, but it still had me laughing and rolling my eyes. It helps that G.I. Joe doesn't take itself nearly as seriously as Atonement did. The acting is so-so, and the film uses a lot of overt sex appeal in the form of big-breasted starlets for a movie based on a line of children's toys. The same could be said of the Transformers franchise, particularly the second film in the series. But, as a pure action movie, a popcorn movie if you will, G.I. Joe delivers the goods. It was good for what it was so it gets a 3 on my "Go See" scale.

G. I. Joe Doesn't Give Us Much To Cheer About

Comic book adaptations are all the rage in Hollywood right now, when one such movie succeeds every studio it seems jumps on the bandwagon. With the success of Transformers Hasbro wants in. They have pushed another toy product turned movie onto the silver screen. "G. I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra" is Saturday morning popcorn fluff.

The movie typically begins in the 1600's we learn of Klan McCullen who was caught selling weapons to both sides in a battle, instead of just executing him they brand him with an iron mask now the world can see the cost of his treason. Many centuries later weapons expert James McCullen (Christopher Eccleston) has created a nanotechnology-based weapon capable of destroying any armies weapons or for that matter, an entire city. His company MARS sells four warheads to NATO, and the U.S. Army is tasked with delivering the warheads. Duke (Channing Tatum) and Ripcord (Marlon Wayans) are delivering the warheads when they are ambushed by the Baroness (Sienna Miller), who Duke recognized to be his ex-fiancee Ana Lewis.

Duke and Ripcord are rescued by Scarlett (Rachel Nichols), Snake Eyes (Ray Park) and Heavy Duty (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje). They take the warheads to The Pit, G.I. Joe's command center in North Africa, and upon arriving rendezvous with General Hawk (Dennis Quaid), the man who leads the Joe's. Of course McCullen tricks the Joe's into turning on a beacon so he can track the case back to where its being hidden. Once he has this information he sends Storm Shadow (Lee Byung-hun) and the Baroness to retrieve the warheads with assistance from Zartan (Arnold Vosloo). After a fight, Storm Shadow and the Baroness retrieve the warheads and take them to Baron DeCobray (Grégory Fitoussi), the Baroness's husband, for him to weaponize and use them to destroy the Eiffel Tower to serve as a showing of the warhead's destructive power. Making their way to Paris, the Joe's pursue them through the streets but are unsuccessful in stopping them from launching the missile. Duke manages to hit the kill switch, but in doing so he is captured and taken to McCullen's base under the Arctic.

The G.I. Joe team locates the secret base and flies there, as McCullen loads three missiles with nano-mite warheads. After Snake Eyes takes out one, Ripcord pursues the remaining missiles in a prototype jet while Scarlett and her group infiltrate the base. While Scarlett and Snake Eyes attempt to shut down the Arctic base, with Heavy Duty leading an attack on Cobra's forces, Duke learns that the Doctor is Rex Lewis (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Ana's brother believed to have been killed on a mission led by Duke four years ago. He was trapped in a bunker with Doctor Mindbender (Kevin O'Connor), disfigured in the blast which everyone presumed had killed him. The Baroness tries to free Duke but the Doctor reveals he has implanted her with nano-mites. Attempting to kill Duke, McCullen ends up being facially burned as he flees with Rex to an escape vessel. Duke and the Baroness pursue him while the Joe's fall back when Rex activated the base's self destruct sequence. Rex then heals McCullen's burned face with nano-mites, encasing it in silver as he christens McCullen "Destro" and assumes the identity of Cobra Commander before they are captured by G.I. Joe soon after. On board the super carrier USS Flagg, Baroness is placed in protective custody until they can remove the nano-mites from her body. Meanwhile, Zartan, having been earlier operated on by Rex, infiltrates the White House during the missile crisis and assumes the identity of the President of the United States. Of course this movie ends ripe for a sequel. Can you smell it? Oh yeah.

I give G. I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra a 2 and on my avoidance scale a 1 this is the type of movie that is filled with unbelievability from start to finish, it has loud explosions and has little to no plot, the story is far fetched and it looks plain silly to boot. There are much better comic book movies to take up your time and money, there are several on video already and several slated to come to the big screen in the next year or so. My advice on this one? Sorry Joe this is a no go for me.

