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1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Heads role in this car wreck of a film, 20 May 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

"Jayne Mansfield's Car" is a tedious, depressing dysfunctional film about a tedious, depressing, dysfunctional pair of families, headed by patriarchs Robert Duvall and John Hurt, respectively.

It seems that 30 years before, Kingsley Bedford (Hurt) stole Jim Caldwell's (Duvall) wife, Naomi (Tippi Hedren, whose most famous role was in Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds") and took her to England. Upon her death, and after honoring her request to be buried in her native Alabama, the two groups get together and relive just about every stereotypical situation involving these divergent bodies from sitcoms to equally bad motion pictures.

It's also a movie where the title makes no sense whatsoever, except to fool this critic into actually thinking the plot was about the last few days and death of blonde bombshell Jayne Mansfield, who perished in an automobile accident in New Orleans in 1967 (her three children, including "Law & Order: SVU" actress Mariska Hargitay, survived in the back seat).

There is a very loose connection with this movie to that death car, but THAT story would have made a much better and much more interesting film than this disjointed, disheveled, direction-less and pointless misadventure which seems to be played at 33 1/3 RPM and was helmed and written by Billy Bob Thornton (who also stars and has efforts like "Sling Blade" and "All the Pretty Horses" to his credit, although one would not deduce that from this travesty).

Caldwell's clan consists of backwoods redneck rejects like Navy pilot Skip (Thornton, looking like a cross between Humphrey Bogart and Fred MacMurray with terminal cancer), the idiotic Jimbo (Robert Patrick, "Gangster Squad"), 50-year old hippie Carroll (Kevin Bacon, "X-Men: First Class," sporting either a very bad wig or an even worse haircut) and annoying used car salesmen and son-in-law, Neal Baron (Blue Collar Tour comedian Ron White), as well as a host of nondescript females and grandchildren.

On the Brit side, Bedford just brings his upper-class twit son, Phillip, (Ray Stevenson, Firefly in "G.I. Joe: Retaliation"), and slutty daughter, Camilla, (Frances O'Connor, "Little Red Wagon"), along to the Alabama sticks in an effort to reprise the old TV series "Green Acres." When combined, there's enough cracker barrel corn pone dialogue in "Jayne Mansfield's Car" to fill three seasons of "Hee Haw," and forced drama that would make the producers of "Dynasty" and "Knots Landing" cringe.

Meanwhile, the families' attempts to mix and interact socially is as awkward as Barack Obama teaching a college course on the history of Syria. And, despite the legitimate anger the Caldwell's feel for the Bedfords, Skip nevertheless comes onto Camilla in a most ridiculous and embarrassing way (making Bill Clinton's advances look like the height of courtly honor; although later she recites the "Charge of the Light Brigade" for him totally naked while he, uh, pleasures himself), Carroll hangs around the world's squarest hippy commune and ogles creepily as his twenty-something girlfriend dances nude in their shack, and Papa Caldwell get his kicks by interfering at the scene of fatal car wrecks (a ludicrous montage shows various examples of these crashes with victims hanging out of windows causing no end to the unintentional hilarity).

All the while, Jim's promiscuous daughter, Donna (Katherine LaNasa, "The Campaign"), begins flirting with the ponderous Phillip and we find out that the cold-hearted Jim was somehow a World War I veteran and the peacenik Carroll served in WW II. And, to top everything off, the picture boasts one of the single lamest musical groups ever, despite the fact it was supposed to have taken place in the 1960s.

All of these scenes, of course, are meant to show that both clans are Hollyweird types, just quirky enough to be harmless, but nowhere near as clever and intriguing Thornton and co-scribbler Tom Epperson ("Camouflage") hoped they would be.

Holding together (albeit loosely) all of these sad plot lines is the wise-beyond-her-pay-grade servant, Dorothy (Irma P. Hall, "My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done"), who fills us all in on the boring back-story. Boring because there is no sympathy, empathy or concern for any of these cretins.

Not one iota of interest is generated by these far-out characters so over-the-top and devoid of any real human qualities as to be less than one-dimensional, if that's even conceivable. Then there is a subplot of a black dude who gets drafted, again, a dilemma which causes no emotional response whatsoever, but does illicit this bland response from Carroll: "A kid like Connell has a dream and he doesn't get a chance to live it."

