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

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

SHADOWS AND LIGHT-JOURNEYS WITH OUTLAWS IN REVOLUTIONARY HOLLYWOOD: A LIFE LIVED

For those wondering this isn't a DVD review. Instead it's a review of a book that concerns movies. Not just movies but someone who was there, someone who was involved with movies. And this someone not only was involved in making movies but was there when things began to change in the sixties. That man is Gary Kent and this is his story.

Sometimes we forget how things used to be. Then there are those who haven't looked into what happened in the past yet. Some things change for the best and sometimes not but things do change. Many of the things we accept today in movies for instance were not always the norm. But somewhere along the line someone stepped out and did something different and the rest followed suit.

If you know anything about movies then you know that for the most part it is a business. Studios answer to stock holders just like any other business. The good part is they then have money to make movies. The bad part is that they fear taking risks to make something different. Instead they churn out sequel after sequel, remake after remake. We're seeing that near daily anymore. Back in the sixties what we had was a set of studios that wanted to make movies with name brand stars they counted on for a fast return, movies that were made for the masses without risks and films that became the same all the time. While foreign countries looked towards new ways to make movies, Hollywood was the same old same old. With the exception of the independent movie maker.

Gary Kent was a part of that time, a part of the independent scene where they tried new things, tried radical things, where the word exploitation wasn't a bad thing. This book tells his story, from his days arriving in Hollywood to the business he embraced taking any job he could and eventually becoming a stunt man of recognition and an actor in low budget films that are remembered to this day. But his book is not just about the movies.

Kent presents a combination of stories that reflect the times that were a changing, not just in the movies but in the real world as well. He was there during the heyday of the hippie, the love children, the bikers, the sexual revolution and the rest that happened first in California and then seemed to spread out across the country. He didn't embrace it all but he did experience it. That's what makes his autobiography interesting. Rather than a shot by shot telling of each and ever movie he made, he mixes in tales of the scene, of beatniks and poets, of jazz musicians and drug induced spectacle. He tosses together the stories of movie making with life. And his life was one that he actually lived rather than just experienced.

In presenting his tale Kent lets us in on the secret that some of us already knew, that Hollywood moguls would sit back and watch to see what happened rather than get their fingers dirty when it came to new ideas. It was the independent film makers who brought about change. It may not have been their intent, but they did it all the same. Inspired by what directors overseas were doing, these celluloid wizards did things their own way. They shot on shoe string budgets but brought creativity to the screen and broke down taboos that had never before been seen on screen. Be it nudity or topics like racism or homophobia, the independent film maker was there first. Once they paved the way or sometimes fought the legal systems, Hollywood would jump on the bandwagon. This is why they changed not only the way movies were made but the times they were made in.

The way they made things was different too. In talking with director David Anspaugh (HOOSIERS) he told me that while friendships are made during a film and some continue, that sense of camaraderie usually dissipated once filming was done and folks moved on to the next film. The film makers Kent describes and enjoyed being a part of were different. Having served in the trenches together they not only hung out together afterwards but made life long friendships as well. When they heard of a new movie being made, they contacted one another and helped each other get work. No back stabbing here, just friends who were there for one another.

Kent's book offers insights into how movies were made not from a technical angle but from the human side of things. While focusing mostly on things from a stunt man's perspective he gives insight into the roles others played as well. From actors who became famous like Jack Nicholson to directors who became infamous like Al Adamson, Kent describes them all in an adoring nod to the friends he knew and loved.

The book is an easy and enjoyable read and moves along at a steady pace. Kent chooses not to go the direct scene by scene route but tells of what was going on in his life and what was going on in the world around him at that time as well. An example of this would be his shooting a western which would seem simple enough. But this western was shot on the Spahn Ranch and the guy working the ranch at the time was named Charlie Manson. Kent might discuss his love of jazz but in the mix was the fact he came to know trumpeter Chet Baker. He talks about making numerous biker flicks that played drive-ins but broke down the barriers of Hollywood but makes note of the director he enjoyed working with on these, Richard Rush, who went on to direct a great film known as THE STUNTMAN. This intermingling gives the book a historical feeling rather than a simple behind the scenes book.