G. I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra is rated PG-13 for Strong Sequences of Action Violence and Mayhem Throughout
Running time is 1 hr. 58 mins.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Piven Shows Us The Goods

Who is Don Ready? Salesman? Lover? Song Stylist? Semi-professional dolphin trainer? Ready is all of the above – except for a dolphin trainer. When he’s asked to help save an ailing local car dealership from bankruptcy, Ready and his ragtag crew descend on the town of Temecula like a pack of coyotes on a basket full of burgers. Selling, drinking, selling and going to strip clubs is their stock and trade. And they do it well. What Don doesn’t expect is to fall in love and find his soul in The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard.

Much of what works in "The Goods" works because the cast is on fire. Jeremy Piven is the right choice for Don Ready, a guy who is all confidence and bluster, with just a wee bit of animal panic behind the eyes. He's the center of the film, and by grounding it with his familiar Piven persona, he makes room for the rest of the cast to fully indulge their lunacy. Ving Rhames, so often used as a grounded sane presence, here gets to let loose a little as a man who just wants to make love one time in his life. Rough gig, Ving, especially considering who he ends up with. David Koechner keeps the freak on low simmer this time, and turns in a strong overall performance as a result. I quite liked the work by Alan Thicke and Ed Helms in the film as father and son. They're the "villains" of the piece, but they're not evil so much as they are self-absorbed. Helms is part of a boy ba... er, sorry... a "man band," and Thicke proudly supports his boy.

Maybe the dirtiest and craziest running joke in the film involves Kathryn Hahn and Rob Riggle. He plays the son of James Brolin, the car dealer who calls in Don Ready and his team, and although his character is only 10 years old, he's got a pituitary issue that makes him look like... well... Rob Riggle. That would be a funny character by itself, but when you add Hahn, who decides right away that she's going to fuck that ten year old, no matter what, things get truly filthy. Guys like Craig Robinson and Ken Jeong don't have a ton to do, but they make the most of every minute onscreen. James Brolin, as I mentioned, plays the role that could easily be the straight, boring, exposition heavy part, but his sexual fascination with David Koechner is so strange and Brolin's so up for the gag that it really makes him stand out. Even veteran character actor Charles Napier gets a few moments to really make the most of that cartoon character snarl of his. It really speaks well of Brennan that he makes room for everyone in the film, and he knows how to play off each one of the characters. "The Goods" isn't going to revolutionize comedy, but it does exactly what a good comedy should: it focuses on laughs above all else. I don't watch a comedy because I want to see people growing and learning and having emotional epiphanies. I watch because I want outrageous exaggeration, and because I want to laugh. That's the release the best of these films offer, and in this particular case, regarding "The Goods," consider me sold. This gets a 3 on my "Go See" scale.

Pivens The Goods Isn't All That Good

Comedies that don't make you laugh are useless, when the punch line doesn't have any one laughing out loud then the movie fails, so seldom does this happen, that its very surprising when it does, so to go see a movie that stars who I think is one of the better supporting actors in his first star role and walk out thinking what the hell was that, the movie fails from the very beginning. "The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard" is a comedy that fails in it's one simple task, it just doesn't make you laugh, this is because it's not funny.

Don Ready (Jeremy Piven) is a Used-car liquidator, he comes in and sells cars, so when Ben Selleck (James Brolin) calls and asks Don to come help save his lot in Temecula, Don and his friends head out to sell Ben's cars. Dons crew consists of Jibby Newsome, (Ving Rhames) Brent Gage, (David Koechner) and Babs Merrick. (Kathryn Hahn). They come into town and agree to sell the cars for Ben, he is scared that he will lose his lot to the bank. His daughter, Ivy (Jordana Spiro) is against Don and his crew coming to save the lot, she makes it clear to everyone. Ben also has a ten year old son Peter (Rob Riggle). Peter has a gland problem and he has the body of a thirty year old man.

Don comes in and on the first day they sell several cars, the lot has a few guys on it that work for Ben they are Teddy Dang (Ken Jeong) Dick Lewiston (Charles Napier) and Blake (Jonathan Sadowski) whom Don thinks may be his son. The jokes with Babs and Peter are disgusting, she makes comment after comment that she wants to have sex with Peter who remember is only ten. Don hires a DJ (Craig Robinson) to spin some music for the sale, he plays what he wants when he wants, he has a problem taking requests. Ben makes the same tired gay jokes toward Brent that just get dull and boring. Of course Don has a secret that he tries to hide, he was responsible for the death of his best friend, Will Ferrell in what is the movies funniest cameo. The movie has a few small jokes in the first half that some people may find funny, but the movie loses it's focus and the jokes get just plain stupid. Of course complications occur and the owner of a competing dealership Stu Harding (Alan Thicke) is trying to buy Selleck's lot. It seems that Stu's son, Paxton (Ed Helms) who is part of a boy band and is dating Selleck's daughter Ivy, needs a bigger space in order to rehearse his group in.

