Tuesday, December 27, 2011


“The GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO” (Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer & Stellam Skarsgard)

My background going into this movie was – I did not read the book, I did not see the Swedish version and, until I saw the trailer, I had no interest whatsoever in seeing this film. The trailer presented an interesting storyline and reputable actors Daniel Craig and Christopher Plummer.
This is not your conventional murder mystery – it gets a little hard-core – as well as being about a girl who disappeared 25 years earlier without a trace.
Craig plays Mikael Blomkvist, a political writer that gets in hot water with the publisher of the magazine he writes for when he accuses a high ranking Swedish official named Wennerstrom of embezzlement. Mikael is disgraced when he can’t prove his case in court.
Mikael’s boss/secret lover (Robin Wright) sends him to meet with an elderly man named Henrik Vanger (Plummer) to both get him out of the public’s eye and to give him something to keep his mind off his recent troubles. Instead Mikael finds himself ensnared in a hornet’s nest of characters with questionable morals, otheriwse known as Vanger’s closest relatives. Close, and yet distant, as Blomkvist is told which relatives are not speaking and which, and which ones are on speaking terms but only if they aren't on speaking terms with the other relatives – And they all live in mansions that Henrik can see from his front yard.
Martin Vanger (Stellan Skarsgard) is the only relative who seems willing to help Mikael with his investigation. Skarsgard is a very good actor – I couldn’t tell what his character was thinking as he constantly swirled his glass of wine and seemed amused as Mikael became acquainted with his unsavory relatives.
Henrik’s request is for Mikael to use his investigative skills as a writer to figure out what happened to his niece, Harriet, who disappeared 25 years ago.
Mikael enlists the help of the woman that hacked into his computer and helped to bring him down in the court case against Wennerstrom.
“Why do you want me?” the female hacker asks, thinking Blomkvist is seeking revenge. “I was impressed with how you broke into my computer,” Mikael responses, “Now I want you to do it to him.”
The hacker is the title character, Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) an unusual looking character, even for a geek. The more we learn of Lisbeth, the more we see that it isn’t just her hair that is an unsightly mess. The early scenes involving Lisbeth also had me wondering about how well her character was thought out – She gets mugged in the subway but is able to run down and beat the living snot out of the young thug that steals her purse, yet when Randy Bachman, of Bachman-Turner Overweight, attempts to rape her, he gets the upper hand quite easily.
It took me a while to feel sorry for Lisbeth because she is forced to do disgusting things to garner money to live on from lawyer Bachman - but what does she do with the money? She spends $3,000 on a tattoo (And it's not even the dragon!)
The film wants you to read the book, obviously, as Lisbeth’s quirks just didn’t happen overnight – she is deathly afraid of men touching her; when Mikael barely brushes against her as he stands up from the computer screen they’re staring at, she jumps like a scared cat at the bark of a big dog. Then, unexpectedly, she removes her clothing and joins Mikael in bed as if they were long-time lovers.
So, yes, Lisbeth has issues. But she’s also as loyal as a puppy once she finds a human being worth worshipping. She simply tells Mikael, “I like working with you.” and it seems clear to everyone except Mikael that she means ‘I’m falling in love with you’.
Even though I was intrigues by the trailer, I still wasn’t sure if ‘The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’ was going to be something I’d enjoy – or one of those ‘art house’ films I deplore. It’s the former – it’s good because it isn’t conventional – it’s downright bizarre at times. I was so glad that there weren’t any elongated scenes of martial arts nonsense – in fact there weren’t any at all and that’s what I was warned the books were about; a martial arts expert who was also a computer genius and mentally unstable. Mentally unstable computer genius’s I can live with – Martial arts experts, I cannot.
I still have no desire to read the books, but I’m in for the next Americanized installment of the series when it comes out on celuloid...


“MONEYBALL” (Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill & Philip Seymour Hoffman)

Some new morning talk show host here in Seattle told me to go see ‘Moneyball’ because it’s not about baseball – it’s about character building; an ‘inspirational’ story.
So when “Moneyball” came to the discount theatre we went to see it... It’s about BASEBALL – it is ENTIRELY about BASEBALL – no other subject matter is broached other than BASEBALL – It eats, sleeps and dreams BASEBALL. It is an exceptionally boring film about exceptionally boring people and the exceptionally boring game that they play, &/or played...
At my brother’s wedding reception a group of males gathered near the bar (Where, just as in the wild, males are prone to gather) The subject of golf came up. After silently listening for twenty minutes, I finally had to voice my opinion. I said, “I used to think the most boring thing on this planet was watching golf. Now I know there’s something even more boring – people who talk about golf.”
Later, since it was September and the baseball playoffs were approaching, baseball became the main topic. Once again, I let them ramble on and on until a break in the monotony allowed me to interject how I thought the second most boring thing on the planet was baseball – and now I could add ‘people who talk about baseball’ to my most boring things on the planet list.
Why is it that people who play and watch golf and actually pay attention when one of 163,000 baseball games are being played each year are under the opinion that those subjects are suitable for discussion among rational, thinking human beings?
I write this because I don’t want other people to be fooled by a misguided talk
show host that told them ‘Moneyball’ isn’t ABOUT baseball.
Being based on a true story doesn’t automatically make a subject interesting. The thing about sports movies that are based on actual events is that something special takes place at the finale – the underdog overcomes overwhelming odds and wins the championship – but in ‘Moneyball’ nothing like that happens. It’s simply the story of how a failed player turned manager, Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) replaces three stars that signed with other teams by hiring Peter (Jonah Hill) a computer geek to pick his players for him using the complicated system of ‘how often do they get on base?’ – that’s it. That’s the ‘character’ builder here. “We want you on our team because you walk a lot.”
Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Oakland A’s manager Art Howe as a typical baseball manager – totally disinterested in everything that’s going on around him until it starts to threaten his job. It is unquestionably, Hoffman’s worst performance to date.
It’s not really a spoiler to reveal what happens at the end of the season, but all of you Brad Pitt lovers out there that are waiting for the DVD to come out might not know so I won’t say anything except they don’t exactly win the World Series.
For a film that supposedly wasn’t about baseball, there’s a good twenty minutes of the running time devoted to one game when the home team blows an 11-to-nothing lead during the regular season. This ‘highlight’ is as pitiful as Mariner fans that think winning one playoff series is tantamount to winning the MLB championship.
The only interesting aspect came when Beane, unable to coerce manager Howe into playing the guy he wanted him to play at first base, trades the prize rookie Howe has been starting so that he has no choice but to play the ex-catcher at first because he ‘walks a lot’. In any other film that wouldn’t have been all that interesting, but here, it’s the only scene that didn’t utterly bore me.

Monday, December 26, 2011


“WE BOUGHT A ZOO!” (Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson & Thomas Haden Church)

“We bought a zoo!” is shouted a few times during the film, so I thought it apropos to add an exclamation point to the title. I’m a little surprised that this is getting some Oscar buzz, because, despite the fact that I thoroughly enjoyed this adorable little tearjerker, it isn’t what you would call a normal Oscar contender. In many ways, “We Bought A Zoo!” is just as sweet and sappy as the other adorable animal films released in 2011; “Mr. Popper’s Penguins”, “Dolphin Tale” & “The Beaver” . . . Okay, that last one’s a joke.
But “We Bought A Zoo!” has something extra going for it – maybe it’s the fact that it has multiple rascally animals in it as oppose to ‘just’ a dolphin or ‘just’ some penguins. This spreading out of wildlife however, did not work for the deplorable “Zookeeper”. I’ve heard that Matt Damon is being touted as a Best Actor possibility... if he squeezes in, I’ll be surprised – not that he isn’t good – but this is a cute movie – stars of cute movies don’t get Oscar nominations; especially when every actor in the film has to walk in the shadow of tiny Maggie Elizabeth Jones as Rosie. It is Rosie who loves shouting, “We bought a zoo!” and it is Maggie that provides the overload of adorableness to the production.
Matt Damon stars as recent widow Benjamin Mee. Benjamin (don’t call him Ben) has his hands full dealing with his moody teenage son, Dylan (Colin Ford) and precious young daughter Rosie – so you’d think when an attractive single mother keeps offering him pans of lasagne, he’d take the hint and at least invite the cute cougar over to share the meal – but we soon learn that Benjamin is having a very difficult time recovering from his wife’s passing.
When Dylan gets expelled from school for his 4th strike (drawing bizarre art projects that only Charles Manson would appreciate) Benjamin decides to use the money he received from his father’s inheritance to buy a home in the country – where the nearest Target store is 9 miles away! His brother Duncan (Thomas Haden Church) is flabbergasted that he would waste his inheritance money on what turns out to be a run-down zoo. When Duncan asks, “Why buy a zoo?” Benjamin smiles and replies, “Why not?” When Benjamin uses those two words again it should put a lump in your throat... with or without the stale popcorn.
The zoo is run by pretty Kelly Foster (Scarlett Johansson) assisted by (among others) her teenage niece, Lily (Elle Fanning, who blew me away in “Super 8” but only does an average job here) As Lily attempts to bring a ray of sunshine to grumpy Dylan, Kelly attempts to educate Benjamin on how to bring the zoo up to code so they can re-open and start making money. As Benjamin pours more and more inheritance money into food and repair materials, he begins to question his decision to give in to his irresistible little girl who begged him to buy the zoo!
As Benjamin argues with Dylan one night, he shouts, “We live with a 7 year old girl who still believes in the Easter Bunny!” When Dylan ends the argument by slamming his bedroom door, Benjamin turns to see Rosie standing in her p-j’s and holding her teddy bear... “What ABOUT the Easter Bunny?” she whimpers with a demanding tone. Perfect delivery. I absolutely adored her.
But dealing with his life as a widow isn’t the only tearjerking moment for this film as one of the mainstays is an aging Bengal Tiger named Spar. Kelly keeps telling Benjamin that it is cruel not to ‘do the right thing’ by Spar and release him from his miserable painful life. The fact that Benjamin, obviously reliving his wife’s dying situation thru Spar, is unwilling to make the call causes a big rift between him and Kelly. When Duncan arrives to help out the first advice he offers is ‘get rid of the animals, but keep the girl’.
Scarlett does good work in this – maybe it was the drab hair and her glamorous looks were toned down so I wasn’t just ogling her – but I accepted her as her character; which, I think, is a first. Her dalliance with Sean Penn must have included some acting lessons, eh?
“We Bought A Zoo!” will definitely be in my Top 10 of 2011 and yet I still don’t think it will get any Oscar nods... except for Maggie as best supporting cutie-pie...

