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The Stepfather (2009)
Entertaining thriller, mainly toward end
The opening of this movie has a disturbing contrast. Nice Christmas decorations and a beautiful version of "Silent Night" sung by what may be a boys' choir, and dead bodies lying beside the decorations. The man who apparently committed the murders is on his way to terrorize another family.
Susan and "David" meet at the grocery store and are immediately attracted to each other. Soon, Michael comes home from military school where he was sent because he caused trouble, along with his intelligent and gorgeous girlfriend Kelly. He is not happy with the new addition to the family. Neither is his father Jay.
Over time, David tries to develop a relationship with Michael, but it is hard. Meanwhile, Susan's sister Jackie gives David a job without bothering to do a background check. David has no past, however, and he keeps making excuses. People start finding out his stories are lies. And whenever anyone points out his suspicious behavior, or his resemblance to a killer who has not been found ... well, you just don't want to be around David when he's alone and you have provoked him.
A nosy neighbor dies suspiciously, and Jay also mysteriously disappears. Michael and Kelly investigate, and Kelly takes advantage of every opportunity to show how good she looks in a bikini or underwear. Still, she does have brains too.
The movie starts out pleasant enough, almost family-friendly. But it soon gets quite exciting.
The final action scene is quite entertaining, and based on something I read in user reviews, could have been even more so without the deletion of a particularly well-done stunt.
As a thriller this could have been better. Everything seems almost normal, which is fine. I like normal. But if this was actually a feature film, it doesn't seem like one. It seems like a Lifetime woman-in-jep movie. I like those, so I was reasonably happy.
Dylan Walsh gives a good enough performance, but by the end he is going beyond the ordinary.
Sela Ward is a respected actress and she does just fine here, but there isn't anything particularly distinctive. She does look good, despite her ex's comments about why he was attracted to other women.
Amber Heard gives a good performance, but I think that's mainly because she doesn't mind showing off her body and shows confidence when she does.
Penn Badgley does a capable job too.
It was entertaining enough. Just don't expect too much.
Good for Nothing (2011)
Worth seeing, sometimes funny, not your ordinary Western
Isabella and Miss Parsons (am I remembering that right? There's no name even similar to that in the cast list) are two proper English ladies traveling through the American West on a train with a great-looking and great-sounding steam engine. Although the older woman points out this is no place for a lady, when the train arrives at Isabella's destination in the middle of nowhere, she assures Isabella that the men who came to pick her up are her uncle's best employees. Isabella's father just died, and she lost her mother long ago, so her uncle's ranch is the only place for her to go.
But she doesn't make it there. The men take her to a bar, where a villain shoots them and takes her captive, while the others in the bar just sit there like nothing happened. The villain tries to rape Isabella but then mysteriously stops and just ties her up. He goes into town and what happens next is very funny. And then Isabella gets loose, and with her clothes in tatters, people in town think she is a hooker. She goes to the jail and the prisoner in the cell is hilarious. I only wish we had seen more of him. But then the villain takes Isabella again, shooting those who stand in his way as usual.
Harry's brother puts together a posse. Some of the men don't think it is worth the money to risk their lives, so there is a bonus for killing the hooker.
The villain still has a problem to solve, so as he was advised to do, he visits a Chinese mining camp. With hilarious results. Meanwhile, Isabella is starting to have feelings other than hate for the man, and the man is nicer to Isabella. Eventually, they have a meaningful conversation about their pasts. And they visit an Indian medicine man--again, with funny results. The posse isn't having much luck because the tracker is incompetent.
The ending is satisfying but quite unexpected. It is, in fact, the very definition of ironic. But there is a complete story.
I wasn't expecting this to be so funny, but the TiVo listings did show it as a comedy first. Actually, this isn't that funny a lot of the time, and it is somewhat violent (though not unusually so for a Western) and unsettling. To enjoy it, you have to be willing to tolerate a sick sense of humor. Also, the sound went out a lot and characters' mouths were covered in many cases when this happened.
Cohen Holloway as the unnamed villain does quite a good job. He isn't merely the monster he appears to be at the start, but someone who has feelings. Just because he shoots everyone in sight doesn't mean he can't be redeemed.
