COMING SOON...

COMING SOON...

BLACK VENUS, IT, THE NAVIGATOR: A MEDIEVAL ODYSSEY, TIDELAND, THE HOT ROCK, DIAMONDS OF KILAMANDJARO, GOLDEN TEMPLE AMAZONS, THE HIRED HAND, DAY OF THE JACKAL, and DUCKMAN THE COMPLETE SERIES

Friday, May 31, 2013

BROKEN CITY: CORRUPTION NEW YORK STYLE

I've become a fan of Mark Wahlberg over the years. It's fantastic that many have finally gotten past the whole Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch persona that could have been a career ender when it came to acting. The truth is that Wahlberg has shown he has the chops to perform in a dramatic role and make it truly believable. So going into BROKEN CITY I had high hopes.

The movie takes place in New York and opens with Wahlberg as Billy Taggert, a police detective who finds himself in the center of controversy after gunning down a supposed rapist in project area known as Bolton Village. While asked to step down by his superior Taggert is praised by Mayor Hostetler (Russell Crowe). Even though he leaves the force, the mayor makes sure to let him know he'll keep an eye out for him.

Fast forward seven years later and Taggert is now a private eye with a ton of bills and clients who more often ask for leniency than pay their debt to him. Then one day he gets a call from the mayor to come see him. Hostetler hires Taggert to follow his wife and get any information on her that he can. Is she cheating on him or is something else going on? The mayor isn't saying but Taggert can't refuse the money he's paying him and begins surveillance.

But that surveillance leads to something else going on that is far beyond a simple fling for the mayor's wife Cathleen (Catherine Zeta-Jones). The man she meets is tied into the mayoral campaign of Hostetler's main opponent. When that same man is murdered after Taggert passes along the information to Hostetler the entire concept of the film changes from a simple wife having an affair to the complications that go on in an election year.

Along the way we are shown that Taggert has been dating the sister of the woman who was raped by the man he killed in the movie's opening. But things don't go well with the two of them and that portion of the film seems wasted. Another reference to the past isn't though as the mayor holds something over Taggert's head, a piece of hidden evidence that he is using to force Taggert to stick with his plans and follow instructions. Only an honest man could find a way to cut through this and take on the most powerful man in New York.

The cut throat world of behind the scenes back stabbing and manipulation take the forefront in this story and Taggert's decision to either go with the flow or stand up for what is right are found at center stage before the film ends. With so much on the line and with the murder of an innocent man resting on his conscious just what he will do is pretty much a given but then some movies have taken the opposite direction you expect.

So with all this star power as well as the direction of Allen Hughes, half of the brother duo behind hits like THE BOOK OF ELI and FROM HELL, why is it that this movie didn't pull me in and hold me there? Don't get me wrong, it is an entertaining film that delivers the goods, but it just doesn't have that oomph feeling that one would expect with the pedigree involved.

Both Wahlberg and Crowe seem to be walking through their roles without putting something new into them. These characters as portrayed by these actors feel like we've seen them before. Nothing new is added. Sure they do a great job but as a viewer I expect more from an actor than simply sleep walking through a role. Zeta-Jones is wasted in a part that offers her little. That could be a blessing seeing what the others did with their parts.

The movie also has a predictable feel to it, like we know what's coming long before the characters involved do. That may be because films with a story like this have been done before and this one adds little to make it different than the rest. As I stated earlier, this doesn't make it a bad film, it just makes it feel like been there, done that. For Wahlberg and Crowe fans you won't be disappointed. For the rest go in with low expectations and the movie will no doubt satisfy.

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STAND UP GUYS: THE GOOD OLD DAYS

I grew up watching Al Pacino and Christopher Walken from their early starts to their current films. I've loved almost every character they've played and every movie they've been in. So when I heard that they were going to be in a movie together playing old time mobsters I was delighted. I'm pleased to say that while this movie doesn't offer them at their extreme best, it is a wonderful film that I might find myself tempted to watch again in the future.

Pacino plays Val, a low level criminal who is just getting out of prison having served a 28 year sentence for an armed robbery where someone was killed. Walken plays Doc, his best friend, who shows to pick him up and take him back home. But things have changed in the old neighborhood not to mention with the two old cons that have aged over the years.

Enjoying his time outside Val doesn't want to go back to Doc's place, he wants to go out on the town and enjoy the life he once knew. He doesn't realize until things happen that he's not who he once was. A visit to the old whorehouse they used to go to finds the new Madame is the old one's grand daughter. An unsuccessful go round for Val leads the duo to break into a pharmacy to steal some Viagra. While there, Doc begins to lift a few other drugs that he now takes on a regular basis. The result of the Viagra lends itself to one of the funniest moments in the film.

Val later attempts to hit on a couple young girls at a club thinking he's still the young buck he once was only to get turned down. He's now an old man. As reality sits in he finds new ways to deal with it.

Unknown to Val is the fact that Doc, while his friend, has been given the unenviable task of killing him. It seems that the big boss, Claphands, wants Val dead. During the robbery that landed Val in jail, Claphands son was shot by Val in the crossfire. Even though Val took the fall for the whole group, even though he was a stand up guy, Claphands wants him dead.

Eventually Val realizes what is going to go down. Rather than fight it, he and Doc set off on a series of adventures in an attempt to live life to the fullest until the fateful hour that Doc has to sign off that he's been killed. Included in those adventures is the rescue from a nursing home of their old wheel man Hirsch (Alan Arkin) who has one of the funniest moments in the film when they return to the whorehouse.

What makes this movie so good is the interplay between Pacino and Walken as two friends who have grown old, one who realizes it and has learned to deal with it living on the outside and the other who doesn't at first having been in prison for 28 years. Living those years in a cell Val hasn't seen the world around him change but Doc has. The prescription scene is one that verifies that. But the camaraderie between these two friends and later Hirsch makes up for their differences and unites them as friends, as stand up guys, until the final moments of the film.