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


“NEW YEAR’S EVE” (Ashton Kutcher, Katherine Heigl, Michelle Pfeiffer, Sarah Jessica Parker, Hillary Swank, Halle Berry, Robert De Niro, Zac Efron, Jon Bon Jovi, Abigail Breslin, Josh Duhamel, Jessica Biel, Seth Myers, Carla Gugino, Sofia Vergara, Larry Miller, Chris Bridges, Hector Elizondo, Lea Michele, John Lithgow, Sarah Paulson, Til Schweger, Cary Elwes, Alyssa Milano, Common, Peter Vogt, James Belushi, Matthew Broderick, Lisa Simpson, Penny Marshall & Ryan Seacrest)

Look at that star studded cast! How could this not be anything but spectacular?

It’s crap, people. It’s horrible, horrible crap from start to finish – even the good actors stink in this; the main reason being insipid dialogue and moronic plotlines.
Probably the leading candidate for the Worst Movie of 2011, I couldn’t recommend this movie to any age group or sector. The fact that this garbage was even made was embarrassing enough, but the fact that it was #1 at the box office says that the American movie goer is even dumber than polls had originally predicted. I exclude myself because despite the fact that I spent money to see this rubbish, it was one of the those weeks when I relinquished my choice to my wife and this is what she picked.
Looking on the bright side when I see junk like this it makes me appreciate films that only annoy me a little instead of from start to finish. ‘The Muppets’ seems thoroughly entertaining now after viewing ‘New Year’s (Bleeping) Eve’.

The 27 plotlines in a nutshell . . .

Ashton Kutcher does his best acting to date in this... no, I take that back, he was actually pretty good in ‘The Butterfly Effect’ but Jeepers, how long ago was that? Kutcher plays Randy, a laid back guy that doesn’t speak very often, except to his buddy via his cell phone (Yeah, one of THOSE a-holes) Randy gets stuck in an elevator on New Year’s Eve with Elise (Lea Michele) A spunky little Jewish princess who happens to be a back-up singer for Jensen (Jon Bon Jovi, but more on that fiasco of a subplot later) Elise is the complete opposite of Randy (meaning, she’s friendly) but she gets to the point where you want Ed Asner to magically appear in the elevator and tell Elise how much he hates ‘spunk’. The second half of the film, all Kutcher does is stand in a crowd and smile whimsically at Elise as she sings her little heart out for a crowd of drunken New York extras with nothing better to do than to listen to someone they’ve never heard of sing to them on ‘the most romantic night of the year’.
Katherine Heigl (Am I the only one that wishes she’d stop making movies and concentrate on a career selling jewelry on the Shopping Network?) plays Laura; a caterer who gets a big gig on New Year’s Eve thanks to ex-boyfriend Jensen (Superstar ex-teen idol Jon Bon Jovi playing a superstar ex-teen idol)
I don’t know which was worse, watching Heigl ‘act’ as though she hates Jensen or watching Ava (Sofia Vergara) fawn over him with a thick latino accent that even Charo couldn’t understand.
When pop sensation Jensen starts singing his repertoire of hits – they’re all remakes – and trust me, Otis Redding’s bones are rattling over the fact that one of his songs was covered in this train-wreck. You’d think the biggest musical star in the world would play at least one ‘original’ composition – Even something as bland as a Bon Jovi song? The saddest part of this segment is realizing that Jon Bon Jovi can’t even play Jon Bon Jovi convincingly.
Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog was right when he told Jon to stick to playing vampires – that way the role would require him to suck.
Then there’s the ultimate ‘creepy’ segment with Ingrid (Michelle Pfeiffer) and Paul (Zac Efron) All I’m going to reveal is – the one thing you hope they don’t do, they do.
Then there’s mother Kim (Sarah Jessica Parker) loudly worrying about her daughter Hailey (Abigail Breslin) in a high pitched whine that made my dogs start howling out in the parking lot.
We’ve got Robert De Niro playing a dying man whose last wish is to live to see the ball drop one more time. Nurse Aimee (Halle Berry) promises to stay with him to make sure his Make-A-Wish comes true – but leaves him to go talk to her husband (Common) on Skype!
The stupidest of the stupid is a battle between two couples to win $5,000 by having the first baby of the New Year – Biel & Myers are the Byrnes & Schweger & Paulson are the Schwabs. This segment offers up what I consider to be the worse line spoken in any movie (at least of this century) when a gay male nurse (Peter Vogt) tells the two couples, “May the best va-jay-jay win!”
The only glimpse of someone trying to be entertaining came from Larry Miller as Harley, the tow truck driver who made me chuckle twice with lines involving Penn & Teller and watching porn. And that’s one of the chief problems here – the dialogue is so dreadful that the actors don’t even try to sell their lines. Most of them looked like Sarah Palin - just reading what was written on their hands.
The main storyline dealt with Clare (Hillary Swank) the person in charge of making sure the big ball was working properly and would be ready to drop at midnight. According to this film – the big disco ball dropping in Times Square is THE MOST IMPORTANT THING THAT WILL EVER HAPPEN IN THESE UNITED STATES for the entire year.
Until, of course, it is time for the ball to drop again...
When the ball blows a fuse, goes dark and stops during a practice run – they cut to one of the news channels interrupting regular programming for the breaking news that the ball is stuck! This is followed by a Press Conference where angry reporters demand to know what is being done to fix the ball!
I found it amusing that – given how much value was placed by the leaders of New York City that the ball drop come off without a hitch – there was only one person in the entire world that knew how to fix the thing whenever it broke. Hector Elizondo comes to the rescue as a man known only as Kominsky. And how does the invaluable, but recently fired Kominsky repair the ball? By testing the bulbs one at a time to find the one burnt out bulb that shuts the entire thing down... And they say there aren’t any clever plotlines coming out of Hollywood anymore...
I know I’m forgetting at least a dozen other storylines, but I’m tired of writing about this sh*t.


“YOUNG ADULT” (Charlize Theron, Patrick Wilson & Patton Oswalt)

This film ought to be called “Diablo Cody’s Revenge” (she wrote the screenplay) – it is so blatantly biased against every ‘prettiest girl in high school’ prom queen, the story itself becomes even more pathetic than Charlize Theron’s Mavis Gary. And that’s pretty damn pathetic.
I was hoping that this film would be better than the trailer – just because Charlize was in it and I hadn’t seen her for awhile. When it was over I shook my head in disbelief wondering why Charlize would ever agree to play such a character as Mavis – unless it was her intent to show that she could play a believable pathetic loser. Which she does a decent job of doing, but the storyline is what drags this thing down into the desperate dregs of possible 10 Worse films of the year territory.
This is also Theron’s movie from start to finish; there are very few scenes that don’t involve Mavis. In fact, I can’t remember any. There are also zero scenes of Mavis doing anything positive – whether it’s stuffing her poor little Pomeranian into a handbag and zipping it up or thinking she could simply waltz back into her high school boyfriend’s life and steal him away from the woman that just gave birth to their first child, Mavis is the quintessential ‘hot mess’.
Mavis is an author – a ghost writer specifically – for a successful series of ‘young adult’ romance novels. Trouble brews when she comes down with a case of writer’s block.
After Mavis receives an e-mail from her ex-boyfriend announcing the birth of his daughter, she hatches the idea of using a trip to her old hometown to both win back Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson) and use the journey as a plot inducer to finish what we learn will be her last novel for her current employer.
As desirable as Mavis appears, the story wants us to realize she has numerous flaws – the selfish beauty queen has an unsightly bald spot above her ear because she can’t stop pulling out the hairs from that area – so the nervous tick leads her to have to wear hair extensions. To let us know what a true slob Mavis is, they have her make the trip to Mercury (her hometown) wearing the T-shirt and sweats she slept in the night before. And, of course, the first place Mavis heads to when she arrives in Mercury is a dive bar because naturally the girl who peaked in high school yet is still stunning to look at – is an alcoholic. Mavis downs shots of bourbon like they were chocolate milk. Just to add insult to insult, Mavis is made out to be a complete moron by the fact that the only show she watches on television is “The Kardashians”.
Mavis meets Matt (Patton Oswalt) at the bar. Matt obviously remembers Mavis but she doesn’t have a clue as to he is even after he tells her their lockers were side by side all through high school. It is when she sees Matt’s crutch that she remembers him as being the gay guy that got beaten within an inch of his life and left for dead by a bunch of gay bashing jocks, even though, as Matt keeps repeating, “I’m not gay.”
Matt is clearly disturbed by Mavis’s rude behavior and lack of sympathy, yet still he sits with her all night drinking and conversing. Why? Because Mavis, despite being a female douche bag, is gorgeous – and morons like Matt feel privileged just to share a table with the witch. This is the one time Diablo lays off of Mavis’s shortcomings just long enough to let us know that unattractive men are pathetic creatures as well.
As the plot thins, Mavis’s deplorable behavior keeps getting worse; although the ex-boyfriend doesn’t help matters when he kisses Mavis passionately one night and then the next day acts as though he never made any advances towards his ex-lover. Another Diablo lesson – attractive guys are scumbags too.
It’s as if Cody wanted to show what a low life the ‘prom queen’ had become – so utterly pathetic that she turns to the only man in the buzzing metropolis of Mercury, Minnesota willing to have sex with her – meaning we’re supposed to believe that a woman that looks like Charlize Theron can’t get laid because of how she behaves... Uh-hu. Yeah. Right.
I know some will say that I’m being too harsh on this film – that it’s an in-depth character study of someone who ‘peaked’ in high school. That would be acceptable if Charlize’s looks had gone. They haven’t. Even though she isn’t a busty babe, Charlize was radiant in the scenes where she wore a low cut black dress. In a bar full of men I’m betting not a single one of them would have turned down an invitation back to her hotel room... except in Diablo Cody’s make believe world of revenge...


