Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Barrymore Proves She Has What It Takes To Be Behind The Camera As Well

Drew Barrymore makes her directorial debut with this feisty, female-friendly action-comedy. Juno's Ellen Page stars as Bliss Cavendar, a young woman who longs to break free of her small-town bonds by joining the rough-and-tumble sport of roller derby in nearby Austin, Texas in Whip It.

Imagine my surprise at the fact that Whip It ended up being a total blast. For her first film as a director, Barrymore's done a bang-up job. Whip It is a fun, quirky, and cool coming of age flick, that also sheds some light on the growing women's roller derby cult- which is fairly big here in Montreal, and has been catching on big time in recent years. It also gives star Ellen Page a worthy follow-up to Juno, which, despite the growing backlash, I still think is a great film. When I heard Barrymore was casting Page as her heroine, I assumed she's pretty much be playing Juno on roller skates, but I was wrong. While Bliss does have a few things in common with Juno (primarily love of indie rock), they're not all that similar. For one thing, Bliss is a lot tougher, and less smart-alecky than Juno, and, most importantly, does not use the pop-culture infused patois Diablo Cody invented for her. She also is a lot less socially awkward- as Juno was a misfit, but Bliss actually could fit into the popular cliques at her high school- she just doesn't want to. I really liked the character, and I thought Page was great, as was Alia Shawkat, from Arrested Development, who plays her best pal. I also really enjoyed SNL's Kristen Wiig as the experienced skater that befriends young Bliss. Wiig's one of my favorite comedienne's working today, and here she gets to try something a little more serious (but still funny), and excels. I hope she starts landing lead roles soon, as I really feel like she could be a breakout star if she gets the chance. As for Barrymore, she plays a smaller part, mostly serving as comic relief focusing her attentions behind the camera. As for the rest of the cast, everyone does a great job, including Juliette Lewis, who gets her first truly substantial role in years, as Page's roller skating rival. Another familiar face retuning after a long absence is Daniel Stern, who gets a gem of a role as Page's brow-beaten, sympathetic father.

My only real issue with Whip It, is that the romantic subplot between Page, and her indie-rock boyfriend, played by Landon Pigg, is a little weak, with their underwater love-scene being the only part of the film that really struck me as phony baloney, maudlin crap. That aside I still genuinely liked Whip It. While it's utterly predictable, I still had a lot of fun with it, and I think others will too when it comes out in a few weeks. As for Barrymore, she shows surprising talent as a director, and I look forward to seeing what she does next. Like some of her acting, Drew Barrymore’s directing debut Whip It is a mite too adorably ingratiating, especially for a story of a 17-year-old (Page) groomed for pageant life who gravitates to snarling girl punks and roller derby. But Barrymore hovers over her actresses like the nicest, most nurturing den mother imaginable, and on its own, Go For It formula terms the movie delivers. Page is softer than in Hard Candy and Juno. Without Diablo Cody comebacks, she’s even more marvelous. Under Barrymore's direction Page really shines. This was a nice look into the lives of the women of roller derby. Funny and heartfelt, this movie works on all levels. A 4 on my "Go See" scale.

Here's To Hoping Roller Derby Whips Itself Into Oblivion

Sports movies have taken on many diverse subjects, both the life of and the death of an athlete has been portrayed on the silver screen, many of the best sports stars have had their life story told on the screen. Hollywood considers this a lucrative thing and has given us serious stories and even some on the not so serious side. One of the newest not so serious movies is "Whip It", directed by first timer Drew Barrymore, and tells the story of a poor little rich girl turned rebel when she notices a new and exciting sport for the first time. Women's roller derby. No I swear, women's roller derby. Women have been entertaining the masses on skates for longer than men but for this movie the idea comes as a new and very exciting prospect.

Bliss Cavendar (Ellen Page) is the apple of her mothers eye, Brooke (Marcia Gay Harden) thinks her daughter should be winning more beauty pageants, but Bliss thinks she just doesn't fit in. Shania (Eulala Scheel) Bliss's younger sister seems to win almost every one that she enters, while dad, Earl (Daniel Stern) just sits at home being the support the family needs. he is an easy going man who lets mom decide just about everything. One day when mom takes the two girls shopping, Bliss notices several girls riding around on skates, they leave flyer's for a roller derby event and Bliss grabs one.

The night of the derby Bliss gets her friend Pash (Alia Shawkat) to drive her to Austin so she can watch the derby, Bliss is so taken with it that she gets up the nerve to approach one of the women, Maggie Mayhem (Kristen Wiig) when Bliss tells her that she is her new role model, Maggie tells her to put some skates on. Of course that is the start of the standard cliche sports moment, it reads like a litany of standard cliches. 1 the team is so bad that they have yet to win a game, but the new girl joins the team and they not only start to win but make the championship game. 2 the family of the star know nothing about what he or she is up to but will find out and be against it, until they realize just how important it is to that person, and lastly the person will face an obstacle that will mean they are going to be barred from the big game but at the last minute all is swell and they get to play anyway.

The team rallies around Bliss and helps her out, Bloody Holly (Zoe Bell), Rosa Sparks (Eve), Smashley Simpson (Drew Barrymore) and even a competitor Iron Maven (Juliette Lewis) all seem to be looking out for Bliss. Although it is Maven who originally threatens to blow the whistle on Bliss. When Earl confronts Brooke and tells her he isn't about to let his daughter be unhappy, that if derby is what she wants then she will get to be in the derby. The only thing that doesn't fall into the standard cliche is the ending, but now so many movies are starting this trend it is slowly becoming the new cliche.

Along the way Bliss falls in love with Colby (Doug Minckiewicz), the lead singer of his brothers band, but falls out of love just as quickly, will that become the second new cliche? Here's to hoping not. The movie ends with the family all happy, the fans happy and even the athletes themselves happy. Everyone is happy except the person who paid nine dollars to see this trite boringly dull movie. This isn't to say that Drew Barrymore does a bad job of directing, she does a fantastic job, she doesn't center the screen on her character as much as some directors would have done, she leaves the others to tell the story, her character, Smashley is almost an after thought. This movie should have been an after thought itself.

I give Whip it a 2 and on my avoidance scale a 1, wait a few months and you can watch this dud at your leisure, on one of those cold snowy winter nights, when its to clod to do anything but curl up in front of the fire, then when your done watching this DVD you can throw it into the fire as well.

Whip It is rated PG-13 for Sexual Content including Crude Dialogue, Language and Drug Material
Running time is 1 hr. 51 mins.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Gervais Learns How To Lie And It's Pretty Hilarious

The Invention of Lying takes place in an alternate reality in which lying--even the concept of a lie--does not exist. Everyone--from politicians to advertisers to the man and woman on the street--speaks the truth and nothing but the truth with no thought of the consequences. But when a down-on-his-luck loser named Mark (Gervais) suddenly develops the ability to lie, he finds that dishonesty has its rewards. In a world where every word is assumed to be the absolute truth, Mark easily lies his way to fame and fortune. But lies have a way of spreading, and Mark begins to realize that things are getting a little out of control when some of his tallest tales are being taken as, well, gospel. With the entire world now hanging on his every word, there is only one thing Mark has not been able to lie his way into: the heart of the woman he loves.

Whenever we hear a politician or a sales clerk promise something that simply can’t be done, it’s easy to wish we lived in a world without lies. As writer-directors Ricky Gervais and Matthew Robinson demonstrate in The Invention of Lying, such a world isn’t necessarily ideal. Set in an alternate universe much like our own where no one has or is even able to tell a fib, the new film begins like an odd vision of hell. It’s particularly infernal for a struggling screenwriter named Mark Bellison (Gervais). Because fiction is literally inconceivable in this environment, Mark can’t think of a way to make the 14th century and the Black Plague anything other than dreary. In this realm, movies consist solely of readers telling viewers the naked facts, so Mark is about to be fired because his assignment for Lecture Films is futile. Mark gets no sympathy because compassion is as scarce as deception. People bluntly admit their hostilities without any thought of another’s feelings. When Mark goes on a first date with the attractive and successful Anna (Jennifer Garner), she flatly tells him that his pudgy build and dead career prevent her from every considering him as a mate. Conversations like these are the norm in Mark’s universe. Her rejection and his dimming job prospects put him into a deep depression. When he discovers he doesn’t have enough money in the bank to pay his rent, Mark simply tells the clerk he does and receives the cash. This is not a fluke. Mark gradually discovers that no matter how blatant the falsehood, any other person believes every word coming out of his mouth. When he tells his best friend Greg (Louis C.K.) outrageous fibs, his pal believes them even when they’re contradictory. The Invention of Lying is based on a simple idea, but Gervais and Robinson come up with seemingly endless ways to maximize it. All of the buildings are bluntly named for what occurs in them, and people say goodbye by wishing never to see each other again. The cast, which features great cameos by Philip Seymour Hoffman, Tina Fey and Edward Norton, wisely play all the absurd situations with an appropriate lack of irony. It’s not funny if they appear in on the joke.

