Tuesday, August 28, 2012


Yes it's true, the best drama on TV these days features zombies. The second season of THE WALKING DEAD arrives this week on DVD and this is one series that not only keeps getting better but stays original and draws viewers in at a steady even pace.

If you missed the first season the apocalypse has come upon the Earth not in the form of war but in a virus that has brought the dead back to life with an unquenchable thirst for blood. As they attack the living each new victim becomes another member of the walking dead, hungry as those who turned them.

Into this world we saw Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) wake from a coma (he was a sheriff wounded in the line of duty) to an empty hospital. He struggled but found his way home to discover his wife and son were there no more and he set off in search of them, eventually reuniting with them and unaware that thinking he was dead his wife Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) had taken up with his best friend Shane (Jon Bernthall). With a ragtag group of allies they headed to the CDC only do discover one last survivor there who then blew up the facility at the close of that season.

Season two begins with the group on the road once more heading towards Ft. Benning. When they get stuck in a traffic jam on the highway and their RV breaks down, they look for replacement parts only to have a herd of zombies head their way. For the most part they do well but two leftover zombies spot young Sophia and she heads into the woods. Rick follows, finds her and directs her back to the group while he distracts the zombies and then kills them. When he returns Sophia is no where to be found and the group spends their time searching for her. At the end of the first episode while they search, Rick's son Carl is shot by a stray hunter's bullet.

Episode two gets us to the place where the hunter lives, a farm with its own group of survivors led by the farm's owner Hershel (Scott Wilson). A veterinarian, he saves Carl and the rest of the group is brought to the farm as well. The search for Sophia continues and for the better half of the first season this is the focal point. It's what happens to the group during this search and after that brings forth the drama in the series.

The group changes as the show progresses. Secrets between various members are brought to light. Control of the group becomes a catalyst that drives wedges between these people. And slowly we begin to see Shane lose his mind. It's a slow burn that we watch progress from episode to episode that culminates with one of the most stunning solutions every shot in a series. This, along with the search and discovery of Sophia, makes for some stirring moments.

That may be the plotline that the story follows this season but it's the interaction between characters that make this series tick. Forget the fact that zombies are all around, the interplay between these survivors is what brings the story to life. The zombies take far less screen time then one would expect with a title like this. A true gathering doesn't even occur until the last two episodes.

Instead we have the drama played out by the love triangle involved with Rick, Lori and Shane. We have the development and maturing of young Carl in a world where there is no room for childhood. There is the fatherly affection between the older Dale and the emotionally scarred Andrea who begins to change as well. And in the midst of it all is Hershel and his family, thinking that there is still hope for a world to return to the way it was, secluded from the horror that has spun out of control in the world.

There are dramas on TV right now that have nothing on this series. As I said, if you took away the zombies the drama would still be the centerpiece and hold your attention. I considered if it would work in another format, say alien invasion or perhaps a world war on U.S. soil ala RED DAWN. In each format I choose the stories hold up. Zombies just add a touch of uneasiness to the mix.

The acting on view here is tremendous. There are no stand outs as every person involved brings their A game to the screen. From children to wizened aging actors, each does a fantastic job of bringing their character to life. There isn't a sympathetic character on view here, from the supposed bad guys to the amazingly good guys. And there are two things to know about every character here. One, they can change in the flick of an eye from good to bad and two, not everyone is going to make it. During one of the special extras sequences the statement is made that everyone comes to work wondering if their character will remain or not.

Words can not describe how amazing this series is. There were moments during season two where my jaw literally dropped and I had to pause the disc to absorb what just transpired. This is not just a DVD that you will want to rent; it is one worth having on the shelf.  The only bad thing is having to wait until October for season three to begin.

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Have you ever watched a movie and afterwards thought to yourself "Man, I wish I had more time on my hands...I want to watch that movie all over again right now!" I can't say that I've experienced that feeling very often but I did after watching THE RAID: REDEMPTION. I didn't want to go to sleep, I wanted to do one of those college day deals where we stayed up all night and watched a movie over and over again.

Filmed and taking place in Indonesia, the movie starts off with a young SWAT officer waking and preparing for his day. He says goodbye to his wife and tells his father something that feels ominous, as if we're missing what is going on. We later find this to be true.

