Thursday, October 29, 2009

This Goes Beyond Just Being Precious...Straight To Amazing

Lee Daniels’s Precious: Based on the novel "Push" by Sapphire is a vibrant, honest and resoundingly hopeful film about the human capacity to grow and overcome. Set in Harlem in 1987, it is the story of Claireece “Precious” Jones (Gabourey Sidibe), a sixteen-year-old African-American girl born into a life no one would want. She’s pregnant for the second time by her absent father; at home, she must wait hand and foot on her mother (Mo’Nique), a poisonously angry woman who abuses her emotionally and physically. School is a place of chaos, and Precious has reached the ninth grade with good marks and an awful secret: she can neither read nor write. Precious may sometimes be down, but she is never out. Beneath her impassive expression is a watchful, curious young woman with an inchoate but unshakeable sense that other possibilities exist for her.

Claireece "Precious" Jones (Sidibe) is a sixteen-year-old African-American who lives in Harlem in 1987. Although she is in the ninth-grade, she has not yet learned to read and write. This is no wonder given the ridicule she suffers from her peers who view her as a loser and a fat pig (they make oink noises when she walks by). Precious has one child by her father already: a daughter with Down Syndrome, who is looked after by her grandmother. After discovering that she is pregnant again, the principal of the school says that she must leave. Thankfully, Previous's math scores are exceptional and so she is assigned to an alternative school, Each One Teach One. There she is taken under the wings of Blu Rain (Paula Patton), who prepares troubled young women for the GEDs. She is a beautiful and charismatic mentor who inspires her students to express themselves in journals and to share the stories of their lives with each other. It is a perfect way for these girls to deal with the demons that have dragged them down. Precious is a survivor who has been severely abused physically and verbally by her horrific mother Mary (Mo' Nique), a lazy and angry woman who treats her daughter like a slave, denigrates her appearance and mental ability, forces her to eat more so that she becomes heavier, and blames her for stealing her husband's attention and sexual passion. The only way Precious can ward off the depression and emptiness of her daily life is by escaping into a fantasy world via her imagination. There she sees herself as a model, singing star, celebrity, or beautiful blonde. Precious is buoyed in her mind's eye by a fairy godmother (Susan B. Taylor) who bequeaths her with a beautiful orange scarf.

Precious is an emotionally poignant film directed by Lee Daniels and adapted from Push, a 1996 bestselling novel by Sapphire. This is a deeply spiritual film that conveys the many ways in which loving, kind, and compassionate people can be catalysts for real change in the lives of others. Blu Rain serves as a surrogate mother for Precious and offers her what she has never experienced before: someone who believes in her and nurtures her soul with love. Others who also offer lifelines are Nurse John (Lenny Kravitz), whose kindness surprises Precious, and Ms. Weiss (Mariah Carey), a welfare case worker whose professional detachment is shattered when she learns of the hellish dimensions of this degraded girl's home life. Precious is an inspirational film about one young woman's transformation thanks to the care and concern of those who take her into their hearts. Lee Daniels's Precious combines brutal domestic violence with be-all-you-can-be inspirationalism. Gabby Sidibe is remarkable as Precious, an obese black teenager in 1980s Harlem who is bullied at school, tormented by her mother and repeatedly raped by her stepfather. Precious maintains a stoic calm and dignity, taking comfort in poignant fantasies of a better life. This movie here is hands down, without a doubt in my mind THE BEST movie of the year and should not be missed. This gets a 5 on my "Go See" scale.

Life Is Precious No Matter Who You Are

In my review of Motherhood, I mentioned that it was the opening film in the International Film Festival, I also mentioned that the film didn't deserve that honor, and that luckily there were other, much better films that followed it and saved the Festival. One of those films was "Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire" This is one of the most emotional movies that I have seen in awhile. This movie will touch almost everyone, and some it will touch on a personal level. I found myself captivated by the power that this simple story contains.

Clareece 'Precious' Jones (Gabourey Sidibe) is an overweight, illiterate teen who is pregnant with her second child, the consequence of incest, by the boyfriend of her mother Mary (Mo'Nique). This isn't her only problem Precious is literally a shut in she goes to school, has fantasies about her teacher, comes home to cook and clean for Mary. Precious goes out to buy Mary's lotto numbers and then spends the rest of her night inside the house, her only activity is when she becomes a punching bag for Mary. One day at school she is called to the principals office, Principal Lichtenstein(Nealla Gordon) suspends Precious because she is pregnant. Later that night Mrs. Lichtenstein comes to Precious' house to tell her that they have enrolled her into an alternative school and that she starts the following morning. Mary blows up because she thinks that her welfare depends on this woman being happy. There is a later scene in the movie that is especially heartbreaking. The scene is where the grandmother brings Precious' first child, who is autistic to the house so that the welfare social worker can think that Mary is taking care of her, and this is truly a heartbreaking scene, the aftermath is gut wrenching.

When Precious gets to the alternative school her teacher Miss Rains (Paula Patton) takes special care to include all of the students in every project. The other students are not any where near the perfect role model but when Precious delivers her second child, a boy, they are there to support her. The movie conveys a dreary Harlem existence that is profane, hard-edged and brutal, but also has some rays of humanity and compassion that leave room for hope. With the help of Miss Raines and another social worker, Mrs. Weiss (Mariah Carey) Precious goes from a young woman in an impossible situation to a strong willed individual with the determination to push through it all, breaking free from the stereotypes that plague her, the past that haunts her and her mother's abusive control over her.

The films directing is of a high enough caliber that Lee Daniels deserves some praise this awards season and may be among several cast members to receive such a well deserved nod. The script is so well written that it never feels slow and the pacing of this film is steady enough that we're engrossed the entire time. Some praise should be given to Lenny Kravitz, who appears on screen to become a sort of guardian angel to precious in her time of need. This is one movie that you will walk out of thinking that no matter what your problems are, they are nothing compared to what you just witnessed. Precious has faced many such adversaries and has risen above everything thrown at her.

I give Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire a hearty 4 and on my avoidance scale an even heartier 0, this movie is hard to watch and several scenes will have you crying, this is not a movie for the entire family, this is one of those take you mom to see films and then spend some time talking about how fortunate you really are.

Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire is rated R for Child Abuse including Sexual Assault and Pervasive Language
Running time is 1 hr. 49 mins.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

This Is It. The Way MJ Would've Wanted To Be Remembered

Michael Jackson's This Is It will offer Jackson fans and music lovers worldwide a rare, behind-the-scenes look at the performer as he developed, created and rehearsed for his sold-out concerts that would have taken place beginning this summer in London's O2 Arena. Chronicling the months from April through June, 2009, the film is produced with the full support of the Estate of Michael Jackson and drawn from more than one hundred hours of behind-the-scenes footage, featuring Jackson rehearsing a number of his songs for the show. Audiences will be given a privileged and private look at Jackson as he has never been seen before. In raw and candid detail, Michael Jackson's This Is It captures the singer, dancer, filmmaker, architect, creative genius and great artist at work as he creates and perfects his final show.

Ever since the project was first announced in August, the new documentary Michael Jackson’s This Is It has been shrouded in mystery. According to initial reports, Sony Pictures paid $60 million to acquire hundreds of hours of behind-the-scenes footage showing Jackson–who had died a little over a month before–rehearsing for his big comeback concert series in London. What exactly would that footage reveal? Would Jackson be a slurry, stumbling mess? Or would we see a flicker of the great entertainer– the King of Pop–who dazzled audiences for decades with thrilling dance moves and unstoppable tunes? Sony stoked the mystery by putting the footage on instant lockdown; aside from a short trailer, no scenes from This Is It have found their way onto TV or the web, which, in theory, only heightens its must-see appeal. To further fuel the hype, the studio decreed that the movie would only play in theaters for two weeks, borrowing a successful gimmick that Disney employed last year for its Hannah Montana concert flick. Not even critics got the chance to check out This Is It ahead of time. So, I did what any other good MJ fan would do. I went to the premiere scheduled for 11 PM Tuesday night. Surrounded by hundreds of fans, I found my seat, got completely comfortable and waited patiently for the actual movie to start. After a few movie trailers, at around 11:10, the lights went down, the screen went dark and…and…and…