“The MUPPETS” (Jason Segel, Amy Adams & Chris Cooper as humans / Kermit, Fozzie, Piggy & Gonzo as muppets)

My appreciation for the Muppets came from 2 sources; when the original Saturday Night Live debuted – the Muppets were a part of the cast. After that I became a fan of their weekly ‘variety’ show. I never watched Sesame Street or was much of a fan of their movies – the TV show seemed to be their best avenue; a half hour of silliness highlighted by a (sometimes) big name star acting like a kid whilst surrounded by puppets of all shapes and sizes. My favorites were Statler & Waldorf – the grumpy old men in the balcony that made sarcastic remarks on how poorly the show was going.
When I heard this movie was based on the Muppets trying to save the theatre that housed their old TV show by putting on a ‘Muppet Show Marathon’, I was interested enough to buy a ticket – plus the lovely and talented Amy Adams added to my anticipation of being entertained by a batch of cloth puppets.
The usual conversation I have with my wife at the end of EVERY movie we see goes like this; (Me) “So what did you think?” (Her) (A) “It was okay.” (B) “It was fine.” (C) “I liked it.” At the conclusion of the Muppets her response was, “I didn’t care for it.”
Wow, not even a drab ‘okay’ for Kermit & Co.
The surprising thing is I agreed with her, I didn’t care for it either – although it was sweet and some of the cameos were humorous, Alan Arkin, Emily Blunt (as Miss Piggy’s secretary) and Zack Galifiniakis particularly – but they only made me smirk. I laughed out loud once – at Amy Adams’ line, “This is going to be a really short movie.”
The problem clearly was in the writing (Sorry, Jason) I was hoping for a grown-up Muppets movie aimed at us ‘older’ fans that grew up with them. Instead this film is aimed at pre-teens and toddlers. It has no edge, no adult content, no pizzaz. It was rather boring.
Early in the film, Kermit hears about the fate of the old Muppet theatre and sets about rounding up the other Muppets – his first stop is Vegas where he finds Fozzie Bear opening for an act called The Moopets (3 raggedy Muppet look-alikes and David Grohl in a half-Muppet get up) When the movie ended I found myself wondering why they didn’t make a Moopet movie instead. In fact, I yearned for an R-Rated Muppet movie because this one was soooo milquetoast, it wasn’t like the Muppets I remembered at all. (Not that the Muppets were ever R-Rated, but THAT would have been a fun idea – this seemed like a huge step in the wrong direction to me)
The story was kind of dumb; Jason Segel as Gary grows up with his brother Walter who for some unknown reason is a Muppet. Walter worships Kermit and the gang for obvious reasons and joins his brother and his fiancée Mary (Amy) on a trip to Hollywood.
Chris Cooper as billionaire Tex Richman plans to purchase the old Muppet theatre and tear it down. Walter overhears this plan and makes it his mission to find Kermit to let him know. And the journey to bring back the old gang for one final extrava-gonzo is on.
The best part about Walter is when he’s turned into a human during a dream sequence and the human form he takes on is that of Jim Parsons (Sheldon of “The Bing Bang Theory”) The worst part about Walter is that he’s uninteresting and not the least bit funny. When Walter’s ‘talent’ is finally revealed I had to roll my eyes and wonder how anyone would have thought THAT was a good way to endear Walter to the audience – I found him to be even more boring after sitting thru his less-than-entertaining addition to the Big Show.
Nostalgia-wise, the Muppets worked for a short while, but for the long run, this would have been a better ½ hour TV special – or written by someone who would give the sock puppets more bite.


“HUGO” (Asa Butterfield, Ben Kingsley & Chloe Grace Moretz)

‘Hugo’ is a pleasant little tale of a young orphaned boy that helps a broken old man
re-discover his dreams... but it isn’t much more than that.
It is obviously director Martin Sorcese’s tribute to the film-makers that began it all and because of that, “Hugo” quite frequently delves into ‘cheesy’ movies with exceptionally bad acting.
The storyline that works involves title character Hugo (Asa Butterfield) and the friendship he creates with Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz, who didn’t frighten me this time) The one that doesn’t is the antics of Sacha Baron Cohen as ‘Station Inspector’ whose sole duty seems to be tracking down orphans and having them sent to institutes where they will live their days out in misery. Now, if he was called ‘Orphan Hunter’ I would understand this obsession, but he supposedly is the head of security at the Paris train station so his existence in this film seems to only be for ‘comic relief’. Problem there is that Sacha Baron Cohen never has and more than likely never will be funny.
Other than a heartwarming scene involving two long haired dachshunds, ‘Hugo’ just kind of rolls from one scene to the next without much impact on any emotion – the kids’ friendship is sweet, but sweet don’t feed the Doberman.
The acting, other than the hammy Cohen, is fine – well above the norm; Ben Kingsley as George Melies is fine when he isn’t shown acting in one of George’s crappy films and cameos by Jude Law, Ray Winstone and Christopher Lee were greatly appreciated but too short-lived, especially Law as Hugo’s doomed father.
I was misled by a reviewer that made it appear as though this film was about an automatron that unites young Hugo with the elderly Melies, but the automatron is simply a mechanical device that contains a special secret message meant for Hugo from his departed father. When the message is revealed, it’s somewhat of a let down.
‘Hugo’ relies too heavily on circumstance; now a little circumstance is fine, welcomed, in fact – a little more circumstance can still work as long as its done logically, but ‘Hugo’ goes way over the top with it until you’re left shaking your head in disbelief. Example; Hugo is frustrated by his efforts to get his father’s automatron to work properly; his need, a heart-shaped key. After a chance meeting in the crowded train station with Isabelle and discovering that she’s related to the grumpy old man that runs the station’s gifts ‘n’ trinkets shop (Kingsley’s George Melies) Hugo invites Isabelle into his secret domain behind the clocks in the station – which he keeps running so no one will discover his orphaned existence. After showing Isabelle the automatron, Isabelle just happens to have a heart shaped key that she keeps around her neck – Just in case she might happen upon an automatron that needed starting?
Still, it is likeable but not lovable... Kind of like ‘Wall-E’ with dialogue.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


“The DESCENDANTS” (George Clooney & Shailene Woodley)

Because of my high expectations for this, it was a bit of a let down. I liked the plot, I liked the trailer, I like George – the critics were raving. I told my wife I was hoping to see the second best movie of the year. So with all that going against it – “The Descendants” is a very likeable film, but nothing to get excited about.
Clooney plays Matt King, a lifetime Hawaiian resident that happens to be descended from Hawaiian royalty – his family owns a huge plot of land that will be worth millions to him and his relatives. Matt has the power of attorney as to what’s to be done with the land – or, in other words, sell it to the highest bidder. As the deadline is approaching for Matt to make his decision; local buyers - or ‘outsiders’ from Chicago - his wife gets injured and lapses into a coma.
Matt then discovers his wife was cheating on him prior to her accident so he pulls his oldest daughter Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) out of college so she can watch over her younger sister, Scottie (Amara Miller) while Matt goes about tracking down his comatose wife’s lover.
And that’s pretty much the plot, with a few twists and turns along the way.

Beau Bridges plays Matt’s amiable cousin Hugh; well, amiable until Matt starts to waiver on his decision to sell the property. But he brings nothing special to the table.
Robert Forster plays Matt’s father-in-law, Scott Thorson and other than punching Alexandra’s moronic boyfriend, Sid (Nick Krause) he brings nothing special to the table.
Same for Matthew Lillard as Brian Speer, Matt’s unconscious wife’s lover.
Judy Greer has a couple of nice moments but isn’t in the film enough to make an impact.
What gives this film a pulse is the combination of Clooney and Woodley; there were times when they seemed to actually be father and daughter and it’s their relationship that makes “The Descendants” a cut above your average movie-going fare.
But the problem with the film is that the high expectations from the set ups doesn’t pay off at the end. When Matt confronts Speers in his home you hope for some fireworks, something out of the ordinary to take place – but no, Brian simply apologizes profusely to Matt for the affair he had with his vegetable, er, I mean, wife.
I guess the scenic shots of the Hawaiian Islands will impress those that enjoy sight-seeing. I don’t. But anyone that calls this ‘Oscar’ caliber is either from Hawaii, or agrees with me that this is another lame year for films, because despite being underwhelmed by this movie, it still may make it into my Top 10 just from the acting of Clooney and Shailene...


“COWBOYS VRS. ALIENS” (Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde & Sam Rockwell)

When my friend Chris first told me about this film we both thought it was an internet joke. So when the joke became reality, it just made sense that we should wait until it came to the discount cinema and see ‘Cowboys Vrs. Aliens’ together.
It was worth the $3 admission basically due to Olivia Wilde’s engaging eyes – though Chris thought her rising from the ashes ala the Phoenix was ridiculous, I welcomed her back because I knew the film would suck without her to gaze upon.
But Chris and I agreed on everything else in this film – the beginning half was quite good, entertaining and humorous with an interesting concept – while the second half sunk to what we expected a film called Cowboys Vrs. Aliens to be – junk.
What worked was Daniel Craig’s Jake Lonegan. The film begins with Jake waking in the desert with a wound in his side and an odd metallic device clamped to his right wrist. Despite his efforts to break it off, the device remained attached.
Jake has no memory of who he is or where he was so he aimlessly wanders into the nearest town where he meets Paul Dano’s Percy, the son of the richest land baron in these here parts. Percy is drunk and shooting his gun off in the middle of the street when Jake makes a smart alec remark that Percy takes offense to. Percy winds up wounding a deputy and being kneed in the crotch by Jake before being carted off to jail – constantly claiming, “Wait until my daddy finds out about this!”
Jake soon joins Percy when the sheriff (Keith Carradine) finds a wanted for murder poster in his office.
Daddy (Harrison Ford in one of his ‘I just have to show up and read my lines’ moods)
shows up shortly before the aliens enter the picture. With Jake and Percy ensconced inside a prisoner transference wagon, Daddy demands that the sheriff release his son when the weird lights in the sky appear and begin shooting blasts of light that explode upon impact. As the blasts near the paddy wagon, Jake yells at Percy, “give me your hand!” A very frightened Percy whimpers, “I don’t want to die!” Jake replies, “You won’t if you give me your hand – I know how to get us out of here.”
Once Percy surrenders his hand, Jake proceeds to break every bone in it so he can slip the shackles over Percy’s wrist and thus make his escape.
So, yes, things were going along well at that point – I liked the mystery of ‘Jake’ and the object on his wrist and the humor of Jake constantly pummeling the spoiled rich kid.
But then came the frog-people...
Sam Rockwell played ‘Doc’ though he seemed to be the saloon owner and the local preacher was the one that tended to Jake’s wound. Doc joins the search party that forms after the aliens’ initial attack as his wife was one of the several townspeople that were abducted during the melee.
Jake discovers he was the leader of a gang of outlaws and they, along with a band of renegade Indians join the posse in search of the aliens that they are told by the beautiful Ella (Olivia Wilde) will wipe out all civilization in order to mine all of the earth’s gold.
The movie then descends into the silly cowboys versus aliens motif where it seems that dozens of cowboys and Indians are killed in battle, yet when the dust clears – all the cowboys and Indians seem to be accounted for.
The device on Jake's wrist is a weapon that gives the cowboys an upper hand - but it is one of the alien's weapons - How come they don't have the same thing to fire back at the cowboys and Indians? And how is it that cowboys on horseback can catch up to aliens in spaceships?
What disturbed me most was the ending which lent itself to set up a possible sequel or two – Coming next year “Cowboys Vrs. Aliens 2: The Wrath of The Frog-People”
followed by the Daniel Craig-directed, “Cowboys Vrs. Aliens 3: The Search For Ella”
and then, of course, the Back To The Past time travelling sequel, “C V A 4 : The Voyage Home (To The Old West)” where the cowboys are transported into the future to find a pair of humpback whales that they can bring back to their time to ease the Frog-people who now want blubber instead of gold. You laugh now, but stranger things have happened in Hollywood and you know it...



Normally I only review films I’ve seen in theatres, but after viewing these two movies on TV, I felt I should write these ‘warnings’ to anyone that hasn’t seen them yet...