Once he meets the other SWAT team members they suit up and head out, being briefed on the way. Their goal is to take down the worst drug lord in Jakarta, a man who has holed up in a 30 story apartment building. Within the walls of the building the drug lord has regular paying tenants and some of the worst criminals in the country. They pay him to live there and aren't bothered by police. That's about to change as this SWAT team are about to enter the building with the goal of taking out the drug lord.

But you know what they say about the best laid plans. While the head of the group gives them information about what to expect and who to look for, nothing could prepare them for the day's events. The two main sidekicks to the drug lord offer the brains and the brawn of his team. One is the thinker, a man who helps plan things out while the other, the smaller of the two (which seems odd until later), is the more ruthless member. Both will play an important part as the film progresses and one will have a secret that some may figure out before it is revealed.

The SWAT team enters the building and has no problems at first that they can't handle. But as the reach the sixth floor things change when they are spotted and the signal is sent to the drug lord. Picking up his microphone he informs the tenants of his building via PA that they have "pests" in the building. Should anyone eliminate these "pests" he will grant them a free life time pass to stay in the building forever.

What follows is a rampage of street thugs and martial arts masters all doing their best to take down the SWAT team.  Many are gunned down from the start while the others do their best to get out of the stairwell and into some form of cover. But the bullets fly and machetes are wielded with ease as the combatants try to take out this dedicated team.

There are no words to describe the battle sequences these policemen find themselves in. The first amazing fight sequence takes place at about the 38 minute mark, a hand to hand combat scene that only lasts 2 minutes or so but that you'll find yourself rewinding to watch again. When I went back to watch sequences before writing this review that was the first spot I went to. It's followed by more sequences of amazing action and combat that first off is rare these days in action films more interested in chase scenes and secondly gives us a full view of the action rather than the close up shots seen in most action films these days. This movie captures the essence of action and never lets you go.

When I watched this film I watched it with the subtitles on the screen (it was shot in Indonesia but directed by a Welsh director). Fortunately for those who aren't willing to go the subtitle route, the film is subbed in English. This brings up the fact that the film is indeed foreign. But that shouldn't stop anyone from watching this film, especially if you are an action fan.

In looking back over the past year and the action films I've watched, I find it difficult to find another film that packs as much of a whollop as this film does. The only one that comes to mind is THE EXPENDABLES but that was released a year earlier. This is a movie that as an action film fan I wanted to make sure I had on my shelf. It's a film that I know I'll revisit from time to time. Looking at the behind the scenes moments offered in the special features I found it an even more amazing film to watch. Make a point of at least checking this movie out. As for me, I think I'll go fire up the DVD player and watch it one more time.

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It would seem that making a movie based on a successful series of books would be an easy thing but that's not the case. To begin with there is the task of bringing the entire story that most would read over a period of say a week and turning it into a something that takes a little over 2 hours. Then there are the fans. When you have a book as popular as THE HUNGER GAMES, those fans can be your best friend or your worst enemy. Everyone has their favorite thing about the book they love and not all will make it to the final product. Fans that have yet to see the movie should know there are changes but that the movie is still wonderful.

The story takes place in the future where after a tumultuous war the continent has been divided into districts. Each district is responsible for its own product which for the most part is taken to the Capitol. As a tribute and a reminder of their defeat by those in the Capitol a yearly competition is held called the Hunger Games. A boy and girl, ages 12-18, are selected from each district. They are wined, dined and trained for a few days then set free in an area designated for the games. The way to win is to kill the other 23 contestants.

The focus of the story revolves around Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), a young woman who hunts illegally to keep her family fed and taken care of. This year is the first that her young sister Prim must enter her name. The odds are against her name being drawn but when it is, Katniss volunteers to take her place. The boy chosen is Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), the son of the local baker. The two are allowed their goodbyes to friends and family and then whisked away to the Capitol.

On their train trip to the Capitol both Katniss and Peeta are given instruction from their two mentors. Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) is the prim and proper example of what the Capitol is all about: excess in nearly every area and blindly obedient to the President (Donald Sutherland). Their other mentor, clearly the better of the two, is Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson). Haymitch is a past winner who has knowledge of the games first hand. He also drinks non-stop in an effort to get through the knowledge that perhaps these two might not make it home again.