And we saw a movie. The world didn’t spontaneously heal itself, the future of the music industry didn’t automatically become brighter and Michael Jackson didn’t rise from the dead and start doing the moonwalk. After all the pre-release and pre-show hype, This Is It is just a movie–a surprisingly well-made and compelling movie, but a movie nonetheless. In a way, all the studio-manufactured brouhaha surrounding the film may be doing it a disservice, as it leads viewers to expect a cinematic spectacle to rival a summer blockbuster like Star Trek or Transformers 2. But in reality This Is It is a more modest picture. This isn’t a concert movie–it’s a movie about the making of a concert. Director Kenny Ortega, a longtime Jackson friend and colleague, takes the audience through the show’s set list song by song–beginning with “Wanna Be Startin’ Something” (of course) and concluding with “Man in the Mirror”–revealing how each tune was going to be performed live onstage from the choreography, to the special effects to the King of Pop’s own vocals. Much of the footage is taken from a series of almost complete rehearsals, where the dancing is in place, but not all of the effects are complete and Jackson often sings along to backing vocals in order to go easy on his voice. There are also clips of additional material that would have been worked into the show; for “Smooth Criminal,” Jackson had himself digitally inserted into a series of film clips from old ’40s gangster pictures and Ortega shot new 3D footage of monsters tearing it up in a graveyard to accompany “Thriller.” In some cases, CGI-animatronics stand in for effects that were never finalized; “Earth Song,” for example, would have climaxed with an actual bulldozer rolling onstage to confront Jackson. If you’re at all interested in the art of stagecraft, This is It provides an invaluable look at what goes on behind-the-scenes of a mega-budgeted concert. Indeed, in some ways, seeing the process by which the show was put together is almost more interesting than the finished product ever would have been.

But what about the man at the center of the spectacle? Well Jackson–or as the entire crew calls him, MJ–is alternately engaged, enraged, enthusiastic, impatient and joyful. In other words, he’s an artist in his element, doing what he loves to do. His voice is strong and clear and he moves with the same grace he displayed throughout his life. Clearly the film has been edited to show him at his best, but, to his credit, Ortega does occasionally allow us to see behind his beautiful exterior. In some scenes, Jackson is visibly frustrated when the band misses a note or a dancer doesn’t execute a move correctly. And while we never see him offstage, a few moments do hint at his personal troubles. After rehearsing “Beat It” Jackson is so winded, he can barely speak–his age finally catches up with his body. Earlier, Jackson stops singing right in the middle of a medley of Jackson 5 tunes and launches into a rambling, nonsensical speech about his inner ear problems while Ortega humors him from offstage. One wonders how many more moments like that one are on the cutting room floor. Clocking in at almost two hours, This Is It does feel overlong. Part of that can be chalked up to the normal ebb and flow of a concert–some songs are simply better than others and everyone will have their own opinions about which tunes they would rather have seen cut from the set list. Personally, I could have watched Jackson rehearse “The Way Your Make Me Feel” and “Billie Jean” for a half-hour without growing tired of either song. On the other hand, his renditions of “Earth Song” and “They Don’t Care About Us” wowed me, but may almost put others to sleep. This Is It is far better than it had any right to be, largely because Ortega avoids turning the film into an overly sentimental obituary for Jackson. There are no images of teary-eyed fans despondent over the sudden death of their idol or awkward testimonials from Jackson’s peers and colleagues. In fact, the movie never addresses his death at all beyond a closing dedication. The focus here is entirely on the work that Jackson did while he was still alive. There is obviously much more to Michael Jackson’s legacy than this single concert, but that’s for future films to explore. For now, This is It provides a valuable service–it allows a gifted musician to deliver the career-capping performance he wanted the world to see, but never got the chance. This documentary gets an astounding 5 on my "Go See" scale. There will never be another quite like MJ and this is the way he should be remembered.

This Is IT. The Spotlights Last Shine On an Icon

Hollywood has long taken music icons and turned them into silver screen stars. The "Concert" film has been done with many of today's big music stars, U2, and The Rolling Stones to name a few, and now Michael Jackson stars in what is listed as footage shot solely for his own personal collection. "This Is It" is footage shot of Michael's final rehearsals before what would have been his return to the stage after a twelve year absence. The final fifty performances of this tour were sold out in advance and the King Of Pop wanted his fans to see perfection, this films delivers, albeit on a sad note.

The film showcases the dedication Michael had to his fans, the time and effort he took to make sure that every note of every song was perfect. He not only wanted the music to be right, he also wanted the dancers to be showcased and to become in essence a part of him. The movie is directed by long time friend Kenny Ortega that is a compilation of interviews, rehearsals and backstage footage of the Legend himself. Each song showcased in the film are among Michael's greatest hits, Billy Jean, Beat It, Bad, and of course Thriller. The dance portion of the show is toned down for Michael, he was, one must remember in his fifties, the biggest dance routine was for Thriller, Michael takes it easy during this song, and seems at times more worried about being able to carry the vocal portion of the songs then anything else. This dedication to each song, each step in the rehearsal process takes the fan deeper into the man's mind. he wants the fans who come to watch him to experience something that they wont ever forget.

It must have worked because the sold out audience clapped along with the songs, snapped their fingers and even sang along with their hero. One thing that should be pointed out is that this really isn't a "concert" film it is more of a making of film. Although this does nothing to distract from the movie at all, the fans deserve to understand what it is that they will be seeing. Michael would have wanted it that way. Would Michael have wanted his fans to see this film? It is after all nothing but rehearsal footage of Michael and Kenny directing the musicians, and dancers, leaving Michael to say over and over again, that this is why we rehearse. The movie studio, having paid an extraordinary sum of money for the rights to the footage, want the mans fans to go in thinking they will get a behind the scenes look at one of Michael's concerts, that isn't what you get, it is close but it is after all just footage of several rehearsals. We see as Michael oversees several facets of the show, some new animation sequences that were shot just for the concerts, we see how eleven dancers are turned into eleven hundred, we see new 3D footage being shot for the Thriller number, we get behind the scenes as Michael adds footage for Smooth Criminal and we see some footage for Earth Song, this number ends with a huge bulldozer coming onto the stage and stopping just short of Michael who would be standing at the stages edge.

I must confess that I am not nor have I ever been a Michael Jackson fan, but seeing the way the man took the time to make sure he delivered the best for his fans, and also the way that the beat grabbed you, no matter your taste in music, and soon has you snapping your fingers right along side the man or woman next to you. I must say that I now have an admiration for the man and his talent. The Michael we see on screen in This Is it is far removed from the man in his twenties, even his thirties, but he still has the desire and drive to put on a great show. Even if it is just archive footage.

I give This is It a 4 and on my avoidance scale a 0, I can not recommend this movie any more so than by saying it is nearly as flawless as the man himself. I understand that Michael was marred by controversy throughout his life, but this movie isn't about his life it is about his talent, his love and his ability to make people happy, just with his voice. Take your family, maybe introduce the kids to the King of Pop, if they don't already know more about the man then you do. if you have never seen a concert performance by this man this is your ticket to what would have been his farewell, and if you have seen one of his shows then by all means don't miss his last.

This Is It is rated PG for some Suggestive Choreography and Scary Images
Running time is 1 hr. 51 mins.

The Fourth Kind... Real Or Just A Mind Game?

Horror movies are all the buzz this time of year, we have so many thrown at us that it is hard to sort out the good from the bad, we have seen the small budget movie (Paranormal Activity) that has become overnight one of the biggest grossing films of the year, not to mention one of the best. We have gotten the countless remakes, of what were originally semi poor movies (The Stepfather) to begin with. We also get the movie that leaves you shaking your head in disbelief. That is exactly what "The Fourth Kind" does, it makes you wonder, and along the way it has a few little scares in store for you.

Dr. Abigail Tyler (Milla Jovovich) follows up on a study that was started by her late husband, she began videotaping sessions with traumatized patients and unwittingly discovered some of the most disturbing evidence of alien abduction ever documented. Their accounts of being visited by alien figures all share disturbingly identical details, the validity of which is investigated throughout the film. Some of the movie is archive footage and at the films start is almost more of a disturbance than entertaining, by the middle of the movie you hardly notice it.

