David Gosztola's Movie Ratings - Rotten Tomatoes

Movie Ratings and Reviews

The Two Faces of January

Slow and uninvolving psychological drama adapted from the Patricia Highsmith novel - the author of the far superior The Talented Mr. Ripley - set in Greece, an American expat (Oscar Isaac) becomes fascinated with a married couple full of secrets (Viggo Mortensen, Kristen Dunst). When murder becomes involved, he helps them to escape but has a hidden agenda himself. Compared to Ripley, this is stagnant material. Dunst was a bright spot, but the 2 male leads' interaction held no tension and the outcome...predictable. The Greek isles are beautiful and the best aspect to this thriller without thrills...

Witching and Bitching
½

A seriously funny crime caper meets witch coven with an excellent sense of humour & some thrills too. The opening heist involving pop culture characters (Spongebob Squarepants with an uzi and Jesus Christ robbing a jewelry store of gold) made me chuckle. When Jesus' son, Sergio is being carrier from the heist and firing guns at the police...it's my style of comedy - dark! Then here come the witches (some in drag) & some very sexy (Carolina Bang - what a name and so hot in black leather). The combo of gore/comedy reminds me of Peter Jackson's good work (before the LOTR/Hobbit trite) like "Dead Alive" or "Meet the Feebles". The body count surprised me and the self-kidding moments at the end of the film are great. Loved it! *** 1/2 our of 4-stars!

Her
Her(2013)

Amazing, surreal film about our current state of relationships - not with people, but with our love for all e-gadgets. Joaquin Pheonix plays a sensitive lonely guy going through a divorce he doesn't want when Samantha enters his life - voiced by Scarlett Johansson her compassion and relentless attention to organize and help him make it easy for Theo to fall in love with her. Spike Jonze crafts a smart and funny 'odd' film to be sure, the future LA looks amazing and the emotions and synthetic feels ring with truth. Loved the art direction and score by the Canadian group, Arcade Fire.

Runner Runner

Films of gambling and get-rich schemes never connect with me & Runner Runner is a prime example. Justin Timberlake delivers a so-so performance as a Princeton student struggling to pay tuition via on-line gambling. When he loses everything & travels to Costa Rica to encounter Ben Affleck, he is naturally drawn into the lavish lifestyle in a corrupt environment. The outcome is predictable & if I were part of the Costa Rican tourism board, I would sue since they depict all officials of the government/police force as corrupt (box of cigars & wad of cash buys you anything). The film's not too smart about online gambling & when the DEA gets involved to ruff up Timberlake to get him to cooperate, I checked out. Nothing special or insightful and another prime example of Hollywood's lust of glitter, fame & gadgets without much consequence.

Gravity
Gravity(2013)
½

I was hesitant in embracing this film despite all of the early critical acclaim, but director Alfonso Cuaron has delivered one of the best movies of 2013 full of action, suspense & Oscar winning F/X. Sandra Bullock delivers a much better role than her undeserved Best Actress win for the lame Blind Side. She's smart, scared & focused on survival. One mishap to another kept me in awe and anxiously awaiting the DVD for the making of segment. Well deserved of the praise and the RT 97% rating.

Don Jon
Don Jon(2013)
½

Joseph Gordon-Levitt can do it all - a fine young actor who picks strong, quality roles (ok, GI Joe must had been for the money), but now he writes & directs a funny, realistic romance...involving porn & chronic masturbation - yet, one of the best romances of the year! It's a fine line he teeters between but it works across the board. Scarlett Johansson lost herself in her role of Barbara Sugarman - Jon's one best hope for a stable relationship. The surprises also extend to Jon's family - Tony Danza is incredible & nice to see Glenn Headley back on the big screen. The film perfectly nails the way men & woman perceive relationships, love and sex. Jon is a despicable guy to be sure, but with a good heart and he rises as one of the best counter-heroes on the big screen. Failed to mention another strong Julianne Moore performance as a classmate who helps Jon connect sexually without all the emotions. Great film!

Rush
Rush(2013)
½

I must admit, the trailer turned me off - but the execution by director Howard and acting (especially from Daniel Bruhl) held my attention. I remember a little of this famous rivalry during the 70's. The recreation of the period as well as the intensity on the track was perfect. Kudos to Howard, Hemsworth & Bruhl but also for the fine script by Peter Morgan (scribe of The Queen) - this is more than just another car racing story, it's full of drama, humour & one of 2013's best (yet, overlooked films)

Prisoners
Prisoners(2013)
½

A stunning achievement with a stellar cast. Two families find their comfortable middle class worlds ripped apart when both of their young daughters disappear. Both men go to incredible lengths to find, capture & torture the one they hold responsible. Full of many twist and well acted from start to finish - Prisoners, despite being 150 minutes long, held my attention through out. Nobody is perfect here - everyone has a flaw & it's exposed & manipulated. The outcome of who was responsible, surprised me as did the final scene from the film. Great cast & one solid thriller

Enough Said
Enough Said(2013)
½

Sweet, charming & truthful are the words that first come to mind when thinking back to this "adult" sorta romance. Julia Louis-Dreyfus plays a divorced masseuse who's daughter is preparing to leave for college. She meets James Gandolfini at a party & discovers, he too is divorced with a child bound to leave the nest. Things get complicated from here - she's not physically attractive to this guy, but loves his personality/sense of humour & she seems intent in filling the void of her daughter departure. Complicated & messy - not words used in romcoms these days. But, this feels legit unlike everything Katherine Heigl & Kate Hudson have done over the past decade. Both characters make mistakes; his ex-wife & her friends are not much help either. The script is fresh and funny by director Nicole Holofcener & does James Gandolfini deserve an Oscar nomination? You betcha. Sad about his passing, but his performance is remarkable & deserves the nod. Dreyfus surprised me too - far from her Seinfeld TV persona, she's flawed like real people are. The film does pack some emotion too - this is a satisfying adult date movie.

Prince Avalanche

What a sheer joy to watch a film about two characters working, talking & living life. Many will find this dull, but the dialogue is rich & satisfying. Paul Rudd & Emile Hirsch play co-workers painting a long, desolate country road after the '87 wildfires in Texas. Rudd is dating Hirsch's sister and the two men talk (a lot) about love, life, sex, responsibility. The film has a mystic quality to it - two random people come into their lives and I am not certain if either of them were real. And that does not matter. So rare to see people actually working in the movies. The film's not perfect, it drags a bit in the middle, but like "My Dinner With Andre", I enjoyed the simple art of two people talking (though Andre's dialogue was more rich). A pleasant surprise from director David Gordon Green who seemed to sell out to Hollywood making a string of lousy films (Pineapple Express, Your Highness & The Sitter). He's back to his indie roots with a beautifully shot & scored "little" movie that's far superior to anything he's done over the past 5 years.

Adore
Adore(2013)
½

Take two beautiful, talented women (Robin Wright, Naomi Watts), put them in a gorgeous locale (northeast coast of Australia) & have them seduced by each others sons for many years & you get ADORE. A long, dull look into these good mothers who are life long friends, raise the their kids together & stand by each other through thick & thin. It's like Beaches without the forced upon happy ending. My issue with this film are two points: casting - both women look alike that I couldn't tell them apart in some scenes; the premise that both of their sons would seduce the other's mom is ridiculous. The chemistry is between the two women (who are accused of being lesbians by some in the village) - nothing is romantic or sensual between the teens & the women. One actually beds the others mom out of revenge. The premise is similar to an 80's B-grade sex comedy, but with talented actresses and an "oh-so-serious" plot. The ending is mean and not life-like. When one character says something out of spite just as his wife is nearby is a plot device from "Threes Company". I was bored through out & kept focusing on the beautiful Australian beaches and waiting for the credits to roll.

The English Teacher

Poor Julianne Moore - she's such a talent with a winning personality on screen, why did she agree to this generic, labored comedy? She plays an English teacher's who prim & private life turns upside down when a former student comes back a failure from NYC. She believes in him, reads his play & convinces the high school to dump "The Importance of Being Earnest" and put his play on. The shenanigans begin with one harmless kiss, leading to a lie & then clichéd insanity. Nothing truly awful, just a TV sitcom with a few 4-letter words. Greg Kinnear & Nathan Lane are barely visible; Michael Angarano plays the kid who lies constantly to everybody, but reacts as though his Ipad is being taken away when he catches Moore in one. The director Craig Zisk comes from TV & everything feels like this is where is belongs - just without the A-talent of Moore and a few off colour 4-letter words. When you see Moore berating Kinnear for being an unsupporting father in the first reel, how much do you want to bet, they will end up together? Predictable, bland & not worth your time. I give "The English Teacher" a drab "C".

Disconnect
Disconnect(2013)
½

A mesmerizing film from this past Spring that got lost at the box office. A "Magnolia"-style examination at 3 separate lives of people who log onto the internet & have very dramatic outcomes. A reporter interviews an underage sex worker on pay per view cam site, a young, grieving couple discover their bank account has been hacked, 2 teens set up a fake profile to play a cruel joke on a loner classmate. Eventually, these 3 stories sort of interact (not in obvious ways), but the fine direction of newcomer, Henry Alex Rubin of the docu "Murderball", is perfect. Not to forget the cast (Jason Bateman, Alexander Skarsgaard, Paula Patton, Andrea Riseborough, Frank Grillo & others) all of whom are first rate. This is very unpredictable, I thought I knew the outcomes for each of the stories and was wrong on each occasion. The script is smart and topical with today's society. One of 2013 true discoveries - not to be missed on DVD this Autumn.

The Bling Ring
½

A thrilling trailer & sensational tale of a group of teens robbing the homes of the rich, media whores they admire, is handled with such a dull pace. That's ashamed since I was anticipating this film since the first trailer dropped. The cast is fine, but what slows it down is Sophia Coppola's direction and very poor music soundtrack (yes, it's really that bad not conveying anything of the time & so loud it drowns out the dialogue). Coppola is a talent, but there should be more energy to drive the story. When the kids enter the pseudo celebrity homes, their reaction seems subdued - no sense of danger or excitement (and certainly no concern) to the fact they are trespassing. That's probably the point...they are so obsessed they probably feel as though they belong. This is probably a case where expectations and reality do not converge - I wanted so much more (more gossip, excitement, bling, celebrity name dropping, etc.). Katie Chang, Israel Broussard, Emma Watson, Claire Julien headline the talented cast.

Populaire
Populaire(2013)
½

This French import is the Rocky of typewriting contest, but why, oh why did they feel the need to force a sloppy love story on us to? Rose (Deborah Francois) is not a great secretary, but she types with speed & ease that catches the eye of her competitive boss, Louis (Romain Duris). Since he's in constant competition with his best friend, he takes her in, trains her & enrolls in multiple French typewriting contest, of which she's a shoe in. The scenes of training are sweet & funny, but the oh not so subtle hints of impending romance become more & more obvious. But, it rings so false. Duris sneers like he smells something odd, they have little chemistry & we're meant to believe he loves her so much, he'll let her go. His true love is that of his friend's wife (nicely played by Oscar nominee Berenice Bejo of "The Artist". They have chemistry, but the film plays it safe & wants poor Rose to have it all. Since the film has a feel of "Mad Men" mixed with a Rock Hudson-Doris Day film, that's probably the point. I just wish it were not so predictable - the women are likeable, the contests have a certain degree of intensity, I just wished the romance was more interesting.

Jack the Giant Slayer
½

The British fairy tale makes it to the big screen and (despite some solid F/X), it's just another bland action film. With one exception - not the leads (Nicholas Hoult & Eleanor Thomlinson), but a supporting character of Elmont very well played by Ewan McGregor. We all know the fairytale and not makes is different from it - Jack gets the beans, the beans get wet and up towers the stalk high into the clouds carrying his house & a runaway princess. Then he battles killing off one giant at a time 'til everything lands back on Earth. If you have a fear of heights, this film definitely plays upon that fear. The F/X look like the actors are thousands of feet up. But not much more is of interest - the love story between the leads is predictable and they are likeably bland. McGregor is having a great time & his energy propels the story, but he's not on screen enough. The stuff involving the princess marrying a scheming royal who has plans to rule the giants is nothing special and the film cuts away just before one of the human characters become lunch. Now, put McGregor as Jack, cut the film down 20 minutes then maybe something would be work. As it is, nothing great or terribly bad just another one of many springtime flops that did not connect to audiences.

We're The Millers

Like a RV with a slow leak, We're the Millers starts off with a fun premise and quickly goes flat. Jason Sudekis plays Dave a small-time drug dealer who gets way over his head when he's robbed of the bosses money. To pay off his debt, he creates a fake, nerdy family to bring over a RV full of pot. All of the best jokes are in the trailer and Jennifer Anniston does not get naked. That sums up the film. A few smiles here and there, but absolutely nothing new, inventive or funny. I was hoping for a Vacation-style "R"-rated comedy, but got lame stand-up material. The few smiles (also featured in the trailer) involves the virgin teen performing the rap from TLC's "Waterfalls" & the what the "A"-stands for involving avoiding pregnancy. It's amazing to me that this $35 million produced road trip has grossed over $110 million at the box office - it's no Horrible Bosses, more like National Lampoon's Vacation Part 6: We're Out Of Original Ideas.

The Canyons
The Canyons(2013)

Screened this erotic thriller a couple of weeks ago and I must admit, tough to review.
It's not a particularly entertaining film, but there is something about it that got under my skin. The acting by the supporting cast comes off as line readings by amateurs, but (surprise to say this), Lindsay Lohan and porn-star James Deen are terrific in this twisty, who-done it and who will-do it. They are bored swingers in the movie business; enter a fresh, young couple working on the film who discover associating with them lead them down a dirty path. Deen is particularly effective here as a spoiled rich boy producing the film. He wants ownership of things and even treat women as possessions to hold. When things do not go his way, he reacts. Written by Brent Easton Ellis of American Psycho fame, the comparisons are easy to see. But Deen is really good. Maybe I didn't have high expectations for either lead considering their pop culture status, but the cruel mind games kept me interested. Several explicit sex scenes add to the enjoyment - including one that goes way off the deep end. The scenes of decaying movie theaters was an interesting tip to the hat on how the film business is just like Deen's character - obsessed with money & little substance. Director Paul Schrader likes rough & tumble characters and here he creates 2 I will not likely forget. *** out of 4-stars

Lovelace
Lovelace(2013)
½

It's no BOOGIE NIGHTS or STAR 80, but Lovelace does provide some insights into a sad life of a young girl who becomes the first infamous porn star. Amanda Seyfried does a solid turn as the lead; the supporting cast is strong - Peter Scarsgaard as her troubled husband who introduces her to the porn industry; an unrecognizable Sharon Stone and Robert Patrick (as her parents); Hank Azaria and Bobby Cannavale are the film-makers. We follow her living with her family in Davie FL in 1970, introduction to Chuck and the downward spiral begins. There is a hint of her character's redemption in the late 70's, but most of the film focuses on her mediocre rise to fame. The film does suffer from a few goofs (French Connection released in 1971 - the film is set in 1970 and Elvin Bishop's "Fooled Around And Fell in Love" plays on the radio, but not released 'til 1976!) and suffers in comparison to the two previous mentioned films. Everything felt sanitized and almost like a lark to be set in an abusive relationship and the porn industry. A stronger screenplay would had sped things up and not lingered on the titillation of making "Deep Throat") - bringing her character around full circle would make for a more interesting dramatic ark. But, overall, a decent film - very impressed with Sharon Stone (Oscar nomination...not likely since this will disappear from movie memory rather quickly)! If you've seen Boogie Nights and Star 80, probably best to pass then - Lovelace doesn't measure up.