Hurt (whom some may remember as the guy whose stomach the monster came of in "Alien") was nominated for a Best Actor Academy Award for "The Elephant Man," Thornton was given a nod for the same prize in "Sling Blade," and Duvall actually won the Oscar for "Tender Mercies," so the acting talent and pedigree is certainly there.

Unfortunately, there is nothing any of these people can do with this tepid script, however. Hurt, though, does have the good sense to pass out at the funeral, thereby giving himself (as well as the audience) a reprieve for a while.

"Jayne Mansfield's Car," which has been left in the film can for more than a year (and certainly smells like it), is enjoying a limited release schedule, but that is only because the producers knew no one would see it with any wider distribution. One would be most prudent and wise to follow their example.

2 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
'Cement' weighed down by scant production values, 20 May 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

It isn't likely one will recognize any members of the cast of "Cement Suitcase," a film written and directed by J. Rick Castaneda (whose resume includes just a few short features, including "Math and Other Problems").

Yes, a person may have a fleeting bit of acknowledgement, but will most likely say, "Oh, he/she just looks like someone I've seen before." Such feelings, however, should not necessarily detract from the enjoyment of this picture, which tries hard to walk the thin line between silly comedy and heartbreaking drama. What ultimately undoes this production (besides the community college acting displayed by some of the cast) is that very indecision, though.

The plot reminds one of "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" meets "Sideways" meets "Kangaroo Jack," and features Franklin Roew (Dwayne Bartholomew, "Math and Other Problems") as one of the top wine salesmen in the Yakima Valley, Wash. Despite such success, he drives a clunker, is behind on most of his bills and is in danger of losing his late mother's home to foreclosure.

Still, he manages to attract a beautiful girlfriend, Charlene (Kristina Guerrero, "The Bookie"), which is the first in a series of how REEL Life (the movies) can trump REAL Life.

Another is that when Franklin advertises for a roommate to help with expenses, no one applies except a wacky Australian (why are all Australians wacky in the movies?), Jackford (Nathan Sapsford, "Key"), who appears one day out of the blue and on Franklin's roof, to boot, goes through his personal belongs during their first interview and later pours soda on his X-Box and Nintendo systems, something else that would never fly in REAL Life.

Meanwhile, Franklin has discovered that Charlene is cheating on him with a golf pro named Brad Golob (Shawn Parsons, an uncredited appearance in "12 Years a Slave") who just happens in the winery one day and invites Franklin to play a round of golf.

At this juncture, even I am not sure what is going on. Are Brad's intentions pure? Does he know about Franklin and Charlene? Is he just a hapless dope trying to be nice? And does "Cement Suitcase" even have a point?

While trying to piece everything together, there are some unrelated dreamlike sequences featuring Franklin standing on the rook of his car driving down the freeway, a strongman at a train station, a bunch of shopping carts piled atop one another, several unnecessary cartoon graphics scenes and Jackford teaching him how to dive into a moving vehicle and convince the driver to do what he says. All of this makes little sense.

Even more nonsensical, though, is Brad inviting Franklin to dinner with him and Charlene; a meal which ends in embarrassment for everyone all around, but then again, what did they expect would happen?

Anyway, after losing his job because of a drunken exhibition, Franklin decides to sell the house and car and then dive into a dairy truck he thinks Jackford is driving. It turns out not to be Jackford, but a jittery redneck with a shotgun (possibly the worst combination one could imagine) and the film, not really knowing what to do at that point, just ends.

I can give kudos to Castaneda for making a valiant effort in his feature debut (although he WAS responsible for some of the shortcomings in the script), as the sparse set design works with the slight story and the shots of small-town Washington State are convincing enough.

Bartholomew is also the saddest of sad sacks and even though he looks as if he has channeled the spirit of former SNL cast member Kenan Thompson, he is the most convincing actor in this production. The others are just pretty faces and, in Sapsford's case, just another eccentric Aussie character we've seen over and over again.

Since "Cement Suitcase" is not likely to appear at the nearest cinemaplex, better search for it online somewhere, although the effort taken to find it may turn out not to be nearly worth the trouble.

Not a grand theft, but likable enough, 20 May 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Kurt Russell ("Grindhouse: Deathproof") leads a cast of con men (and a woman), including Jay Baruchel ("This Is the End"), Matt Dillon ("Armored"), Chris Diamantopoulos ("The Three Stooges"), Katheryn Winnick ("Stand Up Guys") and Kenneth Welsh ("Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer") in "The Art of the Steal," a complicated, mildly entertaining heist picture where this over-the-hill gang tries to pull off the last big score.

