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

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

WADJDA: FOREIGN FILM COMES HOME

It would be easy to take the big blockbuster released this week (in this case THOR: THE DARK WORLD) and write about it. By the same token I could write about a B movie making its way to DVD this week. But just for something different I thought I'd mention a small foreign film that's made its way to DVD that deserves some attention.

Foreign films don't attract a lot of attention in the U.S. like most films do. It usually seems that a select elite class of film viewer watches these films or collectors of foreign films. We here seem to think that if someone can't take the time to make the movie in our language it isn't worth viewing. That sort of thinking means that so many great movies are not seen by a larger group of people in this country. It also means that we think far too much of ourselves when it comes to movies too.

Not only do foreign films give us the opportunity to see some great movies it also opens the doors for us to see and understand a different culture than our own, a different world than the one we live in. There are a number of jokes out there about 'Muricans with redneck ways and an attitude that we are always the best. With the world of DVD open to everyone you now have the chance to see that there are some great movies being made around the world, even if you have to read subtitles to see them.

With that I'd like to talk about WADJDA. Wadjda is a 10 year old Saudi Arabian girl with dreams of her own. Living in Riyadh, Wadjda pushes the boundaries of a girl in her culture, choosing to listen to rock music and developing an entrepreneurial attitude by creating shoelace bracelets that support various teams and selling them to classmates. Her home life is better than most but not perfect. Her mother nearly died during childbirth which means she can not bear a male child for her husband. This opens the door for him to find another wife who can. But that's down the road when the film opens.

Wadjda goes to school and is viewed as a rebel there, even while other girls are doing far more outlandish things. While they paint their nails and read magazine, Wadjda is the most obvious rebel wearing tennis shoes instead of the black shoes the other girls wear and never seeming to be able to keep her scarf on her head. Her best friend is a young boy named Abdulah. As with most young boy and girl friends, they tease one another and call names but remain close. Wadjda is envious of her friend's bicycle and promises to buy one of her own even though the custom there is for girls to not ride bicycles since it would destroy their "virtue". As you can see, a different culture than ours already.

As Wadjda's mother struggles to keep her husband from taking on a second wife, she has little time to keep a closer eye on her daughter. Wadjda begins finding new ways to make money in the hopes of saving to buy the new bicycle she saw at the local toy store. But each money making idea she comes up with brings her closer to the edge of social acceptance and expulsion or shame at school. When they announce a contest that involves studying the Koran which involves memorization and understanding of the text, the prize for which is more than enough money for her needs, Wadjda enters.

While she studies for the contest Wadjda never really digs into the text she's remembering. It is all about trying to win, not about really learning. Whether or not she does win and what happens when she does/doesn't makes for an interesting film.

While the story isn't complicated and rather straightforward, the movie does hold your interest from start to finish. You never have an edge of your seat moment here but you find yourself caring for both the characters of Wadjda and her mother. And while the strict enforcement of this male dominated society is ever present, the hope for change can be seen in the acts and eyes of young Abdullah. You not only want Wadjda to win, you want to see her on the bicycle before the end of the film.

Much has been noted about the production behind the scenes of this film. To begin with it was actually filmed in Saudi Arabia, a country that views films as sinful, especially with a subject content like this. On top of that the film was directed by Haifaa Al-Mansour, a female director. While the cast and crew followed custom as closely as possible, they were able to produce a film that can be enjoyed by all.

Take a chance and open up the door to a new experience. Allow yourself to watch at least one foreign film with an open mind and a chance to see the world. If you have the chance, let this be that film and find out that not all foreign films are snobbish or elitist. Some just tell a story and do it well. WADJDA is one of those.

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LAST VEGAS: FRIENDS FOREVER

With so many movies coming out these days featuring nothing but the youngest of stars it's nice to see a movie come out with major actors getting on in age taking the leading roles. It's even better when that movie is not only well made but one of the funniest things to come out in quite some time.

The Flatbush Four is a group of teens in the 50s who have their own so called gang. The promise of being friends forever takes a turn for the worse but we don't know why, except that years later as one gets married the tale unfolds. Approaching 70, Billy (Michael Douglas) decides to wed the girlfriend half his age. He calls his friends Archie (Morgan Freeman) and Sam (Kevin Kline) and arranges them to meet him in Vegas to celebrate with a bachelor party. He also charges them with contacting and bringing Paddy (Robert DeNiro), his best friend who he hasn't spoken to in over a year.

Each member of the group has their own item to bring to the table. Archie had a stroke the year before and his son won't let him do anything resulting in his having to sneak out. Sam is living in a retirement community with his wife and bored silly so his wife presents him with the gift of a free pass while in Vegas to do whatever and come back the man she once knew. And Paddy has become a recluse, still dealing with the death of his wife, the love of his life and the only female welcomed into the group when they were kids.

The foursome arrives in Vegas and immediately tempers flare in the form of Paddy. It takes a while but eventually we learn that Billy didn't make it to Paddy's wife's funeral, something he won't forgive Billy for missing. While it still bothers him he eventually sets that aside to be part of the bachelor party.

Things get started when the group discovers that the rooms they had booked won't be ready for another year as the hotel is under renovations. While there they hear a woman singing their old songs, Diana (Mary Steenburgen), in the lounge. They're captivated and remember good times. Making friends with Diana, she helps them find their way through Vegas to the hotel where Billy is supposed to be getting married. While waiting for rooms, Archie finds a way to make their weekend in Vegas more memorable (no I won't spoil that for you).

Soon the group is staying in the penthouse and getting involved in all sorts of major over the top events. They judge a bikini contest poolside. They party at the exclusive club on top of the hotel (one of the funniest scenes takes place there and involves Red Bull, vodka and Freeman). During it all Billy begins to wonder if he's making the right decision while at the same time attracted to Diana. The problem is so is Paddy.

But the focus of the film isn't the problems that these two have even though they pop up periodically and are eventually settled before the film ends. The movie is more about the camaraderie between the four men from the time they were boys until now in their waning years. Friendship knows no bounds nor does it recognize age. The love shared between these four characters has served them well all this time and the trip to Vegas rekindles that love before the finish.

Each of the four actors gets a chance to shine here in well worn characters that are familiar to each. DeNiro gets the tough guy, Douglas the charmer, Freeman the smooth mover and Kline the master of the witty retort. There is no way to single one out as the best but that scene with Freeman and the lines he has to deliver rapidly is fun to watch. The thing that makes this movie so good is the combination of acting, laughs and story, something that seems lacking in most movies today. Not only did I find myself invested in the story of these four friends I was also pausing the movie every now and then because I was laughing so hard.

LAST VEGAS is not a movie that you'll want to rent once. It's one to add to your collection. I can already sense a bit of anticipation in myself wanting to watch it again already. Not only that I want to see these four friends reunited for another film. Let's hope that another bachelor party is in the works for the Flatbush Four.

