COMING SOON...

COMING SOON...

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

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

THE MONUMENTS MEN: THE IMPORTANCE OF HISTORY

We live in a throw away society, a world where everything is expendable and ready to be tossed aside once we've finished with it. Kids today seem only interested in themselves and what's going on in the present, never caring what happened before they were born. The saddest part of this is the fact that in being this way they never expose themselves to some of the greatest things in the world, everything from classic novels to pieces of art that have survived centuries. With any luck a few of them will watch THE MONUMENTS MEN and consider doing so.

George Clooney stars as Frank Stokes, a military officer in World War II who presents a case to President Roosevelt about the famous works found in museums in Europe. In this presentation he shows Roosevelt famous pieces of art that have gone missing, supposedly taken by Hitler to be put on display when he wins the war in a specially built structure. That is if he doesn't damage them first or if the allies don't damage them while fighting battles from one town to the next. Stokes request is that a special select group of men work to save these pieces of art before they are all destroyed. Given the go ahead, he assembles his team.

The team is small. There aren't that many people qualified or willing to be a part. Each has their own role to play in helping with this seemingly impossible task. Included in the group are James Granger (Matt Damon), Richard Campbell (Bill Murray), Walter Garfield (John Goodman), Jean Claude Clermont (Jean Dujardin), Preston Savitz (Bob Balaban) and Donald Jeffries (Hugh Bonneville). These are the Monuments men, the elite group that sets out to fulfill the task Stokes has set forth. Granger is sent undercover to find out as much information as he can concerning the whereabouts of artwork stolen in France. The rest are split into teams and sent searching for other various artifacts.

Using various methods they accumulate enough knowledge that they discover a pattern used in the transport of these works of art. It appears that each location on the map they point out with the clues presented there are underground mines where the art has been stored, at least in part. As the troops move forward, the team accompanies them in an attempt to fulfill their mission. Placing their lives in danger, not all will come home, but each will play his part in this truly historic mission.

This gives you the basic idea of what the movie is about. What it doesn't do is show the admiration these men had for not just the task at hand but the items they were sent to save. While some might find a Rembrandt of a museum quality piece of artwork in a foreign church boring, these men look upon each with reverence and respect. The military might see their job as unworthy of their efforts but a twist results in them finding more than they bargained for.

Based on the true story of this team the movie offers it all. There is plenty of camaraderie among the team, an affection that develops between them as they move forward. There is the awe that each one inspires with the items they find. There is humor in various moments where things can be light hearted. And there is tragedy as some fall to the enemy.

What makes this movie important though is to consider what it was they actually accomplished. To think that some of these pieces might have disappeared (which some actually did) makes their story one of success where few thought it could happen. That they were able to rescue as much as they did is an amazing feat and one that should be lauded. I found it amazing that it took this long for their story to be told.

The movie offers not just great entertainment but a piece of history that all should be made aware of. It's a film that young people should see to realize that there was a world out there before they were born and that many things they take for granted could simply have not been there if not for the efforts of people like this. Ipads, Ipods and Facebook are all great things but not near as great as what these people saved. It would be nice to know that at least a few people in the world appreciate the work that they did. Hopefully young people will find enough interest to watch this movie and feel a bit of that.

Click here to order.

ART OF THE STEAL: ART FOR THE TAKING

Movies about criminals have fascinated movie goers for decades. Consider the typical heist films of the past like THE ASPHALT JUNGLE (1950), TOPKAPI (1964) and both versions of THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR (1968 & 1999). All were heist films that had you rooting for the criminals to get away. It was the story and performances that made them interesting, showing how these thieves would go about stealing whatever precious object they had set as their goals. Now comes THE ART OF THE STEAL, a new heist film that starts off meek and ends with a flourish.

Kurt Russell is Crunch Calhoun, a driver for a crew of art thieves who starts the film being sent to prison in Poland after a job goes south. He should have been free but his brother Nicky (Matt Dillon) sold him out to the cops so he could skate free. After 5 and a half years (time off for good behavior), Crunch is out of prison and has gone straight. He now jumps cars on his motorcycle, occasionally taking a fall for a set fee. Living with Crunch are his wife Lola (Kathryn Winnick) and his sidekick Francie (Jay Baruchel).

A phone call has Crunch back in touch with his old crew led by Nicky. The old contractor in their crew has been informed by a collector that there is an item to be stolen that he will pay top dollar for. Rather than a piece of art like they've stolen in the past, this is a rare book printed by Gutenberg right after he printed the Bible. The Book of James is a piece that exists but has been stolen and replaced by a forgery. Unfortunately the thief transporting the book was caught and arrested and the book impounded by the border patrol at Niagara Falls. All they have to do is steal it within 3 days from the impound, a well monitored, well guarded facility.

Crunch comes up with a plan that might work but Nicky finds flaws in it. Instead he comes up with a different plan that will incorporate some of Crunch's ideas instead. The team sets about putting the plan into motion which involves a hilarious piece of art that has to be seen to be believed. Once they piece is taken things should progress to an exchange for cash and the movie end, right? Not this time.

All of this takes place in the first half of the film. What happens from their turns the heist into something else altogether different. Sure, their will be an exchange and money to be made. But is this heist the last one of the film? Or is something else going on here?

The movie opens nicely, setting the stage for the heist that follows. It also puts into play a number of things that will tie into it all including a goofy Interpol agent who uses an art thief arrested in the past to help him, played by Terence Stamp. As the film progresses it offers a nice combination of suspense and humor that works well for all involved. There is no character that doesn't have their chance to shine in the limelight here. Each brings to their part nuances that make them their own. I've always thought Russell was an overlooked marvel in his films and this proves that he still has what it takes. I stated in another review that Matt Dillon has become a better actor than anyone could have imagined years ago. The rest all turn in performances that match these two and make it a definite ensemble piece.

