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Starbuck (2011)
9/10
Starbuck for Sure - 9 Stars!
6 April 2013
Leave it to the Indie's to create a one-of-a-kind 9-star film. Starbuck takes the cake, or maybe puts the icing On the cake - sorry. High kudos to director Ken Scott.

This film stars Patrick Huard as David Wozniak, aka Starbuck. When David was in his early 20s, he became a professional sperm donor. In fact, he made 655 donations, collected nearly $25,000 in fees and sired 533 children. Hence the movie's theme.

David, now in his early 40s, works as a delivery man in his father's butcher shop. Always tardy but a terrifically likable fellow.

142 of his children band together and launch a class action lawsuit to force David to reveal his identity. Along with the summons and complaint, the sperm collection agency receives a packet that contains a one-sheet from each of the 142. A one-sheet is a one-pager that contains the person's picture and a brief bio. Professional speakers create these for their sales pitch.

Curious David meets a few of his children in his quest to find meaning and make a contribution. He helps three or four of them.

So the debate begins. Should he reveal his identity? What does he owe these now 20-something people? What are his privacy rights? Do children put up for adoption have the right to meet their natural parents? Lots of social issues presented in a truly endearing and entertaining way. . .

David's close friend Avocat, played by Antoine Bertrand is his aspiring lawyer.

Oh and David's girlfriend Valerie, played by Julie LeBreton is pregnant so he contends with that too.

One ding though. The folks that made the movie put the English subtitles in white font and a number of the backgrounds are light colors. So some of the text is difficult to read. Boo! But...

Without revealing any more details because that might spoil the movie, see Starbuck - a Delightfully Wonderful Movie. Loaded with great stuff! Enjoy.

9 stars!!!

Arthur VanDam, film critic and author
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5/10
A Good Day to Die Hard, I Suppose. . .
8 March 2013
This review of A Good Day to Die Hard - the 5th in the series - is a two-level review. First we have to opine on this episode of the John McClane (Bruce Willis) series. Frankly,

Eh.

Here's the thing. If you want action, fighting violence, blood and gore, I give this movie 8 stars.

If you want a novel and an intriguing plot line, 4. Save your money and your time.

In this movie, Willis goes to Russia to rescue his estranged son John Jr. (Jai Courtney). You'll find a few good car chases, a bunch of explosions and some nifty fighting scenes, especially in Moscow. And a father-son re-meet and greet and make up love fest.

I took my son Michael and his friend Timmy to see the movie. Both guys are 14 and can they eat. Michael Really Liked the movie. In fact, "8 stars all in." Timmy liked it too.

I explained to Michael that we simply Had to see the original Die Hard movie. Fortunately we own the DVD. Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman, Professor Severus Snape in the Harry Potter Series) still rocks, even after the 12th or 15th viewing. Thankfully, Michael immediately came to his senses and saw the difference. I enjoyed the movie too.

Which brings us to our second level of this review. Lisa Schwarzbaum, film critic, reviewed A Good Day to Die Hard in Entertainment Weekly (EW, February 22, 2013). She adorned the movie with a "C."

We give the movie a 5 stars all in.

In Lisa's inimitable style, to make a short review shorter, she said, "Boo-hoo. Now go kill some scumbags," (the second line is a Bruce Willis line from the movie).

That about sums it up. Thank You Lisa Schwarzbaum.

What's more, Lisa bids we loyal EW Entertainment Weekly readers adios, adieu, after 19 years as a film critic.

In that same EW issue, she also says, "Your mission is to read with an open mind, watch movies with an open mind, and use the places where we diverge as inspiration for an ongoing conversation about this ever-changing medium we love together."

Couldn't have said it better myself Lisa.

Above all, Lisa says she Longs for reader feedback - both positive and negative. As a published author and film critic, that hits the button with me. Bingo.

So, if you like Bruce Willis and Die Hard and want to see some more fighting, see the movie. #5 and the original.

Lisa, we look forward to reading about your next adventure. Wishing you All the best!

Arthur VanDam, author and film critic
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6/10
Identity Thief - Hearty Laughs!
13 February 2013
Needa a good laugh? Identity Thief is a great bet. Silly? Yep! Hilarious? For sure.