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ESCAPE PLAN: POSITIVE PLOTTING

There was a time when just the mention of the names Stallone and Schwarzenegger guaranteed mega-box office receipts. To hear one of them had a movie coming out in theaters was to insure long lines at the box-office. But as they've grown older and as the audience going to the theater has aged as well, it's not quite the same. There is still that small amount of buzz behind their names but not like the glory days. The new movie ESCAPE PLAN taps into those movies they once made. Watching it is like going back to the late 70s/early 80s. In truth they've aged well and remain at the top of their game.

Stallone plays Ray Breslin, a security expert who knows how to find the loopholes in any given situation. Currently he's part owner and the main man in a company that sends him into any prison unbeknownst to the warden and guards so that he can find the leaks in their system and escape. There has yet to be a prison he hasn't walked out of. The movie opens with him in prison and finding a way out, demonstrating his abilities.

Once his skills have been established we find Ray back in his office when a CIA agent shows offering top dollar for him to escape from a super secret prison that has just been built to house the worst of the worst. With only 24 hours to prepare, something he doesn't do, Ray's partner Lester (Vincent D'Onofrio) urges him to take the job and the $5 million paycheck. Against his better judgment he takes the job. The next day he finds himself in New Orleans, kidnapped and the tracker chip inserted into his arm removed. Something is amiss.

Ray wakes to find himself in a prison unlike any other. Rather than concrete cells each cell is made of extreme plexi-glass and surrounding a core stairwell. This is a prison unlike any he's ever experienced with guards rotating at odd hours and no way out that he can see. But when he gives the pass code that is supposed to insure his release, he is ignored. It seems that a double cross was done somewhere along the line and Ray is now an actual prisoner in an escape proof prison.

Discovering the day to day routine at the hands of head guard Drake (Vinnie Jones) who seems to enjoy inflicting pain and the warden of the prison Hobbs (Jim Caviezel), Ray sets about learning who is who in the prisoner hierarchy. He soon makes friends with Rottmayer (Schwarzenegger) but doesn't reveal who he is. After finding himself on the Hobbes short list, he agrees to a deal: help Hobbes find out the location of Rottmayer's partner on the outside and he'll be set free.

But Ray doesn't like being placed not only in a physical cell but a mental one as well. It may seem that he's helping the Hobbes get the information that he wants but in truth he continues doing what he does best, finding an escape from an inescapable prison. He pulls Rottmayer into his plan and the viewer is now caught up in a mix of possible crosses and double crosses as the action unfolds and the escape draws near. Will they get out or is this the one place that offers no hope of escape?

Stallone does a wonderful job in this movie. This is classic Stallone where he displays an intelligence in his character that lies beneath that tough exterior. We know that if there is a way out, he will find it. Schwarzenegger also brings back the old Arnie we know and love, the tough as nails fighter and loyal friend who will eventually come up with some catch phrase that will be his signature for this movie. These are the actors we loved back in the 80s doing what they do best, making unbelievable characters believable or at least making us like them so much we don't notice how unbelievable they are.

The movie is just a fun roller coaster ride of action combined with brains to make the whole outlandish concept seem real. We thrill to the ride as we plunge over hills and down valleys never knowing what's around the next bend. Through it all we have a great time and enjoy the ride not caring about the construction or safety of it all, just enjoying ourselves. That's what the old Sly and Arnold movies offered so long ago, just a good time watching the movie. It's nice to see that the two of them can still pull it off.

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YOU'RE NEXT: NOT AVON CALLING

There are a number of movies that come out each year put into the hands of a marketing team that then turn around and make you believe you're watching one type of movie when it's actually another. Confused yet? Okay let's consider this. The horror genre is making major inroads into mass culture. No longer are horror films the once in a blue moon genre but more often they're the main thing playing. So if a movie has horrific elements a marketing team highlights those even if the movie isn't really a horror film at all. Take YOU'RE NEXT for example.

The movie opens with a man and woman attacked in a home invasion that really has little to do with the plot other than to establish the villains, a group that wears animal masks and brutally kills the couple. It moves from there to a family reunion of sorts in a secluded, wooded area. First to arrive are mom and dad, both apparently retired and looking forward to the weekend getaway with the now grown kids.

First to arrive is Crispian, a teacher and his girlfriend Erin. Not as successful as he had hoped, it becomes a sore point later on with his more successful brother. As the story unfolds you realize that there are many unresolved issues between various family members but that is nothing compared to what they will soon face.

The next day the rest of the family arrives in the form of older brother Drake, their sister and younger brother Felix and his new girlfriend. The low level bickering begins and culminates at the dinner table with Drake insulting his sister's new boyfriend. When the boyfriend goes over to the window to look outside glass is shattered, he turns and we see an arrow sticking out of his chest. The movie turns from a family convergence to a home invasion film unlike any other.

Unable to cope with the reality of what's going on it is Erin that saves the day and calls out instructions to the rest in an attempt to stave off the attackers. While the invaders might have planned on this family falling apart they had no clue what they would get in Erin. The family is forced to come together on a basic level if they are going to survive this. Traps have been set, some invaders have already been hidden in the house and the only ones armed seem to be the bad guys.

So what we're presented with here is more of a thriller, along the lines of something Alfred Hitchcock might have made were he alive today. Even more so as things begin to slowly unspool with each minute of the film and we learn why this is happening and just who is behind it. To say the final revelation is not one most will see coming doesn't do it justice. And now that I've said that don't watch expecting to find clues easily as to that ending. Just know once they start to come, more follow.

The movie will keep you on the edge of your seat throughout even though it takes a short time to get going. But then if you don't establish the players here nothing makes sense. Even the early portrayal of Erin as a student aid who seems to be pretty frail is turned upside down along with many other characters in the movie.
At first glimpse one could mistake this for the torture porn films that I've come to loathe over the past few years. Be glad that this doesn't fall into that genre at all. Instead it's a white knuckle ride that grabs you by the throat and doesn't let go until the final credits roll. Top notch acting, a solid story, great effects and some smooth camerawork make this film one that will stick in your memory come bed time. What more could you ask for from a thriller?

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ALL IS LOST: MAN VERSUS NATURE

Robert Redford has been an actor I've loved and hated. I've loved him when he was acting in roles that were memorable. I've hated him when he chose to force his political views into his roles. When I saw that ALL IS LOST was coming out I was afraid it would be just another film where his environmental views were the sole function of the film. I was pleasantly surprised to find I was wrong.

ALL IS LOST is a different kind of movie. There is perhaps one page of dialogue in the whole film, most of that spoken off camera as the film opens. Within minutes we are taken back 8 days to when all that follows is set in motion.

Redford plays the man, a nameless character in his mid seventies who wakes to find water flowing into his sailboat. He notes a hole in the side of the cabin and goes topside to find out what happened. A shipping container lost from a cargo ship is floating in the vast ocean, releasing tons of low costs tennis shoes and it's corner is inserted into side of his boat. First he must get his boat unattached from the container and then repair it.