When Dr. Tyler's patients all recount the same stories, about waking up around three AM and seeing an owl outside their window Dr. Tyler decides to place them under hypnosis. Her first subject is Tommy (Corey Johnson) when he goes under we witness his trauma, the fear in his eyes is incalculable and later when Dr. Tyler is called to his home by Sheriff August (Will Patton) Tommy murders his family and then commits suicide. Joined by her colleague (Elias Koteas) and a Sumerian translator (Hakeem Kae-Kazim), Dr. Tyler puts another patient under, Scott (Enzo Cilenti) the results are just as scary, we see through distorted camera footage what we will undoubtedly think of as demonic possession where Scott appears to be levitating off the bed. When Scott is paralyzed by the experience Sheriff August comes to Dr. Tyler's house to arrest her, it is the lone fact that Dr. Tyler had witnesses present that the sheriff doesn't arrest her. Leaving an officer outside of the Tyler house, the sheriff leaves, he is soon back when the officer reports something hovering over the house. We later find out that Ashley (Mia McKenna-Bruce) was abducted by the Aliens, this is what is considered The Fourth Kind.

The archive footage is scary at points and sometimes it is not much more than static, it is during these moments that the movie takes an almost unreal feeling, we see through the distortion that the person on the other side of the camera is almost something like a distorted human, mouth hanging agape beyond what we assume is normal, the sounds coming from the person are guttural and menacing.

I give The Fourth Kind a 3 and on my avoidance scale a 0, this is one of those small budget movies that will leave an impression on you long after you have walked out, and if you are a believer or not, you will be astounded by some of the footage and one in particular, the scene where they show the space craft hovering over Dr. Tyler's home seconds before her daughter is said to be abducted. The special effects are so intense that you feel drawn into the story, the archive footage becomes more of a character than some of the others, it becomes something that feels more real than the story itself. When we see Dr Tyler in the footage we immediately see that life has not been easy on her, and as the movie unfolds we see why it hasn't and we become attached to her and what it is that she appears to be going through. As a cynic I started to think about what plot twist Hollywood would throw at us and I am glad to say that they spare us this usual tactic.

The Fourth Kind is rated PG-13 for Violent/Disturbing Images, Some Terror, Thematic Elements and Brief Sexuality
Running time is 1 hr. 39 mins.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Come and Play A New Game With Jigsaw

The makers of the Saw films continue to make Rube Goldberg roll over in his grave with this sixth film in the series. Saw VI finds Detective Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) the target of a FBI investigation, but that won’t stop him from continuing the murderous mayhem started by Jigsaw (Tobin Bell).

After SAW V, I was convinced there was nothing that could be done to make this sixth installment of Saw work. As the torture and violent murders still are a huge part of the latest, it once again focuses on a couple of main relationships. Yet this time, Tobin Bell is featured in a very satisfying way as his connection to many of the characters in the series is explained. Now, it is a bit of a challenge to talk about what worked without giving too much away. What can I tell you without revealing too many secrets and surprises? If you don’t want to hear any spoilers at all, I suggest you stop reading because as much as I don’t want to ruin it for anyone, there will be spoilage (although very minimal, I promise). The key reason why Saw has been a successful franchise stems from the web that it spins. While it started off fairly simple in the beginning, it has expanded this time to a large and frightening subject… health care. Much of John Kramer’s frustration comes from how his doctors and all the so-called experts handled him as his sickness spread. And this chapter explores the chances at life that are rejected and simply not taken, simply for the almighty dollar. If this sounds overly preachy, it kind of is, but at the same time it is very relevant and also a little more relatable than you’d expect. But, as the traps are set and the game is played, one man in particular is given the chance to roll the dice. Peter Outerbridge is William, a man who has made a career out of deciding what and how much health insurance he should provide. He is a key player in the vicious life lesson many receive. I won’t say anything more about the plot, well, for the most part I won’t. It is hard to imagine the sixth film in this series would pack quite the punch as this did. But much like the third, this second trilogy finale answers the questions that have been asked and even supplies a conclusion that mostly works. It is terrific to see a couple of familiar faces whether it be in flashback, or possibly somewhere else. It is also great to see the expanded role of the lovely and talented Betsy Russell. She is quite good as Kramer’s widow and yes, we finally get a glimpse inside that box of hers. While there were a couple of choices that weren’t explored nearly as well as they should’ve been, the film has the sense to really focus on what the hell is going on. I even warmed up to Costas Mandylor as Jigsaw’s apprentice, Detective Hoffman and why he became Kramer‘s bitch. While he didn’t quite work for me when his true nature was revealed earlier in the series, I think he had a bit more to work with this time around.

There was an interesting look that each one of these films have contained. Both James Wan and Darren Lynn Bousman gave the series the stylistic, visually orgasmic look as the camera speeds around a potential victim (or student), and that bit of trickery is used here, but only slightly. There is a very cold and colorless atmosphere as the detectives investigate the continuing murders, but the traps and such are hot and bright. It feels like a Saw film, yet somehow first time director Kevin Greutert is able to cut down a tad on the visual acrobatics, and focus on telling a story. As the editor of the previous five, he adds a clarity to it that hasn’t been seen for awhile. In many ways, the look and feel of six is like a crossbreed of one and three. And yes, it really does work. Any qualms about six? Sure. With any sequel, especially when you are up to six, you could stand to lose a few pointless characters. One of the lead players wasn’t utilized quite as well as they could have been, thus, they don’t generate all that much sympathy or interest. I also felt that another main character was sort of shortchanged with their big final moment. It is too quick and they just seem to get off too easily, purely with an interest of making the ending scream sequel. Sure we already know there will be a sequel, so I don’t think making it so blatantly obvious is necessary. And yes, a couple of performances aren’t always hitting the right mark, but for the most part, I really gave two cents about folks I didn’t care about before. In the end though, Saw VI works and it works much better than I would’ve ever expected. The franchise might even benefit from ending here, but we all know that won’t happen. We’ll just have to wait for a whole new set of games to leave riddles and clues with… or will we? Whatever happens, Saw VI will still be one of the best and most fascinating in the series. This one gets a gory 3 on my "Go See" scale.

Two Many Saw Films Doesn't Make This One The Charmer

Once again Hollywood, with little or no originality left has brought out the retread machine and released another one in what appears to be a long line of stupid unnecessary movies. "Saw VI" is just another excuse for the filmmakers to try to outdo the last movie, here they fail miserable. Once again we get the story mainly told in a flip flop between present, past and flashback. This wasn't good in any of the first five so why do they think it will be better here?

Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) is finally dead, his wife, Jill (Betsy Russell) picked up a mysterious box and another test is running, all this before the opening credits are flashed across the screen. FBI Special Agent Peter Strahm (Scott Patterson) is dead, in what is a very uniquely cool way, and Detective Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) has emerged as the unchallenged successor to Jigsaw's legacy, or will he, Jigsaw has claimed that every one must be tested. When Det. Hoffman gets back to the police station he finds out that Agent Lindsey Perez (Athena Karkanis) is still alive, and back working the jigsaw case. When she and Dan Erickson (Mark Rolston) find a tape at the scene of a new jigsaw crime they tell Det. Hoffman that they are having it worked on to determine the real voice. Hoffman knowing it is his voice on the tape has to deal with these two individuals quickly, and he does.

All this time we are looking in on another person who is dealing with his test, William Easton (Peter Outerbridge) is an insurance agent dealing with a law suit, we also find out that he was Johns agent as well, one who turned down John's request for payment on a new cancer treatment. He is told via the old grainy television tape that he will have four tests to beat, the first is him against an older man who is the janitor (Gerry Mendicino) in the building where William's office is located. Each test that William beats he will get a key that will unlock one of the four explosive devices on his body. After besting the first test William is freed from the device he was trapped in, following the clues painted on the wall William comes across another person he knows all too well, William must help her cross a room full of hot steam pipes, the only way he can do this is to turn the steam off so she can walk across the open pipes, but when he does this the pipe next to the control valve opens and William is burnt by the steam. Getting to the end of the walkway William finds out the key to open the door has been surgically implanted in his body, he now must defend himself. This test ends in William's favor and he gets the second key.

The test for the third key includes all six of the employees that William has working to find flaws in peoples insurance claims, they are handcuffed to what looks like a spinning amusement ride. William is told he can save only two of them and while doing so he will lose something in the process, the group of six fight amongst themselves offering William everything under the sun to save them, the two he does save earns him the third key. During this test we meet Tara (Shauna MacDonald) and Brent (Devon Bostick) they re in a cell and in the cell is a vat that contains acid, in another cage we see Pamela Jenkins (Samantha Lemole) she is Williams sister. Tara and Brent are the family of the man who died when his claim was denied by William's company.

