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The Rocker (2008)
4/10
Driving a bus through my suspension of disbelief
24 April 2014
Warning: Spoilers
So why was this movie so bad? You have Rainn Wilson with a paunch and terrible hair piece in the flashback scenes and the scenes set in the present, who played drums for a cheesy teen pop band, who were happy to have a video on 2008s version of MTV, who had a party hosted by MySpace, rode to gigs in a bus (really? A new band with no album yet), are scheduled to open for a heavy metal band (poor kids - the band not the audience), and have an out-of-left-field break up.

Google the term tone deaf.

There needs to be some parts of a movie that don't shatter the suspension of disbelief but every minute of this movie seem to do just that for me.

The only good thing about the film was the kids playing the band.
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Lovelace (2013)
7/10
Lovelace hits the right notes about golden era of porn
17 August 2013
Warning: Spoilers
I had the opportunity to check out the new film about porn star Linda Lovelace titled 'Lovelace'. I thought it used an interesting take on the period in the 1970s when pornography went mainstream by giving us two films in one. The first half is like a Hollywood style biography that never goes below the surface while the last half of the film gives us what really happened behind the scenes. The film not only gave a look at the pop culture impact of the actress, 'Lovelace' also humanized the woman. I also liked how the film didn't go after pornography as a whole but did point out the dark and dirty underbelly of the industry in the 1970s. Unlike how Linda Lovelace was exploited during her short stint in porn, the film 'Lovelace' isn't exploitive and gives a true examination of the woman and the industry she popularized.

I admit that I saw the porn film "Deep Throat" when I was a teenager. A friend had beatup video copy. Like checking out your Dad's hidden Playboy stash, watching the first mainstream porn film was a right of passage. So when I saw they were coming out with a film about the actress Linda Lovelace, I couldn't wait to learn more about the woman.

Amanda Seyfried plays Linda Boreman who lives with her parents in Florida. Her father is a retired New York City police officer and her mother is deeply religious. Linda meets and falls in love with Chuck Traynor, played by Peter Sarsgaard, who is basically a dirtbag who works in a strip club. It is Traynor's idea to get Linda involved in pornography. Later we see Linda auditioning for the producers of "Deep Throat". She gets the job because of the way she performs fellatio. We find out that this is the time she is given the stage name Linda Lovelace.

There is a portion of the film showing the filming of "Deep Throat". A couple of the scenes shown being film are true to the actual film. Then we get to see "Deep Throat" enter the mainstream consciousness. It went viral all over the world. There are scenes of Johnny Carson and Bob Hope talking about the film. Linda is treated almost like a legitimate Hollywood star.

This is when we get the real behind the scenes look of what we just saw. Chuck abuses Linda constantly for any perceived slight. He wants to control her in every possible way. He pimps her out for sex even after "Deep Throat" gets popular. Eventually with the help of one of the film's producers she is able to leave Chuck and she ends up leaving the porn business altogether.

The last bit of the film shows post porn Linda, now married with kids, who writes a book about her time in porn titled "Ordeal". Linda is able to move on with her life as a survivor of the porn industry and a survivor of domestic abuse.

Being "based on a true story" the film does leave out some details such as Lovelace writing four books and only complaining about abuse in the later two and even those allegations are in dispute. The film also doesn't mention the hardcore loops she did before "Deep Throat" and the porn movies she did after her break out role.

Peter Sarsgaard is great as Chuck. His porn stache and perm added some extra creepiness to the character.

Robert Patrick and an almost unrecognizable Sharon Stone play Linda's parents. Patrick has a great scene when his character tells Linda that he had seen her film. It was a powerful scene.

Hank Azaria is good as the sleazy "Deep Throat" director, Gerry Damiano, who helped change the porn industry by adding a plot and high production values. Chris Noth was good as the mob connected producer Anthony Romano.

The only casting that didn't seem to work for me was Adam Brody as the late great Harry Reems and James Franco with a cameo as Hugh Hefner.

It seemed to me they got most of the period things correct. The cars, clothes, hair styles, and ample use of polyester all seemed correct for the early 70s.

Because this is an 'R' rated mainstream movie there is only a little nudity and no pornographic scenes from "Deep Throat" so if that is what you were hoping for then you will be disappointed. It worked for me because I think if they included more explicit sex scenes it would distract from the real story. They didn't hold back on the scenes of domestic violence however - which is ironic given it is about the history of 70s porn.

I wasn't sure that I would like "Lovelace" but I did and I'm glad I got to watch it.
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7/10
Just Misses Being Oscar Worthy
18 January 2013
Warning: Spoilers
Movies about people with mental illnesses isn't my usual thing unless it is a documentary. Family dysfunction played for laughs can be entertaining. I liked Silver Lining Playbook even though the main plot wasn't my usual taste. Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence did a good job. I don't think the film is worthy of the Oscar nominations it got but it was worth the money I spent on the ticket which is a good thing.

Bradley Cooper plays Pat, a man who has finished a stint in a mental health facility after an "incident" involving his wife and another man. He has previously undiagnosed Bi-polar syndrome but decides to will himself better so he can return to his wife and former life. He tries to maintain a positive attitude even to the point of delusion. Due to the terms of his release he is forced to move back in with his parents, played by Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver. Pat's mood swings result in waking up his parents to listen to random rants in the middle of the night and to then tune out when his father berates him for a trivial slight.

De Niro's Pat Sr. has some issues of his own. He's a bookie with an obsession with sports superstitions while Weaver's well intentioned Dolores tries to gloss over and ignore the family issues simmering below the surface.

Jennifer Lawrence plays Tiffany who tries to cope as a young widow of a police officer by sleeping with everyone she comes in contact with. She lives with her parents as well but in a renovated detached garage. Her family which includes her sister Veronica, played by Julia Stiles, have their own dysfunctional issues. Veronica is a demanding wife driving her husband Ronnie, played by John Ortiz, into fits of rage he takes out on random objects in the garage.