With the story set up we get to the Capitol and witness the transformation of Katniss and Peeta from backwoods teens whose names were drawn to contestants who must not only be physically fit but must win the favor of viewers and wealthy sponsors who can help them with gifts throughout the games. It is their best chance for survival but Katniss hates the games and what they represent. Still, several incidents occur that win her favor in some circles.

The day arrives and the contestants are set free to do bodily harm to one another. Backpacks with special equipment are left for them to take if they can avoid being stabbed or worse by other contestants. As the person with the best skills and chance of surviving, Katniss sets out to find a way to win taking as few lives as possible. When the rules are changed to allow both competitors from each district survive as a team, she must find Peeta who proclaimed his love for her during a pre-game interview. Together they might have a chance to make it out of the Hunger Games alive.

Movie fans of the film BATTLE ROYALE will raise a stink that this film has taken its idea from that one. Nothing could be further from the truth. While the battling teens are similar, the way the games are handled is much different. But more important is the story of Katniss who changes as she makes her way through the games. Cold and hard at first, she comes to find romance and a caring soul among those she fights next to and against. It is a coming of age story that shows a young woman forced to reach maturity beyond her years.

The movie has a great look stretching from the coal mining scenes that form the world of District 12 where Katniss is from to the over-glamorized appearance of the Capitol. These are two different worlds on the same planet and the reactions of Peeta and Katniss show that they've never seen anything outside their front door. It doesn't mean that they admire this new world; they just recognize it is different.

The acting is straight forward here. No one seems to be hamming it up or overplaying their roles. Each one comes across as the person they are here to represent which would seem easier for lesser known actors and much more difficult for those who are seasoned professionals. All included in this film turn in admirable jobs.

Knowing that the books are a trilogy one could be afraid that the end of this film would leave you hanging on the edge, waiting for the next. Don't be afraid. This movie would stand on its own if it had to. But once you become a fan my guess is you'll anxiously anticipate the next or perhaps you'll begin reading the books. In any event, THE HUNGER GAMES is a movie that will have you thinking, talking with friends and considering the implications. And more than anything it will entertain you.

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It's been 9 years since director Lawrence Kasdan put out a film, the last being DREAMCATCHER. More than that if you can remember the type of film he is best known for, an ensemble piece that captures the essence of what being human is all about. His classic THE BIG CHILL is but a forgotten memory to some and unknown to a new generation of movie goers. But Kasdan has always excelled at these ensemble pieces and it's nice to see him in true form with DARLING COMPANION.

Many will look at the box for this release and think it is nothing more than another animal picture. That does set the stage for this tale but it isn't the main ingredient. Diane Keaton plays Beth, the mother of one daughter Ellie (Lindsay Sloane) who's moved her family to New York and another Grace (Elisabeth Moss) who's in school. After dropping Ellie off at the airport while driving home, Beth tells Grace to stop the car on the freeway. There, they find a wounded and lost dog that they take home. While Beth's husband Joseph (Kevin Kline) insists the dog isn't staying time passes and it's a year later.

While the family has grown accustomed to the dog, now named Freeway, a new change is about to kick in. Grace is about to marry the veterinarian they took the dog to when they first found him. The wedding is in the family vacation home on Colorado and goes smoothly. New characters are introduced including Joseph's sister Penny (Dianne Wiest) and her new boyfriend Russell (Richard Jenkins) and housekeeper Carmen (Ayelet Zurer). They are the last remaining guests for the night after the wedding as well as Penny's son and Joseph's fellow back surgeon Bryan (Mark Duplas).

With the intent of staying just a few days it all changes when during Joseph loses Freeway while taking him for a walk. Having not taken along the dog's whistle and losing him while talking on his cell phone (something he does constantly), Beth blames him for the loss of the dog which has taken on an extreme amount of importance to her over the past year. Joseph thinks she's over reacting to the dog's loss and that he will come home. Beth thinks Joseph is unfeeling and just wants to ignore his personal responsibilities.