“Let Me In” is simply harrowing – that’s the best word to describe how I felt after seeing it. When it came out I read that it was about a 12 year old girl who happens to be a vampire. I am not a 12-16 year old female, so I am not the least bit interested in these modern-day vampire tales where all the male leads look... well, gay. If that offends you, I’m sorry, but it’s the best way to describe these actors that wear feminine looking make up and don’t seem to have much in the way of acting abilities. So I passed on paying money to see “Let Me In”. But it was given mostly good reviews, so I taped it. First thing I thought when it ended was, “I sure hope no 12-16 year old girls ever see this!”
I don’t get ‘scared’ by movies, but “Let Me In” was frightening in the sense that there were a couple of scenes that will haunt me – probably for years.
Quick summary; 12 year old Abby (Chloe Grace Moretz) moves into the same apartment building as 12 year old Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) with what appears to be her father (Richard Jenkins) Or grandfather, Richard isn’t exactly a spring chicken. During their first meeting on the roof of the building Abby tells Owen, “We can never be friends.”
Small for his age Owen is the main target of three school bullies. Abby tells Owen to fight back – hard. As their friendship grows, Owen finds out that Abby can’t enter his room without him saying out loud that she can ‘come in’.
‘Dad’ is in charge of feeding young Chloe – with the blood of unsuspecting victims he finds by hiding in the back seat of their cars covered in black garbage bags. When he spills the plasma of his latest victim, Chloe is outraged and Owen hears her yell, “What am I supposed to do now?”
So sweet, diminutive Abby goes out and attacks someone. The scene isn’t scary as the creature Abby turns into is obviously computerized, but the idea that a small child would feign an injury and then 'eat' the person who stops to help her is.
The scene where ‘Dad’ is forced to disfigure himself when his last attempt to find ‘food’ for Chloe is the one that sticks in my mind the most – and gives me the creeps.
Owen remains clueless about Abby until the little nitwit decides he wants to be ‘blood’ brothers with his female friend and cuts his thumb with a knife in front of her...
What happens to the victim Abby attacks after fleeing from Owen, so she doesn’t ‘eat’ him is another disturbing scene that won’t clear from my memory bank.
What makes this film intriguing is the fact that when she’s been fed, Abby is a little sweetheart – in a dark foreboding kind of way – and she does eventually befriend Owen, who seems to be less freaked out by Abby the more freakish she becomes. The only time Owen gets upset is when he discovers who 'dad' really is.

The secret of who dad really is and the fate of the school bullies make “Let Me In” one scary film. Despite the sometime low-rent special effects – it’s the realism that kept me glued to the story. Abby is a normal 12 year old girl, cute when she’s recently dined on human blood, but the fact that she’s been ’12 for a very long time’ is kind of creepy and Owen is a sympathetic little geek that needs protection – they combine to help one another when needed and so the story – dark and gloomy for the most part does have a semi-happy ending.
With “Never Let Me Go” there isn’t a moment of brightness, or a single ray of sunshine in the entire film. I won’t reveal the ‘secret’ of Kathy, Tommy & Ruth –though it is resolved fairly early on, but these three children who are introduced as three of several children being brought up and schooled in an English institute called Hailsham.
I figured it out from the opening scenes, but for some reason telling the obvious is a spoiler. But the only thing that could spoil this movie for anyone is for someone to recommend it to you. It is depressing from start to finish. The secret is revealed by a glum, depressed, Miss Lucy (Sally Hawkins) the students English teacher. Why Miss Lucy is fired is kind of a mystery because in time these kids HAD to be told what their lot in life was to be.
Kathy loves Tommy, but Tommy his social issues – he befriends Kathy but seems incapable of loving her back. Ruth, despite being Kathy’s best friend, seduces Tommy and becomes his lover until they graduate from Hailsham and go to live in The Cottages.
It’s a strange, depressing film because it just ambles along without any resistance from the students. They simply accept their fate without any outcry of protest or attempts to escape. That would have made this a much better story. And wait until you get to the end – You couldn’t imagine a more depressing ending if you tried.
So if you’re in a good mood and you want to lose it quick – Rent “Never Let Me Go” and the blues will encompass you for as long as you keep this glum movie in your brain...

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


“J. EDGAR” (Leonardo DiCaprio, Naomi Watts, Armie Hammer & Judi Dench)

As an actor, Clint Eastwood has never impressed me – as a director, I think he’s brilliant... Perhaps I should change that now to ‘was’ brilliant, after viewing this jumbled mess of a film. It has its redeeming value; DiCaprio & Watts are in fine form – though Naomi’s role is quite understated, she’s perceptively in character in every scene. She deserved an Oscar for “Fair Game” and didn’t even get a nomination; I’m hoping they do a make-up job by giving her at least a nod for her portrayal of Hoover’s lifelong secretary Helen Gandy. DiCaprio’s nomination is a given. He has finally developed into a decent actor – and I am one of those who thought that would never happen. One thing Eastwood excels at is getting the best performance possible from his actors and in that he succeeds with “J. Edgar”. Where he goes wrong is in the editing room.
The story of F.B.I. director in chief, J. (John) Edgar Hoover is told in the annoying ‘jumping around in quantum leaps’ timeline style. I’d like to tell any director that thinks this is an innovative way of telling a story that is most certainly is NOT.
It’s like listening to someone who is high or drunk (or 10 years old or younger) relate an incident to you. They tell you how the story begins and then they stop and go, oh, wait, before that happens, I gotta tell you about this. Then they tell you about that and then wonder where they left off, so they pick up the story in a completely unrelated spot from where they previous interrupted themselves and then pretty soon there’s another, ‘oh, wait, I forgot to tell you about what happened before that happened’ moment... Imagine this going on for 2 hours and you have how Clint Eastwood decided to tell the story of J. Edgar Hoover.
It’s an interesting story of a very strange man, but it is not a very good movie because of the way it’s told. Eastwood drops in on spots of the historic moments that occurred during Hoover’s tenure as head of the F.B.I. but the only one he elaborates on is the kidnapping of Charles Lindburgh’s young son. Deemed more important than Hoover’s uncovering that Eleanor Roosevelt was having an affair, supposedly with a ‘known’ communist and his blackmailing of FDR to keep this fact from the media; a little thing called World War II, JFK’s illicit lifestyle and assassination, the Vietnam War and Tricky Dick Nixon’s antics – an aviator’s child being kidnapped was the most important event of the 1900’s according to director Eastwood.
While Clint leaves little doubt that Hoover was a gay man who kept this fact secret because his mother (Judi Dench) once told him she hated ‘daffodils’ – going so far as to say she’d rather see him dead than homosexual. Since Edgar doted upon his mother as if she was a religious figure, he had to obey her every command. So he proposes to Bureau secretary, Helen Gandy, because he ‘admires’ her capabilities. Although Miss Gandy turns down his proposal, she ends up spending the bulk of her life as his personal secretary – and the person that destroys all of his secret files upon learning of his death.
Hoover hires Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer) to be his #2 man despite having no qualifications for the job. Speculation is that Edgar fell in love at first sight and sensing that Tolson was homosexual as well, convinced him to take a job he didn’t really want.
Edgar and Clyde’s catfights are almost laughable in how they claw at one another ala a cat fight; “You’re a scared, heartless, horrible little man!” Tolson screams at Edgar with tears in his eyes. He follows this with a kiss on the lips. Hoover bellows, “Don’t EVER do that again!” and then when Tolson storms out, Edgar whimpers, “Don’t leave me, Clyde.”
At one point Edgar states, “Love is the most powerful thing on earth.” - Which seemed totally out of place to me. Here was a man who knew no love (other than mommy’s) and spewed hatred and mistrust his entire life; especially toward anyone with power – inclusing every president and Martin Luther King.
The last item I’ll mention is the make-up crew, which I also found baffling. Naomi’s aging was seamless, Leonardo’s was decent, but Armie’s aging Clyde looked like the Elephant Man in a bathrobe.
Eastwood also makes it appear as though Hoover’s cross-dressing was a misnomer; that he only put a dress on once in homage to his recently deceased mother and then never wore a dress again... As though he just wanted one moment to be a ‘daffodil’ now that there was no chance of being caught by mommy.
And there was little delving into the reasons why Hoover felt the need to unethically send his agents out to dig up dirt on everyone he considered to be a threat to his ‘power’. And why Helen was so fiercely loyal to him and never questioned his motives. Tolson would, and Clyde was in love with the freak – so why did Miss Gandy continue to do the heartless, horrible man’s biding even after his death?
I guess that wasn’t as interesting as tracking down the kidnapper of a baby that was never kidnapped, eh, Clint?
If you enjoy films that bounce around in time more often than Christopher Lloyd in all three ‘Back To The Future’ films combined, then you’ll have a good time watching this jigsaw puzzle biopic. Me? I prefer stories to be told without the teller forgetting necessary details every two minutes and having to go back before continuing...

Thursday, November 17, 2011


“TOWER HEIST” (Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy, Matthew Broderick, Casey Affleck, Alan Alda, Tea Leoni & Michael Pena)