Isabella is quite pretty and, despite her shock at how different the American West is after apparently having a privileged life, she is tough and determined. And even caring, despite how mean her kidnapper has been.
And I don't know his name, but the actor playing the prisoner is hilarious.
Other good performances come from actors playing Indians and Chinese.
And let's not forget how pretty the American West can be. Even if it's actually New Zealand. And the music is great--Latin guitar, regular guitar (not smooth jazz exactly, but close), and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra.
It's an unusual Western to be sure, and worth seeing.
The Odds (2011)
Pretty good mystery
Desson and Barry are best friends who intend to move in together after they graduate from high school. Knowing he will be alone after Desson's mother has apparently died, Desson's loser of a father is planning to sell their house.
Desson and Barry attend a high school wrestling match. Barry is constantly texting Paul on his cell phone. When Barry believes Sam took a dive, Barry confronts Sam in the locker room and they get in a fight. Desson convinces the coach that Barry and Sam were fighting over a girl, but the coach sentences both Desson and Barry to detention. Barry doesn't show, but Desson meets the beautiful Colleen, who he invites to Paul's basement in a nice upper-middle-class house. Young people come there and gamble and drink alcohol secretly. Paul's mother doesn't really seem to approve but allows the activity as long as she doesn't get in trouble; Paul's father has left. Barry and Desson both owe Paul lots of money, and Paul is getting very demanding.
One day Desson goes over to Barry's house, and Desson and Barry's sister Heather make a terrible discovery. Barry has apparently hanged himself. Desson believes his friend was murdered and is determined to find out why. A phone message suggests a local Chinese restaurant may have a connection to Desson's death. Benson, one of the high school students who gambles at Paul's place, reluctantly admits to going to this restaurant but says it must be kept secret. It is also possible that Paul is in debt to someone there. And we may find out what Sam was doing.
It's a somewhat interesting mystery. Nothing outstanding or above the level of a TV-movie, but still enjoyable.
There is occasional humor, much of it provided by Hrothgar Mathews as the sarcastic Coach Fortier.
And among actors with more lines than the coach had, to me, Julia Maxwell stands out from the rest of the cast. She's not only great looking but has a nice if edgy personality and brains.
Tyler Johnston is pretty good too in the lead role.
Other worthwhile performances come from Jaren Brandt Bartlett as the young man who lets people gamble, Robert Moloney as Desson's father (especially when stoned), and Scott Patey and the somewhat nerdy Benson who likes to take risks.
The sound went out a lot during this movie. Usually, this was accompanied by a character's mouth being obscured. So if you see this unedited, you have been warned. There is also some violence but not too much.
It's a worthwhile effort, just nothing you haven't seen before.
Educates about code talkers, but not really about them; pretty good otherwise
I had heard about the Code Talkers and understood their efforts were important to winning World War II. I found the idea of watching a movie about their efforts interesting.
I didn't really understand how Nicolas Cage getting in a jam in the Solomon Islands and acting heroically contributed to that, but I kept watching. Eventually, I made the connection. His flawed and damaged character was being put in charge of keeping a Code Talker safe.
I hadn't considered the possibility of a Code Talker being put in a combat situation, and yet this movie made clear how vital their efforts were even on the battlefield. We also got to see how risky it was to be a Code Talker in this situation, since the Japanese somehow knew about these people and would find them valuable. Yes, the possibility of the code being revealed to the enemy has a tragic consequence. Many hard decisions were made here.
Although I wasn't really prepared for battle and didn't like the violence that went with it, combat scenes were effectively done. Nicolas Cage, of course, is a Rambo or Schwarznegger which is good for movie audiences if not necessarily realistic.
The relationships that develop between fighting men made the movie interesting.
Adam Beach did a fine job and was quite likable. Whether he looked like an Indian or not, and whether he really looked Japanese (which became important in one scene), didn't matter to me. I went with my neighbors to the Cherokee reservation in North Carolina a few years ago and the campaign billboards, during a race for chief, showed a man who could have passed for white. Actually, Beach looked more like the other type of Indian. But the important thing was his character's pride in his heritage, and the scenes that showed his culture, particularly with his friend Charlie Whitehorse.