Unlocking all his shackles, and making it to the final room, William finds himself between the cell that holds Pamela and the cell that holds Tara and Brent, Tara and Brent decide William's fate, Tara can't kill him but Brent is so mad at William he has no problem pulling the lever. All of this is rolled out in between flashbacks of John (Jigsaw) talking to his wife, setting up tests and grabbing the new people. Jill opens the box with six envelopes in it but yet only gives Det. Hoffman five, this is not done cleverly it is shown several times, so when the final test is done we are not surprised it is Jill testing Det. Hoffman. Putting him into a contraption that he knows how to unlock and best was silly, if John knew Hoffman was going to be tested why not save a new device just for him.

These movies will continue to come out, every year until people wake up and see that it is the same retread over and over, we meet new people in the next story arc that as supposedly helping Jigsaw all along, while just in the previous movie they went out of their way to make it look like he was working alone. Scripts can be manipulated to do anything and the script writers of these saw movies have no moral fiber to speak of. Or money talks loud in Hollywood.

I give Saw 6 a 1 and on my avoidance scale I give it a 2 this is the type of movie where if you have seen any of the first five then you have seen this one, nothing new or creative here, just one trap to out do the previous one. If this is your type of movie, well I'm sure you are eagerly awaiting the seventh one, I'm sure it has already been green lighted. Again Hollywood lacks creativity and this is what we get year after year.

Saw VI is rated R for Sequences of Grisly Bloody Violence and Torture and Language
Running time is 1 hr. 31 mins.


Tinker Bell's greatest adventure yet takes place in Autumn, as the fairies are on the mainland changing the colors of the leaves, tending to pumpkin patches, and helping geese fly south for the winter. The rare Blue Moon will rise, and when its light passes through the magical Fall Scepter that Tinker Bell has been summoned to create, Pixie Hollow's supply of pixie dust will be restored. But when Tinker Bell accidentally puts all of Pixie Hollow in jeopardy, she must venture out across the sea on a secret quest to set things right in Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure.

The second volume in the new Disney fairy series, Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure, is really superior--mostly because it addresses some of the complaints I had about the first installment. While "Tinker Bell" was aimed at and appealed mostly to little girls, the hackneyed direct-to-video (and "catty" plot) was jettisoned in favor of a narrative and style (i.e., more humor and adventure) that holds greater appeal for boys in the family, and yes, adults. I was impressed that this time, Disney created a "world." From the magical opening sequence that shows fairies helping animals prepare for winter and ripening corn, you know you're in for some stunning animation. Beads of water roll down the threads of a spider web, a cricket cuckoo clock brings back memories of Gepetto's workshop, and the fairy wings themselves look like marvelous. Like "The Flintsones," there are sequences where the delight comes from just seeing the animators' take on an everyday activity sized down to a Pixie world, whether it's a Pixie dust factory or a little boat that Tink makes to deliver the dust. You can't help but smile and marvel at each sequence. But let's face it, the whole idea of a movie based on fairies is going to appeal mostly to little girls. It's almost as if someone at Disney woke up and said, "Hey, why do they have the market cornered on fairies? We have the most famous fairy of them all . . . Tinker Bell!" Once again, Mae Whitman, who gave voice to Shanti in "The Jungle Book 2," handles the voiceover chores for the main character, while Lucy Liu is Silvermist, Raven-Symoné is Iridessa, Kristin Chenoweth is Rosetta, and Anjelica Huston is Queen Clarion. But the main secondary character this time is Tink's friend Terrence (Jesse McCartney), an earnest young man (I mean, pixie) who screws up because of clumsiness and causes a temporary rift in their friendship. And I can't help but think that someone at Disney may have slyly suggested that a boy character might broaden the family appeal. More humor and adventure makes it more palatable to boys, too. But my chief complaint about Tinker Bell in the first film was that she was almost unrecognizable. Sure, characters evolve, but "Tinker Bell" presented a golly-gee good girl whose flawless goody-two-shoes act seemed galaxies away from the character in Peter Pan who ordered Wendy shot down and pulled her rival's hair. This time, Tink has a temper, and that's good, because nothing's worse than a two-dimensional character in a three-dimensional CGI movie. At least now she's more believable, and that temper and impatience of hers ins nicely woven into the plot.

In the animation department, Disney does a fantastic job once more. Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure is a visual delight, and the cartoonists' and animators attention to detail gives the stunning picture quality something to showcase other than the clarity and style itself. The animation is superb. We're not talking TV-quality drawing or animation. This is feature-quality work. The plot may not be the most original, but at least it's not the kind of high-school jealousy nonsense we got in the first installment. This outing, the queen decides to entrust Tinker Bell with the job of constructing a scepter which will hold a rare moonstone. Then, like something out of Indiana Jones, that scepter has to be placed in just the right spot so the Blue Moon can hit the stone and somehow create pixie dust. Don't try to think about this too hard. It's a fairy world. It doesn't have to make sense. Anyway, tinkers are builders and repair specialists, which is good, because with a friend like Terrence around, things tend to get broken. It's when the moonstone itself crashes that the adventure part begins, for Tinker Bell decides to go off in search of a magic mirror that went down in a shipwreck, a mirror that contains one last wish. Now, see, you're thinking again, and I told you to suspend belief. That's why Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure is still going to appeal mostly to little girls. Boys will wish for more moments like the bat trying to chase down and eat Tink's firefly friend, Blaze. Maybe the next installment will address this deficiency. Certainly there's more humor this outing, and Tink has more personality because she's allowed flaws. Maybe people at Disney are reading the reviews and taking them to heart. Stranger things have happened. This gets a 3 on my "Go See" Scale.

Enjoy Toy Story In A New Dimension

Disney and Pixar started a very beautiful (yet sometimes rocky) relationship way back with a little movie called Toy Story. It was a story about toys… specifically, a boy named Andy’s toys. You see, his favorite, a little cowboy doll named Woody (Voiced by Tom Hanks) is starting to get replaced by another, more expensive doll named Buzz Lightyear (Voiced by Tim Allen). But the trick is, these toys are alive when the humans aren’t watching. The Toy Story films were early indications that Pixar would become the monumental name that it is now. And for the first time ever, you can watch the first two Toy Story films in the glory of 3D with a fun intermission for all you trivia buffs. It’s a theatrical double feature that goes to infinite and beyond with in Toy Story 1&2 Double Feature in 3D.

When Toy Story was released in 1995, it was met not only with critical praise, but audiences loved it. Pixar’s animation was beautiful, bold and exciting. But it wasn’t simply a good looking animated movie, it was also a wonderful script with a story that not only pleased the young, but also the young at heart. In fact, the original film was so popular that in 1999, Toy Story 2 once again delighted critics and audiences. It was the birth of a new and exciting company that continues to make classic after classic. And after fourteen years, in preparation for a brand new sequel, Pixar has revived the first two films in a two week theatrical release. That alone would be worth checking out for an even younger generation, but the fact that they are being released as a double feature, in 3D is an exciting way to revisit Woody, Buzz Lightyear and all the other toys.  When I sat back to watch these gorgeous films, it was easy to get excited as the new 3D element was really quite magical. Sure these films worked back in the day without the new technology, but when Buzz Lightyear goes “falling with style” around Andy’s room, it looked better than you can imagine. In fact, this new RealD version of the Toy Story films feels just as alive and relevant as it did upon its original release. In many ways, it felt more relevant. Many times, the 3D versions of animated features are sometimes better in just plain old 2D as it really doesn’t add to the experience, that is not the case here. The eye-popping effects burst off the screen and really seem to bring out a sense of fun in a story about a young boys toys coming to life. After all, theatre chains are still desperate to bring in audiences to enjoy the complete movie going experience, and this is certainly one way to do it. Especially since it is two movies for a single admission, and a fun intermission filled with trivia and all sorts of Toy Story goodness. When it comes to the films, I have to say that they really do hold up remarkably well. Toy Story was very unique. It was nice to see the kind of friendships that are explored in the films. From Woody (Tom Hanks) to Buzz (Tim Allen), all the way to the young boy Andy (John Morris) who is like every other kid who loves a toy one minute, and is ready to move on to another the next. I really enjoyed the original film. There was just he right amount of humor and even the slightest bit of drama. There was definitely a precursor to the later Pixar films as there are some serious subjects explored here. The most heartbreaking includes a bunch of toys that have been twisted beyond recognition by one mean little boy named Sid (Erik von Detten). The only thing that really changed from my first viewing of this film so long ago, to seeing it today, is that it seemed much darker in 1995. The misfit toys are both inspiring and sad, but not quite as dark as some of the recent Pixar fare.

