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478 reviews in total 
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31 out of 60 people found the following review useful:
Be Prepared For Something Very Different ...And Very Good, 11 September 2010

Who would have thought that Hollywood could produce a taut murder-thriller without slamming every plot point down our throats? But there you have it: that's THE American.

George Clooney, whom I usually enjoy more in his comedic or semi-serious roles (O' BROTHER WHERE ART THOU and BURN AFTER READING being two of my recent favorites) pulls in a dark, interesting, and dangerous character as Jack, a weapons man/hit-man who's retirement from his chosen profession is proving extremely difficult.

Making friends is risky to both Jack and those he likes, as we witness early on in the film what he's forced to do to a woman whose innocence means nothing when Jack is discovered in a Swedish hideout. Forcing Jack to leave, he travels to Italy where he's told to lay low and wait for instructions. And when the instructions come, the audience can feel those pin-pricks of caution raising on their necks.

The great thing about The American is that Clooney is truly the only recognizable face for many U.S. film-watchers. But the rest of the cast are just as intense as Clooney's character. Great silences and moments of boredom are punctuated alongside moments of terrible aggression and death. And there's also sex, love, and priestly friendship intertwined.

It's rare nowadays to find something like The American showing in U.S. cities, but most of us should be very glad it's here. Hearkening back to Hitchcock days (but with a modern bent), this movie almost certainly would've never seen the light of the Western hemisphere had it not been for Clooney's pretty-boy face taking front and center stage. But as recognizable as Clooney's face is, it is NOT a typical Clooney role. Here we get the actor stretching himself into new (and greater) territory. I swear this movie had the fewest lines I've ever heard in a major Hollywood production; and I'm thankful for that because it helped up the tension.

Indeed, it is the film's tension that drives the entire plot. We see and feel the battles raging within Jack as he's forced to decide whether to kill someone he's growing close to, or to let them live and risk his own life ...again.

Those looking for a kind of BOURNE IDENTITY style flick are going to be sorely disappointed if they think this is in-line with that action-driven drivel. So be prepared for something very different. And very good.

Legion (2010)
2 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
The Apocalypse Cometh! And It's Really Stupideth!, 17 July 2010

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I like freakish films just as much as the next person, but they really need to make some sort of sense. Especially if you're going to be taking things straight from the Bible and trying to manipulate it to fit ...whatever you want to call LEGION.

Fairly new director Scott Charles Stewart goes beyond the grave and into Angel-Land in an attempt to draw Sci-Fi types and Bible-thumpers into what turns out to be a horrible mess in terms of script.

Paul Bettany (not known so much for his lead character slots as his supporting roles ...think MASTER AND COMMANDER), does okay with what's given him, but unfortunately doesn't really shine as Michael, the angel who wants to "give God what he needs, not what he wants." Michael (Bettany) comes down from the heavens in true Terminator-style, quickly ripping off his wings so that he can fit in with humanity. From here, he heads out into the desert to search for a pregnant woman named Charlie (Adrianne Palicki) who carries "the last hope for humanity." Why that is is never really explained. Guess it was just a roll of the dice for poor Charlie. Bummer girl! There are so many throwaway characters that we never really give a rats-rump about any of them, including Dennis Quaid (PANDORUM), Tyrese Gibson (TRANSFORMERS), Kate Walsh (GREY'S ANATOMY) and Charles S. Dutton (FAME). They all die in rapid succession and I just said, "Meh. So what." Then only actor who actually DID something was Kevin Durand (3:10 TO YUMA) as archangel Gabriel who planned to follow Gods word to the letter and wipe-out humanity. But first he has to get by Michael with all of his bad-ass guns....


You mean guns can kill angels? How is that possible? Never mind. Just let it go. Like everything else. Including anything approaching believability.

So with all that said, you might think I absolutely hated Legion. And that's probably partially true. The only exception to this would be the special effects which were nicely done, especially the creepy ice cream man who sprouts lengthy arms and legs and crab-walks into a hailstorm of bullets. Oh yes. He dies easily, too.

And there you have it. A movie that suffers because of a horrendously bad script, but has a bit of eye-candy in terms of CGI. If that's all you're looking for, have at it. But don't say I didn't warn you.

Invictus (2009)
A Political Sports Film? Who Would Have Thought!, 17 July 2010

It matters not how strait the gate, How charged with punishments the scroll, I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.