The scenery in the American West is great. And the areas where combat took place also are nice to look at.
I was impressed that one of the military bases somehow got a 50-star flag more than 15 years before there were actually 50 states. I wonder when that flag was developed? Still, a regular 48-star flag would have been better for consistency.
If the objective was to tell people this film was about Code Talkers and to focus on a flawed but heroic white marine and show the Code Talkers' battlefield actions as a supplement to the main plot, then I believe the goal was achieved.
Father of Invention (2010)
Pretty good, not great
As the charismatic inventor who appears on TV, Kevin Spacey does quite a good job. He's done this type role before, but Bernadette Peters was there to overshadow him. Here, that's not a problem. Later, I can't say Spacey is that good, considering what he has accomplished, but he has his moments. The best one comes when he realizes he needs to fix his relationship with his daughter.
Heather Graham doesn't start out well. She is nothing more than a nasty lesbian who keeps pointing out that she's a lesbian. Later, she proves to be much more and is even likable. And not a lesbian. Bi, maybe. While I liked her two roommates better at first, by movie's end Phoebe is the best character.
I'm not sure what to say about Johnny Knoxville. The store manager resembles Ty Burrell and, maybe just for that reason, I think Burrell could have played the role. And better. Perhaps he wasn't available. His bumbling Phil Dunphy had similarities to this character that make me think it could have worked. Still, there were times I found the man entertaining.
I liked Claire okay, but she quickly grew impatient with her father, and I guess with good reason. She wasn't as easy to like later, and I'm not even sure how good a job the actress did. One thing stands out about her and that's her great smile at the bank.
I also liked Donna, but she really gave me a reason to like her. At least at the beginning. I'm not sure she had much in the brains department, but she is a sweet girl.
Red West was memorable as Axle's engineer. While he was old and getting senile he knew what he was doing, mostly. It is a great scene where Axle realizes this man he is depending on isn't quite what he used to be.
John Stamos is ideal for the role of a constantly smiling but superficial pitch man. You want to like him because of how he appears on the surface and can't stand him when you see what he's really like. He's just not around much.
Michael Rosenbaum is kind of a disappointment. He makes the most of a small role but he used to be so much like Axle. Genuinely evil with lots of money, though, instead of just someone who messed up.
Craig Robinson is easy to like as the new man in Axle's ex-wife's life.
And about the ex--she is nasty and I can't stand her. And yet Virginia Madsen played such a wonderful character when I saw her the same weekend in "Sideways". She proved what a range she has. Be sure and stay around for her atrocious duet with her husband in the closing credits.
Other than the hideously bad closing credits, the music is good most of the time.
It was a mostly enjoyable movie. I wanted to see Axle succeed. But it's not easy.
Elfie Hopkins (2012)
Dark humor turns into horror
In a village in England where people hunt, Elfie is not doing much with her life and she has this "whatEVER" attitude toward everything. Her father and stepmother want her to do more than just smoke pot with her friend Dylan, and she is almost resigned to the idea she will be a beautician, though that's not she wants. Elfie's mother died in a hunting-related accident when she was 12, but to this day she is convinced it was murder, and she blames herself because her mother was searching for her. After investigating what happened to her mother, Elfie became an amateur sleuth. Elfie wears too much makeup and has blonde hair that can't possibly be a real color, and how much of it is green varies between scenes and sometimes within the same scene. One person who dresses fashionably says Elfie looks like someone vomited clothes onto her. Her taste in "music" isn't much better.
Her latest case with Dylan involves the Gammons, new neighbors who live in a fabulous house. Everywhere they go, people disappear. At the beginning of this movie, a hunter mysteriously disappears. The Gammons got rich from their travel agency--only it seems people they send on trips don't come back.