With The Invention of Lying, however, the actor demonstrates a range he hasn’t been asked to use before, so he easily adapts to playing a likable character for a change. It’s easy to go along with Mark’s ruses because he’s one of the few people in his world who feels empathy. While he initially enjoys getting bankers and casino owners to hand over unearned cash, he’s too soft hearted to use his gifts to hurt others. Imagine the agony he feels when some simple whoppers he tells his dying mother turn into a full-fledged religion. Gervais and Robinson use this little plot point to raise all sorts of fascinating questions: Is it better to follow a mendacious faith if it keeps people from misery or evil? Is imagination itself only falsehood or a truth that others can’t see? Is honesty a vice if it isn’t accompanied by concern for others? Gervais and Robinson manage to probe all of these ideas while coming up with 100 solid minutes of comic irrationality. The Invention of Lying easily exceeds its  quota for honest laughs. This gets a 4 on my "Go See" scale.

What Was Needed Was The Invention Of A Better Movie

Comedies have one simple rule, to work they need to make us laugh. It is a simple rule and with some of today's talented writers should be easy, it is not an easy thing to do, humor is a hard thing to make work, it is something that can be as simple as walking into a pole or a joke so dirty that you can't help but laugh. In the new comedy "The Invention Of Lying" there are simple not enough jokes to garner the accolades this movie believes it deserves. the one thing that I found the funniest, was the name of the senior citizens home. A Sad Place For Hopeless Old People.

Mark Bellison (Ricky Gervais) is down on his luck but believes that things can't get any worse, so he is excited about his upcoming date with Anna McDoogles (Jennifer Garner), she immediately shoots him down. This is normal because the story takes place in an alternate world where no one can lie, every truth is point blank and as blunt as can be. The date goes as expected and is over before it actually starts, Anna is a shallow person who is looking for a man with the best genes so that her kids will be better than the other kids. Mark has a job as a script writer - why didn't he write a better script here? His job is boring and dull, he writes about the thirteenth century, and the black plague isn't something people want to go to the movies for. A neighbor, Frank (Jonah Hill) is trying to kill himself and is looking for clever ways to do it. His isn't the only crass character in the movie, there is Marks boss, Anthony (Jeffrey Tambor) is working up the courage to fire him, his secretary Shelley (Tina Fey), is a callous bore, the star of the department, Brad Kessler (Rob Lowe) is obnoxious as well as creepy. The day he is actually fired comes and when he gets home his landlord demands the rent which Mark doesn't have, he is told to get out. Mark goes to the bank and is told the system is down, but they can still help him he says he needs eight hundred dollars. The only thing is, Mark only has three hundred in his account. The teller believes him and gives him the eight hundred dollars.

Not fully understanding what he just did, Mark goes to a bar where a friend is drinking, the bartender is a well known star making one of the movies two best cameos. The second of the two best cameo's, is the police officer that pulls Greg and Mark over. The friend, Greg (Louis C.K.) tells Mark that if he could lie he would go find women and have sex with them, Mark tries this, telling the woman that the world is about to end unless they have sex. Yes this is the extent of this movies jokes. Trashy dirty bombs. Mark can't go through with this and goes back to the bar, he decides that going to a casino and telling them that he has won a huge jackpot is alright, it seems that greed is be a better sin than perversion. Mark's mother Martha (Fionnula Flanagan) is in the nursing home and on the day she dies, Mark tells her that the place she is going is beautiful that she will get a mansion in the sky and she will be young again and every one that has already passed will be there to meet her. There are other Catholic jokes in the movie, where Mark, fed up with his life refuses to shave and when Anna comes to his Mansion he looks like Jesus. Contrite but not funny. Martha's Doctor (Jason Bateman) is so enraptured with this news he asks Mark to tell them .

When people here about what Mark told his mother they camp out in front of his apartment, Anna convinces Mark that he has to tell the world what he knows and he makes up a Man In The Sky, he says if you do wrong you won't get into this beautiful place. Mark gets famous and is able to live a better life, but he is unhappy because he can't get a very shallow Anna to fall in love with him. But have no fear, the Hollywood cliche machine won't let that happen and of course at the wedding of Anna and the best gene pool available to her Mark tells her that she really doesn't want to marry Brad. Anna and Mark end up married, happy and with a son with a pudgy nose. You will have to sit through about twenty minutes of this boring movie to understand the pudgy nose line.

I give The Invention Of Lying a 2 and on my avoidance scale I give it a 1, don't waste your time going to see this movie, it is dull unfunny and plain obnoxious, the two cameos in the movie and the name of the senior citizens home are the only funny things this movie has to offer, Ricky Gervais splits writing and directing duties with Matthew Robinson, maybe he should have stuck with one or the other, Gervais can be included in the short list of funny English stand up comedians, but somewhere along the line he lost his edge when he moved on to films. Gervais almost seems too tight and withdrawn, that's to bad, the teaser trailers make this movie look funny as all heck.

The Invention Of Lying is rated PG-13 for Language Including some Sexual Material and a Drug Reference
Running time is 1 hr. 39 mins.

A Bachelor Party Gone Wrong Teaches Tucker Max Something About Friendship

I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell–based on the shocking, ridiculous and hilarious real life adventures of Tucker Max–is the story of an impromptu bachelor party gone horribly awry thanks to a midget, a fat girl, a gaggle of strippers, an overly destructive public intoxication ordinance, and the consequence of Tucker’s unflinching narcissism. A tireless and charismatic novelty seeker, Tucker (Matt Czuchry) tricks his buddy Dan (Geoff Stults) into lying to his fiancée Kristy (Keri Lynn Pratt), so they can go to an legendary strip club three and a half hours away to celebrate Dan’s last days of bachelorhood in proper style. Tucker drags their misanthropic friend Drew (Jesse Bradford) along for the ride, and before they know it Tucker’s pursuit of a hilarious carnal interest lands Dan in serious trouble with his both the law and his future wife.

If you think the most disgusting bathroom scene in movie history occurs in Danny Boyle’s “Trainspotting,” that the most vulgar description of university life in America is in John Landis’s “Animal House,” and the grossest humor in recent years is in most of the stuff by Judd Apatow, think again. Though I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell received an “R” rating instead of the killjoy NC-17, Bob Gosse who directs and Tucker Max who wrote the screenplay from his own best-selling novel, must have avoided the dread letters and number by a pubic hair. Tucker Max, who serves as a producer and writer, is played by a most personable New Hampshire-born fellow with the all-American Texas look, Matt Czuchry—whom you may have never come across if you’ve never seen stuff like “Eight Legged Freaks,” though you’ll get a chance to see him on the initial telecasts of “The Good Wife.” His bio states that the thesp played tennis in college: he looks the part exactly, and though he has passed his 32nd birthday, he easily convinces as 25-year-old law school student in “Beer.” In this mostly entertaining and unremittingly vulgar frat-boy comedy advanced to graduate school, Tucker, a chronic liar who in one classroom scene acts like the kid you sent to the principal in middle school, takes off on a discussion, baited by the professor (Edward Hibbert—who was in the audience at the screening I attended), delivering what even a conservative Republican would call politically incorrect. Political correctness takes a vacation throughout the film’s 105 minutes, as three guys in law school, best friends despite their possessing distinct personalities, head off to a (presumably) Texas town of Salem, a bachelor party given by Tucker and Drew (Jesse Bradford) as a bachelor party sendoff for square-jawed Dan (Geoff Stuits). Dan is coaxed to lie to his perky fiancé, Kristy (Keri Lynn Pratt), who believes they’re going to a bar in the locale. While Tucker is the most articulate, able to lie convincingly even to his pals, Dan comes off like more of a straight-arrow fellow who’d probably prefer to have a beer with his pals at home rather than with Mephistopheles in Hades. For his part, Drew is a misanthrope to turns women by insults to their faces, delivering monologues in monotone to display his apparent displeasure with the night’s activities.

