Capsule Reviews by Marc Berman, Peter Mayer, M. Miller Davis and Paul Preston
THE WILD AND WONDERFUL WHITES OF WEST VIRGINIA – **3/4
Meet the White family. They make the cast of ‘Swamp People’ look like Nobel Laureates who have trained at a conservancy for French butlers. With illustrious family tree that is well known to law enforcement, local governments and the whole of West Virginia, they rob, deal drugs, shoot one another and generally kick up a CRAZY amount of shit for everyone surrounding their ignoble genealogy.
The most notable of the clan is Jesco, the current ruling patriarch. He has made himself famous statewide in the perpetuation of his father’s unique style of Appalachian tap dancing*. His other three brothers met violent ends, leaving himself, his mother and his sister as the only remaining members of the original clan. Don’t worry though; there are innumerable cousins, nephews, uncles, and aunts all having children at such a rate that the White family genome is likely to make up the majority of the human race by the time Cthulhu rises again. (They’ll probably convince old Cthie to snort oxycontin with them).
While the characters are truly fascinating the documentary is difficult to watch in many sections, specifically when it veers into chronicling the children of the clan and the almost assured inference that none of them will live past 35. In one scene a mother begins snorting pills hours after her newborn baby girl is born (it’s implied that she didn’t stop throughout the pregnancy as well) and the baby is subsequently taken by Child Protective Services. Issues of rehab, imprisonment, family struggles, death and an almost unimaginable disregard for their general well-being has left most of the family looking and sounding 30-40 years older than their birth certificates would indicate.
This is one of the more compelling documentary’s I have seen, if only for the candor in which the family interacts with the film crew. Seemingly nothing is off limits as they are filmed talking about criminal exploits, future crimes, rampant drug use, terrible violence, and children beginning their decent into all of it around the age of 10. The film serves as an unwavering portrait of honesty as it entrances the viewer with images of an inconceivable lifestyle as well as some fascinating discussion by family members as to why they think their family exists as it does today.
Summary: For those of you that enjoy REAL DEAL human spectacle, this is right up your alley. The White’s are like a train wreck that has been picked up by a tornado and thrown into the bowels of hillbilly hell**.
*closely resembles a febrile seizure
**more whittlin’ than regular hell
PAUL – ***
Where were you, nerds? Where were the NERDS when “Paul” hit the theaters? It’s not like it didn’t have things nerds like – Simon Pegg, aliens, the director of “Superbad”. If the nerds came out as they should have, we’d all be talking about “Paul”.
Does nerd appeal make this a great movie? No. But it’s more fun than you’d think, given a rather bland trailer that seemed more interested in having the character Paul do weird stuff than focusing on the geekdom surrounding Simon Pegg and Nick Frost’s characters.
Pegg and Frost play a British duo touring the U.S. in an RV, starting at The San Diego Comic-Con (hello, nerds?) and continuing on a western-U.S. tour that includes famous alien encounter sites like Area 51 and Roswell. Along the way, they get more than they bargained for when they meet an actual alien named Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen) and promise to return him to his mothership. Meanwhile, Paul’s being pursued by government types (led by Jason Bateman), and the whole gang meets a God-loving naïve girl who runs a motor park (Kristen Wiig) and inadvertently becomes a stowaway on their RV.
This comedy works best when the movie embraces its inner geek, especially in the last half hour when chase scenes are peppered with quotes from “Jaws”, “Back to the Future” and “Aliens”. The joke with these quotes isn’t much more than a “Hey, I’ve seen that movie!” familiarity, but when they pile on one after another, it’s hiarious. Even Bateman’s character’s name is “Lorenzo Zoil”, just ‘cause why not?!
I’m a big fan of Seth Rogen, he makes funny movies (including the under-appreciated “The Green Hornet”), but as I said, Paul isn’t the best part of this film. Sure he has odd alien conduct and shocking-solely-for-the-sake-of-shock behavior (He smokes! He’s naked!), but this movie belongs to Pegg and Frost (who co-wrote the script). After many collaborations, their relationship and ease with dialogue between each other is fun to watch.
Director Greg Mottola is on a roll with “Superbad”, “Adventureland” and now this. But the off-kilter spark of previous Pegg/Frost movies (“Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz”) is missing that might’ve turned this into a hit, that being the presence of director Edgar Wright, who was off making “Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World”, a completely unique comedy with an edge, pace and anarchy that “Paul” would’ve benefited from. And where were the nerds for “Scott Pilgrim”, come to think of it? Get a job, nerds and save up enough money to go to the movies, will ya?
THE SWITCH – ***
A single man, Wally (Jason Bateman), lives in NYC and spends all of his time with his female best friend, Kassie (Jennifer Aniston). After a string of bad relationships, Kassie decides that it is time to get a sperm donor and have a child. Little does she know that Wally is hopelessly in love with her. Kassie’s best friend Debbie (Juliette Lewis) decides to throw her an “I’m Getting Pregnant” party, which features the sperm donor giving his gift and Kassie ceremoniously inseminating herself. Wally’s drunk and high on pills when he stumbles upon the special donation cup in the bathroom, already filled with its precious cargo; that’s when the title of the film comes into place.
Shortly after becoming pregnant, Kassie moves away only to return to the city 6 years later with her son Sebastian. After spending some time with the boy, Wally soon begins to see some character traits that are very similar to his and realizes what he has done. Kassie begins a serious relationship with the now divorced “Donor” Roland (Patrick Wilson) and Wally confides more and more in his friend Leonard (Jeff Goldblum). Wally spends the rest of the time figuring out how to tell Kassie the truth….