Still, Elfie becomes friendly (in a completely innocent way) with the father Charlie, who is faithful to his wife even though Pippa wants to seduce him. Elfie taunts Pippa by suggesting Charlie prefers her. Dylan makes friends with the creepy daughter Ruby, to the dismay of Elfie, who won't admit she has anything more than platonic feelings for this geek (her word). Ruby is described as dressing like dolls. In one scene I would say more like a cast member from the musical "Chicago".
As is often the case with movies like this, Elfie gets on the nerves of the local police. She accuses people of things they may be innocent of, because of evidence that isn't there when the cops arrive.
The title of this movie kind of gives away a secret that Elfie finds or at least thinks she has found. Meanwhile, Elfie worries her friend will go off and leave her because his parents want him to go to university, though he doesn't.
If you like the dark humor of the Seth MacFarlane animated sitcoms, perhaps you will like this. It was described as a horror movie in the TV listings I saw, but it's not really a horror movie. More of a creepy comedy/mystery. Toward the end it does become quite violent and the laughs stop. Not everyone is going to survive to the end, and as is often true with horror movies, even someone you care about is not safe.
Despite her attitude, I had to like Elfie. I know nothing about Jamie Winstone but there's something adorable about her, despite her hate for the world and lack of concern for her looks, though somehow she looks sort of pretty.
Aneurin Barnard I have never heard of, but Dylan was very likable. I did find one thing strange: Dylan is a computer genius but this movie was made in 2012. If it was set at that time, why is Dylan using 1992 computer technology? He uses what is essentially the Internet but gets there the way geeks did when people in general started using PCs.
Rupert Evans as the mysterious neighbor shows quite a range, going from friendly to downright creepy in a humorous way.
Ray Winstone is memorable as a butcher who is also a creepy storyteller.
Either one actress is either really good at pretending to be still or someone really talented recreated her head. You might either love the scene for its humor or be totally repulsed by it.
Is it good? Well, I did enjoy it as long as it was funny. The ending is effective if not pleasant.
Wonderful job, mostly
This is a wonderful and inspiring story about a family with flaws and two new members welcomed into that family.
And of course it is the story of a Latina girl who has the chance to stand out among many equally qualified candidates for Princeton. Aimee Garcia does quite nicely narrating.
Tea Leoni as Deborah is pretty but comes across as shallow, really trying to be nice but constantly messing up. It's a fine performance. One of the best scenes has her enthusiastically welcoming Cristina, the beautiful daughter she didn't know Flor had, because now she can have a perfect daughter too. Her own daughter is not physically attractive and is overweight but not unhealthy, and can never seem to please her. And yes, Bernice notices this.
Paz Vega reminds me of Salma Hayek, at least in appearance. But both are quality actresses too. Flor is so pleasant and loving but she can get upset when the situation calls for it. And of course once the time comes, she is determined to learn English.
Shelbie Bruce does a wonderful job. Her best scene is one where she must translate for her mother, but she does more than merely say the words. She effectively communicates her mother's emotions as well. It's like a scene from "Freaky Friday". And she has another standout moment where John is only kidding but she really seems upset about what he said.
Sarah Steele is also likable as the not so perfect Bernice. There's nothing so wrong with her. She's just an ordinary girl, like most girls.
Cloris Leachman does her usual wonderful job, especially later in the movie. She mostly just has funny lines which add a lot, but as Deborah's mother advising her daughter who is falling apart, she really stands out.
Adam Sandler is the weak link here. That only means everyone in a major role is good, and he is just the least talented among them. He does a great job playing Adam Sandler, the one who is not a loser and is mostly nice. John is quite a likable character. And yet there's nothing really special. John has lessons to learn here but he's less flawed than his wife. And of course he has a difficult choice when he must decide career or family, and his family means everything.
I did think Georgie wasn't used enough. That may be the only real weakness here.
The ending leaves us wondering. That's all I will say.
Is it a family-friendly film? Not quite, but older children should be fine with it. Even younger children might be able to handle the version I saw, which may have been cleaned up for TV.
Regardless, it is a worthy effort.
Caught Inside (2010)
Not my taste but better toward end
In Australia, a group of young people meet at an airport and head to a boat called Hedonist. Some want to surf and others want to fish. One of the guys makes a comment that there weren't supposed to be any girls, but Alex came with her boyfriend (he wouldn't leave her behind) and Alex brought Sam.