The trouble is, we've seen it all before from "Ocean's 11″ (both the original and remake) to "Now You See Me," among others.

Directed by Jonathan Sobol ("A Beginner's Guide to Endings"), the plot tells that after being framed by his brother, Nicky (Dillon), following a bungled job trying to sell a fake painting to a Turkish art collector in Warsaw, Crunch Calhoun (Russell) spends the next seven years in a brutal Polish prison plotting his revenge.

Upon release, he joins Francie (Baruchel) and Lola (Winnick) in a cheap thrill troupe crashing his stunt motorcycle for a living (causing a character to intone, "I saw you almost jump six trucks once").

When a roughneck breaks into Crunch's apartment, beats him up, steals his motorcycle and demands to know where Nicky and a stolen painting by Georges-Pierre Seurat (a French Post-Impressionist artist) is, Calhoun's interest is piqued. When he sees Nicky again, his anger is piqued too, but the scrawny Dillon manages (in some strange reality) to beat Crunch into a pulp.

Soon after, Paddy McCarthy (Welsh), who was part of the Warsaw scheme, comes calling with a weird tale about getting the group back together for a final heist. He tells them he knows of the whereabouts of "The Gospel According To St. James," a book supposedly written by the brother of Christ and printed by Johannes Gutenberg immediately after his famous Bible. A book worth millions.

So, this gaggle of has-beens and never-weres has just two days to dream up a way to break into a highly-guarded international border facility (where the book was discovered and confiscated) and not only steal the book, but replace it with an almost exact duplicate that could even pass carbon-dating and other tests to prove its validity.

Crunch opts for a smash-and-grab strategy where everything gets blown up, while the other members of the gang (including expert forger Guy de Cornet, Diamantopoulos) opt for a more cerebral approach. In the meantime, an idiot Interpol agent, Bick (Jason Jones, "The Switch"), is trying to sniff out the theft of the Seurat. Bick has convicted former art expert Samuel Winter (Terence Stamp, "The Adjustment Bureau") in tow, promising him an early release from prison if he helps him solve the crime.

And, as if to make "The Art of the Steal" even more clever, a seed is planted when Guy tells the group a story about the 1911 theft of the Mona Lisa from the Louvre in Paris. He said the theft was arranged by Eduardo de Valfierno, who paid a paltry sum to an Italian museum worker to swipe and then hide the work. He then had his forger make six perfect copies. The missing painting shot the value of the fakes through the roof and de Valfierno made many times more than he would of for just the original.

Similar could be done with the book, yes? This notion leads to a series of double-and triple-crosses and sleight of hand that leave the viewer in either a state of "What the heck is going on?" or "I saw that coming from a thousand miles away."

OK, more often than not the trickery is pretty obvious, but "The Art of the Steal" is still entertaining enough to watch play out its conclusion. Plus, Kurt Russell plays his angry, but impotently ineffective leader role to the hilt.

And with Dillon, as his usually sleazy self, and Baruchel adding in some timely comedy relief, the 90-minute running time steals by nearly without notice.

7 out of 14 people found the following review useful:
The only thing this film 'Kills' is your time, 15 November 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I was always told that if there isn't a lot to write about a subject, don't tax the reader by padding out an article. Nothing could be truer of this advice than my review of the newest release, "Machete Kills."

I suppose some folks are going to criticize this critique because I do not appreciate (at least as much as they do) the insipid silliness of the first installment, "Machete," from 2010. If that is the case, they will be equally distressed then to learn I did not care for this particular movie, either.

"Machete Kills," like its predecessor, is based on a three-minute "trailer" introduced in the 2007 homage to 1970s cinema, "Grindhouse" and by all that is logical, it should have stayed in that format.

Other fake trailers included "Don't," "Thanksgiving" and "Werewolf Women of the S.S.," and while they were all certainly better than the two main films ("Planet of Terror" and "Death Proof"), they were never meant to be actual full-length motion pictures (director Robert Rodriguez had different idea with this one, obviously).

With Danny Trejo (the bartender in "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy") in the lead as a former Federale from Mexico who gets hired to do hatchet jobs in the U.S., this was actually originally written as a feature movie in the early 1990s before "Grindhouse" was ever made.

It's round-about journey to the big-screen was a logical conclusion, and while the first was praised as playfully ridiculous and a violent tongue-in-cheek satire on Mexploitation films, this sequel is a long, drawn-out series of mind-numbing decapitations, chopping and and gore-splattering scenes that would make a death camp survivor long for the good old days.

