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3 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
The Dukes of Been There, Done That, 22 April 2007

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

"The Dukes of Hazzard: The Beginning" (2007)

Directed By: Robert Berlinger

Starring: Jonathan Bennett, Randy Wayne, April Scott, Christopher McDonald, Willie Nelson, Harland Williams, & Joel Moore

MPAA Rating: "Unrated" (for sexual humor and dialogue)

***PLEASE NOTE: This Is A Review Of The "Unrated" Version Of The Movie***

After a long-running television series (that survived for six years and still remains a fan favorite) and a big-screen movie all based on the same material and the same characters, I believe we have seen everything that the Duke boys have to offer. We have seen countless chase scenes, the "General Lee" getting destroyed and resurrected over and over, and Daisy Duke in all of her glory. What else is there to show? Well, as "The Dukes of Hazzard: The Beginning" shows, not much. I have only seen bits and pieces of episodes from the original television series and, though it certainly is not the most intelligent piece of televised history, it is still a classic show that is entertaining. In 2005, its big-screen adaptation (starring Johnny Knoxville, Sean William Scott, and Jessica Simpson) was a moderate success despite critical pounding. I found it to be an average movie that, like its source material, lacked brains, but made up for it with its entertainment value. With, "The Dukes of Hazzard: The Beginning", nothing new is presented and everything seems recycled…but is it as fun as its predecessors?

Bo (Bennett) and Luke (Wayne) Duke have gotten into a spot of trouble and have been sent to live with their Uncle Jesse (Nelson) and their dowdy cousin, Daisy (Scott). Uncle Jesse is a farmer and a moonshiner who develops a huge rivalry with the most powerful man in town, the notorious Boss Hogg (McDonald), who is threatening to foreclose on Uncle Jesse's farm. I'll give you a little hint. This plot has been done before, both in the television series and the 2005 film. It is nothing new, but the real fun in "The Dukes of Hazzard: The Beginning" comes with how it explains the back story of Hazzard county. We are given explanations for the rivalry between the Dukes and Boss Hogg, Daisy's famous shorts, Flash, and, of course, the birth of the "General Lee". I enjoyed watching how everything came together…though I would have preferred to have seen it all happen in a plot that wasn't so completely recycled (and poorly assembled, I might add).

I liked the cast of the 2005 movie, even if Daisy Duke was a blonde. So, I was disappointed to see that only one person would be returning--Willie Nelson. Not surprisingly, Nelson gives the best performance in the movie. Jonathan Bennett is usually a good actor…but, here, he overacts in a few scenes. I found his portrayal of Bo to be rather average, which kind of disappointed me. Randy Wayne suffers from the same problem, though not quite as badly. His performance is okay. They were both too animated, unfortunately, giving the characters a slightly cartoonish feel. April Scott made me sympathize with Daisy, bringing more to the role than just a flawless body (though, she brought that too). I liked it. Christopher McDonald was a bad guy. I bought it. Harland Williams shocked me. He just didn't do anything for me. I could see how the screenwriters envisioned his performance (probably to be much like that of M.C. Gainey in the 2005 movie)…but, instead of playing it with even an ounce of evilness, he was goofy and comedic. He missed the point.

I want to make something very, very clear. "The Dukes of Hazzard: The Beginning" is not a quality film. It is cheesy, silly, and many of the scenes are just not plausible. I mean, did you know that a car can turn up on its side and drive on two wheels just by you turning the steering wheel…or that a pig can escape its pin, climb up onto the roof, and then prevent itself from falling just long enough for help to come? But, really, did anyone watch the original television series to see intellectual situations with strong messages. People watched the show to be entertained and, for that purpose (and that purpose only), "The Dukes of Hazzard: The Beginning" works. It may be a guilty pleasure…but the fun you will have here is comparable to that of the original show.

Final Thought: "The Dukes of Hazzard: The Beginning" will entertain the people who enjoyed the original show.

Overall Rating: 5/10 (B-)

It's Grisly, Violent, And Shockingly Gory…But There Is Very Little Originality Or Creativity., 15 April 2007

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

"The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning" (2006)

Directed By: Jonathan Liebesman

Starring: Jordana Brewster, Taylor Handley, Diora Baird, Matthew Bomer, R. Lee Ermey, Marietta Marich, Lee Tergesen, & Andrew Bryniarski

MPAA Rating: "Unrated" (for strong horror violence/gore, language and some sexual content)

***PLEASE NOTE: This Is A Review Of The "Unrated" Version Of The Movie***

In 1974, Tobe Hooper directed a low-budget slasher flick that sent shockwaves around the world and single-handedly revolutionized the horror genre. Gone were the classy, elegant genre films made famous by such great directors as Alfred Hitchcock. In their place, grittier and more violent slasher flicks began to be made. This opened the door for such classics as "Halloween", etc. Flash forward to 2003 and to the remake of this cult classic. Though critics shrugged it off, audiences flooded out to see it and many of them found it to be a fairly good remake. I thought it did an amazing job of recreating the fear and tension displayed in the original without copying it exactly. A prequel was announced soon after…with basically the same plot as both the original and the remake. I was hesitant at first…and I had a reason to be. What's the point of a prequel if it is the same thing as its predecessor? Well, "The Beginning" proves that it deserves to exist with its shocking gore, intense violence, and overall courage. Most movies produced by Hollywood don't have the bravery to show what this movie did…but this movie shows it all and takes pride in all of its gory goodness.