This isn’t anything special, but it’s entertaining enough – It was the first time in decades that I laughed at anything Eddie Murphy did. Same goes for Matthew Broderick – he & Murphy were clearly the funniest characters in this film. It’s not a laugh out loud comedy, it isn’t an intriguing story – it turns into a silly throw a car off the roof of a skyscraper to steal it crime caper. The revenge factor of getting back at the rich a—hole that lost all of the employees pension finds kind of loses its steam after a hotel maid (Gabourney Sidibe) pushes her cleaning cart into an FBI agent & he gets knocked unconscious by the mild blow that would have had anyone else just go “Ow! Why did you do that?” And then the agent seems to stay knocked out for hours before coming to?
The thing about Ben Stiller movies is that they can sometimes be entertaining but it’s never due to anything that Ben Stiller does; “Tower Heist” is no different. Stiller mopes thru the role in his usual manner & never says or does anything remotely funny.
But the supporting cast helps bring this movie to life and make it worthy of something to watch while munching on a $6 bag of popcorn and slurping on a $4 soda. Say, theatre owners, do you think that in this time of financial hardship for most regular folks you could bring the concession prices down a tad?
Okay, back to the film, “Tower Heist” concerns the employees & residents of a high priced apartment building. One resident in particular, Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda) is arrested for insider trading and when the smoke clears after his indictment, the employees at the high rise discover that Shaw pissed away their pension funds after promising to triple them. Josh Kovacs (Stiller) is the hotel manager – he is also quite friendly with Shaw (they play on-line chess against each other & seem very buddy buddy in the beginning) Charlie (Casey Affleck) is the desk manager who is always late and doesn’t seem to take his job very seriously, and Enrique (Michael Pena) is a newly hired elevator operator who gets fired along with Josh & Charlie for confronting Mr. Shaw. One realistic touch that was added; Charlie, the most incompetent of the three is not only the only one hired back, but with a promotion!
Matthew Broderick plays Mr. Fitzhugh, a resident who has lost his job, followed by his wife & kids and avoids being evicted by simply not answering the door.
Part of the fun of “Tower Heist” was seeing actors that haven’t been seen in a while; “Hey, there’s Hawkeye Pierce!” “Look, its Alex Reiger from ‘Taxi’.” “Isn’t that what’s-her-name that married the sex addict that used to be on “X Files”? & “That can’t be Eddie Murphy he’s actually making me laugh!”
Remembering how good Murphy & Broderick were in their early days helps to boost the enjoyment of ‘Tower Heist’ as well – Thinking about “Beverly Hills Cop”, “Trading Places” & “48 Hrs.” along with “War Games” “Project X” & “Ferris Beuller’s Day Off” brought some of the classic scenes from those films to mind - which is never a bad thing.
Murphy plays Slide, a current and ex-convict that Josh knew as a child and sees everyday as he walks to work. When Josh hatches the idea of stealing the 4 million dollars he believes Arthur has in a hidden safe in his luxurious suite, Slide is the only ‘acquaintance’ he knows that can help them. Some of Slide’s moves are clever, some, such as telling the three would-be break in men to go steal something from the mall they’ve convened in & to keep them from just purchasing the merchandise tells them to leave their wallets on the table are so juvenile they barely deserve a smirk. However, having said that and seeing a mile away that Slide was going to take all their money, Murphy’s delivery of the line that tells the trio what morons they were is perfect. He took a scene that didn’t deserve a guffaw and made me spit one out in spite of my smugness.
“Tower Heist” isn’t memorable, but it was a pleasant distraction from the rest of my current life of recovering from hip replacement surgery. It doesn’t sound like much of one, but it IS an endorsement...

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


“The RUM DIARY” (Johnny Depp, Giovanni Ribisi, Michael Rispoli, Richard Jenkins, Aaron Eckhart & Amber Heard)

This is far and away the most coherent story concerning Hunter S. Thompson I’ve ever seen or read – But that’s not to say it’s cohesive. At times it’s a rambling mess of political unrest, the rickety future of the newspaper business, a property scheme involving rich people risking nothing to gain even more wealth and three mainland American reporters living in Puerto Rico in 1960 and finding nothing better to do than to drink rum practically every waking hour of every day... However, taken scene by scene, it is quite funny and Depp, playing a man named Paul Kemp (who is actually Thompson as it states at the end of the film) is actually one of the saner members of the crew.
I wasn’t planning on seeing this film, but it had been a few weeks since I was able to see a movie & it was either this or ‘Johnny English Reborn’ – fortunately my wife made the correct choice. I was impressed with the cast, however, I had just seen Richard Jenkins in “Let Me In”, so seeing him as the editor of the paper that hires ‘Kemp’ threw me off for a second as I flashed back on a scene in “Let Me In” where he disfigures himself in a rather gruesome way & so my stomach churned every time I saw him. Sure hope that feeling goes away with time...
I remember liking Giovanni Ribisi years ago but then he hit a couple of snags & seemed to disappear – here, he comes back with a vengeance as rogue reporter ‘Moburg’ who produces 470 proof alcohol in a homemade still set up in Kemp’s apartment.
The co-worker that takes Kemp under his wing is staff photographer Sala (Rispoli) These two become almost inseparable since the moment they meet and they segue from one drunken escapade to the next without taking a breather to stop & think about the idiotic situations they keep finding themselves embroiled in... But they are fun to watch (at times)
Then there’s the real estate developer, Sanderson (played by Aaron Eckhart) who starts throwing money at Kemp as soon as he lands on the island & then becomes indignant when Paul refuses to do his bidding. Despite all of his wealth, Sanderson's chief asset is his gorgeous girlfriend, Chenault (Amber Heard)
Speaking to the male readers – Am I the only one who noticed that Chenault without her ruby red lipstick isn’t all that sexy, while glossed up Chenault is incredibly hot?
The story is supposedly fact-based, taken from a H.S. Thompson novel – but if the man was drinking as much as Kemp was during his stay in Puerto Rico – he couldn’t possibly remember all that much of what went on!
Then there’s the land development side plot; I could understand it being a concern today – but in 1960? In Puerto Rico? & all Sanderson seems to do is give Kemp money & cars & show him how to live the ‘good life’ & in return, Kemp steals his boat? & Sanderson’s the bad guy?
If they stuck close to the book, & I doubt that - otherwise it wouldn’t have made ANY sense, being the ramblings of Hunter S. Thompson, it is awfully coincidental that Puerto Rico in 1960 is an awful lot like America, 2011 – political unrest, the newspaper business dying off, the greedy rich wanting to get richer at the expense of the poor & guys who show up drunk for work everyday & wonder why they lose their jobs.
Did they throw all that into the mix just so younger people could relate to the basic story despite all the drunken mishaps?
Still, it is humorous; like when Kemp uses the 470 proof alcohol as a flame thrower to escape from angry drunken Puerto Ricans that were going to kill him just because he knew Sanderson. Boy, I remember when I had my first beer...

Monday, October 10, 2011


“IDES OF MARCH” (Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Evan Rachel Wood, Marisa Tomei & Jeffrey Wright)

An impressive cast gives an impressive over-all performance in this politically-charged film, but it is Ryan Gosling’s character & portrayal that makes this a potential Best Picture contender.
I can see where a criticism for being TOO political would turn some viewers off, but I enjoyed the predicament that Steven Myers (Gosling) finds himself mired in as he found himself wading thru muck that kept getting thicker & thicker as the plot unraveled against him.
The set-up; George Clooney plays Governor Mike Morris, a democrat front-runner in the next presidential election. His lone opponent is an older, less exciting politician named Pullman (& as we Washingtonians all know – there is nothing duller than Pullman – Sorry, Cougar fans, but it’s true & you know it)
What Pullman has going for him is a savvy campaign organizer named Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti) who sees Steve Myers as being the difference between his candidate winning the party’s nomination or losing it, as Myers works for the charismatic, able to connect with the younger voters Governor Morris.
Philip Seymour Hoffman, flawless as always, plays Paul Zara, Morris’s chief advisor. Paul has been-thru-the-campaign-wars-many-times as well & is appalled when Steven tells him that he met with Duffy and how the opposition strategist tried to steal him away from the Morris team.
Evan Rachel Wood is Molly Stearns, the daughter of a current U.S. Senator who goes to work as an intern in the Morris-For-President campaign headquarters. She takes a shine to handsome Mr. Myers & throws herself at him. He catches her & the second time that they have sexual relations Molly’s cell phone goes off at 2:00 in the morning while she’s sleeping. Steven picks up the phone, which then goes dead. He asks about any ex-boyfriend’s that he has to worry about & she tells him there’s no one...
Jeffrey Wright is kind of boring as Senator Thompson, a man who holds the key for either candidate to succeed in winning the state of Ohio & more-than-likely propelling them to the democratic nomination. Gov. Morris dislikes the Senator & doesn’t want to ‘give in’ to the sleazeball’s demand of attaining a cabinet post in exchange for his endorsement. And I don't mean to demean Wright's performance, it is spot on as most Senator's are exceptionally boring...
Throw in Marisa Tomei as a reporter that will do anything to dig up any inside scoops, or dirty laundry to make a name for herself & this cast of characters makes for an intriguing stew in which to boil a pot full of plot.
The person who was on the other end of the 2:00 AM phone call & what he shared with Molly becomes the focal point which gets Steven embroiled in a scandal which could win or lose the nomination for either candidate.
How Steven decides to ‘fix’ the situation is what ends up costing him his career & possibly his life. The driving question running thru my mind during this film was – How is he going to get out of this mess?
Where “Ides Of March” failed on me though was in the final scene. I hated the way it ended. I wanted to hear the answer to the question that was asked just before the screen went black & the credits started to roll. Yes, I felt a bit cheated by the failure to disclose how this story was going to be ‘spun’ by the professional spinners, yet still, I did enjoy the ride up until I was cut off from any further communication by the filmmaker...


“REAL STEEL” (Hugh Jackman & Dakota Goyo)

AKA “Rock ‘em, Sock em Robots – The Movie”.
Set a mere nine years in the future, “Real Steel” takes place in 2020 & Charlie Kenton (Jackman) is a washed up ex-boxer that had a mediocre-at-best career & has delved into the ‘robot boxing’ biz that has taken America by storm (albeit mostly in remote backwoods places like run-down county fairs & dilapidated zoos)
Charlie is a hopeless ‘get rich quick’ schemer who always over-estimates the capabilities of his robots & always gets them destroyed – Thanks also in part to his lackadaisical operating skills. In the first robo-fight we see, Charlie’s latest acquisition is pitted against a live rodeo bull. The robot has the match well in hand until Charlie gets distracted by a hot little number in the stands that keeps winking at him. Charlie loses the bout & his life savings by thinking with his pecker rather than his brain.
Charlie then receives word that his ex-wife has died & he needs to show up in court to sign over his rights to the son they had to the boy’s Aunt Debbie (Hope Davis)
Charlie sees dollar signs in Debbie’s elderly spouse & makes a deal with the man behind Debbie’s back to take the 11 year old kid for three months so the old guy can take his wife to Italy. Upon their return, Max (Charlie’s son, played by the unfortunately named Dakota Goyo) will be turned over to Aunt Debbie & Charlie will receive a second cash paymeny of $50,000.
After purchasing & destroying another ‘legendary’ robo-boxer, Charlie takes Max on a trip to rob a robotic junkyard looking for usable parts to rebuild his fighter. After all, what better way is there to bond with your 11 year old than to show him you’re not only a hopeless loser, but a thief as well?
Showing off his parenting skills, Charlie nearly gets Max killed in the junkyard but they do happen upon an intact robot literally stuck in the mud. Charlie, ever the wise judge of robo-boxing talent sees a hunk of junk, but Max sees potential in Atom, the ‘sparring bot’ that he digs out of the mud (& steals – like father, like son)
Evangeline Lilly plays Bailey, Charlie’s on again/off again girlfriend & even though I initially thought she wasn’t good looking enough to attract a Hugh Jackman – She works because she is pretty enough to put up with a completely incompetent loser like ‘Charlie’.
Although ‘Real Steel’ turns into a sweet and mushy father & son bonding tale, it still has moments where you don’t want to start popping all the zits that form while you’re viewing this celluloid version of a Hershey’s Kiss.
The predictable finale was fun to watch – as a fan of Muhammad Ali, I had to admit that I enjoyed the way Atom 'rope-a-dopes' World Champion Boxing Robot Zeus in the Rocky-esque bout that Max helps to set up by being an annoying little braggart brat.
The thing with ‘Real Steel’ is that it comes up with a formula to entice all manners of movie-going masses into wanting to check it out – Chicks will enjoy the estranged father learning what it’s like to feel an emotion as his unknown offspring turns out to be a better ‘robot-trainer’ than the old man. Dudes will get off on the rock’em sock’em robot battles... Chicks will get to fawn over dreamy Hugh Jackman whenever he takes his shirt off, while dudes will get off on the rock’em sock’em robots. & chicks will giggle & go ‘aww’ when Max teaches Atom how to dance like an 11 year old white kid with absolutely no rhythm whatsoever & dudes will get off when Atom enters the ring & pulverizes his opponents.
For me, it was actually the relationship between Charlie & Atom that made this better than I expected; for Charlie gets to redeem his unfulfilled boxing career by showing his son’s fighter-bot how to box like a human.
So it has something to appeal to all ages, sexes & I. Q.’s – which means the public will love it, while I just found it to be mildly enjoyable...


