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

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

2016 OBAMA'S AMERICA: EYE OF THE BEHOLDER

Documentaries have never been a popular film genre in the U.S. On occasion a rare documentary will capture the attention of the film going public, it will get an increase in hype and the movie will take off at the box office. But for the most part it rarely happens which is sad.

More sad it the recent trend in documentaries to be so over the top one sided that most become more propaganda than actual films about the topic being discussed. Rather than take movies like this to task for some reason, they've been held as the standard for the genre. The most blatant example of these are the films made by Michael Moore. Having won an Oscar for one and having made the most financially successful documentary to date, Moore's films are more about himself and his beliefs than they are about an open minded discussion of ideas seeking a center of the road approach. In Moore's films, it's his way or the highway. The fact that numerous web sites have popped up to show the falsehoods in his films says a lot.

So into this genre comes a new picture. And just like Moore's film FARENHEIT 9/11 which was released only weeks before this country voted for a new President, so has this film been released, in theaters months before hand but now on DVD within a month of the national election for President. That film is 2016: OBAMA'S AMERICA.

I'll admit up front that I tend to lean conservative when it comes to politics but when I'm watching a film I try to judge it based on what it presents, how it presents it and just how misleading it can be. There have been propaganda pieces done by the right as much as by the left. The only difference is that in Hollywood to lean right means to be chastised as out of touch or a traitor so folks rarely have movies made with that political perspective. If you don't think that's true, try telling Stacy Dash.

So when I sat down to watch this film I wanted to see if it was no more than a film much like the ones Moore has made or was it more of a true documentary? I'm glad to say that while it doesn't present President Obama in the best light, it does seem well researched and even handed. Rather than insert insults and caustic comments, the film offers interviews with various participants and allows them to speak for themselves.

Co-writer/co-director/co-producer Dinesh D'Souza based most of the movie on his novel THE ROOTS OF OBAMA'S RAGE. He begins the film by discussing similarities to his life and that of Obama. Both had a foreign parent, both are men of color, both were born in the same year, both went to Ivy League schools and both graduated from those colleges. But their views on this country and how their views were shaped were vastly different. Where D'Souza saw this as a land of opportunity, Obama's views were of a country where America was trying to rule the world rather than present opportunity.

D'Souza focuses much of his research and opinions on the books that Obama wrote, especially DREAMS FROM MY FATHER. In the title alone he theorizes that Obama wasn't writing about dreams presented from his father to him but dreams that his father had. These greatly involved anti-colonialism and in so doing present an image of why he has followed up trying to do some of the things he has done while in office. One example is of his sending a bust of Winston Churchill back to England which many questioned. The reason presented here is that it represented the British Empire which had held his father's land in check for many years.

While the better part of the film is discussing the things that D'Souza researched, it doesn't just stick with his ideas but presents the facts through archived footage of the President as well as interviews with people who knew him and his father. The most talked about interview involves his half brother George, a man living in poverty who has never talked to his half brother nor asked him for anything. This man presents a much different picture of the President's father than we've heard before.

It also leads to a fearful prediction of where this country will go if President Obama is re-elected in 2012. This is the only section where rather than go with straight facts D'Souza theorizes as to what might happen. Granted, he uses the words of those interviewed as well as information well known about the President's past history and who he was shaped by while growing up, but it's still just theory. The good part is that D'Souza never presents it as anything more than that. It's his belief, something Moore never seems to state in his films.

While the movie is well made and well researched, it is sure to cause controversy, more so since the DVD release has been made so close to the election. It is a film that many should watch just to find out things that the major media failed to discover or at least reveal during the election of 2008.

Sadly the film will find supporters that will cheer portions of it blindly thinking of it as an attack film which it definitely is not. Those on the other side of the fence will condemn the film and talk about how it's filled with lies while never viewing it. Rather than allow the far ends of either right or left make the decision for you, I would suggest that people watch the film and make up their own minds. I would also suggest that rather than except anything seen as pure fact, do more research and find out the answers to the questions it raises. In any event, this is one film that should be seen.