As the film progresses from the start though it feels like it might not be the best thing since sliced bread. But by the last reel you'll discover that it is one of the best heist films ever made. It brings something new to the table that differentiates it from the rest. And best of all it entertains from start to finish.

Thirty minutes in I thought it was a good movie that I probably wouldn't want to keep and watch again. By the end of the film I had changed my mind. It was that good. So if you're willing to take a gamble on a crime film, then make sure you give this one a watch. I'm guessing it will be on your list of movies to recommend as well as it is on mine.

Click here to order.

I, FRANKENSTEIN: FRANKENSTEIN, DEMONS AND ANGELS OH MY!



I've admitted on more than one occasion that I am a horror film fan. True horror fans love nearly every horror film made, the bad as well as the good. Truth be told the majority of those films fall somewhere in the middle, never quite reaching classic status but rarely being so bad as to be putrid. So when you find one that sits in the middle but teeters toward the good side it's a joy. I, FRANKENSTEIN falls into that category.

The film opens with a retelling of the Frankenstein tale as told by the creature (Aaron Eckhart) to the point of his creator dying of cold at the North Pole. The creature returns his body to his homeland and buries him. Before leaving the graveyard he is attacked by demons. Saving the creature from their attack are the gargoyles. A nice twist on the concept of appearance is that the demons look like humans and the gargoyles are actually angles sent to protect mankind. They offer to protect him, going so far as to give him a name (Adam), but he turns them down, accepts the weapons they provide him and wanders the Earth for the next 200 years.

During that time Adam finds himself fighting off demons with greater frequency until he is finally drawn back to where it all began, where he was given a chance at redemption. Why is it the demons are searching for Adam? What is it they could want?

The story unfolds in bits and pieces, details of which I won't share here. Suffice to say that the lead demon (Bill Nighy) needs either Adam or the book written by Frankenstein himself which explains how he was able to re-animate the corpses he sewed together. It seems that Nighy is funding research on bringing back the dead for supposed scientific purposes. Face it; we all know this won't end well. The truth lies in the fact that Nighy is the lead demon and his real reasons won't be revealed early on.

You know from the earliest moments in the film that an eventual beat down between the demons and gargoyles will happen before the film ends. You also get the idea that Adam will be caught in the middle of it all and will be taking out as many demons as he possibly can during that battle. But will he and the gargoyles succeed or will the demons win this battle? And what is their ultimate reason for seeking to re-animate the dead?

All questions are answered by the end of the movie. It is the journey to that point that is enjoyable.  I've seen numerous reviews slam this movie as having the worst twist on the Frankenstein creature ever filmed but I have to disagree. With so many standard versions having been made it was nice to see a different direction taken for once. Most importantly with this twist is the discussion rarely held about the creature, the discussion of his having a soul or not. Does he or doesn't he? And if he doesn't is that something that can be changed?

In such wild roles you would think actors would come off as over the top, but that's not the case here. Each and every one makes their character believable, not and easy task with this material. To help them along an extreme use of CGI (computer generated images) are used to make both demons and gargoyles seem alive on screen.

Brought to you by the same people responsible for the UNDERWORLD series of films, this movie looks a lot like those with vampires and werewolves replaced by demons and gargoyles. It has that same blue tint to nearly the entire film and given that Nighy was in the earlier series there are moment you could see it as just another episode. But the change in creatures helps alter that a bit.

Is this the greatest thing since sliced bread? By all means no. But it does offer a brief entertainment that will have you rooting for the creature and enjoying some fantastic special effects. It's one I've thought I might continue to enjoy in the future. It all depends on your likes and dislikes. For me it was worth watching.

Click here to order.

VAMPIRE ACADEMY: A VAMPIRE MOVIE THAT SUCKS

Perhaps it's due to my age but I honestly am tiring of the teen movies coming out these days. Even in my twenties I enjoyed the films about that age group better than what's coming out now. Movies like THE BREAKFAST CLUB and even SIXTEEN CANDLES told us more about the teens of the day and their problems than this new crop has done. Today it seems that teens can't face normal problems so we place them in danger via vampires or twisted tales of the future. Of the lot only the HUNGER GAMES films have proven worthwhile. Now we have VAMPIRE ACADEMY, based on the best selling series meant for teens. Even that bothers me knowing that teens would rather read this than things more worthwhile.

The story revolves around two friends involved at the Vladamir Academy, the titular location referred to in the title. They live in a world where there is a certain order to vampires. First off is the Moroi, the good vampires, nobles who feed off of willing donors but do not turn them. The Moroi are practitioners of magic involving the elements. They also age and die eventually and aren't as apt to suffer at things like the sun or other folk legends.

Those that do suffer from those maladies are known as the Strigoi. These are ex-Moroi who have drained a human being completely thus turning themselves into savage blood draining killers. These are the vampires that we have come to fear. They do avoid the sun and can only be killed with a silver stake through the heart.

Lastly there are the Dhampir. These are the offspring of a unification of human and Moroi. The Damphir are raised to protect the Moroi from any evil that might befall them, especially attacks from the Strigoi who seem determined to wipe out all traces of the civilized vampire sect.

Now you have the history of the cast of characters in this movie. It's told via narration through Rose (Zoey Deutch), a Dhampir whose best friend also happens to be the next in line for the crown, Lissa Dragomir (Lucy Fry). Not only are the best friends but the two start the movie on the run, having escaped from the Academy. Somewhere along the line they've become bonded and Rose has the ability at times to see through the eyes of Lissa. They're caught and brought home by Dimitri, the best Dhampir, and his crew. Before entering the Academy they are attacked but survive.

