Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Safe House (2012)

Directed By: Daniel Espinosa

Rating: R

Runtime: 115 minutes

"Safe House" is a film that attempts to outsmart itself with a plot focused on the unethical top secret government wrongdoings that are threatened to be exposed for all to see. It's a plot that we've seen time and time again, where the good guys must battle the relentless government forces in order to expose the truth. A few films that come to mind include "Enemy of the State" and "Conspiracy Theory," where there is a strong focus on hiding or covering up the truth to save the status of corrupt societal elitists.

Overall, "Safe House" is a a film I would describe as a good one-time viewing. With veteran actor Denzel Washington, who plays wanted ex-government liason Tobin Frost, we are sure to be engrossed in his natural ability to take on pretty much any character role given to him. And with much surprise, Ryan Reynolds turns from being the funny man on the screen to that of Matt Weston, the rookie safe house operator who just wants the chance to prove himself in the field.

Well, Matt gets his wish for field experience, and a bit more than he bargained for when Tobin Frost is transported to his safe house for... safe keeping? What ensues involves acts of questionable ethics followed by a raid that results in the safe house not being so safe anymore. Having to act quickly or face an inevitable death, Weston and Frost flee the scene as Weston must figure out his next move, involving Frost's safe transport to another holding facility.

As with most corrupt government action flicks, there is a lot of bloodshed, shooting, and car chase scenes. The adrenaline most certainly is pumping throughout Weston and Frost's escapades to seek refuge without getting killed all the time. Emotions are constantly being tested to their limits, and we believe this as Frost reveals the vile and violent world of Weston's employer, only Weston believes that he's working for the good guys, not the bad guys. So who's on what side and who can you trust? Manipulation, double-crosses, and devious minds are what gives this film its momentum because it makes you think. Yes, actions most certainly can speak louder than words, but understanding the reason behind such actions is what brings out true awareness. If it weren't for Washington, I probably would have passed this film up, but his performance is nod worthy. With some reservation, I give my thumbs up.

Thumbs UP      

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Albert Nobbs (2011)

Directed By: Rodrigo Garcia

Rating: R

Runtime: 113 minutes

Glenn Close is most certainly an actress of many talents, which she proves time and time again. We've watched her perform as the psychotic temptress in "Fatal Attraction" and more recently as top-notch hard-as-nails New York City lawyer Patty Hewes in the popular television series "Damages." Now, we get to see Ms. Close in a whole new light for her role as Albert Nobbs, a humble hard-working woman living in late 19th century Ireland. 

"Albert Nobbs" is the story of a woman with a victimized past who decides to take on a male persona and become a waiter at an upscale hotel in Dublin. In a society dominated by the male hierarchy, "Albert Nobbs" explores the world of false identities and hopeless dreams. Nobbs, our main character, has a past that seems to claw at her almost everyday. It's the reason that she has changed her identity and seeks to create a family of her own, complete with a wife - if that's even possible! Through her long withstanding service at the hotel, Nobbs has saved a healthy sum of money, which will be used to open her own Tobacco store. Her fortune will be complete with her vision of a proper partner, a chambermaid named Helen, played by Mia Wasikowska.

Close's performance portraying a man deserves a head nod - my goodness she even sounds like a man! Her facial expressions and general mannerisms when playing Nobbs are effective and gives us a thorough insight as to how plagued and intimidated this poor soul really is. Lips pursed, shoulders straight, and eyes that constantly dart around the room, Nobbs appears to be panicked and scared to death throughout most of the film. This makes sense, doesn't it? A woman playing at being a man would most certainly be a bit paranoid with the ruse. What if somebody finds out?

Not only do we find false identities in this film, but we also see false intentions as Nobbs is baited along by the beautiful Helen, who walks with him only to receive the benefits of luxurious gifts. Helen is a woman attracted to the likes of the bad boy boiler named Joe. Although Nobbs can promise her a safe future, Helen keeps hold of her false hopes to run away to America with smooth talking Joe. If you're the kind of person who hangs onto the happily-ever-after scenario, then perhaps this film is not for you. Just know that the ending is appropriate for the film's tone and everything ends up as it should be, no strings attached.   

Thumbs UP

Friday, August 24, 2012

Easy A (2010)

Directed By: Will Gluck

Rating: PG-13

Runtime: 92 minutes

Sit back and enjoy the show. Although I had heard good things about this film, I just now got around to seeing it. "Easy A" is a refreshing lighthearted high-school coming-of-age story, complete with all the awkward incidents and accompanying feelings experienced by everyone who is just trying to fit in. I remember high school and I cringe. I think "Easy A" thrives on such past experiences to let us know that high school takes itself way too seriously, considering its harboring the developing minds of awkward adolescents, which is rather funny when you view the scene years later from your living room couch. 

Olive, played by Emma Stone, is a high school girl who studies, does her homework, has some friends, and as she describes it, sort of blends in the with the student body landscape. There is nothing special about her status, until one day she gets caught in a small lie that turns out to have huge consequences - she tells her best friend that she lost her virginity. Of course gossip queen Marianne, played by Amanda Bynes, overhears the entire conversation and we see how the wildfire spreads via rapid text messaging and whispered conversations by the student body. It doesn't take long for Olive to achieve the status of high school slut. The guys love her while the girls hate her. 

So what's a girl to do when she becomes caught up in this scandalous sex rumor? She can either cry and declare her innocence, or she can do what Olive did - embrace it and reap the rewards. In a funny series of "let's not and say we did" scenarios, Olive agrees to let loose with the high school homosexual who is sick and tired of getting beat up all the time, the high school fat kid who will never be touched by a girl because of his girth, and the dweeb who is too smart and socially awkward to even approach girls. In return for Olive's secrecy, she is offered payment in the form of gift cards and coupons, heightening her slut status to that of a high school prostitute. 