For whatever plot one would want to attach to this farce, Machete Cortez is trying to stop a pair of madmen (Demian Bichir and Mel Gibson, and their hundreds of hapless henchmen) with a nuclear device from taking over the world at the behest of the President of the United States (Charlie Sheen in another example of just how far his star has fallen).

Because of the limited structure and concept of this enterprise, Trejo (whose craggy face makes Charles Bronson look like Jennifer Lawrence) is not required to act, only to simply look ticked off and throw large knives at people (much like Bronson did in most of his films).

Even as parody, "Machete Kills" is sadly lacking in any comic or inventive stylings and the inside joke wears thin long before the credits roll.

Even the inclusion of recognizable faces such as Antonio Banderas ("The Skin I Live In"), Jessica Alba ("Little Fockers"), Michelle Rodriguez ("Fast & Furious 6"), Sofía Vergara ("The Three Stooges"), Amber Heard ("Paranoia"), William Sadler ("Iron Man 3"), Lady Gaga and Cuba Gooding Jr. (who should be forced to return his Academy Award for "Jerry Maguire") do not make this installment any easier to go down — or to watch for that matter.

With much more decent offerings currently out there ("Gravity," "Rush," "Captain Phillips"), why not avoid this over-the-top stupidity and get a little more bang for your hard-earned buck?

15 out of 20 people found the following review useful:
Once again, a sequel comes up short, 15 November 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

There's nothing more disappointing than a sequel that does not live up to the original film it came from, therefore, my cinematic experiences over the years dealing with such efforts have certainly been tragic.

Yes, there have been second films that have equaled or surpassed the original ("The Empire Strikes Back," "Superman 2," "The Godfather: Part 2," just to name a very few), but these are as rare as Academy Award nominations from "Weird Al" Yankovic.

So, die-hard Marvel Studios fans may want to exit this website now and forgo any bitterness they may feel when they realize this review — while not a whole dismissal of the newest superhero epic, "Thor: The Dark World" — may not exactly be what they want to read at this moment.

True to my nature as an optimist, however, I will highlight the positive points of the new production. First, Chris Hemsworth is the perfect choice to play the stoic, unemotional, dispassionate, apathetic, unmoved Nordic leading deity to a tee (actually, I'm not sure these are good points).

It does not require a whole lot of animation to jump from the sky, punch someone out or throw a hammer. Hemsworth does a very good job in his portrayal of such a character and, as long as he does not try to break the acting ceiling like he did in "Snow White and the Huntsman," I think we'll be all right.

The other good thing about this movie (and it's probably the best) is Loki (Tom Hiddleston, "Midnight in Paris"), the deeply troubled younger (and let's not forget ADOPTED) brother of the first prince of Asgard. It's his third appearance in the role and he has grown quite comfortable as the smirking, conniving schemer.

Here, he makes every scene he's in delectable. It's too bad he is not in more. Plus, the sequences where he appears with Hemsworth are not only the best in the picture, but they elevate the latter's status and acting credentials even higher than they should be.

Okay, we have discussed the positive, now let's look at the concerns. Replacing first installment director Kenneth Branagh (who was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Director — and lead actor — for 1989′s "Henry V") eliminated the whole Shakespearian angle with the fallen brother, the troubled prince and world-weary king, which punctuated the action scenes and made for much more intelligent viewing than your average superhero narrative.

Alan Taylor, while adept at television drama (several installments of "Mad Men," "Game of Thrones" and a host of others), has not helmed a feature film since "Kill the Poor" in 2003. His contribution to this feature — at least as far as the Bard connection goes — is negligible and thus much of the drama of "Thor" is replaced with the mediocre of standard fights, screaming and explosions.

Yes, "Thor: The Dark World" looks good, but there is a troubling blandness and sameness to the enterprise.

Sadly underused (or misused in some cases) are Anthony Hopkins ("Red 2") as King Odin, Natalie Portman ("Black Swan"), Stellan Skarsgård ("The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo") as Dr. Erik Selvig and Christopher Eccleston ("G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra") as the main villain — that's right, Loki isn't even to top bad guy here — Malekith.

Hopkins is given even less screen time than in the first film, while Portman bitches and moans and nags so much about Thor being away one understands his reasoning completely. She is both bland and annoying, a difficult tightrope to walk (see "Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium" for a perfect example).