As they three cavort with a variety of women in a bar and later in a strip club, they discover that the various members of the fair sex, who are labeled "sluts" one and all by Drew, are as different in temperament as the fellows. After a series of events, each one fair game for a Saturday Night Live skit—some coming off just as Tucker would want to happen including a roll in the hay with a midget—the stage is set for redemption, for an attempt by Tucker, in particular, to think of drinking tea in heaven rather than pursue what would have inevitably been his fate. Is Tucker really redeemed? Hardly, but he has a way to convince one and all that the halo around his head is the genuine article. Some crafty, if stereotypical side roles are played nicely by Meagen Fay, an actress with an impressive resume here in the role of the bride’s mom, and Marika Domincyzk as Lara, an alleged "slut" who gets the better of the misanthropic Drew, thereby redeeming him. Remember, though: the toilet scene is so off-the-wall realistic you’ll find it difficult to keep your eyes on the screen. It's not perfect, but it has its moments. A 3 on my "Go See" scale.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Get A Surrogate, You Won't Have To Leave Home Again

In Surrogates, FBI agents (Bruce Willis and Radha Mitchell) investigate the mysterious murder of a college student linked to the man who helped create a high-tech surrogate phenomenon that allows people to purchase unflawed robotic versions of themselves – fit, good looking remotely controlled machines that ultimately assume their life roles – enabling people to experience life vicariously from the comfort and safety of their own homes. The murder spawns a quest for answers: in a world of masks, who’s real and who can you trust?

In Surrogates, almost everyone in the world never leaves the house anymore. There's no need, thanks to the proliferation of "surrogates," robotic doubles that look like you (only smoother and prettier) that you can control from the comfort of home. You send them out in your place and live life through their eyes and sensors, safe and sound back at home. It started as a luxury item for people who wanted to experience, say, skydiving without risk of injury, but now everyone uses surrogates for everything. Well, that's the way with these things, isn't it? Less than 15 years ago the Internet was an entertainment and information tool that we might use for a few minutes a day. Now it's so vital to our lives that we have it on our phones, lest we ever spend a moment without access to it. (Oh, yeah -- we also carry phones around with us all the time.) Surrogates caught on in the same way: once a novelty, now utterly indispensable. Willis plays Greer, an FBI agent who, like nearly everyone else, conducts his public life entirely via surrogate. (His model looks like him only younger, with softer skin and an absurd blond head of hair.) Most of his private life is conducted that way, too -- he and his wife, Maggie (Rosamund Pike), haven't seen each other for real, in person, in ages, even in their apartment. (They have separate bedrooms. If they ever have marital relations anymore, one assumes there's a separate room for that, too, where the surrogates do it.) In the tradition of the hard-boiled detective, Greer -- who is grizzled and careworn in person, barely resembling his more presentable surrogate (you tend to let yourself go when no one ever sees you) -- has grown weary of all this and is wondering if mankind might have been better off before the surrogates came around. Then, as if to prove the point, someone gets killed. A mystery man deploys a strange weapon against a surrogate, frying its motherboard and somehow sending a charge back to the user and melting his brain. Needless to say, this goes against the whole point of surrogates, which is to protect the user from harm. And anyone who can melt your brain via remote control is obviously not to be trifled with.

Greer and his partner, Peters (Radha Mitchell), are assigned to the case, which grows more interesting when they learn the victim was the son of Lionel Canter (James Cromwell), the billionaire who invented surrogates and was subsequently forced out of the company that makes them. Is someone trying to get back at the inventor? Maybe one of the rising number of people who oppose surrogacy and have started living in machine-free communes on the outskirts of major cities? Maybe their leader, an enigmatic fire-and-brimstone fellow who calls himself the Prophet (Ving Rhames)?  Like most good sci-fi, the story considers the human ramifications of advanced technology while still doling out plenty of just-for-kicks entertainment and nifty "what if?" scenarios. (What if you connected to someone else's surrogate?) Greer and his wife lost a son a while back, which helps account for their desire to draw inward. There is more than one shot of a character disconnecting from his or her surrogate and crying over what he or she has seen through its eyes. (When someone disconnects, of course, the surrogate just stands there, blank-faced. If a conversation gets too intense, you can escape by literally shutting yourself down.) It's a very sad idea, this notion of trying to experience life safely, without truly interacting with anyone. Greer and Maggie's fractured marriage could have been explored better than it is, and Radha Mitchell's performance as Greer's FBI partner is rather wooden. (Yes, she's a robot most of the time. But so is everyone else, and they don't act like that.) Like I said, this isn't groundbreaking stuff. But it's smart and enjoyable, and the message is "go outside, nerds!," which is always nice to hear. This gets a hard 3 on my "Go See" scale.

Surrogates Make Life Easy, Untill You Drop Dead

Hollywood has given roles to an actor because he or she has proven that his star power can draw fans into the movie, that power is usually enough to draw people into paying for what they believe is going to be a power house movie, but tends to be more and more just trite, loud action. In "Surrogates" we get the star power, we get the action, but we get nothing else. The plot is weak, far fetched and silly. As a movie to watch just for the fun of it Surrogates works, the sci-fi aspect is one that has been done to death, most recently in I, Robot. In Surrogates the robots are doing the work that people would normally do, but this time they have people controlling them, and if something happens to the surrogates the people are supposed to be protected, of course that isn't actually the truth.

When two surrogates are shot down in the street, with a new laser weapon nothing is different except that one surrogate is unregistered and the owners are found dead. When it is revealed that the owner of the unregistered surrogate, Cantor (James Francis Ginty) is the son of the creator of the surrogates Older Cantor (James Cromwell). Detective Tom Greer (Bruce Willis) is assigned to the case. He is an old veteran and along with his partner Peters (Radha Mitchell) they try to speak with Old cantor but are forced to speak to one of his many surrogates. The interview ends abruptly and the two detectives leave.

The case becomes a little more dangerous when the police get a lead on the suspect and trap him in an area where surrogates are not allowed to go. It seems that a band of humans who refuse to accept to use a surrogate have formed areas where no surrogate can travel, the suspect leads Det. Greer, who is a surrogate himself, into this area after he used the weapon on several police officers who were surrogates, killing them all. The humans don't take lightly the surrogate coming into their area and they band together and kill it. The real Det. Greer, who has not been out in the world for several months has to go into this area to find the suspect. This area is lead by The Prophet (Ving Rhames) and they don't want Greer coming onto their property either, they make this clear when they beat him senseless.

Of course the movie has a quick pace to it, the man behind the weapon is revealed rather quick, but who gave it to him remains a mystery until near the end. The reason is rather silly but it seems to work for this movie, viewers are not ask to think outside the box here, truthfully they are not asked to think at all. The plot rolls along and when another surrogate is used to get to the ultimate goal of the man behind the plot, it should become rather obvious who it is. The ending is trite and is somewhat laughable, the good guy wins the bad guy thinks he has the upper hand and takes his own life, but at the last second Greer takes control and decides that the mans original plan may not be such a bad idea after all. The fact that he does allow to happen one of the parts of the mans plan to rid the world of surrogates is rather funny, a man of the law taking the law into his own hands, if he had done this earlier in the movie maybe it would have been good. Boris Kodjoe is wasted as the boss of the unit that Greer is a part of, he has screen time but his character is implausible and goofy.

I give Surrogates a 2 and on my avoidance scale a 1, wait a few months for this one, it won't be around for very long and you can sit back and take your time to see this one, it really has nothing to offer except some pretty decent special effects and CGI. Surrogates can be watched one time and then can join the rest of the DVD's that you regret buying.

Surrogates is rated PG-13 for Sequences of Violence, Disturbing Images, Language, Sexuality and a Drug-Related Scene
Running time is 1 hr. 44 mins.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

A Summer Rental That Comes With Aliens In The Attic

Movies aimed at children usually do pretty well, when you add a comedic touch and aliens to the mix, kids will flock to it unless it opens in mid summer amidst all the other loud annoying movies, "Aliens In The Attic" made that critical mistake and may pay for it with a loss of viewership. That's a shame, because this movie is cute and would be enjoyed by almost every adult that comes along with their children. The aliens are not scary, nor is there any nudity or foul language, perfect for every child, as long as their not watching some mind numbing action flick.

The Pearson Family take a long needed vacation to their summer home where an advance scouting party of aliens have crashed landed. Stuart (Kevin Nealon) and Nina Pearson (Gillian Vigman) have brought their entire family on the getaway, including Nana Rose (Doris Roberts) their oldest son, Tom (Carter Jenkins) and daughter Bethany (Ashley Tisdale) coming for the ride is Uncle Nathan (Andy Richter) and his son Jake (Austin Robert Butler). The youngest children include twin boys, Art (Henri Young) and Lee (Regan Young) and Hannah (Ashley Boettcher) and last is Ricky (Robert Hoffman) Bethany's unwelcome boyfriend.