Melissa McCarthy Dives into this role, head first. She's a scream. She plays Diana, who steals Jason Bateman's (Sandy Bigelow Patterson) identity. She gets loads of credit lines and goes to town and shops 'til she drops and then goes to town some more.

With no where to turn, Bateman heads to Florida to confront McCarthy head on to save his hide. One bad escapade begets another. From the Police to debt collectors, to drug deals and a few other shady sorts. All the while, McCarthy and Bateman spar toe to toe...

The ending is nice, but not too nice. Which is a good thing in the land of Hollywood where Cinderella stories come true.

One sobering point is the reality and devastation identity theft can wreak. All kidding aside, take steps to protect yourself. Cyberfraud abounds!

Need a laugh? See Identity Thief. Sit back and crack up.

Now I feel compelled to see McCarthy's performance in Bridesmaids. Chick flic or not, why not.

Arthur VanDam, author and film critic
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Side Effects (I) (2013)
7/10
Side Effects - Bob & Weave Up & Down
13 February 2013
Side Effects is very entertaining and weaves an intriguing web. Whodunit?

Until the end, we don't know.

Our old friend Rooney Mara (Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) plays another eerie character - this time, a super-depressed spouse Emily Taylor. Her hubby, Martin Taylor (Channing Tatum) comes home from prison for insider trading. A cold, distant Emily is in deep depression.

To avoid spoiling the movie, she undergoes psychiatric treatment under the care of Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law).

He prescribes Zoloft and then the new miracle drug "Ablixa." Off we go. In a deep depression, Lo and Behold, Emily stabs Martin to death. Hence the story...

Who's the culprit? Anti-depressant medicine? A negligent doctor? An accomplice?

The movie examines or tries to examine the effects of anti-depressants. One wonders whether society is way overwrought. Over-medicated and what not.

Anyway, Banks gets embroiled in the case as the perpetrator of malpractice. He turns to Emily's former psychiatrist Dr. Victoria Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones). I felt her talents were under-utilized in this film.

Throughout the course of Banks' ordeal and quest for the truth and justice, his so-called friends abandon him. Which is also a sad commentary on society. Many people punt their former friends when trouble shows up. My Dad calls this "Fair Weather Friends." I've seen the movie.

In total, this film is unsettling, odd and leaves us wondering about the state of society - what's the real result of anti-depressant drugs?

All that being said, Side Effects is likely to entertain and provoke a thought or two. And keep us wondering who killed Martin.

Arthur VanDam, author and movie critic
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9/10
You Are There -- Jessica Chastain Rules
2 February 2013
Initially, I was reluctant to see Zero Dark 30. But am I glad I did, despite the 157-minute length. Which drags for only a brief moment or two in the middle of the film mind you.

Zero Dark 30 turns the old phrase, "It's like being there" on its head to YOU ARE THERE.

Kathryn Bigelow (Hurt Locker 2008) has surpassed all. The realism (from my seat) was Astounding. The cinematography amazing. I felt like I was right there with our special forces. Wow.

Jessica Chastain (The Debt 2010) was Truly Brilliant as Maya, the supremely motivated CIA agent who takes on this crusade as a personal mission and doggedly tracks down Osama Bin Ladin. According to Entertainment Weekly, Maya was Chastain's own incarnation since she was unable to meet the real "Maya." She showed tremendous resolve and near robot-like ability to forge ahead in spite of the Agency's continual roadblocks and criticism from her peers and colleagues. This on top of the usual hurdles one faces in a quest of this scope and magnitude.

A fine and compelling performance from CIA agent Dan (Jason Clarke; who also appeared in Lawless; Public Enemies; and Death Race). He is quite the interrogator. And Maya's peer too.

Our old friend James Gandolfini (Tony Soprano in The Sopranos - HBO) weighs in as the CIA Director. Good to see "Tony" in action.

Even though we know the outcome, the suspense was there from beginning to end.

The cinematography was truly amazing, capturing the ruts, zigs and zags of the various Third World countries and hunt for Osama Bin Ladin. The military equipment was real, at least to me. The camera bounces around a fair bit, not quite like a roller coaster, but enough so I felt like I was riding shotgun (walking alongside) with the agents and ready for a menacing nemesis or two to be lurking just around the corner.

