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OUTTAKES WITH FIORE
REVIEWS OF CURRENT FILMS



BAD TEACHER





Posers. Everyone knows what and who they are, and to date, I’ve found no one who finds favor with them. Whites pretending they’re black; blacks pretending they’re Hispanic; Hispanics pretending they’re legal citizens; men pretending they’re women, and vice versa. Unfortunately, there are posers in movies, too. They are held in similar distain. Such is the case with BAD TEACHER. Flowing in the wake of BRIDESMAIDS and THE HANGOVER 2, it tries to be raunchy; it tries to enter the land of the taboo; it tries to be held in low esteem by the adolescents who hold this type of humor as classic comedy. Unfortunately, it falls short every time, treading into the waters, but then refusing to take the plunge; like Robert Luongo telling Tim Thomas “Yeah, I would have had that one!”

As a result, BAD TEACHER never quite makes the grade. It provides a few chuckles and several moments (perhaps too many) of groans, but lasting classic humor…ah, no. In a sacrilegious moment, the opening credits feature a classic Three Stooges scene, where the trio sings “Swinging the Alphabet” at Mildew College. BAD TEACHER never comes close to approaching the humor of the Stooges.

CAST AND PLOT

The plot of BAD TEACHER is simplistic. A teacher who is, in Kanye West’s terms “A golddigger, ain’t looking for no broke….broke” (sorry, Kanye, had to use the edited version), uses her job as a teacher to bide time until a sugar daddy whisks her away “Living in the Lap of Luxury” (apologies to Jethro Tull). When her sugar daddy’s mom becomes wise to the scheme, the wedding is off and our poor teacher finds she must remain in a Middle School morass for another year as she seeks a fresh patsy. Along the way, she will encounter folks as shallow as she is and gain a new perspective on life. Right.

Cameron Diaz is Elizabeth Halsey, the golddigging teacher. She dresses and acts in ways that would never permit her to be a teacher, save possibly in the Pittsburgh Public School System. Diaz, who wowed many when she first walked into the bank where Stanley Ipkiss worked, is beginning to show signs of middle age. BAD TEACHER seems to be a pathetic attempt by Diaz to convince viewers she can still be the sexpot she was nearly two decades ago. (Perhaps if she hadn’t turned into a banshee activist – “They better put our uteruses in a lock box, and throw away the key!” – she might still be eye candy to those of us who, like Khan, posses “a superior intellect”.)

Jason Segel is Russell Gettis, the gym teacher who has eyes for Elizabeth and is more her kindred spirit than anyone else in the faculty. He is mild here, putting in just yeoman duty, and is overshadowed by Justin Timerberlake. J.T. is great as the super nerd substitute Scott Delacorte, and the latest target for Elizabeth. I kept expecting Timbaland to pop around a corner and yell, ‘Hey,Hey’, but, “alas, cherie, t’was not to be” (apologies to Bellock).

Giving J.T. a run for his money on screen is Lucy Punch, who is truly the scene stealer as Amy Squirrel. She is the stereotype of the myriad women who enter education not to teach, but to produce an assembly line of automatons centered on emotions, rather than logic and reason. (Sounds as if I may have walked this path a time or two, no?)

KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:
1. THE BATHROOM SCENE
2. THE BOOBY DOCTOR SCENE
3. THE TALK AT THE PICNIC

TECHS AND WRAP
There is nothing outstanding in the way of technical aspects for BAD TEACHER. Editor Tara Timpone should be thanked for keeping this debacle less than 90 minutes. Cinematographer Alar Kivilo offers nothing out of the ordinary, nor anything that could enhance the comedic factor. There is, however, a nice collection of songs serving as soundtrack. The CD (or download, depending on tech savvy) may be the only thing in BAD TEACHER worth repeating.

It tries on many levels, all of them Neanderthal, but never accomplishes its goal. BAD TEACHER is probably Diaz’s last hurrah, a swan song, if you will, before she begins accepting roles as someone’s mother. Yeah, life’s a bitch.


THE RATING FOR BAD TEACHER = D
BFCA RATING = 4/10


TREE OF LIFE





I hate seeing movies like TREE OF LIFE. Not necessarily because they’re bad films, but because I’m always forced to engage in an argument with myself, that I eventually always lose. About 30 minutes into the special press screening for TREE OF LIFE, held in Pittsburgh’s Waterfront region, I said to myself: “This movie can’t get any better. Leave.” I should have, but I never do. It’s this strange sense of professionalism. I feel I must sit through a film until the end to ensure a viable review. I generally always end up regretting the decision. I had this same conversation with myself at the one hour, the one hour twenty minute mark, the one hour forty five minute mark, the two hour ten minute mark of the TREE OF LIFE. Each time I stayed, and I can’t tell you how much I regret it. As I get older, there certainly aren’t many hours left for my existence and I really shouldn’t be wasting them on films like TREE OF LIFE. The movie could have been enjoyable if they had cut out the actors, left all the visual effects shots, used Pink Floyd as the musical score and provided everyone with a glass of single malt scotch.

STARS AND PLOT
The subheading is a misnomer. While TREE OF LIFE has stars, it does not really have a plot; it’s more of a vignette. A family suffers the loss of a child and Director/Writer Terrence Malick, known for his artsy film infusions, demonstrates how the family deals with the death and a bit of the family’s history through thought flashbacks. In between, Malick presents his own version of Disney’s Fantasia. We’re treated to spiraling microscopic and planetary images all set to Alexandre Desplat’s grandiose orchestrations. There’s even an evolution of life sequence with dinosaurs.

In case you’re totally confused, allow me to elucidate. Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain are Mr. and Mrs. O’Brien. They appear to be a typical 1950’s family, though Mr. O’Brien is suffering from the same economic conditions plaguing many workers today through the auspices of Obama’s “economic recovery” program. The flashbacks all center on a time when the O’Brien children are just entering the teen years. Sean Penn shows up in modern times as Jack, the oldest of the O’Brien children, who is apparently a successful businessman, but still harbors specters of his lost brother. He is seen in a series of disconnected shots, sighing and pining, but has no lines of dialogue. This is perhaps a good thing because most of the time when Penn speaks “nowhere in his incoherent rambling is there anything resembling a rational thought. I therefore award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul” (apologies to fans of BILLY MADISON).

This entire story could be told in under an hour, so, how do you stretch the tale into two and a half hours, so that folks receive their money’s worth? The beginning of the film has Chastain intone, off screen, there are two ways to approach life, nature or grace; subtly masking the God vs. nature argument. Coming from Hollywood, and Malick, you can already surmise the film’s tone. So, in between sequences of flashbacks and grieving family members, Malick gives us his version of FANTASIA. The dinosaur sequence is without question the best sequence in the film. We are treated to dinosaurs rarely depicted, such as a herd of Parasaurolophus, a baby Parasaurolophus being attacked by an Ornithomimosaur, the precusors to the dreaded Velociraptors and a Plesiosaur dying on a beach with a large bite wound in its side. No hint given as to what its encounter was with, or if the battle was on land or in the sea. Different creatures, for a prehistoric film sequence, and it’s the only one that merited TREE OF LIFE a few points in the rating scale. We also see the asteroid slamming the Earth that some folks feel caused the dinos’ demise.

CREW AND TECHS
Those who sit behind a camera know there are three types of vector shots; motion, index and graphic. TREE OF LIFE offers the best examples of motion and graphic vectors I have seen in quite some time in film. Credit goes to Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki for presenting an uninteresting tale in a visually stunning manner. His work here could easily be utilized in a class room for perspective cameramen. Lubezki is best known for his work on the Clive Owen sci-fi thriller CHILDREN OF MEN and the FIST OF FIORE AWARD WINNER, Tim Burton’s SLEEPY HOLLOW, with Johnny Depp. After Lubezki’s camerawork, there’s not much to say, technically about this film.

Editor Hank Corwin places the different sequences juggling the nature scenes with the O’Brien’s family scenes in such a haphazard manner it adds to the confusion and disarray of the movie. As mentioned earlier, Desplat, presents exorbitant orchestrations, especially for the nature sequences, but what is shown on screen is more conducive to a Pink Floyd laser show. David Gilmore’s screeching guitar would have been awesome.

WRAP
TREE OF LIFE is a film for folks who like to mingle at social parties and talk about film, as if they understand the business, and for people who are constantly depressed and want their entertainment to be depressing also; much like every liberal I know. The movie starts with the loss of a child, and then proceeds to make every social comment possible in a manner only Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid could appreciate.

Remember when you were in high school and you knew the term paper you were about to hand in was pure and utter crap? In an attempt to salvage some type of grade, you stated the paper was symbolic of something or other. Some times the ploy would work, other times, the “F” was inevitable. TREE OF LIFE is Terrence Malick presenting his film, using the symbolism ploy.

Interestingly, after seeing the screening for TREE OF LIFE, I happened to be at a party and Pittsburgh Film Critic Icon Ed Blank was also here. Ed agreed to see TREE OF LIFE and give me his opinion. As you, my loyal fans, and you are legion, are well aware, Ed and I rarely agree on movies. In a rare magnanimous gesture, I will share Ed’s opinion of TREE OF LIFE on the OUTTAKES WITH FIORE Facebook page. It’s the least I can do for a terrible movie that at least had dinosaurs and amazing camera work.


THE RATING FOR TREE OF LIFE = F
BFCA RATING = 2/10


THE GREEN LANTERN





Straight out, THE GREEN LANTERN is a fun super hero movie and a great summer popcorn eye fest. Considering the post-production woes this film went through, I entered the screening with some trepidation. The film had its initial trailers yanked off the press corps (don’t pronounce the ‘s’; the president was wrong) website. It went under so many rewrites before release date it seemed the script was doomed to rival HOWARD THE DUCK. But, somehow, through all the chaos, the magic, be it from a green light or not, worked. I’m pleasantly surprised that two Class B superheroes, THOR and THE GREEN LANTERN have turned out to be two of the better comic book movies.

TECHS & CREW
THE GREEN LANTERN boasts some of the summer’s best 3D. It’s not a blatant, in your face gimmick, like DRIVE ANGRY, but rather a subtle espial. Grant Masor Production Designer (the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy and KING KONG) and John Baker, Effects Supervisor (DEATH RACE and the upcoming remake of RED DAWN) combine their talents to blend computer images and actors amply. Masor has created an interesting Parallax. Its malevolent head is surrounded by dreadlock tentacles that suck the fear out of living creatures. Cool beans!

James Howard Newton provides a dramatic soundtrack, though at key times, you can easily hear rifts from the original SUPERMAN score. Stuart Baird, who has two FIST OF FIORE AWARDS to his credit, DEMOLITION MAN and THE LAST BOY SCOUT, paces THE GREEN LANTERN well. The first half of the film moves nicely and just when the gait seems to slow, he jumps to the final conflict. The film is neatly packaged in less than two hours. Overall, Director Martin Campbell, who has THE FIST OF FIORE AWARD winning THE MARK OF ZORRO under his belt, has managed to dust off all the woes surrounding this film and present what is sure to be one of the summer’s biggest box office draws.

PLOT AND STARS
The great thing about THE GREEN LANTERN is it’s self contained; there are no inside secret comic book only plot twists or innuendoes only fans would understand. Even if you’ve never read THE GREEN LANTERN, you can watch this film without feeling left in the cold.

There is a society of guardians who watch over the universe and protect it from evil. These guardians derive their power from will, which manifests itself in the form of a green light. Eons ago, one of the guardians went rogue and was imprisoned in the Lost Sector. He manages to escape, and now seeks revenge on the entire universe. You have to love villains seeking world, or in this case universe domination. His first attack is on the soldier who imprisoned him, Abin Sur, played by Temuera Morrison. Sur, mortally wounded, must seek his replacement in The Green Lantern Corps (again boys and girls, do not pronounce the ‘s’; unfortunately our president says many things in error). His journey takes him to Earth, and Hal Jordan, a reckless, or fearless military pilot, played by Ryan Reynolds is selected as Sur’s replacement.

I winced at the selection of Reynolds as THE GREEN LANTERN. He seems to be in his milieu when playing preadolescent comedy roles. Images of Michael Keaton, as Batman came to mind. But Reynolds pulls off the role nicely. He is permitted to use his wise-cracking persona as Jordan is a reluctant hero with serious doubts about his worth and abilities.

Aiding Jordan in his quest to stop the rogue guardian and become a bona fide member of the Lantern Corps are a plethora of allies including Sinestro, played by Mark Strong. I have been singing Strong’s praises for years now. He is a true actor, changing appearance and voice in nearly every role he tackles. His body of work is impressive and he never fails to place a stellar performance on celluloid. He is quite entertaining in this role, and nicely sets up the sequel.

Other Lanterns are all CGI, but carry an impressive list of stars as voice talent. They include: Geoffrey Rush as Tomar-Re; Michael Clarke Duncan as Kilowog and Clancy Brown as Parallax.

Human supporting actors include Angela Basset as Dr. Amanda Waller. Basset still looks as if she spends more time in the gym than THE ARNOLD. Blake Lively plays Jordan’s love interest, Carol Ferris. Tim Robbins cameos as Senator Hammond and Peter Sarsgaard as his son, Hector. All of these actors have minimum screen time. THE GREEN LANTERN is primarily animated characters and settings and Reynolds.

KEY SCENE TO LOOR FOR:
1. PARALLAX’S ESCAPE
2. TRAINING WITH KILOWOG
3. THE ENDING FIGHT
4. FERRIS’ RECOGNITION OF JORDAN

WRAP
Despite test market pans, major rewrites and general confusion over the final project between January and May of this year, THE GREEN LANTERN has come together nicely. Grab the popcorn, slip on the 3D glasses and enjoy.


THE RATING FOR THE GREEN LANTERN = B
BFCA RATING = 8/10


SUPER 8





One thing you can say about J.J. Abrams, he knows how to market a film. He had people lined up for hours to see CLOVERFIELD, the movie that was supposed to introduce the American Godzilla monster. He’s pulled a similar move with SUPER 8, showing nothing of the monster in the film’s trailers and keeping everything hush-hush. The result, so many people bought advance tickets to the movie, Paramount has decided to open it one day earlier to accommodate the masses. The movie will play at various locations throughout the Pittsburgh region, and some theatres are having midnight showings on Wednesday. The hype will be, and already is, better than the movie. SUPER 8 has an Abrams dark side, but too much of the film has the Steven Spielberg influence. At the Pittsburgh premiere, I remembered thinking I’d seen this all before. Most of the film is a rehash of Spielberg’s THE GOONIES. The rest is comprised of pieces of ET and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND. Toss in a tad of CLOVERFIELD, and you have SUPER 8 in a nutshell. Film viewers constantly grip about remakes, but even worse are the rehash films. SUPER 8 rehashes too much of Spielberg and doesn’t allow Abrams’ viciousness to surface.

THE PLOT AND STARS
SUPER 8 concerns a rag tag group of kids with aspirations of becoming filmmakers and winning the Cleveland Amateur Film Festival. As an aside to the folks in Cleveland, the filmmakers have dissed your city royally. SUPER 8 was filmed in West Virginia. In fact, several folks from the neighboring southern state were sitting next to me at the premiere. Every time a recognized street or business appeared on screen, I was privy to rousing applause and endless stories of the history of the place. Folks in WV apparently don’t get out too often. Nevertheless, how do you people in Cleveland feel when the film company won’t even come to your town to make the movie and instead have WV sub for the home of the Browns? Have to do something about the crime rate and the tax structure. But I digress…

These kids are out filming at a remote train station when an Air Force train whisks by and proceeds to crash releasing a strange cargo and a monster. Naturally, the incident is caught on the kids’ film. That brings up another tirade: at the premiere, some silly woman yells at the end “Why did they call it Super 8?” Really? Are you that dense? Really? Have you never read anything but Oprah? Really? Are you aware of life before your miserable existence? But, once again, I digress…

Well, soon the town is sequestered by the Air Force, strange things begin to happen and it’s up to our intrepid band of precocious youths to solve the mystery and save everyone. Joel Courtney plays Joe Lamb, the chief protagonist. He follows all the stereotypes Spielberg has incorporated into his films involving kids (nearly all). Riley Griffiths is Charlie, Joe’s pudgy friend and director of the film. Together, they spout off all the clichés Hollywood directors use today. In this fashion, Abrams and Spielberg are poking fun at their colleagues, and it’s an inside joke that carries well throughout the film. Ryan Lee plays Cary, a member of the squad who has a propensity for blowing things up, or lighting them on fire. His pyrotechnics come in handy during the final reel. Elle Fanning plays Alice, or Ali, the love interest for Joe (and Charlie) and the prototype natural actress. Key adult roles go to Kyle Chandler as Joe’s dad, who also happens to be the town’s deputy sheriff, and Noah Emmerick as Nelec, the Air Force Colonel who is trying to keep secrets and reign in the monster. The kids in the movie are great, especially Lee. This is Spielberg’s influence, as he is always able to bring child actors to the forefront. Emmerick is constantly type cast as a villain, so his appearance and performance offer no surprises. Chandler does yeoman duty, but his character plays only second banana to the kids, so he’s never really given a chance to shine.

KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:
1. THE TRAIN STATION
2. THE BUS
3. THE MIDDLE SCHOOL

TECHS AND CREW

Kudos must go to Hank Atterbury, who is the pyrotechnician for the film. His explosions are spectacular and are incorporated as a key element of the story. Georgie Martinez also deserves praise for this creature creation; ah, but this is a double edged sword and needs a bit of explanation (also to clarify the statement in the first paragraph, which I’m sure sent the long-haired, leaping gnome fanboys into a frenzy).

When Abrams released CLOVERFIELD, he stated his desire was to create a monster that would be the American equivalent of Godzilla in Japan. Godzilla is an icon, used in promotions and advertising and easily identified with the country. Abrams wanted the same for his monster. It never happened. The reason: his CLOVERFIELD monster was unproportional. Audiences didn’t warm to it, like they do to Godzilla, because it was too alien. This monster is the same. It’s cool, but it’s not going to elicit any empathy from viewers simply because it’s too weird.

Cinematographer Larry Fong, for the most part, does a fine job. The exception is a twirling 360 degree motion vector where he tries, but fails dismally, to mimic Tak Fujimoto (an OUTTAKES favorite).

Maryann Brandon paces the piece well as Editor, with the exception of the opening reel, which drags considerably. To her credit, though, she seems to be handcuffed as Spielberg establishes his alien hunting goonie squad.

WRAP

SUPER 8 suffers from an identity crisis. At times it exemplifies the Abrams brutality; as the scenes in which the alien is making a seven course meal out of the townsfolk demonstrate. But Abrams’ influence is curtailed by Spielberg’s SOP. Kids are the heroes, the alien is really friendly and just wants to go home, and the military is somehow the ultimate antagonist behind all the film’s episodes. On the other hand, Abrams’ obsession with presenting unproportional monsters is counterbalanced by Spielberg giving the creature understanding eyes in a close up shot during the conclusion. And his obsession with ‘reality’ camera shots is held in check, as Spielberg, being old school, appreciates the use of a good solid tripod.

Spielberg definitely turned SUPER 8 into a kids movie; one that will appeal to a grand, general audience. As such, it suffers from movie rehash. We really have seen all this, even heard the dialogue, before. This is one time I would liked to have seen what SUPER 8 would have been like if Abrams had done it himself, goofy monster and all. Probably rated R, a lot more violence, the kids would have been eaten and the military would have to use the nuclear option to defeat the alien. Yeah, it would have been a better monster movie, but not a better family movie.


THE RATING FOR SUPER 8 = C
BFCA RATING = 6/10


Fiore is host and producer of OUTTAKES, the longest running film review program in the Tri-State area and the most must read conservative film critic in the nation. He likes monsters and aliens that are mean and nasty; not friendly beings of greater intelligence or sparkling vampires, or poochy dog werewolves or misunderstood mutants.

THE HANGOVER 2





Regular fans of OUTTAKES, and you are legion, know I was not a big fan of THE HANGOVER. It would follow then, I was largely unimpressed with THE HANGOVER 2. One thing I will say, kudos to Director and Writer Todd Phillips. The first movie was a monster runaway box office hit, so he followed the old maxim, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. THE HANGOVER 2 is pretty much the same old same old, with a monkey replacing the tiger and Bangkok replacing Las Vegas. Other than those deviations, you’ll be left with the feeling you’ve seen it all before. If you like laughing at the same jokes repeatedly, THE HANGOVER 2 may work for you.

PLOT AND STARS
All the main characters are back, and certainly audience familiarity will work wonders with the film’s comfort level. This time around, the bachelor party is for Stu, played by Ed Helms. The Milquetoast dentist plans to marry the lovely Lauren, played by Jamie Chung. The wedding is held in Thailand, where Lauren’s family resides in a lavish mansion. Lauren’s father does not like Stu and despises him more after the Wolfpack holds another bachelor party.

An interesting side note, the tattoo artist who created the tattoo for Mike Tyson, who again makes an appearance in the film, and for Stu, sued Warner Brothers in an attempt to halt the release of the film. He was looking for a lump sum payment based on infringement. The case is continuing, but the judge would not halt the release of the film.

Bradley Cooper returns as Phil, the logical and cohesive glue to the motley crew. Zach Galifianakis returns as Alan, the origin of most of the mayhem and Justin Bartha appears in a cameo role as Doug. Cooper is doing yeoman duty this time around and adds nothing to his character. Galifianakis stormed Hollywood in the first film with his performance and he has been typecast as a remedial Richard Dreyfuss ever since. As in the first, Ken Jeong, as Chinese criminal Mr. Chow steals the show and most of the scenes.

Comedies like THE HANGOVER 2 are always centered on one main gag. The key is to provide a gag that is novel and shocking. The gag this time around is hermaphrodites. It is the ‘something new’ for R-rated comedies and provides enough grotesque imagery to keep the target audience amused. This single element may propel THE HANGOVER 2 to a massive opening weekend.

KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:
1. THE PHOTOS DURING THE END CREDITS

TECHNICAL & CREW

Director of Photography Lawrence Sher offers a few panoramic shots of Bangkok which are spectacular. His filming of the chase scene is also noteworthy, though this was the scene that sent one of the stuntmen into a coma.

Editors Debra Neil-Fisher (anyone remember when she was just Debra Neil?) and Mike Sale are a bit off their game in THE HANGOVER 2. The pacing is erratic and it slows the movie down, especially in the second half. It’s also too long. If you’re going to essentially make the same movie in a different setting, it should be done in less than 90 minutes. Make your jokes and get out. THE HANGOVER 2 is stretched to nearly two hours and it hurts the endeavor. I’ve noticed this is a trend when two or more editors work on a film. It seems the decisions in the cutting room sway toward more than less when multiple editors are involved. One editor dealing with the director would seem to be more effective.

WRAP
Films like THE HANGOVER 2 have a built in audience. A woman sitting behind me at the exclusive Pittsburgh premiere cackled incessantly, even when nothing was happening on screen. The folks sitting to my left and right, however, never laughed out loud. THE HANGOVER 2 is good for a few chuckles, but they come from shticks we’ve seen before and somehow, they’re not as enduring as the routines of THE THREE STOOGES or PETER SELLERS.


THE RATING FOR HANGOVER 2 = D
BFCA RATING = 3/10


PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES




As folks from the press screening began to filter out the doors, I could hear comments like “I thought that was the weakest episode in the series”. As Doc Holiday once averred: “I beg to differ, sir” (apologies to Val Kilmer). ON STRANGER TIDES is the strongest in the series, save, of course for the first, which has yet to be topped. It offers a straight pirate tale with no gargantuan women in whirlpools or complex twists of betrayal made to be social commentaries on today’s government and society. The quest is Ponce Deleon’s Fountain of Youth and there is a mad dash to acquire it from the British, the Spanish and the infamous pirate Blackbeard, though all have different reasons for wanting the Fountain. ON STRANGER TIDES is a rollicking good time, filled with comfortable old friends and enticing new ones.

TECHNICAL AND CREW

I like the manner of Rob Marshall’s direction. He weaves a tale in captivating fashion and seems to revel in endeavors everyone else elects to elude. Nearly a dead format, he transformed two musicals into box office hits with CHICAGO and NINE. Now, he has pumped a bit of life into a series which had run its course. Certainly, additional episodes are in the offing, as the plight of Phillip and Angelica’s doll conjure extravagant escapades for Jack Sparrow.

Dariusz Wolski has been Chief Cinematographer on all the Pirates films. His work is notable in its consistency. Working with 3D has not hampered his effective use of close and medium range shots. David Brenner serves as editor, but in truth, he has a helping hand from Michael Kahn, who is probably Hollywood’s best cutter. And, of course, there is the rousing Pirates theme and the music of Hans Zimmer to carry viewers through all the swashbuckling adventures. It makes one wonder what Errol Flynn would be doing in films today.

The strongest aspect of the film, outside of the over the top acting, is the script. Strangely, it is also the weakest. Ted Elliott has penned a script filled with skullduggery, yet at times the plot twists are predictable and at other times they are too abrupt. Still, the screenplay manages to reinvent the Pirates after the initial trilogy without completing a redo. For example: the entire episode of Jack Sparrow returning from the land of the dead is completely ignored, though at times it would appear to fit nicely in the plot. I for one appreciated this ignoring, for I was never big on the resurrection idea as applied to Sparrow. Spock, it fit; Sparrow it did not.

STARS AND STARLETTS

Our tale opens with Captain Jack Sparrow, again played in convincingly rum-induced manner by Johnny Depp, in trouble with the law. He escapes only to find himself in competition once again with Captain Barbossa, played by Geoffrey Rush. Rush always adapted well to the scurry knave role, but this time around his make up is a bit thick, especially in the opening scenes where it looks as if he has skin disease. New to the cast are Penelope Cruz as Angelica, Ian McShane as Blackbeard, Sam Clafin as Phillip, Astrid Berges-Frisbey (there really is never a solid reason to have a name this long) and Gemma Ward.

Cruz, try as she may, cannot pull off the action woman role as well as Angelina Jolie does. She does yeoman duty, but somehow she seems more at ease with a parasol than a sword. McShane steals the show as Blackbeard. His portrayal is more sinister than his part on DEADWOOD. Clafin may be a returning character as his fate is left unknown while he introduces a new subplot to the series. Ward and Berges-Frisbey play mermaids Tamara and Syrena, respectively. Their best acting comes in attempting to keep their hair covering their breasts. It is Disney, after all, and they do an amazing job, surely with a bit of help and glue, from the make up department.

KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:
1. THE ESCAPE FROM KING GEORGE
2. THE MERMAID SCENE
3. THE PALM TREE ESCAPE

WRAP

The first Pirates film is hard to beat, and continues to be the best in the series. I thought the episodes became sillier as the trilogy continued. Marshall, Depp and crew have managed to put the Pirates back on track. There’s no redundant fighting on rolling wheels. It has a more serious tone. One could easily watch the first film, and then watch ON STRANGER TIDES, skip the middle cartoonish films, and still have a nice transition and a good series. There’s enough of legend and lore to keep the fantasy aspect while providing straight forward swashbuckling action. Bravo.


THE RATING FOR ON STRANGER TIDES = A
BFCA RATING = 9/10


HARD BREAKERS





Really? Really? They made this film with intentions of marketing and distribution? No way. HARD BREAKERS is the type of film you usually find on HBO at 2am. This must have been someone’s tax write off. There’s no other explanation.

Well, I guest that’s not entirely true. Sometimes folks who have wallowed in the mires of filmmaking for so long seek any venue to attempt to rise to solid ground. Director, Writer and Producer Leah Sturgis worked in television news and for video game companies after graduating the Vancouver Film School. She shifted to scriptwriting and penned a pilot that never left the ground, but networked enough for a chance with this film.

Fellow Producer Rock Galotti is a weapons expert. Director of Photography Robert Brinkman has been in the business for over 20 years, but keeps getting bounced from one first time director to another. Save for several obscure documentaries, his work is largely unknown. The same can be said for most of the crew and cast of HARD BREAKERS. It seems as if they were given an opportunity to take a step up and this was it. Too bad, really.

Favors must have been owed to someone. Tom Arnold and Tia Carrere actually make cameos in this mess. Carrere is still a major babe, but is reduced to a pink camo commando rip-off. Arnold has possibly five minutes of screen time, but his opening scene, saying goodbye to his daughter, is the best of the film. Also popping in for cameo roles are Bobby Lee, who deserves much better than this after his incredible work with MADtv and Chris Kattan who was, at best, a second rate role player on Saturday Night Live.

HARD BREAKERS tries to have a story, but fails. Stars Sophie Monk and Cameron Richardson play two beach surfer babes, who have an absolutely terrible time finding a man. Don’t misunderstand me, they find plenty of men. In fact, their bedroom has seen more diversity than the United Nations. These girls just can’t find a man they want to stay with, so they devise a plan to club good-looking dudes with surf boards, drag them to their apartment, have sex with them, and then boot them out. Sounds like a film that should be epic and star Jenna Jameson and Carmen Luvana. Instead, we get this.

Sturgis’s forte is supposed to be writing, but the characters here are never developed. In fact, they shift from sequence to sequence. I realize comedy is the most difficult of scriptwriting genres, but this is an epic fail with a side order of lame sauce.

I truly do wish everyone well who enters the filmmaking business. It’s cruel and merciless. I hope Leah Sturgis can move on to bigger and better things, as can the members of her cast and crew, but, honey the folks who suggested you wager your future on this turkey, where setting you up. The bastards! They also killed Kenny. (Yeah, that corny line was funnier than anything in the movie)

HARD BREAKERS has one funny two and half minute scene. Even if you find it on HBO at 2 am, change the channel.


THE RATING FOR HARDBREAKERS = F
BFCA RATING = 0/10


BRIDESMAIDS





When women began fighting for equal rights, they were looking short term and not long term. Synonymous with the acquisition of these rights came a host of increased medical ailments such as increased heartaches, high blood pressure, stress, cancer and psychological disorders. As they climbed the corporate ladders, they discovered less fulfillment in their lives, less satisfaction, despondency and a general lack of respect especially by their males counterparts,. In short, women began to acquire all the trials and tribulations of being a man, coupled with the barriers of being a woman. Now, apparently, they have dipped into the sewers of bathroom humor, thanks to Producer Judd Apatow and Director Paul Feig. Their latest endeavor, BRIDESMAIDS, is an attempt to create a click flick in the Beavis and Butthead mode. Apatow makes millions attempting to be as irreverent and crass as he possibly can (something they accuse me of, without the millions, of course) and he is in top form here as he targets women, specifically the over 30 crowd. Think of BRIDESMAIDS as SEX IN THE CITY done in Archie Bunker style. The movie has a few laughs, quite a few groans and a few scenes that ask the question “was that necessary?”. Men have been depicted as barbarians on screen since film began, but is it really necessary to illicit laughter from a predominantly female audience by showing women throwing up on each other, participating in flatulent jokes and taking large bowel movements “like hot molten lava” in the street and in a lavatory sink? I guess the prude in me hoped this was one ‘right’ women would not stoop to in their desire to be more like men.

PLOT AND STARS
BRIDESMAIDS concerns best friends Annie and Lilian. They have ‘been around the block’ a few times in their lives, but still find comfort in their friendship. Their worlds change when Lilian announces she is engaged to her current beau, Douglas. She naturally asks Annie to be her Maid of Honor. Their friendship and the ensuing wedding are all placed in jeopardy as Annie attempts to create the perfect wedding for Lilian with fierce competition from Helen and the other bridesmaids.

Kristen Wiig stars as Annie. Her performance is manic. She plays each scene like a tightly wound wire. As one of the script co-writers, I would have thought she’d be more comfortable with the material. Maya Rudolph is Lilian. She plays the role fairly straight, as her main purpose is to serve as foil to Wiig’s antics. Rounding out the BRIDESMAIDS are Rose Byrne, Melissa McCarthy, Wendi McLendon-Covey and Elle Kemper. Most notable of the group is McCarthy who is really the misfit of the group. She seems more compatible with Larry the Cable Guy than with this assortment of women. Still, she manages to steal most of the scenes from her costars. Her scene with the bear sandwich is gross, but I found myself laughing in spite of the visuals.


KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:
1. THE GARAGE DOOR
2. THE AIRPLANE TRIP


TECHNICAL

BRIDESMAIDS is basically a chick flick, and as such, there’s no need for spectacular technical work. Director of Photography Robert Yeoman does yeoman duty here (sorry, that was just too easy) and Michael Andrews offers a musical score easily found in any TV studio’s music library.

There are two editors for BRIDESMAIDS, William Kerr and Mike Sale. With two editors, I am forced to ponder why the movie contains so many editing mistakes? Aren’t two heads better than one? Maybe Bill cut and Mike put it back in, I don’t know. I do know this film is slightly over two hours and there is no reason at all for it to be this long. How many poop and fart jokes do you have to keep in to achieve humor? The ending of the movie is abrupt, with no rationale, like a horse dashing for the finish line. A little more judicious editing could have allowed for a neater ending. And, some scenes are simply too long. The joke has been made, the laughs received, and then it continues like the song that never ends. Check the microphone scene as an example. Overdone and beating the proverbial dead horse.

WRAP
Take a group of middle aged women. Have them stop at a local bar for a few libations, before going to see BRIDESMAIDS. They will laugh there heads off and have a great night out. The rest of us suffer through the ordeal, sadly shake our heads and wonder how women’s equality could have brought them this low.


THE RATING FOR BRIDESMAIDS = D
BFCA RATING = 4/10


THERE BE DRAGONS



Is it any wonder THERE BE DRAGONS doesn’t have a major advertising campaign, and is opening in Pittsburgh without typical premiere fanfare? After all, the movie casts a favorable eye upon the Catholic Church and presents Socialism and Communism as murderous, failed political systems. This film is hearalded by the Hollywood left with as much enthusiasm as ATLAS SHRUGGED. THERE BE DRAGONS was not promoted through normal channels. I had to acquire press notes and video clips from direct contact with the Samuel Goldwyn Film Company, rather than through the usual Hollywood clearing house. Naturally, there was no press screening. Tinsel Town can’t be associated with any film supporting the Catholic Church, or one that belittles two of its political pillars.

Since Cecil B. DeMille died, no one has had the audacity to make a film about a saint. In Hollywood’s current heathenistic and humanistic mien, it would be career ending. Remember the abuse poured on Mel Gibson for his PASSION OF THE CHRIST? Roland Joffe, an established filmmaker, wrote and directed THERE BE DRAGONS. He was called ‘mad’ by his peers for accepting the project. But THERE BE DRAGONS isn’t about a saint, nor is it about the Catholic Church or the Opus Dei sect of the Church, though those elements are all crucial subplots to the film. This is why its good to read a review of this film from someone like me; otherwise you would be reduced to reading reviews from independent film critics who would scream like banshees at a film criticizing their core beliefs and diminish its attributes with revisionist history.


PLOT AND STARS

THERE BE DRAGONS follows the lives of two childhood friends, one who follows a good path to priesthood, the other who sways to a life of violence and crime. Immediately, this harkens to the classic ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES, starring James Cagney, Pat O’Brien, Humphrey Bogart and the Dead End Kids. Charlie Cox plays Josemaria. While the saint’s works and beliefs are central to the plot, they are referred to only through dialogue and not depicted. One of his performed miracles, the curing of an orange-sized tumor, is revealed only through newspaper photographs. At center stage is Josemaria’s relationship with longtime friend Manolo, played by Wes Bentley. Manolo tries to follow his friend into the priesthood, but is not suitable for the lifestyle and quickly enters the war. The story of how their lives intertwine is told by Manolo, while on his deathbed to his son, Robert, played by Dougray Scott. Bentley offers a strong performance, playing the cad who wears a crooked halo. Cox is never provided the opportunity to expand his role. Outside of a few secluded meetings with his group, he spends most of the film on the lamb. His dialogue is scarce and as such comes through as weak. Scott is impassioned until the final reels. His transformation is too abrupt and therefore unbelievable. Olga Kurylenko, who tried desperately to seduce Timothy Olyphant in HITMAN, pays Ildiko, Manolo’s love interest.


KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:
1. THE FRENCH BORDER SCENE
2. ILDIKO’S END


TECHNICAL AND HISTORY


The tale of two friends connecting throughout meaningful lives is a classic tale and it’s treated well here. Joffe has scripted a compelling saga, but one with gaps. In an attempt to not make the film religious, he downplays the Opus Dei connection too much. Joffe shortchanges viewers with the film’s conclusion; it is a bit abrupt and relies on end graphics for closure, Cox is never given the opportunity to engulf his character’s passion, which was considered radical at the time. As such, the film does not reveal why or how Josemaria became a saint or the impact of his sect within the Church. This is truly a missed opportunity since Hollywood went overboard to ridicule Opus Dei in THE DA VINCI CODE, with Tom Hanks.

Make up Designer Ana Lopez-Puigcerver fumbles the ball in the film’s final reels. The make-up to turn Bentley into an old, dying man is uneven and looks too artificial. In several scenes, the scheme shifts, demonstrating a lack of consistency in application.

Central to the plot of THERE BE DRAGONS is an understanding of Opus Dei. Opus Dei is an organization within the Catholic Church that works with local parishes while being autonomous within the Church’s hierarchy. It is a strict, ordered and structured group, designed to function without fanfare or hype. Because of this, Opus Dei has been labeled as ‘secretive’. They are not so much secretive as desirous of avoiding media blitz hype. Their mission is “to turn work and daily activities into occasions for growing closer to God, serving others and improving society”. Opus Dei was founded by Josemaria Escriva, a priest who earned sainthood for his endeavors. Prior to Opus Dei, there was a distinct barrier between the clergy and laity. It was thought those who selected religious orders were higher on the holy scale and therefore closer to God. Escriva’s organization proclaimed that everyone can equally glorify God through their daily living. This is a tenant which the Catholic Church embraces today.

THERE BE DRAGONS is an enjoyable film with an off-centered peek at turbulent times in Spain and the foundation of a radical religious sect. The Spanish Civil War and particularly the Battle of Madrid (1936) serve as the political backdrop for a tale of two friends on opposite sides of politics and religion. As the Fascists and Communists battle each other, you can’t help thinking one strong American Capitalist could have come along and cleaned up this mess with little problem and less bloodshed. While Joffe has already piqued the ire of his leftist colleagues, he still provides a tale far more enjoyable than FAIR GAME, CASINO JACK, CLIENT 9, INSIDE JOB and the other propaganda films the liberal left jammed down viewers’ throats at Oscar time.


THE RATING FOR THERE BE DRAGONS = B
BFCA RATING = 7/10


THOR





Let me say from the onset I have never read THOR graphic novels. Quite a few years back, I did have Ron Frenz as a guest on the show. The renown Marvel artist, who makes his home in Pittsburgh, had just stopped drawing Spider Man, in his black outfit, and shifted to Thor, where he remained the main drawer for years. We talked a little about the character, he gave me a few autographed Thor posters, but outside of that conversation, I entered the press screening of the film with no preconceptions. It’s important to point this out, because fanboys tend to be a fanatical group with a warped sense of justice and an aura of non tolerance. Now, having said that, I can say I thoroughly enjoyed THOR. It’s a bizarre combination of superhero themes and fantasy realms. The 3D dimension nudged it a bit higher on the entertainment scale.

Originally, I thought Thor was the Norse God of Thunder, who lived with Odin in Valhalla with Valkyrie maidens. Silly me. Thor, according to this movie, is an inhabitant of a distant planet, Asgard, fashioned quite like the Old Earth Viking days, except they have the ability to transport through wormholes to various galaxies. They used to do the same thing on FARSCAPE, but of course Ben Crowder had a lot better weaponry than swords and spears. How exactly is it that a civilization can be advanced enough to travel through space, but fight with weapons from Medieval Times (the actual time and not the restaurant)?

No one can really argue with a super hero movie that boasts a bevy of box office powerhouses. THOR offers the talents of Sir Anthony Hopkins as Odin, and Rene Russo as his loving wife Frigga. This is important mythology, because its where we have key important phrases of today, such as “Where’s my Frigga dinner?” and “Get off your ass and clean this Frigga house!”

Natalie Portman, who judiciously stocked up on starring roles before delivery, plays Jane Foster, Thor’s Earth bound love interest. A heavily made-up Ray Stevenson plays Volstagg, a Viking version of Punisher, and you can look for Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury and Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye in uncredited roles. All these actors appear to be having a lot of fun with their characters, and the good times translate into most of THOR’s magic.

Finally, Chris Hemsworth is Thor and Tom Hiddleston is his brother Loki. The personal trainers have worked wonders with Hemsworth. He is sure to provide the ladies with ample beefcake. His acting, however, leaves a bit to be desired. He is certainly no Edward Norton, or Robert Downey, Jr. or Christian Bale, all of whom have played super heroes with aplomb. He simply doesn’t bring any gravitas to the part. Hiddleston, on the other hand, is scene stealing as Loki. His character goes through a wide range of transitions and Hiddleston “plays them like a harp from hell” (apologies to the Penguin). Loki, as you may recall, is the Norse God of Mischief and it was his mask which turned innocent Stanley Ipcuss into a cartoon-fashioned super hero. Unfortunately, there is no sign of the Mask or Jim Carrey in THOR.


KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:
1. THE INVASION TO THE LAND OF THE ICE GIANTS
2. THOR RETRIEVES HIS HAMMER


There are quite a few ‘heavies’ behind the camera for THOR. Director Kenneth Branagh, he of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, guides his cast through as serious a performance as a comic book will allow. Bo Welch has long been recognized as a movie stalwart in production design and everything from the bridges of Asgard to the one-horse town reflect his panache. Vic Armstrong, best known for his work on the top action films of the 1980’s, is second unit director and he has brought his family along as a bevy of Armstrongs abound in that second unit. Paul Rubell paces THOR well with his editing skills. He is best known for his work on the TRANSFORMER movies and COLLATERAL, with Tom Cruise. The only new comer is Haris Zambarloukos as Cinematographer. His resume to this point is unattractive, but he was listed as one of the top ten to watch in the trades. Finally, Gary Ray Stearns (another of the dreaded three-named people) serves as the fight scene choreographer. Previously, he’s worked on THE PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN series.

If any of the rumors regarding pro wrestler Triple H were true, Marvel has done a fine job hiding them. As the story goes, Triple H was first chosen for the role of THOR. He is, however, under contract to World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) and is married to the owner’s daughter. WWE, and specifically Vince McMahon, wanted a piece of the character rights if his son-in-law was to star. Marvel would hear nothing of it, so Triple H was out and the door opened for Hemsworth. A scenario of Triple H hurt and unable to compete was already presented in the WWE script, so rumors around the set were that Triple H served as a body double, uncredited, in several scenes. The personal trainers have chiseled Hemsworth’s body, but there are a few scenes where the arms look massively larger than they should. I know this effect can be achieved by changing the camera lens. Jean-Claude VanDamme used the technique constantly, but I wouldn’t be surprised if, say by the time THOR hits the deluxe DVD package, it is revealed those arms belonged to Triple H. Check the scene, shot from overhead, as Thor uses a two-handed grip on the hammer.

There is a graphic teaser at the end of the movie promising Thor will return in THE AVENGERS. There is also an added scene at the end of the credits which introduces the Cosmic Cube and the possible arrival of Thanos. That would be more in line with THOR 2, than it would THE AVENGERS.

THE RATING FOR THOR = A
BFCA RATING = 9/10


HANNA





As I sat in the theatre for the press screening of HANNA, I initially thought I’d mistakenly wandered into the wrong theatre. The opening sequence is reminiscent of NANNOK OF THE NORTH, with people “walking across the tundra, mile after mile” (apologies to Frank Zappa). And, like NANNOK, that iconic mundane documentary, HANNA begins slow and then proceeds at a turtle’s trot. The plot is never really clear; there is no explanation for a proposed rendezvous in Berlin and just why Hanna and her father pose a threat to America’s security. So, HANNA presents itself as a slow and confusing action thriller; certainly not the traits you want for the genre.

This project was doomed from the start. Director Joe Wright has an impressive resume including THE SOLOIST, ATONEMENT and PRIDE AND THE PREJUDICE (no zombies), but he is a bit out of his milieu in action. He’s brought along his long time collaborator, Editor Paul Tothill as a comfort buffer, but it’s evident the two are more inclined to a different style of pacing.

Truth be told, though, Tothill, working together with Cinematographer Alwin Kuchler, have combined for a convincing venture in creating a 14 year old female assassin. Let’s face it, it’s hard enough trying to make today’s crop of action stars look like they know what they’re doing. Matt Damon, Mark Wahlberg and all those sorry sods selected to play super heroes this summer, are put into a gym with a personal trainer to look the part, but none of them can fight their way out of a paper bag. So viewers are cursed with the erratic close-up, shaky camera, quick editing sequences so despised by true aficionados of action films. Now, Tothill and Kuchler must convince a packed theatre a petite youngster, whose biggest challenge to date has been angling for the camera lens, can best 200 pound CIA agents. Right. They attempt this caper by bringing in Stunt Coordinator extraordinaire Jeff Imada, limiting Hanna’s fight sequences to a select few and having all of them occur in darkened surroundings. I’ve spoken about Imada’s work before. He is simply one of the best. When the adults are center stage, he stages impressive fight sequences that are realistic, believable and brutal. It’s old school martial arts at its best.

Hanna is played by Saoirse Ronan and her father Erik is Eric Bana. They are both sequestered in the Arctic practicing daily survival and constantly surprise attacking one another in the same vane as Kato and Inspector Clousseau. Ronan is a frail looking waif with doe set blue eyes. Regardless of training, there is simply no way she is capable of making anyone but old frumps believe she is capable of battling more than the school yard bully. Her portrayal would have been aided by letter her work magic with that bow throughout the film.

My heart goes out to Bana. He bombed terribly as THE HULK, though it was more Ang Lee’s direction that sabotaged the project than his acting. Next, he had his butt kicked by a pansy-looking Brad Pitt in TROY, and now he plays second fiddle to Ronan who can’t pull off the role as teenage assassin. If he’s trying to gain a foothold in action like Clive Owen has, he’s following an absurd path.

Once Hanna’s training is complete, she must leave the Arctic and travel to Berlin. “When you can snatch the pebble from my hand, it will be time for you to leave” (apologies to Phillip Ahn). Trying to prevent her from fulfilling her quest is Marisa, played by Cate Blanchett. She has mastered playing the conniving, calculating bitch, much like Meg Foster before her. The problem is, you always know she’s going to be the antagonist.


KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:
1. THE FIGHT IN THE SUBWAY
2. THE FIGHT IN THE PARK


Writer Seth Lochhead is a sly devil. He needed to keep the script tame to garner the PG-13 rating necessary to ensure the target audience of little girls 12-18, yet still desired to instill “the agenda”. As a result, lesbianism, bisexuality and transsexuality are all alluded to in subtle overtones; just enough to plant seeds in the minds of the target audience. Cleaver. Typical, but cleaver.

While watching the first action sequence, I quickly noticed the score. “Sounds like the Chemical Brothers”, I said to myself. When the Chemical Brothers appeared in the end credits, I tossed the John Cena three figured salute into the air and yelled “Yes!” The few folks remaining in the theatre thought I’d lost my mind, but deep inside, I knew the Cosmos was back in proper alignment. Not that I’m an expert on The Chemical Brothers, but they have a very distinctive sound, especially in films, much like Vangelis.

Unfortunately, The Chemical Brothers have created a soundtrack far superior to the film. There are simply too many plot holes in HANNA to make any of it believable on any level. In Germany, the title of the film is WER IST HANNA. Who cares?


THE RATING FOR HANNA = D
BFCA RATING = 4/10


ARTHUR





Nearly everyone launches into a tirade when confronted with the number of remakes Hollywood produces in any given year. Cries of “Why are they remaking that?”; “That doesn’t need remade, it’s a classic” and” Aren’t there any new ideas in Hollywood anymore?” dominate the social networks and conversations at the office water cooler.

Allow me to suggest the dominating purpose behind a remake should be because the story is a classic. Classic tales deserve to be retold. If it weren’t for retelling tales, no one would ever have heard of Shakespeare. The problem is with the approach. Several years back, Hollywood gave us a remake of PYSCHO. It was, essentially, the same movie, shot for shot. It, deservedly, died a painful death. No one, but no one should remake a film in exactly the same fashion as the original. If it’s that good, it doesn’t need to be remade.

After the press screening of ARTHUR, one of the pseudo-critics of Pittsburgh (spooky dude) commented: “This is fine because there’s a whole generation that has never seen the original.” Wrong, quiz kid. Remakes should also not be used to compensate for cultural illiteracy. You don’t remake movies for people too lazy to watch the original. Admittedly, there are probably too many who think THE LONGEST YARD stars Adam Sandler. They will never know the style and substance the cast of the original, especially Burt Reynolds, brought to the film. Shame on them. It is not Hollywood’s job to say “look you wastes of carbon, you’ve never seen this great film, so we’re going to do it again for you.” As motivation for a remake, it dooms the endeavor to failure. That is cultural retardation. Epic fail.

Remakes should be a different interpretation of the original. It’s similar to movies adapted from novels. Viewers, and those annoying fanboys, will screech “It didn’t follow the book!” It isn’t supposed to, and it shouldn’t. Different medium, different approach. So, again, let me suggest the problem with remakes lies not in the remaking, but rather in how the remake is done. That said, the remake of ARTHUR is done right and makes for enjoyable fare. It is not as good as the original. The original was funny. This remake is cute.

The story behind ARTHUR is one that is timeless; two people fall in love from different societal and economic castes. The tale has spurred myriad anecdotes. The twist with ARTHUR is the character’s perpetual state of inebriation and his seeming immaturity. When true love comes his way, our plastered protagonist is already betrothed to a beastly bitch.

Arthur, in this remake is played by Russell Brand. He is no Dudley Moore. He manages to fire off quite a few one-liners, but his delivery is often too fast and low. While Brand is supposed to be playing a drunkard, his style and manner is more like the slackers he normally portrays. You could easily tell in the original when Moore was drunk and when he was sober. There is no distinction in the new version. Blame Brand’s performance, or lack thereof. Greta Gerwig stars as Naomi, the common girl who captures Arthur’s fancy. Gerwig is weak and does not captivate as Liza Minnelli did in the role. She is, however, much better to look at than Liza. Helen Mirren takes the Sir John Gielgud role of Hobson. She is solid and the switch from butler to nanny is a nice twist. Jennifer Garner is given a lot of leeway in her role as Susan. She flexes her muscles (obviously left over from her DAREDEVIL days) and adds considerable heft to the part. Luis Guzman is miscast as Bitterman and Nick Nolte swings by for a cameo as Burt Johnson, Susan’s father.


KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:
1. THE BATMOBILE CHASE
2. THE FIRST MEETING IN GRAND CENTRAL STATION
3. THE MAGNETIC BED SEQUENCE


Behind the camera, this version of ARTHUR serves as a big scoring opportunity for folks who have mired in television. Director Jason Winer, Writer Peter Baynham and Cinematographer Uta Briesewitz have all been playing too long for the small screen. ARTHUR provides them the opportunity to extend their talents to full length movies and they handle the transition with aplomb. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Baynham was also responsible for BRUNO, which was an absolute disaster and probably should be expunged from his resume. He redeems himself, slightly, with this outing. Only editor Brent White is a veteran of these types of comedies having worked on THE OTHER GUYS (dreadful), KNOCKED UP (too predictable) and 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN (funny). He is in his milieu with ARTHUR.

This remake doesn’t top the original, but then again, it doesn’t try to; there are enough changes to keep it fresh. It should not be seen in place of the original, but it certainly stands beside it comfortably.


THE RATING FOR ARTHUR = B
BFCA RATING = 7/10


YOUR HIGHNESS





Director David Gordon Green is certainly not winning over this critic. His PINEANPPLE EXPRESS was true excrement on celluloid and his latest, YOUR HIGHNESS, while not excrement, is still a mindless film most people would be better off not seeing. I say most because, unfortunately, there are still members of our society who have the BEAVIS AND BUTTHEAD mentality. Maybe we should gather them all together for one big showing and then… oh, never mind, wishful thinking.

YOUR HIGHNESS attempts to take the slacker comedy template and instill it in medieval times. There is a rip-off of the mechanical owl Obo from the original CLASH OF THE TITANS. This one, called Simon, is a blackbird with red eyes. Right out of Edgar Allen Poe, wouldn’t you say? Perhaps it’s a reference to the popular computer game of the ‘70’s. Nah, there is nothing in this film that pensive. There’s also a slug wizard who’s a parody of an unholy mating of Yoda and Jabba the Hutt. He’ll reveal wisdom, but only through masturbation. Are you laughing yet? How about a Minotaur with an erection or an iron chastity belt, ripped off from Mel Brooks? How about now? No, neither was I. YOUR HIGHNESS relies too heavily on sexual humor at inappropriate times as its ploy. To hide its lack of any true comedy, the film incorporates a plethora of multicolored lightning. There are so many bolts you’ll think you’re either in a General Electric plant or Tampa Bay (apologies to Dwayne Roloson).

Star Danny McBride is Thadeus. He is constantly overshadowed by his older brother Fabious, played by James Franco. Franco is actually enjoyable to watch in this film. He does a fine job mimicking the traits of the traditional hero. McBride unfortunately, feels the only way to be funny is to insert an F-bomb in every phrase. Somehow, he thinks swearing like a truck driver in knight’s garb is so funny it must be repeated ad infinitum. Justin Theroux is the chief antagonist, an evil wizard named Leezar. Look closely and you will notice the make up on his teeth changes with each sequence. In one segment towards the film’s conclusion, he doesn’t have any at all. Can you say inconsistency in reshoots boys and girls? I knew you could (apologies to Fred Rodgers) Zooey Deschanel plays Fabious’ love interest, Belladonna. Her attempts at comedy are lame and her role is cut to an extended cameo. When Leezar kidnaps Belladonna ( I foresee a lawsuit from Stevie Nicks), the brothers must embark on a quest to save her. Halfway through their adventure, and the movie, they run into woman warrior, Isabel, played by Natalie Portman.

Actor extraordinaire Michael Caine once stated there were only two determining factors for him to accept a role in a film; if he had the last line in the movie, or if it was being shot at a pleasant location. I assume Natalie Portman used this philosophy in opting for her role as Isabel. YOUR HIGHNESS is shot in Northern Ireland, and I can’t imagine why Portman would sign up for a role like this, other than to spend some time in Ireland and possibly to show off her pre-baby body. The nubile nymph has a scene in which she dives into a lake wearing only a thong bikini. As a further example of why government should never regulate any initiatives, in order to earn its “green” label, producers had to cover Portman’s definitive derriere for the film’s trailers. Why covering her ass is part of a green initiative is beyond me, unless of course she was quite flatulent at the time.


KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:
1. THE CAMPFIRE SCENE
2. THE HAND MONSTER


Aside from the musical score, there is nothing of note to YOUR HIGHNESS on the technical side. Green utilizes his cinematographer from PINEAPPLE EXPRESS, Tim Orr. Editor Craig Alpert, who has worked on the MATRIX trilogy and TOY STORY 2, does yeoman duty here. Steve Jablonsky, who has scored THE PRINCE OF PERSIA, TRANSFORMERS and various video games, offers a soundtrack that is more entertaining than the film.

Danny McBride teamed with Ben Best in writing this mess. It is truly not funny and only manages to elicit a few groans rather than guffaws. For the brain dead morons who find humor in a Minotaur with an erection, YOUR HIGHNESS will garner a grand opening weekend and then be relegated to the trash heap of similar comedies. Then again, that is the modus operandi of a movie like this.


THE RATING FOR YOUR HIGHNESS = F
BFCA RATING = 2/10


SOURCE CODE





I’m having a déjà-vu feeling again. Last year, several strong films were released in the first quarter and I thought it heralded the makings of a banner year. Unfortunately, the rest of the year weakened considerably. The same pattern is developing this year and I’m apprehensive history may repeat itself. Just in the past few weeks we’ve had THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU, BATTLE: LOS ANGELES and now SOURCE CODE as strong Hollywood showings. SOURCE CODE is a nifty twist on the MEMENTO style and is another feather in the cap of Jake Gyllenhaal.

SOURCE CODE concerns Captain Colter Stevens, a helicopter pilot on duty in Iraq, who is pulled into a top level search for a terrorist bomber. Stevens is played by Gyllenhaal and I am quite impressed with how he is managing his career. When he first burst onto the scene, I, frankly, was not a fan, but he has varied his characterizations with aplomb. While seemingly miscast in PRINCE OF PERSIA, he managed to convince viewers he could be a parquor action star. He played the type of role condescending critics in the two letter cities like in the absolutely dreadful LOVE AND OTHER DRUGS, and he returns to action with SOURCE CODE. Gyllenhaal is currently laying the groundwork for being acknowledged as the most versatile of Hollywood’s new bred since Edward Norton.

Captain Stevens is aided by Captain Carol Goodwin, played by Vera Farmiga. Her character plays a pivotal role, but the characterization is thin. While she is the fulcrum for many events, the motivations for her actions are never delineated. Michelle Monaghan pops into the story as Steven’s love interest. Jeffrey Wright and Michael Arden have co-starring roles.

SOURCE CODE provides a nice mind twist; like watching an episode of STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION, when dealing with the time space continuum. It utilizes the repeat scene scenario, used as a gimmick for several previous films, but does so without causing the audience to groan when the sequence opening shot reappears. Think GROUND HOG DAY on steroids.

Musical score and cinematography are noteworthy here. Chris Bacon serves a sizzling soundtrack (sorry, that was too easy), while Don Burgess, who shot the FIST OF FIORE AWARD winner, BOOK OF ELI, provides the visuals. Burgess has a knack for incorporating the odd angle at just the proper moment. Editor Paul Hirsch, who has worked on the FOF THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and is currently working on the latest episode of MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE, paces SOURCE CODE well, never allowing the viewer to be bogged in the time warp. While he has penned an interesting tale, writer Ben Ripley cops out on key elements, and that’s where SOURCE CODE goes terribly wrong.

I have never experienced reluctance on a mass scale for any group to ignore the nature of an enemy as Hollywood does with its refusal to depict Muslims as terrorists. Producers have rewritten solid scripts, added characters and invented previously non-existing story lines just to prove Muslims are our friends. It puts me in mind of the sharks in FINDING NEMO (“We are not mindless killing machines!”) To watch films from the World War II Era, there is no doubt who we, as a nation, were fighting, nor who our enemies were. Now, Hollywood would have us believe our nation is under attack from Neo-Nazis, redneck militias and in the case of SOURCE CODE, highly upset yuppies. Really? Really? I’ve scoured various news sources, ranging from the top rated Fox News to the bottom feeders CNN and MSNBC and I can’t find any instances from the past decade were Nazis, militias or yuppies were responsible for terrorist bombings! I found plenty of Muslim terrorist bombings, all over the world; but somehow, this group is sacrosanct and can’t be mentioned! How did this happen? Action films from the ‘80’s and early 90’s, like EXECUTIVE DECISION and even Chuck Norris flicks like INVASION U.S.A and DELTA FORCE, had no problem with Muslims as the antagonists. Then, Muslims openly attack America on 9/11, and suddenly, we can only say nice things about them. What kind of Oprah-think is this? SOURCE CODE goes even a step further, inserting a Muslim character as a decoy, as if saying “see, they’re not bad”. Please, viewers are smarter than this and no one goes about their day worrying about the next Nazi or yuppie attack. It’s the only flaw in SOURCE CODE, albeit a major one. If you can slide pass the antagonist absurdity, or at least settle with the Hollywood liberal unreality, then the rest of the film will provide excellent entertainment.


THE RATING FOR SOURCE CODE = A
BFCA RATING = 9/10


Fiore is the nation’s only film critic with the audacity to say what needs to be said in reviewing Hollywood movies. He is host and producer of OUTTAKES, Pittsburgh’s longest running film review program, having recently completed episode # 464.

PAUL





Every societal group has an archenemy. It’s the current dynamic of the culture. Conservatives hate anyone who wants to redistribute their wealth; liberals hate anyone with an IQ higher than their shoe size; the intelligencia hate anyone who shops at Wal-Mart; nerds hate anyone who doesn’t know who Adam Shadowchild is; country boys hate anyone who can’t down a stack of flapjacks and shoot straight; Muslims hate everyone who is not one of them; cowboys hate Indians, and vice versa; doctors hate Obamacare; lawyers hate tort reform; cops hate criminals; students hate school; sinners hate saints; film critics hate movie reps who won’t screen movies; and slackers hate rednecks. All of these conflicts are understandable in the cultural scheme, except the last. I really have no idea how slackers and rednecks came to be at odds. I think it has something to do with Larry the Cable Guy. See, slackers seek to do as little as possible whenever possible, while Larry the Cable Guy keeps telling rednecks to ‘Get ‘er done!”

While I’m not a redneck, I loathe slackers. I’m tired of slacker movies, watching slacker movies and seeing trailers for slacker movies as well as all the slacker movie stars – Adam Sandler, David Spade, Will Farrell, Owen Wilson, James Franco, Seth Rogen, Vince Vaughn and the original slacker Bill Murray. Having said that, I do enjoy the slacker team of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, proving once again there is an exception to every rule. SHAUN OF THE DEAD is still, by far my favorite zombie movie and I’m one of the few critics who liked, and still laughs hysterically at HOT FUZZ. So, there was much anticipation for PAUL, the latest comedic effort from Pegg and Frost. Sadly, the effort is disappointing. PAUL has its moments, and those moments are certainly more numerous than anything Farrell and his ilk have done, but using rednecks and Christians as the brunt of every joke wears quickly and is formulaic, rather than incorporating the duo’s normally diverse jokes.

Graeme Willy (Pegg) and Clive Gollings (Frost) are vacationing from England, solely to attend San Diego’s Comic-Con and visit all the famous UFO sighting locations. The bad puns start early, just with the main characters’ names. As the comedy gods would deem, they bump into Paul, a real life alien, voiced by Seth Rogen, who is seeking to pull the E.T. event and ‘go home’. Pegg and Frost are fine in their roles, but Rogen’s Paul is just too Rogen. Every punch line he utters is the same, insulting country folk and Christians. It’s like Bill Maher. Maher made his career out of telling jokes that all had Bush as the punch line. It worked fine while Bush was in office, but now that he’s left, Maher’s comedy, and therefore his reason d’etre, is irrelevant.

After picking up Paul and making a commitment to help him return to his home planet, Willy and Gollings butt heads with secret government types seeking to keep Paul on Earth. Jason Bateman is Agent Lorenzo Zoil (yes, the puns continue to be that bad) and Sigourney Weaver is The Big Guy. Bible –thumping Ruth Buggs, played by Kristen Wing hitches a ride along the way to provide a series of anti-Christian punch lines designed to laugh at anyone who reads the Bible, or believes in it and to praise Charles Darwin. Yeah, it turns that juvenile and is embodied in Ruth’s father Moses, played by John Carroll Lynch (another of the dreaded three-name people) who attempts to rescue her.

Well over half of PAUL has been seen before. Most of the shots and dialogue have been lifted from nearly every alien movie made within the past few decades. Everything Stephen Spielberg did, from E.T. and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, through STAR WARS and A.I. are all mimicked, as are STAR TREK and THE X-FILES. Cinematographer Lawrence Sher, who previously has done only slacker movies, proves an excellent copycat. You will have no problems recognizing the shot framing and sequences from these other films.

Editor Chris Dickens is the only tie over Pegg and Frost brought from their previous pairings. David Arnold, who scored the FIST OF FIORE AWARD winning TOMORROW NEVER DIES, is in fine concert here. And, it is a nice touch to have Signourney Weaver, creator of the “Ripley Effect” alluded to so often in these reviews, show up for the film’s conclusion. Finally, Larz Anderson creates a pretty realistic Paul. His previous best work was on GHOSTBUSTERS. Unfortunately, Paul can’t cease from being Seth Rogen.

The anti-Christian, anti-Redneck themes running through PAUL are in no way subtle. For example, at one point our heroes walk into a typical redneck bar; the kind Chuck Norris used to clear out during his action film days. While we see a variety of country folk, the band is playing a down home version of the barroom scene theme from STAR WARS. Ha-ha, nice, cute, but then it drags on for more than five minutes. It’s like the little kid who keeps repeating the same joke attempting to illicit continuous laughter. Fail.

The few funny moments are all provided by Pegg and Frost. Rogen’s characterization of Paul is simply too mean spirited to be funny. No one with empathy enjoys seeing unnecessary humiliation, even against a non-favored group. I somehow think without catering to Rogen, Pegg and Frost could have made a much better comedy out of PAUL. As it is, it’s like listening to Obama preach about those “who cling to their guns and religion”. Nothing funny, just pathetic.


THE RATING FOR PAUL = D
BFCA RATING = 4/10


BATTLE: LOS ANGELES





I will start with this, again, and continue to wail against the practice, until the Hallowed Halls of Hollywood respond to this singular “voice of one crying in the wilderness” (apologies to St. Mark). Reality TV shots do not, nor will ever work, for theatrical releases. Cameramen moving through a series of carefully choreographed moves designed to look random works fine on a small TV screen. It compensates for many ills a smaller budget needs. When you blow the picture up to epic proportions, however, the technique is lame. It is more confusing and chagrining than it is creative. Stop it! Stop it now! It is bush league cinematography inflicted on us by morons who actually believe chaotic cameras are necessary to hold the attention of the Facebook Generation. Cinematographer Lukas Ettlin uses this technique sporadically in BATTLE: LOS ANGELES. It detracts from what otherwise is a very good movie. In fact, I’ll state now I expect this film to be the first big summer blockbuster, even though it’s being released in March. Despite the ‘lets be cool and look like we can’t hold a camcorder’ scenes, BATTLE: LOS ANGELES is the type of film, like last year’s UNSTOPPABLE, that takes you on a ride that simply does not slow down.

Okay, now that I’ve vented about the camera work, let me scope this film for you in a less frantic manner. Years ago, when things generally didn’t happen, myriad films were produced starring John Wayne and centering on World War II. Many of these films are considered classics today. The movies followed a pattern: Wayne was a commander with some dark secret in his past; his men begin by mistrusting him, but finally realize he is a true fighting man; the squad is placed in impossible odds against an insurmountable enemy, only to prevail, usually at great cost, for the betterment of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Good stuff. BATTLE: LOS ANGELES follows the Wayne pattern to a tee, and does it well. I haven’t seen a movie like this since THE SANDS OF IWO JIMA.

Aaron Eckhart is Staff Sergeant Michael Nantz. He’s the Wayne character, and though Eckhart doesn’t deliver the facial intensity Wayne did, he manages to slip into the template with ease. His squad is made up of Ramon Rodriquez, Cory Hardict, Gino Pesi and, about midway through the film, they pick up Michelle Rodriguez. Hardict has the Wayne counter role, playing Corporal Jason Lockett. This is the character who normally has some relationship to the commander’s past and most often is ‘in his face’. In Wayne films these roles were played by solid actors ranging from Richard Widmark to Rock Hudson. Hardict isn’t in their league. This is the first time I’ve ever seen Michelle Rodriguez were she hasn’t been wearing a Wonder Push Up bra to augment her cleavage and micro hip huggers, which cause you to wonder how in the world they’re staying up, while emptying a gun far too big for her to wield. After the screening, another critic (female, of course) snarked “Has Michelle Rodriguez ever played a woman?” Ah, the green monster rears its ugly head. Rodriguez always looks fine, even when she sported an eye patch in MACHETE.

The plot for BATTLE: LOS ANGELES is simple; everyone wakes up one morning to find we’ve been invaded by aliens. It’s the same plot as INDEPENDENCE DAY, but we don’t have Wil Smith being snarky, don’t have Commander Data hiding out in Area 51, don’t have Randy Quaid out of court long enough to fly a duster, don’t have secret alien technology available to the military, don’t have a president who’s an ex-pilot ready to lead the forces and don’t have Ian Malcolm uttering “Checkmate”. BATTLE: LOS ANGELES is a war movie, like RESTROPO, but instead of fighting the Muslim infidels, we’re fighting squid like creatures with surgically attached weapons who draw their power from water. Cool beans.


KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:
1. THE WALKING TANK
2. THE GAS STATION


Behind the camera are talented technicians, familiar with the action genre. Production Designer Peter Wenham and Effects Supervisor Wayne Eaton combine to present a convincing war-torn LA. Previously, Wenham worked on BLOOD DIAMOND, with Leo DiCaprio while Eaton worked on TERMINATOR: SALVATION and LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD. His work here is more solid, as oft times in the Bruce Willis piece the matting was noticeable. Editor Christian Wagner has two FIST OF FIORE AWARD winners in his past with FACE OFF and MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: II, both John Woo classics. He paces BATTLE: LOS ANGELES relentlessly, with no slow downs after the initial set up. Finally, Brian Tyler provides a rousing, though sometimes clichéd score. His previous endeavors include THE EXPENDABLES and RAMBO, both with Sly Stallone.

There are a few problems with BATTLE: LOS ANGELES. In addition to the aforementioned camera work, characters are introduced by anecdotes complete with graphic bios. I thought there was going to be a quiz afterwards. And, the ending breakfast segment is perhaps a bit indulgent, but these items aside BATTLE: LOS ANGELES is one of the better films so far this year. It’s an awful lot of fun and follows the Wayne pattern, which has been absent in films for over 50 years. It could have won a FOF without the ridiculous bouncing camera, but still scores high for its depiction of war on a readily accessible level. Good fun; good movie.


THE RATING FOR BATTLE: LOS ANGELES = A
BFCA RATING = 9/10


Fiore is Pittsburgh’s most enduring film critic and host of the longest-running film review program in the nation. Illegal aliens and Muslims aside, he wonders who we will be at war with first, aliens or zombies.

RED RIDING HOOD





The concept of turning the fairytale “Little Red Riding Hood” into a werewolf story is intriguing. It’s certainly better than the interpretation the feminazis gave it in the 70’s, where the wolf was symbolic of every man’s sexual desires and his decapitation their castration solution. But, unfortunately, this RED RIDING HOOD is spearheaded by Director Catherine Hardwicke, Editor Nancy Richardson and Cinematographer Mandy Walker and they infuse the tale with far too much estrogen, like the TWILIGHT series. A touch of testosterone, influenced by Wes Craven, Rob Zombie, Neil Marshall, or hell for that matter Roger Corman, and this flick could have been good. As it is, RED RIDING HOOD is a chick werewolf flick. Gods preserve us!

Hardwicke, of course, is best known for directing the TWILIGHT series. This is the series that took “the children of the night, what music they make!” (apologies to Bela Lugosi) and turned them into sunlight sparkling tree hopping fairies. “Even a man who is pure in heart, and says his prayers by night, may become a wolf, when the wolfs bane blooms, and the moon is full and bright” (apologies to Lon Chaney, Jr.). The werewolf, another creature of terror with the vampire, was transformed into a big lovable poochy dog by Hardwicke and her crew. This werewolf is slightly better, seen mostly in silhouette and sporting longer ears, but its still a poochy dog. And, it talks! Wow, we haven’t had a talking werewolf since Henry Hull and Warner Oland duked it out in WEREWOLF OF LONDON.

This cinematic ploy of transforming a man into an actual wolf and not some horrible meshing of the two, began with THE SHE WOLF OF LONDON and peaked with AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON. With the former, star June Allison was not about to undergo the make-up procedures her contemporaries were donning for werewolf movies, so they cut in shots of an actual wolf to be economical on the SFX and keep the mystery of the tale. In the latter, make up artists, headed by Rick Baker, were given carte blanche and pulled and shifted David Naughton’s body until he became a tank with fur. (Why are all these werewolves in London, when the creatures are indigenous to Central Europe? Must be England’s open borders policy. See, now, why we must protect our borders!?) Personally, I think Hardwicke turns her men into poochy dogs because Taylor Laughtner, like Allison, doesn’t want to undergo the make-up ordeal. Perhaps this is why THE WOLFMAN won this year’s Oscar for best make-up; because Benecio Del Toro allowed Rick Baker to actually create a werewolf. But, I digress…

Hardwicke turns her vampire and werewolf TWILIGHT series into a lover’s triangle. In RED RIDING HOOD, she overdoses on the template. Not only is our heroine wrapped in a lover’s triangle, but so is everyone else in this little village. I’ve never seen so much tomfoolery since last I watched GENERAL HOSPITAL.

Red Riding Hood, whose real name is Valerie, in played by Amanda Seyfried. She’s everything you want in a Red Riding Hood; a blonde, buxom, doe-eyed nubile nymph. She is caught between Peter, played by Shiloh Fernandez, whom she loves, and Henry, played by Max Irons, to whom she is betrothed. Hopefully, you catch the concept of Peter possibly being the wolf; a cleaver ploy sure to be appreciated by fans of Sergei Prokofiev. Her grandmother is played by Julie Christie. She has her own lover’s triangle as does her father, Cesaire, played by Billy Burke. The townsfolk call on Father Solomon, played by Gary Oldman, to kill the werewolf, and, you guessed it, he’s in a triangle too. Everyone one in this town has a triangle. It’s a Geometrics’ wet dream.


KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:
1. THE CELEBRATION SCENE
2. THE ‘WHAT BIG EYES YOU HAVE’ SEQUENCE.


Hardwicke brings along Richardson as her editor. They have worked together on the TWILIGHT series, so most of the work here is familiar and formulaic. Walker, as Cinematographer, is responsible for BEASTLY, another fairytale turned Harlequin Romance, currently in theatres. She brings an added dimension of darkness, as if she is trying, but failing to mimic Tim Burton, but even this is not sufficient to bestow any gravitas to the endeavor. The score was penned by Brian Reitzell. I haven’t heard anything of note from Reitzell since he scored THE VIRGIN SUICIDES. This soundtrack won’t put him back on the map. It’s an eclectic hodgepodge of already heard rifts.

Even I, as cynical critic extraordinaire, cannot deny Hardwicke’s box office success. Her movies appeal to prepubescent little girls who have fantasies of sexual encounters with animalistic men. This wouldn’t be nearly so enticing if an entire generation of males were not feminized and ritalined into “girly men” back in the 90’s, (apologies to THE ARNOLD). So, I’m certain RED RIDING HOOD will find its audience and hold straight and steady course through its run. Unfortunately, not even the presence of Oldman can salvage this tripe. If your girlfriend, or wife, asks you to see RED RIDING HOOD with her, you’ll need to come home and watch THE WOLFMAN, just to help put things back into perspective.

This is a long way from SAM THE SHAM AND THE PHAROAHS. Everyone sing now: “Little Red Riding Hood, you sure are looking good; you’re everything a big bad wolf could want…”


THE RATING FOR RED RIDING HOOD = D
BFCA RATING = 4/10


THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU





Do you believe in fate, destiny? Or do you believe man has free will and creates his own destiny? Personally, I’ve always been a believer of fate, and though that often flies in the face of my religion, I have, through my own ideology reconciled the two. That is exactly what THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU does; provides footing for whichever camp you call home.

When I first saw the trailers for THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU, I was filled with trepidation for the film appeared to be a rehash of DARK CITY, with Keifer Sutherland and Rufus Sewell. This is why I try to avoid all of a film’s hype before the press screening. I was ecstatic to view a film that is not a rehash but rather one of the more original films released in the past few years. That’s saying a lot, given Hollywood’s penchant for remakes and revamps. This is a solid sci-fi yarn, with heavy religious overtones, much like last year’s FIST OF FIORE AWARD winning THE BOOK OF ELI. It’s a film that explores the concept of God’s hand in guiding the fate of man and His bestowing of free will to mankind. Heavy themes, but done in an entertaining manner, enveloped in a romance tale.

Matt Damon is David Norris, a politician with a promising career, who has a chance meeting with Elise Sellas, played by Emily Blunt, and falls madly in love with her. Can’t say I blame him. I’ve never meet Emily Blunt and I’m already in love with her (or is that lust?). Anyway, their meeting is forbidden by the powers that be, represented by Mr. Richardson and Mr. Thompson, played by John Slattery and Terence Stamp, respectively. Stamp makes his first appearance mid-way through the film and I half expected him to aver: “I win! I always win. Is there no one on this planet to challenge me?” But, alas, he did not, though his character certainly acted as if he could have uttered those lines.

Apparently, David and Elise spending eternity in loving bliss upsets the Plan, a version of the Time Space Continuum more convoluted than the most complex Star Trek script. Norris’ friend and confidant Charlie Traynor, played by Michael Kelly, can’t help because Richardson and Thompson keep altering his mind. Norris’ only hope of finding the woman he loves rests with Harry Mitchell, played by Anthony Mackie, a member of the Adjustment Bureau who has a soft spot for the loving couple.


KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:
1. THE BATHROOM ENCOUNTER
2. RUNNING THROUGH DOORS


THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU is based on a short story by Phillip K. Dick. I have a difficult time reading his stories. His writing style is odd and choppy, but Dick’s films translate well into celluloid, like BLADE RUNNER, which is the next big film scheduled for a remake. Dick’s short story was adapted by George Nolfi, who also directs.

There are a few power hitters working behind the camera for THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU. Cinematographer John Toll, a Tinsel Town stalwart, is in top form here with beautifully framed shots and sequences. His latest works include THE LAST SAMURAI, with Keanu Reeves and Ken Wanatabe and TROPIC THUNDER with Ben Stiller and Robert Downey, Jr. Music is provided by Thomas Newman. He has two previous FIST OF FIORE AWARD winners under his belt with AMERICAN BEAUTY, with Kevin Spacey and SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION with Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins. The score for THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU is like Ringo’s drumming for the Beatles; subtle, in the background, but essential for the song. And finally, Editor Jay Rabinowitz brings a plethora of experience having worked with Darren Aronofsky on such films as REQUIEM FOR A DREAM and THE FOUNTAIN. The above mentioned door running sequence is of particular note. While modest by today’s hectic editing pace, it is seamless, and that is still the ultimate editing goal. When you can expertly perform the essentials, the rest is gravy.

A few elements go south in THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU. Though the trailers make this film seem an action romp, it is not, being more cerebral. It is the second such film Damon has released, following last year’s HEREAFTER. Fans of Damon may scratch their heads and be more apprehensive with their expectations while watching future trailers.

And, of course, we have the overt political agenda rearing its ugly head. All the news reports come from CNN. Really? CNN’s biggest audience is comprised of conservative talk show hosts who watch so they can use the material as fodder on their shows. A list of totally irrelevant talking heads; Michael Bloomberg, Chuck Scarborough, James Carville, Mary Matalin, Betty Liu, Wolf Blitzer, Jon Stewart and Daniel Bazile all have cameos as themselves. It’s the only time THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU borders on comedy. More subtle is the implication of Norris being a Democrat. While no party affiliations are mentioned in the movie, when he is losing his first Senate race, the map in the background turns red. That, was nicely done. I guess it signifies the Democrats are willing to turn to a Gary Hart carouser, a true “limo-riding, jet flying, kiss stealing, wheeling dealing son of a gun” (apologies to Ric Flair), than the Soros –Alinsky debacle they currently have at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU is a good solid movie and works on varied levels. I am encouraged by the slight, but growing trend of religious Christian themes in films. They are unmistakable in THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU, just as they were in THE BOOK OF ELI. It seems Hollywood is content with releasing these films in the early part of the year. In this fashion, they are long forgotten by the time awards season comes along. But I will gladly take these films in the dead of winter, than the normal religious politically correct claptrap Hollywood serves. Perhaps the Humanist Era is over, and more profound themes can now be explored in film. Just perhaps.


THE RATING FOR THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU = B
BFCA RATING = 8/10


Fiore is an award-winning film critic and host and producer of OUTTAKES. Though still unable to deny Fate, he still believes all things are possible with God.

I AM NUMBER FOUR





How can anyone find fault with a film that initiates the revival of Bernie Kosar? Kosar, probably the greatest quarterback the Cleveland Browns had, save for Bill Nelson, led “many a quaint and curious volumes of forgotten football lore” (apologies to Edgar Allen Poe) against the Pittsburgh Steelers. And, who will ever forget his epic college battle of the quarterbacks with Doug Flutie, determined by one ‘Hail Mary’ pass? So when our protagonists stumble on a Bernie Kosar poster, and our hero opts to name his dog Bernie Kosar, it creates a bond between film and viewer that revives the good ole days of Steelers – Browns rivalries, bent with irony as the film takes place in Ohio, but was filmed in Pittsburgh.

I AM NUMBER FOUR is a decent sci-fi yarn, enveloped in Disney cuteness. An established technical crew helps blend this tale that combines elements of SMALLVILLE and John Carpenter’s STARMAN. It takes a while for I AM NUMBER FOUR to gain speed. Teaser segments are inserted to alert viewers as to what’s coming, but Editor Vince Filippone does not pace this adventure anywhere near the break neck speed he used for EAGLE EYE. Still, the final reels make the wait worthwhile. Pittsburgh Tribune-Review writer Michael Machowski opined “if they make this a series, that would be fine” (sic). Actually, no, it wouldn’t. I AM NUMBER FOUR serves better as a stand alone movie. While room is given for a sequel, I can’t see where it would be much different from this episode. Perhaps Michael was hoping for the series to move permanently to the ‘burgh. Nice thought, but that won’t happen, either.

The city was all abuzz when Dreamworks and Disney announced I AM NUMBER FOUR would be produced here. No real big stars, but Timothy Olyphant has a supporting role, and he was just coming off his first season as Raylan Givens in the surprise TV hit JUSTIFIED. Olyphant, by the way, looks much better as Raylan than the long-haired surfer dude in the film’s opening segment. Actually, there isn’t much of Pittsburgh in the movie. Franklin Regional High School, who used to have tremendous defensive hockey battles with Bethel Park High School, becomes Paradise Regional High School for the mythical story town of Paradise, Ohio. (Pardon me, as I catch my breath and settle from hysterical laughter. It’s just that the words paradise and Ohio used together are just so damn funny.) There are also a few nice shots of a home in Port Vue and scenery from the Beaver area, but I AM NUMBER FOUR doesn’t enter Pittsburgh proper, like THE NEXT THREE DAYS did.


KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:
1. THE FOOTBALL FIELD BATTLE
2. THE ANIMAL BATTLE


Timothy Olyphant is Henri, the Yoda-like warrior tasked with mentoring and protecting Number Four, aka John Smith. John is played by Alex Pettyfar. He’s one of nine surviving members of a decimated alien race from a “galaxy far, far away” (apologies to George Lucas). Each of the nine “possesses powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal man” (apologies to Superman). Why distressed aliens always seek refuge on Earth is beyond me. Throughout entire galaxies, they can’t find another planet with a better tax structure?

The survivors are being chased by Mogadorians. They are reminiscent of the Borg, but instead of being assimilating machines and cyborgs, they seek to kill and destroy anything that is not like them; like Muslim Jihadists. While they sport gill-like slits instead of noses, they adopt the Neo look, parading around town in ankle length leather coats, concealing myriad weapons, all of which look like super soakers with lights. “Guns. We’ll need guns. Lots of them.” (Apologies to Keanu Reeves). The captain of the Mogadorians is played by Kevin Durand. He’s menacing, but has a difficult time speaking through his prosthetic teeth. Outside of the teeth and the nasal slits, the rest of the Mogadorian make-up is comprised of tattoos. I’m sure there’s a social commentary in there, but I’m just not going down that road today.

John’s life is complicated when he meets Sarah, played by Dianna Agron. (I think Agron once fought GAMERA in a classic Toho Production, but I can’t be sure.) Through all the mayhem, they’re able to frame a scene with John and Sarah sharing a tender moment glazing into each other’s eyes from the glow emanating from his hands. It’s the exact same frame Jeff Bridges and Karen Allen created in STARMAN. What nostalgia!

John’s life in Paradise, Ohio is difficult. He has superpowers, but must maintain his secret identity, so he really can’t use them even though Mark, the high school quarterback (Jake Abel) is acting like a tool and Sam, the high school nerd (Callan McAuliffe) has stumbled upon his secret. High school drama intensifies and lover’s triangles form when Number 6, played by Teresa Palmer comes on the scene. Cool beans. This would all have worked seamlessly, if Pettyfar didn’t look so old. He simply doesn’t appear to be a high school student. In fact, he’d have difficulty passing for a college student. “It’s not the years, doll, it’s the mileage” (apologies to Indiana Jones).

Director D. J. Caruso has assembled most of the team he had on EAGLE EYE to work on I AM NUMBER FOUR. Caruso also helmed TAKING LIVES, which has Angelina Jolie’s hottest celluloid sex scene. Guillermo Navarro provides a stylish photographic look to the movie, drawing on his background of working on PAN’S LABYRINTH, HELL BOY 2 and DUSK TILL DAWN, which featured Salma Hayek’s tantalizing snake striptease. Navarro is aided considerably because he is able to shoot the fight scenes from a wider angle. Stunt Coordinator Bradley James Allan (one of the dreaded three-named people) is the first non-Asian to be a member of Jackie Chan’s Stunt Team. He has “learned from the master well, grasshopper” (apologies to Keye Luke). Nash Edgerton, stuntman extraordinaire, who was featured in an exclusive interview on OUTTAKES WITH FIORE (http://www.youtube.com/user/RIGHTCRITIC) makes Allan’s choreography work.

I AM NUMBER FOUR is a decent sci-fi flick; certainly worth a trip to the theatres. It may have had a harder edge if just Dreamworks had produced the film. By teaming with Disney any edge is removed. This is why Bernie Kosar has to pop up in the final reel, and Mark has to magically shift from tool to cool. Nice little package, tied with a bow, with Mickey’s picture on it.


THE RATING FOR I AM NUMBER FOUR = C
BFCA RATING = 6/10


Fiore is host and producer of OUTTAKES WITH FIORE, Pittsburgh’s longest running, award winning film review program. He has mastered old Jedi mind tricks to prevent marauding aliens from ever finding him.

UNKNOWN





UNKNOWN had the ability to be an entertaining thriller “one with a twist and a bit of a spin” (apologies to Taylor Dane), but the mechanics are in the way. Horrendous editing, haphazard cinematography and fantasy-land agenda writing combine to make UNKNOWN very well known. We’ve all been down this path before; technical folks attempting to be so cool, they sabotage the effort.

Liam Neeson is Dr. Martin Harris, a famed botanist who is invited to Berlin to make a presentation at a BioTech conference. He is involved in a car accident and when he returns to his posh hotel, no one knows him, not even his wife Liz Harris, played by January Jones. She should not be confused with Dr. Christmas Jones, played by Denise Richards and shagged by Pierce Brosnan, who was James Bond in THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH. . Now we have a sixth of the year covered. Not only is Dr. Martin Harris not known (or UNKNOWN, allowing for the cleaver pun on the title), but there is another in his place. Aidan Quinn is now Dr. Martin Harris, preparing to give the BioTech presentation and snuggling up to Liz Harris. The set up takes on the flavor of Hitchcock. Neeson’s version of Harris teams with Gina (Diane Kruger), an illegal immigrant “Look! They’re everywhere!” (apologies to Rowdy Roddy Piper) and former Nazi Ernst Jurgen (Bruno Ganz) to unravel the conundrum. When the plot becomes convoluted, Frank Langella show up as Rodney Cole to sort out the identity confusion. “I have the power!” (apologies to Skeletor). Then the techno-geeks enter and UNKNOWN becomes a visual migraine.

There are a few fight scenes, at least they’re supposed to be fight scenes. They appear as inept dancing practice. Cinematographer Flavio Labiano places his hand on the camera’s focus ring and consistently rolls it. Much as I hate to criticize Italians, this is not avant-garde; it’s irritating and would never pass a respectable Video I course. Labiano knows better. His work in TIME CRIMES is much better than this crap. The producers hired three different fight choreographers for the film. They should have saved their money. One hour after watching UNKNOWN, I can’t recall one technique used in any of the fight sequences. Tony Ja, Jet Li, Jackie Chan, Stephen Seagal and Chuck Norris have to be laughing their heads off. Neeson, late in life, opted to jump into the action genre. His TAKEN last year was a surprise hit. It’s easy to understand why he would follow up with UNKNOWN, but this movie clearly demonstrates he is an action poser.

There’s a chase scene in UNKNOWN. I think it had the ability to be memorable. I could tell something interesting was happening, but I’m not sure what. Editor Tim Alverson is to blame. In basic camera 101, the concept of the 180 degree rule is, or should be presented. It’s designed to halt confusion on the part of the viewer. Alverson is aware of this concept as he has demonstrated in two FIST OF FIORE AWARD winners, EQUILIBRIUM and CON-AIR. Possibly he is trying to match Labiano’s coolness as he jumps over the 180 line so many times it’s not only impossible to determine what’s happening, it seems as if the cars in the chase magically change positions. Not even Joey Chitwood, on his best day could maneuver vehicles like this. Somewhere, Burt Reynolds is laughing his head off.

Not to be outdone, Screenwriter Oliver Butcher decides to join the competition. He writes in, as a central figure to the plot, a benevolent Muslim Sheik. Who could this benevolent Muslim Sheik be patterned after? Perhaps the Muslim Brotherhood, currently in the process of wrenching rule in Egypt as they proclaim Jihad is the way and martyrdom the method? No, couldn’t be them. Maybe Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the leader of Iran who wants to destroy Israel and now has the nuclear weapons to do so? Nah, couldn’t be him. So, maybe it’s Nouri al-Maliki, head of Iraq who has avowed the destruction of Israel and America? No, he doesn’t fit the term benevolent. So possibly its Bashar al-Assad, leader of Syria? No, he’s a poster child for destroying human rights. Where is the prototype of the benevolent Muslim Sheik? Even Sheik Urbuti was a rather rotten sod (apologies to Frank Zappa).

The answer, of course, is the character only exists in the minds of Hollywood liberals. Following the agenda of ignoring the war and the enemy, they are determined to display folks in flowing head coverings as peaceful. Butcher goes even further by writing in repeatedly the Sheik is a progressive. Yes, the progressives, slowly destroying America and reducing it to the level of Third World countries. “There is no discount for agreeing with me” (apologies to Flo). What begins as a Hitchcock type thriller quickly degrades to a Saturday Night Live skit. And now, unless you are the nonexistent progressive Muslim, you are laughing your head off, too.

So now we have Ja, Li, Chan, Seagal, Norris, Reynolds, you and I all laughing our heads off. Is this any way to make a thriller?


THE RATING FOR UNKNOWN = D
BFCA RATING = 4/10


Fiore is host and producer of OUTTAKES, the Tri-States longest running film review program. Out of shape and retired from the fighting circuit since 1986, he could still take Liam Neeson in three rounds.

BARNEY’S VERSION





My critics, and there are so few once you eliminate anyone who thought Keith Obermann was a journalist, demented liberals, anyone who actually likes the UK Guardian, jackwagons from Mamby-Pamby land and people who don’t laugh at THE THREE STOOGES, have often said I don’t appreciate the heart felt dramas of Hollywood. Pooh-pooh and pish-posh I say in return. I vividly recall an on-air discussion (some would say argument) I had with fellow critic and friend, Ed Blank. He stated his love for the film THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY. I went off on a tirade how one needed two, not one, bottles of No-Doze to make it to the film’s conclusion. “The only way this film could have been good was if Robert Rodriguez or John Woo directed it,” I exclaimed. “It’s obvious you wouldn’t be happy with this film unless the bridges blew up,” said Ed, calmly. He is always yang to my ying. The conversation does, however, reflect our different approaches to film. That said, and to let my few naysayers, who number in the teens, know that I, too, can appreciate the delicately crafted drama, I think Ed and I may both agree that BARNEY’S VERSION is an excellent film. Even though it clocks in over two hours, I thoroughly enjoyed the story, the performances, the humor and the drama of this endeavor. (I must send an email to Ed to gain his perspective.)

BARNEY’S VERSION is the tale of Barney Panofsky and his discovery of true love. Barney is played by Paul Giamatti who, despite being the epitome of what a Hollywood leading man should NOT look like, continues to produce a body of work that is stellar. BARNEY’S VERSION may be his finest performance save SHOOT ‘EM UP (“Is this guy really that good or do we just suck?!”). Barney, who is the pragmatic part of a group of slackers, becomes a successful television producer in Canada. As such, he is a hockey fan, specifically a fan of the Canadiens. This was the most difficult segment of the film for me to personally deal with, as a long-time (1968) Boston Bruins’ fan. When a critical sequence has Barney reveling in the Canadiens 2-1 overtime win in the Stanley Cup over the Bruins, I was moved to tears. It was more drama than I could bear; brining up painful memories and the strong desire to bitch slap Don Cherry for being caught with too many men on the ice. After being a stout friend to his pals and co-workers, Barney finds his true love, unfortunately, he finds her at his own wedding to someone else. His love is played by Rosamund Pike, who along with Meryl Streep, can play the elite lady with aplomb, and she does so here. Also in the cast are Scott Speedman as Barney’s manipulative best friend Boogie, Bruce Greenwood as Blair, the antagonist to the lover’s triangle and Dustin Hoffman as Barney’s father, Izzy. Hoffman is great and offers his best comedic role in a supporting part.


KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:
1. THE WEDDING
2. THE IN-LAW DINNER


BARNEY’S VERSION begins as a solid comedy. The early scenes with Giamatti and Hoffman are priceless. By the time the movie enters the final reels, it turns bittersweet. Therein lies the rub (apologies to The Bard). To turn the movie from dramatic comedy to dramatic tragedy requires several strong leaps of faith from viewers. Screenwriter Michael Konyves has a difficult time with the transition and as such Barney’s fall from grace and his medical dilemma are thrust upon viewers like an amateurish jump cut, rather than a mellow transition. Susan Shipton does a fine job editing and setting the pace for this movie, save for the climax sequences. I’m really not sure here whether it’s Susan’s editing that rushes the end, or if Cinematographer Guy Dufaux simply didn’t give her the footage necessary to work the magic to provide BARNEY’S VERSION a less choppy conclusion.

Even though these technical matters cause BARNEY’S VERSION to lose crucial points in my rating system, the movie is still heads and tails over the other dramas garnering critical praise this awards season including: BLUE VALENTINE; RABBIT HOLE; THE WAY BACK; CASINO JACK; THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT; AND I LOVE YOU PHILLIP MORRIS all of which are a waste of time.

See, even I can appreciate a good drama where no one is shot, there are no kung-fu fights and nothing blows up. BARNEY’S VERSION is such a film, with exceptional performances, characterizations and story.


THE RATING FOR BARNEY’S VERSION = B
BFCA RATING = 8/10


Fiore has been a filmcritic in Pittsburgh since 1976. He hosts and produces OUTTAKES WITH FIORE, The Tri-State’s longest running film review program. The show has garnered several national production awards, including the Telly Award and over a dozen local broadcasting awards. While not his favorite form of film genre, Fiore does enjoy the well crafted drama.

ANOTHER YEAR





ANOTHER YEAR opens today in Pittsburgh. It’s another movie that had its grand fanfare opening in mid-December, but naturally, it was only in selected markets. This is done because the film producers and promoters feel there are some areas of the nation that simply aren’t sophisticated enough to handle films of high art. The fact Philadelphia is in the selected opening markets and Pittsburgh isn’t speaks volumes about the credibility of the strategy and those implementing it. In this instance, however, I believe the strategy may be spot-on. Outside of Greenwich Village, selected counties of California, those folks who claim they’re from Philly but live securely in the distant suburbs and of course, Madison, WI, I can’t think of anyone who would enjoy sitting through ANOTHER YEAR. Obviously, it’s because ‘none of us rubes’ can understand the intricate fine points of the movie. It couldn’t have anything to do with a non-conclusive vignette, a misleading anecdote or a presentation of a sliver of life that is totally irrelevant and unentertaining. “Here’s an idea, when you tell these little stories of yours, make them have a point!” (Apologies to Steve Martin.) Nah, couldn’t be that!

ANOTHER YEAR begins with a brief anecdote concerning a depressed woman who is attempting to gain a prescription of sleeping pills, so she can end her miserable life. The sequence serves to introduce one of the principal characters, Gerri, played by Ruth Sheen, who is a hospital counselor. What happens to the depressed lady? Does she off herself with the pills? Does she relieve her depression through the therapy sessions? Who knows? The audience is never told. If this happened in America, I guess you could say one of Obamacare’s Death Penals ‘counseled’ her. But, since the story is set in England, they probably had to consult with Canada to delineate the finer points of Socialized medicine. The character simply fades into oblivion and the viewer is left dangling, like a participle. “Ah, so you think you can fool me with a cheap cinematic ploy?” (Apologies to Peter Sellers.) This sequence ushers in a steady parade of dysfunctional, depressed and depressing characters so pathetic it causes one to throw hands to the air, searching for the lost layer of ozone and Al Gore, while screaming “Who cares?”. Certainly no one in Philadelphia.

Gerri’s husband is Tom, played by Jim Broadbent. He’s a geologist engineer. Together, Tom and Gerri represent the only stable relationship in the film. It is perhaps noble to note they are also the only traditional family. The connection between happiness and the traditional family is one Hollywood abandoned long ago in the effort to be politically correct and satisfy the social construct of its masters. Think, maybe they’re starting to realize their mistake? How their grand scheme of cradle to grave dependency on poorly educated politicians (“We have three branches of government, the house, the senate and the president” – Chuck Schumer) simply will not work? Nah.

Mary is Gerri’s co-worker and another manic depressive who is also an alcoholic. Ken is a friend who is depressed about growing old, and an alcoholic, Ronnie is Tom’s older brother who is depressed over the death of his wife, and, surprise!, an alcoholic. Do you detect a trend, here? If Tom and Gerri didn’t hang out with all these boozers, there wouldn’t be a story. In fact, they do hand out with these boozers, and there’s still not a story. ANOTHER YEAR appears to be one of those films that ends simply because they ran out of film. These characters are played by Lesley Manville, Peter Wight and David Bradley respectively.

All of the performers render exceptional portrayals. They really have to, as none of these characters is particularly appealing. The acting ensemble is a staple of Director Mike Leigh, and it’s readily apparent the cast is quite familiar with the demands of Leigh, and vice versa. This camaraderie behind the camera translates well on film, and was one of the main reasons I was able to sit through it until the end. Yet, Leigh readily admits this was the least amount of time he spent preparing character development with his actors. “It was a bit less than usual, about five months, as this had the lowest budget I’ve had in a long time.”

Dick Pope is Cinematographer. He is excellent, though he is not called on to do anything extraordinary here. Leigh stated in a recent interview with Post Magazine that he likes working with Pope because “he is very smart, very inventive and we have a great rapport”.


KEY SCENE TO LOOK FOR:
1. MARY’S DRUNKEN ENVIRONMENTAL DEBATE.


British films have a tendency to begin slowly. ANOTHER YEAR may set the record for slow starts. Its plot is vignettes of four dinners over the four seasons of a year, with a cast of characters who are mere misery magnets. Through the film, Tom and Gerri attempt to cultivate their friends’ depression much like they cultivate the tomatoes in their garden. “If you plant early, all will be well in the garden.” (Apologies, again, to Peter Sellers.) After the winter dinner, the movie ends. What happens to Mary and her unrequited love? What happens to John and Kaite? What happens to Ronnie and Carl? What happens to Tom and Gerri? Who knows? Who cares?


THE RATING FOR ANOTHER YEAR = F
BFCA RATING = 1/10


Fiore is host and producer of OUTTAKES WITH FIORE, the Tri-State’s longest running film review program. He has been a film critic in the Pittsburgh area since 1976. When he tells a story, it does have a point.

THE ILLUSIONIST





I’m not adverse to nominating or voting for an animated film for Best Picture. Several have garnered my vote, including TOY STORY 3 and THE LEGEND OF THE GUARDIANS. So when I discovered THE ILLUSIONIST was nominated in the Best Picture category, my curiosity was certainly peaked. After watching the film, I began to wonder what type of drugs where responsible for presumably level headed people making this decision.

In the history of the world, there have been epic confrontations, the Turks and the Greeks, the Russians and the Poles, the Japanese and the Chinese, Muslims and Catholics, Germans and everybody; but no conflict is as deep and nasty as the English and the French. The French have always thought of themselves as the superior culture. “Actually, the only thing the French are good for is hosting an invasion,” (apologies to Johnny English). What makes this animosity so intense is the supposed friendship between the two countries. They are both part of the same organizations, political ideologies, but the cultural differences are astounding and so they must hate each other while remaining in the confines of civility. (See how that word makes sense here, but always rings hollow when coming from a liberal? Just sayin’…)

It should be no surprise then, THE ILLUSIONIST takes back-handed swipes rather liberally at the United Kingdom. They begin when our protagonist, the title character who is a performing magician, is fired from his gig in France and travels to England for work. As he bounces from job to job, viewers are slammed with stereotypes of the Scots being rude fall-down social pariahs, the Irish being drunks who are only friendly in the confines of a bar with plenty of free-flowing ale, and the English as a collection of uncouth, effeminate pretty boys. I imagine this movie was not well received in England. I will check with my friends at the UK Guardian. They have a knack for finding demons in the most sublime elements.

THE ILLUSIONIST is a short (thankfully) piece, logging in at just under 80 minutes. Sylvain Chomet directed, wrote, scored and penned the theme song, all of which gathered him nominations for the film while Sally Chomet produced. “It’s a family affair!” (Apologies to Sly and the Family Stone.) In classic animated form, there are roughly ten lines of dialogue, mumbled, and none of the characters has or needs names.

The magician leaves France for England, and work, with a young fan in tow. I was rather confused by this subplot. The young girl staying with the old guy reeked of pedophilia. The magician’s skills seem to multiply when the young girl is around. He performs at his best. Certainly, the French aren’t implying a young, adoring girl is the secret to life? Perhaps they are! Viva La France! Once our young heroine discovers a boy her own age, the old man feels… well, old and saunters back to France.


KEY SCENE TO LOOK FOR:
1. THE THEATRE SCENE


THE ILLUSIONIST does not fit into the current animated genre. It is simply drawn, without benefit of CGI and millions spent in post-production. While the look is refreshingly nostalgic, it does nothing to augment a story with highly questionable themes. The above mentioned theatre scene is interesting as it has a cartoon character walking into a theatre where a film is showing. The contrast of animation watching real life is clever.

THE ILLUSIONIST, after the rolling of the final reel, can be seen in the aspect of decrying the loss of magic, vaudeville and the performing arts. It’s a bit of a stretch, but that theme is certainly preferable to the dominating aura of insults to the United Kingdom by a French pedophile. Best I can figure, Stuart and the folks in England were still stewing over my review of THE ROAD to notice they were being slammed in THE ILLUSIONIST.


THE RATING FOR THE ILLUSIONIST = D
BFCA RATING = 3/10


Fiore is host and producer of OUTTAKES WITH FIORE, the Tri-state’s longest running film review program. He holds no animosity towards the English, but still harbors ill feelings for the French over that air-space incident. (You didn’t think we, as Americans, would forget that, did you, Pierre?)

THE RITE





There have been many films on demonic possession. The genre was defined, and most likely peaked with THE EXORCIST. No film has captured the imagination, nor had the same response. Conversely, the movie set a different standard for these films. The accent shifted from the battle of good and evil, to gore and special effects. Perhaps that’s why the films have not endured; they lost the essence of their existence for the gross out effect. Thankfully, THE RITE, opening today at multiple theatres in Pittsburgh and nationwide, does not fall into the gross out trap The latest gross out film will only be strong until the new level of gross out comes along. Rather, THE RITE reverts back to the fundamental conflict of good versus evil, of God and the devil. . “What were you expecting, spinning heads and pea soup?” (Apologies to Fr. Trevant.) While there are a few SFX tossed in, they appear not as the reason d’etre for the film, but rather as concept spice. This is perhaps the movie’s strongest aspect; it is a look at the forces of good and evil from a faith based, intellectual viewpoint.

Michael Kovak, played by Colin O’Donoghue, is struggling with a crisis of faith. Born into a family of morticians, Michael enters the seminary to explore the priesthood. Because of his familiarity with death and his lack of squeamishness, his mentor selects him for a special training program being conducted in Rome for exorcists. Michael goes, but the classes and demonstrations are not convincing him nor reinforcing his faith. He is looking for scientific or medical explanations for the events he witnesses.

This aspect of the film rings all too true. Last fall, buried at the bottom of an obscure page, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review carried a story detailing Pope Benedict’s plan to bring over 500 priests to Rome, specifically to be trained as exorcists. The Vatican noticed an alarming number of reported possessions and the Holy See wanted to be proactive. It’s probably just a coincidence the number of demonic possessions increases at a time when Barack Hussein Obama overlords America and Islam is making a concentrated effort for world domination.

Kovac is sent to Fr. Lucas Trevant, the premiere exorcist in Rome, played by Anthony Hopkins. Trevant is a grizzled veteran who has, perhaps been in the game too long, despite his effectiveness. Trevant recognizes the conflict of faith brewing within Kovac and attempts to strengthen his faith through rather unorthodox methods. Hopkins is excellent, as always. Personally, I believe he could have pulled off the conclusion without benefit of the make up effects, much like Spencer Tracey did with his interpretation of DR. JECKYL AND MR. HYDE. Without Hopkins, THE RITE reverts to a below average demon thriller. Star power, indeed. O’Donoghue on the other hand is less than convincing. He delivers his angst of faith with all the intensity of Bill Murray. If I were cynical, I would suppose he was selected for the role for his good looks, rather than his performance. Speaking of good looks, Alice Braga pops up as eye candy, and she is quite a delicious morsel. Alice is following her aunt, a screen siren in her own right, well. She certainly makes the heart of this grizzled veteran skip a beat.


KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:
1. THE FIRST EXORCISM


Baal is the first king of hell, sitting at the right hand of Satan (not to be confused with the hockey player). He is depicted as a three headed demon on the body of a spider. The three heads are of a man, toad and cat. There are plenty of clues as to the nature of the demon the priests are battling. Fr. Trevant’s abode is swarming with cats, his fountain is alive with toads and he uses them in his initial exorcism rites. The toads even evoke a memorable line from John Carpenter’s THE THING when they invade Kovak’s room. Baal is a nasty demon. This is why you should avoid folks who like cats and are adept at playing Frogger.

Director of Photography Ben Davis provides interesting shots. He is especially outstanding with his use of overhead angles. Writer Mike Petroni, a pisano who should be well versed in Catholic traditions, strays from the path by incorporating fate into the storyline. While the Catholic faith is filled with destiny, it does not recognize fate as a viable existence option. That seems contradictory, but Catholic scholars do draw a fine line between the two ideologies. Petroni erases the line, providing a sizable pot hole on the plot highway. Additionally, Petroni causes a crucial character to disappear. Ciaran Hinds plays Fr. Xavier, Fr..Trevant’s close personal friend and the one who arranges the meeting of Fr.Trevant with Kovac. He is completely written out of the script when all hell (pardon the pun) is breaking loose for Fr. Trevant. Hinds is a recognizable character actor and his disappearance is noticeable and lame. For the most part, Editor David Rosenbloom paces THE RITE well. The hospital scene, though, is suspect. While it’s clear what happens, it’s also clear there are gaps in the sequence. I suspect Director Mikael Hafstrom, desiring to keep the tale on an intellectual level, ordered the missing gore segments out. The motive is noble, but Rosenbloom’s editing is lacking.

According to an old adage: “The strength of the devil is that people will not believe in him”. THE EXORCIST sent many people back to the church. It literally scared the bejesus out of them. When the emphasis shifted to SFX, the devil became just a gimmick to present make up artists and CGI techies the opportunity to demonstrate their wares. THE RITE attempts to give the devil his due, but society has become so jaded as to his existence, I doubt anyone will consider church after watching it.

Walking in the parking lot after the screening, there was a group behind me discussing the film. One woman, in a voice typical of the undereducated and bald, faux commentators, exclaimed in a voice the entire Waterfront could hear: “Well, that wasn’t worth staying up for. I think I’ll go home and rent Saw VII”. Its statements like this that can’t help one feel culturally superior. They walk among us. They drive next to us on the roads. They probably have cats as pets and play Frogger exceptionally well. It is truly frightening. . Hafstrom has tried to fashion THE RITE around an intellectual and faith battle. Despite the flaws in technique and story, he is attempting to make evil and the devil the focal point and not gallons of fake blood. On many, his endeavors will be lost.


THE RATING FOR THE RITE = C
BFCA RATING = 6/10


THE MECHANIC





Sometimes reading the book before the movie can ruin the film experience. If you’re someone who is creative with an active imagination, seldom can the film overtake the images of your mind. Sometimes seeing the original film can ruin the experience of the remake. Such is the case with THE MECHANIC. The original 1972 Charles Bronson action caper had a much different scope and certainly less of a franchising component. In this latest version, gone is the intricate cat and mouse game played between the protagonist, his apprentice and the antagonist. Gone also, is the surprise and unexpected ending. Instead, we have a movie that just screams for a sequel and another character, alone with CRANK and THE TRANSPORTER that star Jason Statham can roll into a series.


KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:
1. THE POOL SCENE
2. NEUTRALIZING DEAN


Statham is Arthur Bishop, an elite and pricey assassin. He works for Dean, played by Tony Goldwyn, who heads an organization specializing in the elimination of problems. His mentor and manager is Harry McKenna, played in cameo by Donald Sutherland. When Bishop’s next target is Harry, he is placed in an uncomfortable situation. To complicate matters, Harry’s son, Steve, a fatherly disappointment played by Ben Foster, decides to turn his life around by becoming Arthur’s apprentice.

This version of THE MECHANIC has several major problems not present in the original. First and foremost are the combined efforts of Cinematographer Eric Schmidt and Editor T.G. Herrington. Together they utilize extreme close up shots and quick editing techniques on the fight sequences. HOW MANY TIMES MUST I AVER: JASON STATHAM CAN FIGHT. He is exceptionally well versed in Savate. Let him fight! There is no need to use cheap cinematic ploys to make him appear to be fighting, like is necessary with Matt Damon and Mark Wahlberg. Would you have shot Bruce lee this way? Would Jackie Chan or Jet Li tolerate being filmed this way? No!! Stop it. These sequences are worse than those butchered in TRANSPORTER 3. “What a marroon! What a nimcowpoop!” (Apologies to Bugs Bunny) I have bemoaned this before and will continue to do so until someone in Hollywood receives the message or at least starts listening to Bugs. The fight sequences ruined the whole film for me. So majorly disappointing; like buying a Twinkie, only to discover there’s no cream filling. “And most people don’t know, but Twinkies do have an expiration date!” (Apologies to Tallahassee.)

Most people baulk at montages, but you know “everyone needs a montage. Even Rocky had a montage”. (Apologies to Team America.) This is one time a montage is sorely needed and instead we have “montage interruptus”. Steve goes from complete screw up, to expert shot with the wrong hand in a blink of a scene. Sandwiched in the middle are brief looks at target practice with shot guns, but the transformation is unbelievable. Montages need to show progression through dissolves backed by inspiring music, not a suggestion scene. There’s no leap of faith that great, not even in a Cecil B. DeMille movie.

These two elements alone are enough to knock THE MECHANIC out of the ‘great’ category for action films. While I’d like to see Statham continue this character, I would not like to see another episode if it means continued sabotaging of Statham’s fighting abilities and slip-shod connecting sequences. Either dump Simon West as director, or somebody wake him up as to the potential of his star and this character.


THE RATING FOR THE MECHANIC = C
BFCA RATING = 6/10


Fiore is Pittsburgh’s longest running film critic. He holds a second degree Black Belt in Shotokan Karate and a First Degree Black Belt in Okinawan Kenpo, so he can recognize and appreciate quality martial arts fighting. This is why he is so upset when good fighters are given short shrift by directors who couldn’t fight their way out of paper bags.

THE COMPANY MEN





Hollywood is always quick to release films showing the downtrodden of the lower classes, especially when they are set upon by the establishment, or better yet, greedy capitalists. It’s all part of their agenda to stir the simmering pot of revolution so that some proven failure system like Socialism or Globalism is seen as beneficial. THE COMPANY MEN is refreshing because, while the themes are the same, this one approaches the subject from the viewpoint of the upper middle class, a social strata usually tapped for ire and not empathy. The film attempts to show the upheaval and chaos created when talented, effective personnel are eliminated for bottom line numbers, or because of philosophical differences between effective workers and new, untested management.

THE COMPANY MEN has a stellar cast including: Ben Affleck; Maria Bello; Tommy Lee Jones; Kevin Costner; Craig T. Nelson; and Chris Cooper. The plot concerns top level company executives who suddenly find themselves out of the workforce and their tribulations as they attempt to reenter the workforce in this Obama Regime destroyed economy. Affleck is Bobby Walker. He has worked for GMT for a dozen years and is the company’s top salesman. Affleck’s performance is solid, but he lacks the angst necessary to evoke empathy. His supervisor is Phil Woodward, played by Chris Cooper. Cooper can always capture angst; in fact he seems to be wallowing in it every time you look at him. His characterization of Woodward is given short shrift, but is probably the most realistic of the anecdotes. Tommy Lee Jones and Craig T. Nelson are the company owners Gene McClary and James Salinger, respectively. Jones is difficult to read until the film is nearly over but his portrayal is essential for the film’s conclusion to work. It’s interesting to note when McClary is victimized by corporate downsizing, he opts to spend the night with his mistress, rather than his wife, who is clueless to the impact on her own husband. Nelson has a cameo part, but it is interesting his character’s name is reminiscent of J.D. Salinger, the author who would most likely disregard the film’s themes.

Many current issues plaguing millions of Americans thanks to the final two years of the Bush Administration and the entire duration of Obama’s Regime are explored. Walker displays naïveté in thinking his past success will usher him into another job. When he enters the company provided replacement program, he quickly discovers many of his peers have been trying to reenter the workforce for months, despite similar success or advanced degrees. Executives who once wielded incredible power are now waiting in crowded interview rooms with myriad recent college grads for a position they could easily do, but will be expected to do for a quarter of their worth. Hundreds of resumes sent, with no response. Companies’ not having the decency to contact applicants once a position is filled despite having bloated HR departments and the sad, but true prejudice against older workers. In addition, THE COMPANY MEN attempts to address the impact this workforce upheaval has on the family. The problem is all of these topics are overwhelming for the film. None is explored in depth; only a superficial treatment is provided for each. It hurts the film’s impact, like reading the cliff notes of a book.


KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:
1. THE REHIRE PHONE ROOM
2. JOB INTERVIEW WITH FAT HR DIRECTOR


Kevin Costner is Jack Dolan, Walker’s brother-in-law. He runs a small construction outfit engaged in home remodeling. Costner, who usually plays the cool executive, is a bit out of character as the blue collar everyman. He is critical of Walker’s job and lifestyle and envious of what he perceives as “money for nothing, and your chicks for free” (apologies to Dire Straits). He spews rhetoric straight from Karl Marx’s Workers Party revealing the class envy Obama and the Democratic Party have infused into today’s society.

Roger Deakins is Cinematographer. He is truly one of Hollywood’s best. Even though nothing exceptional is needed in this movie, his shots are crisp and angled slightly to give a literal tilt toward a certain viewpoint.

Several scenes simply don’t work in THE COMPANY MEN. The X-Box scene is an absurd, non-logical argument. Once an X-Box is purchased, it costs nothing to operate, until Obama’s Net Neutrality edict takes hold. So Walker’s son relinquishing his X-Box because the family can’t afford it is a non-argument. In addition, the wives of the fired key executives, save one, all steadfastly stand by their men. This is unrealistic to a fault. Knowing many folks in this position, the wives are usually the fountain of discontent compounding the already serious problems. It has been an ongoing trend in Tinsel Town to show women, especially wives, who are loyal to their men, almost to a fault. I’m not sure why this sudden shift in attitude. Only a few short years ago, women were depicted as strong individuals, ready to leave their men at the proverbial drop of a pin. Perhaps that image, so ingrained by Hollywood, resulted in too many alimony payouts.

One scene that works, perhaps too well, is the above mentioned job interview. Walker has been waiting for hours to have an interview, conducted by the disheveled HR director, in an equally disorganized office, asking questions while munching lunch. Fed up, disgusted, Walker blasts the HR director, but his tirade is really a lambasting of the system. While many decry the policies of big corporations, the biggest plight they have rendered on society is the Human Relations Department. HR is generally a collection of folks who simply could not attain a job in a regular department. They serve as go betweens for corporate executives. Disgruntled employees never have the ears of those who can make changes because the HR department is where all the concerns and ideas stop. Instead of complaining about profits, folks should be rallying for the elimination of HR Departments!

The conclusion of THE COMPANY MEN is also misplaced. Often accused of being a critic who leans too much toward the happy ending, even I must say the upbeat conclusion of this film is just wrong. This is one time the ‘downer’ ending would not only have been appropriate, but would have made the film more powerful. This ending plays to the durability of the human spirit, but it is false. Statistics according to the Department of Labor reveal a much different reality with this decimated economy. So, what THE COMPANY MEN delivers is a subtle message in favor of Marx’s Working Party Philosophy, the Socialist mantra of work being more important than pay; the ideology that everyone should work for half their current compensation; and the vilification of ‘the rich’ who magically control everything. (You should know this will all change if I am successful in my write-in campaign for First Emperor of America, or FEA. In November of 2012, write in Fiore I under the President option. All will be well, honestly.)


THE RATING FOR THE COMPANY MEN = B
BFCA RATING = 7/10


THE WAY BACK





Movies depicting great human strife in enduring seemingly insurmountable odds are difficult to watch. They are either inspiring or boring, depending on circumstances. THE WAY BACK tells the tale of prisoners in a Siberian Communist Camp who opt to “go across the frozen tundra, mile after mile” (apologies to Frank Zappa) in search of freedom. THE WAY BACK is certainly better than 127 HOURS in the survival genre. A solid cast and cinematography help, but poor scripting and editing hinder the endeavor, dropping THE WAY BACK into viewing mediocrity.

Ed Harris is Mister Smith, an American accused of spying in Stalin’s Russia while working on the country’s pipe infrastructure. Colin Farrell is Valka, a street thug and Russian gangster who is ‘bossman’ in the prison. And, Jim Sturgess is Janusz, a Polish common man who finds himself imprisoned when his wife turns him in and testifies against him for being a spy. Together, this motley crew, along with a baker and a comedian, escape from prison and begin a 1,000 mile journey across China, Tibet and Mongolia to freedom in India.


KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:
1. THE STORM IN THE FORREST
2. THE TREE BARK MASK SCENE


On the plus side, Russel Boyd provides stunting landscape shots as Cinematographer. Coupled with standard close and medium shots, THE WAY BACK is visually appealing. You would be hard pressed to find a poor performance anywhere by Ed Harris. You may find some questionable role selections, but never a poor performance. He is in solid form here and acts as a cohesive element for the other characters. Farrell is eclectic, as is his penchant. His performance here is part SWAT, part Bullseye. Unfortunately, he exits mid-point and his absence is felt for the rest of the production. Sturgess is nondescript. Though his performance has placed him in Best Actor consideration, it is lackadaisical next to his competition.

What brings THE WAY BACK down is the editing and script adaptation. Lee Smith is the film’s editor. While he manages to keep the tale in the two hour range, sequences, especially the dessert sequence, are too long. They tend to become monotonous and slow the film’s pace. Keith Clarke and Peter Weir, who also directs, penned the adapted screenplay. They have left gaping holes in several key storylines. For example, both Mr. Smith and Valka are presented with final scenarios in the film. At its conclusion, the audience has no idea what has become of them. Did the scenario unfold? Did something else occur? Are they survivors? Not even in the post film graphics are their fates revealed, leaving one with the undesired option of filling in the blanks or accepting the given hypothetical options. Lame.

The frightening aspect of THE WAY BACK is its telling of how the Communists wrestled control over everything in society, by playing the people, especially class status, against one another. The government methodically regimented industry, commerce and culture and by the time the people realized what was happening, they were either dead or imprisoned. The scary element is the parallel to today’s government under the Obama Regime. Too many bobbleheads trapped in the rhetoric applaud as government takes dominion over the auto industry, healthcare, the banking system and most recently, the internet. (See my post on the recent FCC edict for Net Neutrality.) The old adage regarding “those who do not learn from history” is rife in the film. America, falling into the same quagmire as Poland should be THE WAY BACK’s wake up call, but I fear the film’s message will fall on deaf ears, too enthralled with the survival aspect.


THE RATING FOR THE WAY BACK = C
BFCA RATING = 5/10


RABBIT HOLE





No parent should ever have to bury their child. And no audience should suffer through films with this theme, especially during the holiday season. RABBIT HOLE is the type of film the snooty critics in the fabled two-letter cities love to croon about; making ubiquitous statements on emotion, drama, identification, empathy and celluloid craftsmanship. Folks who suffer from post-holiday depression should avoid RABBIT HOLE like the plague. There is nothing uplifting or hopeful in this movie, and unless one is solely analyzing acting, there is nothing entertaining either.

Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckart play Howie and Becka, a couple who loses their four year old son in a traffic accident. The movie goes on to explore their grief, their reactions and the consequences to those reactions among their family, friends and encounter groups. As is typical with these types of films, the characters are composites of psychologically predetermined profiles, serving to encompass all stages of grief for immediate identification for the small audience that has endured the same hardship, while providing educational points for those who have not. Unless someone is involved professionally with social services, I cannot see any value for watching RABBIT HOLE at the end of a long, hard week at work.


THERE ARE NO KEY SCENES OR SEQUENCES WORTH NOTING.

RABBIT HOLE does offer fine performances. Nicole Kidman is excellent, drawing my nomination for Best Actress honors. She ranges from sympathetic to stupid to sublime with transitional ease. Eckhart is her equal, and the two playing off each other is really the only reason to sit through this celluloid Quaalude.

There is nothing extraordinary behind the camera. Cinematography, editing, lighting and music are mundane. Perhaps with a more creative technical aspect, RABBIT HOLE would be more palatable. Charlize Theron provided impetus for films like this with MONSTER. It was a movie no one was interested in, but she knew if she could make it, she would be considered for year end gold. It worked and she captured the Oscar for Best Actress, but MONSTER remains largely unviewed. It doesn’t even pull in good numbers on the cable movie channels. Kidman does the same with RABBIT HOLE. She realized the potential of the role, buffered it with a quality actor like Eckhart and is waiting for the accolades.

Of course these mercenary intentions do not stop RABBIT HOLE from proffering an agenda. The running theme is this film is religion, or more precisely, the belief in God versus science. Naturally, God is abused and depicted as a crutch for the feeble minded, while science is the prevailing philosophy that provides relief from sorrow. Is it any wonder I alone among my colleagues appreciated THE BOOK OF ELI? Is it also any wonder the awards committees of all organizations ignored this film for any considerations?

RABBIT HOLE is a great film for manic depressives. It would probably make their day. It may also provide some relief or comfort for any couple who recently lost a child. But, I watch a movie for entertainment, and am not interested in watching a therapy film.