The Conjuring

A creepy, fun-time at the movies. Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson play 70's paranormal investigators who end up way over their heads when a Rhode Island family is terrorized.
This works on so many different levels - horror and violence for sure, but chills with laughter (perhaps nervous laughter) and it is so well acted. A great cast including Lili Taylor and Ron Livingston. Things start out simply enough when a family of 7 get a bargain on their dream house, but when the family dog refuses to enter, that's the first warning. The film provides equal balance not only to their horrors, but the investigators too. He has a room full of artifacts from successful hauntings including one of the creepiest demonic dolls ever shown on film. When the revelations come regarding the houses' history, things quicky turn evil and bloody. We don't get this caliber of acting or directing in shock horror films - James Wan did the first (and best) Saw film as well as the clever Insidious. I love a strong, ghost story - I am thankful I do not have a cellar and hope I do not somehow wake up at 3:07AM. Great fun and thrills!

Like Someone in Love

Unlike anything I've seen at the movies - hypnotic, strange to be sure and oddly, romantic without romantic love.
The film opens with Akiko (Rin Takanashi) sitting in a café, lots of activity around her as she chats via phone with a seemingly jealous boyfriend. Enter a co-worker who insist she meet his friend (the great Tadashi Okuno) outside of Tokyo. She protest, but ultimately must go. Their chance encounter will reveal hidden secrets, the key to happiness and the threat of violence. Many in their 20's feel pulled between family duty, career, school and love. The film does not go easy on her; when the elderly man and her boyfriend meet, the tension revs up not knowing if it will lead to violence or the path to eternal happiness. The film is directed by Abbas Kiarostami, an Irani director who directed the 2010 French romantic drama with Juliette Binoche, Certified Copy. Here is provides another unique look into a torn and complicated woman. The film's abrupt ending left me wondering the fate of one of the characters and not knowing why Akiko wore so many different mask. A bit more character development there would've increased the drama, but overall it's complicated, but effective.

Before Midnight

A brilliant masterpiece and the best cinematic trilogy of all time - yeah, I just gave Coppola and Lucas a cinephile smack-down. The continuing story of Jesse and Celine now together nearly a decade. They have kids and step-kids and are vacationing one Summer in Greece. Like all real couples, they love, make love, bicker, dwell on their children and fight - and they both know how to strike close to the nerve. Their confrontations are uncomfortable, but frank and true. I remember in Frances Ha, she liked to "play fight" - that's Hollywood couple fight, but here, we have 18 years vested and they are family. We wish for a fairy tale happiness, but the film does not draw easy conclusions. That's real, that's life. But, keep in mind, it's funny, sweet, romantic with moments of truth not usually heard on film. It's as though we eavesdrop on a middle age couple as they go over the good and bad moments of their lives - the jealousy, suspicions and plans/fears of the future. Richard Linklater has crafted an exquisite, smart film with his co-stars Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. I would love to visit Jesse and Celine in another 5-10 years to see the progression of their lives whether they are together or not would be of interest!

The Big Wedding

With so much talent (Robert De Niro, Diane Keaton, Susan Sarandon, etc.), why does this wedding comedy fall flat on it's face? Simple...because it's like every other "let's get the dysfunctional family together and see what mayhem happens". The addition of Robin Williams and Katherine Heigl (both with very poor comedy track records) scared me, but both of them are restrained as the conservative Father and daughter who's having "man issues". I thought the "R" rating would push things a bit, but we get jokes about cunnilingus, the racism of the bride's parents and plenty of infidelities to go around. This is nothing special, nothing offensive, just nothing that's like every other wedding film. Little debauchery and things end up on a very happy note. You can't have your wedding cake and eat it too - walking the middle comedy aisles is safe, but doesn't make it entertaining and certainly not good.

Scary Movie 5

A line comes late in the film as several people are watching an over-exaggerated dance sequence of The Black Swan - "this is bullshit"! That sums up my feelings too.
A lazy, unfunny, tiresome bore that parodies the Paranormal Activity films along with Inception, Mama, The Evil Dead and others. The opening set up features Charlie Sheen and Lindsay Lohan in bed with an over-exaggerated sex sequence and inside jokes about their recent "public" embarrassments. That goes nowhere. Same for the remaining 75 minutes. This stuff has been done to death and with David Zucker, of Airplane, co-writing the film, it's so sad. The slapstick would shame the Three Stooges; the acting is typically C-rated stars is bad and the 12 minute out-take reel at the end...desperate. Nothing works, just a series of disjointed forced sequences amounting to nothing. Here's hoping this is the last of the Scary Movie franchise.

Blue Jasmine
Blue Jasmine(2013)

Woody Allen has written (and Cate Blanchett performs) one of the most complex, funny, sad, dramatic women in recent memory. As Jasmine, she's the wife of a disposed Wall Street tycoon (Alec Baldwin) forced to move back with her half-sister in San Francisco. She's not accustomed to let's say, a menial lifestyle where people drink beer, have jobs and accept the cards they are dealt. Through flashbacks, her life unravels from orderly to sad, psychotic and desperate. But, it's a comedy - one of Allen's best. Her new surroundings involve her well-meaning sister (brilliantly played by Sally Hawkins), her new boyfriend, Chili (Bobby Cannavale), a lecherous employer (Michael Stuhlbarg) and potential first class suitor (Peter Scarsgaard) who may be the answer to all that ails her - if she can keep it together. But, Jasmine copes in all the wrong ways (pills, Stoli vodka with a twist of lemon) and is brash, opinionated and delusional! Blanchett deserves to win the Oscar for Best Actress - she's an amazing talent with a resume of terrific roles...this is her best. This film's not easy on the lead - when I thought we were heading down the path of redemption, Allen throws in a twist. Rarely, do I want a sequel, but hours after screening, BLUE JASMINE, I wondered what her outcome in life will be - that final scene still haunts me.

Kon Tiki
Kon Tiki(2013)
½

Thor Heyerdal is a 20th century Norwegian scientist who wants to prove a theory: Peruvians traveled on a raft and settled Polynesia 1500 years earlier. He reconstructs the balsa wood raft named Kon-Tiki and sets off with 4 friends on a 100-day, 5000 mile journey in 1947. Facing storms, shark attacks, the wood becoming water logged and no help or land in sight, the perilous journey is not without it's rewards: the love of science and the pursuit of adventure. The cast is great and the actual raft constructed on the Pacific Ocean is amazing to behold. I got tied up in the drama not knowing the outcome. Nature plays an important role here. As in The LIFE OF PI, we witness amazing and sometimes deadly creatures who travel along with them. There's a shark attack that rivals anything in JAWS and not all who climb (or, uh fly) aboard have a happy ending. The climax takes place on a reef and it's as tense and thrilling as anything Michael Bay could ever conceive. The film was Norway's entry and nominated for best foreign language film in 2012. Don't let that throw you off - Kon Tiki is a strong film about determination and perseverance and a terrific journey to experience.

The Sapphires

The Aboriginal Dreamgirls during the Vietnam War. Four outcast cousins in the Australian outback are discovered by a down and out musical promoter (Chris O'Dowd).
They play country music, but he sees they have the talent for R&B. He gets them a chance to play for the troops in Vietnam. So, part Dreamgirls, For The Boys and Good Morning, Vietnam. Yet, better than 2 of the 3 films in my opinion. The group face bitter rivalry, power struggles, love and more; but, the film dares to add racism, self-hate & false pride to the formula. The performances are well done - the musical standards are classics - an equal blend of heavy-handed drama, war and comedy abound, then a surprise twist at the end! No, I won't spoil it, but it makes a good independent film warm and fuzzy all over.

Blackfish
Blackfish(2013)
½

I always wanted to ride dolphins, but not after watching The COVE; now, I no longer have any interest in going to any SeaWorld park because of BLACKFISH. This is an immensely powerful, emotional docu about killer orcas held in captivity and the human lives lost (and covered up by management focused on their image and $$$). We see many orcas but the center piece is Tilikum - sadly linked to 3 deaths over 20 years. This is not just another talking head, let's nail SeaWorld to the cross type of docu. But, it is undeniable that these poor creatures (like all animals slated for slaughter/consumption by man) are held in small quarters when they deserve the vast oceans they are accustomed to. We hear from ex-trainers (apparently no aquatic knowledge, masters degree, etc. is required - just be cute, athletic and like the water), those responsible for the herding and separating of orca families and the lies told by SeaWorld staff about life expectancy, aggression, etc. (though in their defense, they are just talking heads for the company to entertain/lie to tourist. The death of Dawn Brancheau in Florida and the spin by SeaWorld is the catalyst for this expose. Upon hearing the cries of the mother orcas when babies are separated forever, is heart-breaking. The film does play on emotions, but the science and loss of human and animal life is evidence enough: these creatures are not meant for captivity for human entertainment.

What Maisie Knew
½

It's Kramer Vs. Kramer from the child's vantage point - poor Maisie (Onata Aprile)...her parents (Julianne Moore & Steve Coogan) are self-obsessed, career-minded buffoons who fight too much and only reach out to their child to piss off the other. Fortunately, her nanny and mom's new love interest (both well played by Joanna Vanderham and Alexander Skarsgard) are around to provide the stable home life she needs. So, with this much talent, why doesn't the picture fully click? Everything seems too convenient and easy. No real drama to any situation. Mom & Dad fight, love others & only occasionally show any affection to their daughter, both disappear and re-appear without courts or lawyers involved. Their characters are not fully developed; only when Maisie's with others, does it work - and that, sadly is not enough of the film. The performances are fine, just a strong script, drama, comedy anything to heighten any interest.

Museum Hours
Museum Hours(2013)

There is a subtle difference between slow and gentle. Museum Hours falls into the latter category, but many will disagree. A woman visits her distant cousin in a Vienna Austria hospital; in her spare time, she visits a local museum and starts a friendship with one of the security guards. Both are late in life, lonely, without many attachments. He shows her the city & countryside, educates her on the art works and she provides him companionship. That's it - quiet, subtle, unimpressing, but still engaging. In Hollywood hands, they would be young to start with and must fall in love. This feels more like real life. Director Jem Cohen does a confident job - the leads (Mary Margaret O'Hara and Bobby Sommer) appear to be real people. Though many will disagree with me, I enjoyed the leisurely pace to the film and look forward to the day I visit Vienna and one of her many museums too.

The Purge
The Purge(2013)

Every March 21st in "future America", all crime is legal for 12 hours - this is a means for our country to purge away the stress, anxiety and hostility that builds up leading to a happier society with little crime and unemployment. My take is simple...it's the Tea Party's wet dream come true-the killing of minorities and the poor...but, The Stanton's are a happy family of "have's" who lock down the house unaware their son let in an African-American man on the run. When the folks looking for the "swine" come a knockin', the doors and windows are breached and all Hell is let loose. The ending headed in a dark direction, but they pulled their punches. I like the concept and my mind had a perverted amount of fun watching the squeaky, clean white people wearing an overly expressive happy face mask on, meet their doom. But, like so many horror films today - so predictable with an emphasis on gore than really turning up the tension. I was waiting for the family cat to jump out of the closet and wondering why do people in horror films separate in a darken house? It's not dull, just been something we've experienced before...

Only God Forgives

But I can not...a slow moving, yet beautiful shot tale of revenge that would make David Lynch proud. Ryan Gosling's brooding shtick is growing old in director Nicolas Winding Refn's disappointing follow-up to the electrifying DRIVE. I have listened to the fanboy analysis' out there, but boring, pretentious symbolism does not make an entertaining flick. Gosling is a Thai Boxing owner who's psychotic brother murders a prostitute. An enigmatic character named Chan (aka God, I guess) enters the scene to dispel his own form of justice - usually involving body parts being sliced from a sword that appears out of nowhere. People walk around in a daze, violence is rampant, everything stands for something, but honestly, I just did not care. It's over-indulgent, dull and disappointing considering the talent here.

Fruitvale Station

An absorbing, emotional film how perception, racial profiling and fear lead to the horrifying New Year's Day 2008 murder of an unarmed, innocent, African-American man at the Fruitvale Station on the BART. The film depicts the final day as he runs errands for his mom's birthday, attempts to get his job back & coming to terms with responsibility to his young daughter and girlfriend. Michael B. Jordan is captivating as Oscar Grant - determined to get his life back on track only to have it derailed by one sad and well-documented crime. Octavia Spencer as his mother, Melonie Diaz as his girlfriend and Ahna O'Reilly as Katie - a white woman he befriends on his final day who indirectly starts the chain of events by uttering his name aloud. All are terrific - the film's fair showing Oscar's dark side, yet proves his devotion to friends and family and even a stray dog (well played by Ian...ok, I'm an animal lover!) This is one of the year's best films to be watched and talked about. The actual footage bookends of the murder and 5 year anniversary had me in tears - it's topical too with another gross injustice making the news today...Trayvon Martin. **** out of 4-stars.

I Give It a Year
½

Quirky Brit import doesn't quite deliver the laughs as promised in the trailer. A mis-mashed young couple marry quickly only to discover their friends prediction of their marriage making it 1 year will be difficult when they are obviously not meant for each other. The 2 leads are fine - Rose Byrne as the uptight, proper bride, Rafe Spall as the fly-by-the-seat of his pants fun, out-of-work writer who's lost his inspiration. Clearly meant for others, we see in flashbacks their courtship, love and evidential demise. Only Stephen Merchant, as Spall's best friend, delivers any laughs are a very inappropriate friend saying exactly what's on his mind. A few sexual chuckles here and there, but all leading to a predictable ending. Anna Faris, Minnie Driver, Simon Baker round out the cast. Though striving to be another "Four Weddings & A Funeral" or "Love, Actually", but without the character development & sense of humour those films had.

The Hunt (Jagten)
½

A man falsely accused of pedophilia quickly spreads through his small Danish town and leads to devastating consequences. Mads Mikkelsen stars as the Lucas - an elementary school teacher popular with his hunting club members, dating a pretty Russian school teacher and eagerly waiting for his son to return to his custody. With one massive misunderstanding by a 6-year old girl and the witch hunt mentality lead by the school's principal, Lucas' life heads off to a trajectory of unbelievable pain and his fight to put his life back together and live with forgiveness, yet still in fear. The lead won the Best Actor at 2013's Cannes Film Festival and the entire cast is strong and believable. The title refers to more than his hunt club since he too becomes the unsuspecting deer. Tragedy, violence consume this little village, yet Lucas' strength and ability to move forward even with his life destroyed is amazing. *** 1/2 out of ****

The Way Way Back

This is a summer film for the independent crowd. Smart, funny & satisfying without being too sappy or maudlin. A coming-of-age tale of a rejected teen (Liam James) with his single mom (Toni Collette) forced to spend the Summer at the beach with her new boyfriend (Steve Carrell) - a complete egotistical jackass who rates the kid a "3". With the distraction of a cute next door neighbour (Anna Sophia Robb) and the folks at Water Wizz, Duncan steps up to the adolescent plate with charm & strength. Allison Janey & Sam Rockwell give terrific supporting performances. And neither have been Oscar nominated...a good time at the movies.