One warning (and I don't think this is a Spoiler): there are some torture scenes in the first approximately half hour of the movie.

But interestingly enough, I found these scenes somewhat less upsetting than the torture scenes in James Bond's Casino Royale (Daniel Craig, 2006). Maybe I was forewarned here or expecting these scenes in Zero Dark Thirty. I sure hope I'm not desensitized.

On a more realistic and somber note, my friend and mentor Bill's son Rich Died in 9/11. He was a Citibank - Citigroup employee. By some fluke, a colleague asked him to join a meeting at Cantor Fitzgerald, on the top floor of The World Trade Center... Thankfully, the rescuers found Rich's remains and the family held a wake. Bill has never been the same! Understandably so. Who would!

Throughout the movie though, I was left wondering why are humans such a violent lot?

Aren't we supposed to be the most intelligent species?

Years back I happened to attend a Holocaust presentation. One survivor said he and his colleagues hid in the forest to avoid the Nazis. Some nights, they slept, huddled with a pack of wild boars - to keep warm in the cold, cold winter. Mixed species seeking warmth. The boars welcomed another being to help create warmth. Will we be fighting for another 5,000 years to come?

Why?

Is this really necessary?

Many Heartfelt Thanks to our Armed Forces and Navy Seals for their efforts to protect us! No small feat. A great sacrifice!

While we ponder society's future or whether this review is too surreal or deep, be sure to see Zero Dark Thirty! And Live the History. Nine stars.

Arthur VanDam, film critic and author
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Broken City (2013)
7/10
Broken City - Unexpectedly Enjoyable, Suspenseful and Intriguing!
27 January 2013
Detective Billy Taggart (Mark Wahlberg) is booted out of the NYC Police Force under mysterious circumstances relating to a shooting in a low-income housing project, which occurred before the movie begins. New York City Mayor Nicholas Hostetler (Russell Crowe) hires Taggart to tail his wife, Cathleen Hostetler (the Beautiful Catherine Zeta-Jones. Needless to say, the Mayor believes his wife is bedding another man - aka cheating. Or is there a bit more to the quest? Along the way, Taggart uncovers a big-money, web of conspiracy involving corruption.

I liked Broken City movie because we don't know who did what and how many people did what to whom. In other words, while we're on edge waiting for the resolution, more perpetrators enter the game and as they say, "the plot thickens." An excellent performance by Russell Crowe; and a good showing from Wahlberg too. Zeta-Jones always shines through. I'm a fan of Alona Tal.

The unanswered questions expanded until the very end when resolution arrived. All in, Much More Suspenseful than I expected.

I did Not like the several times Carl Fairbanks, Police Commissioner (Jeffrey Wright) said "It's complicated" when asked who's involved by Taggert. Aren't most things complicated? Surely the writers could do better than that. A few times, the dialog was muffled, but then maybe it was the theater's sound system or my hearing.

I also liked Katy Bradshaw (Alona Tal) who plays Taggert's officemate and close friend and confidante. It wasn't clear to me the nature of their relationship - lovers, family members, friends or merely coworkers. Maybe I missed the connection. I wish the writers would have developed her character more. I first met Tal in the hit TV series "Leverage" (Timothy Hutton, Gina Bellman) where she played Kaye Lynn Gold, country music singer, in The Studio Job (2010). I hope we see more of Tal. Wish Leverage didn't end at the end of Season 5.

See Broken City; You'll enjoy it! Arthur VanDam, film critic and author
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Jack Reacher (2012)
4/10
Jack Reacher Falls Short - 4 out of 10 Stars
1 January 2013
I Love action/adventure and suspense movies. In fact, action/adventure is one of my top two genres. But, not Jack Reacher.

Here, Hollywood takes a good novel / author (Lee Child), enlists a popular cast and makes a movie. Throw in some action/suspense and good looking people and we should be off to the races. But this film falls short.

This movie couldn't keep my interest. Call me a sap, but I didn't feel anything for any of the characters. So it was difficult for me to engage.

The plot revolves around whether a former US soldier, a trained military sniper, randomly killed 5 people in an open square, in Pittsburgh, or was framed.

Cowboy Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise) shows up to find the truth and deal out justice.