This was a solid film with a solid cast. I am a huge Jason Bateman fan and he gives an outstanding performance as the peculiar Wally Mars. Aniston, I could take her or leave her and she basically plays the same character as always. Great supporting cast including Juliette Lewis (who doesn’t do that many movies because of her band) as well as Goldblum who also always plays the same role but you gotta love him. There are lots of hilarious moments that I laughed out loud, many uncomfortable situations as well. The great thing about this film it’s not a chick flick, it appeals to everybody. Check it out.
NEVER LET ME GO – **1/2
Based on the novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, “Never Let Me Go” is at once a love story, an ethical drama and a morality play set in late 20th century England. But things are different. There have been radical scientiﬁc and medical breakthroughs. No more cancer. Life expectancy has nearly doubled. Although much of the ﬁlm is set in the isolated world of Kathy, Ruth and Tommy, we can feel that this society is not necessarily our own.
The three children grow up in a secluded boarding school, where second-hand toys are scoured over as treasures. Young Kathy (a luminous Carey Mulligan) and Tommy (Andrew Garﬁeld) are quite keen on each other, but Ruth (that minx Keira Knightley) senses this and slips in between them. Fast forward a few years as their destiny becomes more concrete, and the triangle changes. Apologies are made and new understandings are reached.
Because of their standing in life, they have not many choices as to their fate. This forces them into a shortened life, but also it gives them clarity about meaning and love that others might never get. Mark Romanekʼs directing is as sparse as his palette, which reﬂects the charactersʼ circumstances but hardly their souls. Mulligan and Garﬁeldʼs connection is particularly gripping. Ultimately, “Never Let Me Go” asks the questions about love and life in a very tender and compelling way, even though it takes a while to get there.
KINGS OF PASTRY – *1/2
There must be a certain genre of documentary that deals with competition, whether itʼs spelling bees or school lotteries. Compumentaries? Whatever we call them, they work when there are sympathetic participants and a worthy prize. For “Kings of Pastry”, the prize is the collar worn by members of the Meilleur Ouvrier de France (MOF). It seems simple enough to be recognized as one of the best pastry chefs in one of the best countries for pastry, but as you guessed it, these guys take it to another level.
First of all, the competition is held every four years, like the Olympics. To do it every year would seem, well, bourgeois. Second, taste is a consideration, but the art and craft of the confection–namely, the sugar sculptures, are really whatʼs being critiqued here. We see the chefs spend hours, days and weeks making the same structures over and over, trying to simulate competition atmosphere, planning the carry to the platforms, fully knowing that somethingʼs gonna crash.
Ultimately, the failure of “Kings” is that you really donʼt want any of them to win. The main guy, Jacquy, lives in Chicago with his American wife (who, if the accent wasnʼt enough, is from Chicago: “honey, just make some moore cressaahnts!”) He teaches at a pastry school, yet he acknowledges that the life he lives is but a lie if he canʼt become an MOFer. And heʼs not that good. Try as he does, heʼs just not MOF material. Phillipe, on the other hand, has his shit together. The judges know it (It needs to be said that this competition has judges who double as coaches for their participants. To me, this would be like a judge in a spelling bee giving someone clues like Vanna White). The denouement of the ﬁlm exposed this conﬂict for me, and left the movie morally lacking.
Ultimately, you get the same thing on Ace of Cakes, or Cupcake Wars, or Iron Chef: Donut Edition. But if you want weasely French guys, a shady competition, and the chance to call the winners MOFers, this is your movie.
THE TILLMAN STORY – ***
What is left to defend a man after he has died? His family, friends and the legacy he leaves behind can all compete to shape the narrative of what his life and his death mean. In the case of Pat Tillman, a well-paid professional football player who enlisted in the Army at age 25 and was subsequently killed in Afghanistan, his death was shaped by powers outside his control to write a life that never existed for very nefarious purposes.
When Tillman was killed in April of 2004, the insurgency in Iraq was gaining strength, many citizens had forgotten the U.S. mission in Afghanistan, and there was an election to win in seven months. As the best known soldier in the Armed Forces, Tillmanʼs death couldʼve been a major blow to President Bushʼs “war on terror”. Opportunistic politicians posing as public servants decided to shape a narrative about this soldier in order to sell U.S. foreign policy.
Pat Tillmanʼs mother, Mary, fought endlessly for over two years to get a proper accounting for her sonʼs death. At ﬁrst, it was told to the country by the Army that Tillman was the victim of a Taliban ambush, shot in the head as he left his humvee. Then it was reported that he was in fact shot at 200-300 yards. Because of his motherʼs tenacity, more holes in the story were discovered and exposed. Soon fratricide (“friendly ﬁre”) was suspected, and eventually conﬁrmed.
What makes this movie soar is not only the incredible tenacity shown by Tillmanʼs family, but the opposing stubbornness and overt deceit on the part of the U.S. government. From the Masters of War (most notably here, Lt. General Philip Kensinger and former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld) who actively used Tillman as a recruiting tool, to the inept members of Congress who lacked the courage to call these men to account, they are as unwilling to face the truth as Mary Tillman is to let them walk free.
“The Tillman Story” should take its rightful place alongside “No End In Sight” and “The Visitor” as movies that explore what the United States became in the lost years after 9/11. It was surreal to live in Washington, D.C. at the time, to know that things were very wrong, and to have very little in the ways of checks and balances or media coverage to hold people to account. Fear ruled the day, and to a degree, it still does. Mary Tillman, as she represents herself, stands as a sentinel, not only for her son, but for the truth and for the founding principles of our country.
Also read Paul Preston’s review of “The Tillman Story” here.