I really liked how all are these people seemed broken in one aspect or another from irrational dependence on superstitions to using sex as a coping mechanism. I think it might have been boring if Pat and Tiffany were the only "crazy" people in the film.

The acting seemed real and natural but I did have issues with some of the funny moments. Some of the comedy fell flat to me because it was too absurd for the situation. The laugh out loud moments were few and far between for my tastes. I know it wasn't trying to be a sitcom but the pacing seemed off where I was put off guard during some of the comedic moments.

Another issue I had was some plot holes. For example it seems all the main characters seemed to know each other before the time set in the film but in the beginning it seemed they didn't know each other. I got confused. Pat Jr. knows Veronica because she is his BFF Ronnie's wife but he barely knows Tiffany even though she lives in the same neighborhood. Pat walks Tiffany home from Veronica's then walks home himself? Those moments didn't make sense. Then there seems to be more with Pat's mom, Dolores, trying to get Pat and Tiffany together but it's only mentioned in passing late in the movie like maybe there was a scene or two taken out.

Don't get me started on the tacked on character Danny, Pat's friend from the mental hospital, played by Chris Tucker. He either was added at the last minute or maybe his appearance in the film was cut back in editing because he seems so under used in the film for no apparent reason.

However, the last 30 minutes made the film for me and washed away many of the problems. I really liked the ending and it was satisfying.

I think this film got several Oscar nominations because of writer/director David O. Russell and probably because many Hollywood types see themselves in Russell's dysfunctional world. I think these kind of films don't push the envelope hard enough and I get bored with quirky "crazy" people.

I just don't find movies about people with mental illness to be entertaining. It is a fine line to walk and while I applaud Russell for the attempt, I think "Silver Linings Playbook" falls short of the goal posts.

I don't think the film is Oscar worthy but it is above average and worth the ticket price I paid.
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Prometheus (I) (2012)
6/10
Good if you have never seen an "Alien" film
9 December 2012
Warning: Spoilers
I finally watched Prometheus for the 2nd time the other night. It was actually my first time all the way through. The first time I stopped watching just as the cast started exploring the alien structure because I got bored. After watching the complete film from start to the end I can say that this is a decent movie if you have no prior knowledge of the "Alien" mythology.

There is a reason why director Ridley Scott tried to distance "Prometheus" from his previous film "Alien" because the films are completely different in tone and texture. "Prometheus" uses tons of CGI and epic story telling while "Alien" was murky, with practical effects, and a dose of mystery. Being a fan of the "Alien" series of films, I was disappointed with "Prometheus" because it was so different from the "Alien" style. I guess the tools and costumes looked too futuristic compared to the "Alien" films.

I might be more enthusiastic with the film had it been set on a different Earth like planet like it would be a different branch of the "Alien" story. As it is the story has basically the same beats as the original "Alien" story (finding an alien structure, one of the crew is killed, a member of the crew is impregnated with an alien creature, the android attempts to bring back a creature and goes rogue). Some of the plot holes (Elizabeth Shaw has major surgery with no recovery time) were a bit much to ignore but really wasn't a deal breaker for me.

If you have any knowledge of the "Alien" series then "Prometheus", in my mind, should be thought of as a reboot of the "Alien" story with better special effects. That why I liked the film overall even with the problems I mentioned and I would like to see a sequel if it gets made.
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8/10
A Young Adult Film That Is Actually Good
28 March 2012
Warning: Spoilers
I was concerned before seeing The Hunger Games movie if I would actually enjoy it since the film isn't for me. I was worried too, not having read the books, and hearing about the plot, if young people should be seeing a film with violence as a primary plot device. Luckily I was wrong on all accounts. The Hunger Games is a young adult film that was actually good and the violence wasn't as graphic as I feared. I recommend it.

I hadn't read any of the books in the trilogy but knew enough about the plot that I was concerned the violence would be on par to the trashy horror movies seen recently like the "Final Destination" series. The film used all kids of tricks to get the sense of the violence without actually seeing buckets of blood or guts. That's good for those with kids in the age range this film is targeted.

The other themes that I think aren't seen much in young adult films these days like self-sufficiency, altruism, poverty, starvation, and fascism, are some things we should explore, warts and all, although I'm not quite sure if younger people will understand those on first watch. I do think those ideas will seep into their heads and come back when they are much older. This is a film that lends itself to discussion between parents and children afterward.

Jennifer Lawrence who played the main character Katniss Everdeen, has been on my radar since she was on the Bill Engvall Show on TBS (2007-2009). I also enjoyed her performance in Winter's Bone in 2010 which got her an Oscar nomination. She has a very expressive face and her bright blue eyes give her a gravitas that most young actresses have to grow into over time.

The rest of the cast was great. I really liked Stanley Tucci's Caesar Flickerman (the TEETH!) and Lenny Kravitz as Cinna (that guy starts at Cool). The only person I thought seemed out of place was Woody Harrelson's Haymitch Abernathy. I think it was his wig. It seemed too fake.

Being an old guy I was disappointed there wasn't a lot of actual game play. The game didn't start until half way through the film and then not a lot happens action wise. IMHO. I wanted to see more game play from Katniss. She is portrayed as very smart with natural survival skills and except for the scheme to destroy the supplies of the professional tributes, she didn't do a lot game playing. I was wondering if she would even be able to kill anyone. That was probably the point.

There was a love story, well actually a triangle if Gale is included, and that is the main focus of the film. That story plays a major part of the plot and I expected it. Luckily it isn't as sappy as I thought. It seemed real and natural and not contrived.

Another great part of this film is the protagonist is female and not one of those vain ones that need to be saved by a man that we tend to see in films written by men. I liked that Katniss actually saved Peeta. I think our film industry could stand more of this kind of female roles and not the usual brooding comic book buttheads.