Dean (Handley) and Eric (Bomer) are two brothers who are heading across Texas to enlist in the army during the Vietnam War. Their girlfriends, Chrissie (Brewster) and Bailey (Baird), are along for the ride. When a car accident strands them in the Texas back roads, the friends encounter the infamous Hewitt family. Sheriff Hoyt (Ermey) happens upon the wreck site and takes Dean, Eric, and Bailey back to his home where he and his sadistic family proceeds to torture and terrorize the friends. But, he missed Chrissie who was thrown from the vehicle. When he desperate attempts to find help fail, Chrissie decides that she must take it upon herself to save her friends…but what she does not know is that the Hewitts are nurturing an even more brutal killer--a chainsaw-wielding, heartless killer who will come to be always known as Leatherface (Bryniarski). Aside from a few brief glimpses into the Hewitt family's history (i.e. how they found Leatherface and why they decided to eat humans), this is the same plot shown in the remake and the original.

Strong performances are the highlight of "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning" and, given that this is a slasher flick, that is quite unusual. Jordana Brewster makes for a sympathetic and relatable leading lady. I was a little disappointed that they didn't give her enough edge, though. She was a little too tame in comparison to Jessica Biel's character in the remake. Taylor Handley (who is probably best known for playing the psychotic Oliver in TV's "The O.C.") is a surprisingly competent actor. He completely proved here that he is versatile and talented. Diora Baird (who is probably best known for…well, being really attractive, I suppose) shows that she is more than a pretty face. She did a very good job here and really displayed an excellent range of emotion. Matthew Bomer was likable and believable. The guy worked well here. R. Lee Ermey again plays a really despicable villain and does it just as well. He is just a very great villain and aces the role. Andrew Bryniarski reprises his role as Leatherface and really gets the chance to add depth to the character here.

If you will remember, "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" (2003) took the basic plot of the original and completely made it a fresh, different story. "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning" does not do that. It takes the same plot as the remake, adds more gore and more blood, repackages it, and then sends it out for mass consumption. You will even notice similarities in the order people die (though, I will not go any further). This was obviously the most glaring problem with the movie…though the completely implausible and horribly predictable ending is yet another one. Anyone who didn't know how this movie was going to end obviously never realized it was a prequel and the filmmakers, knowing this, should have taken the opportunity to throw a twist into the ring. Instead, they delivered the clichéd finale that made no sense whatsoever. But, "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning" does keep its recycled plot fresh enough to warrant a watch. It's excessive, but well-executed gore and violence make the movie a chilling and difficult watch. I often hear that originality is dead in Hollywood…and this movie is certainly a testament to that. But, if I want to see a rip-off, I want to see one like this, which at least managed to pump its old plot with sympathetic characters and plenty of blood and gore.

Final Thought: "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning" replaces originality with good old-fashioned violence.

Overall Rating: 7/10 (B+)

Marcus (2006)
3 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
A Prime Example Of How A Bad Ending Can Ruin A Good Movie, 15 April 2007

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

"Marcus" (2006)

Directed By: Bob Hardison & Rich Robinson

Starring: Ross Kurt, Marc Rose, Scoot McNairy, Jade Dornfeld, Samantha Shelton, & Frankie Ingrassia

MPAA Rating: "Not Rated"

Roger (Rose) is a troubled young man who returns home for Christmas to try to patch up his relationship with his sister, Brooke (Ingrassia). He brings with him his new fiancée, Gwen (Dornfeld). Brooke's friend, Charles (McNairy) also shows up…with Roger's ex-girlfriend, Kate (Shelton). But, when they all arrive, they find that Brooke is mysteriously missing and her supposed boyfriend, Marcus (Kurt), has taken her place. What they do not know is that, as they bicker and argue, Brooke has been tied up in the bathroom with her head smashed open and that Marcus has plans for each of them. Everyone has something to hide and, before the night is over, everything will be exposed. As tensions mount and the guests realize that there is something wrong about the entire evening, Marcus unleashes his violent and terrifying plan that will shake them all to their cores and reveals his ultimate deception. 'Tis the season to eat, drink, and die merrily.

I had never heard of "Marcus" prior to my viewing of it and I didn't even realize that it had been released on DVD here in the United States until just a few hours ago. For the first hour or so of "Marcus", I was completely enamored with the various dramatic happenings that plagued the characters and the various ties that brought them all together. As secrets began to unfold and motives were revealed, I kept anticipating the ending more and more. I could not wait to see how the movie was going to draw everything to a close. Who is Marcus? Why is he there? How is he connected to these four people? Then, the movie ended…and everything fell apart. There was a glaring lack of a comprehensive or even passable conclusion. Very little was explained and the ending actually makes us have more questions than answers. The problem is that we were never given enough information to make our own assumptions. In the end, "Marcus" just didn't gel.