Die Wand (The Wall)

A mesmerizing, unforgettable tale of a woman on vacation in Austria who discovers she is trapped by an impenetrable, invisible wall. Together with her dog, cat & a cow, she strives to survive & discover answers to what's going on. This is a bleek, depressing yet emotionally engaging experience. With beautiful images of the Alps, no easy answers or solutions are abound - just sorrow, violence & eventually acceptance. I felt depressed afterwards & kept thinking how I would adapt under such circumstances. Similar to Castaway (2000) with lots of voice-over narration - I will never forget Pearl, Belle, Bull or Lynx & how they impacted me...

The Iceman
The Iceman(2013)
½

Despite a good central performance from Michael Shannon, this is mafia cliches on parade. Nice to have Winona Ryder back in a leading role (the dutiful, yet clueless wife), but as outrageous & hard to believe the story of a working father who was really a a hitman for many years, the construction and story left much to desire. Little tension, just two solid performances in an otherwise forgettable drama. ** 1/2 out of 4 stars.

The East
The East(2013)
½

It's easy to like a film which you agree with the politics and eco-terrorism, an eye-for-an-eye, let's get the 1% satisfies the anarchist inside. Brit Marling does a very good job writing & starring as a former FBI agent hired by a PI firm to go undercover with a group known as The East. The group, their targets & agenda make for a taunt thriller. Patricia Clarkson has a brief, yet powerful supporting performance as the woman pulling the strings. This is director Zal Batmanglij's 2nd collaboration with Marling after the strong Sound Of My Voice, here's hoping for a long partnership with these two.

Much Ado About Nothing

Filmed in glorious B&W, Joss Whedon delivers a mostly entertaining film made with his friends! The Shakespeare classic comedy works in modern times too. The cast of mostly unknowns (unless you've seen Cabin in the Woods or other Whedon productions) are in top form - though some of the slapstick comedy is overplayed, you can tell everybody involved had a good time. The set up is a tad slow, but kicks in once the romantic pairings & deceit play out. *** out of 4-stars A nice diversion from the guy who directed 2012's #1 film at the box office, The Avengers!

It's a Disaster

It is the end of the world...again. A group of yuppies drink, debate, fornicate while awaiting their fate. Nice to see Julia Stiles back in a lead role. The film is quirky without being annoying and coming after 2012 Steve Carrell flop, Seeking A Friend for the End of the World, easy to see why it did not connect to audiences this Spring. People want Roland Emmerich or Michael Bay presenting the end of mankind with lots of F/X - in this one, people change which is too introspective for the fast edit movie-goer today. The group question if its the North Koreans or judgment from God as they toast to their demise over a glass of rat poisoned merlot. Too though provoking and no scenes of California slipping into the Pacific or meteors taking out Paris.

The Great Gatsby

The Baz Luhrmann film has glitz, glamour, but just not great...not even good. Coming from the maestro of energetic story-telling, doomed love sagas injected with a hip, musical score, The Great Gatsby has only the doomed love story and is deadly dull - but pretty to look at. The major offenses are the bad casting (Tobey Maguire & Carey Mulligan - who seem sedated through out), a lousy score (Jay-Z.) without a single memorable musical moment & poor pacing,editing making this 142 minute film, dull to the mind, but dazzling to the eyes. Better than the 1974 original & certainly Oscar will remember it for noms in Art Direction & Costume Design, but instantly forgettable otherwise.

Trance
Trance(2013)

A mesmerizing experience. Combines Memento, Eternal Sunshine & The Thomas Crown Affair with a hippy-dippy look & soundtrack. Danny Boyle's film is a fun puzzle to assemble with James McAvoy as a fine art auctioneer involved with the stealing of a Goya painting - except after a blow to the head, he develops amnesia so a hypno-therapist (played by the luminous Rosario Dawson) tries to help. What we know or think we know in the beginning is twisted & warped during the frantic 100 minute. Good characters are bad & vice versa - elements of Inception are introduced when we don't know how many levels deep the therapy is taking us. Fun, confusing, beautiful to look at. Great to meet director Boyle afterwards at the Angelika Film Center in New York City this weekend. His explanation clarified some of the mystery. *** out of 4

Room 237
Room 237(2013)
½

** 1/2 out of 4 An intriguing yet over-reaching documentary about the hidden meanings behind Kubrick's 1980 film The Shining. Other than the numerology with 13, 42 & 237 (2x3x7=42) focused, many of the "theories" are tough to follow. I enjoyed the film-making tricks Kubrick would play (changing the German typewriter's colour, switching patterns in carpet & drapes, removing subtle objects, etc.), but linking the film to the Apollo 11 fake moon landing, the rise of Nazi Germany & extinction of the American Indian, a bit like listening to ardent conspiracy theorists - but, not boring. Don't expect a "making of" or "behind the scenes" of this classic horror tale since none of the actors, crew or Kubrick's estate are involved.

Searching for Sugar Man

Pure documentary perfection. Best docu of 2012...in a year of many good ones. It's a story too incredible to be true - struggling musician in the early 70's releases 2 albums, but goes nowhere in America, but alas is a superstar in South Africa...and he didn't even know it. The film follows a couple of South African fans in the 90's searching for this illusive musician who legend had it shot himself or burned alive on stage. The discovery of Rodriguez's music, his life & those he inspired is tremendous, life-affirming & upbeat...the film plays like a mystery with an outcome more dramatic than any Hollywood film. "Crucify Your Mind" and "I Wonder" are added to my favourite songs of all time. As one poster puts it "American Zero...South African Hero" - here's a guy who is credited to ending the horrors of Apartheid thousands of miles away & he worked quietly in Detroit when the American music scene destroyed his dreams. **** out of 4 stars - here's hoping Oscar Gold will fall this amazing docu!.

This is 40
This is 40(2012)

The rare treat - a "pseudo" sequel that's better than it's original (Knocked Up) - okay, it's just the family from KU (the most interesting part to that flick), as both parents celebrate their 40th birthday & come to terms with the unraveling of their lives. The film has an equal blend of comedy & drama with the dramatics working best. Leslie Mann truly shines as Debbie who still convinces those around her she's just 38. John Lithgow has a too-brief appearance as her father who's own "perfect" new family isn't all that it's cracked up to be. Megan Fox is surprisingly GOOD too! What's uneven about the film: the comic elements & another Judd Apatow film over 120 mins - edit his films 20-30 mins then they will work. The single outtake with Melissa McCarthy is the funniest moment, but still left me wishing for more honesty & drama than vulgarity.

Taken 2
Taken 2(2012)

When a film connects with critics & at the box office, you know you're getting a sequel - at least most sequels try to do something different, but not TAKEN 2 - did nobody in Hollywoodland learn anything from Hangover 2? Well, of course that garbage made money as did this farce which repeats the same silly formula only having good ole mom & dad get "taken" & using technology, has this young daughter (look all of 30 year old) attempting to rescue them. They use some of the absolute ridiculous techniques like having the kid throw live gernades off of rooftops to judge sound vibrations & distances. Now, this is Istanbul Turkey & with explosions going off in random locations because of an American, I believe a major conflict would result - in other words, the idiot plot takes over & the cast stays in cruise control collecting a big paycheck while we suffer needlessly in a B-grade revenge plot that's stupid, illogical & boring.

The Impossible

A powerful, human drama about survival for a family of 5 during the horrific tsunami following Christmas 2004. This is the most emotional film I've ever seen surrounding a disaster - Naomi Watts & Ewan McGregor are in top form - child actor Tom Holland deserves a supporting actor nomination. The horrors of the wave & the effects on the body & human emotion are graphic, intense & powerful. One of the best films of 2012 - here's hoping the films not "too much" for people to handle - nominations across the board are deserved.

Not Fade Away

A slow, dull film which has already faded from my cinematic mindset. What strives to be a lovelorn to Almost Famous (with an emphasis on late 60's/early 70's Rolling Stones music), meanders with a standard tale of a tribute band that never got off the ground. The leads hold no interest probably since they are upstaged by James Gandolfini - his character was the only interesting one, but the plot keeps going back to the dullards in the band. The opening 3 mins offered what could've been an interesting story (the black-n-white meeting of Mick Jagger & Keith Richards on a train) - it's sad that one brief scene can upstage the remainder of the film. If you're a fan of this music (which I'm not), perhaps it would be nice to hear the songs played out - but, in that case, listen to the Rolling Stones Greatest Hits and spare yourself 112 mins from this fractured record.

Rise of the Guardians
½

To be fair, I am not the demographic for this kids film. I do not possess kids, I will never possess a 2-legged child, so a family that includes the Tooth Fairy, SandMan, Santa Claus & the Easter Bunny is not high on my "must see" list. Even as a kid, I never believed in them, so I am one of the darkened lights the Boogie Man talks about! The story's about guardians of children's innocence & how the Man in the Moon wants Jack Frost to join their team, discover his center & do battle with the nightmares of BM. The animation is crisp, the 3-D unnecessary (the theater we saw it in didn't correct the lens until 15 mins into the film, so everything was soft, fuzzy & as annoying as 3D), the story will entertain the young ones - the message...oh so predictable - but, I enjoyed the re-inventions of these characters (i.e. Santa Claus is a brute Russian, Easter Bunny with an Australian accent), some of the dark material made me chuckle (sorry, BM reminded me of RMoney with his monotone voice overs), just not enough to fully recommend.

Step Up Revolution
½

It's very difficult to take this movie seriously - the plot about a flash mob trying to save their neighbourhood from a greedy developer is nothing new, BUT that being said - I absolutely was captivated by the dance choreography & soundtrack. The plot, romance & acting all run-of-the-mill, but the six dance sequences (especially the finale that lasted nearly 10 minutes) entertained me. Not enough to recommend, but far from boring - just like most of these "Step Up" films.

Deadfall
Deadfall(2012)

A pleasant surprise with good performances by the leads (especially Eric Bana & Kate Mara) with parts of Fargo, A Simple Plan & Lookout. meshed together. A brother-sister team depart after a casino robbery that goes wrong & their paths intersect at a Thanksgiving dinner where one of them is holding a family hostage. Bana is charming & violent wrapped into one - at one point he protects a mother & daughter being abused, the next his knocking off cops like the Terminator. The tone is jumpy at times & more character development would've made the story more well-rounded. Sissy Spacek is subtle yet effecting; the biggest surprise is Kate Mara as a cop way over her head. An equal balance of violence & humour as well as the beautiful wintry landscape & blizzard add character to this twisty, violent caper.

The Apparition

A silly, paranormal horror film involving a young couple who thinks their new home in the desert is haunted, but alas "it's not the home who's haunted, it's you!" as they are told. There are zero jolts, scares, nada! Not even the obligatory cat jumping into the film frame - it's dull, poorly acted & scripted - the lead gal (Ashley Greene) is a vet who stumbles across boyfriend's paranormal equipment in the garage & instantly knows how to hook everything up & use it - she's also displays no compassion when a neighbour's dog is killed by the house! The ridiculous level keeps building 'til they discover, the entity will keep coming 'til you wear out & give in. So the poster gives you an idea of the ending. It's not as bad as the found footage disaster from this January "The Devil Inside", but comes mighty close. The film was shelved for 2 years when WB broke the contract with the once reputable Dark Castle production team. I think we can see why...

The Queen of Versailles
½

A shocking documentary about the Siegel's, a billionaire time resort mogul & his vapid younger wife, which starts celebrating their success & building the largest home in America...until the '08 crisis & things became very real for them. His 40-something trophy wife & their spoiled kids are unbelievable - so out-of-touch with reality, spending money with no recourse or understanding of the situation they are in. David Siegel is practical...his life is work 24/7 - some of his statements are shocking (his wife is like another child & hints to his possible illegal involvement with the Florida Bush 2000 win). The film counter balances the excessive nature of the Siegels by focusing on the servants living in small quarters & tending to all their needs. When they reduce their staff from 23 to 9, animals in the mansion die because of neglect, yet Jackie seems disconnected or as she puts it "in her fantasy world". Yes, unfortunately, people like this exist in the world - another shining example of how money corrupts & the American Dream is for a select few...

The Watch
The Watch(2012)

A vulgar, unfunny, 100-minute long dick joke. Seriously, are the screenwriters so obsessed with the male anatomy & its functions, they include it in nearly every so-called-joke? The cast is smug, self-kidding & the plot dull as they come (alien invasion starting from inside Costco). The sci-fi element is bland & nothing we haven't seen before. Stiller seems distracted & annoyed (maybe he knew this was crap). Only Richard Ayoade character (the token black guy) delivered a few lines that generated a mild smile, but he's sadly underused here. Not a fan of Hill & especially Vaughn doing the same shtick since the funny 1996 original comedy, Swingers. The films original title was Neighborhood Watch, but after the senseless Travone Martin killing earlier in the year, changed to The Watch out of sensitivity to the family - perhaps the producers should had displayed more sensitivity for our good common sense & shelved the film altogether or cast it to the straight-to-DVD/basic cable fate where it belongs.

On the Road
On the Road(2012)

A meandering, but entertaining tale of Sal Paradise & his cross country adventures with friends in the 40's & 50's based on Jack Kerouc's novel. The casting makes the film (Sam Reilly, Garrett Hedlund & Kristen Stewart) as each of these young actors come into their own. Director Salles is familiar with this type of story (i.e. Motorcyle Diaries) & has a love of the land style. Shots of the West are beautiful & captivating. Not all of their journeys end happily, but the ride & their conversations never get boring. A tad long at 2+ hours & I wanted more of Viggo Mortensen & Amy Adams bizarre New Orleans couple's story, but on balance, it works. Can't forget this - nice to Kristen Stewart smile, not love-lorn for a pale, dull vampire & letting go of herself (and her wardrobe) was a interesting stretch - could prove to be a smart career move for her.

Dark Horse
Dark Horse(2012)

Another dark, sardonic look at a 30-something loser living in NJ from director Todd Solondz - unfortunately, very little is new or of interest with this one. The main issue is the lead character, Abe (Jordan Gelber) - he's unmotivated, lazy, a slob who lives in a state of arrested development with his parents. Once he meets Miranda (Selma Blair), he proposes marriage & tries to convince everyone around him, he's just okay. The film has numerous dream sequences involving co-workers & family that are just confusing - if we had any rooting interest for Abe to get his life together, then perhaps the dark material would work; plus, director Solondz needs to get out of New Jersey & these same lifeless characters (see Welcome to the Dollhouse, Happiness, Palidromes, Storytelling...all far superior to this mess). I did like Blair as well as Christopher Walken, Donna Murphy & Mia Farrow - but Gelber leadens the story with his negativity & loud, over-acting.

The Sessions
The Sessions(2012)

Oscar nods around - one of 2012's best films about a 38-year old virgin who hires a sex surrogate to help him lose his virginity - the only catch is, he's in an iron lung. John Hawkes & Helen Hunt are amazing in this funny & touching story. Everything works from the casting, direction & screenplay. The humour took me by surprise, but both actors bearing their souls (and so much more) wasn't degrading, but moving. The final shot of the film got to me - their were many teary eyes, including my own. LIke My Left Foot, The Diving Bell & the Butterfly & The Sea Inside, these inspiring films do not patronize their subjects, but shows the human side with desire for love, feelings & even sex.