As all good things must come to an end, eventually Olive's "business" catches up with her and the lies become too much. At first she was defiant and scoffed at the normal rules bound to all high school students. Why should she conform all the time? Why can't she be different? But as the shame and harsh words keep coming at her like a full military assault, even the hardest walls will eventually come crumbling down and thus we are left with Olive, a damaged emotional train wreck. How much longer can she keep up the lies? At what time do you admit that you're in over your head and have to set things right? 

"Easy A" is not your typical high school movie. If anything, Olive is a girl beyond her years. She is smart, clever, and usually one step ahead of her fellow peers, which makes her character so likable to us. She's the person we can relate to and a part of me envies her ability to stand out in the crowd, which is surely not a stance that I adopted during my high school years. 

Thumbs UP

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Intruders (2011)

Directed By: Juan Carlos Fresnadillo

Rating: R

Runtime: 100 minutes

One of our scary movie night picks, "Intruders" is an interesting tale of a nightmare that is stretched beyond the scope of what we know the word to mean. So, what do we find when we look it up in the dictionary? There are several meanings:

Night mare
1. a terrifying dream in which the dreamer experiences feelings of helplessness, extreme anxiety, sorrow, etc.
2. a condition, thought, or experience suggestive of a nightmare.
3. (formerly) a monster or evil spirit believed to oppress persons during sleep.

"Intruders" relies on both the past and the present, where we witness a vile monster, known as Hollowface, that stalks children in pursuit of stealing their faces. There are two children who are haunted by Hollowface - a young boy named Juan who lives in Madrid and a girl named Mia who lives in London. Through a series of events and relatively obvious time change sequences, we gather enough to indicate that the story of the young boy took place some time ago, while the girl's story is in the present. 

So how exactly did this Hollowface monster, who happens to have no eyes or a mouth, come to prey upon these innocent children? In Mia's case, she stumbles upon a small piece of notepaper hidden within the hollow of an old tree. Written on the paper is the story of a man, the story of Hollowface. As she begins to read the story, the once-dormant Hollowface is now released to wreak havoc once again. And this time, he's after Mia's face. 

One night, while in her bedroom, Mia tells her father, John Farrow (Clive Owen) that she's scared of the man living in her closet. In a scene I admit that I wasn't prepared for, as John walks toward the closet we see Hollowface emerge in his dark hooded jacket. Just when you thought nightmares couldn't be real, this one was real and good old dad wasn't going to save the day and kill the monster. Instead, John gets his butt kicked and Hollowface steals his daughter's mouth, leaving her unable to speak another word. Sounds pretty intense huh?

I'm not into spoilers, so I'm going to change gears here. I'm really torn as to whether or not I would recommend this film to others. Clive Owen delivered a good performance as he does with most all the films I've seen him in, so there was no complaint there. And yes, I was hooked into the story of Hollowface, especially when I was unsure whether he was real or imaginary. I enjoy films that have me analyzing every little part, sleuthing my way to figuring out the answer before the big reveal. However, that's not exactly how this film played out. Sure there are thrills and creepy moments, there are points of realization, and there are memories that are reconciled. But in the end, I felt like the story took the easy way out, relying on information we were never even partially exposed to (except for the mumblings of an old priest) that resulted in the culmination of how these nightmares came to exist in the first place. In certain ways "Intruders" was predictable, while in other ways it had me scratching my head wondering how such story elements could come together to form a coherent plot. 

The psychology behind suppressed memories is a subject I know little of, but I guess anything's possible when you put your mind to it.

Thumbs DOWN

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Tears of the Sun (2003)

Directed By: Antoine Fuqua

Rating: R

Runtime: 121 minutes

"Tears of the Sun" is a war drama set in the dense, and dangerous forests of Nigeria. After the once-democratic government is overthrown by a murderous crazy dictator, Special Ops Lieutenant A. K. Waters, played by Bruce Willis, is sent to Nigeria with his tactical team to retrieve a doctor (Monica Bellucci) and several missionaries. 

Dr. Lena Fiore Kendricks (Monica Bellucci) will only go with the retrieval team if she can take along her 70 refugees who she has been helping all this time. Lieutenant Waters agrees to her terms and thus the film progresses as a slew of people navigate through the jungle, trying to escape the hellish torture that will be their fate if caught by the new dictator's army. I should mention that the army is actively pursuing them, getting closer by the hour.

As with most war dramas, there isn't much room for comic relief or a moment of pause in this film. There is however, a constant struggle for survival along with the unfortunate circumstances surrounding great loss. The "R" rating is not taken lightly - there are scenes in this film that are absolutely raw and will likely have you end up looking away for a moment or two.

Willis and his unit were well cast, with each personality playing an integral part of the mission. We come to know and respect these men, who are risking their lives to complete a mission that, in all reality, is more like a suicide run. The beautiful Bellucci as the doctor, provided a sympathetic role as she was the one whom all the refugees depended on. Additionally, the romance that develops between Lieutenant Waters and Dr. Kendricks is appropriate because it further justifies the changes we see in Waters over the length of the film.  

A journey for survival is an incredible thing, especially when your emotions get the better of you, which is the case with Lieutenant Waters. He is our protagonist throughout the film, so we feel most inclined to think about him and his situation. His decisions ultimately sealed the fate of everyone on the mission, including his tactical until and the refugees. In the end, I have to say that the film was an inspiration, at least for me. Even when everything seemingly impossible hangs in the balance, there is a way to overcome your obstacles and do the right thing.

Thumbs UP

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Haywire (2011)

Directed By: Steven Soderbergh

Rating: R

Runtime: 93 minutes

What happens when you line up a cast of veteran well-known actors to star in an action flick with a well-renowned female MMA fighter? Apparently, not much. "Haywire" is a film that relies on its inherit celebrity to boost its credibility, with a cast including Channing Tatum (Aaron), Michael Douglas (Alex Coblenz), Antonio Banderas (Rodrigo), and Ewan McGregor (Kenneth). Throw in kick-butt super fighter Gina Carano (Mallory Kane) and you'd think there's no way this film could be a bust. Unfortunately, this wasn't the case. 