I can say that I really enjoyed this book and would highly recommend it. It accomplished several goals. It enlightened me to what was going on during the time period Kent discusses. It brought history to life by telling me what things were like in that era and in that location. And it entertained me by letting me hear the stories of what went on. Love or hate Hollywood, this book offers a good read that you might want to look into. Look for Gary Kent as well since he makes the round of fan conventions now and then (for instance Cinema Wasteland).

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SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS: MURDEROUS GOOD TIME

Fiction meets reality in this seriously dark comedy. Colin Farrell plays Marty, a struggling writer whose newest screenplay is based on select events in his life. The story involves several killers (thus the title) and how their lives become entangled in one another. Marty's concept is supplied to him by his friend and some time room mate Billy (Sam Rockwell).

Things are set in motion with Billy and Marty's other friend Hans (Christopher Walken), Billy's partner. These two are low level bad guys who make a living by kidnapping dogs of wealthy people and then returning them for a reward. Unfortunately the Shih Tzu that the pair of kidnapped at the moment is the beloved pet of big time mobster Charlie (Woody Harrelson) who sends out his minions to discover who would be so bold and to then kill them.

But the movie offers us more than just this simple story as Billy tells tale after tale to Marty about the various killers he's brought up. One is a Vietnamese killer out to set things straight. Another is a killer who feels his daughter was wronged by a young man. One is known as the Jack of Diamonds killer because he leaves a playing card behind on each of the high level mobsters he kills. And then there is Zachariah (Tom Waites) who replies to an ad Billy placed asking for psychopaths to tell Marty their story. Apparently Zachariah and his wife were multiple serial killers as he unfolds his tale to Marty only to then let him know he'll have to kill him eventually. All of these items play into the whole story that is not only being written by Marty but that he and his friends are actually living.

Along the way we also find out more about Hans and Billy. Hans' wife is in a nursing home and he visits her frequently. One of the many stories that Marty hears and writes about involves Hans and his wife. Several relate to Billy in one way or another. All have surprising consequences that you don't quite see coming as the story unfolds.

That's what makes this movie so special. The pieces of the puzzle are offered to you as viewer but they eventually drop into place as more and more are told the pieces turned this way and that as to make sense. About 2/3 into the film Marty, Hans and Billy go on a road trip to the desert and overnight more tales are told and almost everything the stories have led up to happens.

So many films these days love to take on the title of quirky and few ever live up to that concept. This film grasps it with both hands and clings to it tightly, deservedly so. It not only offers something truly different than most movies have to offer it does so with a unique blend of sadness, adventure and dark humor that rarely combine well but here come together like few films do.

There is nothing that is sub-par about anything involved in this film. The acting is tremendous and all three main leads have their moment in the sun. Farrell downplays his character so as to not be the leading man we've grown accustomed to. Rockwell shows that his abilities are almost always underused until now. And Walken at times does a parody of what we've come to associate with him but then shows that his character is perhaps the one with the biggest heart of all.

With a title like this some will shy away and be afraid of what they will encounter. Then again with the dark humor involved it might not be for everyone. But if you're willing to take a chance you'll find one of the funniest and most touching films albeit a gory film that you will find something to like in it. For me it's one to keep on the shelf and pull out from time to time to enjoy.

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TRUE NATURE: THE ART OF THE SLOW BURN


I've commented before about what I call the MTV generation. This is a group of film goers who have no patience when it comes to movies. They want the information thrown at them immediately, they want it NOW! Because of this attitude they don't have time for movies that offer what I call the slow burn. These are films that give you pieces of the story, that take their time in allowing you to absorb what is going on rather than just rush into it in the first 5 minutes of the movie. The best thing about these movies is that when done well they are quite enjoyable.

Consider the films of Hitchcock. Even in a film like PSYCHO, his most popular film, you don't have the true gist of the story until 30 minutes into the film. You get glimpses of what is to be, you get set up for what is going to come, and you get involved with the characters. He did this in most of his films. Alas I don't think today's generation would have the patience to sit through an entire Hitchcock film. That's sad. Because not only will they miss some of the greatest films of all times, they'll more likely than not complain about films like TRUE NATURE which deserves more credit than that.