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THE AVENGERS: THE STUFF HEROES ARE MADE OF

Nearly everyone at one time or another has read a comic book. More often than not we associate those drawn color images with our childhood and leave it at that. The fact is that comics are no longer a source of entertainment for children for the most part, instead covering topics like drug addiction, alcoholism, homosexuality and more. Yes, there are comics made for children but not the majority. But at the core of these comics, beneath the surface issues of the day, is the basic fact that the core of them all involves heroes. And through the trials and tribulations various writers put their characters through that is always what we come back to.

Marvel Comics nearly went under until the early sixties when they began telling stories that involved more the more realistic aspects of life. Because of that a new form of hero was born, one that had problems and lived in the real world when not wearing a cape. Fans loved these stories so when it came time to turn them into movies of course Hollywood messed it up, turning its back on what fans loved; until recently when fans flocked to see Robert Downey starring as Iron Man.

But that was only the beginning of a long term plan at Marvel. Those that learned remained in their seats as the credits finished to catch a teaser for something coming down the line. It happened again and again after each Marvel character movie from the Hulk to Captain America. It was all leading to the first team up movie involving comic book characters. It was leading to THE AVENGERS.

If you haven't seen this film by all means run out and buy a copy today. This is not just a rental movie, this is a film that can be enjoyed over and over again, allowing you to catch new things each time you watch as well as enjoy the things you loved the first time around. For me it is the best comic book movie ever made and the only bad part is having to wait until the next Avengers outing.

The story revolves around the Tessaract, an energy source discovered at the end of the Captain America film. The top secret government agency S.H.I.E.L.D. (Strategic Hazard Intervention Espionage Logistics Directorate) has been trying to figure out how to harness the power of this object. That all changes when it suddenly opens a portal to another world allowing Loki (Tom Hiddleston), the Asgardian God of mischief and sworn enemy of his half brother Thor (Chris Hemsworth), to enter. Loki uses a staff to control the minds of scientist Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) and top agent Clint "Hawkeye" Barton (Jeremy Renner). They escape with the Tessaract and force the hand of S.H.I.E.L.D. head Nick Fury (Samuel Jackson) to engage the Avengers Project.

The project is an assemblage of various super heroes, people with abilities above the norm, to unite as a team to take on any problem considered too large for normal channels to handle. The first group that Fury assembles includes agent Natasha "Black Widow" Romanov (Scarlett Johannson) who recruits scientist Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) who turns into the Hulk. Captain America (Chris Evans) has been kept with Fury in preparation for this moment. Lastly they ask Tony Stark (Robert Downey) aka Iron Man.

Facing off against Loki he is captured but on the way back the team's airship is attacked by none other than Thor. A knock down drag out fight follows between Thor and Iron Man until Captain America breaks it up. With Thor on the team now, they take Loki back to the hellicarrier (an item that needs seen to be believed) for safe keeping. Unfortunately this doesn't end up being a good idea.

Selvig in the meantime has found a way to harness the Tessaract and open the portal to a far off galaxy that allows their army to enter our world. This was Loki's plan all along. Trust me this is no spoiler as scenes of the final battle were in nearly every trailer for the film before it opened. With Hawkeye rescued and now a part of the team will these seven heroes be enough to prevent an all out invasion of the planet? And will each member of the team be able to face their own personal demons and become the hero that he/she is destined to be?

This movie rocks like no other. The witty retorts, the campy lines when needed, the suspense of what will happen next fluctuate from scene to scene and keep you waiting to see what will happen next. Director Joss Whedon of BUFFY fame has put together a movie that brings a depth to the characters and story that mingle together to form a story movie that is filled with amazing special effects but effects that don't overshadow what is taking place.

