Thursday, March 7, 2013


It's hard to believe it's been 50 years since James Bond first hit the big screen and yet this past year had celebrations galore about that fact. First was the release of the blu-ray box set containing all Bond films with extras excluding SKYFALL. Numerous shows were done about the fact. Finally a tribute was paid to Bond this past Oscar night. But the big news concerning Bond this year was a new film, SKYFALL that has just hit DVD shelves.

After the first two outings with Daniel Craig as the titular character, Bond is back and in action like never before. The film opens with the usual chase sequence filled with more action than a half dozen films crammed into about 10 minutes. When it finishes Bond is shot by one of his own team on orders from M (Dame Judi Dench) and falls from a moving train over a high bridge into a roaring river. Cue music and opening credits.

Of course Bond didn't die. If he did then this would have been the shortest Bond film ever made. When the credits finish we find M fighting for the continued role of MI-6 and the need for the spy network set up all these years. It turns out that what Bond was attempting to retrieve (and failed to do) was a hard drive that contained the location and names of all of the undercover spies around the globe. Not only does M suffer that indignation but someone explodes a bomb in her office as well.

Recuperating on some desert island, Bond hears the news and returns to the fold, confronting M in her home. A few details filled in, a new weapon courtesy of a new Q and Bond is off and running. His first lead is the man he was battling on top of the train at the start of the film that results in an extremely well choreographed and filmed fight to the death. The clues lead Bond from Shanghai to Macau and eventually to a meeting with the man behind it all.

Silva (Javier Bardem) has a past with M. He too was one of the high members of MI-6 and a favorite of M. But things went bad (the details of which we learn later) and it appears he has manipulated Bond to this meeting. Bond escapes and captures Silva, taking him back to England. While most of the film up to this point has been setting the stage from here on out it's non-stop action and double crosses resulting in one of the most explosive finales ever captured in a Bond film and one that is more touching than any other.

Visually SKYFALL is an amazing film to watch. The colors of the neon in Shanghai pop off the screen and the action scenes feel as if you are there with Bond in each and every move. Director Sam Mendes isn't known as an action director but he brings a fresh look to the entire film as well as a depth of character to Bond that's rarely if ever been seen.

I saw this film when it was first out and loved it. For Bond geeks there are all sorts of special surprises from locations to items to lines in the film that will make them giddy with glee. Honestly there was at least one moment when I nearly screamed out "YES!" that involves a car. 'Nuff said. For those more recently drafted into the Bond films you'll get all the action you need and a story line that has more depths than most.

Of the three Craig Bond films I'm undecided which I like best but I know it's between this one and CASINO ROYALE. One thing is certain. All are movies that should not just be rented but added to your collection. Bond films are movies that can be enjoyed any time and will be for years to come.

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Anyone who reads this column regularly knows that I am a horror fan. Sometimes it's to the point that I attempt to not write about a new horror release for fear people will think that's all I watch. But on occasion a movie comes along that I feel compelled to write about because it is just that good. Such is the case with SINISTER, a movie I missed in theaters but one that will stick with me now that I've watched it.

Ethan Hawke stars as Ellison Oswalt, a true crime author whose last two books didn't do so well after the roaring success of his first book. In search of a new story Ellison is moving his family, wife Tracy and children Trevor and Ashley, into a new home in a new town. What he doesn't tell them is that the house they are moving into was owned by the victims of a gruesome murder and possible abduction.

It seems that the family living there previously was executed in their own backyard. Bound with their heads covered by bags, they were stood on a bench with nooses round their necks. The opposite ends of those nooses were tied to a branch that fell, lifting them and strangling them. All the family with the exception of their little girl.

As they move in Ellison takes a box of loose items to store in the attic and finds a scorpion there. He drops the box on it to smash it which loosens a floorboard under which he discovers a box of super 8mm films. Taking these to his office where he's already hard at work on the story of the family, he watches the first movie which begins with clips of the family and then shows their execution. Rather than call the local police who are no big fans of his (with the exception of one deputy) due to his treatment of other officers in one of his books, he begins watching the other films.