The only real problem I had with the film was the stakes weren't high enough. We know how it would end even if you hadn't read the books (it is one of a trilogy). I know they couldn't significantly change the story so I was disappointed with the ending. But overall that's a minor quibble. It would be more of a problem if it was an original story.

There has been some chatter about how the Hunger Games seems to rip off the story from a Japanese film. No matter if that is true or not I just remember what my writing teacher told me years ago: all the good ideas have been written - judging a book (or film) is how that old idea is presented.

In other parts the film reminded me of other films I had seen like Blade Runner, Star Wars, and even Romeo & Juliet. I think this film does a great job with the story even if we've seen it before.

I recommend "The Hunger Games".
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War Horse (2011)
8/10
War Horse is a film about war that doesn't splash blood on the kids
25 December 2011
There has been a trend in war films of late for extreme realism. For example in Steven Spielberg's "Saving Private Ryan" the film opens with a long scene of fighting during the D-Day landings with all the blood and guts on full display. In Spielberg's new film "War Horse" he seems to go back the other way, back to the old days when war movies were sweeping epics and the main characters barely were scratched in savage fighting. As an adult I enjoy the more realistic war films but I can appreciate "War Horse" for still showing the carnage of war without splattering my kids face with blood and guts.

Like any good children's story we spend quite a bit of time getting to know the star of the movie - "Joey" the horse and his human trainer Albert. We watch them bond and experience the trials and tribulations of farm life before World War I. Also like children's stories with animals as the main character, Joey is given anthropomorphic actions that show up at different times to give the horse more character. This anthropomorphism works without being obvious like adding Jar Jar Binks to the Star Wars mythology for the toy sales.

The war scenes were as realistic as possible without showing actual deaths or gallons of blood spraying all over the place. I would be concerned if this wasn't a children's story but it is a decent introduction into what war is really about. When people are killed the scene is either a long shot with not much detail, something passes in front of the camera at the exact moment of the shot, or the death is not shown at all but the scene plays out that lets you know a death happened.

Most of the human cast consisted of little known or unknown British actors which works since the story is strictly British. They also used French actors for the French parts and German for the German parts.

David Kross, Emily Watson, and Benedict Cumberbatch were the only people I had heard of before and I really liked Watson's take on Albert's mother Rose. The rest of the cast did a good job.

The rest of the elements were well done. The war scenes were technically well done and the locations in the film looked beautiful.

This is a great family film where you don't have to worry too much about what your children will see.
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The Change-Up (2011)
6/10
The Change-Up: Excellent comedy for a frat-boy
29 October 2011
Warning: Spoilers
I saw the previews for the movie "The Change-Up" and it drew my interest. From the director of "Wedding Crashers" and writers of "The Hangover" I thought how could I lose since I loved both those movies. While not a horrible film, it was not a "Wedding Crashers" or "The Hangover". To me it seemed like an extra long letter to "Penthouse" magazine - the kind of fiction a guy would dream up before getting married and having a family.

I like crude humor. I've been known to indulge in it myself but the gross jokes for the sake of being gross is stupid. It was great when I was twelve - I mean it was fun trying to out gross my friends but if I'm paying $10 to see a film I expect a film for adults not 12 year olds. If you base your whole film on humor heard in 6th grade then you have some issues.

F-bombs to or in front of children seems wrong no matter why it's being done and F-bombs just because you have an R-rated movie is stupid. Oh and I know there are filming tricks used so that they aren't really cursing in front of the children but it wasn't funny especially when the one older child didn't seem to respond to the words like a normal child would and neither did the parents.

The male and female characters were flat stereotypes as if an immature frat-boy wrote them. The men were tough 'take-no-crap' men and the women were aggressive, pretty, and hardly reacted to the men being butt-heads. I was so disappointed that Leslie Mann and Olivia Wilde would demean themselves in this farce.

My jaw dropped during the date scene between Ryan Reynolds and Olivia Wilde when his character asked her why she showed up and she said she showed up to keep her job???!!! Really? In 2011? I'm sorry I just didn't buy the premise. Wilde is not a bimbo and only a bimbo would still keep a date rather than going to HR to complain about her boss. This isn't the 1980's.

These kind of 'B' movies would usually have a couple of hot up-and-coming starlets in those roles. I expected better from Mann and Wilde. Although I will say Leslie Mann did have a couple of decent scenes particularly the one where she is telling her whole life story to the babysitter - that was funny.

The movie does try to redeem itself in the second half but by then I stopped caring and I'm sure the frat-boy audience did too.

What I liked about "Wedding Crashers" and "The Hangover" that is missing from this film is more heart. Sure I can just sit back and not focus on the issues but this film wasted my time and the CGI nudity took away the only real reason to waste my $10.
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Hanna (2011)
8/10
Don't Mess With Hanna... seriously.
14 October 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Saw the film "Hanna" the other night and I really liked it. It's about a 16 year old girl trained by her father to be an assassin to get revenge for the killing of her mother. It stars Saoirse Ronan with Eric Bana and Cate Blanchett who effects a decent southern drawl. It's a decent film that walks a tight rope of violent action flick and something that would find a home on the Nickelodeon cable channel. Although I liked it, I thought the PG-13 rating was a negative.

Ronan is great as Hanna. They had her made up almost like an albino with bleach blond hair and eyebrows and a very white face so her character comes off strange to start.

Her sense of wonderment and unease, with a world she had never seen before she left her home in the isolated woods in Finland, is honest. She transitions into different languages with ease. She does have problems dealing with other people she meets as she travels to meet her Dad in Berlin. Some of those problems are played for a touch of comedy like when the Dad of the British family she hitches a ride with asks her about her mother and Hanna is blunt when she says that she died. The Dad asks what she died of and Hanna is blunt again and says "Three bullets.." Cate Blanchett does a good job playing the villain Marissa. The character has an obsession with having clean teeth as a couple of scenes show and she deliberately picks out a certain pair of shoes from her closet that is full of them. Nice character touches.