Clouds form around the summer house and the Pearson family thinks they are watching a light show of some kind, this turns out to be alien spacecraft crashing into the attic. Inside the craft are four members of an advance scouting party set out to find a beacon that will bring the rest of the alien species to Earth, with the intention of taking it over. Inside the craft are Skip (J.K. Simmons), the tough commander, Tazer (Thomas Haden Church), the warrior of the group, Razor (Kari Wahlgren), a lethal female soldier; and Sparks (Josh Peck) a four-armed techie, who is the only non-threatening alien intruder.

After a paint ball mishap Tom is told he must make amends with Ricky, Ricky looking to cause trouble tells Stuart that he and Tom will go up to the attic to look at what is wrong with the antennae, what neither know is that the alien craft has crashed into it. Jake comes up to see what is taking them so long and they find the alien group, at first the group tries to persuade the boys they are friendly but soon give up. The boys just make it back into the house, Ricky isn't so lucky and is hit with a device that allows the aliens to control the persons body. Left to their own devices, the kids unleash their imaginations, creating makeshift weapons, like piping rigged as a home made potato spud gun. They even learn to use the mind controller, taking control of Ricky and turning him against the aliens. A touching friendship is struck up between Hannah and Sparks, the friendly alien. Who unlike his alien cohorts, Sparks has no stomach for battle; he just wants to return home to his Zirkonian family.

Nana Rose comes under the spell of the alien mind control device, which gives her super-human powers. She comes to the kids' rescue -and into a battle with Ricky, who is again under alien control. Nana Rose gives Ricky a huge jolt causing the alien plug to dislodge. The kids think they have the situation under control but soon find out that the device that Skip is using can make him larger then the humans can battle alone. Sparks helps the kids defeat Skip and at the end of the day the earth is saved because the kids set aside their family differences and their determination and strength are enough to defeat Skip, and send the incoming space craft fleeing back to their planet.

I give Aliens In The Attic a 3 and on my avoidance scale a 0, this is a good enough movie for the entire family, the young ones will really love the alien creatures and mom and dad won't have to worry about anything happening on screen that may be to mature for the younger kids, there is nothing at all like that here, this is truly a family film so take the family and see it before it is buried under the summer blockbusters.

Aliens In The Attic is rated PG for Action Violence, Some Suggestive Humor and Language
Running time is 1 hr. 26 mins.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Pandorum Is Hollywood's Answer To My Prayers

Science fiction movies usually tend to have the same recurring theme, a few brave men and women trapped in a scary surrounding, an unknown until now alien species hunting them while they hunt it, and dark recesses of the ship that until required to walk or run through were never shown on camera before. In the latest sci-fi adventure we get something Hollywood seldom gives us, an ending that isn't explained to us as if we were fifth graders. In "Pandorum" They leave it so that we are required to THINK for ourselves and I for one say BRAVO.

Cpl. Bower (Ben Foster) awakens from hyper-sleep he is in a sleeping chamber aboard what appears to be a seemingly abandoned spacecraft. Walking around he discovers Lt. Payton (Dennis Quaid) starting to awaken from his hyper sleep. When Cpl. Bower confronts Lt. Payton they discover that they can't remember anything. They also think that they may be the only surviving members of their crew. As Cpl. Bower investigates the ship he discovers that he and Lt. Payton are not alone, he runs into another survivor, as well as a band of roving mutants. The film starts off with obvious references to Pitch Black, Alien, and Aliens. Once the mutants appear, however, the film shifts into overdrive, and it becomes Resident Evil and The Descent.

The mutants are super-fast and super-strong, they run along the sides of the ship and appear as if out of nowhere. Several times Cpl. Bower narrowly escapes them. Lt. Payton stays behind and repeatedly asks over and over again to Cpl. Bower if he can hear him? Couldn't they afford to pay Dennis Quaid to say anything more? As Bower makes his way further into the belly of the ship, trying to find out if his family is still alive and to get to the reactor to turn it back on, he discovers some other survivors. Nadia (Antje Traue) who attacks Bower several times, thinking he may be a mutant, why she would think this is beyond me, Bower doesn't shriek, he doesn't run fast and he isn't strong like the other mutants, plus he LOOKS human. Bower is saved by Manh (Cung Le) who is very adept with a blade. The three make their way towards the sleeping bay only to discover that the mutants have been using the bay as their very own hunting grounds, as the humans awaken from their sleep and are disoriented the mutants attack and eat them.

The three escape and run into another survivor, Leland (Eddie Rouse) who has been eating other humans who mistakenly enter his chambers. The group once they convince Leland he would be better off releasing the three so they can turn the generator back on, make their way to the generator room only to discover that the mutants are using it to sleep in. Lt. Payton has had his hands full as well all this time he has discovered another survivor himself, Gallo (Cam Gigandet) who with the hidden twist turns out to be someone who has been on board the ship for a very long time.

The movie has its flaws as well, we really never get a definitive answer to what the mutants are or even where they come from, we get the scary sound effects the hunt and the kill, but what they are we never fully get to know. We don't get the huge epic fight between the mutant leader and Cpl. Bower, he is dispatched by Manh in a battle to the death. The mutants attack and corner the few remaining survivors and pick them off one by one, the child mutant is cute, right up until he slices you up and smiles while he is doing it.

I give Pandorum a 3 and on my avoidance scale a 0, 2009 has been a surprisingly good year for sci-fi thus far (Star Trek, Moon, District 9) and sitting through this one won't distract from that at all. In terms of horror, Pandorum should be a breath or fresh air for those who've endured films like Halloween II, The Final Destination, Sorority Row or even earlier movies like The Unborn and The Uninvited.

Pandorum is rated R for Strong Horror Violence and Language
Running time is 1 hr. 48 mins.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Learn How To Fly With Fame

A reinvention of the original Oscar-winning hit film, Fame follows a talented group of dancers, singers, actors, and artists over four years at the New York City High School of Performing Arts, a diverse, creative powerhouse where students from all walks of life are given a chance to live out their dreams and achieve real and lasting fame...the kind that comes only from talent, dedication, and hard work. In an incredibly competitive atmosphere, plagued by self-doubt, each student’s passion will be put to the test. In addition to their artistic goals, they have to deal with everything else that goes along with high school, a tumultuous time full of schoolwork, deep friendships, budding romance, and self-discovery. As each student strives for his or her moment in the spotlight, they’ll discover who among them has the innate talent and necessary discipline to succeed. With the love and support of their friends and fellow artists, they’ll find out who amongst them will achieve Fame.

The "reinvention" of the 1980 high school musical Fame — please, people, don't call it a remake — stays faithful to the spirit and structure of Alan Parker's original while sucking out all the raciness. There's no nudity in this PG-rated version, no one gets an abortion. No one even lights a single cigarette. So no, it's not exactly the most realistic depiction of modern high-school life. But at the same time, dancer and choreographer Kevin Tancharoen, making his feature directing debut, doesn't turn "Fame" into the kind of slick, overly edited eye candy you might expect. It's stylized, yes, and it movies really fluidly while still maintaining some urban grittiness. And in a world where people aspire for instant recognition by making idiots of themselves on reality TV, there's still something appealing about the idea of working hard for artistic glory — potentially failing and suffering rejection, but persevering nonetheless. Starting with Debbie Allen's famous "you got big dreams, you want fame" speech over the opening titles, Fame follows a group of aspiring singers, dancers, actors and musicians from their auditions for New York's competitive High School of Performing Arts until their graduation four years later. Among the familiar types are Denise (Naturi Naughton), a classically trained pianist who longs to branch out creatively; good-looking Marco (Asher Book), who sings like Justin Timberlake; aspiring actress Jenny (Kay Panabaker), who's too self-conscious; the privileged dancer Alice (Kherington Payne); the shticky wannabe film director Neil (Paul Iacono); and the misunderstood actor-rapper Malik (Collins Pennie). Among the faculty are Charles S. Dutton as the acting teacher helping his students hone their craft, Kelsey Grammer as the stern but fair piano teacher and Bebe Neuwirth, formidable as always, as a dance instructor. (Frasier and Lilith don't have any scenes together, sadly.) Megan Mullally plays a perky voice coach and Allen herself, in all of two scenes, appears as the school's principal. Some of these kids are obviously going to make it — they're going to live forever, as the song goes — and some aren't. It's pretty easy to figure out. Similarly, you can see some of the plot developments coming from a mile away in Allison Burnett's script, even if you've never seen the original. The young cast attending the fictional New York High School of Performing Arts is uniformly great. They're all plugged into the collective notion of entertaining, rising to the challenge of a solo -- Payne's dance sequence is a beautiful escape -- yet finding ways to stand out when collaborating as an ensemble (in the graduation scene, for instance). You just know that the moment Denise's strict parents see her on stage, singing in a way they never knew she could, they'll achieve a newfound appreciation for her talent.