He does this never breaking a sweat. Redford's character is cool under stress and uses his mind to great advantage. Making minor repairs he sets out to see what damage was done. Of course his radio was right under where the puncture took place leaving him with no way to call for help. Knowing he must take care of himself he does just that. But if that's all that happened this movie would have been about 80 minutes shorter.

If anything can go wrong it does. Obstacles like fresh water, food rationing, eventually a storm that re-damages his boat and more all become obstacles he must surmount. And while his cool attitude contends with each obstacle it's clear to see on his face that each one is taking its toll. His character isn't as simple as you believe when the film starts. Instead you see how each item changes him and forces him to evaluate everything going on around him. At his age should he invest so much time and effort into trying to remain alive? Will help reach him in time should he carry on? Has he done all that he could to survive?

All of these questions come not from the words Redford speaks because with the exception of one loudly yelled expletive there are no words. All of these thoughts and questions are written on his face, acted out for the viewer to surmise while watching. That's a difficult task for any actor and Redford steps up to the plate with his performance. As the film moves forward you root for him to make it and fear that there is no hope of his doing so. It tugs at you, wanting something good to happen to him and then feeling crushed with each new obstacle tossed his way.

As for environmental concerns none are voiced here but at the same time the majesty of nature surrounds Redford and his character from start to finish. The thought that here we have a singular person in the middle of an ocean filled with life and possibly about to lose his ties into the concept that no matter what happens in this planet, nature will rule in the end. That isn't a political statement, just a fact of life.

The good in this film is twofold. First there is the performance I've talked about. Secondly is the crew and the amazing work they've done here. To capture the vast ocean at its best and its worst would not be an easy task. But they've done just that, offering vistas of tremendous calm and beauty alongside the dangerous, dark storms that wreak havoc. When you discover, if you watch the extras, just how this was accomplished it makes you appreciate all the efforts that went into the production of this film.

The bad about this movie is that if you don't know what to expect when you see it, and a tad even if you do, then it could be seen as incredibly boring. Like I said, no dialogue, little in the way of action as seen in most films and lots of just watching an actor attempt to convey what is going on inside his character's head doesn't make for a movie that makes you jump up now and then. Instead the slow pace means some will hate it while others will understand just what they are watching. Go in expecting it to move slow at first and not speed up much later. Don't watch it if you are in need of a nap.

In the end I did enjoy the movie. Twenty minutes in I wasn't sure. By the time it finished I found that it was much better than I expected and much better than I thought early on. Stick with it and you'll find that this movie does what Hollywood does best; it entertains and makes you think at the same time.

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AUSTENLAND: FANTASY COME TRUE

Face it; the chances of a romantic comedy ever winning an Oscar are almost non-existent. Sure they can be a lot of fun and provide plenty of entertainment (as well as making the choice of a date movie easy) but comedies in general are often overlooked and romantic comedies are considered the red headed step child when it comes to films (no offense to all you redheads or step children out there). The thing is though that some of the most entertaining movies are romantic comedies and such is the case with the DVD release of AUSTENLAND.

Keri Russell stars as Jane Hayes, a young woman obsessed with the books of Jane Austen and all they involve. She dreams of having that one great romance some day where she will be swept off her feet by the perfect gentleman she seeks. The problem is that she is completely over the top with this obsession, so much so that her bedroom is decked out in period pieces and a cardboard cut out of Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy. Then Jane decides she's tired of waiting and takes matters into her own hands. She takes her life savings and goes on a trip to Austenland, a theme park in England based around the author and her books.

When she arrives in England she meets Mrs. Elizabeth Charming (Jennifer Coolidge), another hopeful going to Austenland. They set out and arrive only for Jane to discover that her vacation package was the copper package and Elizabeth's the platinum. In other words Elizabeth's gets her the best of the best while Jane is sent to the servant's quarters. Run by Mrs. Wattlebrook (Jane Seymour), the ladies are taken to the manor where they seem to have gone back in time. They aren't allowed any modern conveniences (except a toilet) and dress for that time period.

Various events are scheduled and included in the package are several actors portraying men as if they were from one of Austen's novels. Some are forward, some snooty, but all are paid to make the fantasies of these ladies come to life. Along with Elizabeth and Jane is Lady Amelia Heartwright (Georgia King) who seems intent on taking center stage whenever possible.

As the days pass it becomes apparent that Jane is not meeting her expectations of the vacation. Then she meets Martin (Bret McKenzie), the stable hand. They become confidants and grow close, something Jane appreciates since his role is not the same as the actors portraying love interests for the ladies. Has Jane found true love?

The vacation moves forward, the ladies all three become close and the actors do their jobs. Eventually Jane tires of the package she's been assigned and starts flirting with all the actors. One in particular, the stand offish Henry Nobley (JJ Field) begins to change his opinion of Jane. He actually begins to take an interest in her. Just what is going on behind the scenes as much as out front makes for a complicated romance here. Just who will Jane end up with by the final reel, Martin or Henry? Or perhaps no one?

The movie is a delight from start to finish. It moves along at a steady pace and never gets boring. The concept of the theme park and the extent to which they go to bring these ladies dreams to fruition is hilarious at times and sweet at others. There isn't a bad performance in the lot but stand outs are Russell who we don't see enough of these days and Coolidge who is absolutely hilarious in this role. Her butchering of an English accent will bring tears to your eyes.

No, this movie will not win an Oscar. Actually it shouldn't be considered for one. It's not THAT good. But it is quite entertaining and will provide a nice evening's entertainment. So if you're in the mood for a nice romantic comedy that will provide plenty of laughs, give AUSTENLAND a shot. You'll be glad you did.

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CHARLIE COUNTRYMAN: BAD NEWS FOR BUCHAREST TOURISM

I've never been a fan of Shia LaBeouf. I've never hated him either. For me he's just been there on the fringes of good movies, never a name I would associate with mega-stardom. I'm beginning to think that this may be the case for him the rest of his career. He's begun to try and make himself out to be edgy with his choices in roles and his antics in the public eye. This being a review you might wonder why I mention it. I do so because all of those things combine to take away from what might be a good actor trying to do good work. If he would just bypass all the hullabaloo that goes with being an actor and stick to performing he could become a star.

CHARLIE COUNTRYMAN features LaBeouf as the title character, a young man whose mother has just died and who seems to have no idea what to do with his life. But Charlie also has a unique gift that he doesn't tell anyone about. Much like the child in THE SIXTH SENSE, Charlie can see dead people moments after they perish. In the hospital he sees his mother talking to him in the hallway and telling him he should take time to travel and see Bucharest. Sensing that this is his fate, Charlie follows her suggestion.

On the plane to Bucharest Charlie is seated next to Victor, a Bucharest native returning from seeing his much loved Chicago Cubs play baseball. They strike up a conversation and immediate friendship with Victor showing Charlie the gift he has for his daughter. Both doze off and Charlie wakes to find Victor deceased and lying on his shoulder. Then he begins a last conversation with the now dead Victor who gives him a message to pass along to his daughter.