“DREAM HOUSE” (Daniel Craig, Rachel Weisz & Naomi Watts)

Normally I steer clear of haunted house movies, but the upper echelon cast made me hopeful that this one would be better than the norm. It is, but it still has drawbacks.
For one thing, there aren’t enough characters – I knew the ‘actual’ killer had to be one of two people - & the only reason I was slightly surprised is that it turned out to be the most obvious of the two – the other possible character would have made for a more interesting outcome.
But it did set up nicely. Daniel Craig as Will moves into a new home with his wife, Libby (Rachel Weisz) & two young daughters. Goth teens appear in their basement one night holding a ritual for the family that was murdered there.
Naomi Watts plays Ann, the next door neighbor who constantly looks at Will as though she’s either deathly afraid of him, or deeply concerned for his well being.
Will finds out that Peter Ward is the name of the man who murdered his family in the house and that Ward was recently released from the local insane asylum. When he goes to the facility for the criminally insane to find out why Ward was set free, he is shown a video of the man when he was first brought in – A gruesome looking being with an ugly bullet wound scar in the back of his head is seen having a violent reaction to his incarceration – when the killer turns toward the camera, Peter Ward turns out to look exactly like Will. Is it the old ‘just a coincidence’ ploy or the tired ‘evil twin’ device?
Or is friendly easygoing Will actually Peter Ward; & if he is – who are those three females living with him in his house acting as though they are his wife & daughters?
It’s a potentially interesting plot – but unfortunately there aren’t enough characters introduced to make it a conundrum as to what the truth might actually be.
So this is basically a decently acted haunted house/ghost story that doesn’t challenge the viewer all that much. It’s O.K., but it had the potential to be much better...

Sunday, October 2, 2011

50 / 50

“50 / 50” (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen & Anna Kendrick)

If ever there was a feel good cancer film, this is it. I’ve always liked Gordon-Levitt, but this is the second humorous performance by Rogen this year - & the first where he’s actually playing someone who looks just like Seth Rogen.
“50 / 50” is based on the true story of what happened to an actual friend of Seth Rogen’s – so that makes it even more amazing since Rogen is basically playing himself & is the main reason this cancer drama is pretty damn funny.
My cousin’s 17 year old son asked me last week if I could make any film, as the director, which one would I have liked to have made. Being a narcissist, I answered “A Flickering Of Inner Light” (the title of my second novel) But of films that have already been made, I said “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” because it ran the gamut of emotions – it was seriously dramatic, hilariously funny and had a poignant, lump in the throat finale. “50 / 50”, though not anywhere near being on par with the quality of ‘Cuckoo’s’ does that as well. Nicholson had to do it all in ‘Cuckoo’s’, but here the load is shared by the three leads mentioned above.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Adam – his best friend Kyle (Rogen) is kind of a dickhead, but even though he tries to use Adam’s illness to get them both laid, there’s an underlying concern that Kyle shows that makes him acceptable. They both work at Seattle Public Radio, where unlike the radio station I worked at for 18 years, they never seem to air anything. But Adam’s working life is a minor portion of this film – what makes it beat are the relationships he has / had / & hopes to live long enough to get.
Bryce Dallas Howard plays Rachael, Adam's artist girlfriend who is just on the verge of becoming Adam’s permanent room mate when the tumor is discovered on Adam’s spine.
With cackling glee Kyle helps to bring that relationship to a crashing end, leaving Adam to fight off both his over-protective mother (Anjelica Huston) & the bimbos that Kyle wants to score with by using Adam’s sickness as an aphrodisiac.
Anna Kendrick gives another pleasant performance as Katie, Adam’s appointed psychologist/therapist who doesn’t exactly install a lot of confidence in Adam by revealing he’s her third patient... ever. But it is Katie who puts things in perspective for Adam on many levels.
The title comes from Adam’s research of his illness on a website that had ‘50/50’ as the chance of survival for this disease. As Kyle tells him, “Hey, if you were a casino game, you’d have the best odds!”
This is an excellent film, even with the hokey ending, which, I’ll be honest, if it didn’t end the way it did, I would have been disappointed, so I’m guilty this time of wanting the stereotypical ending & then not being disappointed when I got it. Some films earn my respect by giving me the unexpected, but I don’t think this one would have worked by doing that.
Not a bad performance in the cast – but I am concerned with Opie Cunningham’s daughter giving her second performance of 2011 playing a total b*tch! Okay, Bryce, we get it, you can play unlikable, now gives us someone friendly please!
Like ‘Dolphin Tale’ this is one of those films that if you say anything bad about it, you’re just mean...


Saturday, October 1, 2011


“The GUARD” (Brendan Gleeson, Don Cheadle & Mark Strong)

Sgt. Gerry Boyle (Brendan Gleeson) is the Archie Bunker of Irish cops; he routinely spouts out racial insults, but in a way that makes you laugh – You know he’s just saying them for shock value and always raises his eyebrows with a quizzical, ‘Did I say something wrong?’ expression.
The main reason Brendan Gleeson makes Boyle acceptable is that you soon discover Gerry isn’t exactly a racist because he hates EVERYBODY no matter what color their skin happens to be. Which should make him a humanist, but somehow it doesn’t work THAT way...
The body of an unknown man is found in an abandoned apartment with a bullet hole in his forehead, passages from the bible stuffed into his mouth and the number ‘5 ½’ written on the wall in the victim’s blood, ala ‘Helter Skelter’.
The chief suspect is shown on video surveillance knocking the then living corpse out in a bar fight the previous evening. But the suspect, though a definite hot head with violent tendencies has an alibi for the rest of the evening and is released.
When American FBI agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle) arrives to brief the local law enforcement officials about a quartet of drug smugglers who are planning a 500 million (“That’s half a billion,” someone always has to add) heroin shipment in Ireland, Sgt. Boyle interrupts the briefing with racial comments that make it seem as though he wants to be dismissed for insubordination by his superiors. Just when Agent Everett has had enough of Boyle’s inappropriate behavior, Gerry informs the FBI man that one of his heroin smugglers was found in an apartment building with a bullet in his head...

Things get even rockier between the pair when Boyle informs ‘Wendell’ that he’ll get started on the case in two days as tomorrow is his day off.
At one point Wendell tells Gerry, “I don’t know if you’re the dumbest cop I’ve ever met – or the smartest.
Gleeson & Cheadle play well off of one another, but this is Gleeson’s baby from start to finish. The serious plot of two officers of the law trying to track down a trio of drug smugglers that will kill anyone that crosses them isn’t taken all that seriously by the script – In fact, oftentimes, the bad guys are just as funny as the good guys – which made them hard to dislike.
Mark Strong plays another mega-villain with relish as Clive, the no nonsense member of the drug smuggling ring. & pretty Katarina Cas plays Gabriela, the wife of Gerry’s missing partner, Aidan. Gabriela’s relationship with her husband is as unorthodox as the rest of the film and despite the many odd characters & situations, ‘The Guard’ pulls you in and holds your interest.
But again, everyone bows to Gleeson here; Gerry, an unmarried, weary policeman uses ‘escorts’ on a regular basis and so he is constantly fondling his privates as though he has unwelcome guests in his pubic region. One of the more memorable scenes comes when Boyle uses his itching problem to his advantage after being placed into a dangerous situation.
There are no wasted scenes in ‘The Guard’, the story is compelled forward at a good pace leading up to the climax when Gerry & Wendell find themselves going up against an entire drug cartel without any backup. Although it is easy to tell that this production is ‘low budget’ – the entire production isn’t as slick as a ‘Hollywood’ film, the soundtrack sounds like someone brought in a bunch of old vinyl records and slapped them on the turntable when a musical interlude was necessary, but I thoroughly enjoyed ‘The Guard’ and the main reason was Brendan Gleeson’s performance. Mock me if you will, but I’d say he should get a best actor nomination because this is my favorite performance of the year so far...

**I want to apologize to anyone that reads my reviews - I have been having trouble getting into my Google account lately, which is why my blogs have been so sporadic of late. If you know of anyone that likes films & might enjoy reading my sarcastic ramblings, please invite them to Google 'Terry's Movie Reviews', just in case
they're thinking of dropping my account due to lack of interest! THANKS!**


“DOLPHIN TALE” (Nathan Gamble, Winter, Harry Connick, Jr., Ashley Judd & Morgan Freeman)

The ONLY complaint I have about this film is that it plays the handicapped card to death – but what is more sympathetic than a wounded soldier and a little wheel chair bound girl with one leg? Well, for one thing, a dolphin that had to have its injured tail amputated, & this movie throws them all into the mix in a tearjerker extravaganza.
Harry Connick, Jr. & Ashley Judd were previously matched in the bizarrely interesting “Bug” – THAT was not a family-friendly flick – “Dolphin Tale” is SO family friendly it should have a rating that insists no one Over the age of 17 not be admitted without a child in tow.
Nathan Gamble plays Sawyer, a fatherless boy that looks up to his swimming champion cousin Kyle (Austin Stowell) When Kyle joins the army and is sent overseas, Sawyer retracts into his room – venturing out only to take a summer school class.
Sawyer’s life changes dramatically when a man on the beach calls to him and asks if he has a cell phone. Sawyer sees that the man has found a beached dolphin tangled in the ropes of a crab trap. Using the Swiss army knife that Kyle gave him, Sawyer does the best he can to free the dying creature. When the sea animal rescue squad shows up to take the dolphin to their compound, Sawyer tracks down their location to see if the dolphin survived.
Befriended by Hazel (Cozi Zuehlsdorff) the daughter of the doctor that runs the facility, Sawyer is invited to join the crew when it becomes obvious that Winter (the dolphin) responds positively when Sawyer is nearby – recognizing him as the one that cut her free of the crab trap.
Other than Morgan Freeman, as Dr. McCarthy, a physician who specializes in prosthetics, “Dolphin Tale” doesn’t have a single impressive actor – Ashley Judd is given little to do as Lorraine, Sawyer’s mom and Rufus, the pelican that provides the comic relief from all the drama succeeds mainly due to his goofy appearance rather than his acting abilities.
Harry Connick, Jr. as Dr. Clay Haskett doesn’t have to act – In fact no one has to as it’s the dolphin that makes this film special.
This is one of those films that if you don’t enjoy it, you’d better go have an EKG examination because you may not have a heart. The only ‘bad guy’ is the unseen billionaire that wants to buy the compound & turn it into something profitable. But that dilemma always seems to be on the backburner as Winter’s survival is everyone’s major concern.
Now that I think of it - there are two rather sexually explicit scenes involving Sawyer & Winter - but it's consentual, so I guess that keeps it 'family' friendly...
A sweet, touching, emotional film – I had to keep flicking tears out of the corners of my eyes, which is very troublesome for me since my father was one of those macho guys that couldn’t stand cry babies. But something tells me even the old man would have had a hard time keeping his eyes dry during this charming ‘tale’ of an innocent & adorable ‘fish’ (as Dr. McCarthy keeps mis-labeling Winter) that has to learn how to swim with a prosthetic tail or be put out her misery.
I just hope Hootie isn’t in the theatre when you see ‘cause he’s gonna be bawling his head off...