For a while everyone has a good time. There are several visits to islands and some good waves for surfing. Alex has a video camera, and Sam looks good in a bikini. Sam does seem intelligent, however, as she knows what to do when someone needs first aid, and she is referred to as "computer girl". I don't recall why.
The trouble begins when two of the guys are interested in Sam. Eventually, as a result of escalating animosity, the one guy actually goes ballistic and the rest of the group may be in danger.
There's not much here for me. With the accents and so many cases where the sound went out while the speaker's mouth was blurred or covered, I couldn't figure out what was going on a lot of the time. The ocean scenery is pretty. Sam gets to "swim" with dolphins although she is hanging on to the anchor and not really in the water. I mentioned Sam looks good, and she has a nice smile and nice personality, at least until the incident. At one point there is a pretty rainbow which is kind of low in the sky.
Still, the performance of a certain actor is worth seeing. I don't know his name anyway, but I think it's better to keep everyone guessing about who goes crazy. He's really quite good, for the material, and even funny in a dark way. It's a pretty good thriller once things get out of hand about halfway through.
Normally, we are assured no animals are harmed. I wondered how such a thing would be possible when numerous fish are being processed after catching early in the movie, and fishing and eating fish are part of the adventure. We are shown the message where the assurances about animal action normally go: "Fish were harmed and eaten." Good. I don't see how it could have been done any other way.
If you enjoy seeing guys have a good time and occasionally argue and then get into fights, maybe this is for you. It wasn't really for me.
Deadly Closure (2010)
Pretty good thriller, when it is a thriller
In 1994 Janis is in military intelligence and has sat behind a desk. But she is happier being assigned to Kuwait. Her first job: investigate a supposedly deserted area, since there are rumors Saddam Hussein will invade again, as he did four years earlier. Janis takes Bernie Schwartz with her. The area is not deserted, and the two find evidence something is going on. Then five Middle Eastern men show up and Bernie is shot. To stay alive, Janis has to shoot the others. She is assured all five are dead, but we have seen that Kadir was only faking.
Meanwhile, Janis has flashbacks to the time her twin brother Jamey threatened to kill their parents and then did it.
For four months, Janis is in a military hospital because of what happened. Only Captain Rogers cares enough to visit, and while a romance is possible, he disappears.
Ten years later in Sarasota, Florida, Janis is a free-lance photographer. She can't work for any company, as much as they want her to because she is so good, because she needs to be free. Looking like Heather Locklear and wearing a tank top, shorts and flip-flops, she is taking photos for the Oak Club's brochures. She will dress more professionally (though still casually) later, but we will get to see more of her in sexy outfits.
Carol is a perky Texas native in charge of making sure Janis does her job. She's really nice and they become friends, later meeting at a bar where Boomer is bartender. He's quite a character.
Janis is nearly hit by a red SUV several times. She suspects her brother, who is up for parole and vowed revenge after she testified against him. Though we know who it could be. Carol, still unaware of Janis' military background, sees Janis may need help and refers her to a friend Diane who is a psychologist. Given what Janis went through, that may be a good idea.
Janis gets another job involving clown statues. But one of those clowns isn't a statue ...
After this terrifying experience, Carol calls on her ex Abe, a cop. Something isn't quite right. Could Janis be imagining things? It is true that Jamey is out to get his sister, and we do see the bumbling idiots Mickey, and the other guy whose name I don't remember, he has put in charge of this. But what we believe may not be the truth.
Meanwhile, Janis has other jobs which give us more reasons to enjoy the movie. Two are at zoos, one of which has flamingos (at least I think they are) but also lots of pretty trees. There is another zoo specializing in big cats. And a park with a statue resembling the famous photo of a sailor kissing a woman after World War II.
And the threats just keep coming. We are left guessing until the end. Will Janis get out of this mess unharmed?
No, this movie, despite its brief celebration of our military, had nothing to do with The Fourth, but it was appropriate to watch on that day. It just happened to be one I had recorded months ago.