Once they are home the headmistress of the school chastises them for leaving and placing Lissa in great danger. But she's not the worst problem they face. They now have to return to high school and all that entails, including a young Moroi named Mia who has stolen Lissa's old boyfriend and has now set out to destroy Lissa and Rose's reputations. It's cat fight time at school!

As all of this unfolds Rose goes into heavy duty training as a Dhampir. At present she's only a novice, now the time has come for serious training. Between her psychic connection to Lissa and seeing things going on in her life and her attraction to her teacher Dimitri, this isn't going to be easy. It becomes more difficult when strange things begin happening at the school to Lissa including finding dead animals hanging from her door. Someone seems to have their eye set on something dreadful happening to Lissa and now it's up to Rose to find out who.

There were too many things I didn't like about this movie to single one out as the worst. The acting was so-so at best. Even Gabriel Byrne as an aging Moroi doesn't come off well. The sets of the film feel fake at every moment. It's as if any blade of grass was astro turf and all the walls look like stage sets from a high school production.

Perhaps the worst part of this for me was the story itself. It feels so borrowed, so un-fresh as to be spoiled.  The entire story feels as if a number of other teen centered concepts were placed into a blender and turned on high. From TWILIGHT we have vampires, from HARRY POTTER we have a school and from CLUELESS we have the teen girls banding together to take on a common enemy. To think that this has yielded not one but several books frightens me.

The movie ends with a set up for a sequel but I found myself hoping that they didn't make the attempt. I wouldn't want to watch this movie again let alone a sequel. That's saying something because I've always felt that while a first film set up a universe the second always expanded on it. I have no desire to see this one expanded. I don't even think I'll watch this one a second time.

Perhaps, as I said at the start, it has something to do with my age. Maybe if I were a teenage girl this movie would hold some sort of attraction for me. Then again the box office numbers for this movie were so distant from that of TWILIGHT that maybe we're in luck and this will be the one and only film those few fans will have.

Click here to order.

REEL ZOMBIES: FICTION BECOMES REALITY

There have been tons of found footage movies made in the wake of THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. Some have been good, some mediocre and a large number terrible. So when you read on a label or description of a film that you're going to be watching one a mind set kicks in that says the odds are against it being good. It's always a surprise and treat when it is.

REEL ZOMBIES takes the found footage format, combines it with a behind the scenes making of documentary and comes up with something original and entertaining. I will say that at first I found the movie a tad slow and uninspired, but the more I watched and considered the theme the better it got.

The story we have here is that the zombie apocalypse has actually occurred. People are doing their best to survive and for the most part it isn't as dreadful as portrayed in most films. Among those who are doing fine Mike and David, the producer and director of a series of zombie flicks made pre-apocalypse. While ZOMBIE NIGHT 1 and 2 didn't fare well at the box office, these low budget film makers plug away with the hopes that theaters will one day be open again and searching for product. Since many of the major studios have fallen, these guerilla film makers have the chance to produce product that they think will be in demand.

What better type of movie to make then than a zombie flick! Especially since the needed effects and make up on the zombies are no longer an issue. Rather than hire actors to play those parts they hire a zombie wrangler to handle the zombies and intend to shoot in as safe a condition as possible. They also gather together a number of the crew that they've used in the past, all still apparently safe after the reality of zombies came into existence.

Hiring actors is easy as well with the studios no longer around and actors looking for work. One of the funniest concepts here is that they continue to be oblivious in some ways to the dangers around them and still have that heavy duty boost of ego that makes them want to be in movies rather than simply survive in a world turned around. One actress is more than eager to pop her top to get the lead part, something you would think wouldn't be necessary during these times. But this is a low budget film and why would anyone looking to be in pictures change their attitude just because the world is ending?

With little to no apparent script or at least one written on the fly the group begins shooting. When their first casualty happens (as any moviegoer knows will happen) it is actually one of the funniest scenes in the movie. Your immediate thought is how could anyone be so stupid as to get themselves in that spot where they could be harmed. Then you start to think well of course he did it, he was more concerned with making this movie than his own safety. That or he thought others were looking out for him not realizing they were thinking of the shot as well.

The movie progresses with actors and crew members constantly placed in danger and totally oblivious to it all, instead focusing on making their movie. When one actor is bitten he insists on carrying on and filming until he turns thereby giving his all to his final performance. Of course the producer and director readily agree and keep on shooting.

At moments this feels like a Troma film in large part do to the nearly non-existent budget used to make this film. But it also relates to those films in that we have a group of people who love movies trying to do their best with no money. They also offer a group that wants to be involved at all costs even though the world around them has fallen.

As I said it take a while for this movie to get rolling and at times remains a bit slow, but when you place yourself in the shoes of those involved the humor slowly begins to develop. No, this is not Oscar material by any means, but it does have a bit of sweetness involved for anyone who ever hoped of making a movie. Perhaps not everyone would go to these extremes but to see this group carrying on in the face of adversity makes for a movie that is entertaining at times. Go in expecting the worst, expecting along the lines of the lowest budgeted movie ever made and you'll take away something that's worth watching at least once but definitely not over and over again.

Then again if I were one of those people who found movies much funnier when on a drinking binge perhaps this movie would prove to be more funny than I thought. If that's the case, or if you simply love low budget films made with more heart than dollars, this could be your cup of tea.

Click here to order.