As for Toy Story 2, I was more of a fan of this one than of the first one. I remember seeing it the first time and thinking it had more heart and humor than the first and who wouldn’t feel a little bit of heartbreak when Sarah McLachlan sang “When Somebody Loves You”? Yep, it brought a tear or two to my eyes. But I have to admit, seeing this baby in 3D made for a much more satisfying experience. Watching it again made me hope for even more talking toy fun when part three comes our way. But I think the basic idea of toys having this sort of longing to be loved and such is a really good one and Toy Story (and Toy Story 2) hold up very well in this classic double feature. Now for the bad news. If you are a parent, and you are hoping to relive the magic of both films with your kids, be careful, this is a long event. For some children, sitting in a theatre for merely an hour and a half might be a little painful, imagine three hours plus. Sure they have an intermission, but they may actually want to stay for that… I got at least half the trivia correct, a paled in comparison to the young tykes that surrounded me! But seriously, if you have a mini van full of children and are looking for some movie magic, you’d better hope that everybody really loves their Toy Story! Or else just check out the first one and wait for the special 3D version of Part 2 on DVD. This was well worth the wait and I'm now looking forward to Toy Story 3. This double feature gets a 4 on my "Go See" scale.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

If Motherhood Was This Bad There Would Be No Kids

When a movie has the honor of being chosen to open The International Film Festival, you would imagine that it would be such a great film that you would be talking about it long after you have walked out of the screening. Such is not the case with "Motherhood" this movie has nothing going for it except it's main star. It comes off disjointed and appears to be nothing more than a senseless rant. The idea of sitting for ninety plus minutes listening to one actor complain over and over again about life's simple chores doesn't make a compelling movie, and the script seems as if it was written by a first time writer, who was given a small time frame to come up with a movie script and this was his final draft.

Eliza Welsh (Uma Thurman) trudges through life one task at a time, on the day of her daughter Clara's (Daisy Tahan) sixth birthday, Eliza feels that she alone has to deal with everything. Her husband (Anthony Edwards) walks around lost most of the time. Eliza is running around trying to move her car when she has to but not so far that she loses her spot, they have two rent controlled apartments in Manhattan, and Eliza wants to write again but has no time. When she hears about a contest she decides she is going to blog her entry, it of course must be submitted by midnight that night.

Eliza's best friend Sheila (Minnie Driver) steals her away for a little shopping, like she has time, Eliza is of course so busy that she is running around all over town trying to get stuff together for Clara's party, she goes to the party store where she is accosted by several of the others in line, it seems that no matter where she goes, there is always something going on that will slow her down. A film company has started filming on her street so her car was towed away and she has to take a bicycle to the store to pick everything up. At the bakery she finds out that they have misspelled her daughters name.

When she gets home she finds a messenger waiting at her door, he helps her up with all the groceries and almost becomes more then just a messenger, this leads to one of the most horrible gut wrenching scenes that I'm sure was supposed to be emotional but comes across as plain campy and over emoted. The party and its aftermath, the clean up and the movies payoff, for what it is doesn't come along fast enough, this movie is almost a chore itself to sit through, it is hard to believe that Uma Thurman would attach herself to a project such as this. I guess it's true a paycheck is a paycheck. What this movie needed was a different direction to start with, there is simply nothing going for it, the plot is silly and plain dull, the script is horrible written and drags in several areas. Uma Thurman may be the the only saving grace this movie offers but can I recommend it solely for her? NO I can not, although you can see that she tries to make this drivel work it is just not gonna happen with the script she has to work with. Given an A list director, this movie would still have fallen flat, I can not give you reason to go out and see this movie, Given the fact that this was the opening night film in the International Film Festival one would expect nothing but unmitigated nonsense to follow. I am glad to say that other movies that followed this one in the Festival saved the day.

I give Motherhood a 1 and on my avoidance scale a 3 this movie is one of those slow summer night cable movies, where it should have been released from the start, there it may have gotten a wider viewing then it deserves on the screen. The idea of the blog that Eliza writes would have made for a better movie.

Motherhood is rated PG-13 for Language, Sexual References and a Brief Drug Comment
Running time is 1 hr. 30 mins.

Monday, October 12, 2009

One Kid's Imagination Takes Him To Where The Wild Things Are

Innovative director Spike Jonze collaborates with celebrated author Maurice Sendak to bring one of the most beloved books of all time to the big screen in Where the Wild Things Are, a classic story about childhood and the places we go to figure out the world we live in. The film tells the story of Max, a rambunctious and sensitive boy who feels misunderstood at home and escapes to where the Wild Things are. Max lands on an island where he meets mysterious and strange creatures whose emotions are as wild and unpredictable as their actions. The Wild Things desperately long for a leader to guide them, just as Max longs for a kingdom to rule. When Max is crowned king, he promises to create a place where everyone will be happy. Max soon finds, though, that ruling his kingdom is not so easy and his relationships there prove to be more complicated than he originally thought.

What an impossible task Spike Jonze has set for himself, adapting one of the few works that can be confidently called “perfect.” Maurice Sendak’s illustrated children’s book Where the Wild Things Are is the tale of a little boy’s tantrum and his fed-up mother’s rejection, and of the dream that transports him over the sea in his wolf pajamas to a land of monsters that crown him king and help him act out all his rowdy, infantile impulses—until the rage goes out of his system, melancholy comes, and he longs to return home. The huge creatures are right on the border between stuffed-animal cuddlesome and mythically grotesque. Childlike fantasies in Sendak’s world are always double-edged: They can liberate you or eat you up—or both. Jonze’s film is a different animal from Sendak’s. It’s tamer and more domesticated, and its characters come with a backstory. As with many compact works, to expand is to decompress and diminish. Jonze, who wrote the script with Dave Eggers, fills in too much of the life of Max (played by Max Records—his real name, fancy that), now a lonely casualty of his parents’ divorce who freaks out when his mom (Catherine Keener) gets frisky with a date (Mark Ruffalo). One alteration is unpardonable: Max dashes out of the house and into the woods instead of getting sent to bed without supper, so there are no bedroom walls melting away and no waves rolling in—one of the book’s most archetypal images. No warm supper awaits Max’s return. What can you say? Bad adapters, bad. But once the boy is in his boat being tossed on the waves, things go swimmingly. That’s when Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are begins to cast a spell all its own. Jonze and Eggers’s most agreeable innovation is turning Sendak’s rather anonymous beasts into complex, conflicted personalities. They sit around quarreling, smashing things, making holes in trees, staring into space, and wishing for a leader. And then comes little Max, who proclaims himself a king to keep them from devouring him. Max Records has a mop of dark hair and a sweet face, but his Max is petulant and edgy. It’s a wonderful performance; you’d never know he was acting opposite nine-foot puppets.

If you’ve seen the trailers, you know that the setting is real and the creatures are decidedly not. The mix of an unruly landscape, a live boy, and kiddie-show fakery shouldn’t jell—or should jell only on the level of a Muppet movie. But it works like a dream. Instead of being bombarded by computer illusions, we’re allowed to suspend our disbelief, to bring our own imaginations into play. For all the artfulness, the feel of the film is rough-hewn, almost primitive. It’s a fabulous tree house of a movie. There is CGI, but it’s largely used for the creatures’ expressions. Outside of Gollum, I’ve never seen facial movements so evocative. Jonze rehearsed the voice actors together instead of taping them separately, and they’re like a crack repertory company. Catherine O’Hara is Judith, who sounds like a whiskey-soaked biker momma; Paul Dano is Alexander, the woebegone little guy with ram horns who’s always ignored. James Gandolfini has tender, plaintive cadences (all New Jersey gangster inflection expunged) as Carol, the tempestuous lummox whose stringy-haired hippie-chick girlfriend K.W. (Lauren Ambrose) has left him. Carol needs a king, a firm dad, someone to direct his wayward energies. He’s the one who asks Max if he can “keep all the sadness away,” and Max says he has “a sadness shield”—a mistake in a world of such up ups and down downs. I’m of two minds about how Jonze and Eggers go soft in the end. These wild things don’t turn carnivorous when Max wants to leave. They act more like the Scarecrow, the Cowardly Lion, etc. But this isn’t Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are,  and the creatures aren’t projections of Max’s id. They’re a family, which is what this fatherless boy needs. They don’t eat their own. Such a great adventurous story deserves the 4 on my "Go See" scale that it gets. 