Chasing Mavericks

All these surfing films are the same - deep philosophy & respect for the waves, spectacular footage as boards & surfers race inside massive walls of water, but the story is landlocked & caught up in simplistic, melodramatic plot devices. This one's based on a true story & the performances by leads Gerard Butler & John Weston are fine. I just wish the conventional romance, dealing with daddy issues, bullies & an alcoholic mother were skipped over since they leaden the plot - with very predictable outcomes. Documentaries of the surfing lifestyle work (Riding GIants, Step Into Liquid, Endless Summer); dramas one the topic fall short (Soul Surfer, Surfer Dude, Point Break, etc.). I did enjoy the 90's soundtrack (haven't heard Butthole Surfers & Mazzy Star in a long while!), but coming from acclaimed directors Curtis Hanson & Michael Apted, I hoped for so much more.

Ruby Sparks
Ruby Sparks(2012)

A struggling novelist writing his 2nd novel dreams up the perfect girl, writes about her, then she comes to life. It's every straight man's fantasy...write what the woman will do & she does it without question. But, Ruby Sparks goes much deeper than that as Calvin really does love this invention (well played by Zoe Kazan). The films takes a starkly, dark turn in the last bit, but mostly played for laughs through out. I enjoyed Antonio Banderas & Annette Bening as Dano's parents. I would've enjoyed more of their story & less pining & whining from the lead. But Kazan shines as the perfect girlfriend and makes Ruby Sparks a smart, indie rom-com.

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

It's the end of the world as we know it & Steve Carrell just wants someone to cuddle with. The destruction of humanity as shown here starts out with a good blend of hysteria, truth & comedy...then quiets down to deep reflection as 2 unlikely friends share their life experiences & each attempt to help the other with finding loved ones to be with in Earth's final moments. The abrupt swing in tone probably turned off many (film earned a sad $7.00 million this past Summer), but it feels genuine considering the circumstances. The ending was a tad predictable & I wanted more of Carell's friends & co-workers in the beginning - the humour of screwing every woman possible, offering martini's to kids & having heroin on your bucket list was absurd, dark & I liked that. On balance, it's odd but with charm enough to recommend.

Argo
Argo(2012)

A great, tense thriller about the operation to rescue 6 Americans under the cloak of making a B-grade sci-fi Canadian film. Ben Affleck deserves all the praise he is receiving - though the outcome is known, the film is as suspenseful as any film I've seen in recent times. From the onset with the turbulent Iranian history to the fall of the Embassy, the film works on every level. Even comic as 2 Hollywood producers are brought in (possible Supp Nom for Alan Arkin?) to make the best non-movie ever. Elements of Wag the Dog abound, this film crackles with excitement & come Oscar, multiple nominations. My one quibble with it...the dialogue is difficult to understand in the beginning & more English sub-titles would've been appreciated, but clearly one of 2012's Best Films.

Paranormal Activity 4
½

The success franchise is growing weary. If you're a fan of the quick jolts, hand-held camera & misguided frights, then this is your bag of frightful goodies this Halloween season. I absolutely was mesmerized by the first one & accepted parts 2 & 3 for what they are...this one has 2 great scares, two natural performances by Kathryn Newton & Matt Shively & a slam bang 120 second ending. What's not so good, it's the same metronome of step-up & sometimes getting a scare, more times...not. The young kids do a decent job (though I sorta was able to figure out who's who quickly. Stay thru the end credits & if you speak Spanish, tell me what is said!

Seven Psychopaths
½

Terrific entertainment from the writer/director of IN BRUGES. This reminded me of what Tarantino films used to be. Smart, quirky I enjoyed the story within the story of the seven psychopath's stories. This film in not PC & the constant playing into stereotypes is more funny than offensive. The women here are all up for target practice & they wisely comment on that during the film. Walken is his usual great, but Farrell & Rockwell share a great bromance bond. My favourite psychopath had to be Tom Waits & his bunny tale. But the film is brisk, witty & one of the best comedies of 2012. Now, before you grab your stuff & run out of the theater, be patient, it's NOT over when the credits start to roll...funny, but not too expected coda to a fantastic film.

Silver Linings Playbook

I believe I've seen 2012's Best Actress winner - Jennifer Lawrence is absolutely amazing in this complex, drama with many laughs as a man just released from a state institution attempts to put his life back together. She's great but don't rule out Bradley Cooper - never stretched like this as an actor before. He has many layers to peal through as Pat. DeNiro & Weaver are solid as his parents. The entire ensemble works & the dialogue is written for adults without undermining our ability to understand mental illness (and ballroom dance combined with fanatic love of the Philadelphia Eagles!) This is my top choice for 2012 - a year that's finally starting to attract interesting movies.

Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted

Funny & best in the series. This is well-written with sufficient laughs for kids & adults. Also, the array of colours used here heightens the story once the 4 traveling companions escape from Africa & end up in a traveling European circus while pursued by a very determined French policewoman. The story's fast, frenetic & worth the experience even if you hadn't seen or enjoyed the previous two in the series.

Samsara
Samsara(2012)

A beautifully filmed sensory experience of birth, life & death across the world coupled with mediation & how all our lives are interconnected. There are no words, but the imagery speaks volumes - time-lapsed photography & a musical score to rival any, I was breathless, relaxed & emotionally moved to tears several times. A simple 10-15 second camera shot of people all over the world striking the same pose (holding a baby, gun or coupled together) overwhelmed me. We all are alike whether its Thailand, France or Africia - it's a life-affirming experience to behold - I want the soundtrack & can not wait for Dec 4th - it's day on DVD!

Arbitrage
Arbitrage(2012)
½

A complex, well-written WallStreet thriller about a Bernie Madoff guy (Gere) who's way over his head with career, family issues & a little thing called murder. The cast is incredible (Gere deserves his 1st nomination as does Nate Parker as Gere's unlikely accomplice). Like "Margin Call" a few years before, the complex nature of white-collar, Wall Street crime is easy on the ears & not hard to follow. The final scene (though abrupt) recall so many images of successful types on the outside, but emotionally destroyed within. My biggest objection was the odd Bjork song over the end credits...please Academy, remember Gere, not Bjork for the nominations this Jan! One of 2012's best films.

Ice Age: Continental Drift

I gave up on this series after the first film - this is no improvement. Silly, juvenile humour through out with a lame story of the motley 3 creatures separated from their families during the continental drift & their plight to get home - with pirates dueling battles along the way. If I were 5 years old, I may be impressed, but in my 40's, this stuff's deadly dull. So glad I didn't suffer thru the 3D version. The only positive addition was Wanda Sykes as a horny grandma sloth.

The Master
The Master(2012)
½

Perhaps my expectations were set too high, but I found the latest from acclaimed director Paul Thomas Anderson to be un-focused, talky, a tad bit boring, BUT with one incredible central performance from Phillip Seymour Hoffman. I still do not know if Phoenix was "acting" or just continuing his breakdown from years ago by being himself & walking onto the set. It's a challenging, unpleasant film to screen, but I could not find a narrative to pull everything together. Amy Adams has a few powerful scenes but she's delegated to the background too much. I would've loved more of Hoffman's tale & keep Phoenix as a side character. He's too unlikable, destructive & a distraction to the story - perhaps, that's PTA's intention, but it's all too disjointed to fully recommend. A 2nd viewing on DVD (with much needed sub-titles) may clear up some of the mumbling issues by the lead.

Butter
Butter(2012)
½

A lame TV sitcom on the big screen with course language & more strippers. Nothing is funny & their is no earned heartfelt sentiment that filmmakers try to force in. The young girl (Yara Shahidi) is a true discovery & I enjoyed a sub-dued Rob Corddry & Alicia Silverstone as her adoptive parents; but Jennifer Garner is such a MIchelle Bachman-like caricature, she overplays her role & is extremely unlikable. As one character late in the film says "Come on folks, it's only butter...it's not good food you" - my thoughts exactly to unfunny films like this.

Magic Mike
Magic Mike(2012)
½

The good - Channing Tatum's performance, film was made in the St Pete FL area for only $7 million, strong character Brook (well-played by Cody Horn); the mixed - film felt scripted by a metronome (talk, strip routines, sex & drugs, start back with talk) & more with McConaughey, Bomer, Manganiello & other dancers would've be a bonus; the bad - Alex Pettyfer, far from charismatic, he leadens the project as The Kid. Surprise to many, I was a former stripper in the mid 90's (don't let this middle aged puffy body fool you) - they nailed the dance, seduction & thrusting scenes perfectly. Just glad I didn't hear Culture Beat's Mr. Vain on the soundtrack to trigger flashbacks of g-strings, body oils & screaming women - they keep me up at night sometimes...

The Do-Deca-Pentathlon

A frustrating, cloy sibling rivarly comedy with 2 brothers reviving a silly competition of wills to find out "who's #1". From Jay & Mark Duplass I was hoping for something better than the obvious "winner in life" outcome that felt soft. The events are general sporting, the actors just okay but very little wit or genuine emotion in this one (odd from the folks who did "Baghead", "Cyrus" or "Jeff, Who Lives At Home" - here, the minimialist approach sinks the production into a long 76 minute ordeal

Bachelorette
Bachelorette(2012)

Not being a fan of "Bridesmaids" last year, I did have my expectations peaked for this raunch-fest based on its red-band trailer - what a disappointment. The 4 leads are appealing & prove women can be as vulgar as the guys, but the nastiness is without merit or many laughs. Rebel Wilson is going to be a big star despite this vehicle. The indignities her character experiences by these mean girls are not-PC, funny or worthy of the talent wasted here.

Marvel's The Avengers

This is not my thing, but I enjoyed the comradery & sense of humour amongst all the superheroes. The action was overkill, plot convoluted but that's not why people check these films out. Best surprise was Mark Ruffalo as the Hulk - far superior to the previous Hulk characterizations/films - here's hoping Joss Whedon can provide a reboot for him. I enjoyed the final shot of the film, too! You know the one...after everybody's left the theater expect fanboys - not a set up for a sequel, just a bit of normalcy after so much chaos...

Peace, Love, & Misunderstanding
½

I love many Bruce Beresford films (Tender Mercies, Breaker Morant & The Getting of Wisdom) & the casting here (especially the women Fonda, Keener & Olsen) is top notch - the film just feels out-of-step & predictable despite the female performances. I just expected something better instead of a genial fish-out-of-water tale in which the uptight New Yorker gives in to the hippie love child inside. Fonda especially looks like she's having a great time...better than I did!

Prometheus
Prometheus(2012)
½

An amazing visual, psychological treat that was not another blood & guts soaked Alien film. A sci-fi film that challenges us to question our place in the world & who made us highlighted by two great performances (Michael Fassbender & Noomi Rapace) - this was my favourite big budget popcorn flick of Summer 2012 & Scott (along with Alien & Blade Runner) has succeeded on all accounts of entertaining me in one of my least favourite genres...Sci-Fiction Action.

Katy Perry: Part of Me

Much to my surprise...I enjoyed this behind-the-scenes look at her 1st worldwide tour - this was NOT the bubblegum pop treatment so many stars get (yeah, I'm talking to you Jonas Brothers & Justin Bieber) - this had heart, drama & I even learned something about the star! The scenes in Brazil where Perry must pull herself together to perform on stage while her marriage collapses was tense & sad - fortunately, too the pop songs are not played in their full - though I do like "I Kissed A Girl" & "ET". *** out 4-stars - BUT, it would've been **Â 1/2 if I would've suffered through the theatrical 3-D version - completely unnecessary when you have such an engaging talent as Katy Perry!

What to Expect When You're Expecting

Unfunny adaptation of a popular book involving numerous couplings either preparing to have a baby or saddled with kids - the advice provided & info is nothing new or special - typical sitcom-to-the big screen scenario that offers only one funny performance from Chris Rock & a dozen forgettable ones. Think of this as "Crash" with a mucus plug & you get the idea...skip it.

Compliance
Compliance(2012)
½

A compelling, psychological drama that makes us ask "what would we do" if confronted with the same, outrageous situation. A fast food worker in Ohio is accused by a voice on the phone of stealing & things escalate to humiliation & sexual abuse. Seems unbelievable, but 70 incidents like this were reported to authorities a decade ago. The performaces are top rate (especially Ann Dowd as the stressed out manager, Sandra) & the dialogue captures the bored, mundane existence of minimum wage workers who are so fearful of losing their jobs they will agree to anything...***Â 1/2 out of 4-stars!

The Dark Knight Rises

Good not great - the least interesting film from director Nolan - the plot is complex (which I liked), but the film is too long (164 mins.), far too violent & a tacked on romance feels forced. A few twists are neat & the plot does tie up nicely some "loose ends" connected from the previous films. The cast is first rate & the addition of Anne Hathaway's CatWoman was more welcomed than I expected.

Safety Not Guaranteed
½

A film based on a quirky classified time traveling ad (hey, Disney's so bankrupted of original ideas they make movies based on theme park rides), so why not? Great chemistry, writing, pacing & wit make this another indie surprise in 2012. Aubrey Plaza is a true discovering as a Juno-esque intern on assignment to see if this guy's newsworthy or not. Lots of interesting side stories & characters accent this delightful sci-fi comedy which MIB team could learn from. ***Â 1/2 our of 4-stars!

Moonrise Kingdom

A sweet, smart tale of two outcasts who run away together on a small New England island & the quirky folks in search of them. Wes Anderson's best film by far (Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums & Bottle Rocket are my favs) - I loved the tone, music & especially the writing. We get the usual Anderson camera gimmicks & idiosyncratic whimsy all cumulating in 2012's best film (so far!)

Ted
Ted(2012)

The best bromance ever filmed about a slacker & his foul-mouthed, sex-crazed, drugged out stuffed teddy bear. Funny, irreverent & crude & cute all rolled-up into one. After a few minutes, I juse went with the premise & forgot that Ted was a CGI talking toy! Good chemistry between the two leads as well as Wahlburg & Mila Kunis - great cameos through out (especially for fans of MacFarlane's animation shows), lots of pop culture references (never will I hear Tiffany's "I Think We're Alone Now" in the same light...ever) Good, raunchy fun!

The Intouchables
½

The international hit ($345 million) is deserving of its success - a smart, comedy-drama about an unlikely pairing of a handicap millionaire & his ex-con caretaker. Both lead performances by Francois Cluzet & Omar Sy are dead on. When I wasn't laughing, I found myself with a smile as broad as Sy's throughout. Though based on a "true story" why did the filmmakers change the skin colour of the caretaker? Small quible in an otherwise entertaining French film.

Rock of Ages
Rock of Ages(2012)

** out of 4 - hits a sour note - Cruise is good, but Julianne Hough & Diego Boneta have no chemistry & are poor singers which deadens the project. Mary J. Blige has the singing chops & I wanted more of her character (though she seems as an after thought to get a token black character in the cast). When Paul Giamatti's manager starts up a boy band, the lead actor turns away saying rock will not die - but in reality, the boy bands, grunge & New Jack Swing DID kill the hair band rock from this era. Back to Cruise, more of him, Alec Baldwin & Russell Brand with the Bourbon Room would've been better. Cut of Zeta-Jones' character, the silly monkey & the psuedo romance between the leads. Only ONE musical number electrified me, Cruise as Stacey Jaxx singing "Pour Some Sugar On Me "- that sequence was the promise of what could've been in this disappointing musical romp.