THE RATING FOR RABBIT HOLE= F
BFCA RATING = 2/10


BLUE VALENTINE





BLUE VALENTINE suffers from MONSTER syndrome. You will recall Charlize Theron, desirous of Oscar Gold, found a juicy role to allow her to write an acceptance speech, but no established producer would back it. They could not warm up to one of Tinsel Town’s hottest screen sirens doing a Lon Chaney act. So, Theron produced the film herself, and captured her Oscar. She did set a precedent, however, which will forever be known in these columns as The Monster Syndrome. Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams have acted in kind for BLUE VALENTINE. They personally produced the movie each hopes will culminate in glory in February. There is a huge difference, though. In MONSTER, Theron played an interesting character; a grotesque serial killer with a warped sense of justice. In BLUE VALENTINE, Gosling and Williams play characters one can easily see in the aisles of WalMart on the first of the month. In fact, the entire point of the script, penned by Derek Cianfrance, Joey Curtis and Cami Delavigne, appears to be the further degradation of what society now terms trailer park trash.

Gosling plays Dean, a man who displays chivalry and a sense of propriety, when he discovers a one night stand with a woman he has been doggedly pursuing, results in pregnancy. Williams is Cindy, a woman who is a sleaze: “I first had sex when I was 13 years old and have had 20-25 partners since.” Wow, Holy germ fest Batman!” (Apologies to Burt Ward.) She is a manipulative female dog who plays Dean “like a harp from hell!” (Apologies to Danny DeVito.) Through flashback, we learn Cindy is not to be trusted as her daughter, in all probability is not Dean’s. The scenario is staged for an insecure woman with a need to feel powerful beyond her sexual appeal and a man who loves her trying only to please in areas he is not desired. This situation is one that crosses all society’s castes.


KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:
1. THE OATMEAL SCENE


BLUE VALENTINE amassed extensive pre-release publicity when it won a ratings battle with the MPAA. The film was slapped with the dreaded NC-17 rating for a brief, and generally unnecessary oral sex scene. Director Derek Cianfrance and the producing Weinstein Company, petitioned the ratings board and gained a rare victory, retaining the scene without further editing and having the NC-17 reduced to R. This is just another in a very confusing and illogical series of decision by the MPAA. The scene in question is not graphic, and certainly not as erotic as the oral sex scene in BLACK SWAN. Sometimes, it makes me wonder if the MPAA doesn’t do this just as a hype campaign for special considerations. Nah, that’s a conspiracy theory and makes me sound too much like Sean Hannity.

BLUE VALENTINE not only makes fun of the lower class, it also is one of the most anti-women films I’ve seen in years. After watching this film, no man would ever want to be married. (According to latest stats, 49% think that already.) Cindy is an unflattering caricature of womankind that will send men running to the hills. “Warning, warning, stage five clinger!” (Apologies to Vince Vaughn.) Watching this movie with my son, he turned to me after the first reel and said: “Dad, at this point the movie would be over for me. There’s no way I would stick around and take this abuse. See ya, and out the door.” Yeah, ‘nuff said.

Herbert Zettl, the paragon of production college textbooks, states it is important to have a message, and then successfully deliver that message through your medium. What exactly is the message behind BLUE VALENTINE? It’s certainly not an entertaining film; it’s a depressing film. If the message is to send the audience spiraling into the dark abyss, then BLUE VALENTINE is successful. I wouldn’t sit through this again; in fact, I’m depressed I had to sit through it the first time. (The life of a film critic can be harsh and cruel at times.) Why anyone would think this endeavor is something people would want see is mind numbingly stupid.


THE RATING FOR BLUE VALENTINE = F
BFCA RATING = 1/10


CASINO JACK



During this time of year, critic’s, such as yours truly dear reader, are inundated with films that never really capture the spark of the general box office. They are produced primarily to allow for artistic endeavors, hoping to garner awards accolades, or to promote some political agenda, with the hope of being played regularly in high school and college classrooms to further infect young minds with a distorted vision of history that satisfies the social globalist and George Soros. CASINO JACK tries to straddle both camps and fails in each.

Director George Hickenlooper and Screenplay Writer Norman Snider present the tale of Jack Abramoff in such a bias and distorted manner, anyone who has stayed atop of current affairs can readily see the errors, flaws and misinformation. Abramoff, for those of you not politically attuned, was primarily responsible for bringing to light the conniving methods of political lobbyists. He utilized public funds as his own personal piggy bank and traded favors in Washington DC like kids swap items from their school lunches. In the process, he became very powerful and knew of many closets containing skeletons. The power base in the nation’s capital needed to take him down, for he was a dangerous man with all he knew, yet they couldn’t be too hard on him for the same reason. CASINO JACK never presents this news side. Instead, Abramoff is a family devoted man, loyal to his Jewish faith, and using any means necessary to promote both. While Abramoff played both sides of the political fence against each other, he is shown in this film as dealing exclusively with Republicans, specifically Tom DeLay and then President George Bush. He is constantly shown in photos with all the leaders liberals hate, Ronald Regan, Newt Gingrich and Ollie North. He projects the typical Hollywood mantra of Capitalism as evil and greedy, while the females surrounding his work are all saintly members of the Kumbaya Klub. The subliminal messages here are as subtle as fireworks on the Fourth of July, probably inspired by the Hillary Horde. The film takes a moral high ground that is unsupported, not only by what actually happened, but by the dialogue and subplots depicted in the film. With no evidence to connect the dots, the scene of the capturing and round up of all individuals involved in the conspiracy is rendered moot. It’s better, I supposed, to blame the downfall on a woman scorned, rather than a vendetta by some of Washington’s most influential powerbrokers, many of whom still hold office.

Starring in CASINO JACK are Kevin spacey, Barry Pepper, Jon Lovitz, Kelly Preston and Rachelle Lefevre. Spacey is not in top form. He elicits no empathy for Abramoff and is far from his amazing performance in SEVEN. Pepper if fast becoming one of the better character actors in Tinsel Town and his performance is enjoyable, though the racquet ball scene is a bit of a stretch. Lovitz is Lovitz; he is always the same, regardless of role or genre. He does not fit well here. The ladies are adequate, though their roles are mere cameos and emotional break downs occur without set up, giving them an inappropriate spontaneous sentience.

A further example of this film’s bias is it’s depiction of the news coverage of Abramoff’s downfall. CNN and MSNBC are the only news outlets shown. Chris Mathews is plugged regularly, as if, somehow, he is considered a viable and trustworthy source. Is there anyone, save for Keith (I should still be in sports) Obermann, who is generally recognized as a Democrat Party mouthpiece and liberal hack? There is no mention of any tingling he may or may not have felt in his leg. I know there is a feeling I have when I see him; it’s the strong desire to bitch slap him and others of his ilk, who have denigrated the journalism profession. The only time Fox News is mentioned is in a scene where Abramoff wants to utilize “his friends at Fox” to spread misinformation. The contrived message of course is all to evident: CNN and MSNBC are trusted news sources while Fox News is a tool for all that is corrupt (read conservative) in Washington. Yeah, and the Cowboys are still America’s Team and reality shows aren’t scripted. Right.

Like FAIR GAME, which was released earlier this year, CASINO JACK attempts to proffer liberal political agendas under the guise of entertainment. FAIR GAME attempted to make a martyr out of Valerie Plame, while CASINO JACK attempts to make a conservative dupe out of one of Washington’s most lethal lobbyists.

In voice over at the film’s conclusion, Spacey intones Abramoff stating he literally bought the Florida votes for Bush that made him President. Really? Are liberals still beating that dead horse? Are they still crying for numbers that didn’t work their way? In showing his displeasure for not being pardoned by Bush, he further avers how much better the country would have been under the leadership of the inventor of the internet, and Oscar winner for AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH, Al Gore. ‘Nuff said about the film’s tone, eh?

For as sleazy as Abramoff was in his dealings, he still knew too much about too many people to be punished severely. No one in Washington wanted him to turn song bird. The film’s conclusion tries to evoke sympathy for Abramoff, as he is ushered into a Federal Prison, where he will spend six years time, away from his family. Poor Jack he was abandoned by his conservative friends. The truth is Abramoff did sing a few tunes and had his sentence reduced to four years. He sang against folks who were no longer in power, including Justice Department deputy chief of staff Robert Coughlin, former Deputy Interior Secretary J. Steven Griles, former Labor Department chief of staff Horace Cooper, and former Ohio Rep. Bob Ney. Before he could sing further, he was released on June 9. He is now on house detention, meaning he is at home with his family and must report weekly to a halfway house and report on his activities. He is working at Tov Pizza in Baltimore, a well received restaurant that plays to major movers and shakers. His exact duties there are not specified. That’s the truth, but none of it is mentioned in the film or in post-script. Sometimes creating bias in the news is not what you say, but what you leave out of the story.


THE RATING FOR CASINO JACK = F
BFCA RATING = 1/10


THE KING’S SPEECH





I hate when movies feature a pathway for victimization causes. Unless the film is a documentary, it takes away from the movie by drawing attention to something that serves as a subplot. THE KING’S SPEECH is a perfect example. Weeks before the film opened articles began appearing in newspapers and magazines detailing the trials and tribulations of stammering. There were articles of disasters and triumphs on the national, historical and local levels. There were articles of treatment and research, and those that were heartbreaking and heartwarming. They all had nothing to do with the movie. It’s a sad reflection of the theory of victimization. “Spend all their time feeling sorry for themselves, a victim of this, a victim of that, your momma’s too thin and your daddy’s too fat, get over it!” (Apologies to Don Henley) Everyone in society now must be a victim of something or other and this speech impediment brought out every organization and person looking for additional funding as well as every starry eyed agenda journalist desiring to change the world rather than report on it. In the misguided hype, a good movie was overlooked.

THE KING’S SPEECH tells, in truncated style, the rise to the throne of King George VI. The King, played well by Colin Firth, while having the background and moxie to lead England, stammers causing him to project a less than confident persona. This simply will not do at a time when England is on the brink of war with Germany. Enter Lionel, played by Geoffrey Rush, who attempts to make the King a better orator. Set in this historical context, the film concerns the friendship of two men, one of royal birth, the other a commoner and the familiar ground they discover tiered in their different social strata. Firth and Rush are supported by Guy Pierce and Helena Bonham Carter. Carter is an amazingly attractive woman when Tim Burton isn’t burying her in goth make-up or giving her a bulbous head.


KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:
1. THE MEETING WITH MYRTLE
2. THE SWEARING SCENE


Many Oscar nods are in waiting for THE KING’S SPEECH. Firth is nominated for Best Actor and Rush for Best Supporting Actor. This is another in an annual series of ploys designed to circumvent nominations. Rush and Firth share screen time equally in this film. To designate one to the supporting category is deceptive; however, actors in competition for the Best Actor category never win when competing against someone from the same film. Hence, Rush is dropped to the Supporting Actor category, though he carries much of the movie.

David Seidler is nominated for Best Original Screenplay for his endeavors on THE KING’S SPEECH, but his script is somewhat lacking. Key subplots are given short shrift, such as Prince Edward’s (Pierce) abdication due to the allure of Wallace Simpson. While the crowning moment is the delivery of King George’s war speech, it takes precedence over the declaration of war. Somehow the conquering of a speech is tantamount to WWII victory. The analogy is absurd and fills the final reel with a false climax.

Films like THE KING’S SPEECH are entertaining views, but not something to make a steady diet of when theatre hopping. This movie is carried by superb performances, especially by Firth and Rush, who seems so terribly out of sorts with his Captain Barbosa attire. THE KING’S SPEECH will do well for an evening’s rental, in history classes and of course to spotlight victims seeking additional funding.


THE RATING FOR THE KING’S SPEECH = B
BFCA RATING = 7/10


LITTLE FOCKERS





These are always the most difficult reviews to write. You see, there’s nothing overtly wrong with LITTLE FOCKERS. Unfortunately, there’s nothing right with it either. It’s, quite frankly a mediocre movie. In my production classes, I always advised students to let their work be loved or hated, never indifferent. Either extreme is better than total apathy. In Hollywood’s Golden Era, movies like LITTLE FOCKERS were released weekly. They’re harmless entities that provide mindless chuckles for a few hours or hopefully, less. They made stars out of Leo Gorcey and Huntz Hall, the Ritz Brothers, Mickey Rooney and Francis the Mule.

The entire cast of the previous Focker movies is back and deeply immersed in their contrived stereotypes. Ben Stiller is a near clone to Jerry Seinfeld; their appeal is to overly sensitive 90’s girlie men: “maybe we should skip on over to Mamby-Pamby land and find you some self-confidence, you Jackwagon!” (apologies to the Drill Sergeant). Robert DeNiro looks as if he’s enjoying himself on the set and outside of Jessica Alba, seems to be the only one. It’s either great acting, or over confidence in knowing your worst performance will always be better than required for the script. This latest episode allows for insertion of current topics, such as a Viagra rip-off scene, but otherwise it’s all been seen before.


KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:
1. THE BALL PIT SCENE


One thing LITTLE FOCKERS does well is consistency. The one outstanding scene is the above mentioned Ball Pit, which serves as an amusing parody of JAWS, complete with mimicking Spielberg’s famous shots. Nothing else in the film is noteworthy, but it does provide a pace of steady chuckles. This is considerably more than the Will Ferrell and Adam Sandler films can offer. Consistent chuckles are far superior than three laughs spread over 90 minutes.

But even this series is starting to reach. When you have Dustin Hoffman proclaiming: “Enjoy the simple things in life, like farts and burps and picking your nose”, then the series has run its course, and it’s time to put it to bed. (I still can’t believe he said that. The payday must have been extraordinary.)


THE RATING FOR LITTLE FOCKERS = D
BFCA RATING = 4/10


TRUE GRIT





I have always been a fan of John Wayne, especially his Westerns. To this day, you can’t mention John Wayne without me immediately seeing Strother Martin being kicked in the face and The Duke glaring at Lee Marvin and drawing: “I said you Valance. You pick it up.” I did not like TRUE GRIT, the film that garnered Wayne honors for Best Actor. There are numerous films he could have, and should have taken that honor for, but not TRUE GRIT. It was lame.

Regular readers of my reviews, and my fans, who are legion, know that I also like the Coen Brothers. Their body of work is impressive, despite a few quirks. When news broke of a remake of TRUE GRIT with the Coens’ at the helm, I was filled with anticipation. That’s usually bad for a film, because they generally never live up to expectations; but I’m happy to report the latest version of TRUE GRIT is everything it should be, and more.

When he was offered the part of Bad Blake in CRAZY HEART, Jeff Bridges turned the role down. Scott Cooper, Writer and Director of CRAZY HEART, told me, in an exclusive interview: “Once Jeff found out T-Bone Pickens was doing the music for the film, he was on board.” I now think that statement was hype. It seems fairly clear Bridges took on the role of Bad Blake to prime for his lead in TRUE GRIT; much the same way Daniel Craig tackled LAYER CAKE, before becoming James Bond. There’s an awful lot of Bad Blake in Bridges’ rendition of Rooster Cogburn, and remember he captured the Oscar for that performance.

The Coen’s have given TRUE GRIT a grittier aura (sorry, it’s a terrible phrase, but it’s just so accurate). Save for a few one-liners and the obligatory drunken scene, this version is realistic without the original’s cow pie humor and Glen Campbell, who, at the time I believe “was a lineman for the county” (apologies to Glen). The mien of TRUE GRIT, however, is established by Cinematographer Roger Deakins. He gives the movie a dirty sepia look, and that’s for the sunny, warm days. The rest of the scenes are harsh, cruel and bleak, “like living in Pittsburgh – it you can call that living” (apologies to Groucho Marx).

Along with Bridges are Josh Brolin, as Tom Chaney; Matt Damon as Texas Ranger LaBoef and Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross. Brolin has, essentially, an extended cameo, but he exudes a presence; like a dumber, more malevolent JONNA HEX. Damon holds his own in a role more suited to his acting style, though I doubt seriously Chuck Norris would approve of his portrayal of a Texas Ranger. “When you’re in trouble look behind you, ‘cause that’s where the Ranger’s gonna be”. Yeah, that’s not Damon (apologies to Cordell Walker). Steinfeld is the weak link in the cast. She plays her part well, but in the process of trying to convince us she’s a sophisticated, mature 14 year old, she loses all other qualities necessary for the role


KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:
1. THE CABIN
2. THE WAYNE TURN AROUND


The Coens’ have inserted quite a few nods, ‘insiders’ if you will, into TRUE GRIT. In all of the previews and trailers for the original film, there is a scene of John Wayne performing one of his patented turns on horseback. Bridges mirrors that scene, complete with the same camera angle. There’s a club ‘em over the head reference to El Dorado and several other Wayne Westerns. And, there’s a rip on Carl Younger and Jesse James with a role reversal of Younger as the gentleman and James as the cad. It’s amusing.

The only major problem I had with TRUE GRIT was the editing of the concluding sequence. Editors are quirky in that they tend to favor the platforms on which they are first trained. The Coens, unfortunately, cut their teeth on Final Cut Pro. As I have stated relentlessly, FCP is more suited for television production and stadium scoreboards. Films should be left to AVID. Check out the sequence after the encounter with the rattle snakes as Cogburn rides with Mattie. The matting is cartoonish rendering the sequence superfluous. It’s not that the sequencing is wrong, or the camera angles misaligned. It’s simply the limitations of the workflow when using FCP.

That aside, for those who enjoy Westerns, TRUE GRIT is a regal repast for this holiday season. A (here it comes again) gritty tale with solid performances and story, great cinematography, a serious, adult script and a complementary soundtrack, scored by Carter Burwell. I enjoyed this one and I’m sure you will, too.


THE RATING FOR TRUE GRIT = A
BFCA RATING = 9/10


Follow the link below for a video review of this film.
MPG.4

THE FIGHTER





Misdirection. It’s one of the five principle elements of tactical fighting, so I guess it’s apropos the technique is utilized in Paramount’s THE FIGHTER. When you see the trailers or read the accompanying PR articles or see the talk show interviews, you might have the impression the movie is about boxing. It’s not; it’s about crack addiction. Those same sources could make you believe Mark Wahlberg should be nominated for Best Actor. He shouldn’t; Christian Bale should. The Academy is giving a generous nod to Bale for Best Supporting Actor, but THE FIGHTER is more about his character than any other and he dominates all his scenes. So THE FIGHTER might appear to be a ROCKY film, but it’s not. It might appear to be a REQUIEM FOR A DREAM, but not quite, although Darren Aronofsky is the film’s executive producer. Sometimes misdirection works well, for example THE SIXTH SENSE and THE BOOKOF ELI. For THE FIGHTER, it’s the wrong strategy. By the time the championship bout comes around, no one cares about the outcome. The major conflict of the film has already been resolved, rendering the fight anticlimactic.

THE FIGHTER chronicles a segment of “Irish” Mickey Ward’s life as he attempts to capture the Welterweight Boxing Championship. Wahlberg is Ward and he spent considerable time in the gym with Dwayne Johnson to bulk up for the role. Bale is his brother, Dicky Eklund, a former boxer who had one Andy Warhol moment of glory and has since slid into a crack addiction, constantly reliving his “glory days” (apologies to Bruce Springsteen). The major conflict is Dicky’s addiction as he attempts to be Mickey’s trainer. The conflict is augmented by a leeching family unworthy of, but attempting to suck the fame off of one of the boys. Melissa Leo is Mickey’s mom, Alice and Jack McGee is his dad, George. Leo is irritating as Alice, and that’s a good thing because her performance captures the essence of a parent attempting to live vicariously through her children. McGee serves as the voice of reason, as most fathers do, in a family engulfed in a sea of estrogen. His performance is honest, surrounded by women who proffer him no heed, though he makes the most sense in every situation. Thrown into the mix is Amy Adams, as Charlene Fleming, Mickey’s girlfriend. She’s alluring, in a trailer trash sort of fashion. In fact the entire Ward family is so dysfunctional empathy is difficult since none appear to have advanced on the evolutionary scale. I haven’t seen so many dysfunctional folks since I last spent several days in West Virginia.


KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:
1. THE ALL GIRL CONFRONTATION
2. THE ARREST SCENE


With boxing as a subplot a few familiar faces drop in for cameos. Former champs George Foreman, Sugar Ray Leonard and HBO commentators Jim Lamprey and Larry Merchant make appearances as themselves. Even in the controlled atmosphere of a movie Merchant sounds as if he’s inebriated. It’s a wonder HBO continues to renew his contract. It’s almost as mystifying as Fox Sports Network continually renewing the contracts of Staggy and Errey (“that’s one big man giving it to another big man” – no apologies here, these guys are just broadcasting buffoons).

Editor Pam Martin handles THE FIGHTER with kid gloves. Clocking in at over two and a half hours, this story could easily have been told in less time. The few fight sequences in the film are not strong. Ben Bray handles the stunt and fight choreography. His biggest claim to fame is being of mixed heritage and growing up with gangs. It’s not enough. Sly Stallone staged better fight sequences in the ROCKY series. THE FIGHTER is shot in pseudo-documentary style. It’s annoying. Cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema shifts styles giving the film a chaotic look, rather than artistic. Hoyte’s name is close to being a palindrome, so that’s cool, I guess.

THE FIGHTER reinforces Christian Bale’s acting abilities, but otherwise offers nothing to merit additional viewings. It struggles for an identity bouncing haphazardly from a drug drama to a boxing film, giving short shrift to both themes.


THE RATING FOR THE FIGHTER = C
BFCA RATING = 6/10


BLACK SWAN





Darren Aronofsky makes truly weird movies. Generally, I like them, but I can’t deny they’re weird. He burst on the Hollywood scene with REQUIEM FOR A DREAM. The movie was good, but bizarre. It featured the lovely and talented Jennifer Connelly submitting to deviate anal sex for the sake of some drugs. Rough scene. His latest, BLACK SWAN features Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis in a lesbian oral sex scene in which Kunis changes personas. Rough scene, and weird.

Aronofsky attracted so much Hollywood hype for REQUIEM FOR A DREAM he was tagged by Warner Brothers for the BATMAN reboot. Aronofsky was on set long enough to cause the money men at WB to realize his vision of the Dark Knight was so dark and foreboding, even Nicholas Cage wouldn’t touch the role. Personally, I’ve always seen Batman as Hyde to Bruce Wayne’s Jekyll. I’d love to see the stuff Aronofsky did with Batman, but alas… So, the WB shows Aronofsky the door, ushers in Christopher Nolan “and the rest is history” (apologies to Howard Cosell). But that episode certainly did not mellow Aronofsky. Without his unique approach to film, BLACK SWAN would be just another rehash of FLASHDANCE or FAME set in the ballet world.

Natalie Portman is Nina, a young, talented ballerina best described as a psycho-bitch, who is struggling with the dual roles of the White Swan and the Black Swan in “Swan Lake” while paralleling bipolar personalities in her own personal life. Mila Kunis is Lily, her top rival for the lead, while a wigged-out Winona Ryder plays Beth, the diva she is replacing. Say one thing about Aronofsky, he brings out the best in his actresses. All three ladies are superb in this outing. Portman is so good, she garnered my vote for Best Actress on the first round of balloting for the BFCA’s Critics Choice Awards. Vincent Cassel rides on their coattails as Thomas, the director of the ballet.


KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:
1. THE HOSPITAL VISIT
2. THE TRANSFORMATION TO THE BLACK SWAN
3. THE ABOVE MENTIONED SEX SCENE


Mark Heyman leads the scriptwriting team for BLACK SWAN. He has taken a bit of the formula dance film, mixed it with a helping of Hitchcock’s PYSCHO and MAGIC, with Anthony Hopkins. Cinematographer Matthew Libatique incorporates obtuse camera angles to highlight the film’s quirkiness and Editor Andrew Weisblum paces the film well. BLACK SWAN delivers its content in under two hours. It is packaged more concisely than REQUIEM FOR A DREAM, which tended to be laborious with repetitive sequences. Couple these techniques with Aronofsky’s penchant for shifting sequences, without warning, from reality to dream state and you have a film that will often leave you wondering WTF, but in a good way.

BLACK SWAN is a gothic dance film. It works on many levels, including the artistic level, the psychological level and the relationship level, especially the mother-daughter relationship. Why, I haven’t seen a mom get along with her daughter this well since CARRIE. But, be warned; BLACK SWAN is a film to watch when you’re in the right mood for something weird and psychotic. If you’re not in that mind set, it’s going to go over like a Beef Oreo Blitz with extra gravy and a glass of orange juice.


THE RATING FOR BLACK SWAN = B
BFCA RATING = 8/10


YOGI BEAR





Know your audience. This first maxim, taught in any quality production class, is paramount when reviewing a film like YOGI BEAR. Create your message, determine your target audience and then cater the message to that audience. YOGI BEAR is intended for pre-school kids. The movie finds its audience early, and cognizant of the pre-school attention span, delivers what is essentially an extended cartoon plot in less than 80 minutes.

YOGI BEAR is interactive, with CGI animals cavorting with human co-stars. Dan Aykroyd voices Yogi, and Justin Timberlake is Boo-Boo. Both have the tone and cadence so familiar from the original cartoons. Voice actor Daws Butler was the original voice of YOGI BEAR, but Aykroyd claims to have created his voice characterization without benefit of studying Butler’s style. Tom Cavanagh plays Ranger Smith. His casting is a bit suspect; he never quite grew on me for this character. He seemed too squirrelly to be in a bear movie. Anna Faris pops in as Rachel, a documentary producer making a film on the picnic basket stealing wildlife of Jellystone Park. Faris is a cute actress, perfect for these types of roles, however having staked her claim to fame through the SCARY MOVIE films, I saw her on screen and kept waiting to hear “Cindy, your television’s leaking!” (apologies to the Wayans Brothers).


KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:
1. THE 2001 TAKE OFF
2. THE FIREWORKS AND WATER SKIING SCENE


Furthering Hollywood’s new agenda theme of rebellion, the heavy in YOGI BEAR is Mayor Brown, played by Andrew Daly. He’s a smarmy college puke who treats the tax coffers as his personal piggy bank and is obsessed with power and a run for governor. In an effort to cover his corrupt administration, he and his chief of staff, played by Nathan Corddry, plan to sell Jellystone Park to a lumber company. Yogi, Boo-Boo and Ranger Smith must join forces to save the park and keep their homes. This delivers the subtle messages of saving the environment, tax abuse and the basic mistrust of government officials to young, impressionable minds. It’s certainly not a bad subliminal message given the current political environment.

Some time ago, John Kricfalusi, noted for his irreverent cartoon series REN AND STIMPY,was contracted to create a YOGI BEAR series. He made a half dozen episodes that have never been aired and “sequestered in a hermetically sealed mayonnaise jar on the back of Funk and Wagnall’s back porch” (apologies to Ed McMahon). After watching YOGI BEAR, my curiosity was quite peaked to see what was in those six episodes that caused Warner Brothers to drive a stake through their hearts, cut off their heads and hold them up to the sunlight.

YOGI BEAR is great for the kids. It’s made for the seven and under crowd and fills their needs well. There is even one unnecessarily gross sequence with a grub worm and Yogi’s nose. It’s the kind of gag inducing comedy kids, and Adam Sandler, love. For the parents, there’s plenty of 3D effects to help get through this endeavor. YOGI BEAR may be “smarter than the average bear” but only slightly.


THE RATING FOR YOGI BEAR = C
BFCA RATING = 5/10
RATING FOR VIEWERS UNDER 7 = 8/10


TRON: LEGACY





If you spend $200 million on a film, it should look amazing, right? That is the supposed budget for Walt Disney Pictures follow up to the nearly three decades old TRON, and the visual odyssey is nothing short of amazing. TRON: LEGACY is a visual multiple orgasm if seen in its created form of IMAX 3D. The list of SFX techs covers over five pages of credits and all have earned their stripes on this endeavor. If you thought AVATAR was amazing visually, TRON: LEGACY will raise your viewing bar even higher. Surely, James Cameron is throwing a major hissy fit. “Of course he is, and stop calling me Shirley” (apologies to Leslie Neelson).

Ah, but strip off the glitz and underneath all the fancy Christmas wrapping is a quite average sci-fi story. Naturally, being Disney, the typical themes of anti-Capitalism are dominant. Encom, the company designed to provide free information to the public by founder Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) has gone corporate in his absence. Its software is marketed at exaggerated prices to an all-consuming public and the company is experiencing extraordinary growth and profits. Now, Bill Gates is having the hissy fit. Of course this is seen as evil through the eyes of Disney and the opening corporate board scene is filled with obviously wealthy members who are painted as antagonists. Look for Cillian Murphy to appear in a cameo as board troubleshooter Ed Dillinger. His appearance is uncredited.

Actually, Disney has the right idea here, just the wrong villain. It’s not corporate America currently attempting to stifle free information, but rather the Obama Regime. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is attempting this month to reintroduce its “Net Neutrality” policy. This abomination to the First Amendment is the brainchild of FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski who wants the federal government “to control all that you see and hear” (apologies to the Outer Limits) on the net. The FCC is planning to relaunch Net Neutrality next week (December 21, 2010). It’s nothing more than an attempt by liberal powerbrokers to squash criticism by dissenting voices against them and their poster child, Imam Obama. They are using the recent WikiLeaks episode as justification for giving the government control of the internet. Lame sauce. But, I digress…

Flynn’s son, Sam, played by Garrett Hedlund, is a philandering playboy who has never relinquished his father’s dream. Through a series of events, he manages to enter The Grid where he reunites with dad. But the Grid has turned into a silly place, having come under dictatorial rule by Clu (Bridges, again, through extreme CGI) who is seeking programming perfection. Together they attempt to escape the Grid and return to the real world with the help of Quorra a warrior Iso played by Olivia Wilde, Tron, played by Bruce Boxleitner and Zuse, played by Michael Sheen. Sheen, like Mark Strong, is one of the best character actors in the biz. He does not disappoint here. Bridges has the unique opportunity, coveted by most actors, of playing both protagonist and antagonist. His Kevin Flynn is solid, if a bit stretched in the aging hippie sequences while his Clu is often too cartoonish in scenes, but that’s more a reflection on the technology and not the acting. Digital Design handled the creation of Clu, which is essentially the 61 year old Bridges looking as if he is 30. They utilized the same technique they incorporated for Brad Pitt in THE STRANGE CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON. A mold was made of Bridges’ head, computerized and given the CGI fountain of youth treatment. A body double was used to Clu’s muscular profile. Bridges computerized younger head was then transposed onto the double’s body. This is the same technique they used for Nic Cage in the first GHOST RIDER. Neat stuff, but technically tedious. Hedlund is the enzyme; he is the same throughout all the scenes and simply serves to launch others into action. Wilde is wrapped in leather so well it makes Kate Beckinsale look anorexic and offers the biggest eyes on screen since BAMBI. Credit the make up department for this intoxicating look. Be sure to scope out Beau Garrett as amazing eye candy in a cameo role as Gem and for the movie’s music writers, Daft Punk, to make an appearance as the masked DJs during the Club Castor scene. I guess it’s the musical form of an old Alfred Hitchcock ploy.


KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:
1. THE LASERCYCLE CHASE
2. THE LIGHTFLYER CHASE
3. ALL THE OVERHEAD SHOTS

Screenwriters Ed Kitsis and Adam Horowitz have ripped off several scenes that will bring immediate recognition. For example: Sam’s opening sequence atop the Encom Building is borrowed straight from Batman’s winged flight in THE DARK KNIGHT. And, as Disney writers, they can’t help but refer to the company’s greatest embarrassment; not being responsible for STAR WARS. As such, we are treated to Sam donning a black hooded robe mimicking Luke Skywalker as he entered Jabba’s cave and Kevin bursting on the scene like ObiWan chasing off the Sand People. We even have an amazing show of ‘the force’ during the Kevin – Clu confrontation. Disney execs want to have reign over all fables of youth, so they can control the emotional swings of generations. STAR WARS eluded them, and it has become iconic. Ouch. It’s one of the reasons Disney recently acquired Marvel Comics. When the competition threatens your legacy, buy them out. Why, that’s just fundamental Capitalism…wait, Capitalism is what Disney always rails about, so…Ah, this is all just so confusing.

The bottom line here is the stars of TRON: LEGACY are the guys in SFX. The movie is so visually stunning that absence of strong characterizations and plot are rendered moot. Seen in a regular theatre, or worse on TV, TRON: LEGACY will reveal too many of its flaws and be exposed as the average sci-fi adventure it is. Seen in IMAX 3D, “Oooooo, what a rush!” (apologies to the Legion of Doom).


THE RATING FOR TRON: LEGACY (IN IMAX 3D) = B
BFCA RATING = 8/10


THE TOURIST





If you mix an American remake of a European lukewarm thriller, a foreign director given the fast track on the Hollywood Hot List Rail and two huge Box Office stars who are not particularly found of one another, you get THE TOURIST, a very tepid ARABESQUE- style flick. The combination will result in an indifferent box office with better returns on the DVD rental circuit.

As a general rule American filmmakers create better films when remaking their European counterparts. Look no further than this year’s vampire thriller LET ME IN. It was far superior in style and tone than the original, LET THE RIGHT ONE IN. THE TOURIST is a remake of ANTHONY ZIMMER, a French thriller under Director Jerome Salle and starring Sophie Marceau. She plays the girlfriend of a shady gangster who, to protect her man, involves an innocent tourist in a web of international crime. Sophie is a talented actress and a delicious looking woman. She is one of the reasons to rewatch THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH.. However, she does not pack the Box Office clout of Angelina Jolie. I like Angelina Jolie. She has big…lips.

So the chiefs at Columbia Pictures have the basis for a film with an adaptation of a French thriller (that term sounds like an oxymoron). Now, they tap a director placed on the fast track of Hollywood’s PR express with Florian HenckelVon Donnersmarck. Are you kidding me? How many times must I rail and rant about names screaming for attention that stretch for paragraphs? At least this one contains vowels. Florian doesn’t sign my paycheck and I’ll be damned if I’m going to type this name repeatedly; so Florian now becomes FHVD. I like it, even though it sounds like a feminine hygiene product. FHVD burst onto the Hollywood scene with his captivating THE LIVES OF OTHERS. It’s a foreboding tale of spying and surveillance. Now Tinsel Town has a habit of latching onto foreign directors it thinks can be bankable here in the US and fast tracking them on the path of superstardom. Ang Lee, John Woo, Robert Lam, Guillermo Del Toro are just a few examples. Some are more successful than others. In this case, the producers may have jumped the gun.

Remember a few years back when Darren Aronofsky was sizzling hot after his release of REQUIEM FOR A DREAM? He was such a Hollywood darling the folks at Warner Brothers tagged him to helm the reboot of BATMAN. Aronofsky’s version of the Dark Knight was so sinister and brooding WB gave him the boot and brought in Christopher Nolan. The rest, as Howard would say, is history. (I’d still like to see Aronofsky’s reboot. It holds so much potential.) The same scenario has happened here. FHVD captured eyes with THE LIVES OF OTHERS, but THE TOURIST is probably not the vehicle best suited as his follow up. Even the lighter moments of THE TOURIST are a bit heavy-handed. One cause could be the stars. FHVD probably wore a black and white striped shirt on the set everyday to throw yellow flags and march off yardage between Jolie and Johnny Depp.

Depp was offered the role of the Riddler in Chris Nolan’s third Batman offering. When production on the film was delayed (check out earlier stories on my website), Depp walked and signed on for THE TOURIST. From the onset there was friction between the two stars. At first, their hostile encounters garnered considerable market store press. Not wanting to sabotage the film before its release, producers quickly closed the set. When shooting wrapped, Depp indicated he had no desire to reunite with Jolie on the Silver Screen in the near future. That’s Hollywoodesse for “God, what a bitch!” The tension on the set is apparent in their scenes together, though those are surprisingly few.


KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:
1. THE MEETING ON THE TRAIN
2. THE SAFE SCENE


THE TOURIST is not a bad view; it does have a few moments. Unfortunately, most of the film’s plot twists are easily gleaned from the trailer. I mentioned earlier ARABESQUE. That film, along with CHARADE, epitomizes the genre. Both were helmed by Stanley Donen. FHVD is not as adept, but given a better vehicle, and more manageable stars, “there are always, possibilities” (apologizes to Mr. Spock).


THE RATING FOR THE TOURIST = C
BFCA RATING = 6/10


THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: TALE OF THE DAWN TREADER





Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation has turned its back on the city of Pittsburgh, its movie fans and film critics in an arrogant display of superciliousness. The company has issued a condescending edict that it will screen, or preview its movies only to the top 25 markets. As this decision insults not only the legitimate critics of Pittsburgh, but movie fans, promoters and theatre workers alike, I am placing a moratorium on 20th Century Fox film reviews until the edict is revoked.

20th Century Fox is rationalizing the money it can make in just the top 25 markets with an average opening weekend will more than compensate for outlay on promotions in markets below the 25 ranking. This is a bold hedge in promotions that the film company would not be taking were it not for the financial success last year of AVATAR Often, when critics in the higher ranked markets would pan a film, the strength of reviews from smaller markets, not concerned with catering to the film hoi-ploi, could generate considerable profitability.

The numbers for Pittsburgh clearly demonstrate the power of my reviews and commentaries to affect this market, but unfortunately I cannot tell you about the latest episode in THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA series, and warn you to see it at your own risk. As 20th Century Fox snubs Pittsburgh, and similar markets, it will now have to make its own mark here without benefit of commentary or publicity from me.

I urge my fellow critics to take similar action until such time as 20th Century Fox reconsiders its prejudicial and divisive edict.

TAMARA DREWE





I’ll be the first to admit, I was faked out. Normally I avoid light romantic comedies like the plague. The films are truly the cockroaches of Hollywood production. Yet, after watching and liking MORNING GLORY, I thought I’d attend the screening of TAMARA DREWE. The film had a few items in its favor. British movies of this ilk tend to be made a bit better than their American counterparts, and it features the voluptuous Gemma Arterton; a delicious morsel of eye candy. I should have stuck to my instincts. TAMARA DREWE is so dull and lifeless over half of the preview audience could be seen napping at some point in the proceedings.

Tamara Drewe (Arterton) left her small town of Dorset, in the village of Ewedon, for the life of a writer in London. After a successful career, and a much needed nose job, she returns to Ewedon and decides to extract some misplaced vengeance on her family and mates by essentially being the biggest whore in the village. You see, Tamara really likes Dominic Cooper, played by Ben Sergeant, however in order to win his heart, she decides to come between Mr. and Mrs. Hardiment (played by Roger Allam and Tamsin Greig respectively) and sleep with just about every young stud in the village until finally running to Cooper’s arms. Don’t you know in a film like this, the silly sod is going to welcome her!

This is a plotline only Europeans could accept. Here in America, thankfully, we think a girl who sleeps around willy-nilly is a slut and not someone you consider for a life partner (apologies to the cast of SEX AND THE CITY). Instead, she’s thought more in the form of “Wham, bam thank you mam” (Apologies to David Bowie). But, somehow in the ‘high culture’ mentality of the British, as long as she ends up with the right guy, the path apparently doesn’t matter. “Is there any trend on those tires, or is it like throwing a hot dog down a hallway?” (Apologies to Stewie Griffin.) No wonder we broke away from these wankers over two centuries ago.


KEY SCENE TO LOOK FOR:
1. THE DINNER AFRESCO


Technically, TAMARA DREWE offers nothing noteworthy. Alexandre Desplat’s score is nearly as slow as the film. Cinematographer Ben Davis does strictly yeoman duty and Editor Mick Audsley creates sequences reminiscent of the tortoise, not the hare.

TAMARA DREWE represents everything I despise about light romantic comedies, or dramedies, as they are now called. It’s further saddening to think the British are now making dramedies as mundane as we are here across the pond.


THE RATING FOR TAMARA DREWE = F
BFCA RATING = 2/10


FASTER





Have no misgivings about FASTER my friends; it is simply, about The Rock. The Rock, nee Dwayne Johnson, is finally back in his milieu, busting butts and creating chaos. FASTER gives him ample opportunity to do both. For awhile my fans, and they are legion, cried with dismay, thinking The Rock was ensnarled forever in Disney-esque family romps. I told you not to lose faith; that the Rock would return to the action genre, and he has, with a vengeance. “Never doubt me” (apologies to Rush Limbaugh).