SALT – *
If you ever thought that Angelina Jolie was actually an orphan from an enemy power sent here to distract our menfolk with her eyes, lips, butt, Lara Crofts, and whatever else sheʼs got, while at the same time destroying our political infrastructure with mind- boggling assassination plots and implausible escapes, this movie is for you. In a mash-up of “24”, “Beyond Borders”, “Mr. & Mrs. Smith”, “Red Dawn”, “Hunt for Red October” and “Top Secret”, Jolie is Evelyn Salt. On the surface, she works for the CIA as an operative, married to a German arachnologist. But below the surface, well, thatʼs where things get a little…forced.
In a ploy to make the exploits of Jack Bauer seem mundane, the story follows Salt as she is implicated in an attempt on the Russian Presidentʼs life, on the run as she carries out said mission, and ﬁnally to the ship where she seeks revenge for the murder of her German arachnologist husband. Thereʼs more, but I canʼt bore you with the details except to ask ʻdid you see ‘The Happening’?ʼ
This came out as a summer 2010 blockbuster, and Iʼm sure it got some simple male cash hoping for a “Bauer with Boobs” piece. And I realize that “Munich”, this is not. But a little less crazy and a little more substance, please. This was thinner than Lara Croftʼs wet suit.
Also read Adam Witt’s review of “Salt” here.
THE EDGE OF LOVE – **
As always, it should tell you something when the supposed lead character gets muscled out of the promotional poster by two supporting cast. In this movieʼs case, itʼs not exactly unwarranted, as Keira Knightley (as Vera) and Sienna Miller (as Caitlyn) play dueling lovers of the British/Welsh poet Dylan Thomas (played by Matthew Rhys). Thomas and Vera are childhood friends who never quite forgot that moment on the beach all those ﬁve years ago. The poet has since married the ﬁery Caitlyn who takes a shine to Vera, and a platonic threesome ensues. As this all takes place during the London Blitz, thereʼs bombings and blackouts and captains being sent off to war. Itʼs enough for a poet to write about.
John Mayburyʼs direction is as heavy as the Welsh dialects, but not quite as heavy as Knightleyʼs makeup. There are lots of visual cues of blurred vision and shattered memories to point one in the direction that the story really wants you to go. Thereʼs enough chemistry between the cast, who do a good enough job, but youʼre left with a real lack of connection to the sympathy of the story. Thomas is really a snot of a guy, with not enough heart to match either his talent or the chip on his shoulder. If your main character canʼt connect, the rest of the movie really doesnʼt stand much of a chance.
ANIMAL KINGDOM – ***
After his mother dies of a heroine overdose, the seventeen year old mild mannered “J” (James Frecheville) is forced to live with his Grandmother Janine (Jacki Weaver) and his uncles. Janine runs a family of criminals that includes her three sons, “Pope” (Ben Mendelsohn), Craig (Sullivan Stapleton), and Darren (Luke Ford); they are all drug addicts and insane in their own rights. The family dabbles in various criminal activities, but mainly armed robbery and Craig has recently found drug dealing to be particularly lucrative. The Melbourne Police, headed by Detective Nathan Leckie (Guy Pierce), are hot on the tails of the family, the unfortunate thing is that J and his girlfriend are right in the middle of the whole mess. A massive case of cat and mouse ensues as the police try and use J as their witness and Pope and the gang try desperately to prevent that from happening.
A great film from down Under, “Animal Kingdom” pleases in every way. An intricate story of innocence, betrayal, and bizarre personas tied together with beautiful cinematography and fantastic performances, including the Oscar-nominated Jacki Weaver. I thought all of the performances were great in his film, although the main character and narrator of the film is J, it is not his performance that stands out, but rather that of Pope. Mendelsohn creates a masterful and creepy madman that is creepy from his first scene. My wife watched this with me and it made her really agitated, so if you are watching with someone that might be sensitive to edge-of-your-seat weirdness, then I suggest they refrain from joining you.
Blu Ray Special Features:
– Audio Commentary
– Creating Animal Kingdom
– Q&A with Director David Michôd and Actors Jacki Weaver and James Frenchville
– Theatrical Trailer & more.
Also read Mary Gent’s review of “Animal Kingdom” here.
JACK GOES BOATING – * 1/2
Jack (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is a introverted limo driver in New York City with a love of Reggae music, because it sounds happy. He is set up on a blind date by his only friend Clyde’s (John Ortiz) wife Lucy (Daphne Rubin-Vega) with her co-worker Connie (Amy Ryan). In an effort to overcome his fears, Jack is taught how to swim by Clyde so that he can eventually take Connie on her dream date of boating in Central Park. He also gets cooking lessons in an effort to cook the perfect meal for Connie who claimed that nobody has ever cooked for her.
This film is adapted from the play by Bob Glaudini and is the first film ever directed by Hoffman. This is one that was probably great on the stage. Unfortunately, as a film, it didn’t work very well in my opinion. Hoffman gives a great performance in the lead role and the supporting cast is also quite good, but the story is just kind of weak. I am not a particular fan of Daphne Rubin-Vega, I don’t find her particularly believable and she kinda reminds me of a Tranny, hence, she is not believable. Amy Ryan, who is probably most well-known for her recurring role on “The Office”, is really great in a role that had to have been challenging. There are a few moments that make the film almost worth watching, but not really enough to talk about. I suppose it is worth it just to watch Hoffman, who is just friggin’ great in everything he does.