At the airport Charlie is questioned by the police and then released. He meets Victor's daughter Gabi (Evan Rachel Wood), a cellist in the Bucharest symphony, and passes along the message Victor asked him to. For Charlie it is love at first site. He tries to get closer to her, eventually tracking her down to where she performs. It is obvious there is a mutual attraction but their conversation is interrupted by Gabi's ex-husband Nigel (Mads Mikkelson), a sadistic criminal who continues to force himself into her life.

Given instructions on how to reach a local youth hostel to stay in, Charlie arrives and meets his two roommates Karl (Rupert Gint) and Luc (James Buckley), complete goofballs who are more interested in being wasted than anything else. After slipping Charlie some ecstasy the trio hits a strip club where Karl is hoping to find release from the 4 Viagra tabs he took. Unfortunately for him he does which the proprietor of the establishment, Darko (Til Schweiger) charges a lot extra for. When he notices Charlie eyeing a picture on the wall that has both Gabi and Nigel in it, he offers them a chance to pay up with something other than cash. He wants Charlie to bring Nigel to him.

From there the movie moves along what could have been a predictable path but one that takes a few twists and turns along the way. Charlie must reach out to Gabi in the hopes that he can actually have her for his own but at the same time he must seek her help in taking Nigel to Darko. Nigel, a full blown psychopath, will obviously do all he can to make sure he this doesn't happen if he finds out. Can Charlie convince her to help him? Can the two of them find love in this dark and dangerous place?

While the ability to talk to dead people plays some important moments in his life, the movie doesn't focus on that and instead focuses on Charlie and the love he finds. LaBeouf does a good job here as Charlie, a young man way out of his league in terms of what is going on around him. Wood as Gabi does a fine job as well even though numerous critics have said the part should have been played by a Romanian. For my money she does fine. Standing out though is Mikkelson who exudes charm and sophistication on one hand and terrifying murderous intent on the other. I can't remember an actor doing this this easily since Robert Mitchum in NIGHT OF THE HUNTER.

This may not have been a box office hit, it might not have even played in your neighborhood, but it is a film that's worth picking up and watching. Some scenes may make it a movie you won't want to add to your collection but it will offer an interesting, though definitely adult, story.

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FREEZER: NOT A MOVIE ABOUT THE BLIZZARD OF 2014

With the terrible temperatures we've been having this winter of 2014 my guess is most people would be hard pressed to rent or purchase a movie with a title like FREEZER. I'm hoping that isn't the case because this movie deserves to be seen. It's a tense thriller that keeps you guessing until the very end.

Dylan McDermott is Robert, a young man who wakes to find himself in a walk in freezer with his wrists and ankles strapped and no idea what is going on. Eventually two Russian mobsters come in and start asking him questions. Unhappy with his replies Robert turns into a punching bag for a while. It boils down to something they want, $8 million that they say he has and that they want back. Telling them he has no idea what they're talking about, that he was at a restaurant and went to use the bathroom only to wake here they leave him to consider what they want with the promise that they'll be back.

Robert frees himself from his bonds and begins to try and find a way out. The door is locked and the vent in the ceiling too small for him to fit through. The mobsters go back and forth, trying to convince him to give them the money. The second time they enter they bring along Alisa (Yuliya Snigir) and threaten her as well. Without the information or money they seek, Robert still can't help them.

The mobsters leave once more and Robert is soon startled to find someone else with him in the freezer, Sam Gurov (Peter Facinelli), the man the mobsters were looking for. It seems that Sam is an undercover policeman who infiltrated the Russian mob. Shot in a gun battle with the mobsters, he's severely wounded and in need of attention. He lets Robert know that the woman isn't another hostage but the girlfriend of the head mobster's son. The next time they mobsters return they soon discover Sam and deal with him.

With each visit the mobsters turn down the temperature in the freezer. With seemingly no way out it is up to Robert to use his brains to find any chance at all to survive. Having nothing to offer them he must take his chances with each visit. It's a struggle to survive not just the psychological and physical damage that they do to him each visit but to also survive the freezing temperatures as well. With the recent cold spell here in the Midwest sympathizing with his character became quite easy.

The movie may seem fairly straight forward but to say that all is not as it seems would be oversimplifying things. The best thing is that the twists and turns the movie takes come from out of left field so far that my guess is you won't see them coming. I know I didn't. For me that makes a more enjoyable film, one not so predictable that it becomes boring. Not only that but to tell this story in such a singular place as a freezer makes it even more of a treat since the film relies more on story telling and great performances to hold your interests. It does that from start to finish. This is a movie not to be missed and one that I think I'll hold on to. Who knows, maybe some sweltering day in the summer it will be one to bring out and remind me why it was I didn't enjoy winter.

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IMPRACTICAL JOKERS SEASON ONE: FUNNIER THAN EXPECTED

So I went into watching the first season of this series with a bit of trepidation. I'll admit that I wasn't in the mood to watch it and that I didn't expect much. I mean haven't we already had enough idiocy after watching numerous years of JACKASS? Did we really need another show that had guys doing stupid guy things that were funny when we were in high school or college?

Imagine my surprise to discover myself laughing as each episode played. Seriously, there were moments when I had to pause the disc so that I wouldn't miss what was said or done next I was laughing so hard. Now, that isn't to say that everything you will see here is hilarious or that it might not be offensive to some, but for the most part it is really funny.

If you've never watched the show we have four friends (Sal, Joe, Q and Murr) who challenge each other with new tasks each week. As a matter of fact they try out several tasks with each episode. As each one either succeeds or fails their task they accumulate points until the end of the show when one is designated the loser who must then perform a task given them by the winner, almost always something totally embarrassing for most people. All tasks are done out in public and as with most shows of this kind you can either get a sympathetic ear from some folks or a belt from others. It's a risk they take but one they do with the hopes of getting laughs and thus viewers each week.

The "dares" that each one of these friends comes up with involve some setting up and in some cases the participation of various businesses that will allow them to pretend to be working there. For instance one event takes place in a White Castle where each member must pretend to be a waiter at the counter. The problem is that while doing so they wear an ear bud that the other three are talking into, giving them instructions as to what to say or to do. They can either choose to follow those instructions or ignore them completely thus losing that round. More often than not they follow through.

Another event had them shopping out of other people's carts in a grocery store. One of them goes so far as to take a shopper's entire cart when they aren't looking. They take food off of other people's plates at a buffet, teach a karate class, try to raise money for some odd charities and many other antics. As I said, not all work but most do and the end result is hilarious at times.

So is this series one that you'll want to buy and keep on the shelf? If you had asked me before watching it I would have said no. If you had asked me while I was watching it I'd have said maybe but let me watch some more. At the moment though I think this is a series I'd hold on to. Maybe you'll come home one night, down in the dumps and ready to just kick back. Pop this one in the DVD player and my guess is you'll be smiling shortly after the credits kick in. It will provide some stupid laughs that won't require you to think much or to be too involved. Give it a try.