It's rare that either of the lead actors in this film offer a bad performance and here they once again show why they've always been at the top of the list in their profession. Both bring subtle nuances to their roles that many might not see at first but that bring their characters to life. It might be that the roles they play don't lend themselves to being larger than life parts that will become memorable but what they do with these parts makes them realistic and touching in so many ways.

The movie offers many laughs, a heartfelt look at growing old and performances by some of the best actors in the business. It entertains from start to finish and you couldn't ask much more of a movie these days. It may not be a slap in the face effects filled blockbuster of a film but it is one that can be enjoyed more than once.

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DARK SKIES : THERE'S SOMETHING OUT THERE

If you've seen the trailer for this movie then you probably know what the main theme involved is. If not then by all means wait until you've seen it before reading further. Yes, this is a spoiler alert for those who have no clue what this movie is about.

Years ago it seemed that we lived in paranoid fear of what beings from another planet might intend for those of us here. Movies had a common theme of us versus them and a battle always followed. Then Steven Spielberg brought us both E.T. and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND and suddenly aliens were a friendly bunch who just wanted to hang out. That gets tossed aside and the old times return with the movie DARK SKIES.

The Barrett family seems like your typical suburban group. Mother Lacy (Keri Russell) is a real estate agent, father Daniel (Josh Hamilton) is a recently unemployed architect, older son Jesse (Dakota Goyo) is the typical troubled teen going through adolescence and youngster Sam (Kadan Rockett) is pretty much oblivious to it all just thinking about playing. Their life seems idyllic at first but then we get glimpses of troubled times like a 90 day notice on their mortgage.

It seems that Daniel has been unemployed longer than we suspected and finding a job isn't going as well as he had hoped. Lacy is also having problems not being able to sell some of the properties she's been in charge of. To cap it off Jesse's rebellious side is beginning to show itself in the tone he uses now and then.

As if this wasn't enough, strange things begin to happen around the house. First off Lacy goes downstairs one night to find her refrigerator emptied all over the kitchen floor yet she's just seen everyone asleep in their beds. The next night she wakes and goes down to find all the food in the cupboards stacked in geometrical patterns like a jigsaw puzzle on the tables, chairs and counters. The police find no evidence of break in and suspect someone in the house is doing this.

Daniel has their house security system re-started and the results offer nothing more than the alarm going off with these same sorts of situations found in the house. When the parents question the boys, of course they know nothing of what's going on. But Sam does tell his mother about someone who told him not to tell, who was behind all this. He tells her it was the Sandman.

At first afraid that the stress of their home life may be doing something to their children, they attempt to gather more information. Daniel sets up a camera system connected to the computer to watch the halls and rooms. What he finds is glitches that travel from room to room but show nothing. Things get stranger still when Sam flips out at the playground and can't remember a thing. Then Lacy finds she can't account for 6 hours of her day yet has a bruise on her forehead.

Things change and the story alters, from what could have been a ghost story to science fiction, when Lacy enters Sam's room one night and in the darkness sees a shape standing over the bed. Lights turned on and he disappears but Sam is suddenly outside looking towards the sky. With no understanding of what is happening and fears that no one can calm, the couple eventually turn to a source they're not sure of, a man who studies these sorts of things. But is this contact enough for them to change things around?

The movie offers a number of jump scenes and quick glimpses into what might be going on without revealing it for certain until Lacy's glimpse. It is then that as viewers we know what's going on for sure but the characters still aren't quite convinced. The suspense factor in the film is held up throughout and it's not until half way through that you begin to have thoughts of what might be. Of course the trailer, as I said earlier, did give you enough information that you tend to veer off the haunted track and more towards...well you'll see.

The production values of the film are top notch. Everything from every single performance to the photography are melded together to make a suspenseful film that will hold your interest from start to finish. Best of all the movie doesn't go for the cheap and easy route of extreme gore (with a few minor scenes) or over the top effects. Instead it relies on storytelling and involving characters to get you involved. Once again a film shows restraint and offers complete entertainment showing that it can be done.

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SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK : IN EVERY CLOUD...


With so many movies being released these days it's hard to decide what movie to rent or watch. If you have a particular favorite genre you usually lean that direction. If you hear from a friend you might use that to decide. Most of us rarely step out of our comfort zone though. Make a decision to do that tonight and rent SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK.

Forget the cover or ads, this is not a romantic comedy. There is romance and there are some funny moments, but the heart of this film revolves around mental illness. Not in the usual depressing sort of way but in a way that opens up discussion about the topic and that makes you realize you can have problems but still find hope.

Bradley Cooper plays Pat, a bipolar sufferer whose mother gets him released from a mental institution after 8 months inside. Pat went there after he returned home early one day to find his wife in the shower with a colleague and attacking him. This was the trigger that brought about the realization that he was suffering from bipolar disorder.

Once home we get a glimpse of where Pat's problems may have begun. His father Pat Sr. (Robert DeNiro) is a book operator who is slightly OCD to say the least. Problems in the past between son and father are history but at the same time affect much of what happens in the present. Trying to rebuild bridges and solve those problems makes up part of this story.

Pat is trying to change his life all in the hopes of getting back with his ex-wife, who has a restraining order out against him. He runs, works out and is reading the syllabus of books she recommends to her students. She wanted him to lose weight, to be better read and to find a way to enjoy life. Now he's trying in hopes of their reuniting.

Pat's friend Ronnie invites him to dinner and there introduces him to his wife's sister, Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence). Tiffany has problems of her own with her husband having died a few months earlier and having just lost her job.  The two seem at first to but heads but eventually a friendship begins to flourish when Tiffany suddenly shows up to run alongside Pat while he jogs.

As a bond slowly forms between the two and friendship blossoms, Pat remains focused on his ex-wife.  Tiffany continues to try and build on their friendship, eventually agreeing to get a letter to Pat's ex in return for one favor. She wants him to help her by being her dance partner in a ballroom dancing competition. Pat agrees, anything to bring his ex back.