CATFISH – ***1/2
Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman are the filmmakers behind this controversial documentary. Ariel’s brother Nev receives an e-mail from an eight-year-old girl (Abby) in Michigan who saw his photograph and wanted permission to make a painting of it. As the film progresses, Nev develops online relationships with Abby and her family, including her mother Angela and her Sister Megan. Nev and Megan began to form a romantic relationship and everything seemed to be going well until Nev realized that she was passing off other peoples’ music as her own. After this discovery, the plot takes a unique series of twists and turns that are truly remarkable.
What a friggin’ awesome film, I loved it from beginning to end. There are many who believe that the events of the film are fabricated, along the same lines of “The Blair Witch Project”, but the filmmakers all swear it is 100% authentic. It is very hard to describe what goes on after Nev realizes that something strange is afoot because it will kinda give away the whole thing; I think it is important to watch this with as little prior knowledge as possible.
CYRUS – ***
John (John C. Reilly) is a lonely divorcee who is completely out of the loop when it comes to dating. His ex-wife and best friend Jamie (Catherine Keener) urges him to come to a party where there will be lots of single women. After getting really drunk at the party, John meets Molly (Marisa Tomei) who likes John’s quirkiness while the other women at the party find him to be obnoxious. Molly and John really hit it off until he realizes that she resists his coming to her place and she never stays that long while at his place. One day, he follows her home only to find out that she has a grown son named Cyrus (Jonah Hill) with whom she resides. In an effort to keep his beloved mother all to himself, Cyrus has a plan to make sure it stays that way.
This film had a quiet charm that was endearing and really enjoyable. Reilly and Tomei are fantastic and have a strange chemistry that kind of worked in a weird way. Although I don’t think Hill is that versatile as an actor, he stretches himself in the role of Cyrus. Years ago, I saw John C. Reilly and Philip Seymour Hoffman in a production of “True West” on Broadway, and I remember being completely blown away by both performances, but Reilly stuck out to me as someone who had would eventually become an incredible star, although I think he will always remain an in-demand character actor.
Check this film out!
Blu-Ray Special Features:
– Deleted Scenes
– Q&A with Directors/Writers Jay and Mark Duplass
– Music Mash Up with John C. Reilly and Jonah Hill
– Behind the Scenes at SXSW with Jay & Mark Duplass
– Fox Movie Channel Presents: In Character with John C. Reilly and Jonah Hill
– Theatrical Trailer
Also read Mark Tucci’s review of “Cyrus” here.
GOING THE DISTANCE – ***
After his girlfriend leaves him, Garrett (Justin Long) goes out to his favorite watering hole with his roommate Dan (Charlie Day) and their buddy Box (Jason Sudeikis). In an effort to kill some time, Garrett heads over to the Centipede machine to see if he can beat the top score, only to find out that the top score initials (ERL) actually belong to the young lady currently playing named Erin (Drew Barrymore). They have some drinks and they hit it off and thus blossoms a relationship; the only problem is that she is in town for only six more weeks for her internship at a newspaper, then she heads back to San Francisco. Erin and Dan have the most amazing six weeks of their lives and then she does indeed leave town and they commit to having a long distance relationship. Erin lives with her sister Corinne (Christina Applegate) and her husband Phil (Jim Gaffigan) as well as their little girl, let’s just say that they don’t hit it off that well at first. Their plan is for Erin to get a job with a newspaper back in New York so that the two of them can live happily ever after, of course things are never that easy.
I guess it helps with the chemistry when the two lead characters are actually a real couple, and that is evident between Drew and Justin. This romantic comedy is filled with some laugh out loud hilarious moments thanks to a well written script and an incredible supporting cast. Charlie Day and Jason Sudeikis are great as Garrett’s infantile friends, always making dick jokes and playing well off each other, Charlie Day especially. Applegate and Gaffigan are outrageous with some scenes that will literally make you piss yourself…kinda hard to describe any of this stuff without giving it away, so you are gonna have to rent it. Surprisingly good.
Blu-Ray Special Features:
– How to Have the Perfect Date
– A Guide to Long-Distance Dating
– The Cast of Going the Distance: Off the Cuff
– Commentary by director Nanette Burstein & Additional scenes
– Behind the Scenes of the Going the Distance soundtrack
HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON – ****
A boy Viking named Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) is tiny as far as Vikings are concerned. The entire village lead by Hiccup’s father Stoik (Gerard Butler) is constantly fighting against hoards of dragons that steal all of the village’s livestock. In an effort to become more accepted in the village, the young and inventive Hiccup comes up with an ingenious invention to capture and kill the elusive Night Fury Dragon. Upon capturing the dragon, Hiccup bring himself to kill him and begins a friendship with the dragon whom he calls, “Toothless”. After a while he realizes that Hiccup has a part of his back tail that is missing which is preventing him from flying, he invents an attachment to put on his tail that he can control while he is riding on him like a giant winged horse. Together Hiccup and Toothless fight for the truth.
An all-star Voice cast that also includes: Craig Ferguson, Jonah Hill, America Ferrara, Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Kristin Wiig. Dreamworks has done it again with a beautifully animated feature with an incredibly heart-warming story. It’s sometimes hard to believe that animation these days can deliver such an incredible punch in every possible facet of filmaking. I loved this film from beginning to end and plan on watching it again very soon. The main characters of Hiccup and Toothless are some of the most endearing I have ever encountered…get your tissues ready for this one. Everything about it is incredible, check it out ASAP.
Blu-ray extras include:
– Legend of the BoneKnapper Dragon: Hiccup and the gang return to search for a mysterious dragon in this all-new short
– The Animators’ Corner Enhances the Movie-Viewing Experience through Picture-in-Picture Storyboards, Behind-the-Scenes Footage and Insightful Interviews
– Pop-Up Trivia, Deleted Scenes & Viking Personality Test
– Author Cressida Cowell Shares Her Inspiration
– Learn to Draw Toothless and Build Your Own 3D Dragons
Also read Paul Preston’s review of “How to Train Your Dragon” here.