Max Rules A Tamer Kingdom, The Wild Things Are Gone

The idea to make what was such a controversial children's book into a full length motion picture took a lot of nerve and desire. Maurice Sendak's classic book comes to the big screen with the visionary aide of director Spike Jonze, "Where the Wild Things Are" follows the adventures of a young boy who sets out one night and finds himself alone on an island filled with wild creatures. The images on screen are a mixture of real actors, computer animation, and live puppetering, yes the creatures are men in six, eight and nine foot tall costumes.

Max (Max Records) is a lonely child, he has a loving family, his mom (Catherine Keener) spends as much time with him as she can, but she has to support the family and find time for herself as well. Max's sister Claire (Pepita Emmerichs) spend little to no time with Max, in her only scene she is going out with some friends. After she leaves Max goes into her room tracking ice and snow, he jumps on her bed and breaks Claire's things. He then goes into his room to lay in bed, later when mom comes home, she and Max clean up the bedroom. Later mom has a man over (Mark Ruffalo) and max acts up, when Mom tries to control him, Max bites her and runs off into the night.

Max finds a small sea craft and sets out, that this little lagoon turns into what is obviously an ocean, that leads Max to a small island is one of the movies little flaws, it is inconceivable that this ocean would end up as a small little lagoon in what is the center of a city. Anyway Max lands his craft on the beach, after a harrowing journey that lasted several days and nights, alone on the ocean with no food, water or compass, but yet Max finds land, and on his return trip he not only finds his way home, but he finds the exact spot from which he left in the first place. I'd buy that for a dollar.

Max's adventure starts when he comes across several creatures, Max at first has the idea to hide until he can determine what it is he is seeing. Max has come across some wild creatures one is destroying the houses of the others, max finds him intriguing and decides to go out and help him. Carol (James Gandolfini) appears to be the leader of the group and Max wants to make an impression on at least him. Max doesn't know that Carol is upset because the love of his life is gone. K.W. (Lauren Ambrose) has had enough of Carols meanness and has decided to go live somewhere else. When Max is confronted by the other creatures he yells out to stop, that they can't eat him because he is a king. Ira (Forest Whitaker) and his girlfriend Judith (Catherine O'Hara) seem to buy into Max's story, while others like Alexander (Paul Dano) seem to be waiting for the others approval first. Still others like Douglas (Chris Cooper) stand back and just act as if they believe. It appears that every story has a wild old owl here we get two, they are friends of K.W. Friends whom Carol is jealous of, and wants nothing to do with.

This is a story of a selfish child who needed to come to grips with his emotions, if you pay attention to each one of these characters you will see almost every emotion of a small child, the scared shy child, Alexander often mentions that no one is paying attention to him, that no one ever listens, truth be told that is every child's fear, that no one is paying attention to them. The needy child, Ira just about begs to be a bad guy when they decide to play a game of mud clump, he wants to be with Judith so bad, that he holds his hand up and repeats over and over to let him be a bad guy. The loner is The Bull (Michael Berry Jr.) he seems to always be alone, until the end when his need for confirmation makes him seek out Max.

Of course all good things come to an end, Carol finds out that Max isn't a king and feels betrayed, another emotion that every child feels at some point in his life, that what he is told just isn't fact can be an especially crippling emotion. Max decides that it is time for him to leave, Judith mentions that he is the only King that they haven't eaten, O.K. so they were wild, but waiting to see anything happen took forever. The kingdom that Max would have ruled was vast and wide, forest desert and fertile fields abound. Max never had time to enjoy the place, he wanted to make the creatures happy an in that need as a child he failed. As a movie this adaptation comes close to perfection, but it too fails, the story is more uplifting then adventurous, more sappy than scary, more tender then heartbreaking. The book stands as a perfect story still, and should be read before you go out to see this film.

I give Where The Wild Things Are a 2 and on my avoidance scale a 0, this movie will entertain every young child and many teenagers as well, lovers of the book may feel a little disappointment but not enough to really say the movie didn't deliver on it's promises. Max Records does a superb job as an angry child who wanders away and finds that he really does need and love his family that things may not be perfect but he does have people that care about him and that family is important. A lesson that many of us as adult may still need to learn.

Where The Wild Things Are is rated PG for Mild Thematic Elements, Some Action Adventure and Brief Language
Running time is 1 hr. 34 mins.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

These Pirates Really Know How To Rock

Pirate Radio (titled "The Boat That Rocked" overseas) is the high-spirited story of how 8 DJs love affair with Rock n Roll changed the world forever. In the 1960s this group of rouge DJs, on a boat in the middle of the Northern Atlantic, played rock records and broke the law all for the love of music. The songs they played united and defined an entire generation and drove the British government crazy. By playing Rock n Roll they were standing up against the British government who did everything in their power to shut them down.

Life on board the good ship Radio Rock (loosely based on Radio Caroline) is seen through the eyes of sheltered teenager Carl, played by winsome up-and-comer Tom Sturridge. Nighy is cast as aging hipster Quentin, Carl's godfather, who's asked to watch over him in the summer of '66 while trying to keep the station afloat. That's after resident shock jock The Count (Philip Seymour Hoffman) turns the airwaves blue. On top of the raunchy rock 'n' roll music - essentially banned on mainstream radio - that's enough to rile grey-suited government minister Dormandy (Kenneth Branagh), who organizes a committee to shut them down. Curtis treats the story like a live-action cartoon, splashing the screen with lots of colorful mayhem - Branagh's mustachioed villain being the most caricatured element. There's skulduggery aplenty and yet this sabotage plot serves more as background to the madness of everyday life on the boat. It's basically a waterborne fraternity house with girls frequently shipped in. Carl is keen to get his cherry popped and seeks advice from slobby DJ Dave (a cheeky Nick Frost) while Chris O'Dowd does his puppy dog thing as sensitive Simon and gets trampled by groupies. A pimped-out Rhys Ifans further troubles the waters as a new recruit, an A-lister to rival The Count.

It's a comically gifted cast also featuring Emma Thompson as Carl's 'swinging' mum. Curtis takes a 'loose' approach behind the camera as well, allowing the actors to improvise in addition to delivering carefully scripted punch-lines. The result is dialogue that fizzes and crackles like your favorite vinyl record and is able to stand up to repeated plays. Of course the soundtrack is outstanding, chockfull of classics from The Kinks to Cream (and a bit of Cat Stevens…). And between the hard rocking, there are warm and fuzzy moments too. A subplot has Carl wondering if Quentin is his real dad, but thankfully Curtis avoids too much slushiness in resolving that issue, instead emphasizing the familial dysfunction between these rebel broadcasters. This is, nonetheless, a Richard Curtis film so in the end there's no escaping a free expression of love. But hey, it's the '60s and that's counterbalanced by some close-to-the-knuckle humor. A few of the set-ups feel lifted from a sitcom; for instance skinny Carl acting as a body double for Big Dave (in a bid to lose his virginity). But Curtis sets the tone early on so instead of jarring, these moments are laugh-out-loud funny. He also makes the most of the widescreen canvas, filming on a real boat and staging a finale so ambitious it'd make James Cameron's eyes water. The runtime is also 'Cameronesque' and could have been cut to make Pirate Radio flow better.  A Richard Curtis movie that isn't a romantic comedy is a welcome change. The sharp script and deft touch of the former Blackadder writer deserves more. Here he turns to his true passion, music. His love for the sounds of the 60s shines through in this fond homage to the illegal floating pirate radio stations, such as Radio Caroline, which soundtracked the era in reaction to the ludicrous restrictions of mainstream broadcasting. Sensational stuff from one of the best writers of his generation and a film which will appeal to every age. That said, Curtis's reluctance to jettison scenes is understandable; it's a delight to be in the company of this crew, so much so that you'll be tempted to book a roundtrip. This gets a definite 4 on my "Go See" scale.

These Pirates Rock The High Seas With Radio Waves

England has long given American movie goers something to talk about, several English stars have made the jump to Hollywood and have been successful. The comedies from England have played well here in the States, the main reason being we as Americans want to laugh at other peoples exploits. In "Pirate Radio" we get enough to laugh at and we even get to like several of the limey stars.