These words, this verse of the poem by William Ernest Hensley in 1875, was the mantra of Nelson Mandela during his imprisonment in South Africa. He refused to give in to hate. He refused to give in to revenge. But how do you pull along an entire country with you? Especially a country as racially divisive as South Africa where Apartheid was a part of the landscape and politics for nearly 50 years?

Risking everything, Mandela achieved greatness by focusing not on politics, but on a sport: Rugby. Wanting to win the World Cup and thus unite a country, Mandela (played superbly by Morgan Freman, WANTED) sets out not to divide and conquer, but to unite and calm the racial tensions raging through his beloved South Africa.

With him, Mandela must convince Rugby captain Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon, THE DEPARTED) that their poorly performing team can do the impossible: win the World Cup.

As most of us now know, that is precisely what happens, and South Africa, for a while, forgets her bloody black-and-white past and turns everyone flush with excitement for simply being South African.

Clint Eastwood has proved in his waning years that he should remain (mostly) behind the camera and not in front of it. With the exception of GRAN TORINO, I've not been much of a fan of his as of late. However, when it comes to his directing chops, I've been fairly well pleased. Probably my favorite acted/directed Clint film would be the lesser known HEARTBREAK RIDGE. But that might just be me.

Many have already said that this was "the role Morgan Freeman was meant to play," and I won't contradict that. He was completely believable as Mandela, getting the look, verbal cadence and movements of The Great Man down perfectly.

Matt Damon on the other hand ...didn't really strike me as the bullish and larger-than-life Francois. Although I think he did "okay." I believe that a search for a more stylized actor could've easily resulted in a match more adequate to the part.

Regardless, the filming is enthralling because of Freeman's performance and the fact-based situations that this movie is based upon. For those looking for a sports film in-line with HOOSIERS, ROCKY or RUDY, you might want to look elsewhere. For those with an interest in human history and how politics can sometimes take a dive toward the goal line, this one will run straight at you.

1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Scorsese Scores!, 8 July 2010

If you don't like watching films twice, then I suggest you not view SHUTTER ISLAND even once. But if you do, you need to click over to the extra features on the DVD and watch "The Making of Shutter Island." It is here where you will begin to realize how important it is to restart the disc from the beginning.

Shutter Island is a film-within-a-film, about a character-within-a-character. The multiple layers and textures are unbelievably inviting in a very twisted sense. The entire film screams thriller, but after you view it a second time, it'll scream ...something entirely different.

Dividing audiences and critics, Shutter Island reveals itself to probably be too dense for many, but a revelatory success for others; I'm obviously in the latter category.

Leonardo DiCaprio (THE DEPARTED) has rapidly become director Martin Scorsese's muse (and rightfully so). The two have been nearly inseparable since GANGS OF NEW YORK. "Marty" saw something inside Leonardo and knew that he had the acting chops needed for some fairly tough roles. And here, on Shutter Island, Marty gives him his toughest role to date.

As soon as we see Federal Marshals Teddy Daniels (Leonardo) and his partner Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo, WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE) arrive on Shutter Island to investigate the disappearance of a mentally deranged prisoner, we get the immediate sense that things are off-balance. The guards look at Teddy and Chuck with great apprehension; their weapons pointed in Teddy and Chuck's general direction.

And as Teddy's investigation winds up, so do clues that don't match up. The possibility of a 67th patient being on the island, even though the warden and his charges claim there are only 66, tips Teddy (and the viewer) off that something is amiss.

The dark edges surrounding the island also leads Teddy into flashbacks of his time in WW II, and into other muted corners of his past that he'd rather not see.

It is these dark corners that intrigue Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley, YOU KILL ME) and his partner Dr, Naehring (Max von Sydow, THE SEVENTH SEAL), themselves being psychiatrists. But we quickly garner that these two men are at opposite ends of the same field. And are they fighting each other over Teddy? If so, why? It is here that I'll stop any further possibility of spoilers for those who choose to read this review. And it is also here that I need to reaffirm the requirement that you watch this movie twice. If you do, you'll come away feeling as though you've seen two movies instead of just one.

Away We Go (2009)
0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Indie Film With Lots Of Love And Laughs, 26 June 2010

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

When Burt (John Krasinski, JARHEAD) and Verona (Maya Rudolph, DUPLEX) discover they're pregnant, they take their unconventional lives on the lam and try to find an appropriate place to raise their child.