The acting by all involved is amazing and each actor takes their turn at making their character believable. You watch and never question if Evans is really Captain America or if Hawkeye can really shoot arrows this way. You just believe. If any one stands out in particular it's Downey. He just commands attention every time he comes into view. His quips are some of the best and suit his character. Having been the first of this group to star as his character it's only natural.

The entertainment value of this movie is astronomical. From start to finish you'll sit at the edge of your seat waiting to see what happens next. Even side characters are given special moments here. There is never a dull moment in this film.

One last note: as with all Marvel movies, even this movie has a secret ending to it. As a matter of fact it has two. The first comes early during the credits, the second after all the credits have finished. Stick around and watch both. Rumor has it that one of them will bleed over into the next Thor film. Iron Man 3 is nearly done filming. And the Avengers will return soon. One can only wait with anticipation until it arrives. 

Just for your information the picture I've used for this review is also of the more expensive version of the film as is the link. If you check amazon.com you'll find lower priced versions.

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CABIN IN THE WOODS: A TRIBUTE THAT'S ORIGINAL

If you hate to have surprises ruined then by all means stop reading now. The only way to offer a discussion or review of the movie CABIN IN THE WOODS is to reveal the first of many surprises the film has to offer. It's not a major one and yes most people will gather what's going on before the first 30 minutes is passed but just in case you hate ALL surprises exposed then stop now.

For the rest of you this is one movie that will keep you guessing until the last frame hits the screen. And it's not a film that fits comfortably into one single genre. While for the most part I'd consider it a horror film there are elements of science fiction here as well. Suffice to say that with the amount of gore and carnage involved it will most likely be considered a horror film. But unlike most horror films coming out today, this film is completely original while offering a nod or two to the films that came before it.

Five college age students are set for a weekend getaway at a cabin in the woods. Curt's (Chris Hemsworth) relatives have bought this place and he and his girlfriend Jules (Anna Hutchinson) are going up with her best friend Dana (Kristin Connelly), Curt's new team mate Holden (Jesse Williams) and their stoner friend Marty (Fran Kranz). Packed up in the RV, they head towards the wilderness with no idea what they will soon encounter.

Already we're tossed into familiar territory. It only becomes more so when they stop for gas to be confronted by a seemingly crazed attendant who gives them directions to their destination while telling them it's a bad place to go. You might think you know where the film is going here but trust me, you don't.

While all of this plays out we're also seeing the story of what appears to be a high security, high tech location with plenty of lab coat, suit clad officials discussing some project going on. It's not long before we realize that the project is the kids heading to the cabin where this group is prepping to direct them towards what will be the last night of their lives. Why would this group do this and what are they talking about when they discuss the same thing happening in various locations around the world? Well I won't give you that much info here.

The group gets to the cabin and things are set in motion early on. While they play a game of truth or dare, the basement doorway blows open and they investigate. What they find is a basement filled with all sorts of curious items from a fortune telling machine to a jewelry box to a diary that Dana begins to read from. Unfortunately these items are the methods of death that these teens are unknowingly choosing from. Back at the lab the boys in research are making bets on which they choose. Once Dana reads from the diary, redneck zombie killers are let lose to deal with the teens.

Still you have to wonder what's going on. Why is this technical group putting these kids through this? What reason could they have for killing them off one by one? What is the end result from all the carnage? That's where the originality comes into play and it's something you have to watch the film to find out. While I'll let you know something is going on, I won't give away the films major secret.

Everything is above par here which makes it even more compelling to watch. The acting is believable, the writing is superb and the direction well played. Particular kudos go to Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford, neither known as horror film stars, who turn in truly hilarious and chilling performances. Nods to classic horror films are seen throughout, everything from EVIL DEAD to HELLRAISER and more. Part of the fun is during the third act recognizing every horror film paid tribute to here.

The concept that is revealed at the heart of it all is the most original thing going on here. This is no ordinary horror film. While it may appear the movie is a get kids in the woods and kill them movie there is more going on here. The depth of what is going on is more important than even the viewers realize until the end. If you like movies that surprise you, that keep you guessing and that never give up their surprise until near the end, you'll love this movie. If not, trust me, it might give you a few chills before it ends.