Carl (Tom Sturridge) arrives on the pirate radio ship, Radio Rock, after being sent to stay with the ship's Captain, his godfather, Quentin (Bill Nighy), to hopefully set his life on a different track after being expelled from school. Here he meets Radio Rock's crew of ramshackle disc jockeys, led by The Count (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a buoyant rock-loving American, along with the suave and bawdy Dave (Nick Frost) and the naive but good hearted Simon (Chris O'Dowd). Also filling the airwaves is self proclaimed New Zealand "nut," Angus (Rhys Darby), the mysterious Midnight Mark (Tom Wisdom) and the even more mysterious and downright disillusioned Smooth Bob (Ralph Brown). Serving as the ship's crew are the shy lesbian cook Felicity (Katherine Parkinson) and radio assistants, Harold (Ike Hamilton) and the appropriately nick-named Thick Kevin (Tom Brooke).

Dave takes Carl under his wing so to speak and tries to get him his first encounter with a woman. it of course goes wrong, for his birthday his godfather Quentin introduces him to his niece, Marianne (Talulah Riley), this as well turns out to end bad for Carl. Love strikes another crew member, Simon who meets and ends up getting married to the too good to be true American Elenore (January Jones) only to find her affections are really placed with the returning king of the airwaves, Gavin (Rhys Ifans). The Count objects to Gavin's antics with Elenore, leading to a clash of egos that ends in a truce after both suffer physical injuries jumping from the top of the ship's radio mast.

Radio Rock's controversial on-air antics have ruffled the feathers of a government minister, Dormandy, (Kenneth Branagh), who instructs his subordinate Twatt (Jack Davenport) to find a way to take down pirate radio, they find loop holes and they enact laws to stop this rock invasion. Dormandy proposes the creation of the Maritime Offences Act, which passes through Parliament without any shown opposition. This act makes it illegal to be broadcasting from anywhere on the high seas. The crew of Radio Rock choose to defy the act, for various different personal reasons, and continue to broadcast.

The jokes are mostly sexual in nature, what else would there be on a ship inhabited by mainly young men? Branagh comes off as tight and restrained. When the boat tries to escape from the police raids and the inevitable happens Twatt tries to get permission to save the crew members, he is told that better people have perished but the radio's listeners take note and decide to save the people that they have come to love. Making a small cameo is Emma Thompson as Charlotte, Carl's mother. The movie hits all the right notes, literally. The soundtrack is of several hits from the early and mid sixties. The music alone is worth going to see this movie. The cast includes some of Britain's heavy weight stars and they come across as some one that is likable and friendly enough.

I give Pirate Radio a 3 and on my avoidance scale a 0 This high seas adventure is fun for the entire family, there is some language that may not be suitable for the youngsters but they may not get all the innuendos that come fast and hard throughout the movie. The adults will love this movie and any fans of early rock will absolutely love this movie. I can not recommend this movie any more highly.

Pirate Radio is rated R for Language, some Sexual Content Including Brief Nudity
Running time is 2 hrs. 14 mins.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

There's A Lot Of Paranormal Activity Going On Here

A haunted house makes no secret of the fact it is not pleased with its new tenants in this independent tale of supernatural horror. Katie (Katie Featherson) and Micah (Micah Sloat) are a twentysomething couple who've just moved into a new home in San Diego, California. Katie has an interest in the paranormal and believes that malevolent spirits have been following her since childhood, though Micah is not so easily convinced. However, after several nights of loud noises and strange happenings, Micah starts to agree with Katie that some sort of ghost may have followed them to the new home in Paranormal Activity.

The Blair Witch comparison has become remarkably over-used in the years since the film's release, becoming increasingly synonymous with genre stories presented as real life events and captured using low-tech, hand-held equipment. Most recently, it's been used to describe films such as Cloverfield or Quarantine, which told of an attack on New York by a giant monster and a building populated by the carnivorous undead, respectively. But the comparison is never truly appropriate. It focuses too much on execution and not enough on the spirit in which Blair Witch was created – small, low-budget, no polish or visual effects, a cast of everyday people, and a not a whiff of film studio influence within a hundred miles. And for as thrilling as a first-person account of a rampaging Godzilla or a horde of hungry zombies might seem, they still, at the end of the day, feel very much like movies. Paranormal Activity, however, actually deserves the comparison. Made seemingly for the cost of the camera on which it was filmed – plus, perhaps, some fishing line and baby powder – the film presents an intensely escalating ghost story from a single point-of-view. In truth, it's shoe-string scary, delivering a terrifying, unsettling 90 minutes without a single bit of CG or foam latex in sight, and all confined to a single house. The story itself is incredibly simple: Katie and Micah, yet to be married, own a home together. Katie has, throughout her entire life, experienced strange, innocuous occurrences which some would refer to as a haunting were it not for the fact that the events have apparently followed her from house to house. Whatever activity she's experiencing is potentially attached to her, not a specific place. Micah, more amused than concerned, decides to film the house while they sleep to see if they can capture anything on video, an act which appears to antagonize the entity into a new level of performance. The activity happens mostly at night, while the couple is asleep, and what begins as simply a door quietly moving in the shadows quickly becomes something much, much worse. The couple's interactions during the day – all filmed my Micah – document their increasing discomfort, but when the scene fades and the next image is revealed to be the bedroom, darkened at 2AM, one can hear the audience shift in their seats, anticipating some ghostly assault, more and more uncomfortable as the activity becomes increasingly aggressive.

To spoil what actually happens in those moments would no doubt diminish the incredible level of suspense and terror that the film so brilliantly creates. But rest assured, Paranormal Activity works because of its naturalistic simplicity. It feels real. It feels plausible. And even at its most intense – which, in any other movie, would be yet another bit of over-produced, supernatural spectacle – the film uses relatively simple methods to illicit a huge reaction from its audience. This is the kind of film that makes you pull the covers closer, ensuring that your body isn't exposed to whatever might drift beside you during the night; the kind of film that leaves you wondering what you might feel if you woke up in the moonlight to see a shadow standing in the doorway. Paranormal Activity is a small yet hugely effective horror film that any fan of the genre must absolutely see. It's opening in a very limited release, though Paramount has created a program where fans can jump on the company's website and "demand" that the film play in their town. Presumably, the company will consider opening the film wider as more demand is generated, but if you can get to a theatre, then go. If you can't, then demand the film and hope that it plays in your area soon. This is small, smart, inventive filmmaking that illustrates the best of what the horror genre can offer. This one is a definite must-see for any true horror fan. This gets a 5 on my "Go See" scale.

When There IS This Kind Of Paranormal Activity Get OUT

Scary movies are a staple of Hollywood come this time of year, seldom do we get one that leaves the viewer on the edge of his seat. When a movie like "Paranormal Activity" comes along I for one wonder just what the heck I'm in store for. Then when the news that writer Oren Peli also directed the film, and that the budget was about ELEVEN THOUSAND dollars, I am already scared. Then the fact that the films two major stars are newcomers to motion pictures and also that the movie was filmed in the home owned by Oren Peli, well I had no hope for this movie. I am glad to say that after watching this film, one where I was glued to my seat, what little I was actually sitting on, yes this is an edge of your seat horror flick. The beginning starts out slow and that is of course the development stage of the film, but it picks up its pace rather quickly. I can't reiterate how much I really appreciate a film like this. Hollywood take stock, a true horror movie made for less than you pay to advertise a piece of crap like Jennifer's Body.

A young, middle class couple, Micah (Micah Sloat) and Katie (Katie Featherston) become increasingly disturbed by a presence that may or may not be somehow demonic, Katie has been plagued by this ever since she was a child. She has bad memories of this thing following her from home to home. Now that she and Micah have moved in together things start to happen. Noises in the middle of the night, thumps, scratching and even whispers bring the couple to the the same conclusion. They want to try to see if there is actually something going on in their home. Micah buys a camera and they set it up in their bedroom, the noises seem to be the worst during the night.