FASTER is a slightly better than average revenge tale. Writers Tony and Joe Gayton serve a few twists to give the movie a mildly seasoned flavor. The Rock is Driver. He has just completed a ten-year prison stretch after being set up for a bank job. His first order of business – find and kill the fine folks who sent him to prison and murdered his brother in the process. He is stalked by a cop, only weeks from retirement, played by Billy Bob Thornton and Detective Cicero (Carla Gugino), an up and coming star in the police force. The twist the Gayton’s add tosses in a professional hitman, in the guise of Oliver Jackson-Cohen (another of the dreaded three named people). He’s been hired by one of the intended victims to stop Driver before he can complete his mission of revenge. Gugino is solid in a supporting role. Thornton, who is always rather eclectic in his acting style, wavers from scorching to tepid, depending on the scene. It’s obvious he wanted to be a part of The Rock’s return to action. Smart screen move. Jackson-Cohen just doesn’t fit. He’s never really convincing as the hitman, appearing more of a latte lapper than a liquidator. Stopping by for cameos are Tom Berenger and Moon Bloodgood. (Lots of o’s in her name. Makes you want to say “oooooooo”)


KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:
1. THE HOSPITAL SCENE
2. BOTH CAR CHASE SCENES


Now, onto The Rock. We are not allowed to use the term The Rock anymore. It’s Dwayne Johnson, period. That’s just a sampling of the control power Vince McMahon has over those employed by World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). McMahon owns the character The Rock, complete with the trademark raised eyebrow. Johnson had to complete his commitments to the WWE and McMahon, including a return visit to Monday Night Raw, before he was free to accept roles without the approval of his former boss. The Rock isn’t even allowed to use the eyebrow on screen, now that he has severed ties with WWE. Sorry, Vinnie but to this critic, Dwayne will always be The Rock, just like Wahlberg will always be Marky Mark. Not that McMahon’s plan is all bad. Supervising The Rock’s path along family themed movies is a tried and true success path. Can anyone say Kurt Russell? By the time Kurt was done with Disney, he had an entire generation ready to accept him as Snake Pliskin or MacReady. The Rock should have a similar built in fan base. Admittedly this strategy sometimes fails. Afterall, look what the WWE is doing with The Big Show (KNUCKLEHEAD). Suffice it to say The Rock is great in this role. He harkens back to the action films of the ‘80’s and stars like Norris, Seagal and THE ARNOLD.
Allow me, dear readers to digress for a moment. Hollywood is currently looking for a star to play Mitch Rapp, the All American American (apologies to Jack Swagger) assassin and anti-terrorist hero of Vince Flynn’s novels. They have paraded the same tired names for the role including Matt Damon and the aforementioned Marky Mark. These guys are not action heroes. Their choreographed fight scenes have to be shot in close up and edited in GLADIATOR style to hide their deficiencies. I’ll go on record as saying The Rock would make a good Mitch Rapp. The character in the books is not black, but a little movie license would certainly compensate. If not The Rock, then perhaps Hollywood should look to another WWE superstar, John Cena for the role. He was solid in 12 ROUNDS and he has some time on his hands, now that he’s been fired.

Back to FASTER.

Clint Mansell provides a rousing score. Music is so very important to action films and Mansell delivers. Cinematographer Michael Grady teams with key cameraman Wil Arnot to provide interesting angles for the action sequences. Check out the bathroom fight, delivered from a baby’s eye view. Arnot is working both a regular camera and a steadi-cam. Editor Dirk Westervelt paces the film well, and delivers it in 90 minutes, the perfect length for a movie. Although he is another of the dreaded three-named people, kudos must go to Christian Eric Billings who serves as stunt car driver. FASTER offers some of the best car chases since the original TRANSPORTER, with Jason Statham. Finally, in what has to be the easiest job and the worst listing in the end credits, Rachel Solow is The Rock’s hair stylist. Say what? The Rock is bald! How do you hairstyle bald?

Bottom line – FASTER is a solid revenge tale, with an anti-hero theme. Even though the ending is predictable, it’s great to see The Rock back in the action genre where he belongs. More FASTER, less TOOTH FAIRY.


THE RATING FOR FASTER= B
BFCA RATING = 8/10


LOVE AND OTHER DRUGS





What does it say about our current culture when two of the year’s most critically favored movies deal with Facebook and Viagra? Released just a short month ago, THE SOCIAL NETWORK attempted to make heroes out of the nerds who started Facebook, the premiere social internet network. Talk show host Michael Savage recently claimed Facebook was a Narcissist instrument; indeed that using Facebook was akin to looking at oneself in the mirror. Now, LOVE AND OTHER DRUGS attempts to do the same, making a hero out of the top salesman for Viagra; not the discoverer mind you, just the top salesman.

The whole plotline of LOVE AND OTHER DRUGS is hokey. It is based on “Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman” written by Jamie Reidy. Reidy is also the lead character of the film and is portrayed by Jake Gyllenhaal. Nobody writes a book about themselves in which they are depicted as a despicable character; so naturally, Reidy has very few flaws in the film. His biggest vice is ignorance, which he quickly overcomes. In fact, the entire film seems bent on proving Gyllenhaal (Reidy) is rather well endowed. This is before he takes the Viagra, of course. To prove the point (no pun intended), we are subjected to an unnecessary moving boxer shorts scene. Designed for laughs, it instead turns out to be humorous in its failure to illicit chuckles. (That one will take a while to decipher.) I suppose one could argue the movie succeeds on this level; though there is no David Duchovny speedo scene for verification. LOVE AND OTHER DRUGS unfortunately, fails in nearly every other category.

Reidy is the family black sheep; a slacker who has not succeeded. His family is comprised of doctors, surgeons and internet moguls, yet he, though intelligent, has yet to join their financially successful echelon. A flamboyant personality, he finally finds his niche as a pharmaceutical salesman. He works with Bruce Jackson, played by Oliver Platt, who has one of the film’s better scenes (see below). Jackson tells Reidy the Mecca of drug sales is Chicago. I found this to be rather surprising. I would have thought it was Detroit, where posh hotels are surrounded by electrified barbed wire because the city has been overrun by minority drug gangs. Besides, I’m fairly sure Don Corleone said he wouldn’t support the drug business, opting to support only gambling and prostitution. Ah, but I digress. While Reidy strives to reach Chicago (“my kind of town, Chicago is”, apologies to Frank) he meets Maggie Murdock, played by Anne Hathaway. Maggie has Parkinson’s disease and her affliction provides hurdles for Reidy’s quest. From this point, LOVE AND OTHER DRUGS resembles LOVE STORY and holds appeal only for female viewers who are addicted to Harlequin Romances.


KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:
1. BRUCE’S RESTAURANT FRUSTRATION RANT
2. THE HONEST ADVICE AT THE BUFFET TABLE


Technically, LOVE AND OTHER DRUGS doesn’t call for much imagination or creativity and therefore offers none. Director Edward Zwick keeps the film moving, but does become a bit preachy for the sake of educating viewers on the disease.

The main drawback to LOVE AND OTHER DRUGS is its lack of cohesiveness. Somewhere along the line the audience must believe Reidy has to choose between Chicago and Maggie. Why? The conflict is never explained. Don’t they allow folks with Parkinson’s in Chicago? Why can’t Jamie reach his goal and take Maggie with him? She sits at a table and rearranges Polaroid pictures all day. The movie never intimates whether she is successful at this, on an artistic level. She can’t do that in Chicago? Writer Charles Randolph takes us to a conclusion centered on a conundrum of love versus ambition, but the conflict is never concretely created. “It’s just so ridiculous!” (Apologies to Riccardo Montelbaun).

The scenes are forced, the main conflict is imaginary and the little anecdotes that bring us to the final reel have no cohesion. There are, however, quite a few nude scenes. I guess if you enjoy seeing Anne Hathaway topless you could find some redeeming value in LOVE AND OTHER DRUGS, but in reality, you could see the same thing in her old Playboy shoots.


THE RATING FOR LOVE AND OTHER DRUGS = F
BFCA RATING = 2/10


HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS





The trailer for this film looked amazing. Actually, the trailer is amazing, but the film is not. All of the marvelous scenes in the trailer occur in the final 30 minutes of the movie. The two hours preceding the final reels drags on so slowly I had to shave three times just to maintain my boyish appearance. Think of the kindly blue haired lady on her way home from Sunday church services. Do you want to be caught on the freeway behind her? Of course not, but that certainly is the pace set by HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS. In fact, this movie is one hour and forty minutes long before you even discover the nature of the deathly hallows! That’s some set up! What Director David Yates has is a 45 minute movie extended into a two and a half hour saga for the sake of pilfering entertainment dollars from hard core fans. Hollywood hype, at its finest!

HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS features all the cast from the previous endeavors, squeezed in for cameos, probably to accommodate contracts. The Dark Lord Voldemort grows in power and is seeking the death of Harry Potter. He is difficult to kill, not because of this amazing wizard ability, but because his wand and Voldemort’s wand are made of the same substance, so they cancel each other out. There seems to be something Freudian about this, and a Monty Python skit is lurking in the wings. Potter spends most of the film on the lam with friends Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley. While we see them running away from everything, Voldemort takes over the Ministry of Magic and Hogwarts. Unfortunately, what could have been an epic battle is never shown. As wizards go, Potter is still a wus. I prefer my wizards with more cajones, like Harry Dresden. Potter, Ron and Hermione set on a quest to find and destroy all the Horcruxes, which will, in some manner defeat the Dark Lord, who, incidentally doesn’t care about the Horcruxes because he’s gathering the relics of the Deathly Hallows, which is equivalent to building “a fully operational Death Star that will utterly destroy Princess Leia’s home planet of Alderon” (apologies to the real Dark Lord, Darth Vader).

Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint all reprise their characters from the six previous films and share enough close-ups to keep the core audience of prepubescent girls in fantasy dreams. Rhys Ifans, soon to be seen as The Lizard in the SPIDER MAN reboot, swings by as Luna’s father, X. Lovegood. Look, another Freudian reference, demonstrating author J.K. Rowling was becoming bored with all the sugar and spice that is Harry Potter. We’re even treated to a fantasized nude love scene between Harry and Hermione. Poor Ron thinks he’s being replaced and has a nasty vision of his two friends cheating behind his back, complete with Playboy airbrushing techniques, so as not to appear too enticing. Interesting twist, but it comes nowhere close to capturing the power of the greatest cheating fantasy sequence in film, DOUBLE IMPACT, when Jean Claude Van Damme thought his twin brother was stealing his woman.

HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS boasts three of the greatest villains to grace the screen: Alan Rickman as Professor Severus Snape; Ralph Fiennes as Lord Voldemort; and Helena Bonham Carter as Bellatrix Lestrange. Unfortuantely, Snape is just seen in a flashback and has no real part in this film. Voldemort is on screen for possibly six minutes and never confronts Potter. Lestrange has one of the film’s best scenes, but it’s at the film’s conclusion and you have to sit through a quagmire to reach it. And, I must mention this, for all my fans, for they are legion. For decades I have railed against the dreaded three-named-people. The practice began in earnest as a method for feministas to retain their identity when marrying. Unfortunately, the saddled their offspring the dual names, further complicating the credit list. Soon, many names became the equivalent of living in Mexico, where names can run a full typed page. It’s simply not American. We are not, after all, a third world nation, filled with a lost people searching for identity, despite the efforts of Iman Obama’s regime. That said, I was totally discombobulated when I found, in the end credits, the name Bob Yves Hellenberg Hubar. What? Are you kidding me? Is he a Dutch Mexican? Four names! Three wasn’t bad enough, now we’re going to four! Bob, by the way, plays a Death Eater, proving once again only bad people use more than two names (Hillary Rodham Clinton, for example).


KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:
1. THE WEDDING CRASHERS
2. THE BATTLE WITH BELLATRIX LASTRANGE


Alexandre Desplat, who has been exceptionally busy in the film world, provides a somber score. His work here is more grandiose than his endeavors in TAMARA DREWE. Cinematographer Eduardo Serra attempts to capture the Tim Burton look in many of his sequences, but doesn’t quite have the technique down. As a result, many of the scenes simply look washed out. Finally, Editor Mark Ray should be voted off the island. The Potter trio of friends in this episode has mastered teleportation. There are many interesting methods to depict teleportation through SFX, including, but not limited to, the ever popular STAR TREK raining light technique. Ray opts for a straight cut. As a result, one of the film’s highlights, a battle with a large snake, literally jumps from a window plummet to a snow blanketed forest. Really, a $150 million budget and that’s the best you can do? Frankly, I have Video 1 students more imaginative. These edits are worse than the ones I ranted about in JUMP.

Fans of Potter, or FOPS, who have digested and memorized the books, aver HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS follows the book tremendously. Perhaps therein lays the problem. Film is a different medium and should not be treated the same. Look how disastrous THE DAVINCI CODE was in attempting a similar transition. You follow the book, when the director lacks a vision.


THE RATING FOR HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS = D
BFCA RATING = 3/10


THE NEXT THREE DAYS





As far as showcasing the ‘burgh, THE NEXT THREE DAYS may be the best film since Bruce Willis starred in STRIKING DISTANCE to highlight the city. Unless you’re the type of geek who thinks see your home town on the big screen creates the Movie of the Year, then THE NEXT THREE DAYS really has nothing more to offer. Outside of the familiar landscape shots, the movie is just an average thriller that takes far too long to develop. Clocking in at over two hours, Editor Jo Francis has included about 40 minutes of film she simply didn’t need to tell the story. Her pacing is horrible, save for the final two reels. Unfortunately, the action in those final reels cannot compensate for the tediousness that precedes them.

The movie tells the story of John Brenan, played by Russell Crowe. His wife Laura, played by Elizabeth Banks is accused of murder. Is she wrongfully accused? Only Leslie Neilson knows for sure! When the legal system fails him, Brenan decides to bust his wife out of jail and make a clean escape from Pittsburgh. Actually, due to the confiscatory tax structure and unbelievably corrupt and inept politicians the city has to endure, many people and businesses have made a clean escape from Pittsburgh. That’s why we’ve dropped from the ninth largest market when I started writing reviews to the 38th market. Not much to be said here for consistent Democratic rule. But, I digress…. Liam Neeson stops by briefly as Damon, an ex-con who has escaped from prison periodically and serves as mentor to Brenan’s plan. Brian Dennehy and Jason Beghe provide supporting roles. While the story centers around Laura, Banks is in surprisingly few scenes. Crowe handles the majority of the work and though he has had to master a lot of dialects, abandoning his Australian draw, he never does sound like a Pittsburgher and n’at.


KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:
1. THE HOSPITAL ESCAPE


Cinematographer Stephane Fontaine is either a genius or asleep at the wheel while directing the visuals. Pittsburgh looks grey, gloomy and glum. The shots are dark and very grainy. Those of us who live year round in the ‘burgh know this is pretty commonplace; the city is grainy, gloomy and grey. So, Fontaine may be a genius. However, since Hollywood is the land of make believe, a few blue skies and a little brightness to make the city look somewhat inviting certainly could not have hurt. It would at least have made the film easier to watch. Fontaine does use the grainy look well, however, in depicting the city as a drug haven. Seems you can drive around the block and witness all sorts of illegal activity occurring on the street corners. While all the local publicity on this film brags about the city as the backdrop, I’m not sure this is the image Pittsburghers want the rest of the world to see. While the landscape shots are nice, THE NEXT THREE DAYS will certainly not serve as a travel brochure. After watching the movie, I know I wouldn’t want to go there. Place looks God awful. Fontaine also uses a lot of extreme close up shots, which are fine for the Hollywood star machine, but become exceptionally confusing on the action scenes. The technique looks like reality TV, which is not even good on the small screen.

Danny Elfman handles the score, and if I hadn’t told you, you probably wouldn’t know from listening to it. Elfman usually has grandiose soundtracks, but here he is surprisingly subtle. Subtle is not Elfman’s strong point.

THE NEXT THREE DAYS is just not fun to watch. The film is so slow and drags on far too long until the action sequences try to salvage it. There are a few nifty twists, like the train station sequence and the garbage bag ploy, but they can’t compensate for the ball and chain that precedes them. Problem is it’s too little too late. I’ve given the film a couple of extra points for shots of the Point and the Bluff, but the bottom line is this one takes too long to warm up.


RATING FOR THE NEXT THREE DAYS = C
BFCA RATING = 6/10


UNSTOPPABLE





“Choo choo choo, what’s coming down the track? Choo choo choo, it’s something big and black.” It’s a runaway train heading into a dead man’s curve at 75 miles per hour, loaded with tankers filled with biohazard material and destined to impact with a fuel depot. The only folks able to prevent the catastrophe are Denzel Washington and Chris Pine. C’mon! It’s Easy Rawlins and Captain Kirk. Who else would you want in this situation? Obama and Pelosi? Rendell and Onorato? Get serious! We’re talking about preventing a disaster, not causing one.

For as slow as Clint Eastwood’s HEREAFTER is, that’s how fast Tony Scott’s UNSTOPPABLE is; maybe the two of them should meet on the front lawn and share a beer and talk movie pacing. UNSTOPPABLE is my kind of film; it takes all of ten minutes to set the plot and then you’re off for the ride. “Brace yourself!” (Apologies to Bean.) The movie is filled with tense action sequences and amazing stunts. For those of you looking for social impact in films, UNSTOPPABLE still manages to slam big money capitalists, corporate greed, incompetent management and unions and troubled marriages. Not bad for a 98 minute roller coaster ride.

Denzel is Frank Barnes, a grizzled veteran of the railroads who is not too pleased with his pairing with young hotshot Will Colson (Pine) or the treatment he is receiving from the railroad union and management. Kevin Dunn is enjoyable as Gavin, an inept suit whose office windows offer scenic views of The Point and Mt. Washington. Rosario Dawson adds to her impressive body of work as Connie Hooper, the voice of reason during high panic times.


KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:
1. NEAR MISS WITH PASSENGER KIDS CAR
2. ATTEMPT TO SLOW 777 WITH ANOTHER FRONT ENGINE
3. THE GRAIN CAR SCENE


There’s a trio of talent that propels UNSTOPPABLE into Granny’s fast lane (apologies to Mike Lange). Harry Gregson-Williams (one of the awful hyphenated named people) provides a rousing score that matches the action note for mile. Cinematographer Ben Seresen juggles aerial shots, long shots and close ups with panache. A few scenes, used in transition, appear as brightly colored train models, but frankly, this could be because the sequences were edited on Final Cut Pro, which is more suited for television. Music and visuals are then mixed better than Emeril makes sauces by Editor Robert Duffy.

UNSTOPPABLE utilizes mock-up newscasts featuring Fox News affiliates. Not surprising since the movie is distributed by 20th Century Fox. That’s right, it’s distributed by Fox, the company that not too long ago, cut Pittsburgh from its screening and promotional lists. I found it interesting we in the ‘burgh were treated to an UNSTOPPABLE screening, three weeks ahead of it’s opening date just after I posted my rant against Fox’s edict on the internet (www.youtube.com/user/RIGHTCRITIC). Coincidence? Perhaps, but perhaps someone at Fox is reading the unfavorable press released in this area since Fox made its ludicrous decision last summer. Admittedly, most of UNSTOPPABLE was shot in and around Pittsburgh and surrounding areas. Some cynics might purport the screening was set up due to the shooting locale. If so, then at least Fox is showing more class than Lionsgate. They continue to keep the ‘burgh of their screening list though they have no qualms about filming here and taking advantage of the state tax filmmaking credit.

UNSTOPPABLE will take you back to the action films of yesteryear. Enjoy it, for these types of films are, sadly, few and far between.


RATING FOR UNSTOPPABLE = A
BFCA RATING = 9/10


127 HOURS





Back in 2003, Aron Ralston had an accident while exploring cave slides in Utah. The incident resulted in his arm being trapped and in order to save himself, he had to amputate his own arm. His story of survival made news headlines in both Utah and his home state of Colorado, and also garnered a mention in national news headlines. Fox Searchlight has made the episode into a movie. Let’s be brutally honest: the only reason to see this film is one shot sequence in which Ralston severs his own arm. The rest of Ralston’s life is rather mundane and boring and save for that one sequence, totally unworthy of a full length motion picture.

So, how do you wrap an entire picture around one sequence? Writer/Director Danny Boyle fills the rest of the time with brief, but meaningless encounters before the accident and flashbacks during the entrapment. To attempt to make the movie viewer friendly, the episodes are presented in the fashion of X-treme sports. This includes split screen various angle shots, common to the genre and certainly more suited for TV than the big screen. The opening montage is irrelevant to the story and sets the tone for similar time stretching sequences. Keeping with the X-treme sports workflow, 127HOURS features head-banging rock music, consisting mainly of screaming singers in a different key than the rest of the band, and, of course, Phish. Presented in digital format, the audio is so loud I was happy to be in my customary seat in the last row. Any closer could have caused temporary deafness. Ironically, I like my movies loud. This, however, was just ridiculous.

Cinematographer Enrique Chediak utilizes extreme close-ups in abundance. They become a bothersome gimmick after awhile. His framing is contrived as shots before the accident highlight Ralston’s arm as the primary focal point. Editor Jon Harris adds flashback and dream sequences frequently and without transition. The effect occurs so many times the shift from dream state to reality feels like a Freddy Kruger movie on steroids.

So let’s talk about the big scene. News stories started last week about people vomiting and fainting due to the arm amputation sequence. Special effects make –up man Roland Blancaflor and SFX Coordinator Blair Foord have tried their best, but honestly, I’ve seen worse on an episode of HOUSE, after the synapse shot. Those stories are PR plants, so please don’t fall for them. Any vomiting was surely induced by a bag of rancid popcorn.

James Franco portrays Aron Ralston. Franco is one of the stars who made his name playing the doper-slacker characters of mindless comedies. He’s not too far off the mark with this character. Ralston is portrayed as a self-centered, egotistical jerk. Treat Williams, Kate Mara and Amber Tamblyn drop by for cameo parts in the film’s beginning, but this movie is all Franco. A movie like 127 HOURS is the closest thing to a one man show that an actor can have on celluloid. While Franco helps the film with a strong performance, it is not Oscar worthy, though many will tell you differently.


KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:
1. THE MORNING SHOW SEQUENCE


127 HOURS harkens back to the survival films Richard Harris made some decades past (MAN IN THE WILDERNESS, A MAN CALLED HORSE, to name a few.) Frankly, those films were more intense and brutal. While I can be sympathetic to Ralston’s actual ordeal, it simply is more befitting a 30 minute documentary than a full length motion picture.


THE RATING FOR 127 HOURS = F
BFCA RATING = 2/10


MORNING GLORY





Normally, as my legions of fans are well aware, I avoid slight romantic comedies. They are to the film business, as barnacles are to boats. Often I will refrain from writing reviews on these films. They tend to fall into a template and offer nothing worth while. I could probably write one generic review to encompass all of these types of films with validity by merely imputing the proper film name. Every now and then, however, I find one that is different, that stands on its own and provides an interesting evening out, despite the template. Such is the case with MORNING GLORY. I think it helps tremendously that the film centers on a television morning show and the age old conflict of news versus fluff. Years back in my illustrious career, I produced both morning news shows and morning shows. The difference is distinct. Morning news shows have gone the way of the dinosaur. So, truthfully, has news in general. Now it’s all hype and agendas. Morning shows, while they feature news headlines at the top and bottom of the hour, generally present what is known in the business as ‘women’s news’. These are light stories and do not require much thought. They highlight the emotional, rather than the logical in keeping with the target audience. Many of the witty discussions and downright arguments presented in MORNING GLORY I have personally been involved with before, so the humorous take had, for me, a rather endearing quality, almost a déjà-vu.

There is no denying what makes MORNING GLORY work is its star power. Harrison Ford, Jeff Goldblum, Dianne Keaton and Rachel McAdams provide puissant performances in a film that doesn’t require them. To be sure the film falls into the romantic comedy template, but the stars add a panache enabling the mundane to rise to new entertaining levels.

McAdams is Becky, a newbie in the television world who is given a chance to salvage a disastrous network morning show. Jeff Goldblum is the boss keeping her on a short lease and setting impossible goals. His depiction of Jerry Barnes is part Ian Malcom and part Marquis de Sade. Diane Keaton plays Colleen Peck, the bubbly morning show co-host who is sugar and spice on camera and a bitch off camera; and Harrison Ford is the grizzled old news pro who refuses to succumb to the dumb-downed version of what passes for news today. Their interplay is exceptional. If there is a weak link, it’s McAdams, but the girl is just so damn perky, you can’t help but like her.


KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:
1. THE ROLLER COASTER
2. THE DAN RATHER SCENE


This type of film is pretty straight forward in its presentation. Hollywood churns out far too many of them each year because of their ease in production. No spectacular, or even out of the ordinary shots are offered. Vignettes are presented as if reading a child’s book, so no complex sequencing is required. These films are good for folks nearing retirement or those trying to learn the trade. J.J. Abrams is the film’s producer. He provides enough savvy behind the camera to make all the average elements work and not get in the way of the stars’ powers.

MORNING GLORY is an enjoyable film. I think it will attain a special level for anyone who has been in television. Watching it made me feel an old ting for days gone by. By the time it ended, I was glad they were days gone by.


RATING FOR MORNING GLORY = B
BFCA RATING = 8/10


DUE DATE





There was a loud crash heard during the screening of DUE DATE. It was the sound of my IQ dropping. The PR hacks would have you believe this film, starring Robert Downey, Jr. and Zach Galifianakis is “fresh, exciting, exhilarating… best comedy of the year, chock full of laughs”. Nowhere near. That’s why we call these nimrods “quote whores”. DUE DATE a poor rehash of PLANES, TRAINS AND AUTOMOBILES, featuring low-brow slacker-smoker humor and without the benefit of Steve Martin’s comedic genius or John Candy’s comedic appeal. DUE DATE has to resort to a dog masturbation scene to illicit chuckles from its audience. This is sad, and pathetic.

Robert Downey, Jr. is Peter Highman. He’s a businessman attempting to travel back to LA in time for the birth of his first child. At the airport he meets Ethan Tremblay, played by Galifianakis. Through a serious of events, both are placed on the no-fly list and must now find a way to LA via ground transport. Downey is not convincing as the frustrated businessman. He does not capture the angst or chagrin Martin did. Galifianakis portrays Ethan in a non-humorous manner and one that is insulting to actors and homosexuals. Jamie Foxx and Juliette Lewis swing by for cameos, but even they don’t hang around for this debacle.


KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:
1. THE COFFEE SCENE


Yes, there is one funny scene and it’s the aforementioned coffee scene, but, happily, it’s in the trailer! So, you can save your money, watch the trailer and see the best joke of the film. Economy of film! Someday all movies may be this way.

Alan Cohen and Alan Freedland wrote this mess. Tar and feathers are currently being delivered. Todd Phillips directs, though why he would want his name attached to this excrement on celluloid is beyond me. Too many people here are trying to ride on the crest of Robert Downey, Jr.’s current fame wave

All of the jokes in DUE DATE are predictable and lame. The slacker-smoker humor should have died with Cheech and Chong, or at the very latest, Dave Chappelle. It’s yuppie bathroom humor and can only be found remotely entertaining if you’re stoned out of your mind. And, remember, you should never be stoned because you’ll do strange things you’ll regret later, like see DUE DATE.


THE RATING FOR DUE DATE = F
BFCA RATING = 1/10


MEGAMIND





Sit down. No really, sit down. Your system will not take the shock I am about to deliver. I’m about to utter the words those of you who are my fans, and you are legion, never thought would come from my lips. Ready? I found a Will Ferrell movie I like. (I’m waiting for the sound of all those bodies hitting the floor to fade. It is truly a Sound of Thunder; apologies to Ray Bradbury.) There is a slight caveat; since the film is animated, Ferrell isn’t really in it. It’s just his voice. Perhaps that’s the solution to his consistent lack of talent; let him be animated.

MEGAMIND is a quirky spin on the Superman legend that meets all the requirements for kiddies having their weekly dose of self-esteem. Two alien children are rocketed to Earth while their distant planet explodes. One is a natural all around good guy, while the other never seems to be able to do anything right, a true misfit. The natural turns out to be MetoMan, the superhero and defender of Metro City while the misfit becomes his archnemesis, Megamind. MetroMan is voiced by Brad Pitt, with considerable help from the bass and chorus knobs on the audio board. He is constantly pursued by a Lois Lane type female reporter, Roxanne Ritchi, voiced by Tina Fey. Ferrell is Megamind and is speaking in such a high octave, his voice is nearly unrecognizable. That’s a good thing.

With all the controversy over 3D films, it is safe to say the technique currently works best with animation. Like LEGENDS OF THE GUARDIANS, MEGAMIND has a nifty 3D look. Credit Vlad Bina, who serves as the 3D concept designer. (I had to mention this guy; how many times do you have the opportunity to meet someone with the name Vlad?) Production Designer is David James, and Guillermo Del Toro serves as a creative consultant.

MEGAMIND has a rockin’ soundtrack featuring tunes like Ozzy’s “Crazy Train”, George Thorogood’s “Bad to the Bone” and AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell”. Fear not parents, the word ‘hell’ is comically cut from the chorus by Minnie Ripperton, so the kids won’t come home yapping like rig drivers at a truck stop. Audio tracks were digitized for the soundtrack at Abbey Road Studios in England, so the sound is as pristine as the 3D.

We all, at one time or another, are faced with the prospect of taking ‘the little ones’ to the movies. To help ease the trauma, MEGAMIND offers a few good chuckles, solid 3D and foot-tapping tunes. It’s also the highest rating Ferrell has received from me. That alone, should make this movie worth seeing.


THE RATING FOR MEGAMIND = C
BFCA RATING = 6/10


HEREAFTER





Someone has to say it, so it may as well be me: Clint Eastwood needs to stop making films. If he doesn’t, he will create enough celluloid disasters to counter and then erase the fine body of work he has already contributed to the movie archives. His latest films are nothing more than the rantings of an old, out of the closet liberal. Now an octogenarian whose pace has retarded, it’s painfully evident continents move faster than Eastwood’s films. His latest, HEREAFTER, is so slow it’s advisable to bring a bottle of No-Doz to compliment your bubbly libation. Outside of torture, HEREAFTER is the only way to make two hours feel like three weeks.

HEREAFTER starts well. An idyllic vacation scene is devastated by a tsunami. Marie LeLay (Cecile DeFrance), one of France’s premiere female broadcasters, encounters a near death experience and launches our tale of three characters from different parts of the globe who predictably must all meet before the final reel. Marie is sleeping with the producer, Didier, played by Thierry Neuvic. I’m sure there is no connection between sleeping with the producer and being a top female broadcaster. Just ask Pam Oliver, Suzy Kolber or any of the ‘insightful’ female reporters who adorn the sidelines of any game or sit behind the desk of a local newscast. When the new ‘hottie’ comes along, Didier sends Marie into exile for Jasmine, played by Mylene Jampanoi. He moves up by getting a younger paramour, France gets a better looking talking head for broadcasts and billboards, the station gets better ratings and Marie ends up writing best-sellers and looking for Matt Damon.

Damon is George Lonegan. He talks to the dead. Not a John Edwards type of talk to the dead. He can really do it because doctors juggled his brain when he was a little boy. George doesn’t like talking to the dead, though he made a lucrative business of it at one time. “Talking with the dead is no way to make a living.” So, he chucks his ability to do menial work in a factory. It’s similar to Superman taking the subway, because he doesn’t want to fly. This puts Marcas in a bad way because he’s just lost his twin brother Jason and desperately wants to talk with him through George. The twins are played by Frankie and George McLaren. After the first 20 minutes, you just know these three characters are going to meet, but one is in America, one is in England and the other is in France. By the time Eastwood gets them into a common setting, a book fair in the land of Charles Dickens’ birth, the three could have walked to the location.


KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:
1. THE TSUNAMI
2. JASON’S READING
3. THE SUBWAY


HEREAFTER looks good. Images are sharp and actors are given the star camera treatment of Hollywood’s Golden Era. Credit stalwart Director of Photography Tom Stern for the look. Writer Peter Morgan meanders with the plot and Editor Joel Cox abets his wandering with sequences that are painfully long and entirely too predictable. Eastwood offers his typical slow piano music score, though this time around he adds a much needed acoustic guitar.

There is a sinister aspect to HEREAFTER. Eastwood uses every opportunity, and even some that are forced, to deliver liberal propaganda. For example: When George is let go from the factory due to cutbacks, rather than fighting the union on the grounds of his seniority, he expresses his understanding that it was more important to keep the guys with families working. Workers of the world unite! All hail Socialism! Stickers of Che are highlighted on the workers’ lockers in case you don’t get the initial reference. All the news reports given by Marie’s broadcast network are critical of conservative politicians and their views and Eastwood also takes the time to degrade both Jesus and Allah through internet clips dealing with life after death. Again, we have the running contemporary Hollywood theme of spirituality, not religion. Guess they are setting us up for the visitation from the twelfth planet on December 20, 2012.

Bryce Dallas Howard makes an intriguing cameo in HEREAFTER as Melanie, a would be love interest for George, save for his uncanny ability. She drew one of the preview audiences’ most reactionary moments when she uttered: “I moved to San Francisco after I was dumped in Pittsburgh.” The audience laughed and clapped. It was the only time. I think they had fallen asleep soon afterwards. When the mention of the home town is a film’s key highlight, that, in itself, says all that needs to be said about the quality of the movie.


RATING FOR HEREAFTER= D
BFCA RATING = 3/10


RED





There have always been films depicting the older generation showing up the younger generation. Kurt Douglas, Burt Lancaster, Burt Reynolds, Sean Connery, along with many others, have all done it well. Probably one of Hollywood’s great tragedies is Bruce Lee didn’t live long enough to add his name to that prestigious list. He would have been 70 this year and I still can’t think of a better tandem on film to carry this theme than he and Chuck Norris.

But I digress.

This time around Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich and Helen Mirren are all retired black ops agents who find themselves on the wrong side of a politician’s ambitions in RED. The film is best described as a scattered comedy; there are funny scenes and dialogue, but they are interspaced between action sequences in a rather chaotic fashion. Editor Thom Noble paces the film well, but it struggles for identity between action and comedy. The overall effect is somewhat disjointed but still very entertaining.

Willis is Frank Moses, a retired James Bond type who suddenly finds himself the target of a CIA assassination team. Fearful for his old mates, he quickly rounds up several of his past cohorts to discover the who and why behind the attack. This leads to a series of confrontations between the retired folk and the current CIA operatives, all with fairly predictable, though humorous results. Malkovich, as Marvin Boggs is a particular stand out. An agent who was given daily doses of LSD to measure the drug’s effects, he is over the top while he tries to separate his training from reality. “She’s following us and she has a camera in her purse. Let me kill her now!”

Along for the ride are co-stars Richard Dreyfuss and Brian Cox as retired adversaries who managed to be dragged into the foray. And, it’s quite heartening to see Ernest Borgnine in a cameo role as Henry, the Records Keeper. His character is reminiscent of Cabbie in ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK. I half expected him to say: “Hey, I know you! You’re Snake Pliskin! They said you were dead.” (Apologies to Cabbie).


KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:
1. WET TEAM
2. FRANK’S OFFICE FIGHT
3. SNOW SNIPERS


Cinematographer Florian Ballhaus does a commendable job with camera angles, enabling shots of stars to blend seamlessly with their stunt doubles during the action sequences. Use the ‘Frank’s Office Fight’ scene mentioned above as proof. Director Robert Schwentke molds Jon Hoeber’s screenplay into an entertaining, syncopated flick.

I liked RED. It’s the type of film that is greater than the sum of its parts. The message is standard, but clear: Don’t diss the older generation for their methods and ideologies are still very valid. Take that lesson with you in November when you go to the polls.


THE RATING FOR RED = B
BFCA RATING = 8/10


YOU WILL MEET A TALL DARK STRANGER





How the mighty have fallen. Not long ago, a Woody Allen release would be treated like royalty; crowds standing in line, critics salivating and all the beautiful people carelessly tossing words around like ‘genius’. Now, save for a clique of loyal Jews in Manhattan, no one cares or even notices an Allen release. That formula is not about to change with Woody’s latest, YOU WILL MEET A TALL DARK STRANGER.

Personally, I blame CURSE OF THE JADE SCORPION. Allen set a tempo for his films with PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO establishing a new milieu. It crested with CURSE OF THE JADE SCORPION, which is, quite frankly, one of the best stories for film ever written. Allen, allowing his massive ego to intrude, created one of film’s major faux pas by placing himself in the title role. It was, and still remains one of the worst casting decisions ever made. It seems after CURSEOF THE JADE SCORPION, Allen’s credibility was hopelessly lost. But I digress…

YOU WILL MEET A TALL DARK STRANGER, like many of Allen’s endeavors, attracts considerable acting talent including Anthony Hopkins, Antonio Banderas, Josh Brolin, Gemma Jones, and Naomi Watts. While all are excellent actors and bring as much complexity to their characters as possible, the material is awash in self-loathing enveloped in an aura of doom and gloom.

Hopkins is Alfie, a man who goes through a mid-life crisis when he is a few decades past the time when you have a mid-life crisis. He leaves his family for an aging prostitute, played in entertaining fashion by Lucy Punch. His former wife, Helena (Jones) is a border line alcoholic so devastated by the collapse of her marriage she turns to spirituality. It is key to note the turn to spirituality, not religion. Heaven forbid (no pun intended) Hollywood, or Allen release a film with religious themes. I’m still wondering how THE BOOK OF ELI managed to be released. Their daughter Sally (Watts) is a discontented wife working in an art gallery owned by Greg (Banderas). She fantasizes about a romantic affair with Greg because she has become disillusioned with her husband Roy (Brolin). Roy feels he’s not getting the support from his wife and soon starts an affair with a neighbor, Dia played by Fieda Pinto.

Confusing? Shouldn’t be; basically all of Allen’s characters are the same. Each sees greener grass on the other side of the fence and does not notice the condition of their own yard. Each ends up making horrible decisions which further ruin their own lives. The only exception to this plot maxim are the loonies. The two characters who are furthest removed from reality are the only ones who find happiness. Is this what the reality of the Obama Regime has brought us to; that the only way to happiness is to leave reality? It’s a reoccurring them that has been popping up in too many films, most recently IT’S KIND OF A FUNNY STORY. Escape reality and you’ll be fine; perhaps because our current leaders have made our reality truly abhorrent. Film, reflecting life, no?


KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:
1. THE KITCHEN CONFRONTATION


Vilmos Zsigmond is a vanguard in film cinematography. In any interview he will tell you of his distain for a camera technique known as ‘fogging’ (see the western MCCABE AND MRS. MILLER as an example of this technique.) Yet, he seems to have no qualms about using filters. The interior shots of YOU WILL MEET A TALL DARK STRANGER all have an orange tint, shot through a high-end amber filter. It’s surrealistic and confusing for a DP so against similar techniques.

Editor Alisa Lepselter keeps the film moving by constantly bouncing between vignettes, but even at the ideal time of 90 minutes, YOU WILL MEET A TALL DARK STRANGER begins to drag towards the end. Allen, as usual, not only directs but penned YOU WILL MEET A TALL DARK STRANGER. He offers no hope or salvation for his characters unless you partake of the aforementioned exit from reality and dwell on your past lives. He also incorporates a clichéd subplot of one author stealing the work of another. This theme has been used and abused so much I’m surprised Allen stooped this low. Something in his past must still be haunting him.

YOU WILL MEET A TALL DARK STRANGER utilizes a quote from Shakespeare claiming all the elements result in nothing. Apropos, as it best summarizes this entire endeavor.


THE RATING FOR YOU WILL MEET A TALL DARK STRANGER = D
BFCA RATING = 3/10


IT’S KIND OF A FUNNY STORY





Most folks will agree ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOOS’ NEST is a fine film. The movie is an intriguing tale with notable performances by Jack Nicholson, Louise Fletcher and Will Sampson. (“Ummm, Juicy Fruit”.) If I told you I wanted to make a juvenile version of CUCKOOS’ NEST that supports therapy for teens, degrades Capitalistic fathers and doting mothers, urges young people to skip, literally, through their problems and not feature the strong performances of the original, you’d probably say I’d flipped and should save my money. Directors and writers Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck have ignored that sound advice and done just that with IT’S KIND OF A FUNNY STORY. This film is so lame I don’t think John Woo or Robert Rodriguez could salvage it.

Keir Gilchrist is Craig. He’s a teen under high pressure from school and family life who thinks maybe things would be better if he offed himself. Darwin would say let him do it; survival of the fittest and all that theory. Instead, Craig checks himself into a psych ward and acts discombobulated when the hospital doesn’t give him a pill and send him home. In the loony hatch, he befriends Bobby, played by Zach Galifianakis and Noelle, played by Emma Roberts. Bobby has anger problems and Noelle is suicidal. Naturally, both are going to be Yoda-types, who despite their mental miscues, are bound to impart pearls of wisdom more profound than the Jedi master. Of course we all go to mental wards for sound advice. Just look at the policies of the current administration. Case closed.

Jim Gaffigan and Lauren Graham play Craig’s parents. His mom dotes over him, wanting only the best. His father also wants the best for his son, but his version of ‘the best’ includes attending top schools and acquiring a top level job and being a key cog in the wheel of society. These are the dreams and hopes of every parent I know, save for those trapped in the government welfare wheel in the inner cities. But, in IT’S KIND OF A FUNNY STORY, these traits are depicted as evil. How dare a mother show concern over her son and how dare a father want his son to be successful. Instead, the movie recommends leaving behind any concepts of Capitalism, becoming a creative artist and when things bother you, skipping. No, really, just skip until you forget about the problem. So the ideal concept of the world is men skipping. Are you getting the gist of this flick, yet?

Technically, the movie is as drab as the lecture it delivers. Cinematographer Andry Parekh offers nothing exciting in composition or sequencing. Director Boden edits her own film, which probably explains why there are so many scenes that contain liberal political messages. For example, a scene, which is entirely too long, features a portion of a speech made by then President Bill Clinton in 1999. In it he is spouting the same rhetoric Imam Obama is currently spewing; the economy is fine, housing is great and America is strong. The weed in the White House must be of unearthly quality; or maybe Bill and Barry just spend a lot of time skipping!

The entire film has a washed out look. This is probably because Boden edited it on Final Cut Pro. FCP is more attuned to television production.

IT’S KIND OF A FUNNY STORY is a waste of time. Five days in a psych ward and a young man uncovers the secrets of the universe (and skipping) from folks crazier than he. Epic fail, with a side order of lame sauce.