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MURPH-THE PROTECTOR: A TRUE HERO

For some reason people in the US tend to steer clear of documentaries. I think in part that has a lot to do with the one sided take most US documentary film makers have chosen, that of an involved participant with an axe to grind as opposed to a non-involved film maker attempting to capture the reality of the moment. True, no matter how hard you try to stay objective, your values and beliefs will come through. But it seems like most documentary film makers today take pride in displaying their beliefs before you even have a chance to watch their movie and most often these days that involves slamming someone, manipulating facts to your previously held conclusions or just plain using tabloid techniques to twist the story to fit your goal (can you say Michael Moore?). That being said I am sure that there was an opinion formed by the makers of MURPH: THE PROTECTOR. Fortunately that opinion was one of praise as opposed to how much dirt could be dug up.

Michael P. Murphy was your typical American boy for so many years with the exception that while some chose to pick on the little guy he always seemed to end up the defender. Told with a combination of family photos and interviews with family and friends, we get a glimpse into the formative years of this young man. Some may already know what he achieved but for others this is the beginnings of a story so many have come to be a part of in their own way, with their own families.

As he grew Murphy went on to accomplish many things. He was a comfort to his brother, a great son to both of his parents and he eventually went on to be an outstanding college student who was easy going and made plenty of friends. And then, after graduation, he made a decision to join the Navy. Not only that, he wanted to become a SEAL, the best of the best. As with all of the plans he made, he accomplished his goal. It was in his career as a SEAL that his name was brought to the attention of the world down the line.

As part of Operation Red Wing, a counter insurgent group in Afghanistan, in June of 2005, Murphy and 2 other members of his four man squad were killed in action. The fourth member of the squad, Marcus Luttrel, barely made it out alive but was the only survivor of the battle between this squad and insurgents there. If the name Luttrel sounds familiar it's because he went on to write a book about those events which became the basis for the hit film LONE SURVIVOR. By surviving and writing the book Luttrel has received attention, but Murphy is never far from his mind or from those who knew him and share those memories in this film.

Near the end of the film we are privy to the memories of his mother talking about meeting then President George W. Bush as Murphy was posthumously presented with the Medal of Honor. It's a touching story that shows not only the feelings of this mother who lost her son but gives us a glimpse of the man who Bush was behind the scenes, a man who felt her pain and shared it with her to the extent that was possible.

There are no action sequences in this film. It is almost all straight on head shots in interviews intermingled with the family photos I mentioned earlier. There are some filmed portions with Murphy on screen but they are rare. The best part of the film though isn't the way it was put together but in learning about the life of this young man who gave his life for his country. In a world where we make heroes out of million dollar earning movie stars and sports figures perhaps we need to see more about true heroes who deserve to be called just that. When this movie is finished you might think differently about what a hero truly is. Michael P. Murphy fit those criteria completely. So do the makers of this film for bringing his story to us. My guess is you won't see them honored by Hollywood but that shouldn't be a surprise.

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MCCONKEY: THE LIFE OF A THRILL SEEKER

There are a number of sports heroes today that are unlike any others from the past. These are heroes that aren't involved in the every day sports that most of us grew up with or participated in. These are the heroes involved in the X games and sports of that nature. While the line up of newcomers is vast, there are a few names that resound time and again. Such was the case with Shane McConkey.

With a father who was a ski pro and a mother who was tolerant of his desire to do different things, Shane was set to become the next up and coming ski pro on the Olympic team. But things took a turn in his life and he ended up uninterested in participating in that arena. A lack of interest in scholastics led to his leaving college and pursuing the dream of finding that next big rush. While this did little to inflate his bank account, it did lead to his becoming a celebrity of sorts which he later parlayed into a lucrative career.

Shane's beginnings of notoriety started with his skiing abilities and his choice to ski difficult or near impossible runs that no one else dared to. Skiing off of cliff faces down into slender runs that offered little space to ski was his claim to fame. The other was his willingness to make it all seem silly by doing things like skiing naked down a slope.

But that wasn't enough for Shane McConkey. The thrill, the rush, wasn't quite big enough. That's when he discovered bungee jumping which led into base jumping. For those who don't know what that is, base jumping is repelling off of a tall location like a bridge, electric tower or building and then releasing a parachute at the last minute possible. Yes, it is illegal and not recommended, but there are those who love it. Shane was one of those people.

When that too became too mundane he combined the things that interested him the most into a new sport. Climbing a mountain to get to the highest peak, Shane would ski down the slopes (what little there was of them) towards a cliff and then fly out over the edge. Releasing his skis, he would soar, flying if you will, until he hit that point where he would pull the cord and parachute the rest of the way.  

This item alone would make an interesting film. But we also get the story of the man behind the thrills. We see Shane meet and marry the love of his life. We see the child that he adored. We get to hear from friends and family what a wonderful person he is. But the fact that we also don't get to see much in the way of interviews with Shane himself should let you know up front what to expect at the end. For those who are aware of Shane already it won't come as a surprise. It won't if you're an astute viewer of documentaries lacking the star either.

Through it all there is some magnificent footage of skiing, base jumping and parachuting in various forms that will captivate you and make you long to be able to do the same. For those of us unwilling to take the leap and put ourselves in mortal jeopardy it gives us the chance to see what it would be like via standard footage and helmet cams that capture everything from the world of flight to the crash landings that do bodily harm.

Some will see this as a confirmation of life, of the story of a young man with a dream who pursued it in every aspect of his life. Some will see it as the sad tale of a man who was willing to lose his life in search of a thrill. Depending on how you view the choices made on a personal level will determine what you think of Shane McConkey. In the end one is left feeling that he did indeed get the most out of his life, he did pursue his dreams no matter where they led him. At the same time we also regret that he didn't stay with us longer. If nothing else the movie will give you the chance to learn of and live the life of Shane McConkey if only for the running time of the movie.

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PRISONERS: A PARENT'S WORST NIGHTMARE

If you have children, or if you are attached to a niece or nephew, then PRISONERS will make you quake in your boots from start to finish. It takes the most terrifying idea that a parent has, your child being abducted, and tosses it about in a fashion unseen before on screen. Is that a good thing? Yes.

The film opens with two families living in the same neighborhood getting together for Thanksgiving. One is Keller and Grace Dover (Hugh Jackman and Maria Bello), the other Franklin and Nancy Birch (Terence Howard and Viola Davis). After dinner the Dover's daughter wants to run home with the Birch's daughter to look for a whistle she can't find. Terror soon follows.

The two girls can't be found and the older kids they were supposed to ask go with them never knew that they left. From an earlier walk Dover's son remembered an RV parked down the road that his sister tried to climb. A manhunt follows with everyone searching for the girls and that RV.

As it so happens Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhall) gets the call about a sighting of the RV. He gets to the scene only to have the driver speed into a tree and then be captured. What they find is a young man named Alex Jones (Paul Dano) with some mental issues who either can't or won't answer their questions. Keller can't believe the police are as helpless as he is when it comes to finding answers and holds them accountable.