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THRILLER FAN FAVORITES: KARLOFF CONTINUES TO THRILL

It's sad to think that an entire generation has grown up with no clue as to what horror really means. Today's youth thinks of horror as either serial killers with personality or ghostly encounters done with a hand held camera. They know so little of the origins of horror on film. Not only that, what was considered scary and horror filled years ago they see as quaint and funny. I've told people before, place yourself in the time period of the movie/show you're watching. Put yourself in that year. And then watch it with the eyes of someone from that time. If you choose to do so, you'll find yourself enjoying one of the classic horror anthology series from the sixties, THRILLER.

You'll not only get a great show, you'll be exposed to a host whose name at one time was synonymous with horror, Boris Karloff. Here again, today's youth have no clue who Karloff, Lugosi or Chaney were which is sad indeed. Their films have been released on DVD and a new collection of horror classics is on its way to blu-ray from Universal Studios. Karloff as the host of this series presents himself well and is a good jumping on point for true fans of horror.

THRILLER was one of the first shows of its kind, an anthology show that featured chilling tales each week with a different set of actors and stories. Subjects could range from tried and true mysteries to ghost stories. You never knew what you would find when you tuned in with the exception of Boris Karloff at his best, introducing that nights fright.

So why talk about this series now? Last year the entire series was released by Image and is on sale now at amazon.com for $88.99. That figure can be pretty steep for someone not sure yet if this is something they'll like. So Image has released a special edition of the show, THRILLER: FAN FAVORITES which amazon offers for only $13.64. What they've done is taken 10 episodes that the fans have chosen as the best the series has to offer and collected them into an affordable box set. And some of these shows can still give you chills. What better way to start off October, the month of Halloween?

One of the best leads off disc one, a story called "The Grim Reaper". In this tale a young William Shatner plays an accountant who goes to visit his aunt (GILLIGAN'S ISLAND star Natalie Shaeffer). A mystery writer who's just married a much younger man, she lives in a recently purchased house that's decorated to suit the style of her writing. To cap it off, she's purchased an infamous painting called The Grim Reaper, a painting whose owners have all died mysterious deaths. Against the warnings of her nephew, she intends to keep the painting. But things will happen before the end of this night.

Another episode has a most unusual title but still offers a few scares. "Pigeon's From Hell" was based on the short story by Robert Howard, the creator of Conan the barbarian. In this story two brothers find themselves stranded while on a road trip in the south. Staying in an abandoned house, one is murdered and attempts to kill his brother. When the sheriff goes back with him, the true terror of this house is eventually revealed.

These are just two examples of the sort of stories found in this collection. Topics range from haunted houses to sorcerers to ghosts to a serial killer. Better than that the talent this series offered behind the scenes was high class as well. Even PSYCHO author Robert Bloch has a tale represented here, one that was later used in the anthology film ASYLUM. And with each episode we are introduced by our benevolent host, that master of monsters known as Boris Karloff.

It's sad to think that there are no shows like this any longer. For many we grew up with these as staples on TV. There was THE TWILIGHT ZONE, NIGHT GALLERY, ONE STEP BEYOND and of course THRILLER. The shows never gave us the same characters from week to week, but it did give us more scares than we bargained for. Who knows, some of these many might find scary still. But none of the scares are so far gone that even the youngest member of your family can't handle it. This show was creepy for sure, but stemming from the sixties chances are you young ones can even handle it.

So if you're looking for something different this Halloween season why not give this one a try? Sit back, popcorn bowl nearby (not in hand so you won't toss it when you scare), drink on the coffee table and the light turned out. Pop in the first disc and enjoy the first 5 episodes collected here in THRILLER: FAN FAVORITES. Who knows, you might just enjoy it so much you'll save and order that entire series after all...if you dare.