The film opens with college student Marianne who goes for a jog one night only to disappear. To stop there would make a short film. Instead the movie takes us to a year later with parents Becky and Reg still grieving over the loss of their daughter. Miraculously she suddenly shows on the front doorstep caked in mud and filthy though wearing the same clothes she had on when she disappeared.

Questioned by the police Marianne offers them little information about what happened to her. She seems to have a mental block about events and is possibly suffering from memory loss in an attempt to retain her sanity. She's given time to recover and go home with her parents.

But things remain strained at home. She gets glimpses of what happened but never quite the full story. She wonders why her father didn't come searching for her while we viewers believe he did everything in his power to find her. And beneath it all there is a tension between these family members that makes you wonder if things were as proper and peaceful as they seemed when the film began.

The movie offers clues as to what's going on, lets you see bits and pieces of the past and current time lines to try and figure out what happened and what will be. I thought I had figured it out but found myself surprised by the end of the film. It does a good job of bringing together the complete story and offering a tale that is most satisfying.

Complaints I've read about the film have made me think I'm correct about that MTV generation. Poor remarks almost seem uniform in complaining that not enough is explained or that it doesn't jump in fast enough. These are obviously written by those who have yet to understand the beauty of the slow burn. They cheat themselves from enjoying a movie that tells a story rather than blows things up.

One thing about this movie that should give film makers a boost is that it was shot in Dayton, OH and not Hollywood. This proves that you don't have to go to California to make a good movie. The acting on hand makes the characters believable, enough so that you care and are concerned about all involved. The production values are equal to anything seen from out west. With that in mind I for one hope to see more quality films being made here in the Midwest. I also hope that enough people begin to see that a slow burn film can be enjoyable. Give this one a watch and find out.

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COMPLIANCE: UNNERVING

To say that the movie COMPLIANCE is upsetting is an understatement. It's not just the movie itself that disturbs you while watching it but the fact that it is supposed to be based on a true story. Knowing that something like this could have happened makes you wonder just what people are willing to do without allowing morals to kick in.

The movie takes place at a fast food restaurant where manager Sandra (Ann Dowd) is having a problematic day. Nothing seems to be going right, they're short handed and the usual customer complaints are happening. She then gets a phone call from the police telling here that one of her employees has stolen something from a customer. The policeman tells here that they're on their way there but to hold the employee, Becky (Dreama Walker), in the back until they can get there while he stays with her on the phone.

Not thinking anything is wrong with this, Sandra takes Becky to the back office/store room to wait for the police, talking to her about what's going on. Becky insists she's innocent. The policeman on the phone asks Sandra to search Becky which she's not quite comfortable with but does. This is when it begins to get bad. The policeman then asks Sandra to strip search Becky, insisting that she remove every article of clothing she's wearing.

Now some of us would refuse to do so, but the question raised by this film is what happens when someone complies with what the person on the phone tells them to do? In the case here it turns out, and we the viewers already know, that the man isn't an officer at all but a prank caller who gets off making calls like this. But Sandra does as he says, humiliating Becky in the process who must stand there naked until she's given something to wear.

As the film progresses the "officer" continues to have Sandra as well as other members of the staff follow his instructions. Sandra never considers calling her home office or district manager; in part because it's the weekend and she knows her DM is busy at the moment. But to think that she would follow these instructions, odd as they may seem, is a terrifying thing to consider. All the while I kept wondering why they continued to obey and not seriously question the "officer" when no one showed after several hours.

The movie is a chilling experience to watch and an uncomfortable one as well, but that doesn't make it a movie that isn't worth watching. The acting is credible and that's more important than anything with a film like this. You truly believe that these people are caught up in obeying the voice of authority that they trust no matter what they are asked to do. These requests begin as simple ones but eventually lead up to a most horrifying demand that makes you wonder what these people were thinking to listen to this.

I'm sure this film is designated as a drama but in truth I consider it a horror film of sorts. There are not monsters with fangs or claws, there are no ghosts or mangled revenge seeking stalkers, there are simply normal everyday people placed into a situation of being told what to do and blindly following. The monsters here are us and that makes the acts witnessed here truly terrifying.