POMPEII: SO SO SWORD & SANDAL

It wasn't all that long ago or at least it feels that way, that Hollywood suddenly remembered the sword and sandal films of the sixties and began making them all over again. There were some great films made too, in particular GLADIATOR and TROY. Then the genre died out again or found itself taken over by ridiculously low budgeted reproductions of those popular films. It went back to the shelf. Now director Paul W.S. Anderson tries to bring it to life again with POMPEII. Unfortunately the film falls somewhere between those two types of films, the good and the bad.

The story revolves around Milo who as a child watches as his parents and entire tribe of Celt horsemen are slaughtered by the Romans led by General Corvus (Keifer Sutherland) and his right hand man Proculus. Pretending to be dead, young Milo climbs from under the bodies of those who were slaughtered only to later be captured and placed into slavery.

Years go by and Milo (Kit Harington) grows to be a fighter in ancient Britannia. When he catches the eye of one of the promoters for gladiatorial fights in Pompeii, he is taken back to that ancient city. Along the way he encounters Cassia (Emily Browning) when one of the horses pulling her carriage falls. He catches her eye not just because of his looks but because he puts down the horse in the most humane way possible.

Cassia gets to Pompeii before the slaves on their way. It turns out that her father Severus (Jared Harris) is the ruler of the city. Severus is trying to promote the city into a minor version of Rome and is aided in doing so by his wife Aurelia (Carrie-Anne Moss). While pleased to see their daughter home once more they have yet to find out why she came back from Rome. That is explained later when now Senator Corvus arrives to negotiate with Servus for assistance to rebuild the city. Of course, he uses his desire to marry Cassia to eventually seal the deal.

Meanwhile Milo finds himself in the slave quarters of the gladiators and a target of another slave whose brother he killed. While he survives that the odds of his surviving the arena are slim, even more so when the plan is to have him face off against his cell mate Atticus (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), a slave who is about to win his freedom if he defeats his 19th opponent. The pair square off during practice when an attempt is made once more on Milo only to be stopped by Atticus. While each knows they will one day face off against one another in the arena, a bond develops between the two.

In the background of these stories is the mountain that rises above Pompeii that seems to be developing into eruption mode. Since we know the story of Pompeii there is little suspense formed by this except wondering just when it will finally blow.

A change in plans in the arena has Milo and Atticus united to face off against the Romans. It's at this time that Corvus makes known his intentions for Cassia to her parents. It also happens to be when things begin to happen with the mountain filling the next 30-40 minutes with tons of special effects and carnage. Even with all of that happening a final face off between good guys and bad must take place.

Shot using tons of green screen the movie does a good job of making you believe you're looking at an ancient city, but then again used as much as it is your belief starts to dwindle after a while. The explosive effects of the last portion of the movie are well made but at the same time stretch your ability to suspend belief as the main characters all just fall short of being engulfed in flames, fireballs, earthquakes or floods.

The acting has no standouts here and is fair for the most part. Surprisingly the one performance that disappointed me the most was from Sutherland whose English accent in a movie set in ancient Rome falls flat. Browning's performance as Cassia lacks the depth and believability to carry off the story. Part of that is due to the love at first sight story telling that has her fall for Milo without any hesitation whatsoever.

On the whole POMPEII isn't a terrible movie but it isn't a really good one either. It's one of those movies you probably won't be too disappointed in seeing if you like the genre, but not one that you'll want to revisit again after watching. As I watched the movie I kept thinking back to how great movies like SPARTACUS and GLADIATOR really were. When you think of another movie you want to see again while watching the one in front of you, it's not a sign of how good that movie is.

Click here to order.

20 FEET FROM STARDOM: MORE THAN BACK UP



If music is little more to you than mindless sounds coming out of a radio in the car then this movie might not be for you. Then again perhaps once you watch it you'll get more out of the music you hear. Perhaps you'll realize the craftwork and emotions that spew forth from that box in the car or your stereo are part and parcel with what makes music so special. I thought this film would be a movie about Darlene Love and discovered it was so much more.

20 FEET FROM STARDOM is a movie that on the surface talks about back up singers throughout the history of rock and roll. They started back in the fifties and sixties but progressed from there. A few were content to simply be next to mega stars. Some gained fame and fortune of their own. But most found themselves off to the side of the main act, helping him or her achieve the accolades they desired themselves. This movie starts as their story but slowly alters into a history filled with some fantastic music.

Many of the back up singers are African-American women who played a major yet unrecognized part of musical history. They were members of groups like the Blossoms which featured the afore mentioned Darlene Love. The movie describes how her connection with producer Phil Spector resulted, for example, in her voice being heard as the main singer for the Crystals who then lip synched her record when performing. It wasn't until years later when she gained fame on her own and this was after she left music for some time to work as a house cleaner of all things. It was hearing her own voice on the radio singing "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" while working at that job that made her decide music was what she was destined to do.

But not all singers had the good fortune that Love did. Singer Claudia Lennear was hugely popular as a back up singer with many groups, in particular Joe Cocker and with the Rolling Stones. And yet her solo career went nowhere. She now teaches Spanish. Lisa Fischer also sang with the Stones and has toured with them in each of their concert tours from 1989 through the making of this film. And yet solo star status has bypassed her as well.

Each of the ladies (and one man) whose story is told here had that desire to sing, to express themselves and bring music to the world via their voices. They were there when it all began and in the hey day of rock and roll as we know it. And yet few will recognize their names. But when the music tracks they sang on are played here you'll find yourself with your jaw dropping and saying "That was her? I had no idea!"

While there is much joy in hearing some of this music again there is great sadness in these stories as well. That stems from the fact that while they were there, while they were contributing to music that we all know and love, they never got that recognition they so richly deserved. At least until this movie came out. The fact that it won the Oscar this year for best feature documentary will be a great help in getting their stories told.