Each night as Ellison works on his book and watches another film, he learns more about the killer. At the same time strange things begin to happen in the house. Noises, walking about in the attic, all draw his attention away from the book to see what is happening. Several of these incidents end up being a child searching for the bathroom in a new house or his son having night terrors, something he has suffered from in the past. But other items happened for reasons best left unsaid.

Each roll of film reveals another family that seems fine until their death throws are captured on film. While watching the second film, Ellison catches a glimpse of something in the waves reflected on the pool a family is being drowned in. The image is that of a face but distorted. Subsequent films offer more glimpses of the possible killer as well as symbols at each one.

With the assistance of the deputy Ellison is put in touch with a university professor the police sometimes contact for dealings in the occult of cults. This professor provides Ellison with some of the clues he's been looking for as well as part of the connection between these families. But it isn't until the last moments of the movie when he gets the one item that ties it all together. Before he gets that information the question of Ellison's sanity is called into play and just whether or not he's dreaming things or they are actually happening is answered.

I've seen a lot of horror films, so many that I couldn't tell you the last time one of them actually scared me. This film did just that. When it was finished I found myself thinking that perhaps sleeping with the lights on that night might be a good thing. Yes there are a few predictable jump moments but there are some even I wasn't prepared for. At one point I checked my pulse and found that it was indeed racing just a bit.

Hawke has had good and bad movies both in his career. This time around he does it right offering just the tiniest hint of possible insanity but lots of proof that he is definitely frightened and a bit disgusted by what he sees on screen. His character is determined to have that success of a hit book one more time but begins to wonder if the cost of his family is worth it.

The best way to truly experience this film is sitting in the dark, the phone unplugged and every other distraction taken away. But if you tend to jump at the smallest thing, if you have nightmares induced by these sort of films and if you just don't like feeling your skin crawl you might want to watch it with the lights on. All of them. 

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I love a feel good movie that's supposed to be based on a real life story. The only problem is when I hear that I want to know more about the actual story so that I can find out just how much is real and how much is fiction. You won't get that information here but you will get a very entertaining film if you watch HERE COMES THE BOOM.

Kevin James stars as Scott Voss, a teacher who's seen better days and for whom work is nothing more than a job to pass time. At one time Voss was a dedicated teacher and even won teacher of the year but that was ten years earlier. That time has come and gone.

Voss is the close friend of Marty Streb (Henry Winkler), the school music teacher who never lost his desire to inspire and encourage his students. As the pair head to a staff meeting, Marty tells Voss that his wife is expecting, an amazing achievement considering his age. Problems kick in when during the meeting the staff is told that due to lack of funding several departments are going to be cut next year beginning with the music department. When Voss argues against the cuts he's told that unless they can come up with the funding, $48, 000, the program is gone.

Voss calls for a meeting of teachers to find out how they can raise the funds but the only ones to show are himself, Marty and the school nurse Bella (Selma Hayek) that he has the hots for but who turns him down with each request for a date. Bella is only interested in someone who had dedication and the desire to teach and she's missed that in Voss by ten years. Other than Bella doing a bake sale, Voss' only other option is to teach a night school course in citizenship. It doesn't add up to much but it's a start.

One night Voss watches an MMA (mixed martial arts) fight with his brother and thinks he can do that. Having been a collegiate wrestler he knows he can do at least enough to survive. When one of his students, an ex MMA fighter named Niko (real MMA star Bas Rutten) tells him how much he can earn in losing a fight, Voss decides that even if he loses 30 fights over the next year he can make enough to keep the music program running. Now to keep everyone in the dark (except Marty who is helping him) about the subject.

Voss soon learns that being in an MMA bout isn't quite as easy as he expected. But with some help from his friends he begins to get better with each fight. A problem with some bad apple sauce results in the kids at school finding out about what he's trying to do and he soon gets their support as well.

Voss' training goes into gear when he gets professional help from one if Niko's friends. Not only that but the training as well as the encouragement from the students help Voss to find his passion for teaching again. He rises not only to the challenge of the ring but to that of his students as well and with that comes the chance for romance with Bella.