GROWN-UPS – **1/2
The death of their beloved basketball coach brings together childhood friends at the lake house where they once celebrated their biggest victory. Lenny (Adam Sandler), Eric (Kevin James), Kurt (Chris Rock), Marcus (David Spade), and Rob (Rob Schneider) come together under the veil of the death of their friend and mentor only to get reacquainted and reignite the spark of friendship that they all had so long ago. The film also co-stars Salma Hayek and Maya Rudolph.
Ever since “Billy Madison” I have always been a sucker for Adam Sandler’s childish style humor. As time has gone by, his films have become less lovable and more lame and this one is leaning towards lame with a few really funny parts and performances that make it tolerable. The all-star ensemble cast is what redeems this film, especially the performances of Kevin James and Rob Schneider, who are by far the funniest and have some truly hilarious moments. Sandler tends to use his friends in all of his movies and you see many familiar faces throughout the film. This movie is far from great, but it is fun and if you have some time to kill and want to chuckle..then check it out.
Blu-Ray Special Features:
– Commentary with Director Dennis Dugan
– Gag Reel
– The Lost Tapes of Norm MacDonald
THE EXPENDABLES – *
Church (Bruce Willis) hires a group of mercenaries led by Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) to overthrow General Gaza (Davis Zayas) on the island of Vilena. Ross assembles his elite group including Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), Yin (Jet Li), Hale Caesar (Terry Crews) and Toll Road (Randy Couture) to overthrow Gaza and James Monroe (Eric Roberts) who is the drug dealer that essentially controls Gaza. Former “Expendable” Gunner Jenson (Dolph Lundgren) joins Monroe and his evil bodyguard (Steve Austin) in an effort to get back at Ross and the team for not hiring him back (because he’s unstable). The mission becomes more personal when Ross realizes that the General’s daughter (Giselle Itié) is being held captive by Monroe and his henchman. Tool (Mickey Rourke) is a former member of the team, but is not involved in the mission, he just stays back in his tattoo/Bike shop and, uh, does nothing.
I haven’t written a review in a while, one of the reasons is because the films has been disappointing as a whole, and this one is no exception. Stallone had a fantastic idea to bring together some of the greatest living action heroes and put them in one film. When I saw the previews I have to admit that I got excited at seeing Stallone (who was my childhood favorite) and Jason Statham (who is currently my favorite action hero), not to mention the long list of others. The script and the acting was disjointed and hard to follow. It is hard to believe that a sequel is currently under development, basically the thought makes me dry heave.
Blu Ray Special Features:
• Ultimate Recon Mode: An Interactive BonusView™ Viewing Experience (Blu-ray exclusive)
• Audio Commentary with Sylvester Stallone
• “Inferno: The Making of The Expendables” Documentary (Blu- rayexclusive)
• “From the Ashes: Postproduction and Release” Documentary (Blu-ray exclusive)
• Comic-Con 2010 Panel (Blu-ray exclusive)
• Deleted Scene, Gag Reel & Marketing Archive
Also read Paul Preston’s review of “The Expendables” here.
PRINCE OF PERSIA: THE SANDS OF TIME – ***
When Prince Dastan (Jake Gyllenhaal) was a boy, he was adopted by King Sharaman (Ronald Pickup) of Persia. As he grows up, he becomes a strong warrior alongside his new brothers Garsiv (Toby Kebbell) and Tus (Richard Coyle) and his uncle Nizam (Ben Kingsley). After the brothers learn that the holy city of Alamut has been forging weapons and selling them to the enemies of Persia, and an attack is ordered on Alamut. During the attack, Dastan finds a unusual and beautiful dagger. When the beautiful princess Tamina (Gemma Arterton) sees Dastan with the sacred dagger, she knows she must retrieve it back, as she was sworn to give her life to protect it.
Upon returning to the castle, Daston is called a hero, but soon he is accused of murdering his father, and he escapes with the Princess into the the desert. Dastan must use the dagger to prove his innocence and expose to Persia the real killer of the King……
This was another one that I really wasn’t looking forward to, I was kind of dreading it actually. Jake Gyllenhaal as an action hero seemed kind of silly to me, but I have to give him a bit of credit cause he pulled it off. I am somewhat embarrassed to say that the movie was pretty damn entertaining, an epic battle between good and evil. The film was visually stunning, shot mostly on location in Morocco. Gyllenhaal pulled off the role, Ben Kingsley is awesome, incredible battle scenes…it was really f’ing good. Check this one out (if you feel like you might be made fun of, then watch it by yourself cause your gonna have a good time).
Also read Paul Preston’s review of “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time” here.