Lawyer Helen Rodin (Rosamund Pike) represents the accused sniper. The dialog and scenes were contrived. Maybe the director intended us to laugh. At best there was only a glimmer of real connection between Reacher and Rodin. I was Disappointed that the film didn't utilize Pike's talent.

One of the suspects is Police Commissioner Rodin, Helen's Dad (Richard Jenkins). But, the movie also Fails to utilize Jenkins' talent (Indie film The Visitors, or comedy Step Brothers).

On the plus side, the clues are interesting along with Reacher's insight and keen observations regarding deciphering the clues. In addition, there is a halfway decent car chase, although most action film fans would probably prefer the car chases in Bullitt (Steve McQueen, 1968). Reacher does contain some amusing scenes with aging rifleman Cash (Robert Duvall). But...

In my opinion, in total, Nothing new here. Same old, same old.

On the other hand, my college roommate Jeff thought Reacher was entertaining. Though he admitted he had no expectations. Needless to say, it's difficult to undercut zero.

My son Michael, 14, liked the movie too. He thought it was interesting, cool and he liked the action/fighting scenes. Okay Mike, but we really need to see some more action/adventure movies.

Recommendation: Wait for cable.

Instead, take a good look at Director Christopher McQuarrie's The Usual Suspects (1995). Kevin Spacey and Gabriel Byrne deliver sterling performances, and the suspense boils through to the credits.

If you like action/adventure and Rosamund Pike, go with James Bond's Die Another Day (2002). Or if you like the classics, try Pride & Prejudice (2005).

If you're a Tom Cruise fan, then Risky Business (1983) is your ticket. Or perhaps the Mission Impossible movies.

If you like Richard Jenkins, go for The Visitor (2007). This great Indie film offers terrific insight into New York City culture and illegal immigration.

Jack Reacher Recommendation: wait for cable, or not.

Arthur VanDam, film critic and author
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8/10
Completely Delightful - Great Insight into the Reality of Parenting!
26 December 2012
Parental Guidance is a completely delightful movie. Truth be told, I am a Big Marisa Tomei fan, but I don't believe that influenced my view of this very enjoyable movie.

That being said, Billy Crystal and Bette Midler rock too. There' a lot to this story, more than one might think. Alice Simmons (Marisa Tomei) and her hubby Phil (Tom Everett Scott) are ultra-Type A parents, who strive to raise their kids perfectly. They impart all sorts of touchy-feely, loving and encouraging words and phraseology on their 3 children. Who are adorable by the way.

Phil has to attend a company off-site in Hilton Head and wants Alice to join him. She says yes. In need of babysitters, they finally resort to Marisa's parents - Diane Decker (Bette Midler) and Artie Decker (Billy Crystal). As you might expect all is upside down from moment one. When they enter Simmons' house, the mantle is adorned with photos of Phil's parents with the grandchildren. This resonated with me big-time because my three children are much closer to my former in-laws than they are to my parents. Ah. . . such is life.

Simmons' eldest, teen Harper Madison (Bailee Madison - she also appeared in Just Go With It with Jennifer Aniston and Adam Sandler) is sweet! Turner Simmons (Joshua Rush) gives a sterling rendition of the "Shot Heard 'Round the World" (New York Giants vs. Brooklyn Dodgers - 1951 World Series) and younger brother Barker (Kyle Harrison Breitkopf) has an imaginary invisible Kangaroo friend Carl (ala Jimmy Stewart's Harvey)... What struck me about this movie is the reality of it. It's about the grades children give their parents and the mistakes parents think they made when raising their kids. Artie Decker sums it up nicely when he's speaking with Alice, "You didn't come with instructions." Ain't that the truth.

My parents tried hard I believe, but they left their marks in some ways. I try to be a good parent to my three children and no doubt have left my marks. But in the end and throughout, I LOVE my children and try to let them be who they are and encourage them to find themselves and their way. If nothing else, the point is we all try. Parents aren't as bad as their kids claim. Kids love their parents, despite their kicking and screaming. The generations old tug-of-war continues. And parenting is a combination of art and science. See this movie! While you're at it, keep your eye on Bailee Madison. And maybe Marisa Tomei too!

Arthur VanDam, film critic and author
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