The nice part about this film is the chemistry between the two actors in the leads as well as the supporting cast that surrounds them. There isn't a wasted moment of film used in the telling of this story and you find yourself rooting not only for the main characters but everyone involved here. The icing on the cake is the slow development of the characters rather than the rushed feeling most movies present these days. Instead of Pat or Tiffany suddenly becoming a different ball of emotions, their changes develop as the story unfolds making it a more complete and realistic film.

The charm of this film is that you can't help but love these characters as portrayed because they seem so real. You want the best for them, you want them to succeed and until the final moments of the film you're just not quite sure if that will happen or not. It also provides a platform to leap from if there is someone with a mental illness in your real life. The topic has always seemed taboo but films like this will make it easier to approach someone or to open up and say "I have a problem."

The highest praise I can offer for this film is to say I think it should have taken the Oscar for best picture. It is a movie I felt like I could sit back and watch all over again just as soon as it finished. Finding a movie like that these days is rare indeed.

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THE LAST STAND : ARNOLD STILL HAS IT



As hard to believe as it seems it's been 10 years since Arnold Schwarzenegger headlined a feature film, TERMINATOR 3. He's done some small bit parts but to be the major star behind a film for the first time in a decade is a rare achievement. For fans it was well worth the wait.

In THE LAST STAND Schwarzenegger plays Ray Owens, the sheriff of the small town Sommerton Junction on the Mexican border who retired from the DEA in Los Angeles for a more subdued role in this tiny location. He left the DEA after a botched mission that resulted in the death of most of the team leaving him the only member untouched. Wracked with guilt over that mission, he left for this new job.

Owens' life is about to change once more. As the film opens a well guarded top level drug cartel kingpin named Cortez escapes his captors and heads for the border driving a test model super car with speed to spare. The FBI team in pursuit is led by Agent John Bannister (Forest Whitaker), taken completely by surprise with this escape. The only possible way it could have taken place (which we figure out but that takes them over half the movie to realize) is if someone on the inside was helping Cortez. Now he's hurtling down the highway at breakneck speeds straight for Sommerton.

Word is sent to Owens and he begins to assemble his deputies to prepare for the worst. He has figured out what is coming having earlier noted the appearance of several disreputable looking men in the local diner. This group is building an impromptu bridge for Cortez to cross the border. When his deputies go to check out this group they're fired on and the battle begins.

In need of help Owens deputizes more men including a town ex-jock as well as the local weird character played by Johnny Knoxville. Knoxville's character comes in handy since he has a "museum" that contains an over abundant amount of weapons, most of which will be put to use when it comes to dealing with the bad guys.

With the roads blocked and the battle being waged on the streets of Sommerton long before Cortez gets near, action rules this film. But while the film does start off with the escape of the bad guy much of the time between that and the end battle is spent with character development and preparation for the fight. True, the characters aren't that deep but we get the chance to empathize with them and their plight.

That being said you have to remember that this is an Arnold Schwarzenegger action film. It's not about the deep meaning roots of evil or the problems of government agencies when it comes to handling criminals. It's about shooting people and blowing things up. And there's plenty of that to go around in this film. With Arnold involved it also means that every so often we're going to have some quip or catch phrase tossed in for Arnold to say. I can tell you that the film has more than one of those.

If you go in expecting to find HAMLET here you'll be sorely disappointed. If you're looking for a fun time, action packed film that occasionally has you gripping the arms of your chair you're in luck.

At 65 years of age when most people are retiring it seems that Arnold has decided to make a come back. With films like these the fans will be pleased. 

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JACK REACHER : A NEW ANTI-HERO



Back in the sixties a new sort of character was formed in movies. This was the anti-hero, a person who did the right things but not always for the right reason and who always seemed to do things in the most unorthodox and unapproved ways. Where this was usually the odd man out during the time it eventually became the norm rather than the exception. Over the past few years there haven't been that many successful anti-heroes out there. With JACK REACHER that all changes.

Tom Cruise stars as the title character, an ex-military detective who is self assured in everything he does and can back up that attitude. When a man named Barr is accused of being a sniper and having killed 5 innocent people, he tells them to contact Jack Reacher. The problem is no one knows how to find him. That doesn't matter though since Reacher has seen the news story about the killings and heads their direction.

It seems like an open and shut case. The gun, the equipment to make the bullets, the van he drove and a quarter with his fingerprint on it found at the scene in a parking meter all point to the guilt of Barr. Helen (Rosamund Pike), his attorney, doesn't doubt his guilt but wants to make sure he isn't executed. Thinking Reacher might be her salvation she's surprised to find that he came here to make sure Barr is put away, explaining to her what he did years ago when he served in the military. But as she talks to Reacher things don't add up and he stays on to become her investigator.

If he did nothing more than that the story would be a short one. Instead, those responsible for the killings, attempt to take Reacher out of the picture resulting in some major medical problems to the five men who try to follow through on that order. Rather than brush him off it does nothing more than make him feel certain that there is someone else responsible for the killings and trying to frame Barr.

As Reacher delves deeper into the lives of the victims it becomes apparent why these people were chosen, or at least one of them. He continues forward facing down opponents tossed his way, an attempt to frame him for another murder and a slew of bad guys who want nothing more than for Reacher to go away. But that's the problem with an anti-hero. He may have nothing invested in the cause going on but when you push him chances are he'll push back...and much harder than you pushed to begin with.

Cruise has become the king of action films with not only this movie but the entire MISSION IMPOSSIBLE series and other films as well. In this film while he doesn't resemble the character from the series of books (a fact that miffed many fans of the series) he does turn in another fantastic performance as Reacher. Reacher is a character that you wouldn't want to anger but that you'd love to have in your corner. Cruise does a great job of making his Reacher believable with ease.

The rest of the cast does an equally commendable job, especially Pike who offers a character who could come off simply as a damsel in distress but who instead shows a bit of grit of her own. Noting that she is the daughter of the district attorney trying the case, she butts heads with her father throughout trying to find justice rather than a simple easy conviction for him.