Naughton, who played Lil' Kim in "Notorious," also sings the hell out of "Out Here on My Own," the only song carried over from the original. ("Fame" plays over the closing credits.) And understandably, given Tancharoen's background, the dance scenes dazzle. The mousey Jenny will flourish by senior year, the keyboard player who hates Bach will learn to enjoy classical music, and at some point they'll all burst into spontaneous song and dance in the cafeteria. These are inescapable truisms. Familiar? Yes, but not nearly as vapid as most of the musical material out there that encourages teens to believe fame is all that matters. Because Fame trades in creativity and artistic stimulation, the left-brain functions of an ordinary screenplay -- plot, character development -- take a back seat to the high-powered singing and high-energy dancing. But the talent on screen is so impressive, you don't really mind. Fame is a front-row seat to a rousing Broadway production. It's a calling card for Tancharoen -- the right man for this particular job -- and a solid demo reel for many of the artists who should ascend to the top of the Hollywood ladder and stay there. Too many remakes flooding multiplexes are easily forgettable. Fame is one I'll remember (remember, remember…) It's not exactly a remake and that's not a bad thing. This reinvention of a classic film is brilliantly done with stellar performances that made the original so damn good. This gets a 4 on my "Go See" scale.

This Fame Deliver's Flash But No Substance

A reinvention of the original Oscar-winning hit film, "Fame" follows a talented group of dancers, singers, actors, and artists over four years at the New York City High School of Performing Arts, a diverse, creative powerhouse where students from all walks of life are given a chance to live out their dreams and achieve real and lasting fame, the kind that comes only from talent, dedication, and hard work. In an incredibly competitive atmosphere, plagued by self-doubt, each student's passion will be put to the test.

In addition to their artistic goals, the students have to deal with everything else that goes along with high school, a tumultuous time full of schoolwork, deep friendships, budding romance, and self-discovery. As each student strives for his or her moment in the spotlight, they’ll discover who among them has the innate talent and necessary discipline to succeed. With the love and support of their friends and fellow artists, they’ll find out who amongst them will achieve Fame. Many of the students who make the schools limited availability are talented to start with, but by the time the movie ends we see them performing as if they are major stars, what we don't see is how they got so good.

Jenny Garrison (Kay Panabaker) has the look of the scared fish out of water, Marco (Asher Book) has some experience singing in his fathers restaurant. Malik Washburn (Collins Pennie) has a deep anger toward life and he thinks that the stage is the best place to expel this anger, his best friend in the school is Victor Taveras (Walter Perez) who has a talent and an ear for music. They discover the one true bright star amongst the group, Denise Dupree (Naturi Naughton) whose music ability is clearly the best, it also doesn't hurt that her voice is like that of an angels. These are the best students that are showcased, there are several others that we learn of but not about. The Iowa farm boy Kevin (Paul McGill), the spunkiest student, Joy (Anna Maria Perez de Tagle), the best dancer Alice Ellerton (Kherington Payne) and the aspiring film director, Neil (Paul Iacono). The cast of teachers is eclectic in and of itself, The ballerina teacher Ms. Kraft (Bebe Neuwirth) the music teacher Mr. Martin Cranston (Kelsey Grammer) the vocal teacher Ms. Fran Rowan (Megan Mullally) the drama teacher Mr. James Dowd (Charles S. Dutton) and of course the principle Ms. Angela Simms (Debbie Allen). To whom I say welcome back.

The cast is the best thing this movie has to offer, the soundtrack is a collection of both old and new songs that have a nice beat and are catchy. The performances are amazing in that the talent that it takes to perform on cue is hard on its own, but to perform over and over again on a directors cue is even harder. The ending concert performance is one of the best, the graduation performance is a mix of all the students talents brought together as one act. The little we do see of the students seems thrown together, we don't see as the student progresses from scared beginner to talented musician, singer or dancer. Too bad, that alone would have made this a better picture to sit through, as it is though, unless you go to just see the dancers dance, the singers sing and expect no plot then this movie should be put last on what may be an already long list of must see movies.

I give Fame a 2 and on my avoidance scale a 1, musical work so well if the performances of the leads work and in this movie they do, barely. they also work if the songs have a nice beat and the songs here have that in spades. What Fame lacks is an interest in the characters, we see nothing of their home lives except in little snippets and here that just isn't enough. This movie will make a great addition to your DVD library, where you can watch it over and over again at your leisure.

Fame is rated PG for Thematic Material including Teen Drinking, Sexual Situations and Language.
Running time is 1 hr. 47 mins.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Learn The Rules And You May Just Survive Zombieland

In Zombieland, Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) has made a habit of running from what scares him. Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) doesn't have fears. If he did, he'd kick their ever-living ass. In a world overrun by zombies, these two are perfectly evolved survivors. But now, they're about to stare down the most terrifying prospect of all: each other.

Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), one of the few fresh humans left in a post-apocalyptic world overrun with bloodthirsty zombies, has devised a method in which to preserve himself (and his sanity… kind of). That hide-saving scheme is comprised of following 47 imperatively important rules for survival, most of which center around driving (Always Check The Backseat, Always Wear Your Seatbelt) — and that's apropos, as Zombieland is more road-trip yuk-fest than it is a horror yuck-fest. (Still, zombie zealots will be drooling over the wide array of wicked undead on display.) The first character we meet is Columbus, and it is through his eyes that we see the first signs of the zombie outbreak and its early aftermath. The fallout leads to a bleak and devastated country populated by the few survivors who're forced to become outlaws, living by the skin of their teeth and always on the move in search of sanctuary. Right from the beginning there is a good sense of the tone of the film — fun, irreverence and total lock-n-load rock 'n roll. Before long Columbus teams up with the brash and bold Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), a gonzo road-warrior whose only real goal is to scarf the last Twinkie on Earth. So as luck would have it, he finds everything but a Twinkie (there's a hilarious scene involving a mother-lode truckload of coconut Snowballs) as he and his younger protégé zoom through the highways, byways, trading posts and supermarkets.

Tallahassee is the fully liberated id to Columbus' over-cautious fraidy-cat, a cowboy road warrior who enjoys gratuitously stomping zombie arse. But both are hoodwinked when they run across two young sisters in apparent extremis, Wichita (Emma Stone) and 12-year-old Little Rock (Abigail Breslin), who are also in search of solace — not in the form of sponge cake, whipped cream and preservatives, but rather in the form of ferris wheels, funhouses and tilt-a-whirls. You see, Little Rock has always dreamed of going to a famed seaside amusement park in California, and her big sis will stop at nothing to make that wish come true. Which means Wichita will lie, cheat, steal and kill anyone who might stand their way. So, at gunpoint, the girls alleviate the boys of their SUV and weapons, though the four soon form a reluctant alliance, with Columbus crushing on Wichita and Tallahassee taking a fatherly shine to Little Rock. When Wichita suspects that Columbus and Tallahassee may be trouble, the high-jinks ensue as the never-ending barrage of zombies continue to complicate matters. Wary cohorts in the battle against the undead, all four begin to wonder if it might be better to simply take their chances alone, but they continue on in a road trip like no other. As they head westward from their Texas starting point -- chasing rumors of a zombie-free theme park outside L.A. -- not a lot happens, really, though Ruben Fleischer's direction is slick and busy. Eventually, they get to Hollywood, grab a map of stars' homes, and settle in at the luxurious manse of Tallahassee's hero, Bill Murray (playing himself, is worth the price of admission alone). If Zombieland doesn't grade at the head of its class -- the valedictorian still being "Shaun of the Dead" -- this lively splatstick item is nonetheless way above the remedial likes of "Zombie Strippers," to name one among many recent lower-budgeters. Benefiting from the very different but very appealing comedy styles of Woody Harrelson and Jesse Eisenberg even when the script's wit runs thin, this should be catnip to jaded genre fans. A definite must-see for diehard zombie fans. This gets a 4 on my "Go See" scale. 

Antichrist Will Definitely Stick With You

Only two actors, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Willem Defoe, inhabit the space of this supernatural thriller directed by Lars Von Trier. The stars play a couple who attempt to grieve for their dead child by living in seclusion in the middle of a forest. But their story does not end there: in the forest, they encounter pure evil in Satan. With Von Trier at the helm, Antichrist promises to be a challenging, intelligent film that doesn’t adhere to the conventions of cinema or religion.

