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

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

CRIMINAL MINDS SEASON 6: ONE OF TV’S BEST SERIES

I’ve always said that one of the true benefits of DVDs is the chance to see your favorite TV series whenever you want to. Not only that but it gives series a chance to be seen, especially when one series is programmed against another. Series that at one time might have died off because no one watched their second season gain viewers when people see the first season on DVD and realize what they were missing. After 6 seasons that might not be the case with CRIMINAL MINDS, but for those who’ve never been exposed now is the time with the release of season 6 on DVD. Don’t worry if you’re starting here, the series is easy to get into.

If you’ve never seen the series it follows the BAU (Behavioral Analysis Unit), a specialized group of profilers at the FBI that tracks down serial criminals, usually killers. A profiler is a trained agent skilled in the psychology of the criminal mind, a person who attempts to track down the killer by getting in their head. And this team is the best there is.

The BAU is led by agent Aaron Hotchner (Thomas Gibson),  a dedicated individual who guards his team as well as possible. The team also has David Rossi (Joe Mantegna), an ex-agent turned author who came back to join this team. Derek Morgan (Shemar Moore) is the most physical of the team while also the most emotional. Jennifer Jareau (A.J.Cook) is the team’s press liaison and case organizer. Emily Prentiss (Paget Brewster) is an effective thinker and effective interrogator. Dr. Spencer Reed (Matthew Gray Gubler) is a young genius with an analytical mind that sees patterns where others can not. And rounding out the team is  Penelope Garcia (Kirsten Vangsness), a computer whiz who stays in constant touch with the team where ever they are, finding information for them when in need.

The thing about this team is that not only do they seem like a working group of agents, there is a closeness about them as well. If you continue to watch the series you’ll get a sense of family about them. Each one has his role, though not in the sense of father or sister. Instead you get the feeling of familiarity between characters and once hooked on the series with viewers as well. That was seen in this season when one of the characters left and viewer outcry resulted in her return this year.

So you have the set up of the series, agents tracking down criminals, flying here and there ready to take on any and all bad guys. So what happens this season that hasn’t before? It opens with the second of two parts, finalizing the cliffhanger from season 5. The Prince of Darkness killer has returned for some unknown reason and takes the life of a policeman before the team can take him out of play. This results in the daughter of the policeman becoming the responsibility of Derek which comes into play in several of the episodes.

As I stated, one of the agents is forced to move up in the FBI though she’d rather not. This results in several situations for the team; having to deal with her departure, trying to take over her responsibilities and eventually finding another member for the team. Again, this takes place over several episodes but contributes to the sense of loss for the team and for viewers.

Various cases offer bloody situations and extreme violence not usually shown on TV. Then again we’re talking about serial killers for the most part and their actions are almost always violent. So a word to the wise when choosing who should and shouldn’t be watching this show. Adults will have no problem but younger children might.

The acting is unbelievable for having a cast this size. Each member is given equal opportunity to shine and not one stands above the rest. They all form believable characters that long term viewers grow to care about. Should you choose to watch you will too.

The season ends with a twist that few saw coming. Will it result in the loss or return of a character? What actually happened? And will we find out the answer come next season? No one knows except the writers who will let us know at their leisure. Until then we’ll have to content ourselves by having the chance to watch this season over and over again, viewing our favorite episodes and enjoying those not quite on our list. It doesn’t matter because there isn’t an episode that isn’t done well.

With the frightening fact that there are at any time dozens if not hundreds of potential serial killers out there, its nice to know that a team like this actually exist. Let’s hope for two things. The first, that they’re as successful as the team here is. The second, that those killers remain only “potential” knowing that the team is out there. This is a series not to be missed and one of the best TV has to offer right now.

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SPY KIDS: THE START OF SOMETHING SPECIAL

Has it really been 10 years since this film series began? And I’ve missed it all that time as well? Thank goodness Lionsgate, as part of their releasing Miramax films to blu-ray, has decided to include the three films in the series. Yes, there is a fourth just out in theaters, but that won’t be out for a while. Just be glad these three are.