I liked the performances in "Marcus" for the most part. Ross Kurt plays the title character or Marcus and I have mixed feelings about the overall performance. On one hand, I thought he did a fine job at the beginning, balancing regularity with evilness…but, by the end, I really wanted him to branch out and really show the darkness behind the character. It never happened, unfortunately. Marc Rose gives an emotional, vulnerable showing, especially at the ending. I was quite surprised. Scoot McNairy (love the name, by the way) does a fine job. It was a standard performance. Jade Dornfeld and Samantha Shelton weren't really given that much to do and, like McNairy, gave rather average performances. Nothing very difficult was required of either of them, but they handled the easy stuff well enough. Frankie Ingrassia (love that name too) has shockingly limited screen time, though she plays a very pivotal role. She hit the nail on the head and really made me sympathize with her character despite not being on screen much. I bought it.

It is very rare that a movie completely wins me over and then, in the final fifteen minutes, completely loses me…but "Marcus" did just that. I was quite bitter when the end credits rolled and I simply sat there, staring at the screen in disbelief and disgust. What started off as a mature, character-driven suspense thriller quickly dissolved into a bland, pointless, and completely pretentious mess. In deciding how I should write this review and whether or not I should recommend this little title, I knew that I had to be as straight-forward as possible. I could not beat around the bush. I enjoyed this movie for the first hour and then hated it after that. I do not recommend it in any sense of the word and I can't even say that you should watch the beginning and then turn it off before the ending because half of the fun of the beginning was trying to figure out how the film would end. I now know why I had never heard of this movie before…but now I can only wish that I had never seen it.

Final Thought: "Marcus" falls apart in the last act.

Overall Rating: 3/10 (C)

Grindhouse (2007)
2 out of 8 people found the following review useful:
This Rodriguez/Tarantino Double-Feature Successfully Revives The Long-Dead Grindhouse, 14 April 2007

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

"Grindhouse" (2007)

Directed By: Robert Rodriguez & Quentin Tarantino

Starring: Rose McGowan, Kurt Russell, Freddy Rodriguez, Marley Shelton, Zoe Bell, Rosario Dawson, Stacy Ferguson, Josh Brolin, Naveen Andrews, Michael Biehn, Tracie Thoms, Vanessa Ferlito, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jordan Ladd, & Bruce Willis

MPAA Rating: "R" (for strong graphic bloody violence and gore, pervasive language, some sexuality, nudity and drug use)

GRIND HOUSE (n): A theater playing back-to-back films exploiting sex, violence, and other extreme subject matter.

In the 1970's, Grindhouse theaters became quite popular. They showed the films that most regular theaters would not show due to their extreme subject matter. Two of Hollywood's best directors, Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino, team up to direct a double-feature reminiscent of those old theaters with fake trailers put in between. For the trailers, Rodriguez and Tarantino recruited Eli Roth (director of "Hostel" and "Cabin Fever"), Edgar Wright (director of "Shaun of the Dead"), and Rob Zombie (director of "House of 1000 Corpses" and "The Devil's Rejects"). Robert Rodriguez directed the first film, "Planet Terror", while Quentin Tarantino directed the second film, "Death Proof". I'll break this review into three parts: "Planet Terror", "Death Proof", and the trailers.

PLANET TERROR: Robert Rodriguez's segment is easily the superior of the two films and will probably end up being the best horror movie of the year. He strives to make a gloriously bad movie and it works because it acknowledges the badness and uses this knowledge to inject humor and fun into the film. The plot is simplistic: a chemical is released into the air and begins to turn the world's population into a horde of flesh-eating zombies while a small group of people try to survive. It is, surprisingly, one of the best zombie films I have ever seen, delivering plenty of gore and tons of entertainment. On the slight downside, I thought there were a few too many survivors by the end of the movie and that Rodriguez could have knocked off a few more.

DEATH PROOF: Quentin Tarantino's segment suffers predominately from a heavy, dialog-drenched beginning that stretches all the way to the last twenty minutes. At first, I wondered if perhaps Tarantino missed the point of Grindhouse cinema…and then the last scene kicked in and I completely understand. What started off as a character-driven melodrama became a high-octane thrill-ride that's success or failure ultimately rested on whether or not we could relate to the characters on the screen. Due to Tarantino's seemingly weighty first half, we could feel for our characters and we did care about what happened to them. The only problem is that all of the dialog became quite dull while it was all happening and could have been taken up a notch with a bit more gratuitous violence (after all, that is what made Grindhouse theaters famous).

FAKE TRAILERS: The fake trailers that played in between the two films are probably the highlight of the movie with Eli Roth's "Thanksgiving" being my favorite. It was deliciously over-the-top and inappropriate and kept me chuckling the entire time. Edgar Wright's "Don't" is another very entertaining one, though it obviously has no plot and no real point. Robert Rodriguez's "Machete" (starring the always cool Danny Trejo) is also a very fun trailer that captures the Grindhouse edge. The low point of the movie, surprisingly, is Rob Zombie's trailer for "Werewolf Women of the SS", which didn't capitalize on the werewolf angle enough. However, it was still entertaining enough to work. It just isn't up to Rob Zombie's standards (at least those set by "The Devil's Rejects") and is more on the level of his disappointing "House of 1000 Corpses".