The Hunter
The Hunter(2012)

3 out of 4 stars - A mesmermizing story of a hired mercenary (Dafoe) hired to hunt the legendary Tasmanian Tiger for it's genetic material. The film's a mystery as well - what's the intentions of the anonymous corporation who hired him; are the locals covering up the disappearance of the previous hunter, does this ellusive creature still exist. Dafoe is perfect, but the big surprise is the amount of heart the film has as he becomes attached to the family of the missing man. The ending is justified though I feel much remorse for mankind because of it.

Bel Ami
Bel Ami(2012)
½

Intriguing story but saddled with a mostly letharic performance from Robert Pattinson dulling the luster about Georges Duroy & his rise through sexual manipulation of 3 wealthy Paris women. They (Thurman, Ricci & Scott Thomas) are fine; the movie looks good too, but Pattinson offers no rooting interest for us & the story drags thanks to him. **1/2 out of 4

This Means War
½

An implausible, poorly written love triangle between 2 spies & a ditzy woman which wants us to believe Reece Witherspoon could not get a date in LA! This is movie making for dummies brought to you by McG (who directed the equally stupid 2000 film Charlies Angles, how does he still get work?). It's offensive to think that taxpayers are paying for two horned-up CIA agents to use technology to spy & track this woman. Yeah, it's supposed to be a romantic comedy - but both elements are missing & all we get are three talented actors slumming for a paycheck amongst mindless action & fight sequences. * out of 4 stars - one of 2012's worst movies.

God Bless America

Never would I imagine comedian Bobcat Goldwait would be my indie film hero after his Police Academy & Hot To Trot films from the 80's. But, his 3rd film's a charm (Sleeping Dogs Lie & World's Greatest Dad). I agree with Frank & Roxy that people today have become rude, cruel, insensitive & focused on shallow values, discriminatory actions while hiding behind the thin veil of religion all focused on their own personal self-gain - though the killing part, not so much (yes, even for talkers during movies). *** out of 4-stars and newcomer Tara Lynne Barr is a true discovery!

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

A wonderfully, entertaining human comedy with a stellar cast. In a summer of big explosions, aliens & superheroes, it's refreshing to enjoy a simple, sweet story about retirement "outsourcing" in India.

Dark Shadows
Dark Shadows(2012)

A better looking film than narrative. Disappointing considering the trailer - Depp, Pfeiffer & Green are fine, tech values good, but the story, bad acting from Bella Heathcote & under developed secondary characters slowed the plot. I heard director Tim Burton hated the trailer which clearly advertised this as a "fish-out-of-water comedy" - it's not! Dark, brooding (like "Sweeney Todd") the film could've used some much needed humour. Though I am thankful these vampires didn't sparkle.

J. Edgar
J. Edgar(2011)

A choppy, uneven biopic of J Edgar Hoover which is saved by strong performances from Leonardo DiCaprio, Armie Hammer, Judi Dench & Naomi Watts. DiCaprio shines in the lead that focuses through flashbacks on his rise to the lead the FBI. Much of the scandal & his personal life feels left on the cutting room floor, but on balance performances make the piece from director Clint Eastwood (who also scored the film) - Oscar hopefully will take note for DiCaprio & Hammer as well as Eastwood too.

30 Minutes or Less

Another prime example of the trailer showing all the best parts. What's left is a dull, 95-minute chase film. Jesse Eisenberg & Aziz Ansari have good chemistry & are fine as slacker friends forced into a bank robbery; but Danny McBride & Nick Swardson are weakest links as foul-mouthed, greedy bad guys. A very disappointing sophomore effort from Ruben Flesicher who directed Eisenberg in the satirically funny ZOMBIELAND 2 years ago. The ending felt abrupt as though the filmmakers just gave up. Watch the trailer and laugh - avoid this film that can't offer up at least 30 minutes of entertainment.

What's Your Number?

Poor Anna Farris - she's stuck in the same lame unfunny role time & time again since her days of SCARY MOVIE - only the parody of herself (or dumb blonde actresses) in LOST IN TRANSLATION has warranted her any acclaim. Here, she plays a dumb blonde who discovers that sleeping with 20 guys is twice the national average rendering her...a slut, So, she decides not to sleep with anybody else & to reconnect with all 20 guys from her past to find true love. Naturally, true love's across the hall in the form of Chris Evans who manages to sneak in 3 mostly naked shots. The script is dumb & insulting to women and offensive to anybody with an IQ above 70. Only the Mandy Moore flop LOVE WEDDING MARRIAGE ranks worse in the romantic comedy genre this year - films like this set women back generations. Lose this number, quickly.

I Don't Know How She Does It
½

A better title would be I Don't Know How SJP Keeps Getting Work. A miserable rom-com about a Boston executive who comes to a crossroads in life between duty to her career & duty to her family. This is no WORKING GIRL or BABY BOOM; instead closer to 2009's Uma Thurman fiasco MOTHERHOOD. Parker is particularly awful here with her over-acting, lame physical comedy & general annoyance. The outcome's predictable; the drama fabricated; poor Greg Kinnear whines constantly about making it big & not having enough sex - a wasted performance by a talented actor. The scenes where socialites, co-workers & Parker talk directly to the camera offer no insights into the tribulations of a modern working mom.

Puss in Boots

Though I'm a cat lover, Puss n' Boots was never my favourite. Even in the SHREK series, the feline lothario was just ok. Now a feature length film with lots of sword play, cats dancing & an adventure to snatch the Golden Goose to pay back the town he was banished from is here. Along for the ride is his co-hort from the orphanage, Humpty Dumpty. Antonio Banderas & Selma Hayek are fine in their vocal performances, but Dumpty (by irritating Zach Galafinakis) was a bore. The final chase & fight off a high bridge with Mother Goose being crushed & her offspring hanging by a thread was too intense (hence the PG rating for mild peril). The pop culture humour is not at the level of the first 2 SHREK films, it feels more like a made-for-DVD film forced onto the big screen. The 3D is unnecessary but suitable for it's sole purpose: to charge a premium price at the box office. Not bad, just okay - perfect babysitting tool once on DVD.

Cowboys & Aliens

Combining 2 of my least favourite movie genres (westerns & sci-fi) perhaps doomed me from the start. This mega box office disaster from this past summer didn't deliver on the excitment of its trailer - so we're left with 2 hours of cowboys & Indians fighting aliens that have come to Earth to steal our people and minerals. Seeing Harrison Ford reminds me how superior the Indiana Jones series were; Daniel Craig's far removed from Bond mode, so we see these guys engage in exasperated shoot outs with less than stellar F/X. The film cost $163 million & hasn't even cracked $100 million domestically. Major disappointment from director Jon Favreau.

The Change-Up
½

Another raunchy buddy comedy that's full of gross out material, poop jokes & gratuitous nudity that pulls it punches and turns soft & cuddly by the end. The only twist here is this one's a body-switching movie - remember those classics from the 80's? Only one was good (VICE VERSA) because of the smart writing & great chemistry between Judge Reinhold & Fred Savage - this one's a mess. Only a couple of laughs, more winces than chuckles & the site of a baby crapping in Jason Bateman's face is simply disgusting. Though the CGI babies in peril in the kitchen with knives & a blender did make me smile. Of particular annoyance is John Debney's piano-drenched score - stop forcing how I should feel during a movie Hollywood - if the character's change of heart is deserved, no somber piano will make that happen - only smart writing & direction which is missing from this box office flop.

Midnight in Paris

A wonderful love letter to the city of lights - Woody Allen strikes gold in his time traveling fabel about a 21st century movie screenwriter, with a fascination for Paris in the 20's, writing his first novel & finding inspiration from the most unlikely characters. This is Owen Wilson best work to date - I smiled & laughed with so many literary references - the film plays like Inception for English majors. My favourite Allen zingerâ¦calling Tea party members "crypto fascist airhead zombies" - nobody writes 'em like Woody!

Monte Carlo
Monte Carlo(2011)
½

Last decade I had a strange obsession with pop tart princess, Hilary Duff - my odd obsession for the 2010's is Selena Gomez - I like her music, look & performance in film (though not the films overall). This is mostly a forgettable fly-by-night mistaken identity comedy that only exist in the movies. Gomez does a formidable job as one of 3 girls traveling to France & being mistaken for a nasty British socialite with a bad reputation. Naturally, she meets the boy of her dreams, escapes her dull Texas town &
reconciles with a step-sister that she dreads in the beginning. Nice travelogue of Monte Carlo & Paris, but nothing specialâ¦other than the beauty & talent of this newcomer.

Drive
Drive(2011)
½

A hypnotic action film with a great Ryan Gosling performance which mixes parts of "F/X", "Collateral" with David Mamet. An Oscar worthy lead performance, score & supporting Actor (Albert Brooks). This is NOT your typical, mindless chase pic thanks to director Nicolas Winding Refn - it's an action film for the art house crowd & one of 2011's Best Movies.

Green Lantern
½

Aw, another superhero with a daddy complex - combine this sad sack backstory with less than spectacular effects & less than stellar climax, it's easy to see why audiences rejected this dud...it cost WB $200 million & earned a paltry $116 million - at least Ryan Reynolds his best with this lousy script - the rest of the strong cast is wasted. Thankfull I didn't experience this mess in 3D

Terri
Terri(2011)

Slow, but effective tale of mis-understood overweight teen & his principal who takes an interest in his life. Jacob Wysocki makes an impressive debut as Terri. I'm not a fan of John C. Reilly's mannerism or sense of humour so he added little for me, but in the teen-angst department, Terri's no Rushmore or Juno, but certainly better than most in the genre in dealing with heartbreak, lust & desire for acceptance.

The Smurfs
The Smurfs(2011)
½

Oh, what a horrible experience - this annoying, chipper blue creatures stole 94 minutes of life in a silly, predictable plot of Smurfs running amok in Manhattan. The tacked on pulling of the heart strings, multiple poop jokes & animal abuse (poor Azrael) was ridiculous. Few pop culture references, no wit & boring - yet this crap earned $140 million in America & $340 million worldwide?

Contagion
Contagion(2011)

An intense, suspensful "what if" thriller that shames the hokey diseased monkey film OUTBREAK. The score, writing , direction by Soderbergh & a strong, Oscar-worthy performance by Katherine Ehle makes this the best mainstream film of 2011. I am so glad to be a vegetarian!

Red State
Red State(2011)
½

Kevin Smith in the 90's would've tackled this subject more directly & cynically - instead, we get a long sermon & lots of mindless gun play in the last act. Strong cast (Michael Parks embodies the reactionary, gun-loving, gay hating preacher very well), but the film is not as topical or as dark as I would've liked. The scariest aspect to this film is...I know people like this growing up in East TN - Americans do not need to fear foreigners who look, act or worship differently than us, we should fear these Bible-toting, pro-hate mongers shown here & living in our own backyard...

Our Idiot Brother

A winning performance from Paul Rudd saves this comedy-drama about the family dark horse who's blissful naivete causes havoc for 3 sisters. Not the dark blistering film I was hoping for, but satisfying with more chuckles than outright laughs.

The Perfect Host

A wickedly funny dark comedy placing a career criminal into the wrong house to allude the police. David Hyde Pierce does a credible job as the perfect host with a very dark agenda himself. Reminded me of "Deathtrap" meets "The Last Supper" - good combo, credible job with several bizarre twist that kept me guessing the outcome.

Thor
Thor(2011)

After a mediocre start, Kenneth Branagh's comic book adaptation feels like a mythical Shakespeare tale meets Iron Man. Chris Hemsworth has lots of appeal amongst the action - strong casting & direction make this the most appealing Marvel adaption since...Iron Man.

Fright Night
Fright Night(2011)

Smart, funny sexy re-make of the cult hit from 1985. Colin Ferrell is perfectly cast as Jerry, the vampire next door & moving the setting from the Midwest to Las Vegas was a stroke of genius. Better than the original & I enjoyed a surprise cameo kill midway thru the pic.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

The swords are dull in the 4th (and hopefully last) in this long swash-buckling saga. Better than the previous two in the series, Depp is fun & playful as Jack Sparrow, Cruz gorgeous as ever, but the action sequences are uninspired & once you've seen 1 sword fight, they all blend into one. The mermaids were a nice diversion & I'm so thankful NOT to have seen this in 3D. Rob Marshall was an odd choice to direct (what, no "Chicago"-style musical numbers?) Let's hope the PIRATES films descend back into the abyss of Davy Jones' locker where this boring dreck belongs.

Frozen
Frozen(2010)
½

"Frozen" is the kind of thriller that is credible enough that I would buy it. It reminded me of 2004's "Open Water" where ordinary people are in real life situations & some terrible things happen to them that are way beyond their control. In "Open Water" 2 scuba divers surface to discover their boat has left without them. In "Frozen", 3 young adults ride the last ski lift to the top of the mountain, but do to a confusion at the base, are stopped & suspended high in the air. Do they wait it out? No, the ski slop doesn't reopen until Friday & this is Sunday night. What follows these 3 very unlucky people involves the fear of heights, freezing to death & wolves! The suspense builds slowly & newcomer writer/director Adam Green does a fine job keeping the gore to a minimum & placing ordinary people into a situation that could really happen. No knife yielding psychos about just man versus the elements. The 3 actors do a good job (Kevin Zegers, Shawn Ashmore & newbie Emma Bell) & Green should have a bright future as a filmmaker. I love the minimalist approach to horror & suspense thrillers. This one gets most of it right - a few flaws (each time they ride the lift they conveniently are in #75 & there's a lot of dialogue when people should be conserving their energy to keep warm!) - all minor. The ending had a few surprises & not everything turns out happy, life goes on. "Open Water" is a far better film, but for a few thrills "Frozen" is worth a look. I'm just glad I do not scuba or ski.

Machete
Machete(2010)

After a career playing stereotypical bad asses, Danny Trejo finally gets movie justice & is the lead in Robert Rodriguez's "Machete". Unfortunately for Trejo, the film is not a slick, smart action film, but another Tarantino-Grindhouse throwback to the 70's where cheap blood 'n boobs revenge/action films polluted the not-so-main screen theaters. Tarantino loves this stuff - I do not. So, we get the messy, ultra violent revenge tale of a man who's wife is killed so he vows to bring down the bad guys. Combine that with a social commentary on Arizona's immigration laws & how a senator trailing in the polls (conveniently named John McLaughlin, played by Robert DeNiro) hunts Mexicans crossing the border & has concocted a bizarre assassination attempt (framing Machete of course) to boost his numbers. Are Americans that simple-minded? That's a rhetorical question. Add in "She" (Michelle Rodriguez), as a mythical legend organizing an underground movement, Jessica Alba as a Fed agent investigating all of this, Lindsay Lohen as the senator's aid daughter in a nun's habit & Cheech Marin as Machete's brother now a pastor being called to bloody action. I enjoyed the social parallels to today's issues, but really hated the excessive violence - there's only so much hands & heads being chopped off I can stomach - though a disemboweling of a bad guy & using his intestines to fling out of a window & swing thru the window on the floor below - funny & disgusting. I enjoyed seeing Don Johnson & Steven Seagal too (see Stallone, aging 80's stars can do decent work in this genre). The premise to the film came about as a 2-minute trailer in Tarantino's bombastic "Grindhouse" film - I personally would've preferred "Machete" as a short film, instead of a long, bloody & redundant action film that it is.