Sadly I give The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard a 0 Jeremy Piven alone couldn't save this dull boring movie, the writing is inane and the plot moves so slow that it feels like the movie won't ever end. Of course when Don faces his demons he concurs them. The lot is saved when Don talks Paxton into buying what may be a old relic of a car from a movie. The movie is full of stars that have been in better movies, there are at least three stars of the movie The Hangover and if you remember what I gave that movie, The Goods makes Hangover look like Gone With The Wind.

The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard is rated R for Sexual Content, Nudity, Pervasive Language and Some Drug Material
Running time is 1 hr. 29 mins.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

A Documentary About Love Helps Yi Find Love Herself

Charlyne Yi does not believe in love. Or so she says. Well, at the very least, she doesn’t believe in fairy-tale love or the Hollywood mythology of love, and her own experiences have turned her into yet another modern-day skeptic. Paper Heart follows Charlyne as she embarks on a quest across America to make a documentary about the one subject she doesn’t fully understand. As she and her good friend (and director) Nicholas search for answers and advice about love, Charlyne talks with friends and strangers, scientists, bikers, romance novelists, and children. They each offer diverse views on modern romance, as well as various answers to the age-old question: does true love really exist?

Paper Heart is a story about a documentary being made starring Charlene Yi. It’s not the documentary, it’s a biopic of the documentary – the events portrayed happened to Yi before the filming of Paper Heart. Even her filmmaker friend Nick Jasenovic (who is the cowriter and director and producer of Paper Heart) is played by Jake Johnson – so it’s about as meta as it gets in some places. The small but vital distinction shapes the film as a whole – rather than being Lost In La Brea, it’s more of a mockumentary story about love (not necessarily a love story). Can you imagine how Big Hollywood Marketing would mess this up? Yi set out to make a documentary about love, studying it as an anthropologist studies primitive cultures and rituals. She believes she will never be in love, that love has no role in her life, or maybe she’s broken. Her whole demeanor is so awkward, so unselfconscious, and so seemingly socially inept; yet she does stand-up comedy and performance art and pals around with smart (and famous) comics who all seem to be very fond of her. She seems to be lovable – perhaps the problem is she is not open to feeling love herself? In anyone else’s hands, this project would seem narcissistic or fake-humble aggrandizing. With Yi as our lead, it’s embarrassingly sincere. She crosses the country with her film crew, including Nick (as played by Jake) and Nick (the director of this film), finding wonderful interview subjects. The interviewee’s sections aren’t always question-response, but sometimes are storytelling opportunities to reveal themselves, an act of love to the audience. When reminiscing, rather than showing us talking heads describing the humorous or romantic events, Jasenovic has them as voice over while puppets act out their story. Not polished puppets, paper and string and wire and tape stick figures. They are crude, sweet, and subtly innovative (raging rivers, passing through scenery). It’s childlike but detail-oriented (what Yi seems to be), and hugely smile-inducing. The stories are already warm and nice but the puppets make them even more vulnerable and memorable.

When not getting the life stories of long-term marrieds, biology professors, or divorce lawyers, Paper Heart is about this little crew making this movie, and checking in on Yi to see if she believes in love yet. They reference the crew and the scene goals as if we’re watching a making-of featurette, and eventually it is the film itself that gets in the way of the story being told. This sounds like a criticism, but actually it’s an interesting and unique narrative device, and very meta-fictional. During production, Yi meets Nick’s friend (who happens to be Michael Cera – these folks are all in show business after all, so it’s not artificial at all). Cera takes a liking to Yi and she retreats, as we knew she would. She’s not insecure in herself, but she’s definitely locked down in some way that let’s her be all out on stage and hang as one of the dudes with her guy friends. She seems to have no female friends. Having had phases of that myself, I bet it’s because male friends just aren’t as emotionally challenging or risky to someone who is afraid to open her heart. Men don’t ask to be allowed into their buddies’ hearts, not compared to female friends, so she’s safe from risking her heart with the dudes. Cera is not like other dudes. True to many of the characters he has portrayed in film and television, Cera is very sweet and a little shy, and comfortable only with friends he trusts. He’s the perfect foil for Yi’s guard. Nick decides to incorporate their tentative, awkward courtship into the movie, and Yi’s project takes a big turn. I feel like I am spoiling it, but the movie’s appeal is how it twists in midstream and surprises you. The story the documentary was telling is sweet and the story of Yi possibly finding her heart blend together very sweetly and naturally. We grow to believe her disbelief in her own heart, and she learns things as well.  Paper Heart is a kooky, gentle movie that’s all about love, and well worth a look with an open heart. This cute little mockumentary gets an outstanding 4 on my "Go See" scale.