"Haywire's" plot is a spinoff from that of our well-known female Black Ops Spy "La Femme Nikita." When the organization no longer has a need for you, they figure out a way to frame you for a crime and then dispose of you quickly - no questions asked. This is the fate of our femme fatale Mallory Kane, played by Gina Carano. Her role is to figure out who framed her, why, and exact her own justice for such foul play, although the chain of events that occur during the film don't exactly follow this order. 

To say that the plot is "jumpy" would be an understatement. We are taken from the present to the past, to the distant past and back to the present in a whirlwind of fancy screen effects, complete with slow motion and black and white screenshots. Considering this is supposed to be an action movie, I wasn't prepared for these frozen/slow-me-down camera gimmicks - it just doesn't work with the film's tone. Fighting equates action, which means a lot of noise and a lot of fast-paced camera action, complete with the shrill instrumental back-up that makes our hearts race. 

This is not what we come to experience in all the 93 minutes of "Haywire." Although the fight scenes were as realistic as it gets, there was no momentum leading up to the action - no music and no audio effects. I never tensed or shuddered as glass shattered and faces were struck. Perhaps I am too numb from overexposure to film, but I don't think so - just read some of my other reviews. Emotion is an integral part of a film's success. If we don't feel pain, or sorrow, or fear, then we're not convinced. And if we're not convinced, then certainly we don't believe that the actors are convinced. 

I have to laugh when considering the musical score throughout the entirety of the film, which reminded me of the bumbling 70's style rhythm of the "Kill Bill" film series. Certainly we never took Uma Thurman too seriously in her yellow jumpsuit, complete with samurai sword, a character quite the opposite of Mallory Kane. I applaud Carano in her efforts leading to an up and coming film career. She did a passable job in the acting department, although many times she appears caught in some intense trance with a subtle smirk on her face - a similar look I get when I know the camera's rolling. Her fight scenes I won't even begin to criticize because she's damn good at what she does and has earned every bit of her title. Is it too early to ask for a reboot of "Haywire?" Perhaps the second time around will be the charm!

Thumbs DOWN  

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Pianist (2002)

Directed By: Roman Polanski

Rating: R

Runtime: 150 minutes

"The Pianist" is a war drama based on the memoir Death of a City, accounting the life story of jewish pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman. The film's success took it far in the critic's circle, with Academy Award winners receiving Oscars for Best Director (Roman Polanski), Best Adapted Screenplay (Ronald Harwood), and Best Actor (Adrien Brody). 

If you have any inclination in learning about the past, this is a film that you will not want to pass up. During World War II, the Germans invaded Poland, taking over the capital city of Warsaw. During this time, the jews were separated from the poles as Hitler decreed new rules that progressively took away not only the rights of jews, but their humanity as well. 

This is the story of Wladyslaw Szpilman, played by Adrien Brody. A jewish pianist from a well-to-do family, we see Szpilman's life transform as the German army takes over. How did life change for Szpilman and the other jews? He was taken from his home and moved to the Warsaw ghetto, where work and food were scarce. The new rules set forth by the Germans made it impossible to claim ownership of anything and the ability to hold onto or save any money was a lost cause. Entire families were gunned down, children laid dead in the streets, and families struggled to stay together because that was all they had in the end. 

At one point in the film, Szpilman is separated from his family as they are forced to board a train headed to one of many Nazi concentration camps. Szpilman never sees them again and we can only imagine their terrifying fate. Alone, hiding throughout Warsaw, Szpilman endures a hardship unlike anything I can imagine, for it lasts over ten years time.

There was one scene in particular that will remain brandished in my mind. As Szpilman and his family are waiting to be transferred to the trains, an old man speaks about the horrible truth that awaits them - they're all going to die. He talks about rising up against the Nazis, for surely their numbers outweighed those of the Germans. But no action is taken and we think about the old man's words. Why not fight back? These soldiers were the ones who killed their friends and family, beat them, swore at them, took away their rights, took away their livelihood and looked upon them as the scum of the Earth. After all this... what do you do when there's no fight left in you - when all you can focus on is your survival? This is the story of Wladyslaw Szpilman.

Thumbs UP

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Young Adult (2011)

Directed By: Jason Reitman

Rating: R

Runtime: 94 minutes

Some people actually believe that the grass is always greener on the other side. This is the case for 37-year old Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron), a would-be fiction novelist with an obsession of her long passed high school years, for these years it appears, were the best of her life. 

It is my understanding from perusing various external reviews, that some viewers were expecting a large dose of comedy from this film - disappointment may have been what they got instead, for this film is not a comedy. It's a bit depressing in a way and hits too close to home in other ways. It's rather weird at times and downright shocking at others. In summary, "Young Adult" is about a woman's misguided perception of what she both wants and needs in life, and how she will overcome such obstacles. 

Working on the final book of a once-popular young adult reading series, Mavis Gary appears stuck. We see her in her quaint Minneapolis apartment furnished with pieces you might find in a typical college dorm. Practically falling out of bed in the morning after a one-night stand, Mavis takes off her stick-on silicone bra fillers and immediately heads toward the fridge to chug a portion of her 2-liter diet Coke. What can we gather from these initial scenes? Mavis is sloppy, unhealthy, and doesn't appear to have much self-respect.

One day while working on her novel, she receives an email from her high-school ex-boyfriend and his wife announcing the birth of their daughter. This email disturbs Mavis in such a way that on no level should be considered normal. Shortly thereafter, Mavis packs a quick suitcase and the dog carrier, setting off for Mercury, Minnesota, her hometown. This kind of reminded me of the incident with the Astronaut love triangle that took place in Florida some time ago, remember that? Mavis' intentions are not good. She is convinced, I'm not exactly sure how, that her long-ago ex-boyfriend and now married man Buddy Slade, played by Patrick Stewart, is unhappy and will want to run away with her. It is her job to convince him to accept that they are meant to be together so that, well... they can live happily ever after. The end. 