All hands join in in the search for Freeway. Things get a bit more interesting when Carmen reveals she is of gypsy descent and has the ability to "see things". Following the clues she offers them, each member of the group is paired off and the search goes forward. Along the way each of these characters gets to know the other a little better. Bryan gets to know Russell a bit more as he tries to decide if the man is just after his mother's pension in hopes of building a pub. Bryan and Carmen get close as well. Penny and Russell show that theirs is perhaps the closest relationship in the group. And Beth and Joseph are forced to look back at the choices they've made through the years and to discover that love that they once shared long ago. Has it died or was it simply misplaced over the years?

Kasdan has always done a great job with ensemble pieces like this. Both THE BIG CHILL and GRAND CANYON are works that bring together a cast of characters and have them intertwine throughout the story being told, coming together and moving apart, discovering who they really are and who the others around them are and finally realizing the things that are truly important to each of them.

Kids of the MTV generation that want answers and want them in five minutes will have a difficult time with this movie. There are no neat and tidy summations in the first 5 minutes or within the first hour of the film. Instead we watch the characters mingle back and forth until the end of the film when the search for Freeway ends either in his loss or discovery. But then to tell you what happens would be to create the worst spoiler ever.

Well made and well thought out, this film entertains from start to finish. And above all is some of the best acting around. Keaton remains a fantastic actress and looks amazing. Kline in his sixth film with Kasdan turns in an effortless performance. And the rest of the cast falls in line with these two leads to offer totally believable characters.

This is not an action film, a horror film or a teen comedy. This is a movie about real people with real problems who find themselves after having tucked away emotions and ideas for some period of time. As the characters reveal themselves so does the story. It's nice to see a film take the time to speak rather than rush everything.

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Ever since Mel Brooks first began making fun of movie genres it seems that form of comedy has taken hold. What started out hilarious though ended up becoming stale and some truly bad examples were made (think of the movies made by the group behind EPIC MOVIE). Rare gems came out like SCARY MOVIE that then slacked off as well. So when a parody of a genre comes out that offers something original and whacky, I'm ready to give it a watch. With DETENTION I'm glad I did.

The movie begins with a form that hasn't been used before that works well here. The characters now and then talk to the fourth wall, the audience, and guide them through things happening in the film. It opens with the most popular girl in school (and of course the bitchiest) telling us all about her high school and the kids there while she gets ready for her day. This is one of those girls seen on SWEET 16 who complains about not getting the correct car on her birthday. She mentions the release of a new horror film with a killer known as Cinderhella who then promptly shows up and dispatches of our narrator setting the stage for the killer on the lose.

The kids at school of course do nothing but talk about her death as we introduce them here. Riley is the odd girl out, the different girl who talks about being a vegetarian and supports other groups yet isn't on the popular list of school kids. Her best friend Taylor is though. Taylor's boyfriend (the guy Riley wanted to ask out) Clapton Davis is a neer do well teen complete with skateboard and loved by all...except the school jock who wants to do nothing more than pound Clapton into the ground.

As the film progresses we get glimpses of the killer here and there, several in failed attempts on the lives of our main characters. We also get tons of laughter inspiring moments that are too many to count and too fast to catalog. Yes, this film moves at a frighteningly fast pace but not so much that it can't be enjoyed. And the film doesn't leave itself in the horror genre alone, skipping along occasionally into sci fi alien invasion or time travel storylines that tie into the main one as well.

When the group finally makes it to their actual detention during the high school prom, things happen that are completely off the wall and absurd. And yet it totally works. A killer in the room with them and they never see the murder happen? A student who's been in detention for decades and yet never ages? The reveal of how it all began years ago? Yep, it works here.

There really isn't a true category to place this film in. It's more original than most and offers so much at that rapid pace that you might find yourself clutching the remote so you can pause to finish laughing while the next joke or set up is being offered. I wasn't sure what to expect from this film but was pleasantly surprised as it played out. I was left wanting more and finding myself hoping that those behind it are given a bigger budget and the chance to make more movies. Anything they can come up with will far outrank the EPIC MOVIE group who still lay claim to what little they did on SCARY MOVIE.