As many of you probably know, it's the journey, not the destination, that often makes for the most enjoyable parts. Which separates this film from other MEET THE FOCKERS-style movies where the protagonists find love and laughs with family and friends at a specific location and not necessarily on the journey.

Although there are other road trip movies out there (even old ones like THE LONG, LONG TRAILER, and TRAINS, PLANES, AND AUTOMOBILES), this film stands out for one very vital reason: it's not about having a good time or heavy laughs. It's about growing up, growing old, and growing out. That's not to say there aren't comedic moments. There are plenty! Even from the get-go, you know you're in for something different. Burt and Verona aren't married, and as they have an intimate encounter (scene one), and Burt comments on Verona's "different taste", we watch her slap him when he even mentions the possibility of her being pregnant.

Jump ahead six months and we find them discovering that becoming a parent has many perilous decisions. Not the least of which is "Where to raise our kid." The ensuing road trip finds them landing on family, friends, and friends of their families' doorsteps. They try to find someplace that they feel comfortable, but every stop throws warning flags in their faces. New-age hippies who reject their own names ("LN" instead of Ellen). Parents who are so self-absorbed they don't even notice when they're hurting their children's feelings. Siblings who have absolutely no filters and are completely nuts. Friends who can't get pregnant and hate themselves for it. And the list goes on.

Amidst all these damaged people is one who hits a nerve with Verona: her sister Grace (Carmen Ojogo, PERFUME), who brings up their parent's early demise. It is a raw point in Verona's life that triggers memories she'd rather suppress. But when she learns she can't hide from the past, and that it is inextricably interwoven with her future, a short trip reveals the location where Verona and Burt always knew they'd end up ...they just didn't know it ...for while.

The film is really an independent flick. At only $17 million dollars to make, and produced by Big Beach Films (who also did EVERYTHING IS ILLUMINATED and SUNSHINE CLEANING), the film had a limited release but did exceptionally well (even getting five nominations at small award shows). Part of the film's success, no doubt, rests with the star appeal (Jeff Daniels, Catherine O'Hara, Jim Gaffigan, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Chris Messina, to name a few) and it's amazing director, Sam Mendes (AMERICAN BEAUTY) who doesn't do many films, but the ones he does are exceptional. And this one is no exception! Rent it. Buy it. Just watch it!

3 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Less Is More, 11 June 2010

I'm sure most of us have heard the term "less is more." Alfred Hitchcock helped bring this term to fruition by keeping the forces of evil hidden from us, but obviously with us, near us, and trying desperately to get in.

First time writer/director and renaissance film-make Oren Peli took the "less is more" to heart and decided to do his own version of a Blair Witch Project, but with much greater success in my book.

I am not an easily spooked guy. And I've seen my share of horror films that did absolutely nothing for me. Although some of them I still love, they didn't give me goosebumps. One of my favorites, INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956), was creepy and it made me think, but it never made me jump in my seat. The same could not be said for PARANORMAL ACTIVITY. It is, without a doubt, a true minimalist horror film that strikes at the heart of our psyche. And when I say "minimalist", I mean minimal. Made for roughly $15,000, it's first week out in theaters it grossed over $9 million. I can't even imagine how many tens-of-millions its made now that its out on DVD. Peli took the minimalist approach on time, too, as the entire film runs only 86 minutes. And they filmed it all in ten days. And in Peli's own house! The best thing about the film is that it gradually builds tension, never letting us in on what it is that's stalking Katie. This unknown is frustratingly freakish, and we can really feel the stress Katie and her boyfriend Micah are under as they lose sleep, hear doors slam, see footprints appear out of nowhere, and helplessly watch as more and more "things" begin happening to them.

Those who hate the hand-held camera movements of The Blair Witch Project and CLOVERFIELD, will want to avoid this one, as it, too, uses a hand-held. But if you love to feel your heart beat faster, your breathing speed up, and to cover your eyes when you know something really bad is about to happen, then by all means please watch this.

I heard rumor that a sequel is in the making. Hmm. Let's hope they don't ruin a good thing by trying to make a big budget block-buster with M. Night.

Let the shrieking commence.