This is a pretty good movie, but nothing that special. What makes it work for me is that there are just enough pleasant scenes mixed in with all the seriousness, and plenty of comedy, even in Kuwait. And occasional action and excitement. Especially toward the end.
You have to like Lisa Varga as Janis if for no other reason than her looks, but of course the character is tough and intelligent yet likable and mostly well-adjusted despite what she has been through.
The real standout performer is Ken Stellingwerf as Jamey. When he explains why he is in prison, you could call him demented or darkly comic. And he has more scenes like that. And he must deal with the Three Stooges, who point out that there are only two of them, so how could they be three? I won't say the stooges are necessarily good actors but they are entertaining.
Toni Ann Rossi as Carol and Alan Roberts as Boomer also impress.
And David Mackey as Captain Rogers. We will see more of him.
This is not a family film, though I found it curious that it had a TV-PG rating with the brutal violence in a few scenes. But the fact is there isn't that much actual violence.
I think it's worth seeing.
The Final Season (2007)
Inspiring, mostly good
In this fact-based story set in 1990, Kent Stock is the women's volleyball coach it Belle Plaine High School in Iowa. He is asked by his former baseball coach, the legendary Jim Van Scoyoc, to assist during part of the season. Norway School, with 101 students (we do see little kids in the building, so apparently it's all 12 grades), has won 19 1A state baseball championships, 12 under Van Scoyoc. Baseball is so popular in the town of 586 that fans come to practices.
Despite the long baseball tradition, in an effort to save money and give the kids a better education, the school board wants to merge tiny Norway School with a larger school 20 miles away. This will hurt the community badly and prevent many of the kids from playing baseball.
Polly graduated from law school, and it's never made quite clear what her job title is, but she is the expert who explains the school board's decision. She is attractive but doesn't really show it at first, and Kent seems to like her. Plus he hopes to persuade her to look at other communities where the same thing has happened.
The town of Norway will make every effort to save their school. It is agreed the change won't happen right away, but the baseball team will get one more season, and not under Van Scoyoc. Kent has left town for a new job in St. Louis (he appears to be working at a bank), but Van Scoyoc wants him to take the coaching job. This is fine with those in charge, who see Kent as a Clark Kent type (he corrected someone who got his name wrong by saying Kent, like Clark). However, he may turn out to be more of a Tom Welling than a Christopher Reeve. And he hasn't given up on Polly, either.
Burt played for Van Scoyoc years ago but runs a business in Chicago. Having lost his wife, he can't handle his rebellious son Mitch on his own, so he brings Mitch to live with his parents Jared and Anne. And, yes, he can play baseball.
Mitch hates being in this hick town but eventually learns to adjust, and Cindy, sister to the team's star Patrick, seems to like him. And Van Scoyoc, just a shop teacher, won't tolerate less than Mitch's best effort.
Some of the team members quit when Van Scoyoc leaves for a minor-league job. Others continue to play but seem ready to quit, and it appears Norway will be a bunch of losers in their last season playing baseball. But this loser of a coach won't quit, and he may turn out to be Superman after all.
Many obstacles stand in the team's way, but can they win another state title? And will the school be saved?
This is an inspiring movie, but it seems to leave out a few details. If there is a major weakness, it is jumping ahead in time too quickly and not really showing us what happened. We are just left to assume.
Sean Astin does an adequate job, and he improves toward the end, but his is not the standout performance.
Powers Boothe as the legendary coach could have gotten an Oscar nomination with the same performance in a more visible movie.
James Gammon does a great job as Mitch's grandfather, tough and conservative but loving with a sense of humor.
Josh Merino is a talented opposing pitcher on his way to pro ball. With his performance, the camera work, the editing, and the writing, he comes across as an outstanding villain in just a few scenes.
Tom Arnold starts out as little more than comic relief but, while he's not around much, he shows he is a capable father who's just in over his head.
Rachael Leigh Cook gets prettier and easier to like as time goes on. She's pretty good too.
When this movie is exciting, it's really exciting. Believe me when I say most of the final scenes live up to that.
It's a worthwhile effort.