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ROBOT & FRANK: HUMANITY IN THE MACHINE

Frank Langella is an actor whose talents are rarely noted it seems. Some folks don't even know who you're talking about when his name is mentioned and that's a shame. Those of us old enough to remember will think of him as Dracula. A younger generation might consider him Nixon. The thing is he's been around turning out great performances for years and doesn't get the recognition that he deserves. His latest out on DVD proves that.

In ROBOT & FRANK Langella stars as Frank, an ex-jewel thief in the near future when things are changing as they always do. A cantankerous sort, Frank has been left by his kids to fend for himself away from family. They still try to make his life as comfortable as possible but at the same time have little to do with him. Case in point is the new item Frank's son Hunter (James Marsden) has brought to him.

To make sure that he's taken care of Hunter has just purchased a robot to be Frank's companion and caretaker. The robot has numerous responses programmed inside of him but at the same time develops his own somewhat personality the more time he spends with his new owner. At the same time he has a moral compass installed that makes him unlikely to be a partner should Frank ever decide to return to his old profession. At first confrontational Frank eventually accepts the little guy and they become friends of sort.

Frank spends his days doing little but he does enjoy the walks he takes into town especially to the local library. This partly involves his respect for the books on hand there but more to do with the local librarian Jennifer (Susan Sarandon) he takes a liking to. That will soon change as the young generation is dispensing the library of all its books to be replaced by computerized editions on hand and available at work stations. These people are interested in Frank only because he actually read a book.

Angry at the way things in his life are going and angrier still at the elitists' attitudes of this new generation, Frank decides to steal Jennifer's favorite book from the library to give to her. He recruits the robot to be his wing man. This will be no easy task as he not only has to teach the robot how to become a thief but has to convince him it's for the better as well.

Frank uses the robot to help him co-ordinate things in his goal of returning to a life of crime. They begin by taking on a small project of stealing something from the snobby head of the group determined to change the library. As Frank teaches the robot the finer skills involved in timing, lock picking and breaking and entering we're given a humorous look as he corrupts the robot that has no clue. At the same time we witness the human connection between the two that Frank doesn't share with his kids.

Problems arise when Frank's daughter Madison (Liv Tyler) arrives. Where Frank at one time wanted his daughter to be there now he wants her out so he and the robot can get back to business. But Madison is here after being plagued with guilt for not taking care of her father. Then again she also returns because it is convenient. Until she is gone Frank can't move forward with his plans.

What makes this film so interesting is the skill shown by Langella as Frank, a man who is lost in a new world that doesn't seem to have time for him any more. He does regret parts of his past, mostly the fact that he wasn't there for his children when they were growing up which is being reciprocated by their not being there for him now. It's not a matter of no love, just anger at the past. But the true emotion seen in the film isn't between one human and another but between Frank and the robot. A defining moment between the two comes towards the end but I won't ruin the surprise of it here. Watch and see.

The quality of the production values in this film are well accomplished and all involved turn in true to character performances. The photography is well done and the direction brings the most out of each actor as well as the completely unemotional robot. If you're getting older (like me) then you'll relate to many of the scenes here. This is an enjoyable film that only gets better as it moves forward.

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THE MARINE 3-HOMEFRONT: EXPECTED ACTION

There are times when it's nice to just put a movie into the DVD player and know from looking at the box art just what to expect. Simple action films are the best of these. There is little doubt in your mind that you're about to witness Shakespeare. No, you're going to watch a plot line delivered and set up and then about 80 minutes of butt kicking action. This film is that and nothing more but then it doesn't need to be.

This latest in the line of feature films from WWE of course stars one of its wrestlers, this time Mike "The Miz" Mizanin as Sergeant Jake Carter. As he explains in voice over he and his sisters were left behind when their parents died and he took off to join the Marines. Part of a special ops unit, he's been trained to be a killing machine from the start. His sisters, on the other hand, stayed in the home they grew up in and have become part of their home town.

Mike returns for a visit and has to adjust to a few changes. For one, his best friend is now a Deputy Sheriff in town. Another is that the older of his two sisters Amanda is dating him. And lastly his little sister Lilly is dating a young guy who was always someone in trouble that Mike isn't happy about. But he's trying to deal with it even though it leads to a small confrontation.