“CONTAGION” (Matt Damon, Jude Law, Laurence Fishburne, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Winslet & Marion Cotillard)

This film is meant to frighten hypochondriacs and germophobes. Not being either of those, I wasn’t frightened at all by this so-called ‘gripping’, ‘pulse-pounding’ film. What made the movie even slightly interesting to me was the political aspect it brought forth – That in this country the gap being the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ is widening with every breath a Republican politician takes.
So while the film is full of well-known actors playing bit roles as people who are probably going to die, the only one I found intriguing was Jude law’s Alan Krumwiede; a conspiracy theorist blogger who catches the disease, gets a hold of an experimental drug that counteracts the virus and begins to expose the medical profession and their link to the filthy rich that controls the government. “Why isn’t this drug being given to the people?” Alan asks Laurence Fishburne’s Dr. Cheever during a nationally televised debate.
“Because it hasn’t passed safety regulations,” the doctor replies, obviously lying as the sweat forms on his brow.
Of course Alan’s proclamations don’t help matters as riots break out across the country from the filthy poor that are told there isn’t enough vaccine – for them...

That’s the interesting part of “Contagion”, unfortunately the bulk of the film centers on the disease – how fast it’s spreading and how did it get into the United States.
And in doing that the film frequently feels like a documentary. Maps with large red blotches are shown and it’s just as dangerous as during presidential elections as the red blotches are bad. Newscasters smile wistfully as they project the number of humans expected to die from the virus in millions.

Mitch Emhoff’s wife, Beth, played by Gwyneth Paltrow, returns from a trip to Hong Kong looking pale and weak. Soon she goes into convulsions and Mitch (Matt Damon) rushes her to the hospital. When the doctor comes out and informs Mitch that he ‘did all he could do’ to save his wife, Mitch responds, “Well, can I talk to her?”
A few days later, Mitch’s son gets sick and dies. Although Damon does a decent job playing someone who is immune to the disease, his character doesn’t seem to get all that angry or does much grieving after losing his wife & son suddenly and mysteriously. He has a daughter that wasn’t home when mom brought the disease into the house, so he has to protect her and I guess he makes that his main focus instead of going into shock with grief.
Marion Cotillard as Dr. Lenora Orantes is put into a dangerous position (I won’t reveal why) but just as her predicament intensifies, the movie leaves her story dangling without coming back to check on what’s happening to her. When she finally returns to the screen, there isn’t much revealed on what she’s been going through with her dilemma and the resolve just kind of fizzles out...
Big names, such as Demetri Martin (seriously, someone hired him to ‘act’ in a film after ‘Taking Woodstock’?) & I-thought-he-died-years-ago, Elliott Gould play doctors (the latter more convincingly than the former)
& Bryan Cranston, becoming quite the bit player in his burgeoning film career, plays the head of the military that’s forced to keep the undeserving of medical treatment paupers in line...
As I said, if you’re one of those people that won’t shake hands with anyone or wears gloves all the time in fear of catching something nasty from your fellow diseased-riddled humans, you’ll probably be horrified by this non-gripping, pulse slowing, non-action flick. But if you like to see one over-rated actress bite the big one before her bland acting style starts to annoy you, then there’s at least one scene in ‘Contagion’ that you’ll enjoy as much as I did..
Otherwise, it’s a showcase for Jude Law to look unattractive (I couldn’t keep my eyes off of that crooked tooth!) and act quite the oddball even though he’s the only voice of reality in this film. It has its moments, thanks to Jude, but overall, it’s kind of boring...


“I DON’T KNOW HOW SHE DOES IT” (Sarah Jessica Parker, Greg Kinnear, Pierce Brosnan & Olivia Munn)

I don’t know how they green lit this. However, I was expecting it to be the leading candidate for worse movie of 2011 & it’s not that – It’s Bottom 10 material, but not the worst - & the reason for that is Olivia Munn – her character (& attractiveness) save this from being total dredge.
Olivia plays the unfortunately named ‘Momo’; Sarah Jessica Parker’s assistant at the banking firm she toils for night & day, on weekends & holidays 24/7 a week, 365 per year. Parker’s Kate is married with children; Momo is single & happily unattached. Hence, Kate is annoying, Momo is sarcastic & likeable. But the main reason Momo/Munn save this film is simple; they are seen onscreen together frequently, giving the viewer something pleasant to look at instead of Horseface. I’m sure the females in the crowd of 9 (Myself & an obviously senile invalid being the only males) were concentrating on the horse that used to be on “Sex & The City” – And I’m not all that sure that the muddleheaded old-timer wasn’t gazing at the woman with the enormous proboscis as well, but I found it to be a great relief to be able to gaze upon Ms. Munn instead of Sham during scenes involving Momo.
Okay, chauvinistics aside, this movie brings nothing new to the chick flick stable. And I use that word to make Ms. Parker feel at home. SJP’s Kate is the reason for the title – she has two small children, an unemployed husband (who acquires a well paying job early in the story) and works for a demanding boss named Clark (Played by Frasier Crane of TV fame)
Kate’s already hectic life of pretending to be a good mother (she buys a pie & tries to pass it off as one she baked for her daughter’s school bake-off) is further complicated when Clark assigns her to work with Jack Abelhammer (Pierce Brosnan) a V.I.P. out of New York to help them land a big client.
The so-called comedy in this farce runs along these lines – Kate receives two emails; one from Jack saying he’s looking forward to meeting her & one from her best friend, Alison (Christina Hendricks) asking what she’s up to. Kate replies to the second email first saying she ‘has to go to New York and blow somebody’ – then she replies to Jack saying she’s looking forward to meeting him as well... Gee, can anybody guess what happened next?
Other than saying ‘thank you’ repeatedly, Kate isn’t the type of person that uses phrases like ‘blow somebody’ – so this lame attempt at humor doesn’t even fit her character.
After husband Richard (Greg Kinnear) gets a full time job, Kate’s lists of things to do, which she concocts in the dead of night while everyone else is sleeping, keep her up for hours... the strange thing is, there’s nothing on these lists that really mean anything. Take kids to school, get balloons for party, blow Jack in New York... Okay, I made that last one up – but you get the idea – her lists are mostly things that are done on a daily basis – you don’t have to make a list of things you do routinely.
In another lame comedic effort, Kate enters a crowded elevator with about 2 dozen balloons (for the aforementioned party) She pleads for someone to hold the elevator for her while she crams in with her massive display of blown up rubbery things; While I’m thinking, “Just wait for the next elevator you selfish dingbat,” Gramps and his keeper sitting in front of me are laughing their butts off as the balloons begin to pop... That’s when I began to wonder; “What is it that I’m not getting here?” Then it dawned on me, “Oh yeah, I’m not senile... yet.”
What else bothered me? On a drive to Grandma’s house for Thanksgiving, Richard encourages his family to sing along with Bill Withers’ “Lovely Day” . . . Like anyone on the planet knows any of the words to f***ing “Lovely Day” other than the title, which is repeated as often as “I know” is in Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine”
Seems I always have to take a shot at the music when it irritates me, but that’s just the way I am...
Seth Myers plays Kate’s nemesis at work, Chris Buntz, and he makes one of the dumbest statements I’ve ever heard; “No one goes to a pet store and says ‘I want a bird that cannot fly.” Huh???? EVERYONE who goes to a pet store says they want a bird that cannot fly otherwise the bloody thing will fly away first chance it gets & you’re out the cash you spent on the bird, you twit!
Several characters are shown after scenes as though they are being interviewed documentary-style as they comment on what just happened to Kate – a lot of the dialogue from these scenes seems forced (as the above bird commentary) except when delivered by Olivia’s Momo – the few lines that made me chuckle slightly were Ms. Munn’s.
Is this ‘style’ of interviewing characters an attempt to draw in reality show viewers? I ask because I don’t watch reality shows, but when I see clips of them on the shows that make fun of reality shows (Chelsea Lately & Talk Soup) this seems to be a major tool among the trashy TV veneers.
So I disliked this film for several reasons - let’s not forget the absurdity that decent looking guys like Greg Kinnear & Pierce Brosnan would find Sham attractive – but thanks to Olivia Munn there is something about it to like.
Okay, let’s all singalong with Bill; “It’s going to be a lovely day, lovely day, lovely day, lovely day. Gonna be a lovely day, lovely day, lovely day, lovely day. We’re going to have a lovely day, lovely day, lovely day, lovely day. Let’s all have a lovely day, lovely day, lovely day, lovely day...”
Sorry, those are the only words I know I know I know I know I know I know I know I know I know I know I know I know I know I know I know I know...
Bill Withers . . . the master of redundancy!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


“The DEBT” (Helen Mirren/Jessica Chastain, Tom Wilkenson/Marton Csokas, Ciaran Hinds/Sam Worthington & Jesper Christensen)