The first of the three is a treat. The story revolves around Carman (Alexa Vega) and Juni (Daryl Sabara) Cortez, two seemingly normal kids who live with their parents Gregorio and Ingrid (Antonio Banderas and Carla Gugino) in some far off land. The thing is they have no idea that their parents are the two best spies in the entire world who’ve retired with the occasional gig should the world face imminent danger.

One such event occurs and both parents are captured by the evil Fegan Floop (Alan Cumming), a creative genius and children’s TV show host who is developing a group of robotic children to replace those of government officials for bad guy Mr. Lisp (Robert Patrick). With henchman Alexander Minion (Tony Shaloub) assisting him, the plan seems destined to work. Only Gregorio has the solution to one final problem.

To coerce the two into working for them, Floop sends his henchmen to capture the kids. Their “uncle” Felix (Cheech Marin) helps them escape and reveals to them the fact that they are the offspring of the best spies that exist. How cool is that? Tossed into the world they weren’t quite aware of, the duo takes naturally to the gadgets and danger associated with being spies. With the help of the OSS, the organization that employs their folks, the kids set out to take down Floop.

So what makes this movie so good? Well to begin with it not only entertains kids but adults as well. The kids get the joy of seeing someone their age being able to use what we as kids loved most about Bond flicks, the gadgets. The parents get to see an entertaining movie with a great cast that all work well together. The combination succeeds on all levels.

Director Robert Rodriguez has made some of the most entertaining films in recent years, in various genres. So to think that he couldn’t do right by kids movies would have been a losing bet. He brings off the wonder that kids find in all things bright and colorful, a kid’s view of the world, innocence, while at the same time giving them adult responsibilities. Don’t get me wrong though, this is not the “real” world here. The film takes place in a world that seems brighter than most filled with all sorts of off beat locations and sets.

The acting is well done and never overplayed by the cast. Most of it is played for laughs by the adults but they come off as normal in this world. The kids, Vega and Sabara, work well together sparring back and forth like siblings do but caring about each other deep down. Neither seems to be performing and that makes their performances seem real, a step up from many actors their age.

What makes this film work is, well, everything. It’s acted and directed well. It looks visually stunning. And most importantly it’s fun, not just for kids watching the movie but for adults as well. It’s rare these days to find a film that will entertain both groups, but this one does so in spades. Sure, there are the occasional gross out jokes, but kids will laugh at them and adults will roll their eyes, all the while snickering so the kids don’t see.

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this movie. Then again I don’t think Rodriguez has made a movie yet that I didn’t enjoy. The blu-ray transfer makes the colors pop off the screen and the clarity of picture makes it a joy to watch. This movie, and the two sequels, are not movies to rent but to add to your collection.

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SPY KIDS 2-THE ISLAND OF LOST DREAMS: MORE SPY KIDS

What do you do when you have a hit movie on your hand and more stories to tell? Why create a successful franchise of that film of course! And that’s what happens here in the second SPY KIDS film. The surprising thing though is that it doesn’t fall to the usual sequel pattern of not quite living up to the original. This one is equally entertaining.

It seems that Spy Kids are not being integrated into the OSS to be sent out on missions of their own. And as with their adult counterparts, there are rivalries among them as well. In this case, between that of the Cortez family and the Giggles’s. 

The movie opens at an amusement park where the daughter of the President (a young Taylor Momsen) puts herself in danger. Alexa and Juni come to the rescue only to find a bit of competition from Gary and Gertie Giggles (Matt O’Leary and Emily Osment). Of course the Cortez’ kids save the day and Juni finds himself taking a liking to the President’s daughter.

At a celebration for all spies of the OSS, the competition continues. First off is the surprise announcement that Donnegan (Mike Judge) Giggles will be placed in charge of the OSS, something everyone thought Gregorio Cortez would be doing. This is followed by an attack on the gathering where the adults are drugged and the spy kids must try to stop the invaders from stealing a special gadget these bad guys want. They fail and now must retrieve it from whoever has stolen it.