ROBIN HOOD – **
After King Richard (Danny Huston) is killed in battle, the crew of men that were chosen to return his crown to the queen are ambushed and killed by the evil Godfrey (Mark Strong). Robin Longstride (Russell Crowe) and his band of men find the king’s horse and the crown in the saddlebag; they find the ambushed men and their leader, Sir Robert Loxley, who is is still alive. Longstride agrees to return Loxley’s sword to his father Sir Walter Loxley (Max Von Sydow) of Nottingham. Upon returning to England and bringing the news of the death of the king, Prince John is immediately crowned. In Nottingham, Robin brings the news of Robert Loxley’s death to his wife Marion (Cate Blanchett) and Sir Walter, news they are stunned to hear. In an effort to prevent the Kingdom from taking his land when he dies, Walter suggests that he continue to impersonate Robert. He agrees, and over time falls in love with the fair Marion. After many battles Robin and his “Band of Merry Men” are banished by King John and live in Sherwood forest with the hundreds of orphan child thieves, and so it begins…
Why did Ridley Scott want to make a prequel to one of the most beloved stories of all time, I have no friggin’ clue? This film takes forever to get going and is really hard to follow. I think that’s why it didn’t work so well with viewers or at the box office. It was visually amazing, almost all location work in the English countryside. It is well acted with some of the greatest in Hollywood, so what went wrong? What went wrong is the disjointed and complicated script by Brian Helgeland, you gotta pay some serious attention to understand what the F is going on. I’m glad I didn’t pay movie theater prices to see this but I am glad I sat through it cause as disjointed as it was I still liked watching Crowe and Blanchett. It is set up to make way for the real Robin Hood story, but I seriously doubt Universal will allow Scott to blow through another 200 million. If you have a good attention span, then check it out. If not, go watch some cartoons.
Blu-Ray Special Features:
– Deleted Scenes with Introduction and Commentary by Editor Pietro Scalia
– “Rise and Rise Again”: Making Ridley Scott’s “Robin Hood”
– Director’s Notebook: Watch the theatrical version with behind-the-scenes footage, hand-drawn “Ridleygrams” and filmmaker interviews
– “The Art of Nottingham”: A portfolio of designs, including video introductions, galleries of conceptual art, costume designs, storyboards and other imagery.
Also read Paul Preston’s review of “Robin Hood” here.
CITY ISLAND – ****
Vince Rizzo (Andy Garcia) was born and bred on City Island in the Bronx. He lives there with his tough wife Joyce (Julianna Margulies), his fat-girl-obsessed son Vince Jr. (Ezra Miller), and his stripper daughter Vivian (Dominik Garcia-Lorido). Vince stumbles upon a prisoner named Tony (Steven Strait) that turns out to be his long lost son, and he decides to take him home to his family…without telling them the truth. Vince’s dream is to be an actor, but he is so afraid of telling his wife his dream that while taking acting classes he tells Joyce that he is playing poker. In class, he becomes very close friends with his acting partner Molly (Emily Mortimer). A hilarious variety of twists and turns eventually leads to this dysfunctional family to becoming closer.
This was seriously one of the best films I have seen in a very long time. An Incredible cast including memorable performances from everybody involved including Andy Garcia and his real life daughter. A highlight side plot was Vince Jr.’s obsession with watching and feeding obese woman, beyond hilarious. From beginning to end this film delivers….totally believable and creative characters, hilarious script, and great direction makes “City Island” a MUST SEE.
LETTERS TO JULIET – **
Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) and her Fiance’ Victor (Gael Garcia Bernal) travel to Verona, Italy for a pre-honeymoon vacation. Upon arriving in Italy, Victor is invited by a variety of food/wine purveyors to local events because he is opening a restaurant back in NYC. Sophie isn’t interested in Victor’s activities but they agree to do their own things. Sophie stumbles upon “The Romeo and Juliet Balcony”, where thousands of women come to leave notes to Juliet She sees a woman taking all the notes at the end of the day and follows her. The “Secretaries of Juliet” personally answer all of the notes left at Juliet’s balcony, Sophie goes with them to the balcony and finds a letter that was written by a woman named Claire (Vanessa Redgrave) nearly fifty years prior. Within a short amount of time, Claire and her grandson Charlie (Christopher Egan) show up and Sophie joins them on the adventure of a lifetime as they try and find Claire’s long lost love, Lorenzo.
When I first saw this film advertised, my wife and I thought that it would be something we would enjoy (well, more my wife). I figured as far as sappy/girly films are concerned this one might compare to things like, “The Notebook” and “The Time Travelers Wife”. It started off really weak and boring and after about thirty minutes I was about to head to the other room for some reading, but I stuck with it, and it turned out to be pretty enjoyable as far as these type of films are concerned.
Nothing exciting as far as performances are concerned, although Seyfried is as usual nice to look at and Redgrave is a classic actress (and for an old lady she still looks beautiful). Bernal used to be one of my favorite actors, but he pretty much blows in this one. Certainly not a great film, but a romantic tear-jerker…watch it if you’re in the mood.
– Blu-Ray Special Features:
– Deleted and extended scenes
– Audio commentary with Director Gary Winick and Amanda Seyfried
– The Making Of “Letters To Julie”t: In Italia
– A Courtyard in Verona
THE GHOST WRITER – **1/2
The man hired as the ghost writer for the memoirs of former UK Prime Minister Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan) has mysteriously died. The new Ghost (Ewan McGregor) is brought in to Martha’s Vineyard to complete the ultra-secret project. After only a few short days, things start to take a turn for the worse. The former prime minister is accused of war crimes and the island becomes filled with press and protesters. As things get strange with the The PM’s wife Ruth (Olivia Williams), the Ghost starts his own mini-investigation and stumbles upon things he wishes he hadn’t.
The latest film from controversial director Roman Polanski (based on the novel by Robert Harris) may be a little too smart for the American film goer: an extremely slow moving film that builds and builds but never truly delivers. I enjoyed this film, although I think the screenplay adaptation may not have been the best I have ever seen. McGregor gives a great performance as the Ghost, Brosnan and Williams are believable as well. Kim Cattrall plays the PM’s assistant and her dialect wasn’t very good, but she managed to pull off the role. If you are an avid film buff or Polanski fan then this one is worth checking out.
Blu-Ray Special Features:
– An Interview with Roman Polanski
– The Ghost Writer: Fiction or Reality?