10 out of 18 people found the following review useful:
Worst Film of 2009, 6 June 2010

If you're a fan of the 70s TV show LAND OF THE LOST, you will definitely want to steer clear of this bomb. Without a plot and trying to force the comedy down our throats, this newly reinvented LAND OF THE LOST is a complete disaster. Yes, even with the much improved CGI effects.

The film tries to pull in fans of the original by sucking the cast into a time vortex, similar to how Marshall, Will and Holly were in the original. But instead of being scientifically interesting (if outdated and impossible), this time we get some serious low-brow comedy that misses almost every mark.

Those of you out there who also are not fans of Will Ferrell (TALLADEGA NIGHTS) will want to avoid this film like the plague. He's in full-on childish mode, getting more groans than laughs (trying to make out with a proto-human while high on a hallucinogenic? Yes. Those kind of antics!). And he's in the lead role as Dr. Rick Marshall, so he's on screen in just about every shot.

His supporting cast are just as lame as he, unfortunately. Anna Friel stars as Holly, and her interactions and supposed romantic attraction to Ferrell's Marshall character are probably what'll give most of you a good laugh. It's so unrealistic you'll wish that she'd disappear down another vortex.

The more unfortunate cast member, Danny McBride (TROPIC THUNDER) as Will Stanton, the owner of an extremely destitute theme park ride, plays the fool more often than Ferrell's character, and not in a good way (is there one?). Which is too bad, really, as I like McBride in Tropic Thunder and SUPERBAD.

There's not much here to enjoy (in case you didn't notice my review rating). More groans than laughs. More childish than adult fun. You might want to run away from this one as if a T-Rex were after YOU.

10 out of 20 people found the following review useful:
More Visually Appealing Than Character Driven, 5 June 2010

There are easy film reviews to write and there are tough ones. But this one balances in-between. The main reason for this is that I read (and loved) the book by Alice Sebold. Deep and richly developed characters helped round out this sometimes depressing yet engaging story surrounding the murder of 14-year-old Susie Salmon ("like the fish"), and how she views her afterlife ...and looks on as her family attempts to deal with her disappearance.

Sebold incorporated a ton of information that was crucial to our understanding within the Salmon household, and the community as a whole. But much gets lost in translation. This isn't too much of a surprise, as Hollyweird requires directors to cut-cut-cut so that movies run shorter and thus can be shown more often (i.e., a three hour movie will only show about three times in a day, whereas a two hour flick jumps up to five a day).

Peter Jackson took on a major task here, but nothing compared to his LORD OF THE RINGS series (which I found to be brilliantly done, by the way). But Jackson is more of a visual artist. Which was wonderful for Middle Earth fans. But for fans of a story that has such a heavy character background (like this), I think he floundered a bit. In place of story, we get more stunning visuals. Although I didn't mind them (in fact, I found them wondrously eye-catching), it did tick away precious seconds and minutes that otherwise could've been put toward the characters. Fans of the book will be highly depressed to learn that there's nothing in here regarding adultery, and a time-line that is skewed so that we have a more warm and fuzzy ending. Entire characters are removed (including an Indian neighbor), while others are moved around to fit an obviously tightened time-frame for the film.

Still, THE LOVELY BONES is entertaining. The special effects/green screen visuals will have your mouth hanging open. And Saoirse Ronan (ATONEMENT) as Susie is played exceptionally well. But if you're going to watch it, you'll probably love to hate Stanley Tucci (JULIE & JULIA) as the sick and weird George Harvey, Susie's murderer. When he lures her into his trap, you can feel the skin prickling on the back of your neck. Tucci's Best Supporting Actor nod at the Oscars last year was well-earned.

If you haven't read the book, much of what I said here probably won't mean anything. But if you have ...well ...beware.

Valkyrie (2008)
3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
The Critics Were Wrong..., 23 May 2010

"Not only is Singer's film-making aesthetically frustrating (lacking coherent visual rhythm) but his juvenile regard of the July 20, 1944, plot to kill Hitler -- one of 15 documented attempts -- is intellectually insulting..." New York Press The above is the usual negative commentary you'll see regarding this film. Critics bashed it for being insulting, unoriginal, and unmoving. Let me make some corrections for them so that they can save a little face.

I'm no Tom Cruise fan. A buddy of mine, too, is so peeved at Cruise that he refuses to watch anything the man stars in. Mostly this has to do with Cruise's personal life and beliefs (just watch an episode of South Park to see how some people view him and you'll see what I mean). People have similar feelings toward Mel Gibson ...but I digress.