Of course the usual film storyline comes into play here with Voss suddenly having the opportunity to fight in a professional UFC fight where he can earn enough money to get the program funded for the next year plus. A twist in the story kicks in the night before the match and suddenly everything that has come before finds Voss doing the right thing not for himself but for those of everyone around him that he cares for.

Yes, the story line here reads like ROCKY or other sports films of this sort where the underdog has the chance to save the day. So what? The movie moves along at a steady pace and entertains along the way. It doesn't feel like there is a moment wasted but at the same time doesn't feel rushed either. What it does do is have you rooting for the little guy from start to finish and that finish will have you on the edge of your seat until the final bell rings.

The best thing in this movie though is the performances with one small exception. Hayek does a great job but her part is far too small here. She's more window dressing and supporting role than star which is sad. The amazing acting here comes from the three male stars. Kevin James looks like he got into better shape for this film and not only does he handle the comedy scenes well he actually turns in a great performance while he's at it. For me he's always been a good actor but relied too often on comedy. Here he has a chance to shine.

Having grown up with the Fonz years ago I've witnessed Winkler do some good roles and some bad ones. This movie gives him a chance to stretch as well. Unlike James he does a good job with the dramatic part his role gives him but does even better with the comedy. Alongside Winkler in Voss' corner is Bas Rutten who does an amazing job for this being his first real major role. He offers a tender character but has some hilarious moments as well.

I guess the best thing this film has going for it is that it entertains. There are a lot of movies out there these days that don't seem to do that, ones that struggle to be funny but aren't or that try to touch your heart but don't come close. This is one movie that does both. I know it's one that will find a place on my shelf which means it will be watched more than once. While we may not know the real story this was based on everyone will have a chance to root for the little guy and to enjoy the story that's told.

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As a fan of James Patterson's novels involving Alex Cross I was anxious to see how the new version held up. Both pervious films starring Morgan Freeman were good but his depiction of Cross was far from what the books involved, most noticeably his age. When I heard Tyler Perry was chosen for the role my only hope was that he wouldn't do it in drag. So does the new version hold up? Quite well actually.

The film opens with Cross and his partners chasing a criminal through the decaying area of Detroit. He is caught and another criminal is off the streets. Cross goes home to his family, a reprieve from the mean streets he patrols so well. There he learns that in addition to his two children and mother that live with him, his wife is expecting another child but insist he tell no one. Like that's gonna happen.

Cut to a paid assassin named Picasso (Matthew Fox) who is stalking his next target, a wealthy woman he seduces by fighting mercilessly in an illegal mixed martial arts ring. Going home with her, she takes him to her bed only to have him inject her with a paralyzing drug and then torturing her for information.

Cross is awakened in the early hours of the day and calls in his partner Thomas (Edward Burns). Since Thomas was with Monica, another officer, he lets him know getting involved with another police person will just result in one of them having to leave. The question is left in the air and they head towards the crime scene. Cross checks out the scene and deduces that the killer paralyzed the victim and then took out all three of her hired guards. Looking through the house, they discover a missing laptop but then find a back up hard drive the victim kept hidden.

Through various clues Cross puts together the identity of the next victim and he and his team head out to keep him from being murdered. While at this location they run into Picasso and prevent him from fulfilling his mission. The only problem is that in getting in his way he sets out to make sure it doesn't happen again first by torturing and killing Monica and then by killing Cross' wife.

More determined than ever to make sure his family is safe, Cross doubles his efforts to find this psycho who not only kills for a living but enjoys inflicting pain in others. As the clues and body counts begin to add up, Cross and his partner keep moving closer to that final confrontation with Picasso.

The suspense in this film is one that builds slowly like the best of criminal procedural films but a little bit disjointed at times. This doesn't distract from the story though and its one that not only develops the characters in the film but holds your interest from start to finish as the reason for catching the killer moves from professional to personal.