BURIED – ****
Remember that scene in “Kill Bill, Volume 2” where Uma Thurman is trapped in a coffin, buried underground? Well, imagine that scenario, carried on for 95 minutes and you’ll have the given circumstances of the setting in “Buried.” The film stars Ryan Reynolds, who is also the only actor in the flesh throughout the movie. There are various voices used and a quick video from a camera phone but aside from that, this is a one-man show. Reynolds plays a contractor truck driver in Iraq, 2006. His name is Paul Conroy, and the last thing he remembers before waking up in a coffin is that his convoy was ambushed by IED’s.
When the film opens, we find Paul gagged and bound by ragged cloth. Paul has very few items at his disposal. Like Tom Hanks in “Cast Away,” Paul will have to get very creative with those items. Said items include a Zippo lighter, an Iraqi cell phone that’s not his own, a knife, a flashlight, some glow sticks, a booze-filled flask, and a bottle of anti-anxiety pills.
We find out who Paul is and how he wound up in a coffin through very well written conversations he has on the highly functional (given he’s buried in the desert in the Middle East) cell phone. I wish I had as good reception and I’m aboveground in a major metropolitan area. Who would you call if you were buried alive? Paul calls 911, which connects him to an emergency dispatcher in Ohio. There is a twisted humor to this part of the movie where he has to convince the people he is talking to that he is in fact buried AND has a cell phone, which is not his and just so happens to be buried with him. He calls his wife, who is not there, so he leaves a message. He tries to get in touch with his wife’s friend who gives him an attitude because she has to go food shopping. This is another dark humorous scene.
Eventually, Paul gets in touch with the State Department’s hostage group coordinator named Dan Brenner. We know that Paul’s a hostage because the other character in the film whose voice we hear in cell phone conversations is that of the person who has taken Paul hostage. He wants Paul to get him 5 million dollars in the next 90 minutes or else he will let him rot in the coffin indefinitely.
The interest in the film is not the destination, but the journey. The genius of it is in watching director Rodrigo Cortés’ creative use of camera angels and lighting. The scenes are lit by nothing more than either a Zippo flame, a malfunctioning flashlight, or even just by the glow of the cell phone. Cortés is a Spanish film director, and despite Reynolds and some other American actors who lend their voices (amongst them Kali Rocha, Samantha Mathis and the invaluable Stephen Tobolowsky who plays the slimy personnel director that fires Paul) this is “technically” a foreign film. It was shot in Barcelona and released as a Spanish import.
Reynolds shows off his some great acting chops here. A one-man movie is really, REALLY difficult to pull off, but Reynolds does it. He brings enough charm and vulnerability to be able to make you care about the character. After all, he is just an innocent contractor who is not in Iraq to fight the insurgents, only to drive a truck.
I loved the script (by relative unknown Chris Sparling) and especially loved the camera tricks Cortés employs. There are some shots that literally tear down the fourth wall of different sides of the coffin; its result is to make the audience feel as isolated as Paul does buried in the middle of nowhere.
There are obvious plot holes that can take you out of the film (e.g. The cell phone’s reception being as good as it is; the abundance of oxygen that Paul seems to have to breathe, despite constantly hyperventilating and constantly using the Zippo lighter). What kept my interest from start to finish is to see how everything would unravel.
I really thought I was going to be bored somewhere after the 60-minute mark, but I was wrong.
The tension and suspense are kept taut with the fact that the movie’s passage of time is in real time. As a viewer, it’s interesting to see just how Paul overcomes the obstacles that are thrown his way. There are times where I thought I knew where it was going, only to be proven wrong. I love when I’m wrong! The one thing I don’t think anyone can say about this movie is that it’s predictable. That is a good thing to see in this day and age of spoon-fed suspense movies. Alfred Hitchcock would be proud of Rodrigo Cortés.
DOGTOOTH – *****
Wow! Just wow. That is the lasting impression of the movie “Dogtooth,” a Greek drama directed by Yorgos Lanthimos. “Dogtooth” reminds me of a movie that Lars von Trier might have directed. The plot lines of the movie feel like “The Village” a tad, but that’s only on the surface level. It is unique, beautiful and shocking all wrapped into a not so neat little package.
The film exists as a case study of a mother and father who isolate their three children from the real world. The children (who are all adult age) are composed of the eldest daughter, a middle son, and the youngest daughter. They have no real concept of the outside world. The only outside they have ever been to is their sprawling backyard with a swimming pool. The title of the film “Dogtooth” refers to the upper incisors that all adults have in their mouth. The parents have the children believe that they are not ready to leave the house and start their life until one of their dogteeth falls out (which, of course, they don’t naturally do).
Their father keeps all outside things secret from them. He rips off all the labels of anything that comes into the house, such as bottled water. Their mother teaches the kids a warped vocabulary so that it doesn’t arouse curiosity as to the actual meaning of the word (i.e. The kids don’t know what a phone is because the mother described it as a salt shaker; a zombie is described as a beautiful flower; a vagina is called a keyboard, and so on).
The children are rewarded for good behavior with stickers and a choice of the evening’s entertainment. Although entertainment consists of watching a home movie that the children know the dialogue to verbatim or listening to a Frank Sinatra record and being told that it’s their grandfather who is singing as the father translates the English lyrics intentionally wrong to hide the original meaning of the songs.
