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THE HOT ROCK, CINDERELLA LIBERTY, ART SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL and DISTANT VOICES STILL LIVES

Sunday, July 24, 2011

TAKE ME HOME TONIGHT: TRIBUTE TO 80’S COMEDY

It’s always a pleasure to be surprised by a movie. You get word that the new big hit is making its way to DVD and watch it to find it so so but then pick up another new release to round out the night and find yourself pleasantly surprised. Such was the case this week with TAKE ME HOME TONIGHT.

Set in the late 80s, Matt Franklin (Topher Grace) is in a rut. He was the smartest kid in school, has his degree from MIT and yet is working at Suncoast Video, still dreaming of the lost love of his life, the girl that he never had the courage to ask out, Tori Frederking (Teresa Palmer). Who should walk into the store but Tori. Matt quickly ducks out the back, ditches his uniform and casually strikes up a conversation with Tori and the knowledge that she’s going to be at the big part his sister’s boyfriend is putting on that night.

Matt’s twin sister Wendy (Anna Faris) and best friend Barry (Dan Fogler) have heard it all before. The same story over and over as Matt continues to wait for the exact right moment to talk to Tori. This could be it but they doubt it.

The same day of the part Barry loses his job. With revenge in mind, and in an attempt to help make Matt look the part of a Goldman Sachs employee (what he told Tori he was doing so she’d be impressed), they steal a showroom car. They also find that the owner has stashed his cocaine in the glove compartment, something that will turn Barry into a wild man as the evening wears on.

At the party Matt comes face to face with an old nemesis and his sister’s boyfriend Kyle (Chris Pratt). The stereotypical jerk with money character seen in so many 80s films, Kyle pops the question that night to Wendy which leads to a rift between siblings. Matt knows her desire is to go to Cambridge and she might have been accepted. No way will Kyle let her do such a thing.

As the night moves forward, Matt comes to Tori’s rescue when she’s being hit on by someone she can’t stand. The two spend some time together and seem to be hitting it off. Matt, Barry, Tori and her friends head out to another party in Beverly Hills her boss is hosting. When he tries to embarrass Matt, Matt comes off as knowing more than he really does and puts him in his place, giving him and edge with Tori. But will it be enough for him to make it last? Will she accept him for what he really is? Will she even find out? Will Barry make it through the night alive? And what about Wendy and Kyle?

All of these questions are answered before the end of the film. And it’s all done in such a style that you would think this was just another John Hughes film from the 80s. The look and feel of the film, the situations that the characters find themselves in and the whole vibe of the 80s, along with a soundtrack that will have you saying “Hey I remember that song!” out loud come together for one funny and touching comedy.

Topher Grace will forever be associated with the character of Eric Foreman from the TV series THAT 70’S SHOW. But it’s nice to see that while the character here has touches of Eric it is in no way a duplicate. Matt is a nice guy, someone who just hasn’t found out what he wants to do with his life yet. He just knows that he never took that chance, made that move to discover if the dream he always had could become a reality. Towards the end it’s his father (played by Michael Biehn) who tells him he just needs to take a shot at something. Words to live by.

The supporting cast does a great job as well. Fogler seems to be the new Curtis Armstrong in films these days, another reference to 80’s films. Faris is turning out to be quite the actress, displaying more emotional depth than she’s had in the past. And Teresa Palmer is a fresh face that has the chops to carry off her character with ease.

As I said at the start this movie is reminiscent of so many films from the 80’s, the screwball romantic comedies of the time. Memories of THE BREAKFAST CLUB, SIXTEEN CANDLES, SAY ANYTHING and more will be sure to pop into your head while you watch this movie. And not in a condescending way or rip off of those films. It’s a fresh look at those movies done now, a tribute of sorts but a story in its own right. This one offers entertainment, laughs and a nice romance as well. It’s not just worth watching but worth adding to your collection as well.