I'd like to mention that there is an interesting dynamic in this film where Mavis is working on her novel, creating and developing characters as it relates to her own life. Just like the main character in her novels, Mavis sees herself as a tortured victim who deserves no ill will and all the happiness in the world. But alas, I'm afraid in her world, the glass will always be half empty. This film is a bit odd and not at all very memorable because let's face it, Mavis is a stone-cold bitch on a path of desperation and denial. 

Thumbs DOWN

Friday, August 10, 2012

Warrior (2011)

Directed By: Gavin O'Connor

Rating: PG-13

Runtime: 140 minutes

Let me start out by saying that I am not a fan of Mixed Martial Arts and I had my reservations before watching this film. I am so glad that I decided against my initial prejudice and gave it a try - I was not disappointed. 

"Warrior" is a film centered on a story about a badly broken family and their struggle to overcome their personal obstacles. Brendan Conlon and Tommy Conlon, played by Joel Edgerton and Tom Hardy, grew up in a household with an abusive alcoholic father, Paddy Conlon, played by Nick Nolte. Getting out of the situation, Brendan and Tommy took separate paths - Brendan ran off with his high school sweetheart while Tommy ran away with his mother, who became terminally ill some time later. 

The film begins in the cold aftermath of life in the boys' adulthood. Paddy is no longer an alcoholic. He is 1,000 days sober and will spend the rest of his life asking forgiveness for his sins. Older brother Brendan is a high school physics teacher with a wife and two daughters. Younger brother Tommy takes pills and appears to be a free rider, having no permanent address or place in this world.

Each character in this film sets after their own personal sense of retribution. Paddy was a deadbeat father who singlehandedly tore apart the best thing in his life - his family. Now he is faced with putting the broken pieces back together, if that's even possible. Brendan was always the underdog in his father's eyes, not the champion like Tommy. After supporting his family in a way that his father never could, Brendan is now faced with a bank foreclosure on his home and he'd do anything to not let that happen. After Tommy's military unit was erased by friendly fire, Tommy went AWOL, promising to do right by his military comrade's widow. 

Each of these hardships is brought together by one singular competition - the Spartan Mixed Martial Arts tournament, boasting a 5 million dollar purse. I will not reveal anything more about the tournament, for it is best viewed from a non-biased audience. I will say that the fighting was well-choreographed and just about as realistic as it gets, although I have no desire to personally verify this statement. Edgerton plays a great underdog and a convincing role of the shamed older brother, while Hardy delivers an excellent performance of a man so damaged and fueled by hate, I imagine that I would be scared to death fighting with him in the ring, even if it was just acting!

This film goes through a range of emotions and I found myself taking turns sympathizing or getting angry with one character to the next. It is much easier to forgive than it is to forget, a lesson we come to learn well after watching this film.

Thumbs UP

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Fire in the Sky (1993)

Directed By: Robert Lieberman

Rating: PG-13

Runtime: 109 minutes

"Fire in the Sky" is a science fiction thriller based on a true story, of which I have no research knowledge at this time. This review will stick to the facts... of the film and only the film. 

First, I would like to pose a question to the audience. What would you do if your friend were captured by aliens? And when I write "aliens" I mean aliens, as in the big-headed big-eyed weird looking creatures you've come to know since childhood. Would you run? Would you go to the police? Would you become an estranged town recluse? This is the premise and pretty much the general theme throughout the first half of "Fire in the Sky."

Located in White Mountains, Arizona, six men are clearing trees in the forest for lumber distribution for a high-profile client. Two of the men are best friends Mike Rogers and Travis Walton, played by Robert Patrick and D.B. Sweeney. As usual, there's always one troublemaker in the group, Allan Dallis, played by Craig Sheffer. The other men play supporting roles with little to no significant dialogue relevant to this review. 

Turning back to the story, while traveling home one night on the job, the men see a mysterious glowing red light not far from the dirt road that they are driving on. Once they get close enough, the ever-curious Travis decides to get out of the truck and snag a front row view of the unidentified flying object hovering above the ground. I kept asking myself why Travis would get out of the truck? Perhaps he is fearless, but this bordered on lunacy if you ask me, especially when all his friends are yelling and pleading with him to get back into the truck. How would you feel if a massive ominious sphere-like object were hovering over you? Am I the only one that would think about getting squashed once gravity takes that thing over? But perhaps Travis is just caught in the trance where he stands there like a deer in headlights, unable to move. His friends on the other hand, they're scared to death, but Travis doesn't seem bothered. With a quick flash of white light, Travis is thrust from his current postion and tossed around like a rag doll. When he hits the ground he's not moving and his friends assume the worst before driving off like crazy hillbillies, complete with the rusty old pickup truck. 

The men tell the police what happened, which results in heavy skepticism and consequently a town that thinks they're living amongst murderers. But soon they'll be proven wrong when Travis calls Mike one night via a payphone - don't worry, he calls Collect, which I wonder how he was even able to manage this considering the state that Mike finds him shortly after. Travis is messed up and he's having flashbacks of his experience that night in the woods. The first few days of his homecoming are terrifying for him as he struggles to sort through the fuzzy recollections from the alien abduction. We come to learn what actually happened on that spacecraft, and it's not at all pretty. Aliens don't play nice, at least not in this film. Travis was poked, prodded, cut, and disected in a chilling scene complete with alien close-ups and skin-crawling operating procedures. Shortly after the big reveal, the viewer is catapulted into Travis' future, which appears normal by all accounts. He is now married with one child, and one on the way. 

The storyline of "Fire in the Sky" was intriguing, but the outcome was rather disappointing. Too much time was spent on the initial struggle of the men trying to convince the townspeople of their innocence. When you already know that they're innocent, it's hard to watch an hour of them continuously pleading their case to others. We get it, we want to know what happened to Travis - that's the interesting part. 