Most of them are older now. Many have found work elsewhere other than in music. Some have stayed the course and continue to find plenty of work in everything from commercials to sound effects to still back up singing. The fact that they can still out sing many new youngsters is amazing to see.

As I watched the film another thing that saddened me was the current state of music today compared to the music these heroes of rock were making back then. Music consisted of actual instruments as well as real, un-filtered vocals. It was actual music as opposed to tweaked voices, programmed computer sounds and loops of classic tracks repeated to offer a back beat. If nothing else perhaps this movie will make some singer out there look at what is possible with real instruments and voices. Maybe they'll see that it's about the craft of perfecting your voice as opposed to the histrionics of waving your hands up and down while you shift from note to note.

It's not about who wins AMERICAN IDOL, it's about actually making music. Tell me the truth; after all those seasons of the show how many can you still name who won and how many are actually chart toppers now? I'm guessing very few (I can think of two). And yet here we are, in some cases almost 50 years later, talking about women who sing as good today as they did in their prime. If you like music then don't miss this movie. If you're a music lover then make a point of adding it to your collection.

Click here to order.

BAD COUNTRY: TROUBLE IN LOUISIANA

It's always great to see an actor rise from what he once was to something far better. Such has been the case, at least for me, when I look at the career of Matt Dillon. He began as a teen heartthrob back in the seventies and at the time I was never quite fond of him. His acting always seemed the same to me, a sullen look and grin that became repetitive instead of showing acting ability. As he aged though, Dillon began to show that he did indeed have some acting chops. His roles became more adult in a good way rather than the sordid style some young actors take. His latest shows he still has plenty of great roles yet to come.

BAD COUNTRY takes place in the seventies in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. A huge crime syndicate runs almost every criminal enterprise in the county. Someone high up in the organization has the money and means to pay off judges, law enforcement and anyone who might stand in their way. Detective Bud Carter (Willem Dafoe) has had enough of it. He wants to take down the man at the top, bypassing the small fries that he always seems to get. A chance arrest of one of these men gives him that opportunity.

Jesse Wieland (Dillon) has done tough time in prison in the past. Facing more time isn't anything he can't handle physically. But as a new father, married to a woman he loves (Amy Smart), he wants to be outside to raise his child. Carter offers him a chance to do so by becoming an informant, a man inside that will help him bring down the syndicate. At first Jesse turns down the offer. When the man outside has his drug using brother, also in prison, killed, Jesse decides to have his revenge.

With the hope of taking on the syndicate now Carter is disappointed when the Feds jump onboard. Instead of a seasoned vet they send in a green attorney to head the investigation, a man on his first case. To say that the teams involved don't work well together is an understatement. The local police, the FBI and the ATF all want a piece of the action. It's the ineptitude of the Federal agencies that nearly bring the whole thing to a horrible collapse.

Jesse works his way back into the syndicate headed by Lutin (Tom Berenger). While Lutin may try to appear to be a father figure of sorts to his crew he is indeed the most ruthless man living in Louisiana at the time. Jesse pulls off a jewel theft for him to start and then works up to buying illegal arms. When that deal goes bad due to one of his crew losing his temper, all hell breaks lose and the chances of the entire project are up in the air. Only Jesse can save this sting and in doing so will have to lay his life on the line.

When you have an ensemble cast like this one, one of two things can happen. A single actor can chew up the scenery and spit it out making the entire cast look bad. Or they can work harmoniously to achieve a solid story and film that entertains and keeps your interest. The second is what happens here. Dafoe's portrayal of Carter displays a man desperate to make a difference but at the same time with enough heart to want to protect even a contract killer like Jesse when he's placed in harm's way. Dillon shows a man dealing with the mistakes of his past in the hope of redeeming himself. And Berenger, a great actor rarely given the roles he deserves these days, brings life to Lutin making him seem like an elder statesman of crime who is every bit as lethal when brought face to face with someone as he was when he was younger. Toss in Neal McDonough in a role unlike those he's played before and you have a great cast working at top form.

While an entertaining and well done film, this is not what I would consider Oscar material. Instead it does the best thing a movie can do by telling a story and making you feel for the characters involved. Some could have had more development along those lines but the two leads make you want something good to happen their way. You want the bad guys to get their just deserts. By the last 30 minutes you beg for that to happen.

So get ready to feel that southern humidity ooze out of your pores. Grab a sweet tea and set back. Know that bad times are coming for some and heroics from others. And finally sit back and enjoy the ride.

Click here to order.

PHILOMENA: SEARCH FOR A SON

There are those movies that you want to see, others you feel obligated to see and some that fall into both categories. PHILOMENA falls into both categories, a sad tale that offers hope before the end of the film, a movie that inspires you to be a better person, to be like Philomena. Would that we could all achieve that goal.

The movie opens with Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan), a battle hardened political journalist caught up in controversy and looking for work. At a party he goes to a friend tells him to contact her should he ever decide to write a piece for her magazine. He also finds himself introduced to a woman who tells him he should meet her mother. Not expecting to find much interesting he agrees.

When they first meet Martin is unimpressed with Philomena (Judi Dench), an elderly woman who wants him to help her with a quest. When she was a young girl in Ireland, Philomena found herself pregnant but unmarried. With no way to support herself she was sent to have the child and work for the nuns at Sean Ross Abbey. While she is told ahead of time what will happen, it still comes as a shock for her. Children born out of wedlock in this Abbey are sold off to American couples looking for children. What makes it horrifying is that the girls are allowed to nurse their children and spend time with them prior to their being taken away. Now some 50 years later Philomena turns to Martin to help her find her son.