LIMITLESS: THE EXPANDED MIND

There are movies made with fantastic premises that you just want to see. The previews make them out to be something new and original and thrilling. And then you see them and think wow…that was…okay. Unfortunately most movies just don’t live up to the hype. Such was the case with LIMITLESS, a good movie but one that just wasn’t great.

Bradley Cooper stars as Eddie Morra, a down on his luck writer with one mediocre novel published and a case of writer’s block. Just when he thinks things can’t get worse, his girlfriend Lindy (Abbie Cornish) dumps him. Walking down the street after she turns him lose, he comes across an old “friend”, the brother of his ex-wife (of one day) Vernon (Johnny Whitworth).

Back in the day Vernon was a dealer and Eddie wants nothing to do with him. But he seems cleaned up, cleanly dressed and doing well for himself. During lunch he passes a new drug to Eddie, tells him that it’s about to be FDA approved and that it will help him. The drug helps the person taking it use their entire brain potential. While its said human’s only use perhaps 20% of their brain, this one kicks in the entire 100%.

On his way to his apartment Eddie takes the drug thinking he has nothing to lose and runs into his landlord’s girlfriend on the steps. As she berates him for not having the rent, the drug kicks in and he not only talks his way out of the chastising but beds the girlfriend as well. The drug actually works. So much so that Eddie changes his lifestyle, writes the book he was working on in 2 days and it turns out to be perhaps one of the greatest books ever written.

Then he comes down off the drug. He finds Vernon to get more and Vernon now has Eddie where he wants him, doing his bidding. Eddie sets out to get Vernon’s dry cleaning only to return and find Vernon with a hole in his head and the apartment trashed. Whoever showed didn’t get what they came for, Vernon’s stash of the drug. But Eddie figures out where it is and becomes a regular user.

He gets his life back on track, learns languages in less than a day, wins back his old girlfriend and starts a new life for himself, all with this limited supply of pills. He cashes in on financing, goes to work for his broker and is introduced to one of the top moneymen in the country, Carl Van Loon (Robert DeNiro). This leads to a job with Van Loon and the chance to turn what he’s learned into millions if not billions for the company and himself. It also gives him access to possibly having someone make more of the drug.

But it all comes at a cost. The loan shark who gave him the money to invest originally now is taking the drug and wants more. And whoever it was that killed Vernon is trying to find him as well. Eddie has risen from the worst position possible to the highest and yet still has problems, just different ones, ones that could cost him his life.

The movie has a terrific look to it, clean and sleek and fast. When the drug kicks in we look through the eyes of Eddie as well as from the outside, seeing that things move so much faster in his mind that the world seems to be in slow motion. And while Eddie’s brain increases in capability, he doesn’t seek to do harm to anyone but rather intends to do nothing more than take care of himself and those that matter to him. But as they say the best intentions…

Cooper does a great job, shifting in acting modes as well as appearances from the down and out Eddie to the more successful one. He carries off the performance well and is completely believable. Cornish feels as if she’s just there and DeNiro makes the most of what is essentially a supporting role.

For all the great story that is found here it just comes off as a decent flick that doesn’t completely fulfill it’s potential. Perhaps that’s just my expectations not being met, but I just felt that the movie was nothing more than another in a long line of films that are entertaining but not memorable. And honestly, there don’t seem to be that many being made any longer.

The movie is an enjoyable film that will keep you guessing until the end. And the ending itself was one of the best I’ve seen in some time. So if you’re looking for a solid movie to rent this week then by all means give this one a try. It may not stick in your mind forever but it will give you a pleasant night watching a movie.

TEKKEN: ANOTHER GAME COMES ALIVE

It seemed that in the 90’s tons of video games that were popular in the 80’s were being turned into movies. It was a logical extension as there was tons of action taking place in each game and players were putting themselves into the middle of it. That is as long as the movies were based on first person action games and not things like Tetris. Most of those movies were popular enough with MORTAL KOMBAT going so far as to have a sequel, but the fad died off for a time. It’s come back with a vengeance in the past few years and now yields TEKKEN based on the fighting game.