Director/screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie has always had a handle on action films, smart ones at that. It would be great to see him continue on with this series with Cruise in the lead but a weak box office return for this film means that isn't likely. Then again hot DVD sales/rentals could change all that.

So if you're looking for some top notch action this week look no further than this film. It does it all in spades from fast paced car chases, to shoot outs to well choreographed fight sequences. Action fans couldn't ask for more.

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DJANGO UNCHAINED : SPAGHETTI WESTERN REDEUX

Quentin Tarantino has never been one to shy away from controversy. From his first film RESERVOIR DOGS he jumped into film making head first, creating films he wanted to see and that apparently the rest of the world has too. The best part of this has been the fact that in doing so he's created some of the most original films around. Such is the case with his newest film, what many thought was a remake of the classic Franco Nero spaghetti western (he even does a cameo here) but is something altogether different.

DJANGO UNCHAINED starts off with the excessive bloodshed that Tarantino fans have come to know. Taking place shortly before the Civil War, Dr. King Schultz (Chritoph Waltz) is a traveling dentist who comes across two hunters transporting a group of runaway slaves back to the south. After enquiring about purchasing one to a negative response, he shoots one and wounds the other then "purchases" the slave, a man named Django (Jamie Foxx).

It seems that Schultz has actually given up the practice of dentistry and now makes a living as a bounty hunter. His reason for seeking out Django is that he can identify the men Schultz is currently seeking, high money bounties that will serve his pocketbook. In return for his help he tells Django he will pay him and give him his freedom. When Django tells him his story and how he wants to search for his wife who was sold Schultz agrees to help him with that as well.

When Django tells him his story and how he wants to search for his wife who was sold Schultz agrees to help him with that as well if they can continue on earning enough money before hand. The two travel across the country seeking out the bad guys who seem to pay well for their capture, dead or alive. Along the way the become friends and Schultz teaches Django the tools of the trade to the point where Django becomes one of the fastest guns around.

A year passes and eventually the pair track down the men Schultz was searching for to begin with. They collect their bounty and then put into motion the plan it will take to not only find Django's wife but to get her back again. She's been sold to one of the worst plantations in the south, a place known as Candyland and owned by Calvin Candie (Leonardo DeCaprio). Candie is a man Schultz realizes will not be interested in just selling Django's wife. Instead they will have to con him into inviting them to his home and finding a way to get him to want to sell her.

The plan goes along fine until Stephen (Samuel Jackson), Candie's house slave, begins to think something is up. With his advising Candie the question of whether or not Django will be reunited with his wife or end up once more a slave comes into question.

With a hot topic like slavery it becomes apparent where the controversy Tarantino arrived from. Depictions of somewhat historically accurate moments in history that many would like to forget are on display in living color. Whippings, dogs turned loose on slaves, branding and more are there for all to see. It does make you feel uncomfortable to watch but at the same time is an effective way to build an understanding of the character of Django and why he acts and does the things he does.

What seemed to garner more press was the use of the "n" word throughout the film. Yes, it truly is a despicable word to be tossed around freely but then again you have to understand that this is a film set in a period of time when it was commonly used and not in the most flattering ways. This was the language used at the time and can be seen not only used by the slave owners but the slaves themselves. Tarantino's decision to use it here seems more realistic than if something had been used in its place. In so doing the vulgarity and ugliness of the word become apparent.

This is one of Tarantino's better films. There rarely seems a time when you find yourself checking your watch to see if it's over or not. The acting is tremendous here with each actor so enmeshed in their characters that you actually believe they are who they are portraying. Over the top scenes seem natural for some of these characters, especially those involving DeCaprio.

DJANGO UNCHAINED may not be a film for everyone, but those less sensitive and fans of Tarantino will not walk away unhappy. Instead they'll be pleased to see he's made another film that may cause plenty of talk around the table but at least isn't the usual film to come out of Hollywood.

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TEXAS CHAINSAW : THE BUZZ IS BACK

In 1974 a film was released that became legendary. When it was made no one could foresee the future of this film or of its main character. But it not only became famous it became a cash cow for many films that followed as well as numerous marketing options. Surprisingly this horror film contained very little blood, but it was so well made that to this day it stands the test of time and can cause reactions from intense fear to gut wrenching nausea.  Believe it or not this was 39 years ago. So it's time once again for another sequel except this time it's done a tad different than most.

TEXAS CHAINSAW (or add 3-D if you have that at home) begins with the end of the original film. Not only that it encapsulates that film in a montage of clips that lead to a sheriff coming to the house shortly after the end of that film as well as several other clan members of the Sawyer family. He calls for them to come out but as they're about to a local vigilante mob shows with vengeance on their mind. Ignoring the sheriff they torch the house and kill all inside. The lone survivor, a baby girl, is taken away by one of the vigilantes to be raised as his own.

Fast forward to the present and we find the young baby all grown up. The young woman, Heather, receives a letter from an attorney and discovers who she really is and that she has an inheritance to collect from her recently deceased grandmother, Verna. Along with her boyfriend and another couple, who have planned a trip to New Orleans, they veer off towards Texas to see what she's inherited. Along the way they pick up a hitchhiker also on his way to Louisiana.

The lawyer meets her at the gates to her property and hands her a set of keys, a package and a letter from her grandmother with instructions to open and read it first. Of course these instructions are ignored when the youngsters enter the grand old house at the end of the drive. Impressed with the posh setting, they head to town to gather supplies leaving behind their new friend the hitchhiker. Bad choice.

He quickly begins ransacking the place for things to steal and uses the key to scout out the house. A secret room in the kitchen includes a stairway to a cellar. Once there he finds a locked door and as he gets ready to open it, there we have Leatherface in all his glory. And Leatherface doesn't take kindly to a thief.

Heather and friends return to find the slight damage done and begin to get down to making dinner. Her best friend then hits on her boyfriend in the barn while that girl's date starts dinner only to also discover Leatherface. When Heather comes across him in the cellar, she's caught but escapes with Leatherface on her tail. Suffice to say that blood runs and only Heather eventually gets away.