The best film of the year so far – without question. I loved this movie! The only flaw it has is the fact that none of the younger versions of the characters look anything like the older versions. The only way we know Helen Mirren is Rachel 30 years later is due to the scar on her cheek & the only way Sam Worthington morphs into Ciaran Hinds is due to extensive botched plastic surgery...
That easily dismissible annoyance aside – this is a great film. Best one I’ve seen in a few years. At one point I felt they had ruined it by revealing something too soon, but when they showed why that scene was included, it made the film even better.
Opening in 1997 with Rachel (Helen Mirren) sitting in the front row of an audience congratulating her daughter, Sarah, on the publication of a book she wrote about an exploit her mother & father went through in 1966. Without saying a word, you can tell that Rachel has a problem with what is taking place – she appears to want to force herself to look proud of Sarah’s accomplishment, yet at the same time,
her eyes reveal that she feels ashamed.
Obviously something about this project doesn’t sit well with Rachel – and to find out why we are transported back to East Berlin in 1966 when she (Now played by Jessica Chastain) meets with her two male counterparts; Stephan (Marton Csokas) & David (Sam Worthington) They are given the assignment to capture Nazi war criminal Dr. Dieter Vogel, otherwise known as the ‘Surgeon of Birkenau’ (Sounds like they’re saying ‘beer canal’ so I had to look it up)
Vogel is practicing as an gynecologist, so Rachel is the only choice to see him as a patient. It becomes her task to take heir doktor down so they can kidnap him & get him out of East Germany to stand trial. When she does this, it is a both exhilarating & mildly erotic &, as in a lot of the films major scenes, heartpoundingly* suspenseful.
Problems arise when the trio can’t locate any allies to take Dr. Vogel off their hands, so they have to keep him prisoner for several weeks. This is where the film gets its Oscar caliber muscle as Jesper Christensen shines in his role as Vogel when he confronts David with tales of why it was so easy to exterminate Jews. “Why do you think it only took 4 soldiers to walk 1,000 Jews to the gas chamber?” the disgusting excuse for a human being taunts, “Because they were weak people who only thought of them selves. Not one of them would risk their own life to save the others.”
That scene – very powerful & one I’ll remember for a long, long time – opened my eyes to what the Nazi’s were. You wonder how an entire country of people could be warped by an insane leader, & it really comes down to the strong devouring the weak. I’ve known a few people in my life that were like that (To a much weaker degree, of course) But who doesn’t know someone that will take advantage of another ‘because’ that other person allows them to? The Nazi's, of course, were the ultimate sick f---ing bastards...
When they return to 1997 for the finale; the closure, if you will – Stephan is now Tom Wilkenson, & he’s an a—hole. David, botched surgeries & all, is Ciaran Hinds & he’s a sniveling little fraidy-cat. And once again, Rachel has to bail them out of their predicament.
It’s a great story – well told and excellently acted. I think I could put all six lead actors on my list of Oscar candidates & Jesper Christensen is my leader for best supporting actor. Go see ‘The Debt’, people. If you don’t like it, then just wait for ‘Zookeeper’ to come out on DVD & stay home for the rest of your life...

* As a movie critic I feel it is my duty to make up my own words every once in while...


“RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES” (James Franco, Andy Serkis, Freida Pinto & John Lithgow)

For the second time, a franchise that I never gave a damn about is re-worked & ‘fixed’ into something I find entertaining. The first was Batman – I hated the Michael Keaton incarnation but when they brought it back with Christian Bale & superior supporting actors, I liked it. With “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”, it wasn’t the actors that drew me to give it a shot but a single scene from the preview – a gorilla leaping into a helicopter & beating the living daylights out of the man in the passenger seat. That looked pretty frickin' cool, so I read some reviews & they were mostly positive – saying 'Rise...' was intelligently written to at least seem plausible. I was surprised to learn that that not a single real primate was used – they were all computer generated. With the scene of the gorilla & seeing the apes’ ringleader, Caesar, looking very realistic, I was curious to see how it turned out. &, as I’ve written before, I’m always up for a rousing tale where mankind is destroyed – especially by the animals that we torture & mistreat on a daily basis.
With the exception of the gorilla (Buck) leaping into the helicopter, I was very pleased with this film. The odd part though, is that I don’t think I’ll have much interest in any sequels. THIS was the story I wanted to see; and when they ruined the leaping into the helicopter scene (The preview angle is much more thrilling to watch) I don’t know if I care to see the next installment.
For maybe the first time ever I wasn’t shaking my head wondering how James Franco keeps getting acting jobs – he does a decent job here as Will Rodman – the scientist that invents ALZ-112, a formula that cures Alzheimer’s disease. Of course, such formulas need to be tested on animals before being given to humans & Caesar’s mother, Bright Eyes, is one of the guinea pigs. Meant to reactivate brain tissue for Alzheimer patients, the drug increases intelligence in the tested chimps.
The reason for Will’s over-anxiousness to find a cure is due to the fact that his father (John Lithgow) has Alzheimer’s and is fading quickly.
The scenes of Caesar as a young chimp are clearly unrealistic – Still, it’s a kick to watch the chimpanzee grow from a ‘kid’ with a perpetual look of wonderment upon his face into a hardened, angry, dangerous animal that is much more intelligent than his captors (Brian Cox & Tom Felton as a father & son team that run a primate enclosure where Caesar is imprisoned for attacking one of Will’s neighbors)
When Will finally gets an injunction to have Caesar released back into his custody, the chimp turns his back on his one-time ‘daddy'. My wife whispered, “Why did he do that?” I told her, “Because he’d rather be king of the apes than some human’s ‘pet’." Was I finally right for once? See the film.
Andy Serkis (of Gollum & King Kong fame) plays Caesar & I’d said he should be given some consideration for Best Supporting Actor – One, it’s been a weak year for Supporting roles so far & Two, I knew exactly what was going thru Caesar’s mind in almost every scene just by his facial expressions – that’s the sign of higher quality acting. Now, does he lose a few points for being computer-generated?
Yes, that’s why I just said he should be ‘considered’...
I was thoroughly entertained by this film from start to finish – Like I said, the only let down was the helicopter scene – I liked Buck from the moment he came onscreen because he was the main reason I became interested in this project. For some unknown reason the director decided to go with a different angle than the preview & it isn’t nearly as breathtaking as the trailer – very odd choice. Still, the scene is powerful because of why Buck makes the leap in the first place.
I remember seeing the original ‘Planet of The Apes’ & wasn’t very impressed by it – Never cared for Charleton Heston’s over-pompous acting style & actors speaking thru rubber ape masks didn’t convince me they were actual monkeys – this film, after Caesar becomes a full grown chimp, is quite realistic with the way the primates are presented. You can still tell in some scenes that they’re not real, but for the most part they are impressive creations. But it’s the story that drew me in; this is the Rise of Caesar more than anything else & because they make you care about him – showing him from a baby to a wide-eyed youth to a resentful warrior/leader makes it hard not to cheer for him and against those cruel heartless humans. That’s another thing – I didn’t find myself rooting for the monkeys in the rubber masks during the original “POTA” movies, but I did in this one - & I gotta tell you - it was pretty frickin’ cool...


“The HELP” (Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Bryce Dallas Howard, Octavia Spencer, Jessica Chastain, Allison Janney, Sissy Spacek & Cicely Tyson)

According to EW, the one entertainment magazine I read, this is the second greatest film ever made (“Crazy Stupid Love” being the best) It’s a good film – well worth viewing, but I wouldn’t call it an Oscar shoe-in by any means. & the reason for that I won’t reveal in this review because that would be a spoiler. But the ‘big twist’ that becomes the main focus of the second half of the film would never take place - and that fact reduces a lot of the value of the overall film.
As a poignant story about what black people (maids in particular) had to put up with in the Deep South of this country (specifically Jackson, Mississippi) in the late 1950’s & early ‘60’s, it makes a powerful statement on an era that this country should hang its collective head in shame over. Very difficult to watch at times, “The Help” would have been the perfect film to release back in the early
70’s, because the type of people that you come to despise in this film would see just how despicable they were a lot sooner than they will now. But then again,
a—holes like Bryce Dallas Howard’s Hilly & her flock of racists housewives never would have gone to see a film with Negroes in it. And I’m not calling Bryce a nasty name – just her character. It is a testament to her acting that I hated Hilly & wished she’d die.
And that’s what the writer was banking on by creating the ‘pie’ that serves as Hilly’s come-uppance. Problem for me being – she never would have taken more than one bite.
The two stars of this film with very impressive performances are Emma Stone’s ‘Skeeter’ & Viola Davis’ Aibileen. Eugenia, nicknamed Skeeter, wants to be a writer. She takes a job at the local newspaper writing the housekeeping tips column. Problem is, she doesn’t know anything about housekeeping, so she enlists maid Aibileen to provide responses to the letters that come in. Soon Skeeter realizes she has a gold mine in Aibileen and comes up with the idea to write a novel telling the real-life stories of the tribulations black maids in the South were having while caring for their employer’s white children in order to provide a life for their own families. Aibileen has a tragedy in her past that makes her the perfect subject to begin with.
Needing more tales of racial abuse, Skeeter finds an eager participant in Aibileen’s best friend, Minny (Octavia Spencer) Whereas Aibileen is quietly reluctant to spill too much of herself for Skeeter’s project, Minny is a leave no stone unturned gadabout when it comes time for her to reveal all of the incidences where she was treated like an animal by her white bosses.
There is a nice mixture of ‘decent’ white folk & extremely prejudice scumbags in the film; Allison Janney plays Skeeter’s mother, Charlotte – a bigot who comes to regret her discretions. Sissy Spacek, as Hilly’s mother, doesn’t appear to be racially slanted at all, but that could also be due to the fact that she’s a major crackpot. Then Jessica Chastain’s Celia couldn’t be a sweeter person, though somewhat ditzy and overly anxious when dealing with newly hired maid Minny.
Cicely Tyson has a touching cameo as the maid that helped to raise Skeeter.
“Help!” also features 8 new songs by The Beatles, the best being the title song... oh, wait a minute – wrong ‘Help!’. Sorry.
Which reminds me of an error I noticed in the credits – the song “Jackson” is credited as being written by Leiber & Stoller – it was not. It was written by Rogers & Wheeler. Plus, they use the unmusical Cash & Carter version instead of the better Sinatra & Hazelwood cover... Pretty bad when Nancy Sinatra is a better singer than you are.
There have been plenty of ‘mistakes’ dealing with the times that critics have been pointing out – stupid things like the vacuum they used wasn’t invented until 1965 and this film supposedly takes place in the early sixties! The only one that jumped out at me was when Skeeter uses Liquid Paper to ‘white out’ a typographical error. Mrs. Nesmith’s invention may be old hat by today’s standards, but I’m quite certain it wasn’t available to the masses in 1963...
But that’s nitpicking – which I am very good at, but shouldn’t be doing it here. This is a very good film, one you should take your grandparents to see, if they were in their youth during that era. My parents were racists – most of my older relatives were racists. One relative, after I reprimanded them for using the ‘n’ word very derogatorily, used the excuse, “that’s just the way I was brought up.” That’s B.S. – I was brought up that way as well, but then I had a black classmate in the second grade & I realized he’s just like any other kid except for his skin color. Now, it’s time for the older generation to ‘grow up’ – Go see ‘The Help” & feel ashamed if you were one of ‘those’ people that mistreated someone just because their skin was darker than yours.
Lecture over. Wonderful job by everyone involved in this film. Except the secret ingredient would have made Minny's pie inedible... Not that I’ve ever eaten one of Minny’s pies...