This top assignment is given to the Giggles children much to the chagrin of Alex and Juni. What to do? Hijack the assignment of course. With info on hand the duo set out to locate the missing gadget and return it home. And the Giggle’s kids? They’re sent off on a mission of their own that results in their landing in camel dung.

Juni and Alexa travel in their special sub to a hidden island where all electrical items lose power. Faced with no gadgets to aide them they must use their own abilities to find the bad guy. Eventually Gary and Gertie show up and the race is on.

The Cortez children get a boost when they come across Romero (Steve Buscemi), an inventor on the island. It is his gadget they’re searching for with the exception that the one on the island can eliminate electricity around the world. Not only that, they find he’s responsible for the creatures on the island, a group of animals combined to form things like a spider monkey, half spider half monkey and other creatures that are joined. Not wanting the gadget to be used for evil purposes, he gives them aid in recovering it.

As the kids do their best to track down the gadget, their parents are bound and determined to save them. Unfortunately for them, they’re accompanied by Ingrid’s parents (Ricardo Montalban and Holland Taylor), past spies themselves. Who saves who? Come on; look at which characters get top billing in the title.

The movie is filled with all sorts of action and laughs. While the gadgets are tossed aside once the kids get to the island, the special effects team still has plenty to do. In what would seem a homage to the films of Ray Harryhausen, the creatures have that stop motion animation feel to them. In particular there is a group of skeletons that chase after the Cortez kids after Juni lifts a jewel from their hidden cave that reminds us of the classic JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS skeletons.

The story is deep enough that parents will enjoy what follows the opening credits, the kids are entertaining enough for kids their age and the effects are once again well done. Rodriguez has again tapped into the inner child of his mind and made an entertaining flick that brings back memories for the adults who watch as well. 

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SPY KIDS 3-GAME OVER: COMIN’ AT YA

So after two successful movies in this franchise where was director Robert Rodriguez going to go? How about in your face? Yes after the first two films the next logical step, especially since the newest 3-D craze was kicking off, was 3-D. And, as always, Rodriguez does it better than anyone.

This time around we open with Juni now retired from the OSS and working as a private eye. But that all changes when he’s called back in. It seems his parents are off on their own mission and his sister is being held captive inside a video game. Not physically captive but mentally. The only person with enough skill and knowledge to take on the game is Juni.

The game itself called Game Over, was created by the Toymaster (Sylvester Stallone) and his main reason for creating it was to capture kids around the globe. It seems that anyone who can make it through the initial first four levels to the fifth is placed in a world of mind control there is no escape from. So Juni must get to level 4 where his sister Carmen is being held captive, rescue her and then the pair must shut down the game.

Along the way Juni goes through various tests/games on each level and meets a series of other players as well. These are the beta testers, each one with a different function that will help Juni. One is smart, another strong and the last cool. This group picks up an additional helper later on when Juni faces off against another player named Demetra. He defeats her but she knows he’ll need her help as the game progresses.

With only so many lives to use getting through the game, Juni keeps finding himself losing them one by one. He does get a great assist though when he’s allowed to call one person in to help him. His choice? His grandfather. While his grandfather is confined to a wheelchair in the outside world, here he has full function of all his limbs and abilities. He also brings something to the table Juni wasn’t aware of. You see, it was the Toymaker who was responsible for grandfather being in the wheelchair to begin with.

With a few twists in the story, an amazingly created world of combat for game players and in imagination that seems to know no bounds, Rodriguez has come up with the perfect film for 3-D. Rather than have the non-stop use of 3-D to have people poke their fingers at you from start to finish (though there are a few of those moments) he allows the special effects items in the film fly out. Splotches of goop and more fly at the camera. Now, the truth is I didn’t watch this movie in 3-D as I don’t have a 3-D television or blu-ray player. But you know when you see it what is and isn’t 3-D. And with due respect, you can tell it would work well here.

The cast does a great job as well and it’s interesting to watch as the different young members have grown before our eyes. You get the feeling that Rodriguez thought this might have been the last of the series when you see various cast members from the other two films turn up, everyone from Alan Cumming to Bill Paxton. Each plays an important part in the films ending sequence.