Once Travis arrives on the scene again, the film runs through the motions as if the director was told that the budget had reached its limit. Travis jumps from being a man with seemingly irreparable psychological damage to a man that works hard to support a family, just like any other man. We're left with too many questions. For instance, how did Travis get off the spacecraft? There was heavy implication during his time on the craft that human subjects were not a newly discovered hobby. What did the aliens gain from their investigation? Or are we to assume that these aliens were unintelligable torture seekers who randomly took people and then let them go? With such a strong beginning, it's unfortunate that this film fell so flat in the end. 

Thumbs DOWN

Heartbreakers (2001)

Directed By: David Mirkin

Rating: PG-13

Runtime: 123 minutes

"Heartbreakers" surprised me. It was fun, not to be taken too seriously and had a great cast, including Sigourney Weaver (Max Conners), Jennifer Love Hewitt (Page Conners), Ray Liotta (Dean Cumanno), Jason Lee (Jack Withrowe) and Gene Hackman (William B. Tensy).

Max and Page Conners make their living by playing cons... on rich men. The mother/daughter duo use their feminine wiles to lure men into marrying one of them and then set up a scheme to take place shortly after their wedding night that results in a rather quick and clean divorce. That's the way it's always been, until one day the IRS comes knocking on their door. Max hasn't filed taxes in who knows how many years. Her innocent response - "I thought my husbands were supposed to do that." Now that they owe over $300,000 to the big man, they must come up with a con that will pay off their debt and leave them financially set for life. 

So why not Palm Beach? Home of the mega-rich and the ultra-disgusting William B. Tensy, tobacco company billionaire, also known as the Conners' next client. "Heartbreakers" is an adventure in finding the true meaning of happiness in life, and all the little escapades that go along with it. Max doesn't want Page to go off on her own, while Page cannot stand being the understudy to her mother's cons. She wants to be more independent, but can she get a man to fall in love with her without falling in love herself? In the beginning of the film, money is the driving factor for everything these women do, and it's hilarious at times as they use any means necessary to get what they want. Sure, the plot is ridiculous in its own way, but we don't take it seriously anyways. 

I've read some negative reviews about this film, stating something along the lines that Weaver is trying to be younger than she is. My response to this - of course Weaver's character Max is trying to act younger than she really is, that's what makes this film so funny. Did Weaver keep up with the youthful glamour exuded by the curvy little Love Hewitt? Absolutely, and she looked damn good doing it. With supporting roles by Liotta, who as always, plays an excellent gangster, and Hackman, who couldn't be a more convincing rich bastard, "Heartbreakers" is a film that will not only make you smile, but laugh out loud as well. 

Thumbs UP

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Cars 2 (2011)

Directed By: John Lasseter & Brad Lewis

Rating: G

Runtime: 106 minutes

Following in the wake of the 2006 ever-popular "Cars" is its sequel, "Cars 2." Still boasting the creative imagination of a car's world, we see the clever gimmicks applied to the automobile as it functions in its own specialized environment - adapted from all the familair human comforts and technological advancements of our time. I believe this is what resulted in the widespread popularity of the first film because not only was the idea original, but it speaks to our American appeals, widely centered on our own personal transportation, meaning we LOVE our cars! 

Whereas the first film explores the story of one car, a hothead speed racer with an ego that could use a little downsizing, "Cars 2" takes a different perspective. With the returning voice talents of Larry the Cable Guy (Mater), Owen Wilson (Lightning McQueen) and Bonnie Hunt (Sally), we feel at home with these characters we have come to adore. The opening scene in the film involves a type of espionage spy mission that takes place on a deep-sea oil rig platform. Immediately we relate this scene to the countless spy movies in the James Bond film series. Though this time, our spy is Fin McMissile, voiced by Michael Caine

Back at Radiator Springs, McQueen has recently returned from racing and is reunited with all his old pals. One evening there is a television segment on Mel Dorado about the plight of oil tycoon Sir Miles Axelrod, voiced by Eddie Izzard. Axelrod had gotten lost in the jungle for some reason or other and ended up surviving off of a sustainable fuel he created - somehow. Now Axelrod is promoting his new fuel, call Allinol, by hosting a World Grand Prix. Of course McQueen enters into the competition and before we know it, the gang is flying off to Europe for the race of their lives. 

McQueen is rather hesitant to take Mater with him on the trip because Mater is... well he's a Radiator Springs hillbilly that just wouldn't fit in with all those pish posh European imports. Alas, he takes Mater along anyways and it's a bit disastrous for him. After he loses his first race due to a miscommunication with Mater, he tells the rusty tow truck that the doesn't need his help anymore and a friendship is torn. Meanwhile, McQueen steps down from the film's center stage and in comes Mater, who possesses most of the spotlight throughout the film. If I could relate Mater to a bumbling half-wit spy, I would have to pick Inspector Jacques Clousea played by Peter Sellers in "The Pink Panther" film series. During a restroom break, Mater unknowingly becomes part of an international espionage mission and soon enough, is dragged into the world of high-tech spies and cool gadgetry. Although he is always flubbing things up, it ends up working out for the better every time, thus convincing his spy cohorts, Fin McMissile and Holley Shiftwell, that he's the best damn spy in the business.

So there you have it, "Cars 2" juggles a friendship hanging in the balance as well as a dose of political corruption on the side. The storyline is most definitely taken from bits and pieces of those stories we've already seen or heard of. However, applying such parts to the creative world that exists in this Autoverse is still unique and surely worth a viewing. Kids will love this film, while adults will appreciate the visuals and the subtle laughs throughout. 

Thumbs UP

Monday, August 6, 2012

Machine Gun Preacher (2011)

Directed By: Marc Forster

Rating: R

Runtime: 129 minutes

This film does not rely on originality, it relies on the tragic reality of the civil war in the Sudan. With an overall tone very similar to Martin Campbell's "Beyond Borders" (2003), "Machine Gun Preacher" is a film only to be taken seriously, with little room for a hopeful ending. This is the kind of film that is emotionally draining and visually shocking, because we know this isn't make believe anymore and just because these tragedies don't happen in our backyards doesn't mean they don't exist. Open your eyes and listen, and you will experience a story that touches all our hearts. 