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THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL: AS YOUNG AS YOU FEEL

THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL is proof positive that you don't need all the things Hollywood thinks you do to make a great movie. You don't need naked actors, explosions, violence or nubile young starlets. When you make a movie with heart, with feeling and emotion, you make something that can stand the test of time rather than just the number of weeks it can hold a top spot on the charts.

The plot behind the story involves a number of elderly Brits who for one reason or another find themselves seeking a different means of living on what little they have. Evelyn (Dame Judi Dench) has just lost her husband only to find he left her with enough debt that she must sell their flat. Graham (Tom Wilkinson) is a judge who decides the time is right to retire before he becomes the old fogey giving a boring retirement speech. Douglas and Jean (Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton) are a retiring couple who may have lost everything investing in their daughter's internet company. Norman (Ronald Pickup) is an older gent wanting to feel young just one more time. Madge (Celia Imrie) is an woman searching for one last rich husband. And Muriel (Maggie Smith) is an elderly woman in need of a hip replacement who can either wait 6 months or get immediate attention in India, the location that all of these people decide to go to.

Having read about the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel via brochure, they become traveling companions on their way to a new adventure. Unfortunately the hotel isn't quite what it pretended to be. Sonny (Dev Patel) is the son of the now deceased owner who is trying to make the hotel what his father once dreamed of. But rather than just becoming a place for tourist, the hotel caters to the elderly looking for a place to stay either short term or until the end. But none here are close to that, at least not in spirit.

Each character has their own story. Evelyn is the center piece, giving us background as she starts a blog to let folks back home know of her adventures. She goes so far at to take a job helping a phone sales group understand how to talk to English people. Norman is there to rekindle something that happened in his past, something that happened in this very town.

Douglas finds himself fascinated with the area and attempts to absorb each and every item he can see and experience. His wife Jean is just the opposite, choosing to stay in the hotel and complain about each and every thing that happens. She's an unhappy woman and lets everyone know about it. Madge and Norman both gravitate to the local posh club in town where they hope to meet someone and find their fortunes at getting lucky improve. Muriel is another complainer but hers is more along the lines of prejudices against the people of India that are based more on what she's heard than what she's experienced.

Interwoven in the guests stories is that of Sonny who has chosen to make his father's dream come true. In love with a local girl that his mother decides is unsuitable for him to marry; he must either decide to follow his heart or his family.

The movie moves along at an even pace, never rushing through one story or another and blending each of them together smoothly rather than place each in a time limit only to go to the next. Even though they all have their tale to tell, the fact that they've chosen to become best friends (in some cases eventually) shows who these people are. And while their trip to this country at first seemed due to a case of need, they soon find themselves enchanted by the area they've chosen as their new home.

The sights and sounds of India are on display here from moment to moment. Not just the grand and glorious colors and images that seem beautiful but the poorer sections as well. This feels more like the real India and not just a travelogue showing us the best. And the characters experience it just as much as the viewer.

The idea of getting older, of not knowing what your future holds or how long you have to enjoy that future is what makes this film work. We're presented with different ways of looking at life here, good and bad, and how the characters choose what path to take. The acting is superb but why wouldn't it be with the talent pool collected here. Not one actor slips or slides in this film where each shines instead.

It's time for a feel good movie. And this one suits that need. It won't have you sitting on the edge of your seat, but it will hold your attention from start to finish. And perhaps when it ends, you'll hope that your life comes to the same wonderful world that these folks enjoy.

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CRIMINAL MINDS SEASON 7: WHEN IT WORKS KEEP DOING IT RIGHT

I find it difficult to believe that there are so many quality television shows on the air these days. For so long it felt like there was nothing to watch. Now I find myself torn between shows appearing on opposing channels at the same time or find the DVR overloaded with shows I've missed. This is one of the reasons that shows being released on DVD at somewhat affordable prices are doing so well right now. And one show that continues to remain a quality series is CRIMINAL MINDS.