The Expendables
½

The concept is promising - aging, 80's action stars & some newbie's united to do battle with each other. The resolution - dull & embarrassing. Nothing is remotely entertaining in this Sylvester Stallong vehicle which he wrote, directed & starred. Truth be known, I was concerned for his health as he would run, fall & "act" in this mess. The plot is your basic dumb-down action story of a group of mercenary's battling a rogue CIA operative (Eric Roberts) trying to take over an unknown island in the gulf. The cast includes Dolph Lundgren, Mickey Rourke, Jet Li, Steve Austin, Jason Statham & a bunch of people I don't know (I heard they were from Extreme Fighting or wrestling shows - stuff I avoid as I should have done this film). There is no self-kidding humour or any 80's clichés - what no cheesy Harold Faltermeyer music montage? They played this stuff straight & it didn't work. A forced romance with a haggard 64-year old Stallone & the 20-something daughter of the island's President was comfortable & unbelievable. Even the brief presence of 80's stars Bruce Willis & Arnold Schwarenegger added nothing to the plot. I was never a fan of those loud, silly 80's action movies, but after watching this, in retrospect, they had a certain charm & energy level sadly missing here. Everybody but one guy was instantly forgettable, Mickey Rourke - his deadpan, mumbling line reading indicated something more was beneath the surface, but not fleshed out since the filmmakers were more interested in mindless explosions & bullets instead of character development & plot.

The Last Exorcism

There's something titillating about the rash of independent fright fest to emerge lately. Movies like "The Blair Witch Project", "Exorcism Of Emily Rose", "Paranormal Activity" & now "The Last Exorcism" just plain scare me unlike the blood & guts offerings of Jason, Freddy & Jigsaw. My imagination is far more frightening than destroying the human body 100 ways. "The Last Exorcism" was made for less than $2 million & sometimes it shows. Cotton (Patrick Fabian) is a preacher from the deep south specializes in exorcisms; however, he doesn't really believe in what he does & even questions the existence of God. He receives a letter from a troubled soul claiming to be possessed by the Devil - he shows us all his "tricks of the trade" to convince people he is successfully removing the demon from within. With a film crew in hand they head to the backwood swamps of Louisiana with a goal to make some money from these attention driven hicks - but many surprises await them as dear, sweet Nell (Ashley Bell) may actually need help. Is she psychopathic, delusional, a victim of her family & community or truly possessed? No spoilers here, but suffice to say most of it (filmed with the handheld camera) did hold my interest & the final 15 minutes when "all is revealed" was creepy & laughable at the same time. As one person put it "Rosemary's Baby" meets "The Blair Witch". The intensity level was felt & it amazes me that these smaller budgeted films manage to succeed in this genre where many others fall flat. I am certain that Christians will be annoyed at this as well as the fine people of Louisiana - or perhaps these stereotypes are valid? My favourite creeped out moments included pictures drawn indicating the fates of some people & farm animals that come tragically true & the last 10 minutes are frantic & frightening, but it still left me with many questions regarding the fate of 2 main players. On balance, it worked & I would watch this time & time again before enduring another "Saw" or "Elm Street" fiasco.

Prodigal Sons
½

Filmmaker Kimberly Reed returns home to Montana after 20 years away from friends & family to attend her high school reunion. Much has changed in everyone's lives (some have gained weight, lost their hair, etc.), but for Kim, she graduated as Paul, star of the high school football team & has had surgery once in NYC to become Kimberly. She chronicles her trip & some shocking sub-plots come into the picture. Her father's passed; her mother makes due & has accepted Kim's life change, but her older adopted brother Mark has been estranged from her. He suffered a major head injury years earlier & his actions & personality are explosive & causes many riffs in the family. Marc fails to take his medication timely which causes outburst & an impending threats of violence toward himself & possibly others. He's jealous & mad at Kimberly for leaving Montana & changing her life so dramatically. The only happiness he experiences comes in discovering his birth mother identity (the daughter of Orson Welles & Rita Hayworth no less). It's amazing that a docu on a high school reunion could turn it's attention away from the original subject to focus on a supporting character who dominates every scene - this family goes through Hell with this guy (tragically - or maybe fortunately for the Reed's state of mind - Marc passed away in June 2010). Kimberly is amazed that her high school friends have accepted her & are at ease with her transition (Montana's a red state, nice to see a civil balance & reaction to somebody so different!). This is a powerful docu with it's intended lead caught in the crossfire of responsibility to her family & fearing for her life.

Knight & Day
Knight & Day(2010)

Could there be a less interesting, more cynical vanity project made? Take 2 popular A-stars, add all sorts of mindless James Bondesque action involving planes, trains & automobiles, force a stupid convenient romantic sub-plot then add a dark (yet, obvious) secret with the hero & you get the embarrassing mess called "Knight & Day". Nothing works - Tom Cruise is just okay, but Cameron Diaz seems to have taken acting cues from Katherine Hiegle in "The Killers". She plays a naïve, love-struck bimbo who races around & squeals so loudly at the constant gun play that it made my ears hurt. She is particularly bad here. The action is so over-the-top that it defies gravity in scene after scene with boring action & kickboxing scenes taking place on planes, trains & automobiles. The romance is so forced, ridiculous & obvious to anybody who has seen a movie that when there is an early reference to Cape Horn you know these 2 are going to fall in love & head there. I tried to think of K&D as a Bond spoof, but nothing was funny - the action loud & overbearing & I really could not care less for any of the characters. When the film pulled at the heart strings involving a mystery address around Boston, I figured it out so easily that there was no surprise. The sad part to all of this is the expense just wasted ($110 million) - the film has recouped only $75 domestically - it's not a grand failure as "Hudson Hawk" or "Ishtar" but coming from people who are talented (including director James Mangold), I expected so much more. One of the Worst films of 2010.

Me and Orson Welles

Richard Linklater's "lost" movie "Me & Orsen Welles" opened last autumn to critical praise, but was lost in the shuffle. The film cost $25 million & earned a paltry $1.17 mil at the box office. The film had an impressive pedigree: talented writer/director, young Zac Efron's a rising, popular star, Claire Danes, Ben Chaplin & Eddie Marsden supporting cast & a breakout performance by Christian McKay as Welles. So, what went wrong? The rumour has it the studio (Freestyle Releasing) had severe cash flow problems & could not support a wider release of 134 screens - hopefully the film will find an audience on home video. The film follows 17-year old Richard Samuels as a kid who lucks out & ends up in a supporting role in Welles' new play, "Caesar". The film is a love letter to the trials, tribulations & rewards experienced by a theater troupe. Welles proves to be a talented, ego-maniacal control freak, but who is adored & ultimately respected by his co-horts. McKay is absolutely perfect as Welles - he conveys the ego & the genius of the man - whenever he's on screen, everything is electric - unfortunately, he's not on screen more! So, Efron's the main focus & he seems out of place amongst all the talent. Yes, he's good looking & can sing well, but he lacks the dramatic chops so when he's on screen, it was a distraction. Fortunately, the remaining cast & the brisk pacing saves the film & makes it an entertaining viewing. Linklater has done some of my favourite films about growing up & smart conversational pieces ("Dazed & Confused", "Before Sunrise" & "Before Sunset" are perfect!) This is a good, solid film which would've been better with a change in the lead or focus more on the most interesting characters (Danes & McKay).

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) is your ordinary 22-year old Toronto guy - looking for love & a break for his struggling rock band. He's dating Knives (Ellen Wong), a 17-year old high school student he's never kissed; his gay roommate (Kiernan Culkin) & him share a cramped studio apartment in a basement & his band (We are Sex Bob-Omb) are his only distractions in an otherwise dull life. That is until the luminous Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) comes literally into his dream & into his life. But to date her, he must fend off 7 of her ex-boyfriends, uh make that "7 of her ex's!" The battles are shown as video games on the big screen - some are clever like ex #1 Matthew Patel (Satya Bhabha) breaks out into a Bollywood musical number during a battle of the bands; others are quick & done with only a few martial arts kicks. My favourite involved the self-absorbed Todd (Brandon Routh) who is a star in a breakout local band, all thanks to Vegan Power - he flies, shoots rays from his white eyes, but is busted for breaking the vegan rules! My vegetarian side chuckled at his demise. The final "ex" is a high power musical promoter named Gideon Graves (Jason Schwartzman) - he's just signed the band & has taken Ramona back - their battle had an interesting twist to it thanks to Knives & Dance Dance Revolution video game. The film is inventive, a tad long (115 minutes) & a few too many "ex's" to battle - cut out 3 or 4 & edit the film down 20 minutes is my suggestion. I liked the stylish, 80's look to the film, the cheesy nature & the music was right on the money. It reminded me of a hyper-connective "Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist" (also with Cera). Cera does a decent job & his self-conscious mannerism are here. Winstead is great as is Culkin, Anna Kendrick as Scott's sister & Alison Pill as Kim, the Sex Bob-Omb's drummer - her one line dour deliveries are very funny. Probably a better rental than watching theatrically, but a good time all around.

The Kids Are All Right

A wonderful treat! A film that celebrates family, love & all the tensions that come between couples - the twist here is the parents are 2 women (Annette Bening & Julianne Moore). When their kids track down the sperm donor (Mark Ruffalo) & invite him into their close knit family what appears to be genuine interest & curiosity to the kids is interpreted as a threat to the moms. What makes this film so special are the tender & tough moments the moms experience - they are no different than any male-female coupling - they love each other, but experience the same strains, insecurities & pain as any relationship. The kids are surprisingly "normal" teenagers. Joni (Mia Wasikowska) is spending her last summer at home before starting college; her younger brother Laser (Josh Hutcherson) is your typical teen who is embarrassed by his moms at one moment, then disinterested in them the next. The "triangled" relationship between the 2 women & the man comes to a surprising moment (no spoilers here) & the emotions felt real & earned. Simply put, this is the best character study on relationships I have seen in a long time. Writer/director Lisa Cholodenko does a superb job in both roles & you can tell the personal story of these women mirrors her own experiences & relationships. The film runs the emotional scale (without manipulation) from light & comical to heart-felt, dramatic & angry at times. I loved everything about "The Kids Are Alright" - a film that should appeal to both red & blue state folks. This is one of the best films of 2010!

Yoo-hoo, Mrs. Goldberg
½

Many associate Lucille Ball as the first woman of TV comedy - they are wrong - decades before Gertrude Berg paved the way for women on TV as well the modern day sitcom. Never heard of her? - neither had I. The docu from acclaimed filmmaker Aviva Kempner, tells the story of her start on radio just as the Depression hit America. Her down-home, good nature won over audiences & even had Roosevelt to proclaim "I didn't end the Depression, Gertrude Berg did!". From radio to TV, her popularity lasted for decades until the 1950's when her show was forced off the air. The title refers to her character being called to the window from a voice across the way "Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg" - somebody needed her motherly advice & attention. Though her character is portrayed as sweet & nurturing, off screen, Berg was tough & demanding - a perfectionist. When she was on the radio & it called for Mrs. Goldberg to be fixing eggs, she would fry up eggs while the live performance was going on (she wrote all the scripts daily & picked up inspiration by walking around her mostly Jewish neighbourhood in the Bronx.) The film has a variety of talking heads (Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Norman Lear, etc.) & Berg showcased rising talents like Steve McQueen & Anne Bancroft. An enjoyable, brisk 90 min. docu which enlightened me to an era long since forgotten. It would be nice to have a Mrs. Goldberg to call out to today - but instead, we get the fist pumping Snookie's & reality TV starlets to be this generation's role models.

No Impact Man: The Documentary
½

I like to think of myself as an environmentally aware guy trying to lower my carbon footprint here on Earth. I recycle, buy local & organic, am a vegetarian, don't drive around wasting fuel, etc., but nothing I do holds a candle to Colin Beavan & his wife, Michelle. They are a Manhattan couple (with infant daughter) who abandoned their high consumption life to live one year with no net environmental impact - in other words, recycling, buying organic, walking everywhere, no lights, a vegetarian diet, etc. Michelle has issues with this concept from the get go (she can't live without her Starbucks espresso & tires from walking up 9 flights of stairs daily); Colin is into it - he becomes a mini social hero, then anti-hero to some for soaking in the media's glow. Despite how they are labeled, I was amazed at their trek - the few things I do amount to nothing since I can't live without my car & all the perks of modern society (like electricity!). Despite many rocky paths in their net carbon zero quest, by the time the experiment is finished, they are surprised that what they objected to is now their new lifestyle - biking in Manhattan, supporting farmer's markets, eating a vegetarian diet - they seem closer, more organized & happier in their lives. Colin lectures to kids & has even influenced college students to become "no impact" if just for a week. Yes, a docu like this makes my liberal heart swell with pride, but opens my eyes to the fact our planet needs more people like Colin & Michelle & just doing our small part is the first step to altering the fatal direction we are headed in. Most people will scoff at the idea, but it's a pleasure to meet someone (regardless of some hidden agendas the right theorize about) who does care about Mother Earth & our planet's survival.

The Extra Man
½

A sour mostly depressing experience. In a year where one after another Hollywood offering has failed, the independent film circuit is not doing much better. Kevin Kline plays Henry Harrison, an escort to rich Manhattan widows. He has a flamboyant personality which made me wonder if he's crazy or thinks he starring in a quirky indie film. He advertises for a roommate & enter in sad-sack Louis (Paul Dano) - he's a college professor with a fetish for cross dressing & spanking - moving to NYC gives him the opportunity to pursue his desires when uptight Harvard condemned it. They become unlikely & uncomfortable roommates - Kline introduces Dano to the "extra" man/escort lifestyle & he seems to flourish around these older women who for some odd reason dote on him. There's conflict (naturally) as Kline becomes distraught with his inability to successfully con these women & his displeasure with Dano's life choice. Kline is just okay - it's like he's trying to revitalize his Oscar winning role from "A Fish Called Wanda" as a suave, arrogant & clueless con man. Dano sinks the project - his dour unhappy face sets the unpleasant tone for the film - he delivers his lines as though under sedation - playing it "down" & "out" may be the indie thing to do, but it's a distraction here & makes it hard to root for this guy to find a place to fit in & romance the nice, environmentally conscience gal in the office (Katie Holmes). John C. Reilly appears as a "friend" of Henry's - his character was weird & contributed nothing to the story. In fact, that can be said to all of the performers - nothing worked. I was bored & easily distracted through out the project & didn't really care for the outcome.