The father is the only person who leaves the compound every day to go to work and pickup food and other supplies. He also brings back the security guard (named Christina) at his job to satisfy his son sexually. Soon she develops a curiosity for the eldest daughter. In order to get the eldest daughter to sexually satisfy her, Christina bribes her for personal items from the “outside world.” First it’s a headband, then it’s VHS tapes. The VHS tapes are particularly contraband and the eldest daughter knows this. We know what movies she watches behind her parents’ back (“Jaws,” “Rocky,” and “Flashdance”) because she starts to randomly quote from them. The father obviously doesn’t want any of her children watching a real movie as it would introduce them to ideas that are outside of the home.
“Dogtooth” is a movie that acts as a parable of how not to raise kids. The parents are shown as control freaks that try to manipulate every single aspect of their children’s lives. Their children, in turn, show signs of craziness. They play endurance tests such as breathing in ether and whoever awakes first, wins.
“Dogtooth” has scenes of very frank sexuality. We see full frontal nudity many times in the film and Lanthimos approaches sex very matter of fact like; there is no passion in it whatsoever. There are also some brutally violent scenes in the film (one of them reminded me of a cringe-inducing scene from “Cast Away”). The camera is unflinching when shooting these scenes, although I was flinching like an insomniac after drinking Red Bull.
“Dogtooth” is an amazing film. The camera work is as gorgeous as a painted landscape. Lanthimos plays around with the subtlety of a shot to put the viewer at ease, only to startle them moments later. It’s this technique that makes me think of Lars von Trier, who I’m sure played a heavy influence on him. The majority of the film, the camera feels like it’s invading the privacy of their home in the way a documentary feels.
The acting in this movie is as believable as can be. Aggeliki Papoulia (the eldest daughter) specifically is a revelation. Her character also goes through the most growth throughout the film. I don’t know what acting exercises the small cast went through during rehearsals, but it had to be surreal, I’m sure.
It’s worth noting that this film is up for an Academy Award for “Best Foreign Language Film.” Movies like this don’t come by very often. “Dogtooth” is an intimate piece of work and it should be watched by anyone who gets upset with a lot of mainstream American films because many tend to be predictable and boring. This indie Greek drama will keep your attention from beginning to end. Guaranteed!
LET ME IN – ****
This isn’t your Tween’s vampire movie. If you thought the “Twilight” franchise was simply divine, then this movie will probably not be for you. “Let Me In” is a patient film that unwraps slowly, but satisfyingly, too. It is also a period piece, which is not unusual for a vampire flick, but this one is set in 1983, in New Mexico, and focuses on a little boy, which is a little bit unusual.
The boy is Owen (Kodi Smit McPhee), a lonely and sullen 12 year-old who likes to eat Now and Later candy while reciting the commercial tagline to himself. He is a shy kid in school; he sits out during gym class; he also gets bullied. Soon he meets a new girl who moves in the apartment next-door named Abby (Chloë Grace Moretz, a.k.a. Hit Girl from “Kick Ass” as most may know her). Abby is also a shy pretty 12 year-old looking girl, so Owen takes a liking to her immediately.
Something is not right with Abby and the film doesn’t take too much time to explain this. She walks barefoot in the snow (who knew it snowed in New Mexico?), she pukes when she eats Now and Laters and… oh yeah: SHE CRAVES BLOOD! Spoiler alert! Well, if you knew a modicum of the plot to this movie, this isn’t really a shock.
Abby lives with an older man (played wonderfully by Richard Jenkins) whose name is not revealed. His relationship with Abby is a paternal one, and the screenplay cleverly and subtly reveals the reality of their relationship as the film progresses. His job is to find suitable bodies to drain of their blood for Abby to feed on. He also has to dispose of the corpses so that there is no trace.
The conflict of the film begins when multiple corpses start to turn-up in this small community. A cop (Elias Koteas) tries to piece things together to find the murderer. The movie begins with the cop interrogating an unidentified burn victim in the hospital in order to uncover the truth of the murders. The first half of the movie is a flashback leading up to that hospital scene.
“Let Me In” is a remake. The original is a Swedish film from 2008 called “Let the Right One In.” (Along with “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”, Sweden seems to be a haven for great film ideas to rip-off). Having not seen the original Swedish version, I cannot say whether this remake is better, but it is a great movie on its own.
Director Matt Reeves (of “Cloverfield” fame) knows how to build a story delicately like a house of cards. The camera shoots mostly from the perspective of Owen. One interesting dynamic of the film is that Reeves never shows the face of Owen’s divorcee mother. Every scene she is in, we either get a disembodied voice, or at best a cropped profile or body shot. This makes me think of a lot of cartoons I watched growing-up that used the same style (“Tom and Jerry”, “Muppet Babies” and “Charlie Brown”, just to name a few). Reeves doesn’t shoot the same way for any other adult character, so without spoon feeding the relationship between the mother and son, Reeves uses this camera technique to show there is distance.
The screenplay (also by Reeves) is well written. I can’t tell you how many movies get ruined because of poor dialogue for children. Usually, it’s either condescendingly written, or it sounds like adults are talking in children’s bodies. Not here. Every scene accurately represents what kids say and do. Just for that achievement, Reeves deserves a lot of credit.
Visually speaking, there are not a lot of gory effects that fill the screen constantly, and that’s a good thing. Despite being a remake, the story of “Let Me In” is a unique direction for vampire movies. Youthful vampires are common, but usually they are teenagers (see “Twilight” and “The Lost Boys” for primary examples) and they tend to be predominantly male. A pre-pubescent girl is unassuming and that alone makes the movie that much more terrifying. So, if you have gotten jaded by the latest batch of vampire movies being too melodramatic (“Twilight”) or too mindlessly action-driven (“Blade” and “Underworld”, I’m looking at you) cleanse your palate with “Let Me In.”