The Heart Of A loved Person Is More Than Just Paper

Documentaries can be informative and they can be quirky, they can be an excuse to rant or to prove a point. Seldom do documentaries turn into a movie with a heart of it's own. In "Paper Heart" Comedian Charlyne Yi embarks on a journey to discover what exactly love is, she claims she just doesn't feel it. That she never has and she isn't aware of where the emotion comes from or even what it's like to experience it. She decides with the help of her friend who is also the films director, Nicholas Jasenovec to set out on a cross country trip and ask people what it is they think love is.

Charlyne and Nicholas travel across the United States talking to anyone that will stop long enough, at first Charlyne is almost to giddy to talk to anyone, she eventually stops a couple and hears their take on love. Some of the Interviews are with ministers, happily married couples, chemists, romance novelists, divorce lawyers, and a small group of children. One of the boys will become our next President, he has such a smooth way of talking it's like he is already getting ready to run. Some of the couples that are interviewed have their story turned into a little sketch done mainly with puppetry by Charlyne and Nicholas that adds to the movies genius.

Then when Charlyne is at a friends house, she seems to know all the biggest stars, Seth Rogan makes a little appearance just long enough to crack a joke or two. The one star who does stick around through most of the movie is Michael Cera who becomes the object of Charlyne's affections. It is cute to see her experience the one emotion that she claims she has no idea what it feels like to experience. Michael soon is following the filmmakers to location after location and soon is spending time with Charlyne, the two have lunch one day and while they are discussing how she felt when the two first met, Michael says "well I wont waste your time then" he gets up and walks out of the diner where they are having lunch, Charlyne is devastated that he has left, Michael has just walked around the diner to the back entrance as a joke. It sounds mean but it is one of the movies best scenes.

Charlyne hears many stories about love, about relationships and the whole time she is trying to spend more time alone with Michael. Of course like every Hollywood love story the couple has the break up scene, Michael finds it hard to be followed around ALL the time by the cameras. He asks Charlyne if she wants to be alone and they run off. Nicholas tells them that the film company is going to pay for the team to go to Paris to shoot the films ending, love in the greatest city associated with LOVE. Michael balks at the idea. He seems hurt when Charlyne says she isn't in love, and we next hear that Michael has told Charlyne that he can not be in a relationship of that type. The film crew still heads to Paris but Charlyne is so hurt that she can't even finish her own film, she decides that she doesn't want to lose Michael and makes the film crew stop off in Toronto on the way back. When they get to Michael's family home in Canada she tells the film crew to wait outside, she goes inside and the camera man tells Nicholas that her sound is still on and asks if he wants him to keep filming. In the movies most touching scene Nicholas tells him to cut the film. Of course the movie needed a new ending and Charlyne gives him a what will be a widely talked about ending down with puppets and she narrates the ending.

I give Paper Heart a 3 and on my avoidance scale a 0, this is a touching movie that will make even the cynic in you think about just how good the feelings of being loved and loving in return can make you feel. Their are many touching stories here and the people who share them deserve to have their stories told. The gay couple who share their story about their relationship are funny as well as emotionally touching. GO see this little movie that may just be what every one is talking about.

Paper Heart is rated PG-13 for Strong Language
Running time is 1 hr. 28 mins.

I Bet His Collection Is Better Than Yours

The Collector follows the story of handyman and ex-con Arkin (Josh Stewart), who aims to repay a debt to his ex-wife by robbing his new employer’s country home. Unfortunately for Arkin, a far worse enemy has already laid claim to the property – and the family. As the seconds tick down to midnight, Arkin becomes a reluctant hero trapped by a masked “Collector” (Juan Fernández) in a maze of lethal invention – the Spanish Inquisition as imagined by Rube Goldberg – while trying to rescue the very family he came to rob.