Meanwhile, Skarsgård has been reduced to a comic relief buffoon and Eccleston, who began his career in 1991 in a great little British film, "Let Him Have It," is easily one of the worst Marvel villains of all-time, sort of a lightweight Bane, but without the menacing demeanor. Heavily made-up and CGIed to the point of complete obscurity, he comes back (after failing numerous time in the past) to use the all-powerful Aether to blow all of the realms to pieces, for whatever that's worth.

The best spy, war and superhero movies have one thing in common — great and terrifying bad guys (Goldfinger, Darth Vader, Lex Luthor, Loki). Malekith is certainly a name few will remember in the annals of filmdom's evil malefactors.

Few will remember the plot of "Thor: The Dark World," as well. Basically Asgard is under assault from Malekith and Thor is forced to release Loki from prison (where he has been since the end of "The Avengers") to aid in the protection of the realms. The real drama is whether the kid brother can be trusted. Seems a logical concern to me. There are trips to other planets and Earth gets a few location shots.

Monsters are destroyed, good guys are pounded and, for a while, we wonder if anyone can survive the onslaught of out-of-control special effects. One funny sequence involves Thor and Malekith bouncing around the universe while the mighty hammer of the Norse god struggles vainly just to keep up with the action.

"Thor: The Dark World" is nowhere near enough to surpass the first experience, and while not a bad movie at all, it just seems like a temporary diversion until a part three (or "The Avengers: Age of Ultron") comes out. Sadly, that's just not enough for a studio with a much better track record than this.

2 Guns (2013)
2 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Interesting buddy film undone by ceaseless violence, 31 August 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

If ever a motion picture suffered enough schizophrenia for a roomful of Sigmund Freuds, it's "2 Guns," the newest effort from director Baltasar Kormákur ("Contraband") starring Mark Wahlberg ("Ted") and Denzel Washington (coming off of his Oscar-nominated turn in "Flight").

While the running thread of the mismatched black and white partners forced to work together has been a staple since 1958′s "The Defiant Ones," this movie cannot seem to decide if it wants to be a cleverly-bantered buddy flick in that vein, a serious crime drama, a fast-paced tale of worldwide illegal drug operations or a violent action adventure (although there is certainly enough of that latter element to go around).

In the end, it may just be enough to describe it as lightweight — albeit confusing — filmcraft which fills the week, earns a one-time top spot at the box office and is forgotten by the time "Elysium" or "Planes" rolls around. One could do worse than to pay full price to see this, but one would certainly do better to seek matinée fare.

The plot, as equally convoluted as "Contraband," has Washington as DEA agent Robert 'Bobby' Trench, who is in deep cover trying to get close to and bust drug lord Papi Greco (Edward James Olmos, "The Green Hornet").

During a complicated bank heist (that nets more than $40 million instead of the $3 million that was expected) with partner Michael 'Stig' Stigman (Wahlberg) - who turns out to be a Naval Intelligence officer, the two find themselves wrapped in a mystery and stuffed into an enigma — and on the run from every element in the movie who wants the cash for themselves.

The solution to this deadly dilemma? Combine forces and try to find out what's going on and who wants them out of the way. Of course, they both hate one another immediately (come on, we've all seen these type of films before) and they feel each other out like two boxers, substituting jabs with witty dialogue and ceaseless quips.

Soon, with a vested interest in staying alive and attempting to keep each other in that same condition, a grudging respect and mutual friendship emerges. Oh, and then it's time to blast the bad guys to Kingdom Come.

Yes, the derivative element now rears its head and this buddy picture veers off into a scene of utter death and destruction and — just as suddenly — back again. It's a pattern Kormákur uses again and again, and while it may provide him and writers Blake Masters (screenplay) and Steven Grant (based on his graphic novel series of the same name) some sense of satisfaction, the herky-jerky pacing of "2 Guns" may leave many in the audience trying to both catch their collective breath and wrap their mind around what's going on.

Still, there is more than decent support from Bill Paxton ("Haywire") and James Marsden ("Straw Dogs") as possible traitorous allies/adversaries, and the cast seems up to the task, but the underlying message that the international drug trade is so tempting EVERYONE seems to want a piece of it seems to overwhelm even the most talented on-screen performers at times. Like "The Eiger Sanction," you will not be able to trust anyone in this film.