The search continues and eventually Jones is released. Keller confronts him in the parking lot and Jones whispers something to him that makes Keller believe he knows what happened to the girls. Intent on finding his daughter, even if the police have their hands tied with legalities, Keller kidnaps Jones and takes him to an abandoned apartment building he owns. With the reluctant help of Franklin he systematically tortures Jones to get information. It's brutal but not over done considering what's on the screen these days.

As Keller seeks information his way Det. Loki follows clues of his own. With a record of solving every case he's been assigned he doggedly pursues each lead that comes his way. Some go nowhere but a few turn up a suspect other than Jones, one who turns up at a candle light vigil for the two girls and who escapes Loki when he pursues him on foot. This doesn't stop him from continuing his search as well as his looking at Keller as a possible suspect as well.

Do they find the girls? Are they still alive? And just who really kidnapped them if anyone? If you want to know what happens rent or buy the movie, don't expect me to give it away. The twists and turns in this plot bounce back and forth more than Mullholland Drive if it were ice covered and foggy. The movie does a great job of making you think one way then convincing you that you should look another only to toss in a third concept before making you think you were right to begin with. Got that? Well that's the sort of back and forth I'm talking about. In the end everything fits in place and the result is an ending that makes sense. I won't say you'll be happy with it, but it makes sense.

As seems to be the case with many films these days there isn't a bad performance on screen here. Jackman and Gyllenhall take center stage when it comes to outstanding performances, both exercising their acting muscles by playing parts different than we've seen them in before. Howard is given far too small a part to play here but does it well. Bello and Davis feel more like supporting roles than leads here and that's a shame. Dano once more plays that misunderstood character and does a fine job.

Don't let the 153 minute length scare you away. Time flies when you're watching this one and there isn't a boring moment. And when you get to the last 30-40 minutes you'll be wringing your hands waiting to see what happens next. This one is worth watching.

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THANKS FOR SHARING: ...AND I AM A SEX ADDICT


One of the best things found in the world of movie lovers is a film that you expect nothing of but that offers so much that you are stunned by how well you like it. This is one of those movies. I had heard virtually nothing about this movie other than it was something Redbox chose to highlight as a pick of the week. If it played in theaters locally it wasn't for long. Too bad because even with the sensitive subject matter it deserved more viewers.

The story revolves around three men all involved in various stages of sex addiction. I know, you're probably laughing at the topic but the truth is it's a very serious addiction that more people are falling prey to these days. The reason why becomes obvious as the film opens to find Mark Ruffalo as Adam making his way to work and confronted with various displays of women half clad in billboard and poster ads plastered everywhere on the streets of New York. Adam is a successful at work but struggles with the daily confrontations. In spite of those he is 5 years "sober" which he brings up at the SA meeting he goes to.

We also meet Mike (Tim Robbins), a small business owner who remodels homes and who is also an addict. But Mike is more than just a sex addict, he's been through various other addictions as well like alcohol. The twelve step programs Mike has used to bring him back to reality have worked but also become his newest addiction. He is a support person for Adam as well as others in the group and more often than not lends his help to them more than he does his own family. The tension between Mike and his son Danny (Patrick Fugit) is palpable in part due to Danny's past problems with drugs and poor choices made when he was young. Where Mike might forgive his addictive friends he rarely thinks the best of Danny, now clean and sober and trying to make things right.

The third member of the trio lends the comedic aspects of the movie in an attempt to lighten things up a bit. Neil (Josh Gad) is a doctor who's been ordered to go to SA meetings after some incidents involving inappropriate behavior. But Neil isn't taking things seriously enough as we witness when he presses his body up against a lady on the subway. Adam is his sponsor but isn't willing to help him since he doesn't take it seriously. Events happen that force Neil to confront the person he has become and Adam, along with fellow SA member DeDe (Alecia Moore aka Pink), might actually make it out of this alive.

Along with these three characters and their stories we're introduced to a woman Adam meets and begins dating, Phoebe (Gwyneth Paltrow). Encouraged by Mike to start dating, he meets her at a party and they get along with ease. Once it looks like they might be doing well, she mentions to Adam that her last boyfriend was an alcoholic and her intentions of never being with another addict again. Rather than inform her then, Adam feels things are going so well he hides his problem only to be forced to confront this deception at a later date.

While this may seem like more information than you need just to watch the movie, it does offer just a glimpse of what is to come. It sets the stage for the drama and comedy that unfolds as we watch these three separate people deal with varying stages of the addiction they all suffer with. And while most would joke about the term sexual addiction you have to admit that the influence of sex in our lives has gone to extremes from movies to pop stars to commercials for Victoria's Secret airing during prime time. How could there not be a problem arises from all of this?

Each of the actors does a tremendous job of fleshing out their characters in the small amount of time they are given. While Ruffalo and Robbins might get the most attention it is Gad who does the best job of the three, showing that comedic side that attempts to disguise his addiction but eventually letting it all flow freely in his cry for help. While he offers the biggest surprise here Moore does a great job on her first outing in a major role as well.

If you're afraid of the touchy subject matter, that's understandable. But don't let it prevent you from watching some great performances as well as getting to hear a story told well. It might be a movie too uncomfortable to watch over and over again but it is still one worth watching and perhaps revisiting now and again, especially if Gad becomes a force to be reckoned with down the road.

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ON THE RIVIERA: DOUBLE DUTY


It's a shame that a huge number of once great Hollywood stars will be forgotten or completely unknown to a new generation. Those of us who grew up with them will remember them but for a while we had no outlet to see them once again. Thanks to TCM we get that opportunity. But what about fans of certain stars and their desire to own copies of movies they remembered? That's recently changed as well as studios are bringing out titles in great number. Not only that, they're doing so in blu-ray so you get the best quality as well. Case in point ON THE RIVIERA starring Danny Kaye.

Kaye is best remembered by some for WHITE CHRISTMAS but those of us old enough to recall remember him from movies like THE COURT JESTER and his TV series, back when variety shows actually aired. He was an all around talent, able to sing, dance and do comedy like few others. All of that is on display in this film.

Kaye plays two roles in this one: Jack Martin, a nightclub performer in France trying to make it big and Henri Duran, a French aviator/industrialist who just made a trip in his newest plane design. Duran is also quite the womanizer, much to the chagrin of his wife Lili (Gene Tierney). The thing about both men is that they look amazingly alike, something even Henri's wife notices at a performance Jack puts on.

When the backer of Henri's new design tries to wedge himself in to take over the company, Henri must fly to London to discuss the possibilities of a new backer. But if he does so it means the backer in France will know that he has him on the ropes. Henri's partners come up with a plan to save the day: get Jack to pose as Henri during a party. Plans like these always sound simple but rarely become so.