The kind of movie for which the term "Hard R" was coined, The Collector is a mean-spirited throwback to the nastiest, cruelest home-invasion movies of the '70s and '80s. And I mean that in the best possible way. Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton (they came into the Saw franchise with Saw IV and are still with it) actually set out to raise -- or should that be lower? -- the down-and-dirty bar. Suffice it to say that they succeeded admirably. Ex-con Arkin (Stewart) is one of life's natural-born losers: He's broke, condemned to a series of dead-end jobs, indebted to his jailhouse protector and gradually losing the sad-eyed daughter (Haley Pullos) who he adores but has disappointed one too many times. The last straw: Arkin's ex-wife needs big money by midnight; she's in hock to loan sharks and if she doesn't pay up, they'll do whatever loan sharks do to welchers. So Arkin makes a rash decision. He's been working a construction gig, renovating the kind of house he'll never own for successful jeweler Michael Chase (Michael Reilly Burke) and his family: Botoxed beauty Victoria (Andrea Roth), trampy teen Jill (Madeline Zima) and pampered, eight-year-old Hannah (Karley Scott Collins), who's living the life Arkin wishes he could give his own little girl. Arkin knows the Chases are leaving on vacation later in the day, and he knows there's a ruby as big as the Ritz in the upstairs safe. So come nightfall, he dons a ski mask and quietly breaks into the empty house. Except that it isn't empty: Someone hidden behind a lace-up S&M mask is busy brutalizing Victoria and Michael, someone who's rigged every door, window and other means of egress with crude but cruelly effective booby traps. It's going to be a whole lot harder to get out than it was to get in, especially once Arkin realizes that little Hannah is hiding somewhere in the house and doesn't stand a chance on her own. On first impulse, Arkin decides to bail and leave his future Dexter victims to fend for themselves, but after nearly severing his hand on razors attached to the window, he elects to stay and fight it out against a masked villain encrusted in black leather, one of those getups which screams I’m-the-awkward-kid-but-being-into-weird-shit-has-given-me-a-feeling-of-superiority. The parents, Michael and Victoria, are pretty much fucked six ways to Halloween downstairs, but the two daughters are missing. Arkin decides to find and save them, which pretty much plots the entire second half of the movie. I know this all seems a little trite and gimmicky on paper, but The Collector does a masterful job of using the house as a main character. As Arkin is inside and the Man In Black is unaware of his presence; the action takes on a cat and mouse quality, as the hooded rapscallion wanders back-and-forth torturing for sport and Arkin creeps into the empty shadows trespassing for weapons and ways to free the family. As a viewer, it’s like watching from the Pacman vantage point. The camera slides from room to room, stopping to note where various booby traps are trigged from and what unseemly battle axe or knife-fortified chandelier its tripwire may bring.

Yes, The Collector is derivative; genre buffs will see echoes of movies as diverse as Aliens, Straw Dogs, Audition, and the Bruce Willis thriller Hostage. No, the set-up isn't entirely plausible and one shot of a spider spinning its deadly web would have been quite enough. But Melton and Dunstan know how to tighten screws, ratchet up stakes and regularly give the knife an extra twist. It’s astoundingly illogical, consistently indulgent and unnecessarily graphic. That director Marcus Dunstan embraces all these shortcomings and somehow pulls the entire thing off seems like a bad opinion on paper, but there’s a clear passion beneath the surface--even amidst all the graphic boob shots and decapitated cats. This isn’t a film content to deliver the same scares or incorporate tracking shots you’ve already seen. The horror game is a tired rigmarole right now, and while The Collector is likely to be contrasted against the Saw movies based on its sharing of writers and incorporation of masked villains with fetishes for bizarre game play, this film’s cinematography should keep it relevant in sadistic circles for years to come. This gets a chillingly gruesome 4 on my "Go See" scale.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

The Collector Offers Nothing In Originality

Horror movies have always been of a particular interest to me, they make my heart pound and my pulse race, I love the way I feel sitting through a good horror movie. Unfortunately "The Collector" the newest slasher type movie by the writers of Saw IV, V and VI didn't make my heart race or my pulse pound, it just made my head pound. It was loud and gives little insight to making a story that anyone can follow, it is written just like the Saw movies, little is revealed about the characters, the plot is rushed and so thin you can see through it. We get little plot, little substance and little believability. Oh we do get trap after trap, and we also get loads of blood. If that's all you want in a horror movie, you will love this movie, if you require something of substance, this movie will be a huge disappointment.

