COMING SOON...

COMING SOON...

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

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL: A TRIUMPHANT RETURN TO THE EMERALD CITY

One of the most cherished films for nearly everyone who's ever seen a movie is THE WIZARD OF OZ. Made in 1939 this movie still captivates viewers to this day, young and old alike. Sequels have been made over the years but none have captured the magic that the original film did. But the recent release OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL comes pretty darn close.

The film opens like the original, in black and white and in Kansas, where a traveling circus plays to the farmers nearby. Magician Oscar Diggs, known as Oz (James Franco) has brought on a new assistant, just like he does in every new town, by romancing her. The one possible love of his life, Annie (Michelle Williams), has shown up to let him know she's considering a proposal from a local man. Unable to take care of her he does the right thing and encourages her to do so. At about this time the circus strong man, whose wife Diggs romanced as well, heads for his wagon with intent to kill. A quick escape in a hot air balloon would help if it weren't for the tornado heading Digg's way.

Swept up in the middle of the tornado, Diggs begs for the chance to redeem himself. That chance is granted and he lands in an odd little place called Oz. With the help of a beautiful young witch named Theodora (Mila Kunis), the head to the great Emerald City. Along the way she tells him the story of Oz, how a young witch killed her own father the King to take over and how he had foretold them all that a wizard of great power would come to save them. Oz/Diggs the con man knows better but Theodora and everyone they meet consider him their saving grace. Theodora also decides that the two of them will marry, something that comes back to haunt her later.

They arrive at the city and are greeted by Theodora's sister Evanora (Rachel Weisz) who doubts Oz' abilities or claim to being a wizard. She too falls under his spell though and sends him on a mission. That mission is to retrieve the wand of the witch whose father was killed and break it, ending her power.

Diggs sets out and along the way makes some friends who accompany him, one of which he came across earlier. They find the witch, Glinda (also played by Michelle Williams) but also discover something else. Just what that is I won't reveal as it twists the story being told. Just know that things aren't always what they seem. The story takes an odd turn here and changes just about everything and everyone in the process. Just how Diggs and his friends will survive makes for an interesting and delightful movie.

At the heart of this film, as with the original, there is a story of change and of finding oneself. The original had four characters who thought they didn't have the things they needed but discovering that they had them inside all along. This film offers a similar concept with Diggs/Oz discovering that perhaps he's not the scoundrel we witnessed at the beginning of the film nor the complete waste of humanity that he thinks he is. Finding out just who he really is and what he is capable of rounds out the tale being told.

The acting on screen is well done to the point where some characters that could have been played over the top are made real by the performances seen. This would be especially difficult considering most of the film is shot on green screen for special effects. But the entire cast does a remarkable job.

Director Sam Raimi (the original EVIL DEAD and SPIDER-MAN 1, 2 & 3) does a fantastic job of combining eye catching visual effects that make the land of Oz believable while at the same time getting these actors to turn in great performances. He also brings to life characters that we've never met before like China Girl and has us caring about what happens to them. As with the original you'll find many touching moments here captured right beside the adventure being told.

Set before the events of the earlier film, this one could leave the door open for numerous sequels and indeed author L. Frank Baum did write numerous books that took place in Oz. Many of these are free to download for e-book readers online at sites like manybooks.net. If Raimi has intentions of using those stories to build from this one, I for one look forward to them. This movie was one to not only watch but to watch again and again, shared with children old and young alike.

Click here to order.

PARKER: AN ETHICAL BAD GUY

Donald Westlake was one of the greatest crime authors to ever put word to paper. His books have been turned into numerous films but most have been based on the character he created under the pseudonym Richard Stark. That character's name is Parker and such films as PAYBACK and POINT BLANK have been about him but never used his name. That changes with the release of PARKER.

Jason Statham stars as Parker, the hard edged professional thief and all around tough guy who uses a few simple rules: don't steal from people who can't afford it and don't hurt people who don't deserve it. Parker also makes a point of telling people on the wrong end of his gun that if they simply do as he says and are honest with him they have nothing to fear. Both of these rules are strictly followed by Parker but perhaps not always by the associates he chooses to work with.