One of my usual favorites Olivia Williams is the Mom in the Brit family Hanna tags along with. She has some nice sweet scenes with Ronan. The world aware, and celebrity obsessed, sister in the Brit family, Sophie, played by Jessica Barden is a nice teen contrast to Hanna. The scene I liked was when Sophie finds Hanna dispatching a couple of goons that were hired to capture her. The girls share a glance with Sophie's face showing fear and Hanna looking sad while still fighting the two bad guys.

The other thing I liked about the film is some of the techniques used. I liked the cold open with Hanna hunting then when she kills a deer the title suddenly appears then the rest of the titles are shown during the next scene back at her cabin. You had a lot of steady cam shots during the fight sequences and the locations for scenes looked unique.

If I had one complaint, it would be the PG-13 rating. The action sequences were still pretty violent but being PG-13 you never saw the actual death move or the person dying. A gun would fire then there would be a quick cut away or a quick cut to the surrounding area and you would hear a shot or many shots. The only death they showed completely was the most bloody when Hanna slashed a bad guy's throat but then he didn't die immediately anyway.

I know they used PG-13 to try and draw in tweens (I can see the merchandise tie-ins now), but we had an eleven-year-old vigilante in 2010's Kick-Ass and that needed to be rated R.

Aside from the rating the film was entertaining and I see great things in the future for Saoirse Ronan.
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Easy A (2010)
10/10
A realistic plot and some wicked funny lines make this film a pleasure
22 November 2010
Warning: Spoilers
I was interested in seeing "Easy A" since the trailer came out and I wasn't disappointed. It's a funny movie with an excellent lead turn by Emma Stone. In fact the entire cast does a great job with what on the surface might look like yet another teen sex comedy.

What sets this apart from other movies is it's downright funny. I found myself laughing hard at a lot of the dialogue like when Principal Gibbons tells Olive, "This is public school. If I can keep the girls off the pole and the boys off the pipe, I get a bonus." or when Mrs. Griffith said about the character Micah, "He's not the sharpest Christian in the bible." I also liked the realistic plot. Compared to "Confessions of a Teenaged Drama Queen" where the main character Lola tells a bunch of lies and seems to get everything she wanted even after her lies blew up in her face, in "Easy A" Olive loses quite a bit when her lies get out of control. By the end of the film you know she fessed up but you really don't know if she got back her reputation.

I also liked how the film dealt with social media in high school and I especially liked Mr. Griffith's comments "I don't know what your generation's fascination is with documenting your every thought... but I can assure you, they're not all diamonds. "Roman is having an OK day, and bought a Coke Zero at the gas station. Raise the roof." Who gives a rat's ass?" Exactly.

This was a funny movie with well written characters and a realistic plot. The bonus for me was the call outs to the 1980's teen movies by John Hughes that this film tried to emulate. I think it did a good job.

This will be one I add to my DVD collection.
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Rumble Fish (1983)
8/10
A classic of filmmaking
24 August 2010
"Rumble Fish" is based on a book written by S.E. Hinton and filmed by Francis Ford Coppola. Both had worked on the film adaptation of Hinton's classic "The Outsiders". Like that previous film, Rumble Fish deals with teen angst with an almost film noir texture unusual for a teen flick of the time.

Matt Dillon plays Rusty James, the punk brother of town legend "The Motorcycle Boy" who was played by Mickey Rourke. James has a "gang" friends and pretty girl friend Patty played by Diane Lane but he is unsure what he wants to do or what is to happen to his life. He tries to get some pointers from his brother but learns even his brother, who he idolizes, isn't someone to ask advice.

The film is shot in black and white which gives it a film noir texture. Coppola uses a couple of color gimmicks in a couple of scenes to make a plot point but overall the black and white works. Not much really happens plot wise except you see James struggling growing up in the crappy town he lives in.

The cast is fantastic in retrospect. In 1983 not many had heard of Nicolas Cage, Chris Penn, Lawrence Fishburne, Tom Waits, or Sophia Coppola all who were in the movie because they were family or friends of the director. Diane Lane had been in "The Outsiders" and here she does a good job for the small amount of time she is on screen. She seems to be genuinely interested in Dillon and it shows in their scenes together.

The film was shot shortly after the classic "The Outsiders" was shot and both films have the same artsy feel to them. One is in deep colors and the other is in black and white.

The only issue I had with the film is how many times other characters call James by his full name Rusty James. Many times in the same scene. Okay I get it his name is Rusty James.
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Killshot (2008)
7/10
A diamond in the rough
24 August 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Killshot had some issues before it was released in 2008. The studio that owned it went through a sale, it needed a lot of re-shoots, and a character was dropped completely from the film after a bad test screening. The film got a very limited release then went straight to DVD. This is one of the few times a straight to DVD film is actually decent. It was based on a book by Elmore Leonard.

The film stars Mickey Rourke (Blackbird) as a hired mob assassin who makes a mistake and his hunted by his employer. He meets up with a psychopathic small time hood excellently played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Richie). They attempt to shake down a real estate agent but end up mistaking Wayne Colson played by Thomas Jane for the agent. Wayne ends up beating up Blackbird and Richie. Wayne's wife Carmen, played by Diane Lane, who works at the same agency sees the fight and sees Blackbird. It seems Blackbird has a thing about people seeing him work and he decides that Wayne and Carmen need to die.

The rest of the film deals with Blackbird and Richie trying to kill the Colsons.

I really wasn't expecting much but the plot kept me interested. Rourke was believable as a native American and Gordon-Levitt just chewed up scene after scene as his buddy in crime.

Thomas Jane as Wayne was decent. He was a bad ass when he needed to be and he could do well in the tender moments with the wife.

Diane Lane had her "A" game on. She shines in the last third of the movie especially during the final confrontation with Blackbird and his friend.