The film stars Gerard Butler, who plays Sam Childers, an ex-convict with a drug problem and a rather dark past that catches up to him on the night he thinks he murders a man out of self-defense (although the situation is a bit more complicated than that). Shortly after his world comes crashing down, Childers turns to God for salvation. Although it is not implicitly stated in the film, the viewer assumes that some time has passed as Childers starts his own construction business, moves the family out of a trailer and into a home, and begins to do mission work in the Sudan. 

The transformations throughout this film are what makes it so effective. We experience Childers' life with his family in the U.S. as well as his newfound family in the Sudan. During this transition, Childers goes from being a bad husband and father, to an inspiration as the Sudanese come to know him as the Machine Gun Preacher. Childers had a lot of sins in his past and turned to the church for salvation. When God reached out to him, he then felt compelled to further God's mission, which led him to the Sudan, where the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) burns villages, murders innocent people, and kidnaps children as new recruitments to their rebel cause. What is Childers' cause? He builds an orphanage to protect the children, providing them with food, shelter, and a safer environment than the alternative of being alone out there. How serious was he about his cause? Well, he spent nearly every penny he had and nearly broke apart his marriage and family. The end credits to this film indicate that Childers still continues his work in the Sudan, a lifelong commitment to the struggles of everyday life for the Sudanese people. 

The film was well-directed by Forster - showing the parallel lifestyle of Childers was most effective because it can relate to pretty much any audience no matter what background you may come from. With visual images so striking I had to close my eyes at times, Forster holds nothing back, and I'm glad for it. Awareness is something that we choose to accept or ignore. Sometimes it gives us the courage to take action, no matter how big or small. Just remember, every little bit counts!

Thumbs UP

Arabian Nights (2000)

Directed By: Steve Barron

Rating: TV Movie

Runtime: 175 minutes

Let me start by acknowledging that "Arabian Nights" was a made-for-tv movie that aired with two episodes in order to cover the 175-minute feature length. Typically, films that are made for television already have that "low-standards" stigma attached. I must say that I have been pleasantly surprised. 

For starters, the film contains a strong casting including the likes of James Frain (Schahzenan / Harun al-Rashid), Jason Scott Lee (Aladdin), John Leguizamo (Genie of the Lamp / Ring), Dougray Scott (Sultan Shahryar / Amin), Rufus Sewell (Ali Baba) and James Callis (Prince Ahmed). This diverse group of talent handled each of their roles most effectively (and probably had a bit of fun as well).

"Arabian Nights" is a story within a story, which is the reason for the 175-minute runtime. Sultan Shahryar, played by Dougray Scott, has become a monstrous paranoid lunatic after his former wife nearly killed him and then ran away with his brother. Needless to say, she didn't get too far before she was knifed in the back. The Sultan's new wife, Scheherezade, played by Mili Avital, has a gift for storytelling and uses this gift to restore sanity back to the Sultan. It is through her stories that the Sultan begins to relate the tales to his own life and through these lessons, begins to get a handle on his grief, anger, paranoia, etc. Overall, the story was fun and adventurous. If you enjoy sword fights, magic, hidden treasures, flying carpets and a genie of the lamp, then you'll likely enjoy "Arabian Nights."

I give a head nod to Scott, who played a very convincing role of a deranged psychotic Sultan. His facial expressions were definitely initimidating and his actions a bit frightening at times. I was surprised that Scheherezade stuck around long enough to see if there was any semblance of a heart left in him - surely I wouldn't have. As a made-for-tv movie, I commend director Steve Barron for his work. Sure some of the sets and CGI could have used some improvement, but all in all, I enjoyed this little Arabian adventure.

A quick side note, I've discovered that director Chuck Russell will be completing the film "Arabian Nights" to be released in 2014. Currently cast is Liam Hemsworth with rumored cast members including Dwayne Johnson and Anthony Hopkins.

Thumbs UP

Saturday, August 4, 2012

The Haunting of Whaley House (2012)

Directed By: Jose Prendes

Rating: Unrated

Runtime: 90 minutes

"The Haunting of Whaley House" was our Scary Movie Night pick. Needless to say, we were shammed! About the only thing well done for this film was the front movie cover (props to the graphic designer). The addition of the "Based on True Events" heading as well as the bold quote of praise is probably the only reason that movie watchers may pluck this off the shelf. Now we've all heard of B movies and I've seen some that are actually good in their own way. I would not classify this film as a B movie. No, it ranks somewhere down under, whatever classification that may be. 

A little background on what you may be or may have already gotten yourself into when viewing this film. Venezulean director Jose Prendes has a preference for writing and directing within the horror genre. His previous directing works include "The Monster Man," "Corpses Are Forever" and "Nannyland." I already have a smirk on my face and I haven't even listed his script credits. Let me just say that Prendes wrote a script for "The Haunting of Winchester House" three years prior to the release of "The Haunting of Whaley House." I'm no writer extraordinaire, but something tells me that you probably shouldn't reuse the words "The Haunting of..." for a new film script. But I'm off topic - I'm two paragraphs in and I haven't even gotten to the film review yet, but I promise you, you're not missing much. 

"The Haunting of Whaley House" has a cast of no-name actors. The plot can be summarized as a bunch of late teens / early twenty-somethings go into a house one night that is supposedly haunted. Their mission objective - to investigate the supernatural. What they end up getting - a night of murder and really really bad acting. I've never seen a film where actors don't know what to do onscreen. Literally, throughout a large majority of the takes inside the house, many actors who didn't have dialogue end up smiling or making odd gestures. One particular actress who does this throughout the entirety of the film is Arielle Brachfeld who plays Vanessa Dane. Not only were her facial expressions just plain freaky at times, she had a huge smile planted on her face during takes where she shouldn't have been smiling. This in itself would have made the film ridiculous enough, but there's more.