Final Thought: Overall, "Grindhouse" is a great movie and far more fun that any movie released so far this year. It delivers bloody action and tight thrills with that Grindhouse grunge as only Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino could do it.

~ "Planet Terror": 10/10 (A+) ~ "Death Proof": 9/10 (A) ~ Fake Trailers: 9/10 (A)

Overall Rating: 9/10 (A)

6 out of 11 people found the following review useful:
"Your Baby Is The Miracle The Whole World Has Been Waiting For." --- Jasper (Michael Caine), 14 April 2007

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

"Children of Men" (2006)

Directed By: Alfonso Cuarón

Starring: Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, Claire-Hope Ashitey, Michael Caine, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Pam Ferris, & Peter Mullan

MPAA Rating: "R" (for strong violence, language, some drug use and brief nudity)

When "Children of Men" ended, I left the theater, feeling drained, depressed, and yet oddly content. Because, after nearly two hours of watching death, destruction, and war, we are left with an uplifting finale--an ending that, despite all of the atrocities we have witnessed, has a glimmer of hope. "Children of Men" is one of the most beautiful movies I have seen all year, being both completely enthralling and visually arresting. Sporting superb performances from Clive Owen and Claire-Hope Ashitey and the rest of the cast and one of the most intriguing premises presented this year, "Children of Men" is a massive achievement in movie-making. It is one of the strongest, most poignant films imaginable. It is an effective film, but, with that said, I must admit that its effect is very disturbing. In my theater, two people walked out and I suspect that it was because they could not handle the shocking material presented here. I, however, could not have left for I could never have pulled my eyes off of the screen. Moving and ultimately chilling, "Children of Men" is a must-see film.

In 2027, the world is in a very chaotic state. No more children are being born and the world's youngest person has just died at the age of eighteen. Theo (Owen) just wants to live out his life without much trouble…until his ex-wife, Julian (Moore), comes and asks for his help. She introduces him to Kee (Ashitey), a young woman who is miraculously pregnant. Julian, a known rebel and target for the police, tells Theo that he must take Kee to a sanctuary at the sea where a group of scientists can hopefully use Kee's birth as a way to save the future of mankind. But, as Theo makes his way across the war-torn country into the very bowels of a hellish world, he will discover that, even in the darkest days of what could be the end of the world, there are still people who care…and that what we once all took for granted is now our only hope.

Academy Award nominee, Clive Owen seems to be making movie after movie…after movie…after movie. I'm a big fan of most of his movies, from "Closer" to "Inside Man", and I feel that "Children of Men" is his best film to date. He gives a raw, unfiltered performance. I think that many actors seem to calculate their actions and how they say dialog prior to making the movie, but that does not appear to be Owen's technique here. His performance is steeped in realism. Julianne Moore got second billing despite having very limited screen time. I thought that her casting was purely brilliant. Moore is a big-name actress and it's great to see an actress of her caliber taking a limited role in a film. It gives the film an element of surprise that is reminiscent of what Alfred Hitchcock did in "Psycho" (1960). I love Michael Caine and he gives a great performance here. The real gem for me, however, is Claire-Hope Ashitey. The marketing executives of "Children of Men" practically ignored her when cutting trailers, making posters, and creating TV spots and yet she proves to be an amazing, beautiful actress who gives a perfectly credible and sympathetic performance. It worked so well. She completely blew me away.

As I have said, people left my theater before finishing the movie. "Children of Men" is not for everyone. Sensitive viewers will probably want to stay away and, even if all of the language and the brief glimpse of nudity were removed, it certainly isn't for young audiences. It is a shocking and depressing movie that rockets through violence, terror, and war to finally deliver a slightly hopeful ending. I am not often left completely speechless by a movie, but, when "Children of Men" ended, I really didn't feel like talking. I needed time to digest what I had seen and to truly comprehend everything. "Children of Men" is a must-see for mature viewers who can handle it. It is truly an amazing, brilliant movie that affects you emotionally. It's unlike anything I have ever seen before…and, in a world where most movies are clichéd rip-offs or remakes, that comment speaks volumes about a movie.

Final Thought: A thought-provoking and emotionally-resonant film, "Children of Men" delivers a haunting, yet amazing story.

Overall Rating: 10/10 (A+)

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
"Everything You Have Seen Here Has Been An Illusion." --- Eisenheim (Edward Norton), 14 April 2007

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

"The Illusionist" (2006)

Directed By: Neil Burger

Starring: Edward Norton, Paul Giamatti, Jessica Biel, Rufus Sewell, & Eddie Marsan

MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (for some sexuality and violence)

I had heard wonderful things about "The Illusionist" from all of my friends so I was very excited to get the chance to see it. With its great cast, it looked like one of the best movies of the year. But, I'll be honest; I've been so disappointed with many movies this year so I was a little hesitant. I am sick of being disappointed, but that seems to be what most Hollywood films do lately. So, I was very surprised when "The Illusionist" turned out to be…well, a beautiful and great movie that kept me thinking without completely losing me. It is a magical and deeply-involving film that is brought to life with vivid imagination and colorful direction, giving the film a surreal aura of mystery. This is what movies are supposed to be.