There isn't a bad performance in this film. Standing out is Perry as Cross. Having seen Perry in constant drag as Medea in his series of films it was interesting to discover that he's actually a good actor without hiding behind the petticoat. The slow burn he displays as his motives alter is well developed and by the end of the film you find yourself anxiously anticipating the next chapter in the stories of Alex Cross. Fox turns in a hair raising performance as the psycho killer Picasso making him not only a worthy adversary but a terrifying one as well.

Though no word is out yet if another film is in the works, fans can hope that this becomes a series of films rather than a stand alone production. Perry does indeed get the character right and would be able to carry the series into long term standing. Let's just hope that this film does well enough on DVD to insure that it happens. Should it do so fans of Patterson's Alex Cross will find something to look forward to other than the latest installment at the book store. 

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Beth (Rebecca Hall) is a dreamer. Moving from her Southern roots to Vegas with dreams of stepping up in life and becoming a cocktail waitress (yes that is her initial ambition) she moves into a low rent motel where she makes friends who give her another option. Rather than be manhandled all day they send her to Dink (Bruce Willis), a professional gambler who bets on any and everything.

Dink Inc. is a business where the odds are always manipulated by the placing of bets in legal form. Not only does this pay Dink well but it helps take care of those who are working for him as well. With a head for numbers, Beth is a natural and soon Dink Inc. is doing well and Beth with it. Now all she has to do is get past Tulip (Catherine Zeta-Jones).

Tulip is Dink's wife and to say she is jealous is an understatement. Then again there have been times when her jealousy was well founded. As Beth begins to fall for Dink and attempt to sway him, Tulip steps in and puts an end to it. Beth loses her job, meets a young man named Jeremy (Joshua Jackson) and its love at first sight. With no reason to stay she plans on going back to New York with Jeremy when he leaves. But Dink is in a slump of bad luck and he thinks Beth was his good luck charm so he convinces her to come back.

Beth's return doesn't increase Dink's luck any more than the rising sun. Within days he tosses her and his whole team out again. Unwilling to wait around another day, Beth heads to New York and Jeremy. Once there she contacts Rosie (Vince Vaughan), a low life illegal bookie she met through Dink, and helps him run his business. Plans are to set up in the Caribbean where gambling is legal with Beth running the show. As always, things don't go as planned.

Soon Beth finds herself and Jeremy with the possibility of going to jail on federal gambling charges. Rosie is no help, a self centered low life who could care less who gets hurt, something Dink warned Beth about when she first met Rosie. Back on top with Tulip convinced there was never anything going on with Beth or the chance that it will, Dink and Tulip head to New York in an attempt to save the day.

The movie is directed by Stephen Frears who made THE GRIFTERS, THE QUEEN and DANGEROUS LIASONS. With those titles to his credit, expectations for this film are high. Unfortunately they don't come close to those other films. That's not to say this film isn't interesting or even fun, but don't have high expectations and you might just enjoy it.

The film is well made and looks top of the line in the production values area. For not being hyped as the hottest thing out of Hollywood, Hall turns in a worthwhile performance and makes her naive character quite believable. Zeta-Jones does a great job as well in a role that doesn't require her to exude sex non-stop for once. Best of all is Willis who gets the chance to play a character that doesn't shoot anyone or blow things up. Sometimes people forget what a good actor he actually is.

While this film isn't Oscar material it does offer a nice evening's entertainment. Based on the memoirs of the real Beth, it might even stir up enough interest in her story to sell a few books. If not it will at least encourage a trip to the library. 

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The other day I found myself explaining to my niece what a formula movie was. For those who don't know it's a movie that follows a well used formulaic plot that we've seen over and over again with a twist on it to make it new. This sort of movie feels like we've seen it before with perhaps a different setting or characters, but yes we have seen it before. Gerard Butler seems to be making a living out of these sorts of films with an occasional new film in the mix. That doesn't make these bad films, just predictable, and each time Butler has made one I've found it enjoyable to view.