The latest heist involves the box office receipts from the Ohio State Fair. Parker's best friend Hurley (Nick Nolte) puts him in touch with a crew that needs his planning expertise. Headed by Melander (Michael Chiklis) they succeed in their heist but down the road he tells Parker that he'd like him to put his share into another robbery they have planned that will result in a bigger payoff. Parker declines but Melander tells him he's taking his share anyway. Gunplay follows and Parker is left for dead at the side of the road. But if he were dead then this would be the shortest feature film ever made.

Parker is saved by a family in a truck and taken to a hospital. Before he can be questioned, he leaves and heads for home calling his girlfriend Claire (Emma Booth) Hurley's daughter on the way. He tells her to leave and then calls Hurley next. The warning doesn't quite come in time as Hurley lets him know that Melander was being backed by the Chicago mob and one of the team is tied to them. An assassin shows to kill Claire but she escapes.

Parker's code of ethics kicks in full blast. Though Hurley shows with his portion of the initial robbery sent from Chicago Parker's main goal now is to take revenge on those who betrayed him and get his share back from them. He finds out their plans for the next heist and while the Chicago mob tries to take him out, he follows the first crew down to Palm Beach. There he poses as a Texas millionaire and has local real estate agent Leslie Rodgers (Jennifer Lopez) help him find a home to purchase. In reality he's looking for a secluded unused house he can hide out in.

Leslie is down on her luck and living with her mother. A few things make her suspicious and she confronts Parker. After some discussions he decides he can trust her and use her to help him out as well. He then discovers more about this planned heist with information Leslie provides him and sets out to take the score once the robbery goes down. But, as they say, the best laid plans.

What makes the movie interesting, as well as the character of Parker, is this moral code that he has that he follows to the end. He often seems to care less about the money than the principal of the treatment he earned. In so doing the crew sets in motion a chain of events that will not end happily for them. And while when we step back we know that Parker is indeed a career criminal, we find ourselves rooting for him all the way.

Statham does a great job as Parker portraying the character as written; a man who uses few words when they are not called for and uses them sparingly when they are. Statham plays him as a man of action but not the same way he's done many of his characters in the past which was more action and less acting. He's better than that and proves it here. Lopez does a fine job as Leslie though her role feels minor for the star power she can draw to a film.

The movie looks great and uses various tones to differentiate between the settings it takes place in. This is a result of the keen eye of director Taylor Hackford, the director of such films as WHITE NIGHTS, AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN and RAY. Hackford has always taken the films he's worked on and brought them to a level not expected for the stories chosen.

PARKER is filled with plenty of gory violence and flowing blood during fight sequences so be aware. This is also to say that there is plenty of violence in the film so go in knowing this. But if that's not a problem then expect a heist film filled with double crosses, gunplay, fight scenes and a character whose set of rules could cost him more than money. 

Click here to order.

SNITCH: ANYTHING FOR YOUR CHILD

What would you do for someone close to you? Point in question, what would you do to save your child? I doubt that anyone would say less than anything but when push comes to shove would you? That's the question faced by John Matthews (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) in SNITCH.

John's son Jason has lived with his mother ever since the divorce of his parents. When a friend insists on shipping him a box full of Ecstasy to hold for him the DEA breaks down the door and arrests him for possession with intent to sell. Mandatory drug laws (yes this is based not only on a true story but real laws now in effect) require that unless he co-operates by implicating someone else in the drug trade he could face up to 10 years in jail. Unfortunately the only person Jason knew was his friend who it turns out was caught before he could ship the drugs and set Jason up using this trade deal.

When John goes to DA Joanne Keeghan (Susan Sarandon) and asks for mercy she explains that there is nothing she can do, the laws are set in stone. Unless Jason helps catch someone else he will serve the full term. When John offers to take his place, to find a way to help them catch dealers she turns him away. Refusing to let his son set in prison for a good portion of his life, John sets out to find a dealer on his own. The result is his being beaten and nearly shot.

Keeghan decides to take John up on his offer but only if he can get her a major player. John owns a construction company and looking through the applications of his employees he finds that Daniel James (Jon Bernthal) did time for distribution. He asks him to do nothing more than introduce him to a major dealer and is turned down. The need for money supercedes Daniel's decision to become straight and he sets John up with Malik.