It is here the story makes a nice twist and we find out that the mayor is none other than the leader of the vigilante mob from all those years ago. He still runs things like he did then and sets out to end this semi-Hatfield and McCoy style feud between families once and for all.

This is one well made horror film. Not only does it pay tribute to the original by starting with it, it ignores all other remakes and sequels and also includes at least 4 cast members from the very first film in minor roles. Beyond that it takes what could have been just another slasher film and gives it some meat by crafting a well done story around it. With any film made these days, it leaves room open for a sequel but it does so in a way that makes sense.

The look of the film is great with night time shots done so that you can actually tell what you're looking at. The acting is much better than one would expect in a horror film, especially by Alexandria Daddario in the role of Heather. The pacing is smooth and the film makers here made the wise choice of keeping the film at a reasonable length (92 minutes) rather than extend what remains an exploitation film with a bigger budget.

The scares are there and, since it was done in 3-D, the tossed items at the camera are seen as well but not enough to distract from the story. The jumps scenes are included and yes, you will jump. The gore is there but no more than seen weekly on THE WALKING DEAD on TV. But at its heart this sequel to the original looks back fondly and reminds us that horror isn't always about what we see but what we picture and create in our minds. What we thought we saw is often more gruesome than what we actually witnessed. This movie makes the skin crawl and the hair on your arms rise. Isn't that what a good horror film should do?

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THE ABCs OF DEATH: HOW TO KILL A CAREER

I've loved many of the horror films that Magnet has been releasing over the past few years. While V/H/S had its ups and downs there is no way you could say that it wasn't a formula that worked in this situation, having several noted horror film directors make pieces of a complete story that interconnected. So one would think that their newest release, THE ABCs OF DEATH, would be a good movie too. Unfortunately that's not the case.

The situation is similar but more overblown. Rather than 4-5 directors this time we have 26 directors, one for each letter of the alphabet, given a letter and told to make a short piece involving death. Some run no more than 2 minutes and some longer, but each one is a miniscule time capsule where they allowed the director complete free reign to do as they felt and make whatever they wanted, no holds barred. That doesn't always turn out to be a good idea as is evidenced here.

Some of the pieces are actually quite good given the time and budget constraints. Some are mediocre which you might expect. The surprising thing is the number of terrible pieces involved here that seem to outweigh the good ones. Some even go so far as to be as offensive as they possibly can. If you choose to watch keep in mind that the Japanese sense of horror and film is far more outlandish and extreme than anything witnessed in this country. Gore and blood doesn't so much flow in these pieces so much as spew forth in an alarming amount as if blood vessels were connected to garden hoses rather than a single heart pumping the fluid through a body.

The more I've thought about this the worse the movie has actually gotten. I watched it last night and decided to let that sit a while before writing. Rather than make the film more palatable it's made me dislike it even more. It opens with a gory beginning piece that uses extreme make up effects to good use when the final punch line is delivered but doesn't remain in that format for long. The better of the pieces are found in the beginning of the film and from there it becomes weirder, more unusual, more graphic and more offensive.

Everything can be found here that would please those who seem to think that the world wants exposure to the worst forms of humanity possible. Freddy and Jason are child's play to the things witnessed here. Just to give you a run down of ideas here are some of the things you will witness in this film: Japanese girls who enjoy breaking wind, a women with a 6' by 1' thick penis that includes a giant switchblade sword, claymation toilet monsters, a contest where contestants masturbate while witnessing sexual scenes that start with a nude woman and end with a child being raped (not seen but inferred, still totally tasteless and excessive) and lastly a miscarriage turned into a joke (not funny for those of us who have lived through such a circumstance). I have no doubt that in criticizing such items I will be labeled a prude and told that I just don't understand art. This is one time when I find that more of a compliment than an insult.

It's not always a bad thing to have film makers push the boundaries a bit. It sometimes leads to some amazing films. The problem lies when they push the boundaries simply to just push the boundaries, just to shock or simply to just see what they can get away with. That almost always leads to poor film making, poor judgment and just bad movies as is witnessed here.

Have I seen films where worse happens than in this film? Sure. Find out about NEKROMANTIC of AUGUST UNDERGROUND and you'll discover what I'm talking about. While those to films have a cult/underground following this film is being marketed as a more mainstream film. Somehow I think that the neighborhood where this film is considered fun or entertaining is far past Elm Street, Mockingbird Lane or the neighborhood of the Addams Family. Unless you just have to see it or enjoy crap posing as art, then my recommendation would be to bypass this film as quickly as possible and pray that a sequel is not in the works.

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A HAUNTING IN CONNECTICUT 2: BACKWOODS GHOSTS

It seems that everything ghostly has become a part of today's culture. Not only are there three major ghost hunting series on TV now but shows about haunting and paranormal experiences have flooded the airwaves. While ghosts have been the subject of numerous movies it's rare that these stories are done justice. With the release of A HAUNTING IN CONNECTICUT a few years ago that changed. Enough to warrant a sequel which has now ended up going straight to DVD.

A HAUNTING IN CONNECTICUT 2: GHOSTS OF GEORGIA has nothing to do with Connecticut nor the ghosts found in that first film. Apparently the producers wanted to start a franchise and felt that A HAUNTING IN GEORGIA would not have been a clear enough title for fans of the first film. I think viewers are smart enough to figure this out, even more so if a new state were added with each film. I doubt all 50 states would have been hit though.

Once again "based on a true story", we have the Wyrick family who have just moved into a new house with a large acreage for their young daughter to roam around in. Bought cheap (never a good sign) and empty for some time now things begin to happen right away. Heidi, the little girl, starts talking to a man she calls Mr. Gordy and he's started telling her things about the house and property. This might seem like an imaginary play pal except for the history of Heidi's mother.