Lars Von Trier's Antichrist is a rarity: a great film that I will never, ever subject myself to again. The physical and emotional anguish on display here has not been exaggerated. Von Trier has used a story of grief — Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg as parents devastated by the loss of their toddler son — as a jumping-off point for what I can only call gender horror. On a surface level, Antichrist is Don't Look Now for the torture-porn era. Many will be content to leave it at that, and I do not blame them, for to apply a close reading to such a painful and disagreeable work is to grant it longer passage in one's head than one really wants to allow. This movie hurts to watch and to think about. The film, has been theorized, unfolds in an alternate universe where Satan, not God, created the world. Therefore, the suffering the husband and wife (they are identified in the credits only as He and She) inflict on each other is par for the course in the movie's reality. There will doubtless be other readings. Anything can be made palatable if you abstract it enough. The wife is practically insane with grief and guilt — the couple, you see, had been making passionate love when their little son climbed up onto a window and fell to his death. The husband is a therapist, and at first, encouraged by Dafoe's soft-spoken and tender performance, we think that surely he will understand her; surely he will help her through her torment. But she accuses him of arrogance — he dismisses her psychiatrist as unseasoned and too quick to dump meds onto her pain. He may be right, or he may be jealous. She falls into anxious hysterics, and he deduces that her problem is fear. But fear of what? It would seem that the worst thing she could've imagined has already happened.Without getting into spoilers, Antichrist appears to be a dread-ridden meditation on misogyny and its deranging effects on male and female alike. The key here may be the subject of the wife's aborted thesis paper: "gynocide," or the systematic oppression, demonization and destruction of women over the centuries. The husband approaches the wife's pain with the poor hegemonic tools of "rationality," reducing her to a child by way of "games" and "role-playing" to break her out of her "fear." But what she fears can't be talked out in therapy. (Therapist = the rapist.)

Von Trier throws in many uncanny and bizarre touches, like "the three beggars" (pain, grief, despair) in the form of mutilated or self-mutilating forest animals. The husband takes the wife to "Eden," a cottage in the woods where she had gone the previous summer with their child, hoping to finish her paper. The cottage seems constantly attacked by nature: there's a steady hail of acorns thundering down onto the roof. The wind, in the wife's mind, becomes the breath of Satan. She is in hell, for reasons we will slowly gather. The rumbling, ominous soundtrack and occasional camera fixations (a slow zoom into a flower vase in a hospital room, for instance) recall Lynch, but elsewhere Von Trier uses his trademark handheld style and jump-cuts. The effect, as always with this provocateur, is to keep us unbalanced. What does Von Trier feel about women? I don't know. He probably doesn't either, which is why he keeps making films about them. By showing them in extremis, he may hope to get at some sort of female truth. His women are insane because they exist in an insane system, and by lashing out violently, like an R.D. Laing construct, they become purified in their madness. Von Trier makes deadly serious psychodramas with complex heroines who alienate us because we're part of the system they're rejecting. In Antichrist, the gender conflict reaches a particularly excruciating pitch. It is true philosophical horror, hard to shake off and harder, I suspect, for many to justify. But here we are retreating into interpretation. Is the film, past a certain point, meant to be taken literally? I doubt it. Are the things we're seeing actually happening? There comes a point in the narrative when we seem to be witnessing ancient hatreds and grievances acted out; the quotation marks around some of the events are almost visible. I've seen appalled lists of the various offenses to the flesh in Antichrist, but such a litany misses the point. It's a film of ideas, not shocks. It's also a nightmare movie, not subject to waking logic or the usual immediate, derisive response to challenging art. The film may have a maximalist meaning — He and She are all men, all women — or it may simply be a heightened emotional portrait of the aftermath of grief. Only Von Trier knows for sure, except I'm not sure he does. The movie is a workout, definitely. It will be condemned, praised, argued about. It feels like Von Trier getting down to the distilled basics of what he's always been driving at — it feels like a summing-up. It is also more frightening, of course, than most of the "horror movies" you snicker at in the multiplex. Those movies really just want to horse around, give you a good time, make you jump and laugh. Antichrist  is the real deal and will be one of those that will have everyone talking about it long after they leave the theatre. A Powerful 4 on my "Go See" scale. 

Antichrist Is Disturbing But It Is Worth Watching

Movies written by or directed by Lars Von Trier can't be called ordinary. They are often shocking and disturbing. Leaving the viewer to wonder what it was that inspired Trier to make something that can be considered both magical and graphic. Such is the case with"Antichrist", a movie that falls into the same mold of previous movies directed by Trier. The male character seems like he is in charge and the women the meek character, until we are shown that all along it has been the opposite.

The movie never gives names to it's characters, they are only referred by the names, He (Willem Dafoe) and She (Charlotte Gainsbourg). Gainsbourg and Dafoe perform with so much confidence, dedication and tact that we stay with them even when their characters are making impossible transitions and their reactions are implausible. The prologue is the opening sequence and we see the two stars having sex, while their young son climbs from his crib and walks out onto a window ledge, when he falls to his death the scene is tragic, graphic and horrifyingly realistic. The grisly scene depicting the child's body smacking onto a snow covered pavement is juxtaposed with clothes in a dryer, a dripping faucet and the couple all at once.

The movie is told in four chapters with a prologue and an epilogue. Chapter one is the grief stage and at the child's funeral, She collapses and spends a month mostly unconscious in the hospital. When She wakes, She is crippled with grief and He, a therapist, takes it upon himself to talk his wife through the grief process. They journey to their cabin in the woods where She spent the previous summer writing. The fact that She was abusing the couple's child the summer before his death is revealed as a catalyst to her monstrous nature. In chapter three, when we think that She has taken things as far as She possible can, She crushes Dafoe's genitalia with a block of wood, She then performs a clitorectomy on herself, and this makes little sense unless we are to believe She is finally assuming the persona of a vindictive masculine abuser.

Antichrist is both inspired by and disabled by Von Trier's ambition to link a psychodrama art film to a horror movie. And this boils down to the film's evasive uncertainty about whether to represent Gainsbourg as a case of psychological trauma or an incarnation of evil. The events of the movie are recounted through a prism of grief, sacrifice and martyrdom. The telling of the tragic loss of their child conveys the grief and agony of the loss of innocence. This is a theme both real and grandiose that may just make Antichrist a masterpiece.

I give Antichrist a 3 and on my avoidance scale I give it a 0, this movie will shock and offend many people, there is graphic nudity of both the male and female bodies. The violence is so realistic that it left me cringing at several scenes. It is realistic and in your face, it can't be avoided, the violence is almost a character of the movie. The switch from normal grieving woman to a crazed violent woman comes swift for Gainsbourg. Dafoe, who looked as if he was in charge at the beginning falls prey to this evil violence. The last half hour of the movie will leave you on the edge of your seat. The ending seems a little confusing, but after the viewer takes the time and gives it the thought the movie deserves, the ending will become almost crystal clear. I can not recommend this movie to everyone, the squeamish should avoid this movie, but for those of you who love movies and can appreciate the story as it is told, even one as violent and graphic as Antichrist should go out and see this movie.

Antichrist is unrated
Running time is 1 hr. 44 mins.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Vaughn & Company Make This A Laughable Retreat For Couples

Based on an original idea of Vaughn's, the comedy, Couples Retreat, follows four Midwestern couples who embark on a journey to a tropical island resort. While one of the couples is there to work on their marriage, the other three set out to jet ski, spa and enjoy some fun in the sun. They soon discover that participation in the resorts couples therapy is not optional. Suddenly, their group-rate vacation comes at a price. What follows is a hilarious look at real world problems faced by all couples.

Greatly silly and unexpectedly wise at times, Couples Retreat opens with a credit sequence featuring David Bowie's single "Modern Love." There's a good reason. This is less a romantic comedy than a timely maintenance comedy. Vince Vaughn, Jason Bateman and Jon Favreau head a cast of faulty pairs who wind up at a resort for couples. Their counterparts are played by Malin Akerman, Kristen Bell and Kristin Davis, respectively. Also along for the misadventure: recently divorced friend Shane (Faizon Love) and his too-young paramour. Over the last few years, Vaughn has taken on the relationship comedy as a star, a producer and theorist of contemporary love. "The Break-Up," with Jennifer Aniston, was the most ambitious. Taking the contempt a couple might begin to feel for each other to heart, it turned out to be a very dark comedy. And last year's "Four Christmases" was the meanest, with its funny class riffs. Couples Retreat, which Vaughn co-wrote with Favreau and Dana Fox, may not be overly ambitious. It isn't nearly as pretty as the island the couples visit. Shot in Bora Bora, the sea is an uncanny azure, the sands pristine. The villas assigned to the couples are the stuff of the Conde Nast Traveler's "Room With View" feature. But the film makes up for that with a fine dose of (occasionally bitter) sweetness and a buoyant raft of witty lines. The joke is on the three couples who agreed to take the trip in support of their tightly wound friends Jason (a typically agile Bateman) and Cynthia.

