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...


“30 MINUTES OR LESS” (Jesse Eisenberg, Danny McBride, Aziz Ansari & Nick Swardson)
Not a stellar cast by any means, but because it had a ‘Zombieland’ connection I decided to give it a shot. It’s not bad, but it’s also not all that funny. I think there were times when they meant it to be & actors like McBride simply don’t know how to be funny so it didn’t produce any laughs during his scenes, but it seemed to be more of a ‘statement’ on using terrorists threats to get what one wants in today’s society.
Apparently something similar to the plot of ‘30 Minutes’ actually took place a few years ago & so many critics decided this film was just in bad taste because of that & panned it. Another reason I wanted to check it out for myself.
Jesse Eisenberg plays pizza delivery driver Nick. Danny McBride plays a useless pot smoking alcoholic named Dwayne. Aziz Ansari plays Chet – Nick’s best friend whom he breaks up with after Nick admits that he slept with Chet’s sister, Kate (Dilshad Vadsaria)
Nick Swardson plays Travis, the perfect companion for McBride’s Dwayne as he too is one of those comic actors that rarely says anything funny.
The whole idea of the film is that Dwayne wants to hire a hit man to kill his ex-marine father (Fred Ward) so he can inherit his house & collect on his life insurance. But first he needs money to pay off the hired killer (Michael Pena as Chango)
Dwayne & buddy Travis devise a plan where they use pizza delivery boy Nick by strapping a bomb-vest to him & tell him to rob a bank or they’ll detonate the bomb.
“When you have the money, call this number & I’ll give you the code to deactivate the bomb,” Dwayne tells Nick. Nick, in his panic, goes to Chet despite their recent falling out. Chet teaches elementary school children, so when he discovers Nick has a bomb strapped to his chest he yells in a high-pitched voice, “You have a weapon of mass destruction on you & you decide the best place to go was to a building full of children?”
Unfortunately, Ansari delivers ALL of his lines in the same high-pitched voice throughout the remainder of the film... Yes, it gets monotonous.
However, as a ‘statement’ on today’s world, “30 Minutes Or Less” is a decent film – As a comedy... well, let’s just say that it ain’t no “Zombieland”.


“ZOOKEEPER” (Kevin James & Rosario Dawson)

The first film I remember Kevin James being in was “Hitched” & I gave him a decent grade for what I thought was an above average click flick. Since then, James has partnered up with Adam Sandler & has created some of the most unfunniest comedies in the history of filmdom.
Continuing the cycle of abnormally obese guys matching up with women that would never be caught dead with a lard ball like Kevin James, here he opens by proposing to the preppie-looking-but-nonetheless-way-over-his-head Leslie Bibb & when he later asks co-worker Kate, played by very beautiful Rosario Dawson, to go out with him she eagerly accepts as though she was hoping the plain looking chubby guy would notice her... Filmmakers – when you do sh*t like this it takes all the believability out of your movies!
Stop with the hot chicks falling for fat guys routine, okay? It doesn’t happen in real life unless the lardass in question also happens to be a billionaire. Good looking women don’t fall for run of the mill beer-bellied fat asses just because they’re nice guys. Maybe you beer-bellied fat ass writers are hoping to start a trend by making movies where this happens, but it’s not going to work. I mean, Rosario Dawson & Kevin James as a romantic couple – one, where she seems more attracted to him than he is to her, no less? Hello, reality! & who wants to imagine those two having sex? If he was on top, we’d be worried that his chubby little arms are going to give out & he’ll crush her – or, if she mounts him, she’d never be able to see anything but his hairy naval in her face & I’m pretty sure that would be somewhat of a turn off.

Well, that’s my review of ‘Zookeeper’ – see it at your own risk.

You want to know why I bothered? $3 tickets. It was hot out. I’ve always been a sucker for talking animal movies. One of my favorite trivia questions to ask is – what was the first thing Mr. Ed said to Wilbur Post?
‘Zookeeper’ features a plethora of bad actors as the voices of the zoo animals – perhaps that was another reason why it failed so miserably. Nick Nolte as Bernie the Gorilla did all right but the situations they put him in were so absurd, it was simply too stupid to enjoy. Master thespians Sylvester Stallone, Cher & Adam Sandler voice lions & monkeys who appear to be badly in need of acting lessons. Maya Rudolph voices the Giraffe becoming one of the most annoying talking animals ever created. & they really went for broke in casting James’ nemesis for Leslie Bibb by putting Joe Rogan in the role. Can’t get any more top line than that, can ya?
The most puzzling thing about this film is what was Rosario thinking when she agreed to appear in this obvious flop? She deserves better; the rest of the cast I’m sure felt right at home making this crap...