Handyman Arkin (Josh Stewart) knows that the owners of the huge home that he has been working on are going on an extended vacation, he also knows that there is a hidden safe in the bedroom behind a mirror, he also knows in that safe is a huge uncut diamond, so big that he can pay off the debts his wife has incurred to some nasty loan sharks. Arkin takes what little pay he has to his wife, Lisa (Daniella Alonso) he buys a bear for his daughter Cindy (Haley Pullos) and tells his wife he needs until midnight to get the rest of the money for her. The home is owned by Michael (Michael Reilly Burke) and Victoria (Andrea Roth) the two younger children Jill (Madeline Zima) and Hannah (Karley Scott Collins) are horror movie victims waiting in the wings. When Arkin goes to his boss, the man who he steals for, he tells Roy (Robert Wisdom) he needs to get the diamond that night and he needs the money right away, like that night.

When Arkin goes to the property he is walking in the yard and is confronted by a huge dog, one that wasn't on the property before that night, the dog takes a huge bite out of Arkin's ski mask. I was waiting for the hole to get bigger and smaller or to disappear all together. Does he not think that the owners have no dog, and therefore where did this dog come from? No he doesn't. Arkin next gets into the house and goes upstairs to the bedroom where the safe is, he hears a door open and someone coming up the stairs, it is the collector (Juan Fernández) a madman who decides he wants to add to his twisted collection. He collects people and when he decides who he wants he goes and takes them. The rest of the family are just fodder, he kills who he doesn't want. Arkin is able to slip past the collector and get downstairs, he finds several new locks on the back door. Locks that were not there earlier that same morning when he was at the home. When the collector goes back downstairs Arkin decides he can make it back upstairs and retrieve the diamond after all. Of course he changes his mind when he hears screams coming through the air vents. Arkin goes to investigate and finds Michael in the basement tied to a chair. Arkin also finds Victoria handcuffed to a bathtub (HUH) this is a miracle since bathtubs have no place to handcuff any one to. Michael tells Arkin there is a gun in the safe, he also tells Arkin the combination to the safe, Arkin goes back upstairs to get the gun and while he is there he helps himself to the diamond. Victoria asks him where Hanna is, that she is in the house somewhere hiding.

The problem with the gun is there are no bullets and the collector is a knife expert, and he has worked some more magic, he has set several dozen elaborate traps throughout the whole house. He has boarded the windows and set traps outside that as well. One room is full of bear traps set to spring, one room has acid poured on the floor, that eats through Arkins shoes but yet doesn't eat through the wooden floor. One trap after another is found and avoided by Arkin, when Jill and her boyfriend Chad (Alex Feldman) come back to the house it adds a couple more victims for the collectors traps to actually work on. Here we also get the boob shot as the couple make out while the collector watches, when he is finally seen he dispatches Chad right away, Jill he wants to play with before he kills her. Leaving her tied to the stairwell, the collector leaves and Arkin comes and cuts the barbed wire off her, Jill is so scared that she runs from Arkin and right into one of the set traps.

Of course Arkin finds Hanna and sets about rescuing her, he puts himself in harms way in order to get her out of the house. The fight between Arkin and the collector is violent and bloody. The two start outside and end up inside the house, Arkin has what must be the worlds greatest threshold to pain because he does stuff to himself that would have beaten most men. Of course seeing that this movie is written by the men who wrote the last couple saw movies we expect to have nothing explained, nothing definitive happen, we expect to have mystery and lots of questions. We do get the mystery, like who is the Collector, I know they tell us which person he is but who IS he? Why is it that he does what he does? How long has he been collecting people? see we get the questions too. The movie is a big disappointment to true horror fans. if you like the saw movies get ready for the new franchise, because the collector is here, and unfortunately he may be here for a long time.

I give The collector a 0 and on my avoidance scale a 4, this is one movie that gives you nothing but blood, blood and more blood. The only difference between the collector and jigsaw, is the collector gets his hands dirty, where Jigsaw allowed you to make the choice, live or die it was up to the person, here the collector kills you if your not the one he wants. The movie is loud and that's to mask that there is simply no plot to this movie, Hollywood thinks that movie goers just want action and gore, that may be, but make it real.

The Collector is rated R for Pervasive Sadistic Bloody Violence, Language and some Sexuality/Nudity
Running time is 1 hr. 25 mins.