One can trust the banter to continue, though, with "Stig" playing the patsy (he's incredibly naive, mispronounces words and makes some unbelievably stupid decisions that Washington has to somehow correct - it's difficult to believe that a Naval officer could be such a moron) while Bobby rolls his eyes heavenward and both continue to blow the villains to small (and very graphic, at times) pieces, drowning out the more cerebral parts of the movie.

With the quality of the two leads, both Academy Award nominees (with Washington a two-time winner) one would expect bigger and better things. As it is, however, "2 Guns" doesn't exactly misfire, fitting somewhere above "Fled" and significantly below "48 Hrs." in the genre pool.

Had the director just eased up a bit on the violent aspects and let the leads play off each other more (like Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy were allowed to do), though, "2 Guns" might have been a much more effective and interesting addition to the category.

15 out of 19 people found the following review useful:
Part 2 twice as bad as the first - if that's conceivable, 31 August 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

When we last left our intrepid tiny blue friends, they had just . . . oh, why bother explaining the plot of this film's predecessor, "The Smurfs," when it's going to be difficult enough to write about this sequel's ridiculous storyline? And, unless one is either under the age of four or in a drug-induced coma, they are not likely to care an iota about it anyway.

With Neil Patrick Harris ("A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas," "How I Met Your Mother" TV series) sleepwalking through his repeat role of Patrick Winslow and Hank Azaria ("Lovelace") as the evil wizard Gargamel - playing it so far over the top he falls off the other side - adults are most likely to simply tag along with their tots only to forget this one by the time they get home.

Like most sequels, "The Smurfs 2" does not live up to the original, which in turn was never something worth living up to in the first place. It does live longer, though, dragging on for nearly 105 minutes (two minutes longer than the first go 'round and a death knell to an animated feature like this one).

Here, as directed by Raja Gosnell (who has helmed such classics as "Home Alone 3," and "Beverly Hills Chihuahua"), the Smurfs are happy and healthy back in their quaint village.

Happy, except for the group's only female, Smurfette (voice of singer Katy Perry), who's depressed because she thinks everyone forgot her birthday (get used to it, kid).

Meanwhile, Gargamel — who is now a big-time David Blaine-type illusionist in the world of humans — is hatching a plot wherein he uses his two gray Smurf-like minions, the tomboyish Vexy (voice of Christina Ricci, "Black Snake Moan") and the idiotic Hackus (voice of J.B. Smoove, "Hall Pass"), to kidnap Smurfette so he can extract her essence, or something like that.

Unfortunately, once she is missing, Papa Smurf (voice of the late Jonathan Winters, "The Smurfs," but I'd rather remember him from "It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World," among other better films) along with Grouchy (voice of George Lopez, "Rio," and the guy who played a light bulb in "Shark Boy and Lavagirl"), Clumsy (voice of Anton Yelchin, "Star Trek Into Darkness") and Vanity (voice of John Oliver, "The Love Guru"), locate Patrick and his family to help solve the mystery.

Turns out that Pat is an uptight parent entertaining equally snobbish couples at his son's excruciatingly unfunny birthday party sequence concerning - of all things hilarious - a small child with a peanut allergy.

Discovering that Gargamel has a show in Paris, the group — with nondescript tyke Blue (Jacob Tremblay) and gruff stepdad Victor (Brendan Gleeson, "The Raven") in tow — whisks off to the City of Lights with nary a jump cut. While there, Smurfette, who was evidently created by the bad wizard becomes fast friends with Vexy and even offers to share the secret formula that Papa used to turn her blue — a concoction that will allow Gargamel to somehow rule the world.

Meanwhile, the three incompetent Smurfs try to save the day, while an embarrassed Gleeson (much too good to be involved in an endeavor like this) spends most of the picture flapping around as a poorly-CGIed duck.

It's all about potions and magic and essences and fatherly love, all of which are needed to keep the average person awake during all of this nonsense. So-so effects, little or no pacing, a drag in the middle and totally unnecessary 3D technology highlight the pointlessness of it all.

Be aware that there is also a definite mean streak which runs through the movie (Gargamel is willing to let his creations die and laughingly tortures the captive Smurfs), as well as a complete lack of humor (or anything close to that emotion), despite the fact that Azaria (who voices about a dozen characters on "The Simpsons" TV show) does his best with what little he is given.

So, like "Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties," "Marmaduke," "Alvin and the Chipmunks" and "Yogi Bear" — films which tried to incorporate CGI with live action — "The Smurfs 2" comes up woefully short, leaving "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" as the still clear-cut winner of the genre - and that particular production is more than 25 years old.