THE RATING FOR IT’S KIND OF A FUNNY STORY = F
BFCA RATING = 1/10


LET ME IN





Vampires are in vogue and unfortunately that means their legend is being twisted, bent and undergoing so much literary license that the once feared monarchs of the undead are now glitter boys, the family next door, the strange people in the gated community and, according to HBO, a group of sluts, rubes and of course the politically correct gays, who are “dumber than a bag of hammers” (apologies to George Clooney). Imagine, then, how refreshing it is to stumble upon an old fashioned vampire tale, complete with nasty blood letting, the need to rest during the daylight hours, the ability to scale great heights, fly, the necessity of the invitation to cross a threshold and the burning effect of sunlight. Good stuff; after all our ancestors spent eons developing these legends, so there’s really no need to turn them into social commentary on living in West Virginia or a gated community or transforming them into Harlequin Romances for pre-adolescent teenage girls.

LET ME IN is actually a sordid love tale between a 12 year old boy who is experiencing the trauma of being bullied in school coupled with his parents’ pending divorce and a vampire who is trapped in a 12 year old girl’s body. This creates a few awkward moments in LET ME IN. Though there are no nude or love scenes, the two main characters are placed in rather compromising positions. While nothing is sordid, some scenes are still uncomfortable just by their setting and circumstance.

Chole Moretz is Abby, the tale’s vampire. She’s progressed nicely since her role as Hit Girl in last year’s KICK ASS. She’s stronger, nastier and oh, yes, dead. As a 12 year old vampire, she’s much more tolerable than Kirsten Dunst was as Claudia in INTERVIEW WITH A VAMPIRE.

Starring with her is Kodi Smit-McPhee (another of the dreaded three-named people). When we first meet Kodi’s character, Owen, he’s practicing to be a serial killer. His problems at home and at school have welled in an anger that has him stabbing trees in his backyard. After watching the concluding reel, I guess you could say LET ME IN is a success story as Owen embarks on his dream while finding his niche in society.

The last time we encountered Kodi he was whining his way through one of the worst films ever made, THE ROAD. My review on this film made me an internet sensation. It went viral and garnered commentaries from folks who never had the professionalism to contact me, even after I contacted them. Now, a small time after being lambasted, I have been proven right, as always; THE ROAD won no major awards, went no where with box office numbers and even failed in DVD and video sales. IT WAS A BAD MOVIE. I was right, you (and you all know who you are, including the freilocks at Rotten Tomatoes) were wrong. I told you so. “Don’t doubt me” (apologies to Rush). But I digress. Back to LET ME IN. The supporting cast includes stalwart performances by Richard Jenkins, Elias Koteas and Dylan Minnette.

The film is probably better for what it doesn’t have than what it does have. There are no ‘cheap thrills’ in this movie. You know the cheap thrills I’m referring to; a cat suddenly jumps up on the windowsill, a boyfriend jumps out of the closet. LET ME IN doesn’t have them and doesn’t need them. Unfortunately, there are also no fangs. Fangs have been almost incidental to vampire tales of late. Not many make-up guys get them right. Location seems to be a problem. Some are placed right under the nostrels, which looks moronic; while others are placed so far apart the actor must go through contortions to have them visible on the screen. Bela Lugosi and Frank Langella never showed fangs. Gary Oldman had his grow, and retract according to the menu. No one really wore fangs with panache like Christopher Lee. His were amazing, set against an evil grin and bleeding eyes. Perhaps that image is best left unhampered.

Speaking of Chris Lee, it is the old and faithful Hammer Films behind LET ME IN. This is the same British company that made megastars of Lee and his colleague and friend Peter Cushing during the 60’s and early 70’s. Some true classics came from Hammer Films and while they have remained active, especially in TV productions, it’s nice to see them back on the right track. LET ME IN takes us back to a time when vampires were really vampires yet it still manages to add enough of a twist to make it an intriguing tale. LET ME IN was a comic; then it was a movie, made in Sweden under the title “Let the Right One In”. (“They’re not Swedish, they’re Norwegian, Mac,” apologies to Doc.) Now this version is an American remake of the original. Unlike other American remakes, it stays on the plot path rather prudently.

Cinematographer Greig Fraser does an excellent job in presenting LET ME IN. Most of the eeriness is due to his visuals. Of particular note are the POV sequence of the crash and the finale pool sequence. Violence, without violence. Very creative. The soundtrack is notable also. While drizzled with many rock tunes from the 80’s, the original score by Michael Giacchino is as alluring as a vampire’s gaze. “I never drink… wine ” (apologies to Bela Lugosi).

In all LET ME IN is great horror fun for the Halloween season. Real vampires, and not ballet dancers in trees. Though at times predictable, Fraser’s visuals more than compensate and Editor Stan Salfas’ pacing helps two hours fly by. Scary stuff and definitely worth a view.


THE RATING FOR LET ME IN = B
BFCA RATING = 8/10


THE LEGENDS OF THE GUARDIANS





In the 18 months he has been President, Barack Hussein Obama has managed to establish a ‘ruling class’. This class includes cabinet members who can indiscriminately break and bend laws without repercussions, officially consider taxes of any kind as optional and enable our Putz-in-Chief to take 16 vacations in 18 months, have chefs, food and even his dog flown to exotic locales and spend at least two days a week playing golf and basketball while his policies make us a laughing stock overseas and destroy our economic base.

While this sounds like the beginning of a Sean Hannity commentary, it’s actually another example of how movies reflect life. You see, in THE LEGENDS OF THE GUARDIANS, nefarious no-good owls have established a ruling class and are subjecting other owls to serve them and do the menial work to maintain the members of the upper society. Similar arguments are made about the current Mexican invasion through illegal immigration. Surely the young being ‘moon glowed’ is comparable to the ‘Obamania’ that caused mindless Americans to elect the enemy as our leader. This could also be an example of the indoctrination practiced by our current public school system which generates progressive automatons.

When young owls are snatched from their homes, urged not to rely on their own individual initiative, but rather serve the ruling class in an effort of public service for the common good, can Obama’s upcoming social brown shirt army, which all college students needing to repay loans will have to enlist, be far removed? Nay, to stop this sweep of progressive socialism, a ragtag band of young owls must travel far to find the Guardians, those stalwarts of conservative and individualistic values, to take arms and fend off those who believe in the collective. Gad-zooks! It sounds as if the Guardians belong to the Tea Party!

THE LEGENDS OF THE GUARDIANS is chock full of political ideologies set, if you will, in a rather fowl mood. It’s an adult fable more suited to those who appreciate allegory than the little tykes. In fact, many of the scenes may be too intense for kiddies as some of these owls can be down right dirty birds!

Remember some months back, when I was berated by pseudo film experts for finding entertainment value in NINJA ASSASSIN? Well, as if in atonement, THE LEGENDS OF THE GUARDIANS utilizes the same techniques. Yes, these birds battle in OWL-FU. Spinning hook kicks, flying front and roundhouse kicks are all delivered with the same set-up switch to slow-mo made famous in NINJA ASSASSIN. The technique works just as well with 3D animated owls as it did with Sho Kosugi and Rain.

Is this the part in the review when I can say THE LEGENDS OF THE GUARDIANS is a hoot? (Apologies to owls everywhere.)

The 3D effects for this film are some of the best I’ve seen since Tim Burton’s ALICE IN WONDERLAND. Great stuff as owls fly out of the screen and over the viewing audience. Ah, but be warned if you watch the film at the AMC in the Waterfront. Intended for IMAX 3D, the theatre has only a faux-IMAX screen (check my reports on to read of this situation) resulting in a blurring on the right side. It is distracting and clearly demonstrates the results when you attempt to go cheap on the technology.

Lending their voice talents to a plethora of owls with names dreamt of while passing a bong are Helen Mirren, Geoffrey Rush (“Now then, where’s me ship?”), Hugo Weaving (“Mr. Anderson, we’ve missed you”) and Joel Edgerton, who’s brother Nash gave me an exclusive interview which, frankly is better than all his other interviews, save one, just three short months ago. John Orloff has written a script combining elements of the first three novels in the series and Director Zack Snyder keeps the film moving and logs the entire adventure in the film perfect time of 90 minutes.

Kudos must be given to Art Director Grant Freckelton. Not only is the 3D great, but the entire look of the film is captivating. David Hirschfelder has penned an amazing score, one to challenge the most ambitious of John Williams’ endeavors.

All in all, leave the kids with grandma and check out THE LEGENDS OF THE GUARDIANS. Any scene featuring the Owl-Fu is worthwhile; in fact, I’m checking the yellow pages immediately after writing this review for an Owl-Fu instructor nearest me, and the two flight scenes through the ice storm and into the twister are exceptional fun when viewed through those silly 3D glasses. See this one in the theatre with the 3D for the full effect, without the hump (apologies to Inspector Clousseau).


THE RATING FOR THE LEGENDS OF THE GUARDIANS = B
BFCA RATING = 7/10


THE TOWN





Ben Affleck is totally abused and scorned. He has been the brunt of late night talk show hosts, the Griffin family of “Family Guy” and the kids from “South Park”. I don’t really know why. Well, wait, there was PEARL HARBOR and I’m probably one of the few critics who did not slobber over GOOD WILL HUNTING, but I really liked Affleck in DAREDEVIL, especially the Director’s Cut version of the film. I thought he performed well in HOLLYWOODLAND, CHANGING LANES and SMOKING ACES. I think his philandering with most of Tinsel Town’s top starlets, and some not so top, spur the ridicule. That’s just jealousy. If I was that young and had those looks in Hollywood, I’m pretty certain I would not be on the path to sainthood when it came to the ladies. In any event, Affleck has released a decent, though sometimes predictable crime caper called THE TOWN. In a summer that has been bereft of anything resembling a hit, THE TOWN is able to shine as exemplary in a sea of mediocrity.

Apparently there is a town just outside of Boston called Charlestown which has produced a plethora of stellar bank robbers and thieves. I say ‘bravo!’ Every town should be known for something and the ability of successfully robbing a bank is not one to take lightly. Look at Pittsburgh. It’s known for simple minded officials who rob the taxpayers without mercy. Look at Chicago. It’s known for producing corrupt politicians, one of whom is now president and fleecing the American taxpayers into serfdom. I have more respect for the bank robbers. But, no, we can’t have that, so there is a totally ridiculous and politically correct graphic at film’s end stating that while Charlestown does produce an exceptional amount of bank robbers, that in no way should impugn on the fine reputations of its many good citizens. Give me a break. “Nut up or shut up” (apologies to Tallahassee). If you’re good at something, be proud. If it weren’t for successful bank robbers a whole branch of my family tree would need pruned.

So Affleck and his mates are bank robbers and having a grand ole time until love enters the equation. Pretty typical fare which Cagney, Bogart, Garfield and Robinson have all covered in the past. Affleck not only stars in THE TOWN but he also directed and scripted the tale. He keeps things moving nicely, mixing key elements of melodrama at appropriate times. I knew this film was going to be solid when Affleck appears in one of the opening scenes were a Boston Bruins jacket. It’s a nice one too! I stood and cheered. The rest of the Pittsburgh preview audience was not amused. However, in the next scene, he shows up wearing a Red Sox jacket. I nearly cried, but then I remembered: “There’s no crying in baseball!” (Apologies to Tom Hanks.)


KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:
1. THE OPENING ROBBERY
2. THE CAR CHASE


Tagging along with Affleck’s character Doug MacRay is Jeremy Renner as Jem. Love interest Claire is played by Rebecca Hall and Jon Hamm is Agent Adam Frowley, the man determined to bring the MacRay band down. Robert Elswit does a nice job behind the camera, especially on the car chase scene. It’s one of the better film chases to hit celluloid in a while.

There was a constant buzz after the screening. People gathered in cliques to spew platitudes upon Affleck. (The lyrics of a Billie Holiday song spring to mind here.) I didn’t realize how many movie experts the ‘burgh had until after this film. Most were incredulous Big Ben (no, not that one!) could produce a film of such quality. They have eyes, but see not as they attempt to touch the shadow or Roger Ebert. Probably most of these experts should stick to comic books; it’s truly their forte.

If this were a typical summer, with a continuous flow of box office hits, THE TOWN would be the type of film to become lost in the shuffle. As it is, with this summer’s offerings running on the lame side, THE TOWN looks much better. It’s worth a view and serves well as the flip side of dinner on an evening out.

THE RATING FOR THE TOWN = B
BFCA RATING = 7/10


EASY A





Anyone who has seen Demi Moore’s remake of “The Scarlett Letter” would cringe if told Emma Stone was doing another version. Terrible experiences have a way of lingering in the recesses of the mind, only to terrorize once you enter the theatre. You can relax. This modern version of Hawthorne’s classic constantly refers to the original and takes quite a few swipes at Demi Moore’s rendition of Hester Prim. EASY A is silly fare, rife with the left coast progressively liberal mantra.

The film begins with nifty graphics incorporated into the background scenery. The technique continues during the end credits. I really like the technique, though I must admit it’s not original. It started with the TV series “Fringe” and then migrated to other shows, including “Warehouse 13”. It’s still neat, though, and it looks even better on the big screen.

Halfway through the movie, the background music featured some freilock mumbling incoherent rap poetry (and I use the term lightly), when suddenly my ears perked up. The background music was the theme song from JOHN CARPENTER’S STARMAN. Really? Rappers are rapping to movie themes now? STARMAN is a Fist of Fiore Award winner, and one of Carpenter’s best. Jeff Bridges should have won the Oscar for Best Actor for that movie. It took the Academy years to compensate for their mistake finally presenting the award to him this past year for CRAZY HEART. I added two points to the rating for EASY A just for reviving memories of STARMAN. “Tell the baby about me” (apologies to Jeff Bridges).

So what we have in EASY A is a high school girl who makes a bad decision (can you image that concept!). The decision sets off a domino effect that provides the background for the film’s anecdotes. Emma Stone is Olive. Her true love is Todd, played by Penn Badgley and her chief antagonist is Marianne, played by Amanda Bynes. What helps the film keep pace are the numerous cameos by proven stars who add a lot of style to what is essentially a teen flick. They include Stanley Tucci, Patricia Clarkson, Thomas Hayden Church, Lisa Kudrow and Malcolm McDowell. A perplexing problem with the cast is most of the student actors look too old to be in high school.


KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:
1. INTRO OF THE WOODCHUCK MASCOT


The problem with EASY A is its enveloping in the progressive, liberal mindset. The most glaring is parenting. Olive’s parents (Tucci and Clarkson) are a couple wrapped in themselves who intend to live their lives, while the children are invited to attend. “Where are you from, originally?” (Apologies to Stanley Tucci.) It’s a sentiment left over from the ‘me’ generation. The parents talk way too freely about their sex lives with their children; honestly, who wants to know that stuff? Surely only the most demented ponder over their parents’ bedroom techniques. “That’s right, and quit calling me Shirley” (Apologies to Leslie Nielson).

Of course the gay agenda is effervescent throughout the film. Tucci proclaiming proudly of experimentation, “We’re all gay at some time” (yeah, he should apologize to us for that uttering that line). And Clarkson stating “I had a lot of lovers, many of them men” (ditto on that line, apologies can be email or posted as responses to this review). Olive befriends and then helps a gay student gain some stature in the high school hierarchy, only to have an innuendo slipped into the story that turns Huckleberry Finn into a bi-racial gay encounter. Really? Writer Bert Royal had to take this in that direction? It did not serve as an epiphany. It was a stretch, like a 300 pound woman wearing spandex.

The school is portrayed in a rather demeaning perspective. The principal (McDowell) is a used car salesman intent on social promotions and bonuses. “My job is to keep the girls away from the poles and the boys away from the pipes.” No, your job is education, and if public schools concentrated on education instead of social and cultural indoctrination, our students test scores wouldn’t be behind Bolivia’s. But I digress. The really cool teacher, played by Church seems concerned about his students, but due to the atmosphere in public schools, can only end his concern with reminders of mindless PC activities “Don’t forget tomorrow is Earth Day.”

I guess most of this liberal claptrap can be excused because the setting is California. I mean, really, even The Arnold couldn’t help California, so the entire area is probably beyond hope. But the manner in which these culture destroying platitudes are inserted, through the use of comedy, is dangerous, especially considering the audience for EASY A is high school students who, generally are way too susceptible to indoctrination through innuendo

Thankfully EASY A makes its point and ducks out in under 90 minutes. Director Will Gluck and Editor Susan Littenberg keep the movie rolling. They deliver Royal’s rants like jabs from a pro boxer and quickly move on. “Hurry, let’s do this before they come to their senses” (apologies to King Julian).

Critics are falling over themselves for EASY A. The reason is readily apparent; they, especially those in the fabled two letter cities, “are all a little gay some time.” Well, perhaps most of the time, so long live the agenda.


THE RATING FOR EASY A = D
BFCA RATING = 4/10


GOING THE DISTANCE





Coming off a much needed and exceedingly relaxing late summer vacation, I felt compelled to attend the screening of GOING THE DISTANCE. The Drew Barrymore romantic comedy appeared to the type of formula piece I largely ignore; but not being in a theatre in several weeks tends to cause a longing in a film lover’s soul. Plus, Barrymore once befriended and helped a former director of OUTTAKES and as such I concluded watching one of her movies would be considerably better than sitting through another Will Ferrell yarn.

I’m certainly glad I did. GOING THE DISTANCE is the funniest movie I’ve seen this year outside of DINNER FOR SCHMUCKS. Drew Barrymore bent the romantic comedy mold slightly, entering into the world of the lewd and crude and bested Ferrell, Sandler and others of their ilk at their own game.

Erin (Barrymore) and Garrett, played by Justin Long, meet as she is preparing to leave NYC for the left coast and he has just been dumped by his girlfriend. Though their time together is short, they manage to fall in love and then must deal with the trials and tribulations of a long distance romance. Entering into the mix are Erin’s over protective sister and Garrett’s over the top roommates. Christina Applegate, Ron Livingston and Charlie Day round out the cast. Long has been popping up in numerous films of late. The young man shows promise as a potential powerhouse. He staked his claim to fame starring in the monster movie JEEPERS CREEPERS and somehow every time I look at him I still picture his face stretched out on a clothesline with the eyes missing. He is entering a vortex and the next few years could determine whether he advances up the box office ladder or becomes the next Steve Guttenberg.


KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:
1. THE DART GAME
2. THE THANKSGIVING VISIT
3. PHONE SEX
4. THE TOP GUN SCENE


To quell the ingrates who insist I have a prejudice against women filmmakers, Director Nanette Burstein helms GOING THE DISTANCE with style. This is her first foray into movies, having previously produced documentaries. Generally, documentary filmmakers do not transition well into mainstream pictures, but Burstein is the exception. She is assisted by Geoff LaTulippe who penned a rough-edged script for a romantic comedy; one that few actresses, save Barrymore of course, could make work. Eric Steelburg is Director of Photography. He offers yeoman duty, with nothing particularly striking in presentation though some of his close ups of Barrymore could have been kinder.

The outstanding technical aspect of GOING THE DISTANCE is its soundtrack. It’s filled with many well known tunes as well as several by The Boxer Rebellion; a band I was unfamiliar with until seeing this movie. Good stuff, and one you may want to add to your collection for your listening pleasure.

GOING THE DISTANCE is funny. It’s delightful to watch Barrymore in this role as her talents are allowed to shine. Long plays off her well and his two roommates steal every scene they are in, especially the toilet discussion scene. I must admit perhaps I was a bit more tolerant watching this film having just returned from a balmy hiatus, but I enjoyed this movie. It made me laugh. Think of it as a Rock Hudson, Doris Day romp written by David Mamet. “Yeah, you’re gonna be fine” (apologies to Peter Griffin).


RATING FOR GOING THE DISTANCE = C
BFCA RATING = 6/10


EAT, PRAY, LOVE





I was lured to the premiere of EAT, PRAY, LOVE by its star power. It boasted Julia Roberts (always a favorite because she reminds me of my niece), Javier Bardem, James Franco and Billy Crudup. This is the second time in as many weeks I have fallen for the star powered line up ploy. “Faked out again.” (Apologies to Mr. Roper) EAT, PRAY, LOVE could have been called ITALY, INDIA, BALI and shown as a mini-series on the Travel Network. Better venue, better place to air in obscurity.

Roberts plays Liz, a woman who has everything; beautiful home, well-paid career and loving husband. Perhaps therein lies the rub. Having everything, Liz decides she needs to find herself. This is typical of most chick flicks; a woman needs to find herself. “If we’re discovered, we’re lost.” “No you idiot, if we’re discovered we’re found!” (Apologies to The Three Stooges). I have a difficult time accepting the concept of being lost that apparently plagues women. Do your parents know how to contact you? Are you available to family and friends? If so, you’re not lost. You don’t need to be found. Everyone knows where you are. If they’re not calling, perhaps it’s due to your dementia of being lost.

Once Liz has the female equivalent of courage (we men call it stupidity) to announce she’s leaving her husband and going on a world tour to discover herself the film resembles the immortal tale of Casey at the Bat. Liz’s husband Stephen is played by Billy Crudup. He’s making a career of playing the nice guy with the broken heart. It’s becoming redundant. If he doesn’t take on an action film soon, his whole career may be that of the 90’s girlie man (Apologies to Arnold). I know at this point many of my fans, and you are legion, are laughing hysterically at this plotline, but Editor Bradley Brucker and Director Ryan Murphy combine to stretch what would normally be only a subplot into a two and a half hour root cannel saga.

Liz’s first order of business under her new found freedom is to begin having casual sex. Apparently the first step of a woman finding herself is directly tied to how often she spreads her legs as this reoccurring theme envelopes every chick flick. Liz settles on David, played by James Franco. She gets a young stud muffin, he has a MILF and everyone is happy for a few weeks. See, the problem with the “I’m free let’s have sex” philosophy is that it never enables the woman to find herself. Strike one. By now breaking up with guys is easy, so she dumps David and heads to Italy.

EAT, PRAY, LOVE provides wonderful shots of Italy; the home country never looked so good. In Italy, Liz discovers the wonders of eating. I’m not making this up. Before the segment is over, she will put on a few noticeable pounds, be much happier and discover that happiness is found in a bowl of spaghetti. Wow. She should have tired mine. But happiness is not enough for Liz, so instead of staying in Italy, she moves on to India.

In India, Liz thinks it’s wonderful to get up early every morning, go to a prayer room and chant in glorious song she doesn’t understand. Of course, she could have done the same thing in New York by going to church, but I guess somehow it’s more magical in India? The monks also give her tasks that include scrubbing floors on her hands and knees. When she was married to Stephen, she never had to do this. She had a marvelous home and housekeepers. Had Stephen canceled the hired help and made her scrub floors, perhaps the marriage could have been saved. The lesson here is don’t make it easier on your wife; she’ll never appreciate it because happiness is found in drudging housework. Strike two.

Finally, after what seems an eternity, Liz moves on to Bali where she encounters Philippe, played by Javier Bardem and the Indian equivalent of Yoda. In between meditation and transcribing Ketut’s writings, Liz falls in love with Philippe. Here the story takes a bizarre twist. She can’t love Philippe, because if she does she won’t be able to find herself. Strike three. Take a seat son.

Confused? Well Liz is, so she runs to the surrogate Yoda, who tells her love sometimes throws off one’s personal balance. Liz has achieved enlightenment. “Some people read War and Peace and think of it as a simple tale, while others can read the back of a chewing gum wrapper and uncover the secrets of the universe.” (Apologies to Lex Luthor.) So, after all this time, Liz discovers she could have kept her marriage, great job and loving husband because it was okay to feel a little off balance. “It is like a finger pointing away to the moon. Don’t concentrate on the finger or you will miss all that heavenly glory.” (Apologies to Bruce Lee.) At this point, however, a lover in Bali is more appealing than a lover in New York, and really who can blame her here, given the tax structure and politics of New York.

EAT, PRAY, LOVE is painful. Do not let your lady talk you into this one unless you feel you need to see the celluloid version of “The Female Psyche for Dummies”. This is a girl’s night out type of film that will have moderate success at the box office at best, and then die a quick death only to be shown, ad nauseum on the Lifetime Network.


THE RATING FOR EAT, PRAY, LOVE = F
BFCA RATING = 2/10


THE OTHER GUYS





Will Ferrell pulled a fast one on me again. I continue to go to his movies thinking someday, somewhere he will be funny. Even Adam Sandler was funny once. Trailers and hype for THE OTHER GUYS appeared promising. I thought a bevy of supporting actors might be just the ticket to bring Ferrell’s talent to the forefront. Chris Farley, John Candy and even John Belushi could never carry a film on their own, but when paired with the right co-stars, they could steal the show.

Wow, was I wrong; and Ferrell is laughing all the way to the bank. THE OTHER GUYS is without question the worst movie I’ve seen this year. When I attended the Pittsburgh premiere I brought a guest and had it not been for the company, I would have walked out on this turkey after the first half-hour.

Ferrell plays Detective Allen Gamble, a detective who is an accountant but used to be a pimp in college. Yeah, even the set up is queer. Mark Wahlberg is his partner, Terry Hoitz. Kudos to Marky Mark. He tries desperately to bring some style and class to this comedy, but the material is just not there. Co-starring are Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne Johnson, who both have the celluloid savvy to exit this bomb in the first reel, Michael Keaton, Damon Wayans, Jr., Eva Mendes and Steve Coogan.

There is nothing new in the plot. The hot shot team in the department needs replaced and the least likely duo to do it is Hoitz and Gamble, but you know, somehow, they’ll end up saving the day.


KEY SCENE TO LOOK FOR:
1. THE TALE OF THE LION VS. THE TUNA


I’ll be the first to admit comedy is the hardest thing to do. Just look at how many readers fail to see the humor intertwined in my reviews! Still, if you’re going to attempt comedy, you should have some basic skill set. Adam McKay is both director and writer of this mess. He should stick to directing; he’ll do less harm.

THE OTHER GUYS is typical Ferrell; there are basically two jokes in the film and he tries to stretch them out to two hours. The great film comedians like the Marx Brothers, the Howard Brothers, Hope and Sellers, to name but a few, would rise from the dead and haunt Ferrell if they could see what he’s passing off as comedy. Every joke is extended beyond the point of laughs. Just how many times does granny have to cross that street? How many times does Gamble have to regress to his pimping days? The joke is funny once, after that, it’s an annoying child trying to win laughs with the same gag. Eventually the adults suggest playing in traffic.

Despite all the help from talented co-stars, this movie is immersed in the Ferrell Flaw. The first twenty minutes held promise, but after the first reel, the film slips into banality and never recovers. It’s not funny, it’s pathetic. A few statistical graphics during the end credits carry an anti-capitalism theme, which is common in Tinsel Town, but they all refer to the Obama Regime’s running of the economy. Didn’t take long for his own followers to turn against him, did it? I guess even American Liberalism has its boundaries. That may be the funniest part of this entire endeavor.


THE RATING FOR THE OTHER GUYS = F
BFCA RATING = 1/10


DINNER FOR SCHMUCKS





I was seriously thinking of skipping this movie, but it was the only screening scheduled in the week, so off to the theatre I went, expecting another mindless two joke comedy. I’m glad I went, for I was pleasantly surprised and pocketed a healthy number of laughs before the evening’s end. Just shows again you can’t judge a movie by its trailer.

DINNER FOR SCHMUCKS stars Paul Rudd as Tim, a modern Yuppie about to have everything he desires in the world, but his promotion in the Flanders Company hinges on his attending a company dinner in which employees must bring an ‘idiot’ as a guest. The biggest idiot receives a prize and the employee is boosted up a floor in the company. Tim doesn’t want to participate until the fates throw Barry, played by Steve Carell into his path. Barry is an IRS agent who makes sculptures with dead mice for a hobby. Tim’s actions are severely scrutinized by his girlfriend Julie, played by Stephanie Szostak and his situation is further complicated when a stalking dominatrix appears and befriends Barry. Lucy Punch is Darla, the stalking dominatrix and she is great in the role. She steals all of the scenes she is in including the parking lot scene, the lunch scene and especially her visit to Tim’s apartment. (“I’m a penguin! But I’m a turbo-penguin!” apologies to Steve Carell).


KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:
1. DARLA VISITS
2. BRAIN VS. MIND


Carell slipped off my radar a few films back. I never really liked his character on the TV hit “The Office” and as such never became a fan of the show. Though I thought he was well cast as super goofy spy Maxwell Smart, the movie’s script was lame and deserved the quick death it suffered. The ghost of Don Adams still haunts the endeavor. As much as he may not appreciate the roles, Carell excels at playing the goofball. Much like Jerry Lewis, his left-field characters play a lot better than his attempts at lonely losers, like the Office and THE 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN. He is in his element in DINNER FOR SCHMUCKS.

Writers David Guion and Michael Handelman have taken a novel approach to the script. Based on the French film DINNER GAME, this version plays less to the actual dinner and more to the days leading up to the event, enabling viewers to see how Barry worms his way into Tim’s life. THE DINNER GAME interestingly was also given a serious treatment. It was titled SIX DEGREES OF SEPARTATION and made a star out of a then young actor named Will Smith.

DINNER FOR SCHMUCKS follows the typical comedy pattern, and that pattern is so mundane it counts against the film’s rating; but overall, Director Jay Roach utilizes Carell’s whacked out prowess with aplomb. Rudd plays straight man to Carell well and in many scenes reminded me of Steve Guttenberg. DINNER FOR SCHMUCKS has more laughs than the combined past half-dozen endeavors of Will Farrell and Adam Sandler.


THE RATING FOR DINNER FOR SCHMUCKS = B
BFCA RATING = 7/10


SALT





Feministas everywhere will go in shock when I say I really enjoyed SALT and it is a fun action movie. Normally one to wail against the preposterous fight scenes were dainty petite women smash gargantuan men – they are just so ridiculous (apologies to Ricardo Montalban) – SALT provides enough thrills for me to overlook these foibles.

To be sure there are a few scenes like this in the movie. Thankfully, Director Phillip Noyce keeps them to a minimum and they are not long dragged out affairs. In addition, the close-up, short take edits are used so no one can really see what’s happening and it hides the fact that SALT star Angelina Jolie can’t fight her way out of a paper bag. It’s also telling that she can mow through government agents but receives a solid thumping from a Russian agent. What, pray tell, does that say about our government training system? Secret service and FBI agents are cut down like a hot knife through butter by a 98 pound diva while the Russian agent resembles The Big Show choke slamming Chris Jericho through to tomorrow. You’ve just gotta love when the Russians are the heavies; they’re just so Boris Yeltzin. Coupled with the impossible fight sequences are several others that are definitely over the top. The truck hopping scene makes Bruce Willis’ antics in LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD actually seem believable; the elevator scene rivals Daniel Craig’s performance on the cranes in the opening scene of CASINO ROYALE; and the building climbing scene would make Peter Parker jealous.

Wait, it gets better.

We see the torturous waterboarding technique. This was the interrogation method of Dick Chaney that kept our country safe for eight years; no Muslim plane bombers on Christmas and no Times Square truck bombs. But Chaney and conservatives everywhere were tortured (sorry, bad pun) for the technique by the liberal media, so it’s essential our heroine falls victim to waterboarding so we can all see just how terrible it is. Though the film has a businessman-looking white guy as president, we are treated to a long shot of the Pepsi-Obama Everybody sign for no real reason other than it’s a Pepsi-Obama sign. Finally, the old Russian knife in the shoe ploy is utilized straight from FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE (apologies to Rosa Klebb). Yes, yes. I do enjoy a good knife in the shoe ploy (apologies to Inspector Clousseau).

With two paragraphs full of blatantly lame scenes, you’re probably asking yourself, “How in the hell did Fiore like this movie?” Don’t fear, my guests at the Pittsburgh premiere asked the same question.

There are three solid reasons why this film is so entertaining. First and foremost is the work of Editor Stuart Baird. He sets a pace for SALT so essential for action films that the silly scenes are over before they have the chance to ruin anything. The next is James Newton Howard’s (yes, one of the dreaded three-named people) score. Just as SALT’s action never slows, so too its score keeps pace. Finally, Stunt coordinator Simon Crane, who is in charge of the second unit has a very unique and impressive style and it is quite apparent here. Legends. Almost every movie has one. SALT, in its original screenplay was an entirely different movie. Evelyn Salt was a seductress. She wooed enemy agents with sex, and killed them with it also. In the original script, Jolie would have been nude or partially dressed in over half of the movie. Once she signed on, Jolie supposedly harassed Screenwriter Kurt Wimmer to change the script so the sex scenes became action scenes. She wanted SALT to be a female version of James Bond, something other actresses have tried, but failed at miserably. Jolie did it the right way.

Starring with Jolie is Liev Schreiber as Ted Winter and Chiwetel Ejiofor as Peabody. Both are becoming staples in action thrillers and they are in peak form. SALT concerns a deep cover operative who may be a Russian double agent, and a plot by the Russians launched decades ago during the Cold War, to infiltrate American society and cause its destruction. It’s a scenario the Muslims are currently doing with student and business exchanges and the Mexicans are also doing along the Arizona and Texas borders with anchor babies. Movies, once again, reflecting life.


THE RATING FOR SALT = B
BFCA RATING = 7/10


INCEPTION





Christopher Nolan just helmed one of the best movies ever made, THE DARK KNIGHT. So, how do you follow that FIST OF FIORE AWARD winner? I can image Chris and Emma Thomas sitting at a secluded table in a fashionably chic coffee shop, and the conversation going something like this:

“I need to follow the DARK KNIGHT, but it can’t be the next Batman movie. We’ve got to do something just as unique in between Caped Crusader adventures, but what?” asks Chris.

“I don’t know, but I always liked the end scene in SHOOTER, with snipers in snow camouflage in the middle of a tundra.”

“We can use that.”

“And I’ve always like the train in MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS.”

“We can use that.”

“I liked the special effects in 2012.”

“We can use that, but we’ll change all these things slightly so as not to look like a rip-off. But how do we tie it all together?”

Then, after the stronger coffee is consumed, the conversation continues:

“We can use a MATRIX theme. I always liked that!”

“Okay, but no aliens. That’s Spielberg’s thing.”

“These are all so disjointed. We need some type of glue to hold them all together. So, what do we use?”

“How about something Freudian?”

“Sure! Dreams! Let’s make it in a dream world!”

“Yeah, and let’s use the same cast of characters from THE DARK KNIGHT. This way, we’ll be doing a SERGIO LEONE type casting.”

“Yeah, but not the whole cast. Let’s replace Bale with Leo. That keeps Batman pristine, keeps the gang all together and saves us the publicity of Bale doing his Russell Crowe impression.”

Now, at this point of writing my review, my son Michael, who was peering over my shoulder, sighed, and said “Dad, you’re looking too much into this.” I give him my best Wesley Snipes impression and uttered: “That’s what I do.”

INCEPTION is a lot of fun. Nolan is proving to be one of the best filmmakers haunting Tinsel Town today. With the exception of DiCaprio, this is the same troupe inhabiting the Batman series, as well as the magic makers behind the camera.

INCEPTION is long, clocking in at two and a half hours and the length is uncomfortable. Of course, maybe it just seemed too long because I was watching it in a theatre that was substituting as a sauna. It immediately placed me on level two, which is where I remain writing this review. It would probably only take a few minutes in level one, or a month at level 3, so I guess it boils down to how deep a sleep you’re in at the time. Confusing? Yeah, that’s INCEPTION. No popcorn movie here. Come with you’re thinking cap and be ready to be bombarded with blazing cinematography, mid-sentence editing and a rousing score by Hans Zimmer.

Many of my colleagues have stated INCEPTION is better than DARK KNIGHT. Sorry, not by a long shot. But it is an interesting dish of sorbet as Nolan prepares to introduce us to the Riddler.

Oh, one other item stolen from already produced films: It’s rather obvious Nolan watched John Carpenter’s THE THING, before he staged the climax.


THE RATING FOR INCEPTION= B
BFCA RATING = 8/10

THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE





Someone in the Disney Movie Factory decides to make a live action feature film out of a 15 minute cartoon segment of FANTASIA. No, they don’t pick the dinosaurs, they select THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE were Mickey has his hands full with overzealous cleaning instruments. How to start?

First, lose Mickey and replace him with Nicholas Cage as Balthazar Blake, a student of Merlin. Add Alfred Molina and the alluring Monica Bellucci, una bella donna erotica, as his peers, a plot to destroy the world by Morgana, played by Alice Klige and Jay Baruchel as Balthazar’s apprentice. Now shake all the characters up and hand the script over to Matt Lopez. He will “stumble, tumble, fumble” (apologies to Chris Berman) and bring in Doug Miro and Carlo Bernard to help put this all together. Finally, take the whole project to Jerry Bruckheimer (who incidentally the personality from KDKA radio hosting the affair did not and could not pronounce his name correctly – how are these people selected?) to add the traveling road and lightning bolt tree effects and put the entire affair into Director Jon Turteltaub’s hands.

The result is a movie that runs deep for the first half-hour and then meanders mindlessly for the next hour, before getting back on track in the final reel.


KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:
1. THE TRIBUTE SCENE TO THE ORIGINAL
2. CHINATOWN BATTLE
3. ANY SCENE WITH MONICA BELLUCCI


THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE starts quickly, revealing more in the seven minutes before the opening credits than the entire yearly diatribes of Joseph S. Mistick. Baruchel’s performance as Supernerd Dave Stutler is so convincing it actually becomes painful. The pace slows dramatically after the battle in Chinatown. The next hour of the film then repeats all the information given in those first seven minutes. It is, afterall, a Disney film and one must cater to the audience.
“Everyone needs a montage. Even Rocky had a montage” (apologies to Team America). During the hour of repetition, Baruchel and Cage have not one, but three montages. Kid must have been a s l o w learner. Riding the Wizard short bus. The only thing to keep viewers remotely interested is the live action tribute scene to the original animated short, bearing the same title. It’s actually worth a chuckle or two.
THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE is fun for the kids. It will introduce them to quality actors like Cage, Belucci and Molina in lieu of the puberty locked automatons they constantly see on the Disney Channel. If you have a strong cup of coffee to get you through the film’s mid section, it’s definitely worth a view; but one will be enough.


RATING FOR THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE = C
BFCA RATING = 5/10


PREDATORS



Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation has turned its back on the city of Pittsburgh, its movie fans and film critics in an arrogant display of superciliousness. The company has issued a condescending edict that it will screen, or preview its movies only to the top 25 markets. As this decision insults not only the legitimate critics of Pittsburgh, but movie fans, promoters and theatre workers alike, I am placing a moratorium on 20th Century Fox film reviews until the edict is revoked.

20th Century Fox is rationalizing the money it can make in just the top 25 markets with an average opening weekend will more than compensate for outlay on promotions in markets below the 25 ranking. This is a bold hedge in promotions that the film company would not be taking were it not for the financial success last year of AVATAR Often, when critics in the higher ranked markets would pan a film, the strength of reviews from smaller markets, not concerned with catering to the film hoi-ploi, could generate considerable profitability.

The numbers for Pittsburgh clearly demonstrate the power of my reviews and commentaries to affect this market, but unfortunately I cannot tell you about PREDATORS, and warn you to see it at your own risk. As 20th Century Fox snubs Pittsburgh, and similar markets, it will now have to make its own mark here without benefit of commentary or publicity from me.

I urge my fellow critics to take similar action until such time as 20th Century Fox reconsiders its prejudicial and divisive edict.

THE LAST AIRBENDER





I thoroughly enjoyed THE LAST AIRBENDER. It’s essential I say that up front because, for the most part, I think this is the type of film not many will appreciate. Without at least a rudimentary understanding of the five elements and their cultural impact on the world and civilization, much of what Director and Writer M. Night Shyamalan presents will soar over the heads of viewers prompting Jeff Dunham’s Peanut to render his trademark hair rub.

I enjoy Shyamalan’s films, if for no other reason than their surprise factor. “You never know what you’re going to get” (apologies to Forrest Gump). The trailers and promos sell you one type of film, but what you actually see is “something completely different” (apologies to Monty Python). Shyamalan has slipped in recent endeavors with THE LADY IN THE LAKE and THE HAPPENING being questionable efforts. THE LAST AIRBENDER is his most ambitious undertaking and I think he accomplishes it with aplomb.

Based on an animated Nickelodeon series, which I must admit I have never seen, THE LAST AIRBENDER concerns world chaos due surprisingly not to the Obama Regime, but to the imbalance of world order from the loss of the Avatar. This Avatar is not a long, tall blue one, riding atop winged dragons, but rather an entity with the power and ability to manipulate all five elements. Four clans consisting of Earth, Air, Water and Fire once lived in peaceful harmony under the watchful eye of the Avatar. But, the Avatar has been missing for a century and the Fire Clan has sized the opportunity to rule the world and subjugate the other three clans.

Katara, played by Nicola Peltz is a fledgling water bender. She and her brother, Sokka, played by Jackson Rathbone, release the trapped Avatar, Aang, played by Noah Ringer. Together, they begin the revolution that will restore order to the world. In their path are Prince Zuko (Dev Patel) and Ozai (Cliff Curtis) of the Fire Clan. All of the child actors in this film demonstrate talent and abilities above and beyond the entire cast of the TWILIGHT SAGA films a hundred fold.