Later in the film Lilly and her boyfriend are working on his car near the river (why they chose here I have no idea) when they witness a group of home grown terrorists murder a man before their eyes as a weapons buy goes bad. They are captured quickly and taken hostage. Before being captured Lilly was able to let Amanda know what was going on. Now Mike sets out to rescue his sister.

But things become complicated when it turns out the FBI has been watching this group all along. It turns out the leader is a college professor turned extremist (Neal McDonough) who has made plans to blow something up. Just what they haven't discovered yet, but the bombing is supposed to go down today. Now they want Mike to stand back and let them handle things. Come on, this is an action movie; we know up front that they'll screw it up some way.

Of course they do and that's when Mike has to take things into his own hands. Trained in counter terrorism techniques, he sets out to take out the bad guy and rescue Lilly in the process. Along the way he ends up getting help from her boyfriend who turns out to be a good kid after all.  The end result is pretty much telegraphed ahead of time since this is a by the book flick but it's satisfying as well.

There is no outstanding achievement in acting here but the movie wasn't made as a showcase for that. What we have is some solid acting by a cast that knows exactly what kind of movie they're making. But that doesn't stop them from doing their best and coming off quite nicely. Most importantly is the acting ability of Mizanin. He does a fine job here and shows the potential to be not just an action star but a decent actor as well. Let's hope he gets the chance to prove that.

Like I said from the start, the movie is predictable and offers nothing new to the genre. Then again it never intended to. It was just intended to be another WWE vehicle to make one of their stars a movie star and to offer solid action entertainment for fans of the genre. The fact is they deliver on all counts.

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SEAL TEAM SIX-THE RAID ON OSAMA BIN LADEN: ACTION MADE BORING

The raid that took place to kill terrorist Osama Bin Laden was standard procedure and put together not over hours but over years. As in the film ZERO DARK THIRTY the difficulty in simply finding him took a great amount of time. Once found, in a country that would have objected to our simply going in to take him out, the difficulty of capturing or killing Bin Laden was even more difficult. So why make a movie that appears to be a semi-action film when the real story took place behind the scenes?

The plot line of the movie is simple and well known to most. Osama Bin Laden was the terrorist responsible for the attack on U.S. soil that happened on 9/11 where the Twin Towers in New York City were brought down by two jet airliners. The entire military and espionage organizations of this country then focused on capturing/killing Bin Laden who went on the lam for years before they could find him. Once found a plan was formed and Seal Team Six was sent in to capture/kill him. They did kill him and then dumped his body in the ocean. That summarizes the events and most of this film. But the film is 90 minutes long so we have to round it out with more.

That rounding out goes from good to bad. As with ZERO DARK the movie tells the behind the scenes actions going on that led to the event. Some of these come off as believable and others come off as far from it. The other meat around the bones of this film is the fictional depictions of the men of Seal Team Six and the melodramatic problems that they have with the plans and with each other. With as compelling a story as they have to work with here, why insert this clap trap garbage to round out the film to 90 minutes?

On the good side the acting here is well done with a number of good performances, enough not to single any one out. The production values seen on screen are also well done.

On the bad side is the fact that this film feels rushed, as if it had to be put together and slapped on the screen as fast as possible. Thinking back to what was happening at the time that it actually the case. Some may choose to ignore the politics involved with this movie's release but it first aired on cable TV just before the elections of 2012. This could be considered a coincidence but the fact that the film was financed by the Weinstein brothers who supported President Obama, that the film portrays him in the best light possible and that there is the inclusion of a snip of Presidential contender Mitt Romney saying the war was over, even though he wasn't a part of any of the events happening here, makes it hard to believe there weren't political motivations to this movie not just being made but rushed to be seen.

This is sad because in the haste of releasing this film all thoughts of making the best film possible seem to have been tossed aside. A number of people who are involved in the military or who have served found the depiction of the Seal Team deplorable. The schizophrenic feel derived from a movie that goes from melodramatic moments between soldiers to a depiction of how events transpired makes for a confusing and unenjoyable film. 

ZERO DARK THIRTY may not have been the most exciting movie about a military event ever filmed but it did offer a straight forward story that wasn't focused on doing little more than portraying the military as angst ridden co-workers or the President as the hero who came to save the world. It told the story of the men and women who worked tirelessly behind the scenes to make the capture/death of Bin Laden a reality. This film doesn't compare.