If this had gotten better support from the studio and a real theatrical release I feel it would have done okay at the box office. Rent or buy this and see if it comes on TV.
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5/10
Tear jerker fails due to bad execution and bumpy script
24 August 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Nights in Rodanthe is the third film to pair Richard Gere and Diane Lane after Unfaithful (2002) and The Cotton Club (1984). It is based on the novel by Nicholas Sparks.

Lane plays Adrienne Willis, a woman who's marriage has fallen apart after her husband leaves her for a younger woman. Gere plays Dr. Paul Flanner, a surgeon whose life and practice crashes around him after a medical mistake with a patient. Both Willis and Flanner end up at a small end in the North Carolina coastal village of Rodanthe. Through the course of the film they fall in love and begin to heal their lives.

Just as they reach the point of staying together they realize they have to go back to their separate lives. The last bit of the film focuses on their continued communication through letters.

The film is a tear jerker supreme and just didn't have a satisfying ending for me. In fact I laughed out loud during the end scene not because I was happy but because it was stupid.

I admit I am not the demographic for this film but if you like formalistic romance novels then this film is for you.

Diane Lane is great as usual and Richard Gere is good too. The script is bumpy in parts. I read a plot summary of the book and it seemed better than the film version story wise. I also believe there is a serious editing mistake when Adrienne drives to the local market/bar in the village that should have been caught.

I hope Lane and Gere try to work together again but next time stick with a meatier drama like "Unfaithful" or maybe a straight up comedy.
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9/10
A snap shot of a different time even for us Old Farts
6 August 2010
Like many reviewers on this film I first saw "Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains" on late night cable in the mid 80's. I loved the music as I was just digging Punk and getting into New Wave. The more adult themes went over my head but I got the gist - the conflict between men and women in the music business and how media can build up and tear down stars.

I had wanted to see the film again but until 2008 it was still only available if it were shown on TV or if someone had a copy from a previous TV showing. The studio finally released a DVD of a restored print and I fell in love with it all over again.

Diane Lane, 15 at the time, plays the leader of The Stains, "Third Degree" Burns. Laura Dern, 13 at the time, plays Third Degree's cousin and bassist "Peg". The British punk band The Stains hang out on tour with is made up of members of the Sex Pistols and The Clash and fronted by Ray Winstone. Fee Waybill of The Tubes plays a hasbeen metal band singer. Christine Lahti, who plays Lane's Aunt and Dern's mother, kills in the two short scenes she's in. Other notable cast members are David Clennon, Cynthia Sikes, Elizabeth Daily, and an uncredited Brent Spiner. The film was directed by Lou Adler who had directed "Up in Smoke" and was written by Nancy Dowd who had written "Slap Shot".

Diane Lane shows once again her raw untrained talent in only her 3rd film at the time. Laura Dern also looks natural in her role. Along with Lahti, Waybill also turns in a great performance.

The film does a good job of showing one part of the rough and tumble music business before the MTV era. It's rough around the edges with some cringe worthy scenes and stiff dialog but overall it makes its gritty point about the nature of show business and the media and about gender roles. The happy ending that was filmed 2 years after initial filming fits in that it reminded me of the rise of the group "The Go-Go's" They had started in the punk scene and moved into the new MTV scene and got the same make over "The Stains" get in the final scene.

The film has reached cult status not only from the late night cable showings and lack of a previous home release but also because it influenced future women singers most notably Courtney Love.

As noted before the film is jagged but Lou Adler made sure the music was as polished as possible to be heard. That of course is what is important - the music and the message.

*Side Note* If you are an "Old Fart" now and want to reminisce about the film and the time of the story, listen to the commentary by Diane Lane and Laura Dern on the DVD. They were a bonus and added to the value of the disc.
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Vamped Out (2010– )
10/10
Fresh and tight
2 June 2010
Being new to web based shows I wasn't sure what to expect but Jason Antoon and Kevin Pollak were able to tell a great story over the course of 6 short episodes.

The comedy isn't the usual setup-punch line but more subtle such as waiting for a print out from an old computer printer.

Samm Levine also did a good turn as Antoon's character's agent.

Production wise I liked how they created generally real situations to cover the position of the cameras such has having Pollak hold one facing another speaker then cutting to the shot from his camera.

The show was a fresh take on the vampire fetish in Hollywood and I can't wait for season 2.
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7/10
Not the best of 2009
1 March 2010
Although I had no plans to see "The Hurt Locker" as I tend to shy away from modern war movies especially any with Iraq as the battle front, I did see it recently after hearing buzz about it being the best film of the year. In fact one report had director James Cameron - ex-husband of the film's director Kathryn Bigelow - saying that "The Hurt Locker" was the "Platoon" of the Iraq war.

I have to disagree. While it's a good movie especially for Bigelow, I don't think it's the best film of 2009.

The reason it's good but not great is that the last third kind of drags and the character arcs aren't done very well. The acting was decent - even above average - but after seeing one bomb disposal scene you've seen them all.

Unlike "Platoon" there was little battle action. Watching the unit work was interesting but not much happened with them and a couple of scenes of extended battle action seemed out of place to be honest. There also was a jarring setting at home for one of the characters that showed up all of a sudden.

The film "Platoon" also used their scenes to comment on the political and social aspects of the Vietnam conflict through the actions and interactions of the members of the platoon. In "The Hurt Locker" there really was none of that.

There have been better Iraq war movies including the recent mini-series on HBO called - "Generation Kill" - that had more elements in common with Platoon than this film did.

As I said "The Hurt Locker" was a good movie and interesting but not the best of 2009 and certainly not "The Platoon of the Iraq War..." unless you think a good war movie just has brooding men and no commentary on the war itself.
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Trucker (2008)
10/10
Best film I've seen in a long time
8 January 2010
I had the opportunity to see "Trucker" the other day and I loved the flick. The cast did a great job and the look and lighting of the film added to the tone.