Martin isn't interested at first but the more he thinks about it, the deeper his interest grows. If nothing else he can get a story out of it. Contacting the magazine editor he met at the party he gets funding and he and Philomena set out to find her son. Their initial contacts in the Abbey lead to nothing but stonewalling and being informed that the records of all the children were burned in a fire some years back. Unwilling to settle for their replies Martin digs deeper until he discovers a leak that leads the pair to the U.S.A. Unfortunately the information they find isn't quite what they expected or hoped for.

What makes this movie special isn't just the lead in story. The movie explores the relationship between Martin and Philomena, two completely different people from two totally different backgrounds. The posh world that Martin comes from is filled with superficial people who consider themselves above it all, especially when it comes to religion. Philomena, on the other hand, retains her faith in God after all that has happened to her in the past. A salt of the Earth character, her attitudes toward the world around her are to see the wonder of it all where as Martin takes it all for granted. Before their journey ends Martin will find his life changed forever.

Coogan not only stars in the film, he helped write it as well. While not a known mega-star in the U.S., he is a big name in England. Some will recognize him from his roles in both NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM films. He turns in a wonderful performance here, showing his disdain for common people and being taken to task for that from Philomena. Dench is absolutely fantastic in the lead role, bringing a sense of amazement to the character as she observes her surroundings while trying to settle the heartbreak she has suffered through for all these years.

If anything this film will tear at your heart with the whole story of the Catholic Church selling babies back in the 50s. It will anger you. But it will also make you realize that it is people who make poor decisions not organizations. This was a small group that made this decision, not the entire church. At the same time in today's times it's hard to imagine a world where young people have no idea how they will become pregnant and are stunned when it happens. It only makes the loss they experience that much sadder.

Even with such a sad story there is much hope to be found in the experiences of both Martin and Philomena. Both of them walk away from the tale much wiser and closer than they were when they began this journey. The answer is found and just what that is I won't reveal. I would whole heartedly suggest though that you watch the film to find out. No guns, no explosions, no monsters or superheroes...just a movie about real people. In particular a movie about one true hero and that is Philomena. .

Click here to order.

INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS :THE TIMES THEY WERE A CHANGIN'

There was a time when a movie released by the Coen Brothers was cause for celebration. Fans flocked to theaters to watch their movies and they could do no wrong. But for some reason their latest film gathered little attention from critics and fans alike. Which is sad because INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS actually quite a good film.

Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) is a folk singer on the verge of stardom. Still playing the Greenwich Village circuit for low pay with an album that's not selling at all, Llewyn goes from friend to friend, sleeping on any couch that is offered and trying to remain the creative artist that he is. We're given glimpses into a past that involved a partner but no clue where he is now.

The folk scene is still hip in 1961 New York with people still flocking to the local clubs to hear the latest music. But Llewyn is disappointed in the music he hears now. It's not the soulful music rooted deep in not just the early folk music that was there but in blues as well. The current crop of performers, including his friends Jean and Jim (Carey Mulligan and Justin Timberlake), are talented sure but they lack that certain something he feels will prove their worth. In the meantime they're a hit with club patrons and Jim is recording a new album at Columbia.

Looking for work, Llewyn goes from place to place seeking help from his friends and colleagues. At the same time he refuses to break down and forego the life of a performer, working the day to day menial jobs like his father before him. Having once been a merchant marine, he no longer wants to return to that life. And so he moves forward in the hopes of creating music and getting that lucky break.

But as the movie slowly unrolls we get a glimpse into the real world that Llewyn live in. Jean is pregnant and unsure if the child is his or Jim's and thus wants an abortion just in case. Her resentment of Llewyn putting her into this position is tinged not with guilt so much as anger since she wants children with Jim. Llewyn's agent always collects his fee but rarely ever seems to do much for his clients. And Llewyn's sister just wants him to make something of himself. All of them push hard at Llewyn with no sympathetic ear to offer him.

Word reaches Llewyn of one of Jim's friends making a trek to Chicago to meet with Bud Grossman (F. Murray Abraham), the owner of the biggest folk club and producer of many who have made it in the field. We move from Llewyn trying to find his way in New York to his finding a ride with a quiet driver for an eccentric named Roland Turner (John Goodman). Cajoled and insulted by Roland, Llewyn stays with the duo as long as he can. The meeting with Grossman could change everything.

There are two movies at work here in this film. The most obvious is the quest of Llewyn Davis to find vindication in his work, in his art. He wants to be loved not in the form of a paycheck but in the form of adoration while at the same time holding himself above all of that. At the same time we're given a history of folk music of that time period. The early sixties was a transitional period for folk music, moving from the classic standards of the past to a more personal and youthful sound that was moved forward by Bob Dylan. This film takes place right in the middle of that change.

More than any other Coen film, this movie relies heavily on the music found here. I watching the extras you learn that each person involved played their own music and most were recorded straight through as they performed. To think that these actors could not only act the scene but perform the music as well says much to the authenticity they bring to each character.

The story that we're made privy to here is a sad one in some ways but with a glimmer of hope shining through at the end. And yet we have no idea when it's all over just what will become of Llewyn and that's how it should be. This is no cardboard cutout look at the music world where all things happen in 90 minutes, crisis stated and solution found. This is the world of an artist who is still seeking that elusive muse that will allow him to be discovered by the world.

The Coen Brothers have done it once again. They've transported us to another place in time, a world that we might have heard of but most have never experienced. And in so doing they expose us to some well played music and some incredible actors who appear to be the characters they're portraying rather than acting. In so doing we're given a movie that entertains both visually and aurally. It's a movie that's worth watching and perhaps even adding to the collection.