Edward Norton stars as Eisenheim, a talented magician who captivates the world with his magnificent illusions that are unlike anything anyone has seen before. When he was younger, he fell deeply in love with Sophie (Jessica Biel), a girl who is far above his social standing. The two were told that they can never be together and, for years, it seemed as though this were true…until Sophie happened to attend one of Eisenheim's performances. But, she is engaged to marry Crown Prince Leopold…and it seems as though there love is destined to be forgotten. But, Sophie still harbors much love for Eisenheim and Leopold reveals himself to be a greed-filled, power-hungry man who wants nothing but power. Eisenheim, desperate to be with Sophie, plans his greatest illusion yet…one that will shock the entire city and make everyone question what they have seen.

Great performances fill "The Illusionist" with the highlight being, of course, Edward Norton. Norton does not overplay the part and, instead, does the complete opposite. He underplays it, lending to his character's mystery and intrigue. Jessica Biel makes for a beautiful and sympathetic love interest for Eisenheim. She shows that she is a versatile actress who can do more than just beat the crap out of a chainsaw-wielding maniac while wearing a wet, white tank top. Paul Giamatti, fresh off of the disaster that was "Lady in the Water", gives a solid performance here. Rufus Sewell is wonderfully villainous as Crown Prince Leopold. He gives a confident, fulfilling performance that I thought worked very well.

"The Illusionist" is not a perfect film, however. I, personally, thought the plot twist was quite easy to figure out. I've never been one to brag about being able to guess endings to movies, because I don't typically know what is going to happen until it does. But, "The Illusionist" was different. I felt that everything was quite obviously leading up to the big twist. This isn't a horrible thing, but it lessened the "big reveal" for me. But, a predictable twist is hardly the worst thing that could happen to a movie. The remainder of "The Illusionist" more than makes up for it and makes the film a well-told, beautiful, and deeply magical story brought to life with brilliant direction and superb performances. If you haven't seen "The Illusionist", then you are doing yourself a grave disservice. It is a movie that everyone should be watching.

Final Thought: "The Illusionist" is a brilliant film.

Overall Rating: 9/10 (A)

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
"Nobody Ever Asks To Be Happy Later." --- Toni Mannix (Diane Lane), 14 April 2007

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

"Hollywoodland" (2006)

Directed By: Allen Coulter

Starring: Adrien Brody, Diane Lane, Ben Affleck, Bob Hoskins, Robin Tunney, & Lois Smith

MPAA Rating: "R" (for language, some violence and sexual content)

The life of George Reeves (Affleck) has been under intense media scrutiny ever since June 16, 1959—the night in which Reeves died of a gunshot wound to the head. Police immediately assumed that the wound was self-inflicted and the case was, almost just as quickly, closed. Reeves starred as the Man of Steel, himself, in the hit series, "Adventures of Superman". When he died, hundreds of children around the nation were devastated and were forced to face the harsh reality of the world—something that they had long been ignoring with the assistance of the television. The thought that Reeves would kill himself was unbelievable…but was it a little too unbelievable? This is the story with which "Hollywoodland" is concerned. Gloomy gumshoe, Louis Simo (Brody) is hired by Reeves's mother, Helen Bessolo (Smith), to investigate his death, believing that Reeves was actually murdered. Simo agrees to take the high-profile case and begins to dig deep into secrets that were never meant to be uncovered. He discovers that Reeves was not the squeaky-clean hero that he portrayed. He was a dark, brooding man who could never find happiness and was carrying on an affair with Toni Mannix (Lane), the wife of Eddie Mannix (Hoskins), the head of MGM. He despised his role as Superman, feeling that no one took him seriously after the role. Simo also discovered that, not only was Reeves a deeply troubled man, but that he had made many enemies, including his own fiancé, Leonore Lemmon (Tunney).

I had been anticipating "Hollywoodland" for quite some time and felt that it had the potential to become a major Oscar-contender this year. I had to drive two hours out of my way to find a theater that carried it, but I simply could not allow myself to miss this movie. During this rather lengthy drive, I could not help but worry. Would "Hollywoodland" really live up to my anticipations or would it become one of my biggest disappointments of the year? Could Ben Affleck actually star in a movie that wasn't a complete waste of time? I arrived just in time for the one o'clock matinée showing and the theater was moderately filled…mainly with elderly couples who, no doubt, watched "Adventures of Superman" during its television run. I settled down in my seat, my anticipation (and my apprehension) mounting with every passing moment. Did I get what I wanted? Did the movie live to my extremely high expectations? After pondering the movie for quite some time, I can safely say that, yes, it did live up to my expectations and that it is easily one of my favorite movies of the year. The performances are absolutely astounding, the direction is taught and beautiful, and the writing is quick, witty, and fresh. Every element of "Hollywoodland" comes together so nicely and that is extremely rare in movies today.