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Pirates have become cool again with the trilogy of films made by Johnny Depp but those films might be just a tad too intense for the youngest of children. With that in mind the folks at Aardman studios, the stop motion group responsible for Wallace and Gromitt among other things, have come up with some pirates of their own. They've just been unleashed with this film.

The story follows a group of pirates that aren't quite up to snuff in the pirate hierarchy. Sure they have the peg legs and eye patches, but this ragtag group just doesn't seem to pillage near as much as most. They're led by the Pirate Captain who does his best to keep his crew happy and content (hey, don't forget ham night!). But Pirate Captain has dreams of his own, of becoming the Pirate of the Year.

The only problem is the amount of pirating he and his crew does. With Cutlass Liz and Black Bellamy always bringing in more booty they win the competition every year. Rather than allow him the chance to do better, the group always ridicules him as well.

That could all change when Captain Pirate and his crew board a boat stocked with all sorts of stuffed animals and body parts. The boat belongs to Charles Darwin who's been seeking a special scientific discovery so that he can become the Scientist of the Year award back in London. He too has had a tuff time but when he sees Captain Pirate's parrot he recognizes it is not a parrot at all but the extinct dodo bird. Darwin convinces Captain Pirate to take him to London along with the bird where they will win all sorts of treasures for their discovery.

Even though the queen has placed a bounty on the heads of every pirate to sail the seven seas the group heads for London. Once there Darwin attempts to steal the bird from Captain Pirate to claim the award for himself. He fails and Captain Pirate wins the award, stunned to find that it isn't booty at all but an award along with the chance for time with, of all people, the Queen! Darwin failed to mention the reward would be time spent with the woman of his dreams.

The Queen also wants possession of the dodo bird for her private zoo but Captain Pirate doesn't give in easily. After discovering he is a pirate and nearly decapitating him, she stops and pardons him in the hopes he will turn over the bird. When she offers treasure as well, Captain Pirate sees the chance to return to Blood Island with more booty than anyone has ever claimed and win the prized Pirate of the Year award. But all doesn't go as planned, something that always seems the case with this group.

The story may seem pretty well straight forward but in truth there is more beneath the obvious here. It's not just about Captain Pirate winning the award and gaining some self esteem. Instead the story is more about discovering who you really are and what is really important in life. For Captain Pirate that boils down to winning the award he's cherished for so long or remaining true to both Polly (the dodo bird) and his crew.

As with all Aardman Studio films this one is chock full of sight gags that run from beginning to end. Each one may be a small portion of the film seen but they all will garner laughs from adults as well as children. They do a nice combination of jokes that older viewers will get but won't offend the young crowd.

The stop motion animation is as always amazing. In a world where computer animation seems to have taken over, it's nice to see someone using this technique and not allowing it to fade away. Somehow just watching it makes you realize how creative and artistic it is in comparison.

The final word about this film though is that it is truly entertaining. It's a movie that both young and old will enjoy and have fun with. Topping that off is the fact that it offers something that youngsters will not realize they are getting and that is a set of morals to accompany the tale. They'll learn that wanting something and doing anything for it at the sake of losing everything that is truly important isn't quite worth it. And for a movie to entertain and get that point across is truly an amazing feat. So hoist the rigging and set sale for the high seas with this film that the whole family can enjoy.

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Luke Wilson stars as John Felton, a real estate agent who can't catch a break. The housing addition he works and lives in has fallen on bad times with the housing crunch. Unable to get a loan, fired from his job, he comes home to be surprised by his wife and children only to lash out at them. They leave to visit the park and a knock at the door finds John facing Richie (Samuel Jackson).

It seems Richie's car won't start and he needs a push. John obliges and then Richie asks him to go with him so he can repay him with a drink. The bar they end up in is familiar to John and he begins to feel a bit uncomfortable when finds the boss who just fired him at the bar. John takes the high road and backs away gracefully but Richie just doesn't see the world that way. He suggests John take on a bit of revenge. John declines.

Also in the bar is a young woman named Tammy that John worked with at the real estate agency. Not only did he work with her, it comes out that he was having an affair with her, the main reason that his boss fired him. When Tammy's too drunk to drive, he and Richie give her a lift. This is where things begin to change.