VALKYRIE, as most of you probably now know, is the final of 15 attempts on Hitler's life. Shortly after this (about nine months) he committed suicide in his bunker. But this is about the one time where it almost succeeded. I'd heard about this attempt and read bits of it in history classes, but never really gave it much thought. I mean, the mustachioed murderer offed himself, so that was that. But what gives this film much of its umpf! is how true to history the story sticks (that and how closely many of the actors resemble their true-life counterparts). It is also riveting coming from director Bryan Singer (who did one of my all-time favorite films, THE USUAL SUSPECTS).

Tom Cruise did a great job (probably one of his best since COLLATERAL and MINORITY REPORT). His Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg character was spot-on ...with one exception that seems to be a sticking point for many: his accent. It is true that none of the actors attempts a German cadence in their speech. Did this bother me? No. I think it would have bothered me if they'd TRIED to do one and made it sound forced or ridiculous. So there's that...

What makes the film a success was Cruise's rock solid performance and the amazing supporting cast: Kenneth Branagh, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Terrence Stamp, and Eddie Izzard just to sprinkle a few names.

It is also noteworthy to mention that they filmed nearly everything on-location and in the exact same spots where the original incidents took place, including the subsequent trials and executions of the conspirators. Phenomenal authenticity.

If the cadence of their speech bothered some, then I failed to see how the cadence of the film could. It was absolutely perfect. It gradually built up suspense (even though we knew how it would end for the conspirators), and never slowed, right up until the very end. I am forced to use a cliché here in that "I was on the edge of my seat" throughout the second half of the film.

So if you're looking to tear apart Tom Cruise, you might look at WAR OF THE WORLDS or LEGEND. But not here.

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Sandra Bullock Finally Makes It To The Top, 16 May 2010

Making schmaltzy movies is a thing Hollywood is overly good at. Music rises telling us when to get that lump in our throat. Actors talk softly with a glistening eye. And the love-fest ensues.

If you abhor these types of films, then you might want to avoid THE BLINDSIDE. Not because all of that is in here, but because some of it is ...but only mildly. If you despise the "great white person saving the {insert minority here} other person from certain doom" theme, you might want to avoid this flick, too. Yes, some of that is in here, too. So why, oh why, did I rate this film so highly. Well, it's not overly schmaltzy nor overly great-white-hope-ish either. It is a (relatively) true telling of NFL star Michael Oher's early, troubled life in Memphis, Tennessee.

Homeless at 16 (and without parental guidance), "Big Mike" is seen wandering the streets by the affluent Leigh Tuohy (Sandra Bullock, THE LAKE HOUSE) and her family. They do "the good Christian thing" and offer the big guy a place to sleep for the night. But as the strong, silent Michael attempts to leave the next day, Leigh decides to have him stay another night. And so goes his induction into the Tuohy family.

But before he gets into the NFL, Michael (Quinton Aaron) must first pass high school and then get into college. He must overcome the whitewashed system of academia in upscale Memphis to do it, too. He soon receives help with the arrival of a tutor, Miss Sue (Kathy Bates, CHARLOTTE'S WEB) who toughens up Michael's mental muscle and prepares him for his college days.

Most of this is just backstory, however, for the main event, which is Michael's immediate rise onto the football circuit. His size and speed shock all those who watch his games, making him a prime candidate for college scouts.

The film isn't without its funny moments, though, most of which are thanks to S.J. (Jae Head, HANCOCK), the Tuohy's youngest – and very small – son who helps Michael navigate through all of the college offers that come his way. There are also some combo touchy-feely and comical moments. The one that comes to mind is when the Tuohy's ask Michael to become a member of their family and he says, "I thought I already was." The main draw here is, finally, Sandra Bullock. Not known as a powerhouse actress and more as one who goes after the money, Bullock may have gotten lucky and found the part she could play so well that it grabbed her an Oscar. Her Leigh portrayal was truly excellent. But was it as good as, say, Gabourey Sidibe's PRECIOUS? Or Meryl Streep's Julia Child in JULIE AND JULIA? Some think not (Does Meryl need another Oscar? I mean, really!) Regardless, I think sports movie fans will gobble up this one just as much as HOOSIERS and ROCKY.

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