Several nights go by and nothing happens, when Micah tries to make the experiment into a joke, Katie gets upset, things actually start to happen one night, I won't reveal any of the events, but I for one was glad that the director didn't throw ghosts and demons at us at every turn, the thrills build into a quiet crescendo, and the scares will come but they are not rushed and that slow pace helps build the terror. Each night as we watch the couple sleep, we wait, we hold our breath, we scream at the littlest creak and when things do happen we jump right off our seats. The movie has a level of suspense so intense that the smallest sound makes your heart jump. We are forced to constantly think about what we just witnessed, watching an almost empty room in dead silence for 30 seconds turns out to be one of the most horrifying scenes in the entire film.

Katie gets increasingly jittery and frightened. Neither is sleeping well, and they start snapping at each other, she tells Micah she wants to hire a Psychic (Michael Bayouth) he at first thinks he is a fraud, maybe he is but we buy his act when he returns at a later date and tells the couple that he must leave the house, that the energy he feels is malevolent in nature. When the demon starts to manifest itself the couple find things getting out of hand, The ending is true Hollywood horror, their is a rumor that Steven Spielberg helped this movie find life, that he saw it and along with Oren Peli created a brand new ending. I for one am glad, cause the ending is what most everyone will be talking about.

I Give Paranormal Activity a 4 and on my avoidance scale a hearty 0 go see this movie, watch as night after night the scares build and the terror mounts. Now that Hollywood has a true horror gem, there is talk already of a remake, one with bigger special effects, a bigger budget and better known stars. STOP. This movie, AS IS is one of the best movies to open this year, it was slated to be screened later this month at the International Film Festival, but pulled when a midnight screening brought out literally hundreds of horror fans to watch this movie. It was given a release date but shown only at a few midnight screenings last weekend, the movie did rather well. Today news comes that the movie will get a small release window, I can't recommend enough that every fan of horror go out and support this soon to be cult favorite.

Paranormal Activity is rated R for Language
Running time is 1 hr. 39 mins.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Tony Jaa Rules! Ong Bak Is Back

Martial Arts movies have captivated American audiences for many years, we have watched Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris, Brandon Lee, Jackie Chan and many many more. Americans love the brutality of these movies they capture us heart and soul. Audiences don't care about plot or substance in these movies as long as there is plenty of action, blood and gore we are happy. Now comes the next great Martial Arts champion Tony Jaa, he not only does his own stunts but he also is one of the movies two directors. "Ong Bak 2: The Beginning" captivates the audience right from the start. The opening sequence is dramatic and heartfelt, and by the time we learn what happened we are completely hooked.

Tien (Tony Jaa) is a man who was born into nobility but had it stripped from him after his parents were brutally murdered. His parent knowing that their lives were in danger hid Tien within a monastery where he learned Khon, a form of dance. What he didn't realize was this was his first taste of the arts of defending himself. After seeing his parents murdered at the tender age of 10, Tien is forced to live on the streets where he is eventually captured by a group of thieves who take him in and teach him how to steal and fight.

Tien's expertise as a thief and fighter grows and it isn't long before he is made head thief. Tien was happy fighting alongside the men he grew up with, he takes it personally when he comes across the man who tried to kill him as a child, he is a slave peddler and Tien fights him and his men by himself. Throwing the peddler into the crocodile pits Tien is through fighting. He learns that the man who was responsible for killing his parents is nearby and Tien must go and revenge them. The fight sequences here are amazing and Tien barely escapes, getting back to the village where the rest of the thief clan is Tien finds it abandoned. Tien is attacked by several members of the kings army, he fights valiantly until he is just outnumbered.

The Martial Arts sequences in the movies several fights are truly amazing, Tony Jaa uses his complete body to wreck havoc no part of his body is left unused. Jaa performs his own stunts in the movie and a couple of them will have you staring open mouthed, Jaa tries to tame a herd of elephants and he has to get to the bull he runs atop the elephants, he uses no wires or stunt men for this trick, later during one of the major fight scenes Jaa again is atop of an elephant, his opponent during the filming uses guide wires where again Jaa doesn't.

The movie is filmed in Thailand and is a huge hit over there, it is being shown here with subtitles so expect that if you chose to go see this movie, and you should for the amazing fight scenes alone. Tony Jaa also wrote this story and credit him for trying to put together a movie of this sort that has an actual plot line, the one problem that many viewers will have is the confusing ending, it tells nothing, except maybe the inevitable sequel is coming. This is only a minor thing and doesn't detract from what really is a terrific film all round. The production in this movie is epic. There are costumes, settings, and sequences that are a feast for the eyes. That is if the Martial Artistry is enough to be in awe of.

I give Ong Bak 2: The Beginning a 3 and on my avoidance scale a 0, this movie wont get the attention it deserves and will mainly play at the smaller art house theatres, I can only say that it is worth the effort to find this wonderful movie, you may learn something about the splendor of Thai culture, but even if you don't you will still get your moneys worth.

Ong Bak 2: The Beginning is rated R for Sequences of Violence
Running time is 1 hr. 37 mins.

Friday, October 2, 2009

When Law Abiding Citizen's Strike Back

Action thrillers have drawn audiences in for many years, the idea of the common man fighting back against an evil has been a fan favorite for a very long time. In the new revenge thriller "Law Abiding Citizen" that is what one man does, when evil comes knocking at his door. Too bad for the bad guys this man is able to fight back, but he does it on his terms and his time frame. He is able to take what he knows and use it to enact his revenge.

The plot focuses on Clyde Shelton (Gerard Butler) who, ten years after his wife and daughter are brutally murdered, returns to extract justice, not only against the two men who were responsible for the crime, but also against Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx) the assistant district attorney who prosecuted the case against their killers. Nick fearing a loss of his near perfect conviction rating offers a plea to Clarence Darby (Christian Stolte) if he testifies against Rupert Ames (Josh Stewart). The two men had broken into the home of the Shelton's, looking to rob them, but things quickly turn from bad to worse. After Darby testifies against Ames his case is plea bargained down to nothing and Clyde is forced to watch as one of his families killers walks out of the court room.

Ten years later Ames is to be executed and things take a turn for the worse, his execution, instead of being painless is made to be as painful; as possible, at first the police think Darby is responsible but quickly and with very few clues they zero in on Clyde. When Darby is also found dispatched all clues point to Clyde, the police capture him and while he is standing trial he is sent to a prison?? Ok I will buy that for the sake of the story. As Nick is drawn closer and closer into Clyde's game people who helped Darby and Ames start to disappear. First the two men's attorney, Bill Reynolds (Richard Portnow) is taken, Clyde tells Nick he will make a deal, a steak dinner for information on Bill Reynold's whereabouts.

As more and more bodies start to pile up the Mayor of Philadelphia (Viola Davis) tells Nick and the District Attorney Jonas Cantrell (Bruce McGill) not to travel alone anywhere. When Nick brings the entire District Attorneys office to the prison he is just walking them into the lion's den. As another deadline passes Nick watches as several members of his team including his protege, Sarah Lowell (Leslie Bibb) are killed, soon after the District Attorney himself falls victim. Clyde is able to do these deeds from the comfort of his solitary cell, one that looks as if the prison went back in time. Nick is forced to use his skill to outwit a sociopath, one who it seems can kill without actually being there.

By the time that Nick and Detective Dunnigan (Colm Meaney) find out how Clyde is actually killing people the movie loses alot of what it had going for it, the suspense up until the big revelation seemed intense and gripping, but after the revelation it almost becomes another excuse for shoot outs and explosions, almost. Gerard Butler and Jamie Foxx save this movie with an intense portrait if just how easy it is to push a man past his limits. Charles Bronson has turned this story arc into a mega hit, he has made moviegoers cheer for the little guy, and that is really all we want deep down inside. The chance to right a wrong, the chance to take an evil and turn it back on perpetrator, the right to say ENOUGH. Fans of these types of movies really get into these types of movies solely for the release they offer. Gerard Butler with his t-shirt off isn't a bad thing either.

I give Law Abiding Citizen a 3 and on my avoidance scale a 0. This is a well acted movie Jamie Fox does a great job playing his character, a heroic yet corrupt lawyer. An angry Jamie Foxx, back to the roles that showcased his talent? I say it's about time. This is the type of movie that alot of us have been waiting for, this movie will excite just about everyone, it is easy to follow and the plot is simple, bad guys hurt his family, Clyde strikes back. We are never sure whether Clyde is the hero or villain, and this adds to the excitement.

Law Abiding Citizen is rated R for Strong Bloody Violence and Torture, a Scene Of Rape and Pervasive language
Running time is 1 hr. 49 mins.