An initial run for drugs gets the attention of the cartel supplying Malik and they decide to use John themselves. When the DEA agent in charge (Barry Pepper) decides to bypass arresting Malik on the chance he can catch the cartel's main man in the states, John is left between the two warring factions of the DEA and the cartel with little thought to his safety or the release of his son. It is now up to John to find a solution that will handle all players involved in this situation and get him what he needs to have his son free.

Dwayne Johnson has come a long way from his early films that relied solely on his action and physical skills. Slowly he's been developing acting chops that might never qualify him for an Oscar nomination but will elevate him from little more than a muscle bound action star. In truth this film is more about acting than action with almost zero fisticuffs for Johnson with the action not beginning until the last half hour of the film. It doesn't disappoint though as the story itself is engrossing and quite frightening to consider if you have children.

The rest of the cast complements Johnson in the lead with Sarandon's portrayal of a DA seeking political gain at all costs making her someone to root for and detest at the same time. The best surprise of all is Bernthal who proves that the work he did on THE WALKING DEAD wasn't all he is capable of doing. As another father under different circumstances but caring for his son as well, his character is more sympathetic than the good guys.

The craftsmanship behind the camera is as qualified as that seen in front. The photography is well managed with cameras catching all the action and rarely (if ever) resorting to bouncing hand held shots or close ups during the few action scenes. Director Ric Roman Waugh, who directed the well made but little seen film FELON, does a great job here and shows promise.

All in all this was a good movie that deserves more attention than it received in theaters. That could have been because it was marketed as an action packed slam bang film when in truth it's a solid drama. Go in expecting what it really is and give it a try and you will be pleasantly surprised.

Click here to order.

12 ROUNDS 2 - RELOADED: ANOTHER WWE STAR WITH POTENTIAL

Who would have thought several years back that one of the biggest stars in movies would be a wrestler from the WWE? Most people thought of wrestlers as little more than muscle bound oafs with nothing going on except their next gig. The truth of the matter is that these members of sports entertainment do more acting in one day than many professional actors making it to the screen. So for myself I found it not too surprising that some would make it in movies. The Rock has done it rising to the top of the action film scene. John Cena was heading that way but seems to have disappeared. Battista has done one movie and is scheduled for another big screen film. And now they can add the name of Randy Orton to the list.

Orton stars in the just released 12 ROUNDS 2: RELOADED. Cena starred in the first film in this series where for one reason or another a criminal forces our hero to run through a gauntlet of 12 obstacles to save someone he cares about. It would have been odd for the same character to do so again so Orton gives us a new hero.

Orton stars as Nick Malloy, an EMT who witnesses a car accident while walking with his wife. He tries to save a young woman injured but knows there is no hope for her. Rescuing the young man whose car ran into the other, he saves him. But it's the loss of life with the woman that plagues him.

A year later and Malloy and his partner are called out to help someone at a remote location. When they get there they find a man with his mouth taped shut and something inserted into his stomach. Malloy's phone goes off and a man tells him to get out of the ambulance and move away, threatening to harm his wife if he doesn't do so. Malloy realizes he is being watched by things the voice says. When he hears something odd in the ambulance he tells his partner to get out but not before the bomb planted inside the victim explodes. Malloy's partner is injured but alive and the voice instructs Malloy to follow instructions to the letter, sending him off to a new location with only so much time to make it.

Eventually, as with the previous film, we have a villain who wants revenge for being wronged. In this case, and no this isn't a spoiler since we got lots of this in the trailer, we discover that the woman who died a year ago was his wife. Now he's taking revenge on everyone involved in the incident, from Malloy who failed to save her to members of the justice system who allowed the young man who rammed them to skate off with a slap on the wrist.

Going from one location to the next, Malloy must not only follow the instructions given (which of course include not calling the police) but try and solve the puzzle of who is giving the instructions and why. We viewers might realize early on but those in the middle of things are hard pressed to find answers right away. The villain moves Malloy to a point where he must take along a young man he's led to with him to the next stop.
This turns out to be Tommy, the young man who killed his wife.

But the revenge doesn't just involve these two. Along the trip the villain takes them down they find several others who failed to serve justice in this case, everyone from a judge to a defense attorney. No one will escape the wrath of this bad guy. With the clock ticking and 12 different goals to achieve, will Malloy be able to find out what is going on and save his wife, held hostage by this man?