The year is 2039 and the world is ruled by corporations rather than governments. The old world fell some years back and the corporations filled the voice, taking over and controlling the masses. What was once the United States is now ruled by the largest corporation of them all, Tekken.

But things haven’t changed with the exception of walls that divide one social class from another. Outside is a life of poverty and trying to survive, inside a world of luxury and technology. Protecting this way of life are the armed soldiers who rain down on the lower class should they try and move upward.

Jin Kazama (Jon Foo) is a young man who works the streets doing everything from stealing for the resistance movement to finding whatever it takes to survive. His mother Jun (Tamilyn Tomita) has done her best with him, training him in martial arts to learn the beauty of it more so than the power. But Jin still has much to learn.

When the Tekken soldiers raid the resistance and connect Jin to the latest tech theft, they set out to catch him. Their leader Kazuya (Ian Anthony Dale) makes the decision not to capture anyone in Jin’s home but to blow it up instead with Jun and a few soldiers still inside. Jin watches as his mother dies and blames the leader of Tekken, Heihachi Mishima (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) for her death.

A chance to get back at Heihachi arrives in a competition known as the King of the Iron Fist. Combatants have been involved for years but there is always a people’s choice involved, someone who bests the competitor Marshall Law if they can. Jin enters this street tournament and wins, giving him a chance to go into the city and to become involved in the competition locating him one step closer to Heihachi.

The man in charge of the street competition is Steve Fox (Luke Goss) and he joins Jin as his manager. Fox knows the ins and outs of the game, knows the weaknesses of the other fighters and helps Jin to learn his own limitations and how to do better. Their first fight results in a win for Jin and earns him the inquisitive eye of Kazuya.

Backstage fighting goes on not just among the fighters but in the house of Tekken as well. Heihachi doesn’t believe that Kazuya is ready to take over as the ruler of the house, but Kazuya has no patience to wait for his time. Instead he plots a take over and sets out to follow through with the Iron Fist competition in the background.

But wait there’s more! Jin has a connection to the Tekken clan that no one is aware of with the exception of Kazuya. And it’s one that he doesn’t plan on letting anyone else learn about so he sends someone to kill Jin before he can compete again. When that fails, he ousts Heihachi as ruler, takes over and changes the rules of the game. It is now a competition where each fighter can win only with the death of the other.

All will be revealed before the final reel and a one on one match between Jin and Kazuya takes place. Who wins? Oh come on, I won’t spoil it but you have to know already.

The film has a well shot look to it but falls back on the stereotypical “end of the world” look, a set design that involves combining bits and pieces of scrap metal into homes covered with dirt and grime. It’s a set design that’s been used since the first Mad Max film and ever since. And inside the city? More gleaming glass and high rises like most films of this kind.

The best thing in the film is the fight choreography, set up by Cyril Raffaelli. If you’ve seen DISTRICT B13 or the sequel then you’ve seen Raffaelli in action. He does a great job here and will be someone to keep an eye on in the future.

The movie itself reminded me of those old game to movie films made in the 90’s and if you were a fan of those movies you’ll get a kick (no pun intended) out of this one. It’s pure escapist action and if that’s what you’re looking for you’ll find it here.

MEGA PYTHON VS. GATEROID: NO WINE BUT PLENTY OF CHEESE

So I’ve put off writing about this movie long enough. I sat through it, thought about it, weighed the pros and cons...well tried to FIND the pros first off and then knocked off the tons of cons…and here it finally is, the review. Let’s just say that there are some people who will enjoy this movie for the novelty of Tiffany and Debbie Gibson in movie together, fans of either will be delighted to see them in ANYTHING and then there will be people who just say huh?