Click here to order.

AUGUST - OSAGE COUNTY: DYSFUNCTIONAL ISN'T THE WORD

One of the best things to come out of movies is when you watch one that involves family problems. The reason it's great is that suddenly all of the problems you might have with your own family seem inconsequential compared to those of the characters onscreen. The downside of this is that you find yourself sitting there watching people with tremendous character issues for 2 hours which in itself can be a bit daunting.

AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY is about the Weston family. It opens with patriarch Beverly Weston (Sam Shepherd) interviewing a possible live in nurse to take care of his wife Violet (Meryl Streep). Violet is prone to throwing tantrums and taking more meds than she needs when it comes to her cancer of the mouth problem. Beverly then does what most of us would consider after having to be involved with this family: he commits suicide. This brings back the entire family for the funeral.

First off is Violet's sister and her husband, Mattie Fae Aiken (Margo Martindale) and Charlie (Chris Cooper). Mattie is one of those smiling faces and larger than life persons that capture a room but always have a hidden sadness deep inside. Charlie is the friendliest person in the film, always having a good word to say but not quite sure how he fits into this group. Also on hand is daughter Ivy (Julianne Nicholson), the one daughter who stayed near home to help but who hides a secret that you won't see coming near the end.

Coming home for the funeral is Barbara (Julia Roberts), her father's favorite but a strong willed woman much like her mother. Barbara left the confines of this family but has problems of her own at present with her husband Bill (Ewan McGregor) having an affair which has led to their separation. Along with them is their daughter, Jean (Abigail Breslin), your stereotypical troubled teen who finds fault in both her parents.

Next to arrive home is Karen (Juliette Lewis), the free spirit of the three sisters. Karen has her own faults, moving from man to man in the hopes of finding happiness and yet always picking the worst males possible. Her latest is Steve (Dermot Mulrooney), a sports car driving pot smoking wheeler dealer. If you don't see where his character is heading early on then you're not paying attention. It is so over handed that to say its obvious is in itself obvious.

The last member to arrive is cousin Little Charles (Benedict Cumberbatch), son of Charlie and Mattie Fae. Little Charles is incredibly shy and withdrawn but having lived his life around this family would have do that to you. Constantly put down by his mother, loved by his father, Little Charles also finds himself in a bit of a fix before the end of the film.

With the stage set we experience what is happening in this household as each member arrives and eventually they return from the funeral for the family dinner. Violet is the most vicious of mothers seen on screen in some time. She cajoles and pokes at the wounds in each of her family members, provoking them all in hopes of their returning her attacks. When they do the most explosive moments of the film show themselves. Each one edges us closer and closer to the moment when some will strike back, some will reveal themselves to be more than anyone expected, some will realize they are more like Violet than they had hopes and all secrets will be revealed.

Based on the stage play this movie unfold like one with little time spent moving from location to location. Instead most of the film plays out in the Weston home where bitter and damaging history has played out in the past leaving everyone with scars they carry with them for life. The home itself is a character, displaying the time worn walls that hold secrets of a family that offered little love and much damage to one another. The film only offers three sympathetic characters from start to finish: Charles, Little Charles and Johnna, the nurse Beverly hired. The rest are all people you might recognize as the family members you most try to avoid at reunions.

Roberts and Streep were both nominated for best actress this past year but I don't think either should have qualified. It's another case of those who seem the most flawed and loud get the attention while understated performances are ignored. Had either shown a character here that you had some sympathy for at some point it might have been different. As offered neither grows or changes, instead simply retaining their dislikable selves.

If your idea of entertainment is listening to actresses yell at one another, tossing out the GD expletive as if it were water and seeing a family self destruct before your eyes then you'll want to watch this one non-stop. If that's not your cup of tea then avoid it. Maybe you might want to watch it once to feel good about your own family but my guess is it will be tedious at best for everyone else except those trendy people who find depth in destruction of the family.

Click here to order.

AVENGERS CONFIDENTIAL: ANIMATED AVENGERS

It seems odd that stories derived from comic books have made such a huge splash in reality based movies over the past few years but not quite in animated films. The comic book medium seems to be a no brainer when it comes to crossing into animation. And yet many of the animated movies based on comics haven't achieved near the same success. That being the case it's still nice to see some comic book companies still trying to combine the two and make a successful animated film. Marvel does just that this week with the release of AVENGERS CONFIDENTIAL: BLACK WIDOW AND PUNISHER.

Background on the two main characters is needed to understand them before the film starts, some of this on display in the opening credits sequence. Natasha Romanov aka Black Widow, was raised from childhood in Russia to be their top assassin. Years later she learned of the reality behind what they had done to her, switched sides and now works for S.H.I.E.L.D. as one of their top spies. Frank Castle was an ex-Marine turned policeman whose family was killed by the mob. Since that time he has taken on the mantle of The Punisher dressed in black with a skull on his chest intent on wiping out any and every criminal underworld character he can. While they rarely come into contact in comics they find themselves thrown together in this film.

Castle is in the midst of taking down a group of criminals led by Caine when Black Widow shows up and tries to stop him. While most of the criminals die at Castle's hand, Caine escapes and Castle is captured by Widow whose objective was to take him before her commander, Nick Fury the head of S.H.I.E.L.D. Fury informs Castle that he's ruined an operation that's been going on for months. It seems that Caine was tied into a group called Leviathan, a terrorist organization made up of ex-Russian military leaders intent on world domination. Using stolen S.H.I.E.L.D. technology they are developing and selling arms to the highest bidder.