Lisa Wyrick is trying to get over a problem she's had for years, one where she hears voices in her head and sees things that aren't there. On medication she's rejected what her mother and her sister believed, that their family is gifted with "the veil". This gift gives them the power to see things others don't which would of course include dead people. Sister Joyce has moved onto the property with Lisa, Lisa's husband Andy and Heidi, living in an old trailer near the house. While Heidi's mother tries to tell Heidi there's nothing there, Joyce explains what "the veil" is to her.

Mr. Gordy at first seems to be a benevolent ghosts going so far as to let the family know where some old money was buried. But when they begin looking into his past they're not quite sure. Further delving reveals that Mr. Gordy's grandfather was a taxidermist who used the property to aid slaves heading north, a part of the famous Underground Railroad. Heidi and Lisa both begin to see the images of slaves on the property with Heidi feeling nothing is wrong but Lisa still trying to ignore all she sees.

When things begin to go bad, including the disappearance of Heidi only to be found in a strange pit, they bring in a local preacher to help rid her of what they think is a possession. But there is more going on on this property than anyone realizes and a history that is far darker than anyone knows or could imagine.

That dark back story makes this movie more interesting than most. Many will toss this movie off as just another straight to DVD feature that doesn't stand on its own merits but I would beg to differ. The story was well thought out and the reveal is one most won't see coming. Extras on the DVD include talks with the original family, Heidi now grown up, talking about what they experienced while living there.

There are a few jump scenes in the film but this movie doesn't play on the scare factor and relies more on the story to make its points. It offers some nice entertainment value and will be a movie that makes a nice starter point for people wanting to discuss ghosts and whether they actually exist or not. The production values are extremely well done unlike some horror films where night scenes are so dark as to not be able to see anything. In this production everything from the camera work to the acting is well done.

My guess is there won't be another HAUTING IN film made. I would think that this film would be passed over in light of other major releases coming out at the same time. But if you're looking for something a little creepy that offers and interesting story along with a few scares then you might want to give this one a try. 

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MIMESIS: LOW BUDGET WITH HEART

There always have been and always will be low budget movies. They cost little to produce compared to blockbuster pictures and the return on investment is enough to get people to back them up financially for the most part. The problem is that there are some that completely stink and thus return nothing. So when a good one comes along you definitely want to sing praises for it.

Now keep in mind that good lies in the eye of the beholder. With that in mind I whole heartedly recommend MIMESIS. The movie opens with horror geek Russell and his friend Duane at a horror fan convention (from the looks of things it's the Motor City Nightmares Convention). While they listen to director Alfonso Betz (Sid Haig) discuss how people shouldn't blame real life violence on movies, Duane thinks it's a waste of time and would rather be hustling some honeys. The chance, of course, presents itself when a Goth girl approaches them during lunch with a pass to a secret party that night.

The duo arrive at the party and seem to have a good time with the exception that they're drugged and awake the next morning to find themselves dressed in new clothes and placed in a select location. Horror fans will recognize immediately what is going on here between the costumes and location. If you're not a fan be aware SPOILER ALERT. Russell wakes next to a girl he met the night before wearing a black suit, thin black tie and black leather gloves. The girl has her blonde hair in a scarf and is wearing a green dress and light beige coat. Their location? A graveyard. Yes this is a recreation of THE NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD.

But not really. Instead each person who was drugged the night before has taken on a role from that movie. Duane is the hero of the film, two parents and their child star prodigy have taken on the roles of the family from the film, a friend is now the teenage boy and the goth girl his girlfriend. Each of these wakes from their drugged sleep to encounter what appear to be zombies chasing them. When one is killed in front of the others and gnawed on they begin to wonder is this real or something else?

You should be able to quickly figure out what is happening here but I won't reveal just in case. Suffice to say that it makes for an entertaining and original concept here. Just who are the bad guys and why are they doing this? Are these really zombies? Is all of this just a bad dream? Watch and see.

A nice touch here is the tribute to the original film that is hidden beneath the obvious re-creating of the whole movie by this group forced to play out their roles. This tribute lies in the names of the characters here. Each one is based on either a character or an actor from the original film. A nice touch that again fans will notice immediately.

It's apparent that this movie was made on a shoestring budget but that never seems to get in the way of things. Sure the acting isn't Oscar worthy but the cast does a great job and display the potential to go further. The effects aren't so far over the top as to be unbelievable and the photography is well done and used for effect often.

While MIMESIS may not go down in history as the greatest horror film or even the greatest tribute to a horror film it does offer the goods sought out by fans. It even makes the fans the central characters in both good and bad guy roles. This is one of those movies that would make a great double feature fun fest on any Friday night party.

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IT'S IN THE BLOOD: A LOT FROM A LITTLE

For some reason Hollywood seems to think that the more money you toss at a film the better it will be. The failure of some of the costliest films ever made should have taught them that that isn't always the case. Another thing that should have taught them better is when incredibly low budget films produce large offerings of talent and story. Such is the case with this film.

October (Sean Elliot) is returning home to visit with his father, a man he lost touch with several years back. Just why they lost touch is never explained until later in the film, but we know there was some horrific event in their lives that caused October to drift away.

Russell (Lance Henriksen) is the local sheriff and he's been waiting for the day his son would return. The trauma that separated the two is in the past and his hopes are that with a camping trip in the local woods things can be set straight.

Things take a turn for the worse when Russell thinks he sees something in the woods turns to shoot at it and falls from a low hanging cliff to the rocks near a river. The result is severely fractured leg that October, a med student, can set but that will impede their ability to get back to their car. Besides the injury the other main concern is this creature that is attempting to kill both father and son. Just what this creature is becomes a plot point in the film.

While the pair try to combat the monster that stalks them, a quick and vicious creature that they both see on and off, they stick close to a tree they fortify with spear like defenses and begin to simply talk to one another. The conversations they have are not long winded or lengthy but each one reveals more and more of the characters and their affections for one another that were cut short with the tragic event they both shared.