They believed the "couples skill building" courses were optional. They're not. All of them must participate: Joey and Lucy, who are just waiting for their teen daughter to go to college to call it quits; frisky and foolish Shane and Trudy; and Dave and Ronnie, a couple able to maintain a decent batting average, making contact with life's curveballs more often than not. In a bit of delicious counter- casting, Jean Reno is couples guru Marcel. The writers maintain a good balance between making fun of the couples' discomfort with therapy and teasing the silliness of the resort and its staff. Couples Retreat seems primed to make sport of couples counseling. Kudos to the actors playing the therapists. Two you'll recognize: John Michael Higgins and Ken Jeong. And while it has its fun with the discomfort that comes of talking things through, the comedy takes the work of relationship surprisingly seriously. That admitted, fear not. There are plenty of dippy riffs. The couples don Chinese-style uniforms for their counseling sessions. A trust exercise with fish goes amusingly awry. The ripped yoga master (Carlo Ponce) has a sculpted bod and the tatty locks of Fabio. "The Wizard of Oz" gets a nod. And in a script that swings from high to low and back again, Harriet Tubman gets a shout-out, too. The video game Guitar Hero gets a full-on, shredding close-up. There are bawdy moments that barely skirted an R. And the ethnic shtick is occasionally too broad, but hardly cruel. Newcomer Kali Hawk is too loud by a few decibels as Trudy. But husky Shane is likable even as he confuses an extended booty call for a heart- mending romance. The director is Peter Billingsley — Ralphie in the holiday classic "A Christmas Story." A producer making his directorial debut, he does an able job of keeping things moving. He even winks at his own child stardom by gently mining an impossibly cute turn by Colin Baiocchi as Dave and Ronnie's youngest.  What the unfettered will take away from Couples Retreat is anybody's guess. Maybe they'll consider it a funny "but for the grace of God" cautionary tale.For couples, it may be the oddest of hybrids: a too-close- to-home, yet goofball, date movie. This gets a hilarious 4 on my "Go See" scale.

Eden Is The New Couple's Retreat For Fun Times

It seems that right now the new King Midas in Hollywood is Jon Favreau, he took the Marvel comics Iron Man character and turned it into a super franchise, now he brings a little bit of comedy to the silver screen, Favreau and long time friend Vince Vaughn have written what may be, at years end the funniest movie to open this year, "Couples Retreat" is by far, the stand out comedy hit it is sure to become.

Four friends and their wives make a journey to a tropical-island resort to help one of the couples, Jason (Jason Bateman) and Cynthia (Kristen Bell) try to save their marriage. Dave (Vince Vaughn) and Ronnie (Malin Akerman) appear to have the best marriage of the group, they seem happy together and have two really super cute kids Kevin (Colin Baiocchi) and Robert (Gattlin Griffith). Joey (Jon Favreau) and his wife Lucy (Kristin Davis) seem to have the most problems. Although Shane (Faizon Love) is divorced from Jennifer (Tasha Smith) he is involved with a younger woman, Trudy (Kali Hawk). When Jason approaches the group to ask them for a favor they are reluctant at first to help, then they decide that they all do deserve to go to a tropical island for some fun in the sun. what they don't realize until it is to late is that they must participate in the group sessions or they can't partake of any of the islands more exotic scenery.

The fun starts almost right away when the four couples get to the island, they notice that on the other side of the island is loud music, young people having fun and lots of liquor. During the group sessions things start to turn from good to not so good to down right nasty, Dave and Ronnie find that their marriage isn't so perfect, Joey and Lucy find that they both believe the other is to blame for their problems, and Shane comes to terms that he may just be to old to keep up with Trudy, he does love her enough to try to find her when she goes to the other side of the island, but he discovers that an old love is the one he wants and needs. Jason and his Cynthia discover that his being in control so much is the one thing standing in their way and when he is just oh so close to losing her he finds that being in charge isn't all that important when you really do love the other person.

Along the way to these discoveries though the couples have one hilarious adventure after another, Jason and Dave are in the ocean when sharks start to swim to close for Dave's comfort, an they all enjoy a yoga class taught by, Salvadore (Carlos Ponce) an Adonis in his own right. He convinces the three girls who are also looking for Trudy to join him at Eden East. Dave who sells video games has to out duel Stanley (Peter Serafinowicz) at Guitar Hero so he doesn't call Marcel (Jean Reno) to tell them the couples are not on Eden Est but instead tramping all over Eden East looking for Trudy. When this comedy romp is over every one of the couples will be happier then when they first came to Eden, things don't go from bad to perfect but they do get somewhat better for all involved.

Shane tells Trudy that he is not the man for him and as he turns away he spots Jennifer walking towards him, she has come to the conclusion that while she was the one who cheated and filed for a divorce it is in fact Shane that she loves, coming to terms with the fact that you ruined the love with the one person who is your soul mate can be a very hard thing to discover. Joey and Lucy have found peace within themselves to allow them to love their partner. Dave and Ronnie have discovered a new peace in their love life as well, they find that things don't have to be so neat and tidy, while Jason and Cynthia also discover a little less order in their lives can fulfil their every need. Ah true love wins again.

I give Couples Retreat a 3 and on my avoidance scale a 0, their is so much here to find amusing, the fact that Shane who is a huge man by any means can use the phrase Bang Bang with Trudy is as fun to watch as it is to imagine. Vince Vaughn, while not one of my favorite actors is slowly creeping in there, with his performance in Into The Wild and here he is making me sit up and take notice, and what can I say about Jon Favreau, except damn your good at your craft.

Couples retreat is rated PG-13 for sexual Content and Language
Running time is 1 hr. 47 mins.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Bring On The Nazi Zombies!!

Depending on the audience, the sub-sub-genre of the Nazi zombie movie could sound like the best or worst of cinematic offerings. But Dead Snow received rave reviews from audiences at Sundance, promising that this Norwegian horror comedy will be a favorite for genre fans. In the film, a group of friends think they’re in for a trip filled with skiing, drinking, and hooking up, but a defrosting band of Nazi zombies have something else in store for the vacationers.

“Zombie Nazis” sounds like an unbeatable combination, but it turns out to be one of those great ideas that cannot sustain itself purely on the concept alone. Although Dead Snow has its heart in the right place (enthusiastically embracing the horror genre, it is eager to please its target audience), in execution it does not quite live up to the brilliance of its own premise; only occasionally does it mixture of horror and hysteria reach critical mass, igniting the explosions of screams and laughter promised by the coming attractions. For horror fans it is worth seeing, but this is one of those examples when the trailer is the movie. The film starts off with Sara (Ane Dahl Torp) being pursued through the snow by some shadowy shapes that eventually overtake her. We then see her friends driving to an isolated cabin owned by Sara, where they anticipate a weekend of snowboarding. The pristine photography and the likable performances cue us to expect something really exceptional as Dead Snow slowly builds up a head of steam, but instead of creating tension, the long first act gives the audience a chance to slip into its comfort zone. Not that things get boring. There interaction of the characters is intially engaging: ne is a film buff who notes the number of horror films that begin with a group of friends heading out to an isolated cabin. Unfortunately, hints of sloppy writing emerge: it takes way too long for anyone to worry about Sara’s absence. If you’re going to spend a half-hour making viewers like the characters before they get killed, it’s not a good idea to make them so indifferent to the fate of one of their own. When the zombies do show up (after a walking mouthpiece – who should have been named Basil Exposition – wanders in just long enough to deliver a brief history lesson of the Nazi occupation of the area), they deliver some entertaining kills, but Dead Snow still does not hit its stride until late in the third act, when the gross-out gore turns more overtly comical, and a pair of survivors (including a med student whose afraid of blood) engage the enemy in a bloody battle that leaves many heads, arms, and legs severed – and one penis badly damaged. In the frenzy of the fight, the fact that our queasy med student has overcome his fear is little more than a throw-away, never overtly stated, just left for the audience to observe. This is probably smarter than spelling the point out melodramatically, but it’s symptomatic of a weakness in the script, which shoe-horns in various plot elements without bothering to make them fully pay off. We never learn how long Sara has owned the cabin without encountering the undead Nazis, nor do we definitely learn what keeps the German soldiers walking around. The script introduces small box of gold objects (stolen by the soldiers from the locals during the war) as if it is the key, but the script is vague on details. A dream sequence implies that Sara found the box recently, but it’s not clear whether the Nazis target anyone who touched the contents or merely know about the box. This vagueness undermines the twist ending: a character thinks he has gotten away until he realizes he has a gold coin in his pocket. But the audience had little reason to think he was safe after seeing at least one previous victim die without ever laying eyes on the box, let alone purloining any of its contents. After all, are we really to assume that zombie Nazis cause trouble only when treasure they stole is in turn stolen back from them?