Michelle Monaghan plays Diane Ford, a long haul truck driver, who has her carefree and relationship free life style upended when a medical emergency forces her to take in the child she abandoned 11 years before. Peter's father, played by Benjamin Bratt, is sick with cancer and his girlfriend Jenny, played by the great Joey Lauren Adams is stuck with other obligations and has to leave the kid with Diane. Peter, played by Jimmy Bennett, is just as cross as his mother at the situation. The film deals mainly with Diane and Peter reconnecting and the change that happens in both their lives.

Monaghan kills the part of Diane. She walks fast, talks fast, drives fast, and drinks hard. She refuses to let anyone get close to her including her best friend Runner, played by Nathan Fillion.

In the days after Peter shows up you can see Diane struggling with it. It seems to bring back the memories from the time the kid was born and all the baggage she ran out on but she can't run away this time.

Both Diane and Peter feel their away around each other since they don't know one another that well. We do see some sparks of maternal feelings from Diane and the kid begins to soften in his anger toward his mom.

What got me was seeing Diane's raw emotions at times in her eyes. Kudos' to Monaghan for bring that out in the character. And her character arc is not cliché' or predictable in the least. The film kept my interest for the whole 90 minute running time.

I don't get to see to many great female characters in many films but it was great to have the opportunity to see Diane and get a taste of her long journey.
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I Am Sam (2001)
10/10
Powerful without being predictable
27 January 2009
Warning: Spoilers
I finally got to see I Am Sam all the way through recently on the late night movie. I'm sorry I missed this when it was fresh in the theaters because it destroyed my bias that it would be one of the obvious tear jerkers and predictable.

Thanks to the writing and directing it was far from predictable nor was it obvious.

Sean Penn is one of America's classic actors in that he can play just about any role and kill it. Having had a sister who was mentally challenged, he got that part so dead on I was thinking all his character needed to do was hate doctors and it would be my sister up on the screen.

The film takes on two powerful topics - mainstreaming mentally challenged adults and child well-being.

In the not too distant history people like Sam would have lived their entire lives in an institution. They would live with insane and other people with different mental disorders. "Normal" people use to not want them around and would warehouse them out of sight out of mind. Adults that live in the community now are functional but don't comprehend or understand complex ideas that we all take for granted. They don't hide or moderate their feelings.

Today the government takes a more active role in protecting children. Some say they get too aggressive but in my view I would rather they make a mistake in a effort to help a child than the other way. Dealing with a mentally challenged parent has to be one of the most difficult things to handle when it comes to child protection.

This film does a good job of meshing the two topics without giving either short shrift.

Through a series of unfortunate events Sam loses custody of his daughter Lucy. He gets a high power lawyer Rita (played by the excellent Michelle Pfeiffer) to take his case pro-bono, mainly because her co-workers think she would never do pro-bono work. While preparing the case Rita learns first to care about Sam and his case and put her heart into it while also learning about why she was having issues with her own life and her relationship with her son Willy.

I said the film was unpredictable and the best example was a scene during a court hearing when Sam is being questioned on the stand. Mr. Turner (played by Richard Schiff) asks Sam what does it take to make a good parent. Sam thinks really hard and starts to give a long speech that seems so lucid and intelligent compared to his previous answers. The people in the room are stunned because the answer is so perfect then we find out he quoted a scene from the movie "Kramer vs Kramer". Then the look on the faces in the court room said "NOOOOOOOOOOO!" The ending of the film, while plosive, is left open to interpretation which I also liked.

The only quibble I had with the film was that Sam, being mentally challenged and obviously not understanding what was happening to him, was never given any help or an advocate. One example was when he had to see a state appointed psychologist and she explains to him at the start that since she was appointed by the court that he was waving his patient doctor privilege rights. She asks him more than once if he understood and he said he did but there is no way he knew what he was doing. There should have been an advocate there since Rita wasn't there to look out for his rights. Of course that could've been the point - that Sam was being held to the same standards as a intellectually adult person even if it didn't seem fair to Sam.

Still this is a great movie and I'm glad I watched it.
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Untraceable (2008)
7/10
Untraceable is a decent thriller that wants to be a slasher flick
27 January 2008
Warning: Spoilers
I saw the film today and was relatively entertained by the thriller aspects. I was turned off by the gruesome aspects.

I think a film that tries to be everything for all audiences has to hit the mark and I don't think this one did. The gruesome scenes just weren't needed. I have not seen nor do I want to see scenes similar to the "Saw" series that some have compared the scenes in this film to.

I saw this film for the star Diane Lane and once again she was excellent. I was good to see her in something other than a RomCom and I also liked the fact that she is the one that ends the murder spree at the heart of the plot. It was a strong woman role and they got a strong woman to play it so she was very believable.

I also thought that Colin Hanks did a good job as the partner in the Cyber Crimes office.

I liked the plot and topic present - that some people like to see some sick stuff on the Internet. I also agreed with the issue of law enforcement trying to stop a bad site when the Internet is world wide. It made one think about that issue. Personally I want the Internet to stay open and free but at the same time I hope police can stop murders or other nasty stuff that shows up there.

The film was pretty tight story wise through the first half as you followed the investigation and I sat there trying to piece things together. However the last half was hobbled by a significant plot hole. Unlike some of the comments here I liked the ending as it was the only way for it to end and made Lane's character look even better.
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Superbad (2007)
8/10
Ode to the horny nerd
19 August 2007
Warning: Spoilers
It seemed like "Superbad" stole stories from my life. If you are in high school and a nerd, sex pretty much consumes your entire being. It just seems so much fun and you want to do it, but you are a nerd so it won't happen unless you go to college or get the woman drunk.

One of your friends, the loud mouth king of the nerds, has a fool proof plan. You're so convinced it will work that you plan on what it will be like and anticipate it to the nth degree. Then when your potential paramour practically puts her boobs in your hands your moral center shuts everything down. You make excuses that you like your friends too much and it is no big deal.