In Castle's mind he doesn't care. His only objective is to take down the low life criminals who kills innocent people. Fury's objective is to follow those players to the source and win the entire war, not just a single battle. Both want the bad guy but are going at it from different angles. Fury offers Castle a chance to come on board with the plan and find Leviathan and put an end to the terror as long as he'll work with Widow. Castle agrees, sort of, refusing to take orders.

The duo follow track Caine using a bug that Castle planted on him during the initial fight that opened the film. The secret that it leads to, jus how developed the plan is that Leviathan has formed and the personal interests that involved the Black Widow makes for some emotional sequences as well as a deeper secret than we were led to believe from the information Fury had. Just how the pair will overcome their differences and put an end to Leviathan makes up the rest of the film.

Make no mistake about it, this is not comics from the sixties or earlier. Comics changed during the eighties and nineties taking on a more adult tone. This was in part because their audience was aging, becoming older. The adult market makes up a bigger part of their sales now than children. Not only is the story and themes used here more adult in nature, the violence is as well. Within seconds of the movie starting we witness Castle cut the throat of one thug and gun down many more in cold blood. Make note of this before allowing your children to watch this movie.

That warning aside this film plays out more like James Bond than Captain America. The combination of spy and vigilante make for an interesting story that moves along at a quick pace that doesn't allow time for relaxation. Fans of thrillers that seem to take up book racks everywhere will enjoy the storyline here as well as the action. Fans of comics will be glad to see the Avengers on screen once again (even if it does come towards the end of the film).

On the whole this film is quite enjoyable and will entertain fans and non-fans alike. While I'm not a big fan of anime style animation, it didn't affect what is going on here on screen at all. It actually worked well with what happens here. In the end viewers will get a solid film with adult themes that take place in a comic book reality. Heroes and villains are not black and white but shades of gray, sort of like the real world. Comic fans will add it to their shelves while all others have a chance to escape for 83 minutes.

Click here to order.

KILL YOUR DARLINGS: ELITISTS ENTERTAINMENT

I've never been a big fan of movies that are too wrapped up in their "artistic integrity" to be entertaining. There are certain subjects that film makers, writers and other artists have as deeply held convictions on as the most religious zealot to stand on a pulpit proclaiming his faith. The difference is that most of these artistic zealots believe in their art above all else and hold the men who influence them as sacred. It's the same reason we yearly have millionaires awarding other millionaires awards on TV.

The case in point this time around is the author Allen Ginsberg, a poet that many have proclaimed to be the voice of his generation, a generation known at the beat generation. I'm sorry but if you have to call yourself part of a group while saying people shouldn't be part of a group, you're pretentious. Ginsberg was a member of that same group of people that included both Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs. All are involved in the release of KILL YOUR DARLINGS.

This true story begins with Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliff) heading off to college where his world completely changes. On a tour of the library for freshmen he is witness to an outburst by bad boy Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan). In class he immediately starts off by disagreeing with his professor about the dynamics of how poetry should be written which catches the eye of Carr. Soon Ginsberg is recruited into the world of Carr.

Rather than follow along with the standard things people do in college like sporting events, lectures or pep rallies (the film takes place in the 40's), Ginsberg is led down into a seedier world near Harlem by Carr. He is exposed to jazz and blues music, drinking & drugs and the intelligentsia of society. At a party he meets Burroughs (Ben Foster), lying in a dry bathtub inhaling nitrous oxide. He also meets the host of the party, David Kammerer (Michael C. Hall), holding realm over the rest and seemingly having a controlling eye on Carr.

The immediate friendship between Ginsberg, Carr and Burroughs develops as they come up with a concept, a manifesto if you will, about the change that is to come in art and society, a new vision. Led by Carr who offers up ideas left and right, Ginsberg is so caught up in the moment that he fails to realize that Carr has rarely if ever come upon an idea on his own. Hints are dropped everywhere that most if not all of his ideas come from Kammerer. As the movie progresses we soon discover that Kammerer does indeed have a hold over Carr. The most obvious hold is that he writes all of Carr's papers for his classes. The other is that he has involved Carr in a homosexual relationship; a relationship not only frowned upon at the time but illegal as well.

Through it all Ginsberg remains oblivious on the surface. At the same time he's developing his own crush on Carr. Never involved in a relationship prior Ginsberg feels his developing homosexuality grow the more involved he becomes with Carr.

The three friends ramble on about art and how they will change the world. They bring Carr's friend Jack Kerouac into their plans. They display their rebellion in acts like breaking into the library and replacing rare display case books with erotic books kept locked up. They fail to go to class and yet consider themselves part of the University, intent on changing it all the while. Always hanging on is Kammerer, trying to control Carr while Ginsberg begins to do all in his power to part the two. Eventually the conflict that develops will end in murder and revelations for all as to who they truly are.


The worshipfulness on display by the screenwriter and director for the beat generation runs rampant here. It's as if they feel these characters can do no wrong no matter what they do, as if they are the cool kids that they so long wanted to be. The same holds true for the actors, especially Radcliff. Why is it that child stars always seem to leap towards roles that require them to either undress or do "adult" things to prove they are truly actors? Radcliff has done nudity on stage and here offers us a gay lovemaking scene that while not showing the entire act leaves little to the imagination. Straight sex scenes in movies have become boring. Gay sex scenes to me seem done for little more than shock value.

In the end I couldn't recommend this film to anyone with the exception of the gay community who will proclaim it a standard by which all films should be made. It will also be a film that those who criticize will find themselves called homophobic over. There are some truly great movies made concerning the topic of homosexuality and offering an understanding viewpoint. This is not one of them. From a movie standpoint to me it was boring and felt as if it was in love with itself. Not even a quick finger on the remote's fast forward button can save this one.

Click here to order.