Furry Vengeance

Simply put - this is a stupid, unfunny & unnecessary movie made by & for people who can't get enough of dumb site gags that you see on America's Funniest Videos. I want to start a group protesting CGI animals singing & dancing - it wasn't funny in "Beverly Hills Chihuahua", "Marmaduke" or "Cats & Dogs" - just creepy. The plot doesn't matter - Brendan Fraser should give up this form of "comedy" - it worked in "George Of The Jungle", but nowhere else - he's better than this - Brooke Shields, overexposed Ken Jeong & Billy Bush round out the uninspired cast. I wish movies like this would go away - or debut on TV were I won't see it. Roger Kumble directed this garbage - not surprising from the director of other disasters like "College Road Trip & the horrendous "Sweetest Thing" with Cameron Diaz. Perhaps small children & those with impaired IQ's may find the animals rule & kick butt over the dumb humans funny - but for me, it was a thousand raccoon nails down the chalk board - instantly forgettable except for the 90 minutes of my life stolen. Skip itâ?¦

Letters To God
½

Another artificial, uninspiring, sanctimonious dribble which wraps the coat of religion around a dying child with cancer. I am not a fan of this syrupy, melodramatic drama with a message - the people who made this film gave us the Kirk Cameron fireman, adultery movie "Fireproof" & the football winning season for Jesus film, "Facing The Giants" (which I actually did like). This one is a mess. A dying kid (Tanner Maguire) writes letters to God, drops it in the mail & has a down-on-his-luck postman (Jeffrey Johnson) read the letters which inspire him & all the people in the kid's life. The postman's an alcoholic, single dad about to lose custody of his kid - how much do you wanna bet his life will turn around? As does the lives of the loving but bitter older brother, the bully at school & so on. There's no inherit drama here & the comedy is stupid (Grandpa pretends to be a Russian & uses his over-sized mustache for the bald kid's eyebrows). Robyn Lively as the dutiful mom & Bailee Madison as his best friend were fine; but everybody else acts as though they doing a smalltime church production or making an ABC Family made for TV film. The message of hope & inspiration may swell up inside of Christians who believe this stuff, but this jaded middle-age film guy just rolled his eyes in disbelief. I can enjoy sappy dramas involving dying children when done right - or mostly right as in "My Sister's Keeper" last year. After we wipe the fake tears away from the final scene, the end credits show real life letters to God & messages of inspiration - all of which undercuts the so-called drama experienced in this lengthy 110 minute film. Make a documentary about those people instead of this phoned in drama.

The Joneses
The Joneses(2010)

A smart film based on the phrase "keeping up with the joneses". An attractive, loving upper class family moves into the perfect suburban home furnished with all the luxuries anybody would want. Things couldn't look better for the Joneses as they acclimate themselves amongst their peers in the neighbourhood, golf course & the classroom. But, once out of the jealous eyes of the neighbours, things are very different than they seem. No spoilers here suffice to say that once the "twist" is revealed 30 minutes in, it's a fun ride & dark social commentary on America's obsessive nature & willingness to go into debtâ?¦at any cost. The cast does a good job perfecting their image - Demi Moore is a real stand-out, I wish she would get more work in the movies. Things do go predictably awry as the perfect family discovers they have real issues that money can not buy. Lauren Hutton appears as the puppet master to this group offering big promises & big payouts. I wish her involvement was more clearly drawn especially after there is a car accident and a suicide. Exactly how did the Joneses get out of that. The weakness to the film is David Duchovny (he's too timid, low-key & uninteresting) as well as the lame, romantic ending - I was hoping the film to end dark or sardonically, instead of a happy, life goes on, let's ride into the sunset with a coincidence provided here. Rework the final 10 minutes & make Duchovny interesting as the rest of the cast (Amber Heard, Ben Hollingsworth, Gary Cole & Glenne Headly) & this would've been a terrific dark social comedy. It's good, but deserves to be better.

Vampires Suck

As a general cinematic rule, filmmakers should avoid putting negative adjectives in the titles of their bad films - it's too easy for guys like me - yes, "Vampire's Suck" does. From the small minds & no talent of Jason Friedberg & Aaron Seltzer comes a parody of the first two "Twilight" movies with lots of stupid humour, not-so-funny pop cultural references & teenage sexual bawdiness which most teenagers will roll their eyes at. When the ZAZ team gave us "Airplane!" & "The Naked Gun" films back in the 80's, they had a fun sense of out of control zaniness that I would scan the whole scene to see what absurd things were going on in the backgrounds while the leads were playing it straight. The films of FS ("Disaster Movie", "Meet the Spartans", "Epic Movie" & yes, even "Scary Movie" franchise) limit their creativity to the film's poster. Nothing works in any of these films - meaning - no laughs! I don't care about the plot when I see a Leslie Nielsen comedy, I'm there to laugh & have a good time. The only saving grace to this cinematic disaster is its presentation of those horrible "Twilight" films in hyper speed - we get all the basics in only 80 minutes from those two labourious films that sucked up over 4 hours of my life. I did snicker twice in this one - once when Jacob (Chris Riggi) takes off his shirt for no apparent reason & cites he is contractionally obligated to do that every 10 minutes & a joke involving Buffy the Vampire Slayer coming to assist Becca while being attacked. So, 2 laughs in a film with hundreds of attempts. Here's hoping audiences have wised up & moved on from these films - but, I doubt it since "Scary Movie 5" is in development. I say, get ZAZ back behind the computer & the lens - dust off Leslie Nielsen - we need the bumbling antics of Lt. Frank Drebin to save the comedy day now more than ever!

Marmaduke
Marmaduke(2010)

Another talking dog movie - how original Hollywood. "Marmaduke's" great dane digs itself into a hole with other howlers like "Cats & Dogs", "Good Boy" & "Beverly Hills Chihuahua". Tepid actor (now tepid voice over actor) Owen Wilson provides the voice & poor Lee Pace, Judy Greer & William H. Macy (what! Do you need the $ that badly?) are the humans who are knocked over, fall into pools & the victims of the GD's flatulence issues. The plot is stupid - Kansas family with 2 kids, cat & dog are transplanted to Orange County where the dog learns that things are done different in the OC - he tries to win over friends with other dogs, but is left with the outcast in the dog park. He tries to prove he's hip (surfing, hosting a party that destroys the house, etc), doesn't recognize the love of a collie & experiences all the clichés associated with teenagers - bad clichés. There's zero humour to this mess & the CGI surfing & dancing dogs are creepy. Nothing works here - it's dumb & a waste of time. Voice over "talents" cashing a big paycheck (this thing cost $65 million?) include Keifer Sutherland, Marlon Wayans, Sam Elliott, George Lopez & Emma Stone). Do you & your kids a favour - rewatch "Babe" - you're kids will love you more & you will feel better about it.

Grown Ups
Grown Ups(2010)
½

Perhaps the title of Adam Sandler's latest man-child incarnation would make me believe he's prepared to leave the frat-boy humour behind & embrace his mature side in "Grown Ups". I was wrongâ?¦ Assembled here are the usual Sandler troupe of actors (Chris Rock, David Spade, Rob Schneider & Kevin James). They are 5 friends who won a basketball championship in 1978. Cut to modern day, the coach is dead, the friends reunite with their oddball family members for the funeral & decide to spread the coach's ashes at their favourite Michigan getaway. Very little time is given to sentiment here - the ashes are spread & so it's time to lighten the mood - making fun of each other, teaching Sandler's spoiled boys how to have fun outside, going to a water park, having sex with their wives & insulting each other for any defects they have (physical ones like Schneider's hair & his one "unpretty daughter", Rock's mother-in-laws grotesque feet, James' obvious weight gain & his wife's penchant for breast feeding their 48 month old son & so onâ?¦) Very little of this is funny nor is it a "Big Chill" style of reflection of middle age men's lives. Just when it seems to tackle a "serious" moment, they quickly replace it with more infantile humour. A lot of this loose script is ad-libed, none of the characters or relationships are interesting & I felt a genuine sense of sadness while watching it. The film ends with a replay of that '78 basketball championship & Sandler coming to terms that one victory in a single game can transform the lives of some backwoods rednecks, just like it did his? (He's a top Hollywood agent with a trophy wife - Salma Hayek) This is not as stupid as his dreaded early films "The Waterboy", "Billy Madison" or "Big Daddy" & it's leaps & bounds superior to my 2007 choice for the worst movie of that year "I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry" also with James. None of the guys are compelling, but I did like their female co-stars a little bit since they were more interesting than this band of male idiots. One day, I hope to watch a Sandler film in which he truly embodies his character like he did in "Punch Drunk Love", but to do that, he would need to give up control, take a significant pay cut & leave behind the buffoons involved with Happy Madison Production - Dennis Dugan is no Paul Thomas Anderson - so Adam, grow up already - connect with a talented writer, director & agent and leave the keys to your past behind you.

8: The Mormon Proposition
½

It's difficult for me to objectively review a docu which is one-sided as "8: The Mormon Proposition" since I agree 100% with the filmmakers. In a nutshell, the Mormon Church crossed the line in secretly funding the passing of Prop 8 in CA in 2008 - thus, blurring the line between Church and State. In my opinion, this is wrong & homosexuals should be granted the right to marry & have the same benefits straight people are given. It's going to happen whether these morons out in Utah & the far right extremists hiding behind the Bible & pulpit like it or not. What separates this docu from a straight-telling tale of the evils which lurk behind all organized religion (fear: do this or else!) are the emotions from the interviewees. We see the excitement of same sex couples preparing to marry once the California Supreme Court legalized gay marriage. But, we experience the anger & sadness when this church proactively became involved in a political issue. The filmmakers take this a step further & we get a human interest story about gay & lesbian Mormons kicked out of the church, abandoned by their families, threatened & even physically assaulted by other Mormons. We hear of the rash of suicides on the BU campus of young people who are told they are not worthy & will burn in Hell. It's odd for me to believe that a cult, uh, sorry - church like the Mormons would behave so insincere especially since a few hundred years ago, they too were persecuted & forced out west because of their religious beliefs. So, I was moved & learned a little bit of new information that just strengthened by liberal soap box. I particularly found humour in the fun ways the Mormon Church tried to hide their contributions to Prop 8 in reporting to the IRS (original tax filings indicated only $2,000 donated - the reality revealed was more like $25 million raised). Personally, I do not believe in the institution of marriage & I think ALL churches should be taxed - I'm waiting on the hate e-mails & comments for that statement - but this is America & we all allegedly have the right to say & believe what we want (a right specifically given to those WASPS - White Angelo-Saxon Protestant Straights). Just leave people alone, don't worry what each of us does behind closed doors & show love & respect to one another - enough said.

13B
13B(2009)

Few horror films made scare me. Too much blood, torture & despair on the big screen. That's why I so emphatically love smaller scares which let your mind imagine what lurks behind the door or under the bed. "The Blair Witch Project" & "Paranormal Activity" did just that for me. Since so many Bollywood movies are out there, I took a chance with my first Indian horror film, "13B" & mostly enjoyed the film. The story: Two families move into a newly renovated flat which is experiencing some oddities - the milk curdles, they can't hang pictures in the prayer room & at 1PM everyday on Channel 13 (EyeTV) the women of the house are mesmerized by a new soap opera called "Everything is Fine". Well, things aren't fine as one of the men discover the story on TV mirrors & predicts their own lives! So, there's good news to share (a promotion, a new baby) & some bad as well (the family is bludgeoned to death with a hammer), the older brother springs into action to change their fate. Great premise, few scares, little violence, but a lot of fun with laughs for me (perhaps not intentional though!). If you're familiar with Bollywood movies, yes, this one brings in two song & dance spectacles kicking & screaming - they broke the creepy tone of the film, so I forgive the filmmakers. The outcome was strange so when Hollywood remakes this as rumoured, I'm sure they will tidy it up, edit out the lunatic cousin & enhance the blood shed. The film's long (146 minutes), but mostly enjoyable. Now, I need recommendations of other Bollywood horror filmsâ?¦can anybody help here?

Salt
Salt(2010)

Evelyn Salt is a beautiful yet complex woman. As played by Angelina Jolie, she could be a close relative to her character Fox from "Wanted". We meet Salt as she is being brutally interrogated by the North Koreans; she is released during a prisoner exchange by her boyfriend, Mike (August Diehl) pressuring the US government. She gets married, settles down in Washington DC & works for a company that serves as a front for the CIA. In strolls Orlov (Daniel Olbrychski) who claims to have info about a mole in the agency - all fingers point to Evelyn Salt. Thus begins the relentless chase as agents Ted & Peabody (Liev Schreiber & Chiwetel Ejiofor) try to capture her & prevent her from assassinating both the Russian & US Presidents. The trailer reveals the first half of the film, but the fun starts once she's on the run & we discover the many diverse layers to this woman's life. No spoilers here! Suffice to say, the trailer leaves out a lot of the plot as well as the constant, balls-to-the-wall action. As my friend Mel asked "Is this a remake of 'Run Lola Run'?" Not exactly, but Jolie has the physical prowess for the role & there is a barrage of bullets, kickboxing, car crashes to satisfy any action junkie's appetite. The film also casts a shadow of disbelief over the true identities of everyone - is Salt good, bad or both? I enjoyed the complexity of the script, Jolie is always fantastic as were the supporting cast. What stops the film from being as over-the-top as "Wanted" was 2 years ago, is the pacing during the first half. But, once on the run from the FBI & CIA, the film kicks into high gear. Director Philip Noyce does a creditable job & kudos for the tech credits as well. DC & NYC look great & don't be surprise this hit in the making will spawn a sequel.

Life During Wartime
½

In 1998, Todd Solondz gave us a very off-kilter look at 3 dysfunctional families in the highly controversial (but darkly funny & entertaining) "Happiness". Never in my wildest imagination would I expect a SEQUEL to that movie, but the continuing sad saga of these 3 sisters (played by different actress) is here - "Life During Wartime". Joy (Shirley Henderson) decides to leave her ex-addict husband when she discovers he's still dealing; she visits sister Trish (Allison Janney) who's ex Bill (Ciaran Hinds) is the sympathetic child molester now just released from prison. She's trying to get her life together with a new man (Michael Lerner) while keeping her ex's memory buried from the kids. Joy leaves for LA to be with sister Helen (Ally Sheedy) only to discover she's more disturbed than the rest of them. All the while, the ghost of her ex, Andy (Paul Reubens) visits & taunts her. This is one messed up group of people - but, I like them & want good things to happen in their lives! Trish's middle son discovers his father is not dead then becomes obsessed with terrorism & believes every man is a pedophile. This is not mainstream fair, but the dark humour & ballsy dialogue (existence of God, 9/11, etc.) is stuff we don't get to hear in the movies. Everything comes full circle at a bar mitzvah & things are left realistic, yet sad. It's the rare occasion I wanted more closure after a 12-year span in these character's lives. The impression is, things will not turn out well for anybody & one of the sisters will soon die; but, at least we are treated to a topless scene from Janney & Charlotte Rampling! I know only one of my friends, Jose will spend time with these people - so, on my advice & if you dare to check it out, watch "Happiness" first to reacquaint yourself with the story & then watch the funniest film you know to pull yourself out of the abyss of sadness & despair that these poor girls must endure - it is addicting.

The A-Team
The A-Team(2010)
½

When I heard Mr. T dissed the new "A-Team" movie, I initially thought he was pissed about not being included in it. Nope, the movie's quite loud, violent, confusing & boring as a feature - so Mr. T is a keen film critic in my opinion. Where to begin - well, over a very extended opening sequence, we see how the 4 men are brought together. The new cast features "Hannibal" (Liam Neeson), "Face" (Bradley Cooper), "BA" (Quinton 'Rampage' Jackson) & Murdock (Sharlto Copley) as Iraq War veterans who need to clear their name with the US government after they are accused of murder & stealing a suitcase of money plates. They are captured, sent to jail, but assisted by a CIA operative (Patrick Wilson) to escape since they are the best men to pursue the bad guys, stay one step ahead of a sexy captain (Jessica Biel) & save the day. Lots of mind-numbing action sequences result with helicopters, cars, tanks in mid-air & bullets galore - all of its noise masking the fact they have no interesting characters or story to tell. Now, I had a passing interest in 80's TV series this is based on, but as a movie it's 100% flat. Copley (so great in last summer's "District 9") is barely visible here, not the crazed lunacy of the Dwight Schultz's TV character. I liked when "BA" decided to pursue a life of non-violence & tolerance, but that lasted 2 scenes & he's back shooting countless faceless characters as though in a carnival shooting gallery. Cooper smiles incessantly but lacks the self-absorbed charm that Benedict had. Neesom nothing special & Biel wasted (yet again) as the love interest for Face. If you enjoy endless action & video game violence with a smartalecky sense of humour, you'll enjoy this one. For the rest of us, check out "Inception" - it's far smarter, complex & serious (with an abundance of action & gunfire to keep you satisfied). This one's a dud.