In one scene a girl is standing outside of the house, channeling a conversation with a ghost that appears in the window. The ghost apparently tells the girl to pick up an ax, which is conveniently on the ground right near her feet. She grabs the ax and begins to chop herself in the neck while maintaining the goofiest smile that I've ever seen. Then, shortly after this scene is a man and a woman getting ready to go on a date. The man is trying to find a cat to give it food near the house. Why he felt compelled to feed a cat late at night, I have no clue. The voloptuous blonde that is with him attempts to distract him by showing off her breasts, which look as fake, but maybe not as big as Pamela Anderson's silicone sensations. When her date isn't responding, she just walks away and that's the last we see of her. He, on the other hand, ends up impaling himself on a stationary water pump. What does this all mean? Nothing - absolutely nothing. "The Haunting of Whaley House" is a film that is laughable due to its preposterous attempt at creating horror that actually might scare someone. The only thing scary about this film was the acting!

Thumbs DOWN

Silent House (2011)

Directed By: Chris Kentis & Laura Lau

Rating: R

Runtime: 85 minutes

With a total cast of six, two of which play ghosts with merely seconds of screen time here and there, "Silent House" was a one-man, or shall I say a one-woman show. Only few films can pull this off effectively. Two that come to mind include "Cast Away" starring Tom Hanks and "Robinson Crusoe" starring Pierce Brosnan. Unfortunately, "Silent House" does not follow suit. Instead, the viewer is exposed to 85 minutes of dark sets, shaky cameras, awkward angles, and little dialogue, which left me scratching my head, wondering what the heck is going on. 

The film stars Elizabeth Olsen who plays Sarah, a teenager who is visiting a summer home with her father, who is trying to renovate and sell the house. I must admit, the interaction between Sarah and her father was so strange in the beginning that I questioned whether or not she was his wife (you never know). The way a father interacts with his daughter does not appear normal on any level in this film. The clipped dialogue and odd mannerisms were just plain weird. Anyways, moving onwards. Sarah is in her bedroom packing some boxes when she hears a loud thud. Immediately, she tenses up and her breathing quickens as she quietly opens her bedroom door to investigate. She shakily calls out to her father, who doesn't respond. Shortly after, we find that her father is apparently dead, bleeding from the head. Sarah runs downstairs to get out of the house, but the doors are locked and she cannot open them. Additionally, all the windows in the house have been boarded up due to squatters entering the house. While Sarah is panicking, we see an unfocused image of a man standing in the hallway - and he is not her dad. 

"Silent House" preys on all the classic scary movie gimmicks. Dark sets, close-up angles on the victim to enhance the emotional collapse, and of course the use of a creepy old house, complete with basements, attics, and creaking baseboards. For a film that likely had a restricted budget, the use of the set was well done. I surely wouldn't want to be alone in this house. Olsen's performance was effective as far as looking scared and freaked out. The lack of dialogue makes me unsure as to how she would do given a role that requires more acting. Overall, "Silent House" did not have me at the edge of my seat. A lot of the scenes that were clearly geared at getting a viewer response were so cliche, what with the sinister music and background noises become louder... and louder. There was one scene, near the end of the film, that made me cringe only because I knew what was coming. It involved the use of a polaroid camera in the pitch black attic (add a few creepy ghosts and you get the picture). 

I can't say that the story wraps up nicely in the end. All it did for me was heighten my awareness of the lack of plot and character development throughout the film. The beginning of the film is the only time that we get a hint to the ending of the film. What I mentioned in the very beginning of this review is pretty much the backstory leading to the end. Everything in between is just fluff to keep us watching for the full 85 minutes. 

Thumbs DOWN

Friday, August 3, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

Directed By: Christopher Nolan

Rated: PG-13

Runtime: 164 minutes

The final installment to Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy, "The Dark Knight Rises" is everything I had come to expect... and more. By the end of the 164-minute film, I was left with so many emotions to sort out that I felt exhausted - in a good way. 

Returning for the third film are some of our favorite familiar faces, including Christian Bale (Bruce Wayne / Batman), Michael Caine (Alfred), Gary Oldman (Commissioner Gordon), and Morgan Freeman (Fox). The film opens in what we discover to be 8 years after the incident with Harvey Dent. You remember from the last film, "The Dark Knight," Harvey goes on a murderous rampage and Batman ends up being pinned to the crimes, thus becoming Gotham's public enemy number one. Harvey is declared a hero and through his good deeds, Gotham's streets have been cleaned up of all the crime that once polluted its sphere. Batman kind of disappears for awhile as he is no longer needed and subsequently billionaire entrepreneur Bruce Wayne becomes a recluse. In his first scenes, we observe him to be unkempt and walking with a cane. It's obvious that even with the use of all that high-tech armor and gadgetry, even Batman isn't impenetrable - he has scars just like the rest of us. 

Now onto the newcomers. Anne Hathaway breaks out the skin-tight black suit and high heels, playing Selina / Catwoman. She's got more issues than a state ballot and leaves us wondering who's side, if any, she's on. Throw in muscle-bound creepy masked mercenary Bane, played by Tom Hardy, and you've got a villain more intimidating than the Batman. You'll see what I mean when you watch the film. I remember one particular moment where Bane explains to Batman that the darkness is the only thing he knows, and he grows stronger from it. No light, or goodness as it seems, has ever touched this man and that's what makes him such a dangerous villain. It's one thing to create destruction, but Bane was a bit more calculated than this. He initiates destruction and then places the result in the people's hands - that's when Gotham City turns into a very scary place indeed. 

As Bane begins to wreak havoc on Gotham City, Batman must overcome his personal struggles and come out of his short-lived retirement to serve the people once more, bringing justice to those who have no regard for the law. I do not want to mention anything else that could lead to spoilers, and hence ruin the fun for those who haven't seen the film yet. Although the film is an impressive 164 minutes, it did not feel long at all. Never once did my eyes stray from the screen during showtime. There was a fairly equal filming of hero and villain, which I personally enjoyed. It gives you a clearer perspective and understanding about the other half, rather than having a jaded viewpoint only through the hero's eyes. The entire cast deserves a standing ovation for a job well done. It's been quite some time since I've run through the gamut of emotions I felt while watching this film - inspired, angry, frustrated, disappointed, courageous, anxious, scared, happy, sad, etc. Congratulations Mr. Nolan to a job well done. This trilogy most definitely should have a space in your movie collection. 