So why not just buy, rent or record that picture, save a trip to the cinema and call it a weekend. You would certainly be doing yourself - or your children - no favors by seeing "The Smurfs 2."

Jobs (2013)
4 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
Kutcher makes a valiant attempt, but 'Jobs' reveals nothing new, 31 August 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

While watching "Jobs" one cannot help but think back on the 1999 TNT made-for-TV movie "Pirates Of Silicon Valley," starring Noah Wylie as Steve Jobs and Anthony Michael Hall as Bill Gates. Well, at least *I* could not help thinking about that film.

It certainly told a much crisper, tighter story of the founding of Apple Computers, an event which changed the technological world and shook it to its very foundations. In this version, as directed by Joshua Michael Stern ("Swing Vote"), however, the man is given just enough biopic treatment to make him slightly interesting, if not oftentimes just plain bland and far too safe - as if his recent death justified such reverence.

Yes, as played by Ashton Kutcher (the guy who lost an argument with an orange in "Bobby"), we see Steve Jobs get high, drop out of college, try to inspire his employees and harbor a morbid fear of and hatred for International Business Machines (IBM), but it's nothing we haven't seen or heard before.

We also get a glimpse of just what an often intolerable jerk he was and what a volatile personality he had. This, of course, is nothing new, considering most inventive people have this feature, from Ben Franklin to Thomas Edison to Henry Ford to Picasso. Jobs just happened to live in our era and we can relate better, if that means anything.

After huge early successes, Jobs becomes determined to make only the best and most cutting-edge computers, always pushing the envelope to what is possible. That creates tension between himself and the company's board who always seems to be looking for an excuse or reason to find a way to push Jobs out of the company – the company he himself created.

Kutcher, who's made his bread and butter on the small screen ("That '70s Show," and, more recently, "Two And a Half Men"), no doubt gives the best performance of his career, although that's not much of a compliment considering his body of work. I was hopeful at first, however, when he comes out to introduce the iPod, capturing Steve Jobs' walk and mannerisms, but after that it's a relatively thin, paint-by-the-numbers effort.

The real revelation here is Josh Gad ("Thanks For Sharing," a small role in "The Internship"), whose performance as friend and creative force behind Apple, Steve Wozniak, carries the picture. Kutcher and Gad have good chemistry and the best scenes in the film are with these two. Dermot Mulroney ("Stoker"), as an early investor Mike Markkula, also acquits himself well.

It's too bad the overall experience of "Jobs" is one that is too long, choppy and reveals too little about one of the more interesting man of our times.

Kick-Ass 2 (2013)
5 out of 13 people found the following review useful:
Another pointless sequel gets ass kicked, 31 August 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Let's face it, the sheer existence of the numeral "2″ behind any film title automatically relegates said picture to the garbage heap of cinematic experiences (see "The Hangover Part 2" and "The Smurfs 2" as recent examples).

Of course, there are rare exceptions where the sequel is better than or as good as the first, such as "The Godfather: Part 2," or "Superman II," or "Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan," but usually second installments are quickly made to cash in on a surprise hit and capture lightening in a bottle.

This is no exception when it comes to "Kick-Ass 2," which continues the story of a group of amateur wannabe super heroes from the graphic novel of the same name.

Three years ago, with "Kick-Ass," director Matthew Vaughn filled theater seats with young bodies eager to see peers don capes and costumes and sock it to the baddies. The biggest attraction, however, was then 12-year old Chloë Grace Moretz ("Dark Shadows"), who personified the title as "Hit Girl" and dealt serious damage to men three times her age and size.

And while I was not a fan of this endeavor, nor did I think it was funny to have the little girl have a filthy mouth to go along with her deadly martial arts talent (us fathers of preteen daughters are funny that way), I judged the movie slightly acceptable because of its original story and the exuberance of the young actors involved.

Now, however, with everyone three years older, the freshness of the script long-gone, and a new director, Jeff Wadlow ("Never Back Down"), calling the shots, Kick-Ass 2 becomes just another in a long series of stale and unnecessary sequels to movies which did not deserve sequels in the first place.

And while seeing a 12-year old girl wreak havoc may be interesting to some of us, viewing the same kid as a 15-year old doing the same thing just does not mean that much anymore.