The movie is quite well made with a technical quality some wouldn't expect to find in a modestly budgeted film. The acting by all on board is kept in check and Orton, while being his first time out, does show great potential to be another break out star as long as good projects continue to come his way.

While Oscar contenders won't lose sleep over films like this, movie fans will have something worth renting or buying the next time they go out. It delivers the action on all counts and makes an enjoyable film worth watching.

Click here to order.

JOHN DIES AT THE END: IS THIS WHAT TAKING DRUGS IS LIKE?

With that as my title I have to assume that what is depicted in this film must be what an acid trip is like. Oddly enough some have said that yes, this is indeed what it is like. The book on which it is based (which I read and loved) is trippy in itself but bringing that book to screen was not an easy task. Who better to do so then than Don Coscarelli, the man behind the PHANTASM series and BUBBA HO-TEPP.

The story begins simply with reporter Arnie Blondestone (played by Paul Giamatti) meeting Dave (Chase Williams) in a Chinese restaurant. Dave has set up this meeting to let Arnie in on a secret: there is a world out there that most of us can't see but that holds some truly bizarre secrets and that might be bound and determined to invade our own world. Arnie asks for details and the story behind Dave's claim and Dave fills him in from the beginning.

John (Rob Mayes) is Dave's best friend. They live together and do little except bum around, work terrible jobs and go to raves with their friends where John usually performs. At the particular rave they go to on this night, Dave meets an unusual Jamaican who makes Dave feel a bit uneasy. Eventually Dave ends up taking a drug known as Soy Sauce. How weird of an experience does he have? He wakes to get a phone call from John who wonders if he's talking now or in the future and then warns him of the danger he's about to be in. 

This is when things begin to get weird. And it's not a bad weird but a good one actually. Both John and Dave, having taken the Soy Sauce, can see a different world than the rest of us can. The drug enables them to see into another dimension and reveals the real people that they talk to and meet. Along the way on their adventure they're joined by Amy, a girl Dave's had a semi-crush on for some time.

Bug monsters, possessed policemen, policemen who aren't really there, thugs with big knives and more are just the more normal things that the duo witness. They also discover a plot to take over the world by creatures from the other dimension that only they can stop. Through it all they seem to jump back and forth in time and dimensions. They seem to be the only ones who can save our world, not a comforting thought when we first meet them. But they do show the courage and pluck to take on the task and probably have just enough chutzpah to get the job done.

As I said from the start, this film feels like what I'm told a drug trip feels like. If so please, never slip me anything. But at the same time it offers an entertaining film that's unlike most others offered these days. It's fresh and new and holds your interest from start to finish. Coscarelli proves that he truly can make a low budget film that has high budget quality once again. It would be nice if Hollywood would finally realize this and give him the chance to make his movies with a bigger budget while at the same time staying out of his way so as not to ruin it. Am I the only one ready for PHANTASM 5?

I'll admit that this movie might not be for everyone. It is, as stated, a bit unusual. But it's fun and it entertains. Will I watch it again? If so, not right away. It's a film that you need to walk away from for a while and then watch once more. Would I like to see them film the sequel (a follow up book has already been published). Certainly! If you're willing to take a risk then you might enjoy this one. Just know what to expect going in.

Click here to order.

VEEP: PROOF THAT STAR NAMES DON'T MEAN STAR QUALITY



Let's just dive right in from the start shall we? VEEP is one of the most unfunny shows ever created. Yes, it really is that bad. As I watched the entire first season I think I honestly laughed perhaps once and that was just a small chuckle, not a belly laugh. Having just seen THIS IS THE END and actually finding myself laughing out loud about 15 times in the middle of a theater, this show never inspired that once while sitting in the comfort of my living room. It really is unfunny and displays in so many ways how out of touch Hollywood is with the real world.

Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, an actress who has shown time and time again that she knows how to be funny, stars as the title character, Senator Selina Meyer who has just taken on the role of Vice President. But what she thought would be a position that would provide her with some power and a direct link to the White House ends up being nothing of the sort. Selina is given little more to do than the bidding of the President, helping him to shore up votes he needs for projects while never getting credit or the chance to forward her own ideas.