Adrien Brody stars as the sleazy private investigator, Louis Simo, and gives an outstanding performance. He is constantly reinventing himself in roles, but, whether he is playing a writer facing a giant gorilla or a dodgy investigator, I always expect greatness. Diane Lane gives her best performance yet and that is saying something, as she is one of the best actresses working today. She reaches emotional peaks not present in any of her other roles and she handles them all so beautifully. Ben Affleck has not been the poster child for good cinema over the past few years, after roles in such films as "Surviving Christmas" and "Gigli". When he was announced as Reeves, many people scoffed at the casting and laughed off the movie entirely. I, at first, highly doubted this casting, but hoped that this would be the role that turned his career around. Fortunately, Affleck proved that he still does have talent and gives a wonderful performance. I did not know he had it in him, but he performs as though all of those other debacles never existed. Bob Hoskins is a great actor and he continues to prove that here, with a rather small (compared to the roles of Brody, Lane, and Affleck), but pivotal role. I expected nothing less and was not disappointed. The cast, as a whole, is the highlight of the film and has no distinguishable weak spots.

Things are not perfect in this land, however, as there were some pacing problems and the movie is about thirty minutes too long. There was a subplot (concerning one of Simo's clients) that could have easily been remove altogether, which would have cut the running time down by about twenty minutes. However, in the long run, the few pacing problems and the unnecessary subplot did not detract away from the overall quality of the film and I was actually quite glad that George Reeves's story was not rushed. Why the filmmakers felt the need to interrupt his story with a useless subplot is beyond me, but the story is still told…and told beautifully. The casting was flawless and Allen Coulter's direction is superb. I loved this movie. It represents everything that is right with cinema today and shows that Hollywood isn't completely incapable of making a truly great movie. I definitely recommend "Hollywoodland", if only for the astounding performances. If you are sick of all of the big-budget action films of the summer and just want to see a deeper, more story-oriented film to cool off, then you will do no better than "Hollywoodland". It is the epitome of the opposite of a summer action film…and, frankly, I am happy for that.

Final Thought: Diane Lane and Ben Affleck have never been better than in this amazing drama.

Overall Rating: 10/10 (A+)

"The Only Kind Of Respect That Matters Is Self-Respect" --- Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), 14 April 2007

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

"Rocky Balboa" (2006)

Directed By: Sylvester Stallone

Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Burt Young, Antonio Tarver, Geraldine Hughes, Milo Ventimiglia, Tony Burton, & Talia Shire

MPAA Rating: "PG" (for boxing violence and some language)

Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) is back after years of retirement. A few years after the death of his beloved wife, Adrian (Shire), a computer-generated match between him and the biggest boxing champion of the time, Mason "The Line" Dixon (Tarver), excites many people. Could Rocky really beat Dixon or has the world of boxing become just too difficult for him? Rocky, who was once perfectly content with just living for his community and for his restaurant, Adrian's, suddenly becomes very antsy and he knows that he must return to the sport he loves…one last time. When it was announced that this famous boxer would be going back into the ring after nearly sixteen years in retirement, the idea became a universal joke. After "Basic Instinct 2" (a sequel that came fourteen years after the original) was slammed by critics and became a financial disaster (opening number 10 on the charts and only grossing a measly $5 million--it did slightly better on DVD), one would think that studios would get the hint…yet a sixth installment would be coming (not to mention yet another sequel in Stallone's equally-popular "Rambo" franchise"). I, always up for anything, was quite indifferent to the decision. It just didn't matter to me…but I was willing to give it a chance. Heck, I'm a big fan of Stallone and am just glad to see him in something other than "Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over". So, did "Rocky Balboa" become the surprise hit that Stallone deserved…or did it become just another installment in the five dollar bin at Wal-Mart right beside "Rocky V"?

"Rocky Balboa" completely surprised me. I expected a cheesy, clichéd, predictable, money-hungry sequel thrown out to attract a few million people…but, like I said, I was willing to give it a chance. After all, Stallone actually got me to watch reality TV with his interesting reality show, "The Contender", so I had faith in him…not so much in Hollywood, but faith in him. Stallone didn't disappoint. This movie is surprisingly original and completely different from any of the other "Rocky" installments. It is not a boxing movie. It's a movie about dealing with aging and loss and learning to love again, even if it is a different kind of love. It's completely implausible, but you won't care, because the movie is engaging enough and heartfelt enough to make you feel that anything is possible. There is a single quote mentioned in this film that seems to sum everything up: "The last thing to age on somebody is their heart". "Rocky Balboa" proves that this statement is completely true. This movie may not have the machismo, the muscles, or the brawn of the previous movies, but its heart is exceptionally large and very prevalent.

The only performance we should really concern ourselves with here is that of Sylvester Stallone. After all, he is playing the title character and there are only a few very brief scenes that do not have him in them. The good news is that Stallone is on the top of his game. The man may have aged quite a bit since "Rocky V", but, what he has lost in muscles, he has gained in talent. If you have seen any interview with him about this film, you can actually feel his passion for this project. Not only does he do a wonderful job acting, his direction and writing prove that he is more multi-talented than I ever gave him credit for. Burt Young returns and, like Stallone, he shows that he is still connected to his part. He works so wonderfully well that you forget that he is an actor. Antonio Tarver was good…not great, but, as this was his first major role, he performed well enough. Sure, he may have scowled a little too much and I didn't feel anything for his character, but he did what he could. Geraldine Hughes and Milo Ventimiglia both do nice jobs. Hughes's Marie makes for a nice female friend to Stallone's Rocky, without trying to take the place of Talia Shire. Ventimiglia strangely resembled Stallone. Their chemistry just clicked. They felt like a father and son. It was quite mesmerizing actually.