This time around Butler plays George, an ex-professional soccer player who was once top in the field. Those days are long gone and now he finds himself trying to reconnect with his son Lewis (Noah Lomax), a boy he's neglected for some time since he and his wife Stacie (Jessica Biehl) divorced. Taking him to soccer practice one afternoon George is stunned at the inept coaching the team is receiving. Stepping in he begins to teach them the right way to play which eventually lands him the job of coaching the team.

But coaching the team isn't the only thing George ends up doing. This group of soccer moms all find themselves hot for the coach. Not only that one of the fathers (Dennis Quaid) sees him as a possible friend and definitely someone he can take to a party to impress potential clients. Quaid goes so far as to reveal that he's having an affair but at the same time jealous of anyone who might take an interest in his wife (Uma Thurman).

Seeing a possibility of things finally going right for him, George might not say he hopes to return to his ex-wife but you can see it in his eyes. That falls apart when he finds out that in three weeks she's getting married to Matt, the man she's been with for the last three years. It seems George's timing is always off.

That comes to light again when he gets the chance to audition for ESPN as an announcer. If he gets the job it means leaving once again. As the film progresses, that becomes something harder and harder for him to do as he finally begins to build the bond with his son that should have been there from the start. Will he stay and work on his family life or go to ESPN? Will he find a way to win back the heart of his ex? Will he be able to stop the advances of nearly all the soccer moms? Being a formula film the answer to these questions is easy. The enjoyment lies in seeing how it plays out.

The movie is an enjoyable film to sit back and watch. Butler is a natural in roles like this but my guess is he'd love a bit more of a challenge. Biehl is lovely as ever and displays a great acting ability, one that is shown by making a believable character. Over the top theatrics can kill a performance. Here, she comes off as just who the character is.

Well made, well shot and predictable, the movie doesn't offer a whole lot that is new. While those who like formulaic films will take comfort in that, it also can lead to a movie that's nothing to get excited about either. I found myself wanting to like this film more but found it little more than light entertainment. It might make a nice film to watch for an evening but my guess is other than Butler and Biehl fans it won't be sitting on too many shelves. 

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One should never go into a movie starring Steve Austin (aka Stone Cold Steve Austin) expecting Shakespeare. If you do you'll be disappointed. If instead you're looking for some high intensity action where fisticuffs and martial arts reign supreme you'll be appeased. This isn't to say Austin is a terrible actor but dialogue is not his claim to fame.

THE PACKAGE has Austin portraying a collector/bouncer for a big time criminal making good money while keeping the bad guy off his brother who's in prison. It seems his brother stole money from this same guy who makes Austin a deal: deliver a personal package and the debt is cleared. It seems easy enough so Austin takes on the job.

But as we movie fans know nothing is ever quite as easy as it looks. While driving through the backwoods of Washington state, Austin and his partner are ambushed and his partner killed. These are mercenaries hired by Tony, another bad guy, trying to intercept the package. Gunplay and hand to hand combat follow with Austin barely escaping and leaving behind to dead henchmen, one of whom was engaged to another evil operative. And yes, she holds a grudge.

Tony is trying to find not just the package but its intended recipient, The German (Dolph Lundgren). While waiting for the delivery of the package The German is taking on Tony's men trying to find out who is behind this hijack. From the scenes involving his handling of the men sent to kill him it's easily deciphered that The German is not a very nice guy, a bit more of a sociopath than anything else.

Between time on the road and fighting bad guys you know that Austin will eventually get the package to The German. But just what is in the package that makes it so valuable? The reveal is actually a nice surprise and one you wouldn't expect in a direct to DVD feature. Will there be a showdown between the two superstars of direct to DVD? Of course there is!

The movie is well made and offers some nice scenery along the way. Lundgren plays a truly great villain here and the rest of the cast is up to par as well. The story may be simple but again, it's not high art we're talking here. It's kick butt and take name time, head smashing and fist popping, an adrenaline rush of non-stop action with a few slow moments tossed in for recovery. If you're an Austin or Lundgren fan you'll know what to expect. Nothing complicated, just action. Fans will love this one. 

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