Through it all she plays the political games where back stabbing is a virtue and keeping a smile plastered on your face while twisting the knife is the norm. This same theme is used quite well with Netflix series HOUSE OF CARDS but here it falls flat.

Meyers has surrounded herself with complete idiots or career builders who are more inclined to take care of themselves than her. Some have the potential to be funny characters but are never given the chance to show it. Instead they seem to think that the more they drop the F bomb the funnier they are. This made me worry about how much input Louis-Dreyfuss had in the scripts as I thought back to the time period when Saturday Night Live became a show that was unfunny...and when she was a cast member. At that time they seemed to tell jokes that they thought were funny but that no one laughed at. I found this series to be much like that.

I had heard this series was funny. I even remember several people involved being nominated for Emmys. After watching it I found my feelings about the Emmys and other awards given in Hollywood to be vindicated. Rather than honor anyone for true talent and ability it seems as though they give out awards for simply being someone they like or for trying to portray anyone they dislike in an unfavorable way. Anyone connected with this show who would win didn't deserve it and should immediately give the award back.

I was stunned to see that a second season of this series has already aired and that a third is on the way. It makes me wonder what shows that delivered pilots to HBO were turned down. Surely there was something else that deserved the funding that this show gets. The only thing this show made me want to do was turn back to television to see if a rerun of SEINFELD was on. Now that show was funny and so was Louis-Dreyfuss when she was in it. Unless the only thing you find humorous is how often and how creatively a person can swear it you won't enjoy this show.

Click here to order.

THIS GIRL IS BADASS: NO, SHE'S JUST BAD

Let me start by saying that I love martial arts movies. I couldn't begin to tell you the number of times I've watched ENTER THE DRAGON but it is in the double digits. I've enjoyed the new comers to the genre when they began like Steven Segal, Chuck Norris and Jean Claude Van Damme. I've liked the more current round of stars like Tony Jaa and Gary Daniels. That being said there is something that folks should realize when looking for a new martial arts film.

The films made overseas in the Far East sometimes lose something in translation. Some don't like the historical martial arts films of the past. A few of the police films featuring some top fighting sequences lose something. But the ones that lose the most are those that are based as much in humor as in fighting. They lose tons in translation. What is funny in one country falls flat in another.

That being said, THIS GIRL IS BADASS loses almost everything in translation. The film offers martial arts that are fairly weak and should be the foundation of the film. Instead we have a girl using her bicycle as a weapon and not believably so. But let's get to the plot first...if I followed it correctly.

Jukkalan is a bicycle courier who speeds around town delivering items for various people. Currently she's been assigned to transport some packages for some underworld types who then want to take back the money they paid her after she delivers their package. Why they would risk so much for so little is beyond me. Instead of dying though she uses her aforementioned martial arts/bicycle skills to take down the gang sent to dispose of her.

Then she gets another job to transport another package for another mobster. The first one apparently wants to sit back a while before tangling with her again. Once more she's attacked after delivering the package and yet she continues to work the same job. Not only that but she's been lifting a portion of the profits from each delivery.

If this wasn't enough of a plot we have a few others as well. One involves her uncle, a man in love with the woman who lives next door and who does laundry. But her uncle has some sort of shady past we don't find out about till near the end of the film. Then there's the boy next door, a goofy looking guy who is in love with Jukkalan. But she's in love with the hunky guy who lives nearby and sits around playing guitar all the time.

The plot lines in this film are as lame as they can be and the mixing of one storyline to another fails miserably. The acting is one of two things, either really bad or simply so unlike that seen in other countries as to appear terrible. Perhaps these would be unnoticeable in the country it was filmed in but here it's the main thing we see. The worst sin of all though is the fighting sequences which seem forced at best and lame at worst.

There is nothing I can say that would make this film an enjoyable experience. It was truly a movie I wouldn't waste time on. I would only recommend it to those who feel the need to watch every single martial arts film ever made. Myself, I'll watch the good ones over again.

Click here to order.

BEST OF LATINO LAUGH FEST: THIS CAN'T REALLY BE THE BEST CAN IT?