If "Rambo IV: Pearl of the Cobra" is as good as "Rocky Balboa", then Stallone will have proved indefinitely that he is a forced to be reckoned with amongst Hollywood's elite. He may not be Oscar gold, but he certainly has talent and not just in acting. His direction is fresh, engaging, and intriguing without looking sappy and stylized. His writing brings heart to the film and had me emotionally-invested in the characters. His performance…well, it was phenomenal. On the very small downside, I had the ending predicted quite early on and it disappointed me with the way it was handled. Another thing was that Rocky's opposition, Tarver's Dixon, was a little mixed in the way that he was portrayed. In some scenes, he came off as snobbish, arrogant, and rude and, in others, he seemed like a sympathetic character that deserved our respect. It just didn't work for me. But, when everything was said and done, "Rocky Balboa" was a wonderful way to end this series, proving once and for all that Rocky Balboa is an iconic piece of Hollywood film-making--a character that should be cherished for generations to come.

Final Thought: "Rocky Balboa" was a fantastic way to end the "Rocky" franchise.

Overall Rating: 9/10 (A)

Dreamgirls (2006)
0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
"You Stopped Me Once, But You'll Never Stop Me Again." --- Effie White (Jennifer Hudson), 14 April 2007

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

"Dreamgirls" (2006)

Directed By: Bill Condon

Starring: Jamie Foxx, Beyonce Knowles, Jennifer Hudson, Eddie Murphy, Anika Noni Rose, Danny Glover, Keith Robinson, & Sharon Leal

MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (for language, some sexuality and drug content)

For the first time ever, I heard thunderous applause during a movie in theaters. I have heard people clapping at the end of movies before and even at the beginning (yes, at any of the "Star Wars" films), but never in the middle. If you have seen "Dreamgirls", then you know which scene of which I speak. It is Jennifer Hudson's powerhouse rendition of "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going". This crucial scene in this uplifting movie is when I realized that "Dreamgirls" was not merely a movie, but the birth of a superstar. Hudson may have lost the "American Idol" crown, but she gained so much more. During her season on the popular reality show, Hudson was my pick and I was devastated when she was eliminated…and far too early, I might add. Ironically enough, the winner of that season, Fantasia Barrino, was also up for the role of Effie White. Barrino did not get the role. Hudson did…and thank goodness for that. Hudson aced the role with her powerful vocals and her straight-forward, vulnerable acting ability. "Dreamgirls" may not be the best movie of the year (though, it is up in the top tier), but Hudson may very well have given the performance that will be remembered for years to come. She's aiming to win over the hearts of movie lovers everywhere--and I know she has won mine even more so than before.

Deena Jones (Knowles), Effie White (Hudson), and Lorrell Robinson (Rose) are members of a struggling girl band who get the chance of a lifetime when Curtis Taylor Jr. (Foxx) gives them the chance to do back-up for legendary James "Thunder" Early (Murphy). As the three girls skyrocket into fame and fortune, Effie soon finds herself being edged out in exchange for Deena. As tensions reach a climax and the three best friends find themselves drifting apart, drama erupts and once-sturdy friendships crumble--all for the price of fame. But, through all the arguing and even a tragic death, the girls will learn that fame isn't everything and that the dreams they had been struggling to fulfill…are only true if they are together. Fame comes and goes, stars rise and fall, but dreams live forever. Based on the Broadway musical, "Dreamgirls" tells its story with spectacular performances, an all-star cast, and powerful music. This triumphant film will have you clapping, crying, and smiling when you leave. It is the epitome of an uplifting film that will have you seeing stars.

The performances in "Dreamgirls" are easily the highlight of the movie. Jamie Foxx, fresh off of the decent "Miami Vice", the ho-hum "Jarhead", and the amazing "Ray" (for which he won an Academy Award), gives one of his best performances here. He dominates the role of the sleazy Curtis and exudes arrogance and corruption. Beyonce Knowles is probably best known for her amazing voice…and for starring in an Austin Powers movie, but she proves here that she really can act. Forget "Goldmember". Knowles is Deena Jones. The star of this show, however, is Jennifer Hudson who garnered much applause throughout the movie. She has put her "American Idol" loss behind her and has proved that she is a multi-talented superstar that can give a powerhouse performance. Her voice is awe-inducing and her acting is mesmerizing. Eddie Murphy gives his best performance in a very long time. I didn't know what to expect. Murphy has always been an iffy actor for sometimes. Sometimes he is good, but, other times, he just doesn't work for me. Here, he is very good. Someone who hasn't been getting much press for her role, but certainly deserves more is Anika Noni Rose. Rose did a very nice job and should be commended. Somehow, unfortunately, she got lost in all of the star power behind this movie. Don't worry, though, she hits every note flawlessly.