Jack's partner and girlfriend Colette isn't fond of the idea, especially since she noticed Jack had an eye for Lili. While Lili is aware that Jack is posing as Henri, Jack thinks she has no idea claiming if she knew he'd be too nervous to pull it off. Some harmless flirting ensues but not much more. Other troubles arise when Jack is pulled into a closed door meeting with the backer, Henri returns early, Jack must leave the party to perform on TV and Collette shows up at the Duran house during a party. It all ends well with everyone straightened out by the final reel.

What the movie does for Kaye fans is give them a chance to see him doing what he does best. The musical numbers are well performed from choreography to the songs chosen. His dancing has never seemed more seamless. His singing is up to par with others from this time period. And the laughs are there, though perhaps not as much as in some of his other films.

The best thing about this release is that fans have the chance to own another classic Kaye and locate it on their shelves. While this falls into the category of sexual comedies there is nothing remotely tasteless or over the top as is seen today. Instead we get some laughs and the chance to enjoy an adult comedy that stays within bounds. Gone are the days.

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RUN: POOR MAN'S PARKOUR


Parkour has become the rage these days. It's been featured on TV shows and movies like CASINO ROYALE and has even found a home in commercials. For those unaware, parkour is "...the activity or sport of moving rapidly through an area, typically in an urban environment, negotiating obstacles by running, jumping and climbing...". If you've seen someone running and jumping through things or flipping off of walls at a run, you've seen parkour.

Perhaps the best film to use parkour has been DISTRICT B13 which had people flying at tremendous speeds through a broken down district in France in the near future. That movie was an amazing film to see and displayed the sport at its best. Now a new movie has been released trying to duplicate that success but it falls a bit short, no pun intended.

Seventeen year old Daniel is on the run with his father non-stop. The duo rob places to get by and support themselves, Daniel using his skills at parkour to escape the fastest police around. One day Daniels father Mike (Adrian Pasdar) decides they've run long enough. It seems that years ago Mike married a woman whose brother Jeremiah (Eric Roberts) was unhappy with her choice. When she died after being shot and giving birth to Daniel, Jeremiah swore to make Mike pay. What he didn't know was that Daniel was born.

So Mike and Daniel return to the tough streets of New York with Mike hoping to make amends with Jeremiah. Daniel goes to school and gets caught up with another teen that just happens to be into parkour as well. While he disguises his abilities, Daniel falls for his friend's sister. All of this comes to a head later when the bad guys kidnap her and Jeremiah eventually captures Mike as well. Only Daniel can save the day but not before it's revealed that Mike's old friend and Jeremiah's right hand Luke had more to do with the whole story than first believed.

The movie here is well intentioned but falls short of its goal. The production values are on the lower end but you get the feeling everyone involved had higher hopes than what turned out. You have to give them credit for that. The parkour on display seems incredibly basic. It's sort of like comparing the high wire stunts in Chinese made martial arts films to the first karate displays offered in American made movies in the sixties. William Moseley as Daniel does his best but it's apparent he was hired for his parkour skills and not his acting ability. That said, he does his best and may turn out to do better work in the future; there is hope.

On the whole this movie is entertaining in an ELECTRIC BOOGALOO sort of way but not one that I'd add to my shelf. Still, if you had little else to choose from at your rental outlet or chance to see it on Netflix it provides a decent night's entertainment. Just go in knowing what to expect. Let's hope all involved progress from here.

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FORCE OF EXECUTION: SEAGAL, PLEASE STOP




Let me be the first to say it. Okay maybe not the first but among the folks who want it to be known. Steven Seagal, that wonder of movie martial arts flicks needs to stop what he's doing, stop thinking he knows what's best and start listening to directors and writers who make movies. Once he does that perhaps he'll stop starring in direct to video crap like this and make good movies once again.

Seagal plays a crime lord here, a man who used to work for some unnamed government agency that did bad things (routine for Seagal movies these days) who turned those skills into a way to make money. His protégé Roman (Bren Foster) is sent on a mission to kill an inmate at the local prison. Signaled wrongly on purpose by Ice Man (Ving Rhames) for some reason, he must pay the price for a job gone wrong. Seagal allows the employer time with Roman alone during which he breaks both of his hands.

Months pass and now Roman is a drunk on the streets whose hands have healed improperly. He's now living in a room above a restaurant owned by Seagal's daughter Karen. There he makes friends of a sort with her cook Jimmy Peanuts (Danny Trejo). As the film progresses we learn that Jimmy is there not to just cook but protect Karen as well.

Problems arise when Ice Man is released from prison and decided to take over the empire created by Seagal and his partners. Wiping out the partners one by one, he sets his sites on the whole ball of wax. Each step brings him closer and closer to Seagal and an eventual showdown is bound to happen. So how does Roman come into this? Seagal has been footing the bill for him ever since his hands were broken. The damaged hands have prevented him from using his martial arts skills to kill people but the skills are still there, especially in his legwork which we see when some goons try to hold up Jimmy. Just how Seagal helps Roman with his hands is beyond belief and more along the lines of you gotta be kidding me than wow that's amazing. Let's just hope no one with damaged hands follows the instructions used here.

The movie plays at the slowest pace possible and the acting leaves much to be desired. Production values are solid here but that's about it. I've read that Seagal has a penchant for telling writers and directors that he knows best what words to say and how to say them. If that were the case he'd be making better movies. I'm sorry but it's the truth and someone needs to tell him. Rhames and Trejo have both done better and deserve to be in a better film than this one. If they continue down this path they'll be making only direct to DVD films as well.

The only standout here is Bren Foster who has the opportunity to break out of these sorts of films and become a star. He's got the good looks necessary to be a star and his ability in martial arts seems top notch. He just needs to find the right vehicle to display those abilities and this isn't it. Good luck to him in the future. And good luck to Seagal if he continues to make movies like this. 

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AFTERSHOCK: TERROR AFTER THE QUAKE



I've never been a big fan of Eli Roth. I know many think of him as the new face of horror but most of his movies to me have amounted to minor of the plot/story with a focus on the gore. I have no problem with gore in movies, but gore for gore's sake gets boring after a while and for me most of his films have been that, boring. So when I heard his name connected with this film I viewed it with trepidation. Once I found out he wasn't directing I felt better. In the end, we have a decent movie here that offers some chills along the way from start to finish.

The movie takes place in Chile where three friends (one played by Roth who gets a co-writing credit on the film too) and business partners are enjoying the night life that the city they're in has to offer. One of the three is Chilean so he speaks the language. Moving from club to club, night spot to night spot, the three end up connecting with three women and the six of them carry on with the partying. So much for about 30 minutes of the film. It's not quite enough time to make us care about the group or perhaps it's the antics that involve them but when things change we care.

While in one of the clubs a huge earthquake hits and panic follows. The required amounts of gore and blood flow as people are crushed beneath the columns and pillars that decorate the club they're in. One of the friends has his arm crushed and as the group gets out they begin to search for the nearest hospital. When they hit the streets the amount of devastation confronts them as they roam the city seeking help while dealing with the looting and rioting that follow each aftershock.