The movie starts with Gibson as an environmental extremist professor who breaks into a research lab and absconds with a number of reptiles, mostly snakes like say pythons, and then turns them lose in the everglades. In her world view these animals deserve to be free in the environment and not caged or experimented on. Forget the fact that most of these reptiles are indigenous to the area, at least they are free, free to roam the waters like the innocent creatures they are!

So what happens? Of course nature having been messed with turns these lovely reptiles into bigger killing machines. The alligators that are supposed to be protected are now being eaten by these larger than life snakes. The same is happening to the redneck gator hunters doing so out of season. Why these snakes become so huge is anyone’s guess as it never gets explained. Let’s just say that they grow big enough to eat a grown man whole. Which they do. Unfortunately that man also happens to be Tiffany’s fiancĂ©.

As the conservation officer for the everglades what does Tiffany do once she finds out what killed her beau? Why of course, she visits a cousin at the university and takes some super steroid the school’s been working on, sticks it in some chicken and then feeds it to the gators. The result is a humongous bunch of gators, each the size of a semi, which begin fighting the pythons. Until some of the snakes eat a few gators and they in turn grow larger still!

A scientist in the area, Dr. Diego Ortiz (A. Martinez), visits and tries to warn Tiffany what is going on but she’s to involved in a charity fund raiser coming up to listen to him. Besides, she already knows why the gators are growing. Gibson finds out as well since she and her students planted cameras in the trees in the glades and have footage of Tiffany and the roid enhanced chicken.

In what one can only hope is a tribute to JAWS, Tiffany decides to go on with the fund raiser (apparently she wasn’t too attached to her fiancĂ© since she’s composed enough to follow through with this) even though the death toll associated with the snakes and gators is increasing. Fans of both teen idols will be delighted to know that the duo get into a hellacious cat fight during the fund raiser only to have the reptiles interrupt to eat a few guests.

By now the reptiles are huge. Wrapping around buildings, taking up both lanes in the highway, they head for the big city. How this city got so close to the everglades is never explained but hey, that’s just goofy old facts. Forget about ‘em! All involved join forces to find a solution to the problem that they created before the final seconds of the film.

So here you go, the good parts of the movie. If you like cheesy films with bad special effects, bad acting and worse yet a bad script then this movie will be your dream come true. It’s one of those movies that are so bad you can do little more than laugh through the whole thing. There was at least one if not two times during this movie that I had to stop it I laughed so hard. And the best joke in the whole thing is actually one that’s intentional involving ex-Monkee Mickey Dolenz.

The effects are the standard SyFy channel poorly done CGI that we’ve all come to expect from them. I mean it’s hard to describe just how bad these are done. I’m assuming that some 13 year old with a PC that’s older than he is worked hard to make these graphics but he still needs to work on them. Is it any wonder that people make fun of movies made directly for SyFy channel?

Tiffany and Debbie Gibson. The acting ability displayed by these two makes it easy to see why they were pop stars. There was no acting going on when they were singing. And while the novelty of the two of them on screen together wears off rather quickly, seeing them doesn’t. The way each looks is bad enough but side by side it enhances the problems even more so. Gibson looks downright anorexic with the boniest arms this side of Joan Rivers. Next to her Tiffany looks bloated. My guess is that she’s isn’t nearly as overweight as she appears here (and if she is then kids, shorts were not the best option for her to wear here) but when put next to the human skeleton that is Gibson she looks bigger. I know, these seem like chauvinistic things to say but when you have the two of them in dinner gowns tossing down with one another then you’d better expect it.

I can’t say that I’d recommend this movie to anyone with the exception of folks who want to learn what NOT to do when making a movie. The most stunning thing about this movie to me was learning that the director Mary Lambert was the same director of PET SEMETARY. Then again checking over her resume since showed some other poor choices.

SyFy channel fans who love their poorly done CGI swill will love this movie. Others might get a few laughs from everything about this film. Fans of Tiffany and Gibson will find this a must see just to say you saw it. For everyone else (roughly 99.99999% of the population) make sure you don’t bother.