As confusing as this plot device is, it is interesting that Dead Snow bothers to use it to motivate its zombies. Most movie zombies don’t need motivation; they just want to eat you out of blind instinct. But rather like the Knights Templar in Amando de Ossorio’s Blind Dead movies, these zombies are not mindless; they still maintain military organization, the soldiers obeying the orders from Colonel Herzog (Ørjan Garnst), who communicates usually with gestures but bellows out a one-word order late in the film. This makes Dead Snow’s approach to its zombies relatively unique – instead of mindless eating machines, we have undead evil – but director and co-writer Tommy Wirkola does little with the concept. More than in any ordinary zombie movie, you really want to see the heroes put the dead back in their graves. The walking corpses are not just unfortunate victims of a plague or a bite; they are almost literal embodiments of evil, and seeing them mowed down by machine gun, chainsaw, hammer, and any other short implement offers a brief cathartic highlight – until the film takes a wrong turn with one of those “you thought it was over, but it’s not” moments, refusing to deliver the image promised in its poster. This last-minute descent into mechanical genre cliches (dramatically satisfying conclusions are verboten; mechanical twist endings rule) robs Dead Snow of the much greater impact it could have achieved, had it fully exploited the potential inherent in zombie Nazis. As a director, Tommy Wirkola proves he knows how to draw his audience into the movie’s world. Even though this is an unapologetic horror film, he avoids falling back on the “it’s only a movie” attitude (”Hey, it’s about zombie Nazis – what more do you expect?”), instead presenting the early events as believably as possible. When it comes to the horror, he’s a little uneven. The early suspense moments (before the zombies are fully revealed) should fray a few nerves, but the later pursuit scenes don’t generate as many thrills as they should. (He slightly bungles the punchline for one scene: after two women decide to stick together rather than separate, a zombie runs into frame, scaring them into opposite directions, but the camera angle doesn’t fully capture the visual irony; it simply loks as if they are running out of frame.) Fortunately, Wirkola delivers as much gross-out as any hardcore fan could want (including a head ripped apart and not one but two examples of trailing entrails). And he’s really great at going over-the-top with his action, which includes not only gore but such amusing sights as a snow-mobile mounted with a machine gun that takes out a platoon’s worth of zombies. Perhaps I’m being too hard on Dead Snow – which, all nitpicking aside, is an entertaining horror film – not to mention, hands down, the one of best zombie Nazi movie ever. If the finished film is disappointing, it is only because it had the potential to be even better than it is. As part of the recent wave of Scandinavian horror films like "Let The Right One In", Dead Snow initially looks as if it will rise above its genre trappings, offering something scary and sophisticated. But when you stop and think about it, a movie about zombie Nazis could have easily been nothing more than a piece of dumb exploitation; the fact that it could raise expectations high enough to allow for any level of disappointment at all is, in and of itself, quite an achievement. This one gets a zombie-fied 3 on my "Go See" scale.

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Glamour That Is The September Issue

A documentary following legendary editor Anna Wintour and her creative director Grace Coddington as they work on putting together the autumn issue of the fashion magazine Vogue, traditionally the launching of the new fashion designs, winter collections and the start of what will be in style during the coming months. "The September Issue" is important to both the superficial designer and buyer.

The September Issue throws perceptions out the window, we get a first hand look at the making of, the set up and production of the biggest magazine issue that many consider the fashion bible. What we don't get is look at the production run, not until the end credits are ready to roll do we actually see the print process. We do get the passion that it takes to start wit ha blank slate and turn that into what the magazine has become, the ordeal of turning out a bigger and better issue every year takes it toll.

Director R. J. Cutler hints at how driven Anna Wintour is, we see her at fashion shows in Europe, we see many well know designers acting like small children called before the principal. They know that one bad word about their forthcoming designs or eve nan omission in Anna's magazine could be financial ruin for many of them. Anna is shown as being shrewd driven and in total control from day one right up to the actual print run is on the shelves.

Grace Coddington upstages Anna from her first scene, the two started at Vogue together, moved up together, so they know how far they can push each other, they both want the same thing a great issue for the readers, they just have different ideas about what is great. Grace is nothing at all like Anna, where grace has frizzy hair and pail skin Anna has a short bob and is seen mainly wearing sunglasses. Grace almost dresses herself as if she has no fashion sense at all, but as you watch her you will be won over by her sheer genius and eye for creative art form in directing photo shoots and dreaming up storyboards on the fly for the still pictures to tell a story. We get very little about any other member of the publishing giant, we do get a few scenes of the flamboyant contributing editor Andre Leon Talley but except for one small interview he is seen on the edge of everything.

I give The September Issue a 3 and on my avoidance scale a 0, this film showcases the two women who had a dream, and then turned that dream into a reality. In today's business culture that alone should be applauded. This movie is informative as well as entertaining, the audience is in for a treat here. A first hand look at how one person can change the way Americans shop.

The September Issue is rated PG-13 for Brief Strong Language
Running time is 1 hr. 28mins.

Tyler Perry & Cast Shine In I Can Do Bad All By Myself

When Madea (Tyler Perry), America’s favorite pistol-packing grandma, catches sixteen-year-old Jennifer (Hope Olaide Wilson) and her two younger brothers (Kwesi Boakye and Frederick Sigler) looting her home, she decides to take matters into her own hands and delivers the young delinquents to the only relative they have: their aunt April (Taraji P. Henson). A heavy-drinking nightclub singer who lives off of her married boyfriend Randy (Brian J. White), April wants nothing to do with the kids. But her attitude begins to change when Sandino (Adam Rodriguez), a handsome Mexican immigrant looking for work, moves into April’s basement room. Making amends for his own troubled past, Sandino challenges April to open her heart. And April soon realizes she must make the biggest choice of her life: between her old ways with Raymond and the new possibilities of family, faith…and even true love in I Can Do Bad All By Myself.

I Can Do Bad All By Myself, Tyler Perry's endearing adaptation of the melo-comedic stage play that introduced his alter ego Madea, is a double shot of Saturday-night lowdown chased by a cheery chug of Sunday-morning uplift. Starring that spitfire Taraji P. Henson as a lounge singer who resists assuming guardianship of her late sister's children, the film is a variety show that successfully prompts laughs, tears, and song, culminating in heaps o' hope. The laughs come mostly from Perry in the guises of the silver-haired, profanely funny Atlanta granny Madea and her brother, Joe, whose Atlanta home is jacked by unlikely robbers. In a scene comparable to classic Groucho Marx and Mae West, with irreverent reverence Madea consoles one of the attempted robbers with a boisterous sermon conflating Noah, Jonah, and every other scriptural aqua-man.

The tears come mostly from April (Henson), the aunt too selfish to care for her niece and nephews, and the children unwanted by their family. The songs, which nicely amplify the film's themes of feminism, faith, and family, are delivered by Henson, Mary J. Blige (as a sister lounge singer), and Gladys Knight (Pipless, as a church lady), whose pipes still thrill.Hope is around the corner. Literally. For April's rowhouse is thisclose to the Baptist church that she once attended. The pastor there (Marvin Winans) is determined to shepherd her back. So is one of the parishioners, Sandino (Adam Rodriguez), a handsome Colombian refugee who proves to be catnip for both believers and fallen-away Christians. A dramatist of the old school, Perry makes films in which stormy weather is inevitably followed by blue skies. Though no one would cite him for the cinematic qualities of his visually pedestrian films, Perry is a master conductor of emotions. He elicits a top-notch performance from Henson, who is given more range here than in Talk to Me and Benjamin Button. And as foulmouthed Madea, he himself is irresistibly funny, an improbable mix of the madcap and the merciful. Highly enjoyable and emotional, this one gets a 4 on my "Go See"scale.