Technically, THE LAST AIRBENDER is stunning. It is presented in 3D, but like CLASH OF THE TITANS earlier this year, it doesn’t need the gimmickry to work. Only one scene, that of the Fire ships coming into the harbor of the Northern Water World, utilizes the technology effectively. Shyamalan, who normally shies from special effects (witness SIGNS, the only alien invasion film with no actual scenes of an alien invasion), goes the limit here. Credit SFX Director Pablo Helman with creating action sequences that combine martial arts with cinematic magic. James Newton Howard, a stalwart in Hollywood scoring, does an exemplary job here with full orchestrations.

This version of THE LAST AIRBENDER is listed as Book One: Water. The water is significant as it is the first of the elements. As Aang learns the ways of Water, I couldn’t help but harken back to an interview Bruce Lee did in 1971. He was describing the power of water as seen in nature, but then noted it was also the most yielding element. “Pour water into a cup, it takes the shape of the cup. Pour water into a pitcher, it takes the shape of the pitcher. It does not content. So be water, my friend.” (Apologies to Bruce Lee). It is quite fitting, therefore, that Water in the THE LAST AIRBENDER has the ability to cease a war without loss of life. Heady, mystical stuff.

For those of you who remember when martial arts were not only a training of the body, but of the mind, the messages in THE LAST AIRBENDER will not elude you. Unfortunately, many today practice MMA, which is all physical for sport purposes and leaves the mind and philosophy out of the training. And, before some upstart tries to point out a discrepancy in my review, there are five elements represented in the movie. Earth, Wind, Air and Fire represented by the Clans and the Dragon, symbolizing the fifth element of the Void. If you missed that one grasshopper, back to the dojo.

I hope Shyamalan does another in this series. I question whether the film’s lessons will have box office impact. However, “It’s not about the money. It’s about sending a message!” (Apologies to Heath Ledger).


THE RATING FOR THE LAST AIRBENDER = B
BFCA RATING = 8/10


TWILIGHT SAGA: ECLIPSE





TWILIGHT SAGA: ECLIPSE is the movie you’ve been waiting for; romance, action and intrigue. It is certainly the best film of the series.

That’s not me spewing those words; that’s the advertisement for the latest episode in the estrogen laden retelling of Romeo and Juliette with vampires and werewolves. For me, sitting through this nightmare is akin to pouring yourself a large bowl of sweet maple syrup, then opening a box of Alpha-bits and taking out enough letters to spell vampire and werewolf, dropping them in the bowl and grabbing a spoon. Bon appétit! Yuk! Almost as bad as a Beef Oreo Blitz, with extra gravy and a glass of Orange juice.

All the wonderful cast returns to cash in on the female equivalent of teenage wet dreams. Robert Pattinson leads Team Edward. He’s a vampire who never shows fangs or blood and sparkles in the sunlight, as if he’s gone a bit too crazy with the glitter make-up. Taylor Lautner heads Team Jacob. He’s probably the only bright spot in the series. The kid has some talent and has the best lines in the film (“Besides, I’m hotter than you!”). If someone could just include shirts in his wardrobe, he could have a promising future. Kristen Stewart returns as Bella. She is a hypnotic actress. After watching her for 30 seconds, your eyes begin to get heavy. After watching her for a minute, you’re fighting to stay awake. In supporting roles, Bryce Dallas Howard returns as Victoria. This is actually considered a promotion in the world of the supernatural as she has graduated from THE LADY IN THE WATER to a bitchy vampire. Dakota Fanning is also back as the leader of the vampire cabal. Her part is miniscule, but at least she’s not screaming to the point of wishing her demise, as in WAR OF THE WORLDS.

You as a viewer must keep in mind when seeing this film that the vampires are not really vampires as we have come to know and respect through ancient traditions and folklore. These vampires are poor mimics of Barry Allen. The werewolves, similarly, are not snarling beasts but rather big lovable poochie dogs that tend to evoke emotions of cuddling rather than eviscerating.

The problem with TWILIGHT SAGA: ECLIPSE, as with the other films in the series, is too many women are involved. The end credits contain more ladies than Hef’s Chicago Mansion. I’m not saying anything against women really. I don’t need a deluge of e-mails from the feministas. Lord knows I love them, but they are lethal to all that is rational when gathered in groups. It’s like giving the government over to Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Barbara Boxer and Elena Kagan. Can you image the ridiculous laws that would ensue? Oh, wait, that’s already happening!

You know when your wife, or lover, or sometimes both have a simple story to tell – First A happened, then B happened – but that little anecdote turns into a 45 minute diatribe? Yeah, that’s TWILIGHT SAGA: ECLIPSE. Even Director David Slade can’t stop this mush fest from boiling over the caldron. At two hours and fifteen minutes, this bowl of syrup and cereal drags on longer than a root canal, and is more painful.

Thankfully, there’s only one more book in the series. Unfortunately, the producers are going to take a page from the HARRY POTTER series and turn the final book into two movies. “What joy! What Rapture!” (Apologies to The Cowardly Lion).


THE RATING FOR TWILIGHT SAGA: ECLIPSE = F
BFCA RATING = 2/10


KNIGHT AND DAY



Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation has turned its back on the city of Pittsburgh, its movie fans and film critics in an arrogant display of superciliousness. The company has issued a condescending edict that it will screen, or preview its movies only to the top 25 markets. As this decision insults not only the legitimate critics of Pittsburgh, but movie fans, promoters and theatre workers alike, I am placing a moratorium on 20th Century Fox film reviews until the edict is revoked.

20th Century Fox is rationalizing the money it can make in just the top 25 markets with an average opening weekend will more than compensate for outlay on promotions in markets below the 25 ranking. This is a bold hedge in promotions that the film company would not be taking were it not for the financial success last year of AVATAR Often, when critics in the higher ranked markets would pan a film, the strength of reviews from smaller markets, not concerned with catering to the film hoi-ploi, could generate considerable profitability.

The numbers for Pittsburgh clearly demonstrate the power of my reviews and commentaries to affect this market, but unfortunately I cannot tell you about KNIGHT AND DAY, and warn you to see it at your own risk. As 20th Century Fox snubs Pittsburgh, and similar markets, it will now have to make its own mark here without benefit of commentary or publicity from me.

I urge my fellow critics to take similar action until such time as 20th Century Fox reconsiders its prejudicial and divisive edict.

JONAH HEX





One thing you can definitely say about JONAH HEX; the producers have the time right. Under 90 minutes to tell the tale of a secondary (if that high) D.C. comic character. You’re in, you’re out and you avoid the feeling of having been ripped off for what is essentially a made for TV movie.

JONAH HEX is a familiar Western vengeance yarn. Hex, played by Josh Brolin,Jr. watches as his family is mercilessly slaughtered by Quentin Turnbull, played by John Malkovich. Set on revenge, Hex travels the badlands looking for Turnbull with the aide of the local whore, Lilah, played by Megan Fox. The twist is a supernatural bent Hex has from his near death experience. The Indians are to blame. When they tried to revive him, they didn’t quite do the ceremony correctly and as a result, Hex has one foot in the real world and one in the land of the dead. This poses as a problem for the film because Hex is never one or the other. Either be a nasty bounty hunter, or be a demon. Hex can’t seem to decide and as a result the film flounders for an identity.

Compounding the film’s identity crisis is Turnbull. As the antagonist, his goal is to change the outcome of the Civil War and allow the South to win. Those who truly know history realize the Civil War was not about slavery, but about State’s rights versus the Federal government’s rights. Considering the vastly augmented power the Federal government has today, and the crescendoed plans of Barack Hussein Obama to make it even more grandiose, there are simply too many who would agree that this country may be better off if indeed the South had won. (At least that’s what my friends in Georgia, Alabama, the Carolinas and Virginia tell me.) So JONAH HEX presents a protagonist with no clear calling and an antagonist who may not have such a bad idea.


KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:
1. OPENING SEQUENCE

Credit Director Jimmy Hayward for realizing he was dealing with a minor comic character, and one that is really not interesting. In reality, Clint Eastwood made a better demon bounty hunter in HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER. So Hayward establishes the plot quickly, gets to the action sequences and ends the thing before your coffee can get cold. Director of Photography Mitchell Amundsen is doing yeoman duty. Nothing in JONAH HEX is visually striking. But even basic shots can’t cover the ineptitude of editors Fernando Villena and Tom Lewis. Sequences are chopped tighter than Isaly’s chipped ham. Check the edit for the scene with the Snakeman. It’s almost as confusing as watching the BOURNE SUPREMACY.

JONAH HEX is not a terribly bad movie; it’s just not a very good one. Writers Neveldine and Taylor (hooray for more one-named people) have not offered a solid script. With better writers, Brolin might be able to make a decent series out of this character, but this is certainly not a good start. Thankfully, it’s short enough not to ruin your whole evening.


RATING FOR JONAH HEX = C
BFCA RATING = 5/10


TOY STORY 3





Let’s face it, when Pixar was taken over by Disney some years back, they became wimps. The creative edge they infused into their animated tales was over run by the ultra liberal global socialist Disney agenda. With the release of TOY STORY 3, Pixar shoves Disney and its mind-control propaganda into a closet and returns to the elements that once made it the puissant force in film animation.

When Pixar studios burst onto the scene some years ago, it presented innovative animated fun that appealed to kids and adults alike. Its keystone was TOY STORY, a tale of the misadventures of a child’s toys when they’re not being played with. In addition to novel animation, TOY STORY presented a cartoon, much like the old Warner Bros. Looneytoons, that worked on multiple levels enabling them to be equally entertaining to a vast variety of age groups. As Pixar established itself as a dominant player in animated films, Disney, seeing its sacrosanct turf being invaded, much like our southwestern borders, opted to engage in the capitalistic technique known as hostile take-over. The irony here is rich, as Disney constantly preaches the evils of Capitalism and America’s economic system in its films. Everyone thought with Disney at the helm, Pixar would lose its creative edge. For the most part, that turned out to be true as Pixar films slowly became indoctrinated into the Disney philosophy. Best example would be the lame INCREDIBLES, which centered on the emasculation of the male authority figure and the shifting of the basic family unit. I can happily report, however, that in creating TOY STORY 3, the folks at Pixar have returned to their roots with a movie that contains the unique qualities that first put them on the map.

All of the original characters and a plethora of new ones provide the storyline for TOY STORY 3. Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Ned Beatty, and Don Rickles all return as their toy personas. New to the cast are Michael Keaton and Timothy Dalton. Andy has grown up and is heading away to college. What is he to do with his toys? Store them in the attic, or donate them to a day care center? TOY STORY 3 comments on the value of a child’s toys, kids left in day care centers, power and politics (on a toy level of course, no relation to the Democratic attempt to ‘rule the playground’ I’m sure) and a pay it forward mentality.


KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:
1. THE SPANISH BUZZ
2. THE FASHION SHOW
3. THE INTERROGATION


There are a lot of layers to TOY STORY 3. Play close attention and there is even a reference to Monty Python’s THE HOLY GRAIL. The line is delivered by Barbie, which makes it all the more funny.

After the trials and tribulations of the toys conclude, prepare for plucked heart strings. Writer Michael Arndt brings the frivolity of toyland to a crashing halt, as Andy must finally decide what to do with his toys. Some of the more sensitive kids will need a nice ice cream sundae to calm their emotions as they remember their favorite playthings. Me, I settled for a single-malt scotch at the theatre bar and reminisced about “all those wonderful toys” (Apologies to Jack Nicholson).


THE RATING FOR TOY STORY 3 = A
BFCA RATING = 9/10


THE KARATE KID





Ah, remakes! Don’t they just make your heart sing and how appropriate for spring time when everything seems reborn. Christopher Murphey decided to rework THE KARATE KID in a modern context and release the story on a whole new generation of ‘yung’uns’. Problem is this new incarnation has nothing to do with karate, save for one scene involving a training video. The remake would be better served with the moniker THE KUNG FU KID, but that just sounds silly and certainly doesn’t have the marketing power. After the movie little kids will whine to mom and dad to take them to a karate school, where they will last for about two months, and not to a kung fu temple. Make no mistake; the martial arts demonstrated in THE KARATE KID are not karate but Chinese kung fu (gung fu for purists). Many mush brains have taken to the internet to criticize co-star Jackie Chan for not demanding a title change. This is absurd as Chan only acts in the film and does not serve as producer or marketing director. There are plenty of kung fu references to ensure no one will believe what they are watching is karate. What more do people want, a CG generated appearance by David Carradine?

THE KARATE KID is basically the same story as the original. The differences are instead of moving within U.S. cities, the new version has the family moving from Detroit to China (how could anyone complain about that?! Have you seen Detroit lately?). Dre is played by Jaden Smith, son of Will. His mom is played in typical television mom fashion by Taraji Henson and his girlfriend, Mai Ling is played by Tess Liu. Taking over the role made famous by Pat Morita is Chan. Rather than Mr. Myagi, we have Mr. Han. “Han’s tournament. Yes, yes I know, but we’d very much like you to attend this particular tournament. ‘We’ Mr. Braithwraite,?” (Apologies to Bruce Lee). Chan is worth seeing. He is the single element parents will find interesting as they take the kiddies to this flick. His battle with the school bullies is classic.

The original, if you’ll recall, made a star out of Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita, both of whom were wallowing in the waning years of the hit TV show HAPPY DAYS. The original also sired two sequels, the third being an utter waste of celluloid as its sole purpose was to give all the little girls something to cheer for as the lead character was culled from Hollywood’s famous cache of super women. (There isn’t really a hidden cache, it’s just the template, you see. Producers find the most inappropriate actresses and simply envelope them in this template, regardless of how ridiculous the scenario. This ruse is also called the Sigourney Weaver Effect). Similarly, this new version should open the path to stardom for Jaden Smith. Smith has the ability to be something his father never was – a true action hero. Now, daddy has starred in action movies, INDEPENDENCE DAY, I ROBOT, I AM LEGEND, etc. But these roles are always interspersed with comedy. Little Smith, if he keeps training with Chan, can be an action star in the Steven Seagall or Chuck Norris vein; no comedy, save for snappy one-liners required. Also doesn’t hurt that both mommy and daddy are executive producers of the film. Kids can play wild when the parents are the boss; just look at the White House (“Daddy did you plug the hole yet?”).


KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:
1. THE TRAINING MONTAGE
2. THE CAFÉ SCENE
3. HAN’S BATTLE WITH THE SCHOOL BULLIES.


A couple of heavies provide behind the camera techniques. Roger Pratt is Director of Photography. He is a Hollywood stalwart and does not disappoint here. James Horner provides an adequate (by his standards) soundtrack that too frequently is interrupted by pop tunes having no connection to the film, save promotional. Joel Neron is editor and his work, or rather lack of it, is noticeable. This film is too long. Coming in at over two hours, it is easily 30 minutes past its needed length. The story is simple and does not need to be given epic treatment, especially considering the target audience. Too many of the kiddies in the premiere audience were fidgety or falling asleep before the climax reels began.

The biggest change in THE KARATE KID is the strategic switch from the supposedly unbeatable Crane technique to that of the Cobra. A scene in the temple of a practitioner mesmerizing a cobra enhances the new animal for fighting. Since there are five animals most gung fu is based on, I guess we can feel safe for three more stories. This one is for the little kids. Those who enjoy their martial arts movies more in the vein of Jet Li will find this one juvenile.


THE RATING FOR THE KARATE KID = C
BFCA RATING = 6/10


THE A-TEAM



Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation has turned its back on the city of Pittsburgh, its movie fans and film critics in an arrogant display of superciliousness. The company has issued a condescending edict that it will screen, or preview its movies only to the top 25 markets. As this decision insults not only the legitimate critics of Pittsburgh, but movie fans, promoters and theatre workers alike, I am placing a moratorium on 20th Century Fox film reviews until the edict is revoked.

20th Century Fox is rationalizing the money it can make in just the top 25 markets with an average opening weekend will more than compensate for outlay on promotions in markets below the 25 ranking. This is a bold hedge in promotions that the film company would not be taking were it not for the financial success last year of AVATAR Often, when critics in the higher ranked markets would pan a film, the strength of reviews from smaller markets, not concerned with catering to the film hoi-ploi, could generate considerable profitability.

The numbers for Pittsburgh clearly demonstrate the power of my reviews and commentaries to affect this market, but unfortunately I cannot tell you about THE A-TEAM, and warn you to see it at your own risk. As 20th Century Fox snubs Pittsburgh, and similar markets, it will now have to make its own mark here without benefit of commentary or publicity from me.

I urge my fellow critics to take similar action until such time as 20th Century Fox reconsiders its prejudicial and divisive edict.

SPLICE





I had much anticipation for SPLICE. The film boasted stars both in front of and behind the camera. Going into the premiere I thought this could be the sleeper of the summer. The end result was a sci-fi horror film that had the audience, and yours truly, laughing hysterically. Right medium, wrong message. Zettl would be aghast!

SPLICE had a few heavy hitters to give it credence. Joel Silver and Guillermo Del Toro worked their magic behind the scenes. Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley added their talents in front of the camera and Greg Nicotero contributed his considerable aptitudes to make-up and SFX.

The story is an all too modern retelling of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, but instead of ghoulish behavior in graveyards, sewn body pieces, the lure of the power of lightning and a brain from Abby someone or other, we have DNA splicing. Neater, cleaner and certainly not as terrifying, and therein lies the rub. This new creation of life is done in a petrie dish and what appears to be a submersed enema bag. The process mimics the spores from ALIEN and those adorable little face huggers but without the tension and the threat of harm, especially when the creature begins cooing like an Ewok. In case you aren’t well read and do not make the Frankenstein connection, Adrien Brody’s character is Clive, named after Collin Clive who starred as Dr. Frankenstein in the Karloff classic, and Polley’s character is named Elsa, after the infamous Bride of Frankenstein, Elsa Lanchester. While the monikers are cute, all resemblance of SPLICE to anything horror disappears when the movie attempts to make social commentary.

Now, all good sci-fi tales relate to societal fears, be they fears of alien invasion, disasters, world destruction, the undead, the supernatural, clones and robots. The main issue for SPLICE is parenting. Korea is bordering on another civil war, Iran is becoming a nuclear power, the Muslim world is intent on eliminating Israel, our president is destroying our economy and leading us toward European Socialism and the biggest fear in the lives of Clive and Elsa is being good parents. “We isolated her, chained her, and maimed her.” Probably not a good start even if your child is the product of animal and human gene splicing. Once SPLICE begins its reflection on parenting, any hopes of horror are dismissed, as if wings were sprouted suddenly, and the film takes a turn to the absurd. Every scene is an anecdote on the tribulations of raising a modern girl. SPLICE is a tale of parenting gone terribly wrong. If it frightens folks into not reproducing, then only the poor minorities without enough money to see the film will have babies and eventually take over the population. Now, there’s a horror story!


KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:
1. THE OPENING BIRTH SCENE
2. THE ANTHONY PERKINS SHOVEL TO HEAD SCENE


If parenting weren’t the scariest thing on Earth, then certainly transgender recognition is according to SPLICE Director Vincenzo Natali. Borrowing from the American version of GODZILLA, DNA spliced creatures have the ability to shift from female to male, with the male being the higher form of evolution (well, at least they got that right!). The message here is clear, and one can hear Willie and Waylon singing in the background, “Mommas don’t let your girlies grow up to be bad boys”.

Technically, the spoiled brat creature, who for the majority of the film acts like the bitches that grew up on Helen Reddy, is exceptionally well done. Newcomer Delphine Chaneac handles the role well, considering she has no real dialogue. Nicotero comes through with flying colors in helping her look like a human girl with kangaroo legs and tail, and of course, the sprouting wings, very much in the vein of JEEPERS CREEPERS. Director of Photography Tetsuo Nagata offers glimpses of cinematic excellence, but it appears he has been tied to a short leash through most of the film. After the opening birthing scene, there is only one sequence of note interspersed with several nifty camera angles. Editor Michele Conroy drags the set-up for too long. You keep waiting for something to happen, and it never does. SPLICE attempts to hold viewer interest with several sex scenes a la SPECIES, but with eerie overtones of incest even these don’t make it easy to get to the final reel.

Laughter is always the natural release after a good scare. But there are no good scares in SPLICE. The laughter from the premiere audience was from the absurdity of the scenes and the dialogue. I held much potential for SPLICE going into the premiere, but my celluloid shadow was cast unceremoniously to the theatre floor, to be lifted – nevermore! They’ve set up the sequel. Trust me, there won’t be one. This one isn’t even worth a rental. Epic fail, with a side order of lame sauce.


RATING FOR SPLICE = F
BFCA RATING = 2/10


PRINCE OF PERSIA





In what has to be the worst case of political correctness gone haywire, Hollywood is intent on presenting Middle Eastern Muslims in roles of heroes to American audiences. Only the mush-brained think we are not in conflict with these folks. We are at war with Islam. They declared war on us in the 1993 New York bombing and have systematically been engaging in terrorist activity while Presidents Clinton and Obama conveniently looked the other way and attempted to convince the American public to do the same. (Unfortunately, many listened to them.)

In its latest effort to convince us Muslims are our friends and would never attempt to plant bombs on our planes or subways, Disney offers us PRINCE OF PERSIA. Persia, for those of you who went to public school, is Iran; you know, the country that’s currently trying to build a nuclear weapons program so they can launch direct assaults on Israel and America. In the Middle Ages Iran (Persia) was a vast empire that stretched from China to the Mediterranean. It was a ruthless empire that made the Roman Empire look like schoolboys. That historical fact doesn’t stop the film from opening with a statement of the Persian Empire being one of fairness and order, as the king’s soldiers chase a young boy through a market to decapitate him for interfering with the ruthless beating of another boy who ran in front of the king’s entourage. Yeah, that’s fair and understanding.

Yet, given the animosity between America and Iran, the folks at Disney are quite cleaver. First, in its casting, no one starring in this film looks Persian. Jake Gyllenhaal and Gemma Arterton are straight from the pages of England’s GQ, complete with British accents. While the story takes place in Persia, there is no mention of anything Persian, save for the costumes. The dialogue is in modern Western idioms and the problems presented are those of Western, especially American, values. For example, a war is started with the Holy City of Almut while looking for weapons of mass destruction (well, steel bladed swords, actually) that do not exist and a city of thieves and slaves exists as a means of supplanting taxation. “Taxes, that’s what the problem is with government. Taxes! They smother the middle sized businessman!” (Apologies to Sheik Amar.)

Now many of you will say, “Fiore, why point out all these political angles when the movie is based on a video game?” Ah, therein lies the rub.

I attempted to bring a guest with me to the press screening of PRINCE OF PERSIA and could not find anyone to accompany me because they hated the game. Times like these make me glad I gave up video games with NHL Playstation 2. Apparently, the video game sends the player through a series of trials and tribulations only to have a dark and foreboding ending. “All that work, and you can’t win,” was the comment I heard most often. Folks, this is Disney. There isn’t going to be a dark shadow ending. It’s Disney!!

Remember the television series HERCULES, THE LEGENDARY JOURNEYS? Great TV series that made a star of Kevin Sorbo. Hercules was presented in a very campy manner, mimicking modern society and all its foibles. PRINCE OF PERSIA is presented in exactly the same way. The king of Persia has been assassinated and adopted son Prince Dastan (Gyllenhaal) is pegged for the murder. Now a rogue, Dastan teams with Princess Tamina (Arterton) and a magic dagger that can turn back time to prove his innocence and find the real murderer. He is aided by his Uncle Nizam, played by Ben Kingsley and Sheik Amar, played by Alfred Molina. Without doubt, Molina steals the show. He is the most interesting character, has the best lines of dialogue and is to Prince Dastan what Selmonius was to Hercules.


KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:
1. THE OSTRICH RACES
2. THE ATTACK OF THE HASSASSINS


Director Mike Newell abandons historical reference in place of current affairs. It makes the whole endeavor campy enough to be enjoyable. There are amazing shots and CG sets from Director of Photography John Seale and plenty of action as is expected coming from the barn of Jerry Bruckheimer. Michael Kahn, one of Hollywood’s top editors, slices this movie together with aplomb so that, while some sequences are repeated, they are never slow. Now, in the realm of martial arts, parquor is relatively new. Somehow though Prince Dastan has become an expert in parquor, surpassing anything Luc Besson has presented in his TRANSPORTER or DISTRICT 13 series. Credit David Belle with the gymnastic fighting, and flying sequences. Included are Tony Jaa flying knees and wall scaling that rivals Jackie Chan.

When you brush through the Islam is good propaganda, PRINCE OF PERSIA provides a lot of entertaining spectacle in two hours. It’s just the type of film to kick off the summer blockbuster run. Just make sure when you take the kids, they understand Iran is our enemy and not a nation of heroes. I declare a jihad on this agenda.


THE RATING FOR PRINCE OF PERSIA= B
BFCA RATING = 7/10


ROBIN HOOD





I have stated before film is an interpretation and, as such, I am not adverse to new imaginings of tales. ROBIN HOOD, starring Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett and William Hurt initially offers a unique twist on the legend but soon turns more into political treatise. Once in this mode, originality becomes bereft and the film seems intent on mimicking scenes from every blockbuster released within the past few years.

Crowe reunites with Director Ridley Scott for this endeavor. The two combined to present one of the worst techniques to ever be introduced into film; the close-up, sped up, quick edit action sequence made infamous in GLADIATOR. I didn’t like it back then, and it’s worse now. Most of the action segments are presented in this manner and it is annoying. Crowe also reunites with his co-stars from MYSTERY ALASKA. In essence, the miracle little hockey team now serves as the guardians of Nottingham.

The film opens with King Richard the Lion Heart storming a French castle. Probably not the best opening as the first images that come to mind are of John Cleese standing atop the castle wall screaming “Your father smelled of elderberries… and I fart in your general direction”. All hail Python. A serious film shouldn’t evoke laughter from the onset.

Crowe plays Robin Longstride, an archer in King Richard’s army. He meets Robin Loxley as he is on his deathbed and manages, due to circumstances to assume his identity. At this point, the film’s creative angle takes a severe left turn. Pretending to be Loxley, Longstride actually discovers a monumental political movement propagated by his father. His mission now is not only to save Nottingham, but to establish a new government without a centralized ruler. Sounds very European Socialist to me. Taxes were always at the core of the Robin Hood legend, but in this telling they are augmented to gargantuan magnitude. Ironically, the efforts of the Hollywood elite helped Barack Hussein Obama become president, but it is his position on taxes which has caused a backlash from that same elite. The references and allusions in ROBIN HOOD are hard to miss.

Blanchett is Maid Marian. Sorry that should be Merc Marian. Kowtowing to the feministas on the left coast, studios feel obligated to show women every bit the warrior as their male counterparts. It’s why we have Scarlett Johansson besting a half dozen behemoths in IRON MAN 2 and why Blanchett dons chain-mail, which gave Crowe a difficult time, to join the battle on England’s shore. Please. This stuff never washed and was only accepted by the mush-brained and the aforementioned feministas; sorry, that was redundant. Heaven forbid Marian is a maid! No, she must be a mercenary to appease the agenda. Ridley Scott launched this entire debacle with the Ripley Effect in ALIEN. Not surprising, then, he utilizes it here. The Ripley Effect and the Gladiator Effect in one movie! It’s more than any one man should have to bear.

From this point ROBIN HOOD is a collection of scenes already seen. There is the aforementioned moment from MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL, there is a WOLVERINE moment for Crowe, a BATMAN moment for the land owners (what is up with that horse anyway?) and a SAVING PRIVATE RYAN moment for everyone, to name a few.


KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:
1. THE FOREST BATTLE FOR THE CROWN
2. THE SEASCAPE OF THE APPROACHING ARMIES


It is worth noting the strong (no pun intended) performance of Mark Strong as Sir Godfrey, the film’s chief antagonist. I’ve commented on Strong’s work before and stated years ago he could be a force to reckon with in Tinsel Town. He continues to impress and, regardless of the role, augments his acting acumen. With the exception of one cheesy line (“No matter who he is or what he is, he must die”) he steals the show.

ROBIN HOOD starts as a matchless interpretation of a legend, but quickly degrades once the agendas need to be inserted. Writer Brian Helgeland, who has been on a scripting slippery slope, throws everything possible into the stew to “Bam! Turn it up a notch” (apologies to Emeril), but it just doesn’t work.


THE RATING FOR ROBIN HOOD = D
BFCA RATING = 4/10


IRON MAN 2





It’s rare for a sequel to surpass the original, but, while it has a few faults, IRON MAN 2 is better than the first. This episode walks the PC tightrope too tightly and inserts an all too standard sequence, which proves to be the only slow part of the movie. Aside from these foibles, IRON MAN 2 surpasses the first as it provides another step toward the proposed epic AVENGERS film.

My original review of IRON MAN stated: “IRON MAN has a heavy-handed anti-gun, anti-weapon theme, coupled with the politically correct mantra of a peace loving Middle East and a conspiracy of greedy businessmen serving as the core of terrorist activity.” This made the original critic-friendly as it supported liberal themes. Thankfully, most of those are absent in the second. It would be terribly difficult to purport a peace loving Middle East when there have been at least three obvious terror attacks since the Obama Regime came into power. The greedy Capitalist theme is still present, this time in the embodiment of a competitive weapons maker, Justin Hammer (surely there is no play here on Armand Hammer, right?), played by Sam Rockwell. It’s palatable because Rockwell’s portrayal is that of a weasel; and who hasn’t dealt with a weasel in recent years, especially geeky weasels.

I also stated: “The ending confrontation is too short and lacking in robust action. It serves mainly as a set up for the anticipated sequels and left me a little disappointed. All that foreplay for a fairly lame climax.” No such let down in IRON MAN 2. The conclusion is an SFX-filled Battle Royale. As such, this third installment in the continuing chapters of Marvel super heroes scores a point higher than its predecessor.

Robert Downey Jr. returns as Tony Stark, billionaire genius who doubles as Iron Man. In six months since the conclusion of the first film, he has managed to “privatize” world peace, much to the chagrin of a used car salesman politician from Pennsylvania, played by a rather portly Gary Shandling and the enemies of America, including North Korea, Iran and Russia. At least the producers have that right; and I wonder if Fast Eddie appreciates the fact that of all 50 states to select from, the producers picked his? I’m sure he’s still clueless. At least they didn’t pick Alaska.

It seems mandatory for super heroes to suffer an identity crisis. This phenomenon transcends both the Marvel and DC universes. If I were to suddenly acquire super hero powers, I don’t think I would succumb to a ‘Who am I’ dilemma. I’d still know exactly who I am and what I had to do. And, those of you on the short end of my powers would know who you are as well. But Stark has his moment in IRON MAN 2 and though the segment is a notch above the Spiderman and Batman traumas, it is the slow point of the film and drags the tale a tad.

Gwyneth Paltrow returns as Pepper Pots. Gwyneth is fine and is dully understated in the film. Don Cheadle, an Outtakes favorite, replaces Terence Howard as James Rhodes. This is a surprising switch and may turn out to be a career boo-boo for Howard, especially since Rhodes has a much bigger part. He is able to don one of Stark’s suits as War Machine. This had to be done to remain politically correct. We can’t have some rich white guy hogging all the super hero spotlight, so IRON MAN 2 offers a black man in an armored suit and prevents Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton from forming boycotts and protests outside the theatres. Samuel L. Jackson, another black man taking a role that was originally David Hasselhoff, made a cameo as Nick Fury in the after end credits scene in the first. That role is expanded here as Marvel whips toward its Avengers movie. The current game plan is to follow IRON MAN 2 with THOR, then CAPTAIN AMERICA and then the AVENGERS film. To that end, Cap’s shield makes a cameo appearance in IRON MAN 2 and the after end credits scene sets up THOR.

New to the cast is Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff. She provides something for the ladies, again being too PC, so they don’t have to stick Paltrow in an armored suite for IRON MAN 3. Johansson, winner of Maxim Magazines’ Hottest Babe Competition for two consecutive years, stars in her least sensual role. Save for a brief glimpse of a leg calf, her allure is restricted to form fitting leather. Her main purpose is to infuse SHIELD into the storyline. Her highlight comes in a white lit hallway fight scene in which she wears black leather and proceeds to beat up a bevy of muscle heads she really has no chance of besting. Though Outtakes fav Jeff Imada stages the fight choreography, the scene is shot staccato because, obviously, Scarlett can’t fight. It serves to keep the little girls happy as they sit through the film to placate their boyfriends. Mickey Rourke is the antagonist Ivan Vanko who becomes personified as Whiplash. Rourke really has no chance to spread his considerable acting wings, yet his character is far more menacing to Stark than that of Jeff Bridges.


KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:
1. THE SENATE COMMITTEE
2. THE FIGHT IN THE PARK


Legacy Effects deserve the kudos for the SFX behind the Iron Man and Whiplash suits. There are several scenes, most notably during the fireball at the Grand Prix where the matting is too obvious, but they compensate during the film’s finale. Richard Pearson, except for the above mentioned crisis scene, paces the film well. He is one of Tinsel Town’s premiere editors and is assisted by Dan Lebental. These two have collaborated over several projects, giving rise to the speculation that when Pearson retires, Lebental will attempt to fill his shoes. Matthew Libatique, as Director of Photography, does a nice job of blending the dialogue close up scenes with the SFX saturated ones.

IRON MAN 2 is fun. It offers an adult approach to a comic book character. As an early jump on the summer blockbusters, expect IRON MAN 2 to have a strong run in the theatres. It’s more solid than the first. I like when films interconnect and reveal a rolling story. The only problem is you have to wait too long for the next chapter. THOR is scheduled to be released next summer.


THE RATING FOR IRON MAN 2 = A
BFCA RATING = 9/10


NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET





Remakes are tricky. Some folks want to see a totally new story, while others will only settle for an updated SFX replica of the original. Films are interpretations of stories; so personally, I feel a remake should provide a fresh approach. The new NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET does just that, but at times this version is almost too reflective of today’s headlines and becomes quite uncomfortable. In giving NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET a modern feel, a few problems arise, and they are not addressed well.

Some of the issues with this version of NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET are technical. Jackie Earle Haley portrays Freddy Kruger. This is the second time Haley has played a child molester and the stereotyping may seriously curtail his acting ambitions. Other than a cameo role on TV’s HUMAN TARGET, his other acting gigs have fallen terribly short, especially his stint in THE WATCHMEN. Haley is short and many of his younger co-stars tower over him. Regardless of magical dream powers, no one is going to be afraid of a Frodo-sized killer with a knife glove. In order to give Haley more stature than he has Director of Photography Jeff Cuter never shoots Haley in a full two-shot with the kids. He utilizes obtuse camera angles and a depth of field ploy that works initially, but then becomes apparent as a gimmick.

The issue of Freddy Kruger being a child molester is examined in detail, rather than being alluded to, as in the first. This creates a few uncomfortable moments as Kruger’s antics become more graphic. It harkens to the all too numerous headlines of crazed Catholic priests and misguided Muslims prevalent in today’s newspapers. Kruger’s set up at the hands of irate parents is an act of vengeance in this rendition rather than a result of misguided justice. This change is stark as the new version diverts animosity towards the judicial system and redirects it towards groups of private citizens seeking their own justice. This parallels media play against vengeance or militia groups while coddling judges and appeals courts.

Even though it is decades old, Kruger’s make up is actually better in the original. In this version, there is one scene, a close-up sequence toward the climax with Freddy taunting Nancy, in which the make-up is spot on. In fact, Kruger is made to look quite like Aaron Eckhart did in his portrayal of Two-Face in THE DARK KNIGHT. It’s the only time in the movie the make-up looks that good. The rest of the time, it appears a cheaper scaled down version of a mask was used. It’s something I’d expect from a Sci-Fi Saturday night movie special.


KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:
1. THE HOME FROM THE HOSPITAL SCENE


Co-starring with haley are Katei Cassidy and Kyle Gallner. Wesley Strick and Eric Heisserer are credited with the screenplay with a nod to Wes Craven as creator of the characters. NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET is directed by Sam Bayer. He keeps the pace moving, following the sequences set in the original and tells the story in just over 90 minutes. Good show.

While there’s no denying the technical aspects in this new version of NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET are less cheesy, the original still conveys more horror. Richard Englund’s version of Freddy, while demented was still charismatically campy. Haley’s version is just demented. This edition relies heavily on jump tactics; you know the sudden appearance of a dog, cat, hand or other incriminating object to cause the high strung to scream and jump in their seats. In fact, NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET wins the award for most use of jump tactics in a horror film for the past decade. There are more jumps than in an extreme dirt bike rally; but they’re all ploys. So while NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET modernizes the story with graphic detail torn from today’s headlines, it skimps on make-up, relies too heavily on cinematic gimmicks and casts a Hobbit as Freddy Kruger.


THE RATING FOR NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET = C
BFCA RATING = 6/10


CITY ISLAND





Fans of my reviews and TV show, and you are legion, know I’m not enamored with cute or quaint movies. Give me something with action, explosions, voluptuous vixens, Herculean heroes and fantastic plots. CITY ISLAND fills done of those criteria, yet it is an enjoyable movie, thanks largely to the stellar performance of Andy Garcia. Garcia has long been one of Tinsel Town’s most overlooked actors. His portrayal of Vince Rizzo elevates CITY ISLAND worth the price of admission.

Directed and written by Ray DeFelitta, CITY ISLAND embraces an ethnic New York family engulfed in a series of misunderstood scenarios. Garcia’s Rizzo is the clueless protagonist who begins sequences in domino effect by revealing a deep dark secret to a fellow classmate. Rizzo is a prison guard with a secret ambition to be an actor. His ambition throws his family in disarray, especially his wife, played with gusto by Julianna Marguiles. The tale is paced well and leads comfortably to the inevitable conclusion. While the Rizzo family travels through mistaken identities, it still remains a family with strong ties and that is refreshing to see on screen these days.


KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:
1. THE AUDITION
2. THE SHOPPING – DINNER SCENE


Back in the day (which Dane Cook tells us was a Wednesday), movies with limited budgets often used B-stock film to cut costs. While that has largely been an issue relegated to the past, CITY ISLAND seems to have utilized the weaker medium. Many of the scenes are dingy and some are plain dark. Even the well placed shots of the harbor appear cloud filtered.

CITY ISLAND is an adult comedy. Though carrying a PG-13 rating, it is rife with mature themes including incest, illegitimate children, fetishes, infidelity, pole dancing and of course, botera. The film should have been rated ‘R’; so parents be warned. The family sitting behind me who brought their children to the screening was quite chagrined and had a plethora of questions from young inquiring minds both during and after the film.


THE RATING FOR CITY ISLAND = C
BFCA RATING = 5/10


CLASH OF THE TITANS





Usually I’m not a fan of remakes, but this latest version of CLASH OF THE TITANS is the exception to the rule. The original was the swan song of Ray Harryhausen who mesmerized audiences for decades, and inspired future directors with his stop-motion special effects. It’s a tale of petty quarreling among the gods of Mt. Olympus, and the disastrous affect it has on man. Boasting an all-star cast, the original at times was a bit hokey, especially with the mechanical owl Boobo, who makes a special guest appearance in the new version’s only homage scene. Most of the corniness was designed to make the film more family friendly and lessen the effects of the monsters on little kids. This new version takes no such middle road. It alters the original screenplay to be a little more cynical and goes orgasmic on the SFX.

The cast includes all the mythological heroes from the original, plus a few new extras. Sam Worthington, hot off his box office hit AVATAR plays Perseus. He is a more rugged demi-god than Harry Hamlin. Liam Neeson is Zeus and Ralph Fiennes plays his brother Hades. This is great casting because these two look and act alike anyway. Jason Flemying plays the deformed Calibos while Alexa Davalos is Princess Andromeda. New and improved roles go to two former Bond characters. Gemma Arterton, who starred with Daniel Craig in QUANTUM OF SOLICE, is Io and Mads Mikkelson, who tortured Craig in CASINO ROYALE as LaChifre, plays Perseus’ companion Draco. There are a few plot peccadilloes in this version. For example, Perseus’ discovery of the nature of his true father is rather rushed and the conclusions are made too quickly before Io finally reveals the tale. And, there’s a rather belabored diatribe in the beginning to bring viewers up to speed with the movie’s new approach. But the film is already two hours long and these short shrifts in the presentation can be forgiven for the sake of the action.


KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:
1. THE KRAKEN, PEGASUS AND THE HARPIES
2. CARON AND THE RIVER STYX
3. HADES IN THE ROYAL COURT


Director Louis Letterier rounded up most of his crew from THE INCREDIBLE HULK to work on CLASH OF THE TITANS, including Director of Photography Peter Menzies and Editors Martin Walsh and Vincent Taballion. While they are exceptional at their crafts, they combine to use the close-up, quick edits on many of the action scenes. My fans and loyal readers, and you are legion, know I am not particularly enamored with this technique. It’s even more disserting in 3D. Ramin Djawadi, the German born composer who formed an alliance with Hans Zimmer, offers a rousing score that would make excellent background music during your daily workout. He previously penned the guitar infused soundtrack to IRON MAN. Smartly, the producers augmented the creatures created in the original, rather than reinvent them. The only one that falls short is Medusa. While she is CG slick, she isn’t as monstrous as the original. But the true artist for CLASH OF THE TITANS goes to Hans Bjerno. He is the Aerial Director of Photography. The sweeping shots he provides are superior to the 3D effect they enhance. Kudos, Hans.