The easiest review for this DVD release would say simply, this DVD is not in any way funny. End of story. But that would be too easy. Instead let's just say that this collection of Latino stand up comics falls far short of offering the best there is.

Shot during a festival that lasted for days, what we are offered here are glimpses of the comedians that were in attendance performing. The offerings are wrapped around by host Cheech Marin as he makes quips about the performers and introduces them, at times giving them awards for various qualities on display.

The problem is that most of these comedians aren't all that funny. I would say it's because I'm not their target audience but the fact of the matter is I've seen some of these performers here and loved them in the past. Most notably is Paul Rodriquez who seems to have lost the quality that he had when he first started. The same is true for John Mendoza who at one time I thought was one of the funniest comedians around. His deadpan delivery was topped only by Steven Wright.

Perhaps the problem revolves around giving so little time for each performer so that so many could be on display in this DVD. I'm hoping that's the case. I know many of those included here have shown they can be funny but this showcase doesn't display anything worth laughing at. Rather than watch this I'd suggest catching any of these performers on Comedy Central where they have the chance to show how funny they can truly be.

Click here to order.

REVENGE FOR JOLLY: I WANT REVENGE ON THE PEOPLE WHO MADE THIS

There are good movies and there are bad movies. Good movies you enjoy over and over again. Bad movies you sit through and then say well that was bad, I won't bother with this one again. And then there are movies like this one. Movies where you think of them as so terrible that you want to find the folks responsible for it to slap them around and demand not just your money back but the time that you lost of your life in watching it, just wishing something good would come about. When it doesn't you find yourself doing what I did: you scream at the TV wondering why oh why you didn't just pull the DVD out of the machine sooner and just toss it out the door like an unwanted Frisbee. What makes it even worse is when you see the names of well known actors in the film. There are only three reasons this could be:
1) They thought it was good in which case you will never trust another film they make.
2) They got paid tons of money to be in it which in this case is doubtful as the budget is obviously low.
3) They knew someone involved and did the film as a favor. If that's the case please folks in Hollywood, do the right thing, make the right choice, be the big person and tell the folks behind projects like this that they are truly terrible and should be burned as kindling on the backyard grill.

Harry is a neer do well living without a care in the world, loving only one person/thing: his pet dog Jolly. Jolly is the center of his life and the only thing that brings him any happiness. He leaves Jolly to visit his best friend to discuss the fact that he owes some people for not performing a task they assigned to him (no we're not sure what that task is). When he returns home he finds that they've sent someone to his house and that someone has killed Jolly and left Jolly hanging from the kitchen ceiling.

Harry is now a man seeking revenge. He rounds up his cousin and as much artillery as he can and sets out to find out who killed Jolly. Along the way he kills anyone he feels like. For instance the bartender where they hang out makes a comment that it was only a dog so Harry kills him. Elijah Wood plays the bartender which makes you wonder why he took this role...why Elijah?! WHY?!?!?

The trail of clues lead them to a lawyer's office that results in a massive shoot out where everyone gets hurt or killed in one way or another. Eventually they end up at a wedding where the guests become bullet fodder. I would tell you what happens at the end of the film but if I did I'm sure that someone would tell me I'm wrong for spoiling the end of the film for those who wish to see it. All I can say is that if you watch this dung heap of a film after what I've told you then you deserve what you get.

I've seen movies I didn't like before that left me angry at having wasted my time on them. This one I watched all the way through and didn't so much get angry at as I did sit in a rage when the end credits began to roll. I had lost 84 minutes of my life that felt more like 3 hours and I would never be able to reclaim that lost time. I don't think I've ever felt this angry at a something I watched. There are not enough adjectives in the dictionary to describe just how bad it was.

I may never trust the names of Elijah Wood, David Rasche, Ryan Phillippe, Kevin Corrigan or Kristin Wiig again. I do know that should I see the name Brian Petsos again, the person responsible for starring as Harry and for writing this piece of crap, it will be a warning sign for me not to rent the movie with his name attached. Think of the worst most disappointing movie you've ever seen, multiply that by a million and you get this movie. My only hope is that I never see it on a shelf in a store. If I do look at the arrest record in the local newspaper for my listing as going insane and damaging store property.

This one is so bad I refuse to post a link to order. If you truly want to be punished seek it out on your own. It really is that bad.