That's why I liked this movie. It just seemed so real and so funny at the same time. There was various body fluids flowing, liberal use of all kinds of curse words, and some bits of homoeroticism. This film makes American Pie seem like Dawson's Creek.

My favorite part was a small one. After a class, Evan, played by Michael Cera, and his lust goddess Becca, played by Martha MacIsaac, are talking in the hall. It is the classic awkward "I like you but am too scared to really say it" talk. Becca throws Evan a lifeline - making it very clear that she wants him to ask her out, without saying the words, and he misses it completely.

There were some bits that were over the top but it was a comedy and not a documentary.

The only problem I had with the movie is that it gave away a lot of the most funny bits in the trailers and cast plugs on the talk show. One real funny bit was available in full on the official website. These clips didn't give the whole movie away but did take something away for me.
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Flyboys (2006)
9/10
Entertaining composite of a bygone era
13 August 2007
Flyboys is a drama about American members of a French fighter squadron in WWI.

Before the US entered the war, many idealistic young men traveled to France and joined the war. The best known of these men were members of the Lafayette Escadrille - named after the Frenchman who came to the aid of Washington during the American Revolution.

I am student of history and I'm particularly interested in WWI so I wanted to see this movie as soon as I heard of it.

Some other comments complained about historical inaccuracies or about how the planes operated. I knew, going in, this wasn't a documentary. I expected it not to be 100% accurate. However, the combat scenes were very accurate (except the vapor trails coming from the bullets of the machine guns) . The pilots back then pushed their machines to the limits and some of the more wild moves were based on actual combat reports from the day.

Another accurate part was how the men came from different backgrounds and circumstances and how the life expectancy was low - a matter of weeks.

Being a movie, there was some unbelievable bits, mostly in the a couple of the actions Rawlings, played by James Franco.

As I said I fully expected this film not be a documentary but then they had a "where are they now" bit at the end, telling us what happened to the main characters after the war. That really wasn't needed and could be misleading especially for a viewer who has no prior knowledge of the war or of the Escadrille. What's the point of showing what happened to fictional composites.

Other than that I liked this movie and added it to my DVD collection.
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10/10
An underrated film that foreshadowed Murray's serious side
20 July 2007
Warning: Spoilers
The Razor's Edge with Bill Murray is one of the films that has influenced my life in a major way and is easily on my top list of movies.

The film tells the story of the personal journey of Larry Darrell, played by Murray, who goes from coddled rich boy to war shocked veteran and ending as someone who is more in touch with the world and himself.

There is a bit of a mystical journey he takes to what I believe is Tibet where he has his discovery at the top of a mountain. That was the only part of the film that didn't speak to me.

The central theme as expressed at the end of the film is where Larry tells his old flame Isabel "When Piedmont died, I had to pay him back for my life. I found out there's another debt to pay - for the privilege of being alive. I thought Sophie was my reward for trying to live a good life. Uh uh. There is no payoff - not now." I think that is a useful truth regardless if one is religious or not.

Bill Murray was great as Larry. Of course there are small bits where his history in comedy come through, although I thought some of those small bits were a bit out of character for this film. One example was when he sends down a basket on a rope to get some bread and tea delivered from the café next to his apartment building. He lets out the rope too fast and you hear it crash into someone who yells out in French. Yes it was humorous but was too much for the tone of the film. Luckily the majority of the film does have some funny bits more in keeping from the situation and dialogue.

Catherine Hicks' Isabel Bradley was great too. I have always liked Hicks and think she is a good actress. Theresa Russell steals the show as Sophie MacDonald. The scene in the hospital after the traffic accident is probably the best scene I've ever seen in film.

The rest of the cast is excellent as well.

I get goose bumps when the film opens with the theme music. Jack Nitzsche score just adds layers onto a full canvas.

This is a very underrated film and from it I knew Murray could do more serious roles which he has done in recent years.
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Ratatouille (2007)
5/10
Very Disappointed
9 July 2007
I had a decision to make. I had time to see one movie on Sunday. Either Ratatouille or Transformers. I was never a fan of the Transformers show when I was a kid. So I read various reviews on the two movies on non-IMDb websites to get a gist of both films. Unlike IMDb, both films were getting positive but not great reviews over all. Ratatouille had far more positive reviews than Transformers so I picked Ratatouille.

Simply put, Ratatouille is just average at best. The animation was nothing spectacular. I guess the novelty of Computer animation is wearing off. It was pretty close it not the same as the old style cell animation.

No matter what tricks or special effects a film uses, it doesn't mean anything unless the story is good. The story in Ratatouille was just average. It was cute in spots but tedious in other places. A lot of the supporting characters were played up only to be discarded quickly and the main villain had no setup at all. You only knew he was the bad guy because he had the standard bad guy sinister look - that was it.

An animated feature film should have some truths inside it. It should touch on the real world with real emotions and Ratatouille missed it in a big way. Rats around food is just gross, even cartoon rats, especially if the animators spent months or years to get the look "just right". Maybe if it was dog trying to cook but a rat was just wrong.

The best animated features are those that contain at least a nod to the adults in the audience who brought their children to the show. Remember in The Incredibles, the superhero family had real family issues to deal with. You could turn to an adult sitting next to you and say "Ain't that the truth" or there could be the inclusion of jokes that kids find funny but adults really find funny because they were directed at them. Ratatouille had none of this. In fact the film wasn't that funny.

Brad Bird get credit for at least taking a chance with the characters and the plot but the execution missed for me. I was very disappointed.
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6/10
PG-13 made this film just average
4 July 2007
I spent my 4th of July joining Detective John McClane for yet another bad day. Unfortunately this 4th bad day limped across the finish line.