For whatever reason Richie is evil personified in one man. Anyone who does something to John, for instance the cell phone store clerk who won't allow him to make a phone call, suddenly ends up beaten to death, of course, after a visit from Richie. The three roll down the highway until John thinks he sees Richie for what he really is when he slaughters everyone in a quick stop gas station.

In a situation where he has to worry about the Tammy as well as himself, John can't simply drift off alone. When Richie shoots a truck driver who nearly runs them off the road it seems that their fate is sealed. A stop at a nearby house soon after gives John a chance to help Tammy escape but leaves him there with Richie as the police turn up. Richie kills the policeman as well and off they go down the road once more.

The police are trying to track down the killer responsible for not only the gas station killings but the cell phone store clerk as well. When they question John's wife its clear that they think John is responsible. He was the last one seen in each spot and no clues concerning Richie are there.

John eventually convinces Richie to let him go and he does without threatening him. He does remind John as he drives away that John had invited him to his home for dinner at some point and that he thinks now is the time as he pulls away.

John is caught by the police, still the main suspect behind the killings. He knows that Richie is behind it all but how can he convince them? Not only that, can he do so in time to be released and make sure that his family is safe as well?

The film has a nice twist during the final portion of the film, one that most won't see coming. Just who Richie is, why he's doing everything he's done and if he truly is nothing more than evil personified is revealed. In any event what we are presented with from start to finish is one of the most terrifying characters ever seen on screen. Jackson does a stand out job speaking calmly yet oozing menace with each word. His actions speak much more than his words but the words give you those chills.

I was afraid at first that this film would be boring and take far too long to get going. I was pleasantly surprised with what I found. In a world where people are facing hard times, where everyone feels like someone some where has screwed them over, it's easy to relate to the character of John Felton. At the same time it's easy to see why he changes a bit before the end of the film.

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It seems that horror films have decided the best way to scare people these days is lost footage or home made movie styles of making films. Yes, these can offer some truly frightening moments but it doesn't always work. Those behind LOVELY MOLLY have decided to combine that format with straight forward narrative story telling and it works but not quite.

Molly and Tim are a young couple just married as the film opens. Their wedding runs smoothly and we get to watch the handheld camera work as their wedding is filmed and as they enter their new home, actually Molly's old one. The house they move into was the one that belonged to her parents years ago and now the young couple is taking it over.

Things begin to go wonky early on as one night the alarm system Tim had installed goes off saying someone entered the kitchen. The police show and find no one or any sign of a break in. While Tim thanks them and says he must not have locked the door, he is certain that he did so.

Tim had the system installed because as a truck driver he knows he'll be gone days at a time and wanted Molly to be safe. But odd things begin to happen that a simple lock and alarm system won't prevent. Molly continues to go to work the days Tim is on the road, but when home she feels a sense of uneasiness.

The times when Tim is home are filled with odd behavior by Molly. It's enough odd behavior that Tim begins to question whether Molly has begun using drugs again. Apparently Molly had a severe addiction problem that stemmed from something in her past, something that involved her father in this very house.

As these events unfold the viewer begins to wonder if there is something truly demonic going on in the house or is Molly losing her mind? When it's revealed that Molly had some mental issues years before, that line of thought begins to dominate and we watch as we think that Molly is slowly drifting into madness.

As was the case with THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, a film that I didn't find frightening until the final images, LOVELY MOLLY does the same thing giving us a terrifying answer to the things that happen here with the last shot. Until that shot I felt no sense of fear or terror and found the movie to actually move along at a snails pace revealing little. But something else did and perhaps would have made all the difference had I chosen to view those instead.

The Special Features of this disc include several pieces put together revealing more of the back story to the tale being told as if it were webisodes that explained and set up so much more. The history of the house is one. The problems that faced Molly's family when she was a child is another. Had these been incorporated into the final film it would have been a much scarier film to watch and explained enough that the actions of the characters would have made more sense.

As it stands the film moves along slowly and you find yourself wondering more along the lines of what is going on than having some knowledge to base the actions of anyone on. Those clues would have made all the difference. So if you plan to watch this movie, watch those short episodes first, then watch the film. It will be scarier if you do so since they are more terrifying than the movie all by itself.

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