"Dreamgirls" is a movie fan's dream and one of my favorite movies of the year. But, it isn't completely perfect. The movie starts off with a very rapid pace, but it loses steam a little too early. Thus, the second half is a little long-winded. But, overall, "Dreamgirls" is a massive achievement in movie-making--the best musical since "Chicago". It's breathtaking, wonderful, and beautifully-told. With amazing performances and beautiful direction from Bill Condon, every aspect comes together flawlessly. If you haven't yet, then you must hurry out and see "Dreamgirls". It is one of the most triumphant movies of the year and will definitely have you smiling by the end. If I didn't make my point earlier, Jennifer Hudson is the cherry on top of this sundae. Her commanding performance completely enthralled the audience. "Dreamgirls" is the best musical in years.

Final Thought: "Dreamgirls" is a must-see movie with excellent performances and wonderful music.

Overall Rating: 10/10 (A+)

1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
"I Have No Armor Left. You've Stripped It From Me. Whatever Is Left Of Me…Whatever I Am…I'm Yours." --- James Bond (Daniel Craig), 14 April 2007

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

"Casino Royale" (2006)

By: Martin Campbell

Starring: Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Judi Dench, Mads Mikkelsen, Caterina Murino, Jeffrey Wright, Ivana Milicevic, & Giancarlo Giannini

MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (for intense sequences of violent action, a scene of torture, sexual content and nudity)

My first experience with James Bond was with the 1995 classic, "GoldenEye". From that moment on, I was absolutely hooked with the suave secret agent and the array of interesting characters that surrounded him, from Moneypenny to M. Because this was my first Bond film, I have always felt that Pierce Brosnan was one of the best actors to have ever gotten the role (behind only Sean Connery and equal to Roger Moore). So, when it was announced that Brosnan would not be returning for a sixth film (after "Die Another Day" in 2002), I was quite disappointed...but yet interested to see who would be cast. After a long search for the new Bond (with Clive Owen as a fan favorite), it was announced that Daniel Craig would portray 007 in the twenty-first installment in the amazingly successful Bond franchise. Some fans were outraged, some were unsure, some were just glad the search was over, and I was one of the few that were rather indifferent to the decision. I knew that Craig was a great actor, but was he the right actor to play Bond? I wasn't sure, but I was willing to give him a chance. Well, having seen his first Bond film, "Casino Royale", I can say that Craig WAS right for the role. In fact, Craig brings something new to the role: a certain roughness that seems to make Bond more realistic and more fulfilling than any other.

After receiving his license to kill, James Bond 007 (Craig) is sent on a mission to Madagascar to track down a known terrorist. Things do not go as planned the mission is compromised. Bond goes to the Bahamas to investigate independently of MI6 and encounters Dimitrios (Simon Abkarian) and his beautiful girlfriend, Solange (Murino). He discovers that Dimitrios is linked to Le Chiffre (Mikkelsen), banker to the world's terrorists, who is planning a high-stakes poker game in Montenegro at Le Casino Royale. MI6 agrees to stake Bond in the game, with hopes that Bond will win and Le Chiffre's organization will be destroyed. Placed under the watchful eye of the beautiful Vesper Lynd (Green), Bond is at first skeptical of what the accountant has to offer, but, as they face violence and torture together, Bond discovers that Vesper is far more valuable than he originally thought. As the stakes in the game are raised above blood money, "Casino Royale" builds up to a an exciting, chilling climax.

If you will remember, "Die Another Day" suffered from one major problem: the overuse of gadgets. In just one movie, we had an invisible car, a ring that could shatter glass (how convenient), cell phone bombs, hovercrafts, the world's fastest vehicle, and so much more. Bond was overshadowed by the gadgets and it seemed as though he lacked any reason whatsoever to use his intelligence, because a nifty gadget could get him out of trouble almost instantly. In "Casino Royale", there are no gadgets and the film returns to the very basics of the Bond franchise. Bond must use his brain and his brawn to survive and, even then, it is not an easy ride. Bond bleeds…and bleeds a lot. He isn't some flawless, superhuman agent anymore and that is a wonderful thing. Daniel Craig's Bond is a throwback to the days of Sean Connery and is a refreshing blast of fresh air from "Die Another Day", which was, in my opinion, a little too clean-cut and pretty.

Daniel Craig managed to equal Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan, in my book, and is only slightly behind Sean Connery. With a few more movies and more room to grow, Craig may very well surpass Connery. As this is a "reboot" of the entire franchise, Craig was allowed to interpret the character how he chose to do so without having to concern himself with how his predecessors took on the part. Overall, "Casino Royale" is an amazing movie--one of the top Bond films ever and every individual aspect seemed to come together beautifully. The performances, especially from Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen, and Judi Dench, are flawless and deeply engaging. The pacing is nearly flawless with only a few moments that seem to remain stagnant. Martin Campbell's direction is clear and vivid without being overly-stylized. This movie is a must-see and one of the year's best action films. For fans of James Bond, this is a movie that you cannot miss in theaters.

Final Thought: "Casino Royale" will have Bond fans and audiences in general applauding. Daniel Craig is here to stay.

Overall Rating: 10/10 (A+)

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