It wasn't a total disaster but the movie suits marketing this as a PG-13 film and then pretty much presenting it as PG really hurt the reason I liked the Die Hard series. They even garbled his catch phrase. UGH! I wonder if 20th Century Fox knows you can use at least one F-word in PG-13 and you can also show women topless. That would have made this film a bit better.

I want McClane to be crude, mouthy, and foul mouth. In this film he is crude and that is about it.

I liked Justin Long as the geek hacker. He had some great lines - even better than McClane.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead's "Lucy" was a treat. She seemed to be just like Dad which I enjoyed very much.

I thought the plot and ideas behind the story were interesting and something that doesn't get discussed enough in the real world and overall the film had some good, if not real plausible, action scenes.

I hope that an unrated version comes out on DVD because the PG-13 version just didn't work for me.
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7/10
A snapshot of the times
1 January 2007
Warning: Spoilers
The first time I came across "Goodbye, Columbus" was in an advert for a local movie theater in a saved newspaper covering the moon landing in 1969. Years later, while at Ohio State, I read the novella by Philip Roth instead of the story I was suppose to read in English Lit class. So when I saw it available through Netflix I decided to give it a complete and adult look at a film that I had been interested in seeing.

Neil Klugman, played by Richard Benjamin, sees Brenda Patimkin, played by Ali MacGraw, while on a visit to a Westchester country club one hot summer day and he is intent on meeting her. Brenda is beautiful and rebellious college co-ed. Neil is smitten immediately even though her impetuousness drives him crazy.

Meeting Brenda also requires him to meet her family. There is the protective Dad, played by Jack Klugman, overbearing mother, played by Nan Martin, the lunkhead brother, played by Michael Meyers, and bratty younger sister, played by Lori Shelle. Mr. Patimkin owns a successful plumbing supply company and dotes on his children giving them anything they want. Mrs. Patimkin is interested in making sure Brenda marries into a "good" family - which means the same social class as them so she hates Neil from the beginning.

The Patimkin children, Brenda included, have had so much given to them that they have no idea what it means to work and struggle for a living. In one scene Mrs. Patimkin has an argument with Brenda where she points out Brenda has no idea what it means to work for a living. She says Brenda has never washed a dish in the house. Brenda cries "We have Carlotta!" referring to the family's domestic. The scene foreshadows how dependent Brenda is on her parents and that she has no identity outside of her family.

Neil is far more practical even if he doesn't know what he wants to do with his life. He does know he doesn't want to have a family yet when he pressures Brenda to use birth control when they have sex. Thinking that her family will bail her out at anytime, Brenda is less concerned than Neil about using birth control.

In the end Brenda's dependence on her parents and the superficial relationship she has with Neil dooms the lovers.

I really enjoyed the movie even with the late 60's cultural corniness. The conflict between classes of the same group is apparent and you hope the love would overcome it.

I did have a hard time believing that Richard Benjamin and Ali MacGraw could be lovers because he is far less attractive than she is and usually in Hollywood movies the pretty people get together. It does add a bit of realism to the story but is walking a fine line especially in the opening scenes when Benjamin has his swim trunks pulled way up his waist.

Ali MacGraw was a perfect fit for the role of Brenda as she has always had an air of impetuousness about her as well as an upper class demeanor. She plays almost the same character in her next film - Love Story - but there she is more independent than in this film.

The filmmakers did a good job of transferring the novella to the screen and gives one a good snapshot a particular ethnic experience.
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Hollywoodland (2006)
7/10
Hollywoodland is nice slice of film-noir
10 September 2006
I just saw Hollywoodland and I have to say it is one of the best I've seen this year. Film-noir is hard to pull off but this film did it. The dirt, seedy, underbelly of reality hidden by a paid staff to make sure people buy tickets to movies before the end of the studio system in the late 60's, just screams for the film-noir treatment. The studios had a "wholesome" image to protect and anyone crossing that line either were protected or ruined depending on their value to the studio.

The death of George Reeves is one such result of this hidden Hollywood of old. Reeves starred as Superman on TV in the 1950's and was found dead in his bedroom in 1959. The nation and a legion of children were shocked at the time. The death was ruled a suicide but questions remained. Hollywoodland takes a fictional look at the case and highlights this long forgotten slice of movie history.

Ben Affleck plays Reeves and he does a great job. He looks similar to the real Reeves and even sounds like him.

Diane Lane plays Toni Mannix, the wife of a studio boss, who had an affair with Reeves. He is her "boy" and she would anything for her boy. Being a Lane fan I was more than pleased with her performance and I was glad she did something different than her recent spate of RomComs. My only issue was that she wasn't on screen enough. In most scenes she was no more than background to Affleck and Brody but in the scenes where she was the focus she shows why she is one of our best actors today.

Adrien Brody plays Louis Simo, a fictional private detective hired by Reeves mother to investigate the case. He has problems of his own as these noir gumshoes often do. Brody plays Simo as a hipster forgoing a suit and fedora. He is an ambulance chaser taking money from husbands wanting their wives investigated even though he doesn't really care about the people who hire him. He wants fame and fortune and doesn't think twice about speaking to the press in order to get a big headline.

Bob Hoskins plays Eddie Mannix, the studio boss who only needs to make a phone call to his PR guy and problems disappear. Hoskins plays Mannix subtlety as if all he needs is a trigger to explode.

Robin Tunney does a good job as Leonore Lemmon, Reeves fiancé after he had dumped Toni Mannix.

The period dressing and sets seemed authentic including the haze of cigarette smoke every where because back then everybody seemed to smoke. Seeing some of the back stage antics during the scenes of the Superman TV show was a bit of shocker but it still fit the film.

I also liked how the film presents all three of the theories about the death of Reeves yet doesn't tell you which one to believe, but this film is really about Simo and how he deals with the case and how it changes him for the time being.

Hollywoodland is a nice adult film with many layers and does a decent job of presenting a historical story in a piece of fiction. It is just good story telling.
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