For those who have never seen the series (or who missed when I've spoken of previous seasons) the show revolves around a group of FBI profilers who are sent around the country to help law enforcement agencies apprehend serial criminals. Some cases involve rape, others arson but for the most part they seek out serial killers. The statistic that at any one time there are up to 80 serial killers walking around at one time is scary. The thought that there is actually a group like this seeking them out should help you sleep at night.

There isn't one single character that stands out among this ensemble piece but while the focus may change from one to another with each episode Thomas Gibson as Agent Aaron Hotchner is the focal point. The leader of the team has gone through some serious problems in the past (one serial killer murdered his wife for revenge) and this year we witness him adapting to being a single parent. But while Hotchner's life is seen so are the lives of the other cast members. And the series opens with the effects of what happened at the end of season 6 when the group thought agent Emily Prentiss (Paget Brewster) was killed.

Agent Derek Morgan (Shemar Moore) has been using his own time to seek out the killer responsible for Prentiss' death unofficially. When the group is called before a hearing concerning their activities only one person can clear them: Agent Prentiss. As we saw (though the group didn't know) she was still alive. Now as the season progresses we watch as each member of the team must deal with the return of someone they held dear who was unable to let them know she was fine. While they still work together and are closer than most working groups, a certain amount of distrust is the residue left over from this secret and something that must be roughed out as the season progresses.

In the meantime there are plenty of criminals still out there that the BAU (Behavioral Analysis Unit) must help catch. Kidnapping with ties to the 80s, a copycat killer imitating a case Hotchner and Rossi (Joe Mantegna) worked on years ago, a 9 year olds abduction, murder at a military boy's school and more form the cases the group works on. Each one calls for various members of the group to put their personal skills to the test and find the guilty party before more damage can be done.

While the search for criminals continues the personal lives of the group come into play as well. Not only do they have to deal with the return of Prentiss, they are also still dealing with the return of JJ (A.J. Cook) who left the team in season 6. Dr. Spencer Reid (Matthew Gray Gubler) continues to deal with the mental problems he fears he inherited from his mother. Morgan finds himself involved in a case where the missing cousin discussed in another season may have re-appeared. And Garcia (Kirsten Vangsness) finds herself in a romantic situation.

Watching this series from the beginning you begin to identify with the characters involved. They begin to feel like family. You find yourself caring for each and every one of them. It doesn't seem like these are merely characters on the screen but friends you've grown comfortable with while watching. That's the secret of a great ensemble cast and CRIMINAL MINDS has developed one of the best ensemble casts ever assembled. The talent of each actor pours from the screen and not one is left to the side and not given some personal chance to prove their mettle here.

If you're a fan of the series you'll want to make sure you add this season to your collection. If you're not a fan, then by all means start collecting from the beginning and work your way to this one. I've picked them all up and have found that they are never boring to go back and watch again. This series is one that gets better was it moves forward and should satisfy the most jaded mystery fan.

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TOUCHBACK: WOULD YOU CHANGE YOUR PAST?

One would think that my favorite genre of movies is horror films with what I often write about. But if you think so you'd be wrong. I love feel good movies. I think there are enough problems in this world that we all have to face that now and then we need something to jolt us out of the doldrums and brighten our day. It's why I always cite IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE as one of my favorite movies.

The movie opens in 1991 and high school senior and quarterback Scott Murphy (Brian Presley) has it all. He's been voted Mr. Football for the state of Ohio, has been recruited by Ohio State University and is about to play his last high school game. But fate has a different destiny for Murphy.

With seconds on the clock and the possible win of the game, Murphy changes the call of Coach Hand (Kurt Russell) and runs the ball for a touchdown. But as he leaps to the win, two players from the other team catch him in the air and severely break his leg. It's a career ending wound.