Flashbacks that are dropped in as hints eventually reveal the entire story. Without giving away anything I will say that they involve father and son and a young girl that Russell brought into their lives years ago who grew into a lovely lady that October was in love with. With each snippet of film that shows the three characters growing older and changing with time we see the closeness of this family. Not until late in the film are we shown what happened and honestly it wasn't something that was easy to guess at early on.

As Russell's wound grows worse and the chances of their survival dwindle, October realizes that if they will live it will only happen two ways: either he will have to get help or he will have to confront the creature that is stalking them. Can he confront this evil? Will either of both survive? And what of that mysterious event that happened long ago?

The best and most impressive thing about this movie is the acting on display. I'm new to Elliot but he does an admirable job in the role of October. Henriksen does his usual stand out performance. A star of many low budget films he has been an actor that has turned in more outstanding performances than anyone would give him credit for. Henriksen is one of those actors who can take a small role and make it seem outstanding. You would be hard pressed to find a bad performance from him.

The movie is a great example of what I call a slow burn, a story that unravels itself rather than just throw it in your face during the first 15 minutes. Movies like this are rarely made these days due to what I consider the MTV generation, a group of young movie goers who want everything placed in front of them and want it now without having to wait or think things out. One day I hope they discover how they short change themselves from classic films and from movies like this one. Who knows, maybe they'll discover it and it will make them seek out others.

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ASSASSIN'S RUN: WHO KNEW BALLET WAS A MARTIAL ART?

Even a low budget film can look good and entertain. Most people don't know that. Most think that if they've never heard of the movie playing at the local multi-plex then it can't be any good. I'll grant you that many low budget films might not equal what you find in the latest STAR TREK installment but there are some that offer some quality made offerings. Sure their roots lie in exploitation but that doesn't mean that the entertainment quota isn't intact.

Such is the case with ASSASSIN'S RUN. Featuring the perennial straight to DVD star Christian Slater in a supporting role it's a decent action flick that offers up ballet as a martial art. Yes, you read that correctly.

Slater stars as American businessman Michael Mason, an entrepreneur in Russia who sees the potential for vast wealth. When some documents come up missing Mason is killed before he can look deeper into just who is trying to ruin his business and take all the money at the same time. Unfortunately ties to the Russian mafia are also in the works and they aren't pleased when they discover the money is missing. The only lead they can find is Mason's wife, prima ballerina Maya (Sofya Skya).

Maya and Mason's daughter is taken away and Maya framed for murder. Sent to prison there is little hope to escape and even less that she will ever be released. Even Mason's best friend and partner Roman (Cole Houser) can't seem to get her out. When fellow prisoners try to make her talk and eventually kill her, she decides the only person who can help her is herself.  

Trapped in the tiniest of cells Maya begins a non-stop workout of ballet moves that she can then apply towards combat. The next encounter she has in the yard with the intent of her demise she pirouettes a few facial kicks and takes out her deadliest foe. Having made one friend she escapes and sets out to find not only her daughter but who killed her husband as well.

With only one friend to turn to, someone Mason told her to contact should anything happen, she goes down the path of revenge. Her chances are slim but then again this is an action flick where revenge is the best path taken and almost always succeeds.

The movie offers some interesting fight sequences that are not only well choreographed but photographed well too. We don't get the now standard extreme close up fight sequence but have the opportunity to witness the sweeping blows and kicks that Maya comes up with. Could real ballet become a martial art? Doubtful but it makes for a good movie.

The acting is higher quality than one would expect in a straight to DVD film. Slater offers a commendable though short performance. He deserves better. Skya shows great potential here and let's hope to see more of her.

While this isn't the best movie around you could do much worse. If you're looking for some straight action fare that leaves several lose plotlines lying about then give this one a try.

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ANGER MANAGEMENT SEASON ONE: WINNING...SORT OF



Everyone is well aware of the ups and downs of actor Charlie Sheen's life over the past few years. Some love him, some hate him, but for the most part I think the majority of American's have the same opinion about these well publicized turmoil's: who cares?
Celebrities seem to garner attention for the worst behavior possible and people these days seem to think that's cool. It doesn't say much for us does it?

But Sheen has come back from the wild ways he displayed and attempted to not only create a new series that he can star in but that can poke fun at his past behavior at the same time. ANGER MANAGEMENT stars Sheen as Charlie Goodson, an ex-major league baseball player who in a fit of rage tried to break a bat over his leg...only to injure himself instead and thus ending his career. Seeing the light so to speak he in turn became an anger management therapist with a successful private practice. He still occasionally finds himself on the verge of anger but seems to catch it most times.

Charlie's main focus is on a group he offers therapy to in his home. They run the stereotypical range from grumpy old guy to total whack job girlfriend. While some of these characters have moments that might make you laugh on the whole they become more cardboard cutouts than actual people you get to know.

Charlie's character has situations he's chosen to be involved in here that become focal points of various episodes. For one he's divorced but still of fairly good grounds with his ex. Well good in the sense of average sit-com good. Shawnee Smith stars in this role and she's had better parts but holds up well here. The two share a daughter in her early teens which makes for some storylines as well. Of course the things Charlie wants for his daughter and how he wants her to behave are far different from the young girls he hits on throughout the series.

When he's not attempting to bed a young girl he meets randomly he's involved with another therapist played by Selma Blair. While the two are involved in a friends with benefits relationship they agree that for this to take place they can't become a therapist for each other...which of course Charlie ends up trying to weasel around when he can.

The series is a hit and miss mixture of old stories we've seen before with new attempts to push the envelope as far as it can with sexual taboos. Some episodes are actually hilarious while others just sit there. Never having thought TWO AND A HALF MEN was the funniest thing ever made I thought this series was perhaps even a tad below that level of humor. Watching stars on the tail end of their age bracket and careers involved in sex comedy isn't my cup of tea.