To be fair, though, I will try to describe the plot as best I can. After bringing down the local villains in the first picture, Kick-Ass/Dave Lizewski (Aaron Taylor-Johnson, "Savages") has laid off and gotten soft, but the son of the main bad guy killed in part one, Chris D'Amico/Red Mist/The Mother F***** (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, "This Is the End") has not forgotten and puts together a group of super baddies to gain revenge and control the city again.

To counter this, Ass assembles his own group, the Justice League, uh oops, I mean the Justice Forever group with some of the lamest characters ever put together for a superhero film: "Colonel Stars & Stripes" (Jim Carrey in his 142nd consecutive terrible role), "Dr. Gravity" (Donald Faison, TV series "Scrubs"), "Night Bitch" (Lindy Booth, "Nobel Son") and the ridiculously-named "Battle Guy" (the lame Clark Duke, "Hot Tub Time Machine").

Needless to say, the violence here is way over-the-top, the acting is well below what one would expect from such a production and the direction is practically non-existent.

Ironically, the only thing worth seeing here is Moretz again, who while dishing out her own brand of ludicrous force, is still, the best actor out of everyone, including the embarrassing, cringe-inducing Carrey, who even came out before "Kick-Ass 2" debuted to blast it for its matter-of-fact depiction of gore. No doubt he accepted whatever pay he was offered for participating in such stupidity, though.

6 out of 10 people found the following review useful:
Daniels' 'Butler' ambitious effort, but falls short, 31 August 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

While I am not crazy about a director including his own name in the title of a film (after all, we never saw a movie called "Orson Welles' Citizen Kane" or "David Lean's Great Expectations" or "Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver"), I can sort of forgive Lee Daniels (who directed the equally obscurely titled "Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire") for falling into the fame trap set by Tyler Perry, whose name is on everything he is involved with and whose ego is bigger than his now sizable bank account.

Daniels acquits himself fairly well here with "Lee Daniels' The Butler," though, a story about a White House butler who served eight American presidents over three decades, and who, like Forrest Gump, seemed to be in the middle of many events which shook those turbulent times.

Befuddled by the title, I assumed that the butler's name was Lee Daniels, but it is isn't. It's Cecil Gaines, and he is wonderfully played by Forest Whitaker, who won an Academy Award for "The Last King of Scotland," but has appeared in a series of unremarkable pictures since, including "Street Kings" and "Repo Men." He stoically remains a bedrock while all about him seems to be madness and while viewers wish he wasn't as immovable at times, he plays the servant with as much pride and dignity as possible.

Gaines begins work in the late 1950s, serving first Pres. Dwight D. Eisenhower (a surprise turn by Robin Williams, "Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian") and then John F. Kennedy (James Marsden, "2 Guns") while the Civil Rights struggle goes on in the background. At first, he doesn't think too much about it, safe and secure in the White House, until events force him to take a stand.

As time passes, he is embroiled in conflict with his radical son, Louis (David Oyelowo, "Red Tails," "Jack Reacher") and struggles in a tempestuous marriage with boozy wife Gloria (Oprah Winfrey, who, believe it or not was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for the role of Sophia in 1985's "The Color Purple"), who complains because her husband is never home. During this time, though, he sees first-hand the violence against Civil Rights workers in the South as well as the rise of the equally reactionary Black Panther movement.

Bear in mind, of course, the tale of Lee Daniels' The Butler is mostly fictional. Yes, it's "based on a true story," but based very loosely. The term "dramatic license" has never been more appropriate as the real subject who did serve eight Chief Executives was a quiet man with a stable marriage and a terrific relationship with his boy. Daniels opts for the soap opera embellishments and much of it runs like a version of "The Help," only without the distaff point of view.

It's an ambitious endeavor and thanks mostly to Whitaker (who is most impressive in Gaines' latter years in very realistic old-age makeup) and Winfrey, there are several genuine heart-tugging and lump-in-the-throat moments which help carry it off.

Still, we shall not always overcome Daniels' penchant for bizarre casting, and he does it again here with the presidents of these United States. Marsden is fine, but Williams as Ike, Liev Schreiber as Lyndon B. Johnson and Englishman Alan Rickman as Ronald Reagan?! Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter are so unimportant here that that are virtually ignored, but then there are avowed left-wingers John Cusack as Richard Nixon and Jane Fonda as Nancy Reagan.

None of these actors convince in their roles and seem more like in-jokes than actually serious characters, and almost become unintentionally hilarious which — sadly — diverts much of the seriousness of "Lee Daniels' The Butler" away from what it should and could have been.

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