Flash forward to Murphy's life 15 years later. Still living in the small Ohio town of Coldwater, Murphy wears a brace on his leg, deals with the pain and is feeling the bite from the recession. Murphy works with his old coach on the volunteer fire brigade. He refuses to take part in helping with the high school team and always bypasses the school reunions. His best high school friend, now a well paid professional player and married to Murphy's high school flame, wants to get together but Murphy refuses.

With a somewhat small field of soybeans to keep his family going, Murphy meets with the bank concerning a loan that they feel should never have been made. Within days all he owns will be on the block. All he needs is two weeks till the crop comes in, but they won't budge.

Murphy returns home to his wife Macy (Melanie Lynskey) and two children. This family is close but the turns in his life are taking their toll on Murphy. A frost the next morning threatens the crop but he's able to get the last combine in the county. Bad luck continues as he hits a stump and breaks it down. With no hope, Murphy decides to end it all, parking his battered old truck overlooking the high school football field and plugging his exhaust so he can die leaving behind his insurance policy to take care of his family.

And that's when things begin to happen. Murphy wakes to find himself taken back to the past, 15 years earlier. None of the misfortune that happened to him has taken place, yet he retains in his mind all that's happened. He's back with his girlfriend, the team still has a chance to make things happen and if he doesn't make the same play he did those years ago he can become the professional ball player he dreamed of, leaving behind this small town and taking care of his mother (Christine Lahti).

But as I said, he has all those memories intact. He sees Macy as he never saw her when he was in high school. They met while he was in the hospital where she volunteered. Now he sees her as she was then. Those affections are still there. He wants to change his life, but will he do so at the cost of losing Macy and his unborn children? Or will he try to convince here to come with him on this new journey? Does Macy even want to go along? Or does she love the life she has in this small community?

While not given a deep, dark look in this film it does pose more serious questions than most time travel films have in the past. Given the opportunity would you change the mistakes in your past or would you see that somehow they might not have been mistakes? Perhaps they were destined to happen all along. And if you realize that then maybe those mistakes brought you more happiness than you realized.

The movie also takes a nice look at what it means to live in a small community. Towns that aren't mega-cities have their own speed and way of doing things. People know almost everyone else or at least a majority of people who live there. Sure, you might know everyone else's business, but you can also count on the people around you when you need to.

The ending to this movie (don't worry not a true spoiler) can be seen in some ways far beyond when it finally unreels. But the different options of where it could go are all thought out. The eventual outcome is not what you might expect but it is quite satisfying.

Russell is the name star here but he's not the featured player. He adds great support to this cast which has stand outs in both Presley and Lynskey. They do a tremendous job here, making a believable couple who have something stronger than the character of Murphy realizes.

If you need a feel good movie then look no further. This is one I intend to make a place for on the keep shelf. Not only does the story work, the scenery is great as well. Director Don Handfield has truly captured the look and feel of this part of the country. A wonderful film the whole family can enjoy.

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THE VICTIM: IS THE VIEWER

I used to think Michael Biehn was a pretty good actor. But then that was way back when he made THE TERMINATOR and a few other good flicks. Then for some reason he seemed to be around less and less in major motion pictures. In some cases this is a good thing. In his case it led to this film, THE VICTIM.

Biehn wrote, co-produced, directed and stars in this film. From the looks of things he should choose just one of those objectives and work harder at it. The result of his wearing so many hats turns out to be a film that doesn't deliver much of anything.

Two young strippers are off in the woods with two policemen, one of whom Mary (Danielle Harris) is dating. While having rough sex, the policeman accidentally snaps here neck. Calling his friend over they decide the best thing to do is bury the body and make sure the other girl Annie (Biehn's wife Jennifer Blanc-Biehn) is killed and buried too. Having overheard this she takes off through the woods.

Annie gets as far as a lone cabin in the woods where Kyle (Biehn) lives. Somewhat of a hermit, he's there for solitude and to get his life back together. When she tells him her story he tried to convince her to call the other police. A little digging shows that this cop is high in the force and destined to be the next chief. The chance of her story being accepted as truth with no body to show isn't likely.