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KISS THE ABYSS: NOT ONE YOU'LL LIKELY REMEMBER

Yes this is one of those forgetful movies that has perhaps one or two moments you might recall after seeing it but for the most part is pretty forgettable. There are many movies like this released each year and its sad to think someone worked hard to get a movie made that falls into this category but it happens. I will say that there was enough creativity on display in this film that maybe down the road those behind it will come up with something better.

The story moves back and forth in time but essentially boils down to this. We have a young newlywed couple, Mark and Lesley, happy and in love but with a terrible set of neighbors. The neighbors constantly fight and the guy seems to enjoy beating his wife which causes Mark to step in between the two of them and break up a battle. Never a good thing.

The result of Mark's interference is that the neighbor shows up to his house one day and while threatening Lesley accidentally kills her. Mark finds her body and mourns her loss but her father has other plans. He shows with Lesley's brother and along with Mark, they take her to a strange trailer located out in the middle of the desert. Here a fast talking mysterious stranger named Gus who takes the trio and corpse into his home. He warns them that they can't come back ever again and that whatever happens happens. No take backs. That should make people pause but then again this is a movie.

Of course he brings Lesley back from the dead but at what costs? When things begin to get a little strange they eventually head back to the desert and confront Gus and have him fix whatever is wrong. Hey wait; didn't he say no take backs?

As with most movies where the dead are brought back to life by those who love them they never quite come back the same way. Nothing new here. But there are some nice touches to the film that just never quite makes its way into making it one worth watching. Low budget film making that shows it but as I said, the potential in those involved can be glimpsed but never to the point of making the film entertaining.

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BORDER RUN: ANOTHER CAUSE

It truly is sad when a star begins to age and can't seem to accept it. I understand that Hollywood has an obsession with young actors but there are roles out there that should be played by actors and actresses that require them to be themselves and in their age bracket. When they don't they appear foolish and out of touch with reality. Proof of that lies in the number of botched plastic surgeries we fans have to witness that leave them looking nothing like the starts we once knew.

That being said I was truly saddened seeing Sharon Stone insisting on playing a character far younger than her years. She remains an attractive woman but apparently thinks she needs to play younger roles. I'm sorry, it doesn't work and that becomes the focus for some viewers like myself rather than the story unfolding. Make it a weak story that uses cliché and seems more politically motivated than anything and it doesn't help.

Stone stars as Sofie, a female reporter who is the center of the newsroom, the star journalist. She's an investigative bulldog who wants to discover the bad things in the world and shed journalistic light on them to make things better, a crusader searching for the next big thing. That story is dropped into her lap when her brother goes missing.

Her brother (Billy Zane) was working with relief efforts along the US/Mexican border and involved in the smuggling of Mexicans across that border. Now Sofie insists on going across the border in an attempt to save her brother, story be damned. But as is always the case the story does end up catching her eye as well.

Soon we find Sofie captured by the bad guys and held captive. She's subjected to the poor treatment that the workers who want to cross the border are exposed to. She also discovers that they're not only being smuggled across as workers but as drug mules too. Can she escape and save both the poor people she's imprisoned with as well as her brother? And just who is behind all of the things going on at the crossing?

Before these things could be answered I found myself not caring. This story has been done before and portrayed better. The acting seems run of the mill and not much higher than Lifetime movie quality (sorry Lifetime). I never found myself engaged with anyone involved on screen, cared only about a few characters none of which were leads and in general thought the movie was more motivated by the politics of Hollywood around the immigration issue than in a story about people. News to Hollywood: tell stories about people and stay out of politics. It never comes out well.

For me the worst was as I said from the start, seeing Stone playing a role that should have been played by someone no older than her 30s. Yes, Stone remains an attractive woman but I found it completely hard to believe her as a reporter in the position she was in. At 55 (her real age) the character should have been an anchor by now not doing tough investigative journalism. I'll suspend belief for most films but this was too much.

On the whole the movie wasn't enjoyable, wasn't entertaining and brought nothing new to the table. Thus I wouldn't recommend this film for anyone with the exception of die hard Stone fans who insist on seeing her in anything at all.

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