Actually that part is rather sad when you think about it. Sheen has acting ability as seen in so many projects he's done in the past. When he took on the role in his previous series he became a caricature of the aging lothario whose life was nothing more than a series of women he attempted to or succeeded in bedding each week. Unfortunately his real life began to mimic this character rather than be an escape from it and that began to inflict itself into that show, enough so that he left. In this show he plays almost the same character with minor differences. It would be nice to see Sheen go back to fulfill the potential he displayed in films like PLATOON rather than this sort of knock off series.

On its own perhaps this series can be recommended for a few episodes and some of the jokes can be funny. The problem is you have to sit through the rest of it to get to these gems which are few and far between. Sheen fans who love his off screen antics will fall in love with this character. Those wanting to see a more mature actor will have to wait. 

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A COMMON MAN: A COMMON FILM

Maybe it's just me but I truly hate seeing great movie stars forced to play roles that are so far beneath them it makes your teeth grind just seeing them try to make something of that role. Then again perhaps I should be upset with that actor for taking on the role. Suffice to say that Ben Kingsley, yes the man who played Gandhi and recently the Mandarin, offers a truly walk through performance in A COMMON MAN.

The movie has Kingsley placing bombs throughout Sri Lanka in several public locations. He then informs a new reporter to be at the site of the first bomb to go off. Before igniting that bomb he contacts the local DIG (Ben Cross, another actor deserving of better parts) and tells him that the bombs have been planted and that he wants to talk to someone with more authority. In order to give him time and to show he is willing to work with them he lets them know the location of the first bomb.

Phone calls are made and everyone in charge of Sri Lanka is apparently on vacation leaving only Cross to handle the situation. Then again perhaps this is just a way of passing the buck for someone to take a fall should things go bad. In any event it leaves Cross to deal with Kingsley and they begin a cat and mouse game of Cross trying to find him while answering his demands. The demands are to release 4 prisoners currently held because of their terrorist activity. If you don't see what's coming then you haven't seen many films.

The plotline here is thin at best and easily guessed from start to finish. The set up is tedious and takes far too long to get where it's going. The photography is incredibly weak and seems more like a movie not only shot in Sri Lanka but done so with cameras that were left there after the Second World War

Kingsley and Cross do their best to elevate this film but have no luck accomplishing that task. The only good part of the film is the secondary twist ending that might make it worth watching. But then again why waste the time?

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A GLIMPSE INSIDE THE MIND OF CHARLES SWAN III: HIS MIND IS EMPTY

I really can not say how much I couldn't stand this movie. I'm sorry but I have grown weary of writers and directors who think that they can paint themselves as artists by making an incoherent movie with characters no one cares about that flows free form from one scene to the next in an attempt to be different. You're not different you're just bad.

The basic premise here is Charles Swan III (portrayed by Charlie Sheen copying his performances from TWO AND A HALF MEN and ANGER MANAGEMENT) stars as a man in love with a woman who leaves him when she discovers he has a drawer filled with Polaroid pictures of past conquests. Why he feels the need to keep these around in such an open area who knows. Distraught at her leaving he attempts to drive after her, wrecks his car and ends up in the hospital.

From here the movie goes every which way it can. It moves backward and forward in time, it moves into the surreal world of Charles's mind, it bring in characters just made for cameos and it goes nowhere fast. Some reviews of this film have called it genius and others have called it one of the worst films ever made. I tend to fall in the latter group.

I found it difficult just to get through a large portion of this film let alone from beginning to end. I'll be the first to admit I never got there. Something inside of me said that there were better things in this world I could be doing than watching this piece of manure posing as art. Movies like this do little but make me angry when I read about other films that have lingered on shelves for years that sounded good but never got made. Then I realize that someone gave the people behind this movie money to make it and I think why this and not that?

The film was written/directed by Roman Coppola who co-wrote THE DARJEELING LIMITED and MOONRISE KINGDOM with director Wes Anderson. I've never been a huge fan of Anderson for many of the reasons this film didn't work, but at least I've been entertained by them in one way or another. This movie feels like it was made by a fanboy of Anderson's who wanted to show he could make just as quirky a film. Instead it falls flat on its face offering a boring film that makes no sense and is difficult to watch let alone enjoy.

Don't let the cover fool you. Names like Charlie Sheen, Bill Murray, Patricia Arquette and Jason Schwartzman may be listed in the credits but I could only believe they did this movie as a favor to Coppola. They would have done him a bigger favor by telling him that yes indeed; the king wasn't wearing any clothes.

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DARK CIRCLES: BELOW PAR HORROR FILM

The After Dark film series has offered hits and misses over the past few years with more misses than hits. This holds true with it's latest offering DARK CIRCLES.

Alex and Penny are a young couple with a new baby who decide to move out to the suburbs instead of live in the hustle and bustle of the city. Thinking this is a better way to raise a child of course we viewers know that nothing of the kind can take place and of course the child and family will soon be placed into jeopardy.

The new child is not the best at behaving and seems determined to keep the two of them awake most of the time. Why they can't figure out that they could sleep alternating shifts until the child develops a better sleep pattern is ignored so that we can have them suffer sleep deprivation. This is especially odd since Alex is a musician who works from home trying to compose music. Then again a new house is being built next door by a crew that seems to think they get paid more if they make more noise. With each passing day things seem to get worse.

Eventually things reach and extreme and the pair both begin seeing a strange looking woman in and around the house. Could this be some spectral image that they are seeing or is it just a hallucination due to their sleep deprivation? Time will tell as the movie glides along at a snails pace feeling more like it is repeating scenes rather than offer a coherent plot line.

These characters don't seem to make the best of decisions from start to finish. One that especially seemed odd to me was that they do their best to be loving, caring parents. But as the grind gets to them Alex meets a young girl working a check out counter at the local grocery and asks her to come baby sit for them. Call me crazy but I never once considered having some teenager I just met working the local grocery counter become the person I trusted with my child. Stranger yet is when they come home and she's no longer there they don't seem as upset as I would have been.

The final solution to the story here is actually fairly decent but the time it took to get there was wasted. This would have made a decent segment of NIGHT GALLERY years ago but as an entire feature it takes to long and feels more like it was padded to get it to feature length. 

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