Things go from bad to worse when the two policemen show at Kyle's door. He denies having seen anyone but they don't believe him. They leave, Annie thanks Kyle and of course they head to the bedroom. Why? Because in movies if you appreciate someone's help you immediately have sex with them.

Eventually the police and Kyle with Annie along will have a confrontation to settle the matter at hand. The movie is more about getting to that stage of the game in act three and seeing what happens then and who comes out on top. There is one nice twist at the end but by that time you no longer care.

The film takes forever to move from one point to the next. A 5 minute sequence of Kyle's driving is used to establish that he lives out in the boonies with no one around. Nice way to run the clock out. Getting from one point to the next involves dialogue that's both lame and pointless. At one point I thought I was watching an episode of WHO'S LINE IS IT where they play the game answer with a question. Back and forth it goes until someone can't come up with another question.

Not only is the dialogue boring but the shoot itself lacks quite a bit. Using day for night, a technique where you shoot in daylight and use a blue filter to simulate night time, it's done so poorly that everything is blue, including the headlights of every car. Countless scenes of driving from one spot to another fill the time out in this film that feels like an utter waste of time watching.

Not that Hollywood is known for being the center of morality in the world today, but the question that kept popping into my mind was why someone would feel comfortable directing their wife in nude scenes and simulating oral sex on another actor. If you wanted to do this in a personal sex tape (the thing to do these days it seems) fine. But why make a movie that centers around a slutty character and having your spouse fill that role? Only in Hollywood.

There is nothing I can think of to recommend this film. What is supposed to be a thriller or suspense film offers little of either. It doesn't even offer a good revenge flick. In the extras Biehn tries to say the film is another grindhouse film. That phrase has gotten far too much usage of late and rather than paying tribute to films of that original genre is used instead for low budget low quality films. THE VICTIM is both of those things, low budget and low quality. Worse yet it's boring. Save the rental fee.

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W.E.: ANOTHER MADONNA FLOP


Madonna has yet to direct a movie that entertains or enlightens or even just makes you want to see more from her. Granted she's only directed two but without the celebrity status she brings to a picture why would anyone hire her to direct when so many good directors are looking for their next project?

W.E. is the story of Wallis Simpson, the American divorcee, and Edward, the next King of England, and their romance. Well for most the story would be about that. Instead Madonna puts a new twist on the story that's been told time and time again. And of course that twist is more lurid than most films choose to use.

But rather than just stick with the one story we have another running first and alongside the famous romance. A young woman is trouble with her marriage to her husband and keeps coming back to an auction house selling off pieces of Simpson's past. What a great way to go back and forth in time and allow for some glimpses of newer lingerie.

Its been said that the point of this film was less about presenting an historically accurate telling of the same tale once more but more about discussing celebrity and people's desire to have that notoriety. In the way this story is told that seems to be the only thing that interests Wallis Simpson. In an unhappy marriage (on her part at least) she seeks fame and attention. She wants the hoi paloi to take notice of her, to talk about her parties and her friendships. Edward comes off as little more than a party boy who goes from one woman to the next. I could be wrong but I think there was more to their story than that and using them to tell a story completely foreign to their real lives seems a bit much.  Rather than do so why not just use a fictional couple instead? Using historical figures involves viewers bringing with them the baggage of knowing what they know about them already. To try and present them as something else just causes confusion.

But that's not the worst of it. The worst of it is that the film is completely boring. There are no characters to sympathize with, to care about or to feel involved with. Everyone is self serving and watching them prance about from one party to another is just tedious.

One thing will result from this movie. Those who are die hard fans of Madonna will rise to the occasion and defend it as a work of art. They will attack anyone who dares try to say different. Fortunately this is a minority from the look of the box office results for this film as well as DVD sales. With any luck that will mean that Madonna will decide she's better off performing live, recording music or simply acting. Leave directing to those who know how to do it best.


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