You know, you just don’t realize the effect STAR WARS has had on our culture until you recount all the elements it creeps into, such as this film. Perseus’ sword isn’t just a gift from his father Zeus, it’s the ancient times version of a light saber, glowing with a radiant light and extending magically from a simple handle. And, one of the new characters in this version is a Jiin, which, quite apparently is an oversized Jawa, complete with hood and glowing eyes. It’s a scary thought that these things have seeped into Greek Mythology, or could it be just another Jedi mind trick?

The 3D effects for CLASH OF THE TITANS are not particularly stellar. It uses the Real 3D system, but its most eye catching effect, save for the Pegasus flying scene against the Kraken mentioned above, is the end credits. In a manner, this is a good thing. It means the movie will play well in 2D, which is the way most will see it when they add this film to their home video collection. Yes, this has never happened in the long history of my film review career, but for each of the first three months of 2010, we have a FIST OF FIORE AWARD winner. Simply unparalleled, but CLASH OF THE TITANS is a movie you will want to watch over again. It will make a fine addition to your home video collection, placed nicely on the shelf next to the original. It will also augment “GreekWeek” at Hempfield School District, when the teachers devote the entire curriculum to the study of Greek Mythology. After a hard week at work, CLASH OF THE TITANS will give you the escapism you desire. As such, it exemplifies the excellence of film as entertainment and captures the FIST OF FIORE AWARD for 2010. Good show!


THE RATING FOR CLASH OF THE TITANS = A
BFCA RATING = 10/10
WINNER OF THE FIST OF FIORE AWARD FOR 2010.


CHLOE





There is no way for me to write this review without sounding like the letch “sitting on a park bench, eyeing little girls with bad intent” from Jethro Tull’s famous AQUALUNG LP. So, undaunted by the chorus of irate e-mails ready to flood my inbox by the feministas and other homely women who haven’t engage in sex for months, sometimes years, let me begin by saying erotic thrillers are generally better than regular thrillers. The reason is because once you know the twists of a thriller, it’s generally not worth viewing again. The exception is when you have extraordinary performances, such as THE MALTESE FALCON. Short of that, only a steamy, hot sex scene or four will bring back an audience once the thriller is un-thrilled. No one wants to watch TAKING LIVES again, but they will thanks to Angelina Jolie’s torrid romps. CHLOE is just such a film.

Julianne Moore, an OUTTAKES favorite, plays Catherine Stewart, a female gynecologist who begins to suspect her husband of infidelity once the romance cools in their marriage. Her husband David, played by Liam Neeson, is a popular college professor constantly surrounded by young, adoring female students. To test her husband’s devotion, Catherine hires a prostitute, Chloe, played by Amanda Seyfried, to try to seduce David. Some test! Seyfried is one of the premiere up and coming screen sirens. She has one of the best bustlines in Tinsel Town, even rivaling the aforementioned Jolie, and is unashamed of displaying them. Coupled with amazing big blue eyes, she is celebrated eye-candy and makes CHLOE worth watching more than once. In her last few films, Seyfried has made passionate love to Moore and Megan Fox. Not a bad track record.

While Seyfried exposes her attributes, Neeson and Moore provide solid performances to help CHLOE have an aura of quality. The film’s problem is its base. The script is an adaptation of the French thriller NATHALIE. Like most thrillers from Europe, it takes too long to develop, causing the conclusion to unravel too quickly.


KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:
1. THE CAFÉ CONFRONTATION’
2. THE SEDUCTION/LOVE SCENE


Erin Cressida Wilson penned the script. This one is not as sexual as her work on SECRETARY, but its close. Mychael Danna provides the score, which is rather compelling. He’s previously worked on 500 DAYS OF SUMMER and THE TIME TRAVELERS’ WIFE. Paul Sarossy, who did the horrendous WICKER MAN remake with Nicholas Cage, rebounds nicely here with a plethora of reflection shots, though the technique becomes somewhat formulaic.

As thrillers go, CHLOE is less than average. The final shot is more humorous than shocking. Its sexual and erotic content, however, make CHLOE watchable.


THE RATING FOR CHLOE = C
BFCA RATING = 5/10


REPO MEN





As I sat in my traditional seat in the last row watching the premiere of REPO MEN I marveled at how a film that started out with such an interesting premise, could resort to such a mundane, comic book ending. Then the film unexpectedly took a hard left turn. The concluding reel not only destroyed the ending set-up, but salvaged a decent rating for a film that was headed to the celluloid trash heap.

Jude law breaks from the pattern of his recent roles in playing Remy, a repoman for The Union, a private company that sells artificial organ transplants. The story takes place in the near future. You are to assume, as I did, that Obamacare has passed either through the nuclear option or the unconstitutional maneuver of ‘deem and pass’, and proven to be the failure nearly everyone is predicting it will be. A private corporation, made up from the embarrassingly catered to remnants of the SEIU, seizes the opportunity to sell artificial organs, or artiforgs, for an incredible profit. If you can’t make the payments, The Union sends Remy and his partner Jake, played by Forest Whitaker, to take the parts back. Since the company has ‘gone green’, the artiforgs are then recycled and resold. Live Schreiber is head of the company and Alice Braga provides the love interest. Braga is the nice of former Brazilian bombshell Sonia Braga. I still have the pictorial she did for Playboy back in the day.


KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:
1. THE CONCUSSION TEST
2. THE KNEE REPLACEMENT
3. THE SCANNING ROOM


Marco Beltrami scores a robust set of tunes for the soundtrack. Editor Richard Francis-Bruce, whose previous work garnered two Fist of Fiore Awards in THE ROCK and SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, sets an even pace for REPO MEN, save for a middle sequence which is redundant. Director of Photography Enrique Chediak, who previously worked on 28 DAYS LATER, provides a cacophony of shots and has the common sense to keep the camera angle wide on the fight scenes, since they are choreographed by Jeff Imada.

On the way home from the premiere, I reran the film through my mind and started to pick up the foreshadowing clues that hinted at the surprise ending. Stay with this one until the final reel and it will be weird enough to provide a good time. See if you can be quicker on those same clues. The action is fast and the gore is over the top and too realistic. You will be summarily grossed out. The film is already rated R, but could easily have garnered an NC-17 for the gore factor alone. Adult sci-fi fans should have some fun with this.


RATING FOR REPO MEN = B
BFCA RATING = 7/10


GREEN ZONE





Let’s not pull punches on this one: GREEN ZONE is anti-American propaganda. This film will only be appreciated by the noisy minority that think Obama is a good president, while Bush was the anti-Christ and by those who think Michael Moore actually makes documentaries.

Matt Damon stars as Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller, an American soldier charged with the task of finding Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs) in Iraq to justify the invasion. Yes, the liberals are still beating that dead horse. No surprise, he uncovers a plot to start a war for oil and no WMDs. This could only appease Brian and Stewie. This film will hurt Matt Damon’s action career with American audiences while endearing him with the Hollywood liberal elite. While he plays his role with all the conviction of Jason Bourne, the vast majority of viewers are not going to appreciate the propaganda behind the part. On the other hand, thanks to this film we now know it wasn’t President Bush who started the war, but rather Greg Kinnear.

Brian Helgeland has penned this bile and its disconcerting for he is usually quite proficient with pen and paper. It seems as if he developed the main plot points by consulting the unholy trinity of Obama, Reid and Pelosi, the leaders of the “blame America first” cohort. Helgeland has inserted many visual digs as well. For example, when the story is leaked, we see the prominent list of journalists notified includes both CNN and MSNBC. That’s CNN, the Wolf “get-my-pink-ass-under-this-table” Blitzer led bastion of liberal ideology and MSNBC the Keith “I-should-never-have-left-the-sports-department” Olbermann loony think tank. Missing from the list, of course is Fox News.

While we are discussing visuals, let’s not omit the horrendous double team of Director of Photography Barry Ackroyd and Editor Christopher Rouse. These two must be laughing heartily for collecting paychecks for sub-amateur work. There’s no blocking, no lighting and even no focus. This is the worst cinematography and sequencing I’ve ever seen in film. It’s even more discombobulated than anything created by Jean-Luc Godard. The action sequences are worse than Uncle Sy’s bar mitzvah videos. Several times I had to look away from the screen to avoid whip-lash. There is actually a scene where Director Paul Greengrass orchestrates the audience to cheer the downing of an American helicopter.

The admonishing adage near the film’s conclusion of “Let’s get the story right this time” clearly translates into “Let’s tell the story our way only, and you will like it or else”. GREEN ZONE is excrement on celluloid. Don’t waste your money on this “America is bad” tripe. What will they do next, give us a ‘Truther’ film?


THE RATING FOR GREEN ZONE = F
BFCA RATING = 0/10


BROOKLYN’S FINEST





Antoine Fuqua is a director with a heavy hand. His messages are delivered with all the force of a brick through a plate glass (Apologies to Q). Mick Jagger perhaps summed up his latest endeavor, BROOKLYN’S FINEST, when he sang:
“Every cop is a criminal,
And all the sinners’ saints.”

In a nutshell, that’s the plot and it continues a trend Fuqua has carried through most of his films.

He started with THE REPLACEMENT KILLERS, still probably his best. This film introduced Chow Yun Fat to American audiences and started Marky Mark on a path toward action/adventure movies. Cops on the take and ethnic prejudices set the mark and were augmented by the time he delivered TRAINING DAY with Ethan Hawke and Denzel Washington. It, too, was a gritty tale that, unfortunately lost its way by the final reel. This time around, the stereotypes have ballooned to cinematic fullness. The black culture is depicted with such clarity it’s a wonder anyone would ever want to adopt it, much to the chagrin of the programmers at MTV whose secret mission it is to turn everyone, or at least every young white girl, into wannabes. Word.

With BROOKLYN’S FINEST Fuqua states the heroism of the Baby Boomer Generation, lays the smack down on the black street culture, while decrying the indecision and lack of moral compass of Generation X. The Baby Boomers are represented by Richard Gere, as Eddie Dugan. He has one week until retirement and wants to quietly put in his time and slip out the back door. His plans go awry when he is put into a new and controversial training system. Generation X is embodied in Ethan Hawke’s portrayal of Sal Procida.. Sal is in a quandary over the love of his job, its lack of compensation, and his inability to provide for his growing family. Don Cheadle, an Outtakes favorite, and Wesley Snipes, who for the past six years has been relegated to straight to video action yarns, represent the higher echelon of the black street culture. Rounding out the all-star cast are Will Patton, Lili Taylor and Ellen Barkin.


KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:
1. THE MEETING AT JOEY’S
2. THE CLIMAX MONTAGE.


Director of Photography Pat Murgua is making his first big foray into American cinema. For the most part he attempts to capture the gloomy New York style, but like most of his contemporaries, too many scenes simply slip into a green filtered wash rendering a ‘cheap’ look. Editor Barb Tulliver stretches some segments too long. That’s not too surprising since most of her work has been with David Mamet, who reveals in extended scenes. As the stories of the three main police officers come to conclusion, she edits them simply, but effectively. Still, a little glossier transition, like the ones used on BURN NOTICE, would have been interesting in this sequence.

From the opening scene of BROOKLYN’S FINEST, you know there is no way this film can have a happy ending. Fuqua’s concluding reels are tighter, and certainly more believable. He needs, however, to back off the heavy-handed depictions a tad, though. I mean, no one really believes that every cop is a criminal and all the sinners are saints. It’s just the stuff of lyrics. Unless, of course, you work in the Obama Administration.


THE RATING FOR BROOKLYN’S FINEST = C
BFCA RATING = 6/10


THE CRAZIES





Back in the early 70’s, George Romero cut his film teeth on a ditty dubbed THE CRAZIES. It was a tale that carried a lot of analogies to the Agent Orange outcry of the Vietnam War. The original was largely considered a weak effort by Romero and nowhere near as entertaining as his Dead Trilogy. This latest edition of THE CRAZIES is a solid horror film though not a memorable one. Romero is given credit as one of the writers, but co-scripters Scott Kosar and Ray Wright have modernized the tale past any Vietnam concerns.

A plane, carrying a deadly biological weapon, crashes outside a small town and unfortunately meanders into its water supply. Soon, town folks are acting mighty strange and doing zombie-type things. Sheriff David Dutton (Timothy Olyphant) and his lovely doctor wife Judy (Radha Mitchell) join forces with Deputy Russel Clank (Joe Anderson) and Becca Darling (great name, rivals Mary Goodhead), played by Danielle Panabaker to discover why the town has gone berserk and how they can set things right. Olyphant is best known for his portrayal of Agent 47 in HITMAN. It’s probably still his definitive role. Panabaker is relatively new, though she made a bit of a splash in the FRIDAY THE 13TH remake. Anderson played a similar part in THE RUINS, but offers a strong supporting performance for this type of film. Mitchell is the impressive one. After I blasted her for her breakthrough performance in PITCH BLACK, which was dreadful (her, not the movie), she has developed nicely on the screen. Her role in SILENT HILL helped make that movie the best videogame adaptation to date.


KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:
1. THE CAR WASH
2. THE BABY’S ROOM
3. THE EMBALMING ROOM


Once infected, the population of Ogden Marsh looks a lot like Romero’s zombies. But outside of his writing credit, and serving as executive producer, this film is clearly the work of Brent Eisner. Perhaps therein lays the problem.

Brent originally went to school in the hopes of taking over for daddy. His business and marketing skills were somewhat suspect, as were daddy’s business practices, so before the merde hit the fan, daddy used his considerable leverage to help Brent become a director. He helmed a multitude of commercials, especially for clients who were given sweet deals on the Disney Empire. Soon, young Brent tackled full length features and quickly ensured that the planned remake of THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON was given a seat in development waiting hell. My fans, and they are legion, know I was never friendly with Michael Eisner and he was the brunt of many barbs on the show. The Creature, however, was my favorite of the Universal monsters and Brent’s dismantling of the project may have irritated me more than his daddy’s shenanigans.

Maxime Alexandre presents a few interesting scenes as Director of Photography, but most of the shots are standard. While his work on THE CRAZIES is better than THE HILLS HAVE EYES, it certainly is not as strong as MIRRORS. Go figure.

Viewers are inundated with zombie and deadly virus movies. They’ve even started to infect TV. THE CRAZIES is not a bad version, and frankly, it could have been a lot worse. Not a bad view for a date night, especially if you want the girl to snuggle close, but not one you’d want to watch again. First time thrills only.


THE RATING FOR THE CRAZIES = C
BFCA RATING = 5/10


COP OUT





I didn’t think it was possible to find someone more irritating than Chris Tucker in movies, but then I had the misfortune to see Tracy Morgan in COP OUT. Tucker has a high screechy girlie man’s voice and seems intent on screaming all his lines. The only role where this delivery worked was in Luc Besson’s THE FIFTH ELEMENT. In COP OUT, Morgan seems intent upon out-screaming Tucker. He delivers, at top decibel, even the lines meant to be quiet, such as the beach stake out scene, or romantic, such as the hotel room scene. And, speaking of romantic, starring with Bruce Willis and Seann William Scott, Director Kevin Smith makes Morgan the love interest in the film. Say what? Morgan looks like someone mugged him with the ugly stick that usually accosts women who leech you at the bars during happy hour. Yet, there he is with a hot wife and making time with Salma Hayek wannabe Ana DeLa Requera. What was Smith thinking? The pharmaceuticals must have been impressive on set.

COP OUT is a typical cop romp with Willis (Jimmy) and Morgan (Paul) as partners who are total misfits, yet somehow manage to get the job done. After they squash another team’s undercover work, they become uncover a major drug lord’s bid to take over the entire drug traffic flow in the city. Along the way sub plots of Jimmy’s daughter’s marriage, Paul’s wife’s infidelity and a stolen baseball card stumble into the final mix. I’ve already told you how irritating Morgan’s performance is; Willis, meanwhile sleep walks through his role merely revising the elements he used for Jimmy “the Tulip” Tedesco in THE WHOLE NINE YARDS. Scott swings by as comic relief (it should tell you something when you need comic relief in a comedy) and ends up stealing the scenes he is in.


KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:
1. THE TEDDY CAM
2. THE MORGUE
3. THE JAIL SCENE


There are many films that combine police action with comedy successfully. 48 HOURS, LETHAL WEAPON and BEVERLY HILLS COP spring to mind. COP OUT is heavy on the violence, but the comedy is weak; it caters to a mentality where shoe size and IQ are equal. For example, there is a three minute diatribe on Paul’s bowel movements. Really? They call it ‘bathroom humor’ because it’s a derogatory phrase, not because its to be elevated to tales of the ‘great brown shark’. If this stuff is funny to you, you need therapy. Blame writers Robb and Marc Cullen. Like Will Farrell movies, COP OUT offers a few smirks and that’s all. Kevin Smith fans will wail and gnash their teeth and send me various, also comedic, death threats, but the bottom line here is if Smith had taken a hand in writing some of this story instead of just directing and editing, it may have realized its potential.

THE RATING FOR COP OUT = D
BFCA RATING = 4/10


THE WOLFMAN





“Even a man, who is pure of heart and says his prayers by night, may become a wolf, when the wolfsbane blooms, and the autumn moon is bright.”

So distinguishes the stark difference between the Wolfman and a werewolf. The Wolfman was a curse, born in the gypsy lore of Eastern Europe. A man so cursed, would turn into a wolf each month during the cycle of the full moon to seek and brutally kill his loved ones. The werewolf is not a curse.

“Nah, don’t believe any of that full moon stuff. Werewolves, they’re shape-shifters. They can change anytime they want… The silver bullets work. Those and fire. Only way to get rid of the damn things. They’re like cockroaches.” (from THE HOWLING).

Now, with the release of THE WOLFMAN, Universal has re-imagined one of its more tragic, yet most frightening monsters. Originally penned for the screen by Curt Siodmak, all the characters from the original are here, though in expanded roles. David Self and A.K. Walker have done a masterful job in interpreting the characters and resetting the tale to 1891.

Benicio Del Toro plays Lawrence Talbot, a role originally made famous by Lon Chaney Jr. Del Toro is no Chaney. He attempts, as best he can, to capture the soulful, besieged persona Chaney played to perfection. Certainly the puffy bags under the eyes help. Luckily, Del Toro spends over half the movie in Rick Baker’s make up. Del Toro’s acting is somewhat suspect. He garnered critical accolades from the extreme left-wing socialist critics for his portrayal of Che, but only about 100 people saw that debacle, most of whom were members of Obama’s cabinet. (Guess they considered it a training film.) Del Toro’s only other memorable role was in SIN CITY, where he basically played a head. (“Look, someone left a perfectly good head lying around”. Apologies to King Julian.)

In stronger supporting roles are Hugo Weaving as Inspector Aberline, Emily Blunt as Gwen Conliffe and Anthony Hopkins as Sir John Talbot, the role originally tackled by Claude Rains. This is Weaving’s best role since Agent Smith in THE MATRIX. And, Hopkins is allowed freer reign as Lawrence’s father. His part is less stuffy and more essential to the plot, though still quite Freudian in nature.


KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:
1. THE ASYLUM LOCK UP
2. THE GYPSY CAMP
3. THE FIRST NIGHT


THE WOLFMAN has a virtuoso crew who boast a few FIST OF FIORE award winners to their fame. Director of Photography Shelly Johnson makes excellent use of lighting and camera angles, combining the look of UNDERWORLD with Tim Burton’s patented washed gloom. I used to work with a Shelley Johnson at a TV studio a few year’s back. She was a long-legged seductive siren whom I’ve since lost contact with. Pity. This Shelley Johnson is not the same. He is best known for his previous work on Robert Redford’s THE LAST CASTLE, a Rod Lurie film that is still one of the Mastracci boys’ favorites.

Rick Baker has designed a Wolfman look that, while updated, is more in line with Chaney’s original look than the doggie type appearances that have plagued films since. THE WOLFMAN looks great. This is Baker’s best work in quite a while, and that’s saying a lot. During the story, there are subtle, yet noticeable nods to Baker’s other werewolf endeavors including WOLF, with Jack Nicholson and James Spader, AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, which gave us David Naughton’s only notable role, and the TV series WEREWOLF. It’s good to see Baker away from monkeys and apes, where he had been typecast for far too long.

Danny Elfman, who has almost as many memorable scores as the late John Williams, pens are eerie, yet surprisingly modern soundtrack for THE WOLFMAN. Walter Murch, an editing legend in Hollywood, teams with Dennis Virker to give the film a lively pace. Murch placates theories and analogies, while Virker has an FOF Award for DAREDEVIL (The Director’s Cut) and UNDER SEIGE. THE WOLFMAN is helmed by Joe Johnston who will be bringing us CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER next year and has an FOF award for THE ROCKETEER, which brought the talented and lovely Jennifer Connolly to the viewing public.

Sorry for letting you, my loyal legion wait this long for this review; but, with heavy heart I must say the amount of snow we’ve received here in the ‘burgh has all but halted my endeavors for travel, even to the screenings. Rather than make snarky remarks about ‘global warming’, I will simply say if you see Al Gore, bitch slap him back to the stone age and should you still find someone who believes in global warming, send her to my house, where I will provide a shovel for her endeavors to make my travels easier. I will at least pay her with a hearty plate of macaroni and meatballs complete with my homemade sauce, which is to die for. I digress.

THE WOLFMAN is simply an amazing tale, which further enhances the original, rather than slapping it in the face, as most remakes are wont to do. It made my day, on a snowy afternoon when I could finally find the road. Its images lingered with me throughout the night, especially with the odd pallor which emanated from the back forest. THE WOLFMAN is a movie you could watch numerous times and still enjoy. It will become a welcomed member of my home video collection and exemplifies the epitome of excellence in film as entertainment. As such, it has captured the coveted FIST OF FIORE AWARD for 2010. I’m planning to see it again within the next few days. Do not miss this film in the theatres. Brave the snow, and enjoy.

Two months into the year and we’ve already had two FOF winners. This is unprecedented and hopefully will herald a banner year for films.


THE RATING FOR THE WOLFMAN = A
BFCA RATING = 10/10
WINNER OF THE FIST OF FIORE AWARD FOR 2010.

EDGE OF DARKNESS





Mel Gibson is back starring on the Silver Screen, his first appearance since SIGNS (2002), and he returns with a vengeance in a film that borders on the novel but is hampered by too many clichés. EDGE OF DARKNESS, though billed as a straight forward tale of revenge, tosses government conspiracies, Republican victories in Massachusetts, corporate greed, terrorism, freedom fighters, private corporate security firms, spirituality and journalistic ethics into a tasty salad. The drawback is the dressing, comprised of clichéd stereotypes that draw too much from demonized Halliburton, Blackbox, and Scott Brown headlines. One wonders if Gibson, a renowned Hollywood conservative, accepted these allusions as a mea culpa for his off-screen indiscretions. If so, it’s a minor sell-out and worth enduring to have Mel back on screen. “It’s Mel Gibson, Kyle. Mel. Gibson.” (Apologies to Eric Cartman).

Tom Craven (Gibson) welcomes his daughter Emma (Bojana Novakovic) home, just in time to have her murdered on his front doorstep. Determined to discover the hows and whys, Craven begins an escapade that constantly becomes more complex and brings him, through the Law of Attraction to Jack Bennet (Danny Huston) and Darius Jedburgh (Ray Winstone). Winstone’s character is especially appealing as the man who “prevents point A from being connected to point B”. There are times, however, when his accent and whispering delivery make it difficult to gather key lines of dialogue; like the evidence burning scene in Craven’s yard.


KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:
1. THE MEETING WITH THE COMMISSIONER
2. THE MEETING WITH THE SENATOR

In Tinsel Town, it pays to network well. The majority of the crew for EDGE OF DARKNESS worked with Director Martin Campbell on CASINO ROYALE. Of particular note are Director of Photography Phil Meheux, who also worked on GOLDENEYE and the Fist of Fiore Award winner THE MASK OF ZORRO, and Editor Stuart Baird who has several Fist of Fiore Award endeavors to his credit including SUPERMAN and DEMONOLITON MAN. Not in the CASINO ROYALE camp is composer Howard Shore. He has found a niche with Director David Cronenberg, having scored over a dozen of his films. Here he adds a melancholy, yet appropriate theme. Even Outtakes’ favorite make-up artist, Greg Nicotero adds his considerable talent to a few gruesomely deceased nasties.

Gibson hasn’t missed a step in his brief hiatus. He’s even comfortable standing next to actors who tower over him; something that caused massive blocking issues in previous times. He’s also able to insert elements of his faith as his gold crucifix is readily apparent in several scenes and his belief in the afterlife is brought to the forefront of the tale. EDGE OF DARKNESS is a well paced thriller that will make an enjoyable evening out, especially when coupled with a regal repast and a fine wine


THE RATING FOR EDGE OF DARKNESS = C
BFCA RATING = 6/10


LEGION





Ah, but there was trouble in Heaven and here on Earth when it came to the release of LEGION. On Earth, though the movie producers called to run a big promotion on OUTTAKES, critics, yours truly included, where not invited to the screening. Contest winners only. That’s never a good sign for a film.

In Heaven, a couple of brothers were having an argument. Trouble with family squabbles in Heaven is they involve supernatural beings with rather incredible powers. A few brothers arguing on Earth are fighting over toys whereas brothers fighting in Heaven fight over people. The brothers tussling in this tale are the Archangels Michael and Gabriel. These two always fight in every story about Archangels. There was a third Archangel, you know. Raphael. No one ever mentions him. No one’s ever made a movie about him either. It’s not fair. It’s a blatant form of Archangel discrimination. I think the Conclave of Cardinals should mount a campaign for Raphael. T-Shirts, hats, buttons, blankets, the whole enchilada.

The other problem with this type of film is THE PROPHECY. You see, in THE PROPHECY, the Archangel Gabriel goes bonkers and decides to destroy man because he’s feeling unloved by God. THE PROPHECY spawned two sequels. I doubt LEGION will be that lucky. In THE PROPHECY, Gabriel was played by Christopher Walken. Really, if you’re going to have an archangel spazz out, who better to play the part than Chris Walken? How do you even try to compete with that?

But, LEGION does. Paul Bettany and Kevin Durand are Michael and Gabriel, respectively. Bettany plays Michael like a gun-crazed Shaolin Monk, while Durand’s Gabriel is cool, but totally clueless and immature.

LEGION is set up like a Stephen King novel. King at least in his earlier days wrote of apocalyptical events that always seemed to focus on small Northeastern towns or farms or out of the way locales. God has grown weary of man and the conflict of God’s wrath and Michael’s attempt to calm Him down is centered in an all but abandoned truck stop on a lonely New Mexico highway called Paradise Falls. Nice touch with the name, don’t you think? The poor unfortunates caught at the truck stop are played by Lucas Black, Tyrese Gibson, Adrianne Palicki, and Charles Dutton with cameos by Kate Walsh and Dennis Quaid.


KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:
1. GABRIEL’S ARRIVAL AT PARADISE FALLS
2. THE OLD LADY AT PARADISE FALLS
3. MICHAEL AND GABRIEL’S TALK BEFORE THE WAR


There are more plot holes in LEGION than in Ray Emery’s defense of the Flyers goal crease. Why can’t Gabe see what’s really going on if he’s an angel, why is the baby so important, why this baby, why this woman, why New Mexico? “Tell me! What is it? Tell me?” (Apologies to King Julian). No, writers Peter Schink and Scott Stewart, who also directs, never do. “First there’s this Apocalypse, then these angels are fighting, then everyone wants to kill the baby, then everyone wants to save the baby. Is someone going to tell me what’s going on?” Then Arnold says “No.” (Apologies to Rae Dawn Chong and the writers of COMMANDO). These plot holes are so big you could cruise a CSX freight train through them.

Personally, I can’t see why the Archangels or God for that matter were so upset. Everyone in Paradise Falls talks about hope. Hell, even Dennis Quaid carries a lighter with hope engraved on it. Didn’t millions of freilocks vote for hope and change just a year ago? I know God wants Faith, Hope and Love, not hope and change. But geez, we have one out of three and that can’t be too bad, can it?

LEGION presents many images of social commentary. For example, the indiscriminant blasting of old folks and kids must surely be an allusion to the Dems’ National Health Care Plan. When asked what made God so angry, the response is “Maybe He just got tired of all the bullshit”. So our protagonist’s answer is to cram the family wagon with an armory that would make Neo and Trinity jealous and head out on a cross-country tour. Certainly this is a powerful statement of God’s support for the Second Amendment?

All through the story and the images, I could see Billy Crystal, impersonating Ricardo Montilban and uttering “It’s just so ridiculous!” (Apologies to Billy Crystal).


RATING FOR LEGION = D
BFCA RATING = 4/10


THE MESSENGER



Every year there are a few films I see around Thanksgiving for awards consideration only to have the movie open here in the Pittsburgh area in the first quarter of the following year. THE MESSENGER is one of those films. Watched, reviewed and rated three months ago, it seems a bit of a rehash to bring the film up again now that the local theatres are showing it.

I enjoyed THE MESSENGER. It’s a war film, without being a war film. Woody Harrelson is very strong in his performance; enough to garner my vote on the BFCA’s final ballot for Best Supporting Actor in the Critic’s Choice Awards.

THE MESSENGER shows a side of war not often considered; those who have to bring the news of a military death to the next of kin. Harrelson’s the lead man, experienced but tortured with his sense of duty. Ben Foster plays a decorated war hero, with only several months until discharge, who is assigned to Harrelson’s detail in an effort to bide his remaining time. Both men are scared psychologically and harbor their personal demons while surrounding themselves in a sea of other’s grief.

The film struggles on several fronts. The selected delivered messages seem to be displayed for the purposes of being politically correct and not necessarily because they are germane to the plot. The same can be said of the romantic subplot featuring Samantha Morton.

It’s Harrelson’s performance that makes THE MESSENGER worth while. Several scenes, like the bar and party scene are out of context and their point lost in the attempt to liven the pace, but those are not the scenes you will remember. While the cost of a theatre ticket may be a steep price to pay for THE MESSENGER, it certainly is worth a Netflix view.


THE RATING FOR THE MESSENGER = C
BFCA RATING = 5/10


THE BOOK OF ELI





Before I begin my review, has anyone taken notice of how many post-apocalypse films we have been inundated with during the first year of Obama’s reign? Is there a message here? Most films of this ilk follow similar themes; woe is me, woe is us and of course it’s somehow America’s fault. This is why they tend to be depressing and redundant. THE BOOK OF ELI changes all that. This is the premiere post-apocalypse film to see and sets a pattern others should emulate.

The Great War opened a hole in the sky. The resulting impact from the unfiltered sun’s rays caused most of the Earth to die. A lone stranger, sent on a quest by God, travels the wastelands attempting to deliver a book to a promised land in the West. Simple enough plot, but the film’s pacing, technical aspects and acting weave a riveting two and a half hour experience. THE BOOK OF ELI has one of the best “I never saw that coming” endings since THE SIXTH SENSE.

Denzel Washington is the stranger, Eli and guardian of the book. This is Denzel at his best, delivering a performance that lingers far after the film ends. Gary Oldman is the antagonist, Ray Stevenson, Mila Kunis and Jennifer Beals also co-star. Stevenson is notable as Oldman’s henchman.


KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:
1. THE DRAINAGE TUNNEL
2. THE BAR FIGHT
3. RELINQUISHING THE BOOK
4. THE TRIP TO ALCATRAZ


Director of Photography Don Burgess utilizes a bit of ‘fogging’ and several density filters to capture the color of a dead world. It’s the same color we who live in Pittsburgh see 347 days of the year; a macabre washed gray that begs the question “Why are you living here?” Burgess has captured it with aplomb. Cindy Mollo has edited THE BOOK OF ELI on a quick, intelligent pace. Action sequences are spaced properly forming a delicate balance with the plot. Credit the action sequences effectiveness to Jeff Imada. While my critics claim I give too much credit to ‘old stuntmen’, the truth is the new, young guys just can’t get the job done. I guess it’s too many music videos and too easy access to computer editing software. Imada was one of the kings of fight choreography for the action films in the 70’s and 80’s, and he shows here that he hasn’t lost a step. Viewers are treated to a collage of various martial arts coupled with Burgess’ complementary camera angles. Greg Nicotero, one of Tinsel Town’s best make up artists, provides subtle, but impressive applications in THE BOOK OF ELI.

Normally I am the first to scream at Hollywood’s constant degradation of the Christian faith. It seems to go out of its way to avoid anything Christian in nature, or to present the religion in a dismaying light. So, let me be the first to congratulate THE BOOK OF ELI, Directors the Hughes Brothers and Screenwriters Gary Whitta and Anthony Peckham for presenting a tale that captures positive aspects of Christianity and does so unashamedly. About damn time! THE BOOK OF ELI espouses belief in God and Christian values, and it is quite welcomed on the Silver Screen.

THE BOOK OF ELI, like Denzel’s performance, lingers with you after the end credits. It’s thought provoking and invigorating. It’s the type of film you could watch numerous times and definitely one you’ll want to add to your home video collection. It works on many levels and is the epitome of excellence in film as entertainment. THE BOOK OF ELI captures the coveted FIST OF FIORE AWARD for 2010. It is the first time a movie has garnered the award this early in the year. Perhaps it’s a harbinger of things to come.


THE RATING FOR THE BOOK OF ELI = A
BFCA RATING = 10/10
WINNER OF THE FIST OF FIORE AWARD

UP IN THE AIR





As a film critic, George Clooney and I have had a rather tumultuous relationship. Though I have never sat and conversed with him one-on-one, he strikes me as particularly pompous. I will never forgive him for destroying the Batman franchise. At the same time, I cannot deny his exceptional screen presence. In an earlier report I stated he is the current generation’s version of Cary Grant. He works magic on the screen, for the most part, and he is without doubt the reason any part of UP IN THE AIR works. Without his talents, this Jason Reitman film would have gone straight to video.

Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, an executive downsizer who lives the life of a modern gypsy, logging 322 days of travel per year. An expert in his field, he is forced to take a different look at his life and his philosophy when he is confronted with his sister’s wedding, a young new and ambitious employee and a woman who could be his perfect match. Vera Farmiga and Jason Bateman also star.

Back in Hollywood’s Golden Years, this film would have been reversed; it would have been the man sabotaging the relationship with dishonesty and Kleenex aplenty would have sprung into the hands of romantic female viewers. I guess this film shows the progress made by the women’s movement; ladies can be cads just as good as the gentlemen. Glad they fought so long and hard for that.


KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:
1. THE BACKPACK SPEECH
2. THE TEXT BREAK UP
3. THE MILES MILESTONE


UP IN THE AIR tries to end on a positive note, but struggles to do so. The movie’s underlying message of greater things coming from a most disastrous day is a hard sell that many in the audience will not buy. Unemployment is currently a very serious issue and those disgusted with this administration’s failed attempts to get people back to work are legion. Many will not take this film’s message without a dramatic increase in blood pressure.

If not for Clooney spreading his ample charm through his characterization, and the occasional pithy repartees which are his forte, UP IN THE AIR would not rise above the tepid scale.

Reitman not only directs UP IN THE AIR, but also helped adapt the screenplay from the book by Walter Kirn. The oeuvre is too long, especially the sequence when Ryan returns home. Blame Editor Dana Glauberman, for dragging the film’s crawl to a dead halt. Director of Photography Eric Steelberg scores some points for the film by providing spectacular aerial shots. Couple those with a relaxed and mellow soundtrack by Rolfe Kent and you have a movie that is worth a view, but not necessarily the price of a theatre ticket.


THE RATING FOR UP IN THE AIR = D
BFCA RATING = 4/10


THE LOVELY BONES





It’s Christmas time; folks are filled with the holiday spirit, thoughts of kindness abound, children are ecstatic and everywhere there are lights and joyous symbols creating an aura of happiness and peace. What a perfect time to go to the movies and be totally depressed. Thanksgiving gave us THE ROAD to throw the proverbial wet towel on our mien, and now with Christmas, we have THE LOVELY BONES. This film will drag you down faster than the price of that must-have Santa toy.

THE LOVELY BONES deals with a morose subject. A 14 year old girl is murdered. We are able to witness the aftermath of her death from both her killer’s and her family’s viewpoint from the girl’s eyes as she resides in the “in-between”; a sort of Purgatory between Earth and Heaven. It’s based on the book by Alice Sebold, and adapted for the screen by Director Peter Jackson.

THE LOVELY BONES is very similar to reading “The Shack” by Wm. Paul Young. That book also dealt with the senseless murder of a child, though its theme was religious. There are no religious connotations in THE LOVELY BONES. This is Hollywood, after all and there is no official acknowledgment of religion, unless it’s Muslim, Jewish or some pagan tribal thing in a remote land. Instead of angels, viewers are given other victims. Instead of God or St. Peter standing on guard at Heaven’s gate (no reference to the terrible film intended), we have a tree with flying leaves. (Really, could I make this up?) This is perhaps THE LOVELY BONES biggest drawback; its obvious attempts to circumnavigate around solid Christian themes. But I digress. Back to the movie and the book. “The Shack” deals with a father’s attempts to cope with the murder of his daughter, just like the movie. It details his trek back to his core Christian beliefs and his rediscovery of God to help him through his loss. It has been on the bestsellers list for years. It is a difficult read. Because of the subject matter, I could only handle about 20 minutes, and then I’d have to put the book down and walk away for awhile. This movie is similar. It is so depressing, only those who have a totally bleak outlook on life could sit through its length of over two hours. Perhaps if you could watch the movie for 20 minutes, leave, enjoy life and come back and watch another segment, it would be more palatable. But, you can’t do that in a theatre so watching THE LOVELY BONES is the equivalent of visual root canal sans Novocain.

The film boasts an all-star cast including Mark Wallberg, Rachel Weisz, Susan Sarandon and Stanley Tucci. Sarandon and Tucci are outstanding in their portrayals; she as the alcoholic grandmother, he as the serial killer. They are a few bright lights in this otherwise funereal work.


KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:
1. ALL THE SHOTS OF THE IN-BETWEEN.


Jackson’s helming of THE LOVELY BONES is a far cry from his typical epic fantasies. While taking him from his milieu, it does provide him the ability to stretch his creative wings. “Spread these broken wings and learn to fly away” (Apologies to Mister,Mister). Nice try. Hopefully he’s gotten it out of his system.

Other crew members of note include Brian Eno who supplies a morbid score which, given the subject matter is quite apropos. Director of Photography Andrew Lesnie is at his strongest in creating the spirit world and in the tense house break-in scene. Editor Jabez Olssen is the weak link. Every scene is dragged out far too long. They are like listening to Al Gore speak; everything slow and dragged out as if we are children without the ability to comprehend. It’s frustrating. The scenes’ message is delivered, the mind wants to move on and the camera lingers and lingers, like some poorly made soap opera.

If you are the type of person who believes in nothing good, who walks around constantly under the weight of an ideology that purports gloom and uselessness, (read liberals) this film will be right up your alley. Keep it. I prefer not to have folks, especially at this time of year, suffer through this visual flogging.


THE RATING FOR THE LOVELY BONES= D
BFCA RATING = 3/10


IT’S COMPLICATED





With many films, it’s all about sex. In the 60’s, 70’s and a tad into the 80’s, audiences were treated to vivacious bodies intertwined in demented Twister poses. The 60’s promoted the free love and sex is fun aura; the 70’s were a time of pushing the envelope, to see how far sex could be taken on screen before the censors were outraged; the 80’s tried to tantalize and introduce a new generation of sex sirens. Now, however, many of those sirens and their leading men are still stars, but not the Apollos or Aphrodites they once were. So, as top box office stars have aged, the theme in many films now is that (gasp) older people do have sex and it can be just as much fun as when they were younger. Certainly not a bad lesson for society to acclimate.

This changing viewpoint on sex sires films such as IT’S COMPLICATED. Alec Baldwin and Meryl Streep, once married, find each other again, though he’s now married to a woman half his age and she’s begun to see a new companion, played by Steve Martin. There’s way too much of Baldwin’s body on display, since he long ago abandoned the physique he had in THE SHADOW. And, there’s a bit too much of Streep acting coy, as if a woman her age shouldn’t be enjoying sex. Martin is strong in a supporting role, but shines during the stoned party scene which seems to be why Director Nancy Meyers selected him for the role.


KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:
1. THE STONED PARTY SCENE
2. THE WEB CAM SCENE


Lost in the subplot is a telling societal comment regarding family life. When Baldwin and Streep renew their affair, their children are elated over the prospect their parents may reunite and the family unit will be restored. Streep has ‘grown too much’ to allow that to happen and even seems oblivious to her children’s desires. It’s an element that Meyers, who also scripted the film, could have explored a bit more. But, then I guess the an hour long deadline, but manage to travel and accomplish things that would take the better half of a day. Forgetaboutit – it’s the movies. A key sequence of events at the conclusion is so out of the time space continuum it would have both Spock and Data perplexed, unless of course, it actually takes Camerlengo the better part of six hours to change from his civvies to his cassock. On the plus side, Hans Zimmer has written an excellent score. The music helps the pacing tremendously and almost causes you to forget the impossible time lapses.

ANGELS AND DEMONS is a sequel that is better than the first and if you can suspend the concept of time just a bit, its rather enjoyable. It doesn’t slam the Catholic Church as much as the first one did, so expect those with an agenda to be disgruntled.


THE RATING FOR ANGELS AND DEMONS = C
BFCA RATING = 6/10