But that's not enough jeopardy to put this group in. Someone mentions that there was a prison nearby that housed the worst of the worst, the nastiest killers the country had to offer. So on top of trying to find help and dealing with the wreckage around them they now must try and decipher who is safe to trust and who might be one of these mentally disturbed prisoners.

This adds a nice touch to what could have been a rather standard disaster film. The group does their best to make it through but along the way is hunted down by the escaped prisoners. Just who will and won't make it through the night becomes the question that follows them from street to street. As would be expected, not all of them will survive. Who does and doesn't adds to the suspense (limited though it may be) and moves the story from point A to point Z. All would be fine with the exception of the ending (which I won't spoil but saw coming a mile away), which makes this film a part of the sort of movie Roth would make. If you don't understand that comment I won't ruin the ending for you.

Not great acting but passable, some decent gore effects and a well shot film. The story moves along at a snails pace to start but picks up once the earthquake hits. If you're not a fan of Roth then there is one piece in this you will love. On the whole this is a movie worth watching if you like disaster or horror films. If you don't like either or are planning a trip to Chile, I'd pass this one by.

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WOLVERINE: ONE RONIN




Fans of the comic books involving the X-Men and in particular Wolverine were not quite happy with the first solo film involving the character. As a fan of both, I wasn't disappointed but the outcry when it was released garnered quite a bit of attention. Fortunately one group paying attention was the makers behind the new DVD release THE WOLVERINE. They've made a grittier and more true to the source film that makes up for those who were upset.

Fans were well acquainted with the characters of Yukio (Rila Fukushima) and Mariko (Tao Okamato). The first was an ally of Logan aka Wolverine (a returning Hugh Jackman) and the latter the love of his life in the comic books. Both were given plenty of time to be fleshed out in the comic series RONIN done by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller. Fortunately both are given the proper treatment here in this movie.

We start with Logan hallucinating following the last X-MEN film, still haunted by the death of Jean Grey. Logan is alone in the woods camping and drinking. A turn of events leads him to town and an encounter with Yukio. She tells him she is here to take him to meet her employer, Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi). In a short opening piece to the film we witnessed Logan save him while a prisoner of the Japanese during an atom bomb attack. Now Yashida is dying and wants to give a gift to Logan.

When he arrives in Japan, Logan eventually meets his old friend. Dying of old age and more, Yashida offers Logan a gift that he was never able to attain, the gift of death. If you've followed the films involving Logan you know that his main mutant ability is to regenerate his cells making him invincible and also unable to die. With his current state of mind this seems like a genuine gift. All Yashida needs to do is have his doctor use a new technique on Logan. They start but before all can go according to plans Yashida passes away, leaving behind not only Logan but his power hungry son Shingen, Shingen's daughter Mariko and a group of yakuza assassins intent on taking over his company.

During the funeral these yakuza assassins make an attempt on Mariko's life during which Logan is shot and realizes for the first time pain and the seriousness of wounds inflicted upon him. As the yakuza try to kidnap the young woman, Logan goes into full battle mode and rescues her. Included in this rescue is one of the most hair raising fight sequences atop a speed train that will leave your palms wet with sweat.

Logan and Mariko retreat to a small village where she feels safe, a secret hideaway. While there the two fall in love but Logan remains constantly vigilant for fear of harming Mariko. Their romance is cut short when the bad guys finally catch up to them taking Mariko with them and leaving Logan behind. With the help of Yukio, Logan begins putting together the pieces of the puzzle as to who is behind it all. At the same time he reverses the experiment done to him giving him the strength and resilience he needs to come to the rescue. Trust me when I say having Wolverine unhappy with you is not a pretty picture.

Battles with a band of master ninjas know as The Hand and a final confrontation with comic book character the Silver Samurai and this is bar none a movie that is filled with action. But that's not what makes it special. Along with all that action are a love story and the tale of a man trying to redeem himself for the sins of the past, a man who is not only a warrior but a man of honor, a ronin or samurai warrior with no master seeking retribution.

Each actor brings a seriousness to their character that one wouldn't expect from anyone portraying a comic book hero/heroine. They flesh out their performances to make them believable in the most unbelievable world you can imagine. Jackman was born to play this role and we can only hope another fantastic script will lead him into this role once again (other than the soon to be released X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST).

The action is well done, well filmed and helps to carry not just the film but the story as well as opposed to just being tossed in for the sake of action. And the story is perhaps the best thing found in this film. It isn't just men in tights flying across rooftops but a serious tale of Logan finding his path once more as well as the love of his life. Go into this one knowing ahead of time that their is more story than usual and you'll find a great movie this time around.

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THE WAR BETWEEN MEN AND WOMEN: THURBER COMES ALIVE

My guess is that, sadly, there are few people living today who know the name of James Thurber. A noted humorist and cartoonist, Thurber was hailed as one of the greats for many years. A TV series called MY LIFE AND WELCOME TO IT aired in the 60s based on his life and drawings. But today he is long forgotten. Unless of course you check out THE WAR BETWEEN MEN AND WOMEN.

Jack Lemmon stars as Peter, a divorced man who draws and writes for a living and who has decided that men and women should not co-mingle. In his mind's eye the only thing it leads to is a disruptive life at best and mental cruelty at worst. Of course this means that before long he'll meet someone special enough that he'll want to get married.

Enter Theresa (Barbara Harris), a woman he meets in the waiting room of his eye doctor. You see Peter also has a problem that will completely affect his work: he's losing his sight. This is not something he shares with anyone, including his friends. So this first encounter with Theresa doesn't go well. They do contact one another and eventually spend the night together. An interest develops and soon Peter not only finds himself married but with three children and a pet dog as well.

As if this wasn't enough to complicate Peter's life and his various crotchety attacks on women via his drawings and writings, Theresa's ex-husband suddenly falls into the picture. Steven (Jason Robards) is the adventurer extraordinaire, a prize winning photographer who has traveled the world and taken pictures from various war torn countries. He is a hero in his children's eyes and a pain in the posterior to Peter as he flirts with his ex from the moment he arrives...and invites himself to stay with them.

Seen at first as adversaries circumstances lead the two men to become friends of a sort ending with a war of cartoon characters on the walls of Peter and Theresa's home between men and women. Just how the actual battle involving all three parties is resolved makes for an interesting film at times but not the blockbuster that Paramount was expecting.

There are moments that are truly touching, most notably a story that Peter shares with Theresa's middle daughter Linda (Lisa Gerritsen) involving a world that falls apart and is saved by a flower. Based on one of Thurber's actual stories it helps her come to grips with the world she lives in. 

This movie is being released on DVD and for fans of Lemmon who feel the need to own everything he ever made you'll be pleased. For the rest of us we get a movie that isn't too bad but nothing special either. It truly feels dated from the clothing to the atmosphere to just the way the movie is made. It isn't a great movie but it could provide a decent night's entertainment.

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