Had this been the last it would have been a fitting swan song. But it wasn’t! There’s a new SPY KIDS movie in theaters now (or just leaving depending on when you read this) that employs a new set of kids. The others return but have aged to the point where you couldn’t quite call them kids anymore. If the series stays as creative and interesting as it has in the past, who knows how long it could go on? Perhaps as long as the James Bond series? Only time will tell. In the meantime we have at least the first three on hand in blu-ray format to enjoy.

On an ending note to the reviews of this series, each one contains some great extras including Rodriguez’ “10 Minute Film School” shorts that shows how he economically saved money on each film and came up with some fantastic effects that turned out better than if he’d used more money. Give all of these movies a watch.

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BK-BANKOK KNOCKOUT: THAI MARTIAL ARTS EXTREME

There was a time when Chinese martial arts films ruled. It was from these films that others took interest in martial arts and brought them into US and European films. The Japanese brought excelled at Samurai films and those too were given a western flair. But both of these oriental disciplines are falling in decline when it comes to martial arts action by the country of Thailand and its rising star Tony Jaa. And Panna Rittikrai, who directed Jaa in two of the ONG BAK films, has assembled a cast of martial arts stars for his newest film BK: BANGKOK KNOCKOUT.

Critics of the film are quick to jump on the fact that the film has the smallest of plots and that the acting is atrocious. Since I don’t speak Thai I would say that I can’t condemn the acting. Face it; there is much that is lost in translation. As for the plot, sure it’s rather simple but many martial arts fans are seeking action as opposed to story and they won’t be disappointed here.

So the simple story is this: a teacher has assembled groups of martial arts schools into a contest. The winner has the chance for the entire team to be taken to Hollywood to star in his next big production. We, the viewers, know that something isn’t right from the get go. A cigar smoking bad guy named Mr. Snead keeps pushing the teacher to get things going and if he isn’t involved in something illegal then you haven’t noticed many bad guys in movies.

A team is selected and goes out that night to celebrate. They get a little bit rowdy and a little bit drunk and almost find themselves in a fight with the caterer and his crew. But things settle and they enjoy the rest of their night. The problem is when they wake in the morning they discover they’ve been drugged and taken somewhere.

The setting seems like an abandoned set of buildings, mostly factories. The group wanders a bit until they’re attacked by someone driving a heavily enforced car. Herded to a special building, they find the “teacher” waiting for them. Standing by him is the caterer. The teacher informs them that they are now part of his production, a fight between two opposing forces. The caterer is an expert martial arts fighter whose team will take on this group to see who is best. To make sure they perform, he kidnaps one of the girls from the team, a love interests between two of their best fighters.

Back to Mr. Snead. From a luxuriously outfitted trailer, Mr. Snead is hosting a party of extremely wealthy gamblers who will bet on the outcome of the fights they will witness. The stakes are high and eventually they move from simple fights to battles to the death, all the while betting on who will win.

So there’s the set up. The plot. Incredibly simple and yet before the movie ends we discover a traitor in the midst of the good guys and a more dangerous combatant than we expected from the bad.

But it’s not the story here. And there is no way to describe the fight sequences in detail. But they are there and there are tons of them, everything from a Jason Voorhees killer with an axe to a cross dresser who’s more deadly than you’d expect. The fights are non-stop action and the sort that leaves you amazed at the stamina of the combatants to be able to run and fight like this for nearly 2 hours.  Then again, it’s only a movie. But an action packed one at that.

No break out stars are seen here and director Rittikrai states in the extras that what he wanted to do was make a spectacular action film that would feature not one but a number of martial arts stars to be together in one film. He accomplishes what he set out to do here with each member having their own special scenes throughout.

If you’re looking for a movie with just action, little plot and enough great stunt work to hold your interest then you won’t find many movies that will foot the bill like this one. It’s unrelenting action from start to finish and might possibly result in being the first exposure to one or two more Tony Jaa like stars.

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