Thumbs UP

Lockout (2012)

Directed By: James Mather & 

Stephen St. Leger

Rated: PG-13

Runtime: 95 minutes

This was a Redbox movie rental one evening. As a fan of both the science fiction and fantasy genres, I was looking forward to this flick. Based on the previews, I knew it would be an outlandish plot as ridiculous as those iconic films in the past starring Stallone or Schwarzenegger (gotta love 'em!). Imagine "Commando" meets "Con Air," or something like that.

So here we go. The storyline... in a nutshell. The President's daughter, Emilie, played by Maggie Grace, travels to a maximum security prison located in space. The reason for her visit - she is on a humanitarian mission to make sure there is no mistreatment to the prisoners who just so happen to be caught in a cryogenic sleep stasis. I am led to believe that there must no longer be any world hunger or mass quantities of people in need on planet Earth, for if there were, then certainly the President's daughter would be spending her time and efforts elsewhere, right? Anyways, continuing onwards, Emilie is permitted to interview one of the prisoners, who is awoken from cryo-sleep. It just so happens that one of the guards forgot to leave behind his ankle holster, which conveniently is holding a gun. You can guess what happens next. The careless officer is given the slip by the inmate and all of the sudden all hell breaks loose on the vessel. What's the first thing the inmate does in this circumstance? He releases all the other inmates and shortly thereafter the prisoners take over.

The President's daughter is a hot commodity, because she's the key bargaining chip to getting off the ship without being blown to pieces. Back at the white house, the President's liaisons convince him that there's only one man who can rescue his daughter and bring her back alive. That man is Snow. Okay, everyone should be smiling by now. Only one man? Really? Against hundreds of maximum security crazy people? The odds seem slim to me, but Snow appears to be the man for the job. Played by Guy Pearce, Snow never allows a bead of sweat to drop from his brow. This guy is cool, collected, and fearless. In fact, when caught in a situation that appears less than desperate, Snow cracks jokes and one-liners. It's not about being scared, it's about... well I'm not really sure what the heck Snow was about. He was caught up in some sort of scandal that had to do with a briefcase. This took up a lot of his thoughts and resulted in much of his frustration throughout the film.

Both Grace and Pierce worked well together. They did not have what I would call excellent chemistry, but their roles were convincing enough. If you like science fiction with action, then you'll probably like this film. Yes the plot is rather preposterous, but it's creative in its own way. Sometimes you have to leave all the questioning behind and just let the story play out. You never know, you may come away a satisfied viewer.

Thumbs UP

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Mirror Mirror (2012)

Directed by: Tarsem Singh

Rated: PG

Runtime: 106 minutes

When I first saw the trailer for "Mirror Mirror," it looked vibrant and fun, and contained a decent lineup of veteran actors - including the likes of Julia Roberts (The Queen) and Nathan Lane (Brighton). After watching the film, I can assert that it was most definitely vibrant. The costumes speak for themselves and I imagine Julia Roberts spent much time getting set and prepped for her outlandish gowns consisting of elaborate embroidery, over-sized hoop skirts, and feathers galore! Unfortunately, the costumes were about the only memorable part of this film.

The plot, as thin as it was, did not follow the traditional Snow White retelling. Instead, we are given a narration in the beginning that can be summarized as: Once upon a time there was a King and Queen. They had a child, but the Queen died during childbirth. Enter the evil madam with good looks and suddenly the King is no longer a widower. For some reason, unexplained, the King goes into the woods one night and disappears... forever? Now, we are catapulted into the NOW, where Snow White, played by Lily Collins, is about to turn 18, living under the roof of her wicked stepmother, the Queen.

The plot, or lack thereof, resulted in 106 minutes of continuous flat dialogue and no character development. Do we like Snow White? Wait a minute, do we even know Snow White - in her first appearance we find Snow in her bedroom, dressed in all the castle's finest, hand-feeding a bird. Being trapped in the castle looks pretty tough, especially looking at the fine clothes, ornate bedroom and lack of shackles. There is no pain, there is no anger, and there appears to be no mistreatment towards the Princess other than the scolding she gets from the Queen when she interrupts her chess game. All that I'm left to conclude in these opening segments is that Snow White is not only clueless, but she's rather complacent as well, maintaining a smile on her fair face that shows no hint of scorn or resentment.

It's interesting, if not confusing, when Snow is determined to finally venture outside of the castle, whereupon she is horrified at the state that the people must live in, thanks to the Queen squandering away every last penny on herself, whilst deciding to continually raise taxes on the already underprivileged. I asked myself, if life is so bad under the Queen's reign, why hasn't anyone staged a coup already? Out with the old and in with the new! But this makes too much sense for fairy tale scenes, so we'll throw in a handsome Prince instead. Enter Armie Hammer as Prince Alcott. Hammer has the looks of a Prince, complete with the glistening perfect white teeth and the deep manly-voice. As an actor, however, Hammer was not too convincing. Although I'm not sure he was given too much to work with, considering his indifferent and sappy role-playing throughout the entirety of the film. Don't get me wrong, sometimes this works. The film "Ella Enchanted" comes to mind, where the characters never took themselves too seriously and made a fun time of it. But this was not the case with "Mirror Mirror."

I don't feel it necessary to go into all the elements that were used to string the plot together. Yes there were dwarves, a monster, and an apple, but none of these elements were utilized to their best potential. The dwarves, inventive little giants that they were, did not capture my sympathy nor apathy. The monster was... too predictable. And the apple was better late than never.

"Mirror Mirror" may pass for a rental on a rainy afternoon when you need to brighten your day with a bit of color.

Thumbs DOWN