Killers
Killers(2010)

How Katherine Heigl & Ashton Kutcher have become movie stars is beyond me. Both paid their dues on the small screen on shows I never saw, but they've crept onto my playing field - the movies & they both suck as actors. I gave Heigl a pass for the rom-com "27 Dresses" & Kutcher delivered a decent performance in the bland "Butterfly Effect", but together as a husband-wife team in a pale, unfunny rip-off of "Mr. & Mrs. Smith", they are simply embarrassing. The opening meet cute in the elevator lobby & courtship in France was okay, but once at home in Atlanta & the revelation that he is a retired contract killer, things rapidly spiral downwards. His former boss (Martin Mull) went bad & placed a $20 million bounty on his head; wouldn't you know, everybody in his life (co-workers, irritating suburbanite neighbours & not so surprising in-laws) are all spies kept close to keep an eye on him - so all sorts of stupid hijinks ensue & lots of people step up just to get shot. Kutcher is tolerable & subdued thru most of the film, the real problems are: 1) Heigl is a blubbering idiot screaming, sobbing & holding a gun like it's a deadly black snake; 2) the suburban neighbours are all busy bodies & comic stereotypes that are not funny or interesting - just like everything in this action film - dull. A few "surprises" are revealed, but if you pay attention to the opening screens with Heigl & her parents (Tom Selleck & Catherine O'Hara), you'll figure out quickly why daddy is so protective of his 20-something daughter. The action scenes are ridiculous & with so much gunfire & explosions going on in an Atlanta suburb, no police ever come around. Plus, with the dead bodies piling up in their house, no explanation to the neighbours having a convenient block party outside. It's stupid lapses of judgment in reality like this that sink these films. Director Robert Luketic made one good film - 2001's "Legally Blonde" - he's a one trick pony since every other film is abhorrent as this one. Heigl should go back to television - at least that way, I won't have to endure her pompous, arrogant & bad acting she exhibits in role after role. Put "Killers" to rest & avoid it.

Inception
Inception(2010)

Christopher Nolan has crafted a smart, layered, thinking-man's thriller that is simply put the best film I've seen this year. Leonardo DiCaprio plays Cobb, an extractor who's paid to invade people's dreams to steal their secrets. Still haunted by memories of his deceased wife, Mal (Marion Cotillard) & desiring to return to "the real world", he must go into the dreams of a business tycoon (Cillian Murphy) not to steal any ideas; instead, to plant a new one: an inception. After a rough start in Japan & losing their dream architect, he & his partner, Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) enlist the aid of brilliant student, Ariadne (Ellen Page) to go multi-layered (i.e. "a dream within a dream"). But, wait there's a whole lot more going on & to reveal would be nothing short of a crime. I love films that open up oddly, yet fold back upon themselves giving us a breathtaking journey from start to finish. This is the type of film you will be talking about afterwards in the lobby - I got lost a few times when the movie went many layers deep, but that's part of the fun & I want to check it out again (and soon) to put the complex pieces together. So, if you're excepting a bullet-ridden, FX, gung-ho action film - well, you'll get plenty of that - as well as a dream rollercoaster ride where anything can happen (and does). But wait, there's still so much more - the ending was subtle & can be left up to interpretation - I thought it was very satisfying & completed the wicked, mind-boggling ride. The cast is first rate, the story telling works & director Nolan has given me a reason to be happy in a miserable summer/year at the movies.

Our Family Wedding

Can American comedies sink any lower? I pondered that a lot during the 90's when talentless boobs like Adam Sandler, Pauly Shore & Chris Farley were getting films mades. Now, we have a slapstick wedding with a touch of racism in alleged comedy "Our Family Wedding". A likeable Latina (America Ferrera) plans on marrying her African-American boyfriend (Lance Gross). Lucia has been secretive about Marcus & a few other things her dad (the unfunny Carlos Mencia) wouldn't understand - she dropped out of law school & will be accompanying Marcus to Laos. Marcus' dad (Forest Whitaker, time to give back that Oscar!) is a DJ who can afford a multi-million dollar estate & dates girls his son's age. The families are surprised, but the over-the-top reactions by the fathers reminded me of watching the Tea Party rants. Basically, neither dad thinks the other one's good enough based on - wait for it, skin colour. The dads bicker, curse & fight in a way that NO living person would behave like in public. It also takes at least an hour before a serious discussion of the issue is addressed; but before that we get the most idiotic Latin & black stereotypes. Even if the cast suckers you into seeing this, there are no laughs - not one! On the positive, the 2 leads are likeable & I enjoyed Regina King as the DJ's single assistant. But, the wedding from Hell, the unbelievable actions of the fathers & what passes as humour - a goat eats Viagra & humps Whitaker - sinks this project. The pathetic script is courtesy of Wayne Conley & Malcolm Spellman who must believe that in 21st century Los Angeles, this is first multi-cultural marriage. Those geniuses are writing "Johnson Family Vacation 2" (thanks guys - a sequel nobody has been waiting for). I believe in 2010 audiences are smarter & more tolerant to accepting most differences (sorry gays & lesbiansâ?¦not yet!). This film is a far cry from "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" or even the mediocre Bernie Mac film, "Guess Who". It's time to move forward folks & pass on this ridiculous films which equates racism for slapstick.

Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage
½

Though musically raised during the 70's & 80's, I am not a big fan of those decades - I love the 90's! Give me grunge, alternative rock, dance and R&B from that decade anytime! So, a full length feature documentary about this Canadian band Rush was not high on my list to see. Was I surprised! A very engaging, in-depth look into the life of Geddy lee, Alex Lifeson & Neil Peart. It's interesting to note that Lee's parents were both Holocaust survivors & they immigrated to Canada with only $10 to their name. The movie gives equal time to guitarist Lifeson & drummer Peart, who shares the tragedy of losing his daughter in a car crash - an event which nearly put the band on permanent hiatus. A variety of talking heads appear (Gene Simmons, Sebastian Bach, Matt Stone, Jack Black) & they share interesting perspectives & information about the band. Simmons tells us that Rush opened for them on their American tour, but after the concert instead of giving into the parties & groupies, the band members went back to their hotel rooms to read! I also enjoyed experiencing the rise of Rush via Cleveland blue-collar rock radio stations & how they played smaller venues in the south & Mid-west. Lee even talks about playing Johnson City TN back in the 80's - I remember when they were there. I like a handful of Rush's songs (but "Tom Sawyer" remains my fav). The group made some slight experiments by going with synthesizers during the 80's, but quickly switched back to the classic rock they are known best. If you're a fan of the group, you probably already own the DVD (it came out June 29th, the same time the film rolled into theaters); if you enjoy rock music or musical docus, give this a shot - it's informative, funny & filled with music to take you back several decades.

[Rec] 2
[Rec] 2(2010)

Just when you thought all demons had been put to rest in the Spanish apartment from Hell - here comes "Rec2". Back in 1997, the original "Rec" was well crafted & damn scary! Naturally, Hollywood jumps on board the following year & we got stuck with "Quarantine" - just like "Rec", but in English. "Rec" was an international hit, so here's the sequel & for the most part, it works. 4 new police officers & a chief health inspector head back into the quarantined apartment building - up to the attic - to look for a blood sample from the first know carrier - the Medeiros girl. Well, all sorts of nasty's are still running around the place as is a group of teens (always with a camcorder too) who found a way in thru the sewer system. The kill shots are predictable, but the intensity of the actors just "wowed" me. The scream & cry & their faces are full of blood, snot & tears, I felt bad for them! Well, much is revealed here & it seems that the Vatican is up to some nasty doings involving trying to find an antidote for the madness of possession. So, the chief is a bit more involved than he leads on about. There are some surprises (a person left for dead in the 1st movie is back!), the intensity level is set on "11" & the ending was interesting & not predictable - so on balance, this is a good horror film, but I don't believe hardly any of my friends will watch it! Why? It's sub-titled in English - but for me that's a plus in a bloody scary movie since my eyes at focused at the bottom of the scream just as some nasty demonic naked people leap out from the top or sides. I just hope America doesn't give us "Quarantine 2" - Hollywood will find a way to mess it up as they did the first one!

Greenberg
Greenberg(2010)

Smart, brave movies about unlikable people don't connect at the box office - but critically & with me, I love them. Ben Stiller plays Roger Greenberg - he's just out of a mental institution back east in NY & staying at his brother's place while they vacation in Vietnam. While there he attempts to reconnect with friends left behind - Ivan (Rhys Ifans) has cleaned up his act & life; Beth (Jennifer Jason Leigh) once dated Roger with horrible results - in fact, everybody Greenberg comes in contact with generally dislikes him. He's distrusting, narcissistic & disappointed all what life has given him. Enter Florence (Greta Gerwig), she's Phillip's assistant (Roger's brother) who takes care of everything for the family; once Roger enters her world, she wonders about falling in love with this older man of 40, but his erratic behaviour & condescending attitude is like poison to her idealistic nature. Not everybody's dysfunctional relationship with this guy is resolved by the end. The dialogue is witty & smart - director Noah Baumbach also wrote the script with Leigh. He knows how to tell complex stories about unlikable people. There's a scene late in the film where he verbally chastises a group of 20-something "kids" for being too "sure of themselves" - that scene is just brilliant. Baumbach's work includes "Margot at the Wedding", "The Squid and the Whale" & "Kicking and Screaming" (all fine rental suggestions) "Greenberg" will not appeal to the casual film watcher, but if you are impressed with the before mentioned titles, definitely check this out. The film earned only $4.2 million this spring at the box office; you have a second chance on DVD & Blu Ray July 13th. This is one of the best films of the year & I'm hoping Baumbach will be remembered for original screenplay & Stiller (who went serious to mixed results in "Permanent Midnight") deserves an nod as well.

Harry Brown
Harry Brown(2010)

An art house film that's an exercise in brutality. Michael Caine takes over where Charles Bronson left off with those lousy "Death Wish" films from the 70's & 80's. He plays Harry, a retired senior citizen who just lost his wife & his only friend has been brutally murdered by teen thugs. Something snaps inside him; Harry takes the knife his friend used for protection & vigilante justice has begun. But, he has a heart to his killings as when he goes into a drug den to buy guns - he murders the 2 punks, but takes the OD girlfriend to the hospital - so he's not all bad. Emily Mortimer plays a detective, who unlike her fellow officers on the force, believe this old codger has something to do with the recent rash of murders. When the drug kingpin is revealed to be somebody close to Harry a showdown between the detective, Harry & a barrage of bullets ensues. This is a very violent & dark film to be sure. With talents such as Caine & Mortimer, I was expecting something more psychological, but no - lots of gun shots to the head & stomachs being gutted. Nothing interesting happens - the moment Harry "turns" is no different than him hearing "Murder, She Wrote" has been cancelled. Very little reaction by the lead & the way he gets away with some of the murders is laughable & a bit offensive - just because he's old, nobody suspects him. This is the first film for director Daniel Barber - here's hoping his next venture behind the lens will be more entertaining. The film has earned $1.6 mil in America & $7.6 mil internationally & will be on DVD & Blu-Ray August 21st.

Death at a Funeral

Call it selling out or jumping the shark, when good indie directors go main stream, the result is usually something quite uninteresting. Remember Gus van Sant's shot-by-shot remake of "Psycho" in 1998? Well, the talented Neil LaBute has gone Hollywood & remade a darkly funny 2007 British film of the same name, "Death At A Funeral". Though not an exact remake of that film, the plot & characters are identical & sad to say, despite "A"-talent, not very funny. The premise is such: Dad's dead & the family has assembled for the funeral. Chris Rock is the older brother trying to keep things together; his younger brother (Martin Lawrence) is a successful author & womanizer who's conveniently broke. The odd cast of relatives descend (Danny Glover, Zoe Saldana, Tracy Morgan, James Marsden) as does a little person Frank (Peter Dinklage, also in the Brit film) who had a very "special" relationship with the star of the funeral. The humour is nasty (lots of 4-letter words, bowel movements gone wrong) & dark (multiple corpses in the coffin), but why does this film exist? Absolutely nothing is new except the colour of the stars' skin. So what, it's an African-American version of a film that was fine & entertaining on it's own. Since Hollywood has little to no originality left & they insist on remakes & sequels, at least up the energy level & do something different. I will admit, I laughed a couple of times, but I laughed more in the Brit film since way back in 2007 it was original to me. This is a lazy effort by all involved - perhaps Wayne Wang will remake the same film with an Oriental cast? Then, James Ivory with a Mexican cast or James Cameron with an all Na'vi cast?

Toy Story 3
Toy Story 3(2010)

Woody, Buzz, Jessie & the whole gang are back after an 11-year silence. Things have changed for all of them - Andy is now grown & getting ready to leave for college so playtime hasn't happened in years. All the toys are bagged up & instead of heading to the attic for retirement, they end up at Sunnyside Day Care. There they are greeted by Lotso (voice by Ned Beatty) as a kindly, over-stuffed purple bear who smells of strawberries. He familiarizes the gang with their new environment & all are content to stay, except Woody who heads back to Andy's & for college. Things at Sunnyside are not all rainbows & unicorns & the group find themselves imprisoned in the Caterpillar Room where the younger kids rough house the toys until they nearly break. So, a big adventure's underway as they try to escape & head home. Man, was this film intense - dark & too scary for younger kids. I was surprised Pixar went there - sure, all of their films feature a certain degree of peril, but this was a bit much. I heard of the "emotional ending" & it did nothing for me unlike the best of the group, "Up". I liked the vocal work, didn't laugh as much as I had hoped (scripted by Michael Arndt who wrote "Little Miss Sunshine", I expected more). I enjoyed touches of a Spanish version of Buzz, the hopefulness of Sunnyside early on & seeing the human (and dog) characters now 15 years older than when we first met them in 1995. The film falls victim to hype & expectations - of the 11 Pixar films my top 5 stay firm ("Up", "Wall-E", "Toy Story 2", "Finding Nemo" & "Toy Story") this comes in at #9 just ahead of "Monsters, Inc." & "Cars". The ending is satisfying & completes the series comfortably so please no more sequels. I am also thankful not have experienced this in 3D - the 2D version was just fine!

Happy Tears
Happy Tears(2010)

A strange brew of whimsy, tragedy & sadness. Parker Posey & Demi Moore are two sisters called back to Pittsburgh to take care of the father (Rip Torn) who's been diagnosed with a rare form of dementia. Laura (Moore) is a responsible mother of two; Jayne (Posey) is more carefree living life for shopping & keeping her husband Jackson (Christian Camargo) sane. Tensions are high when the girls return home to discover dad has a live-in nurse (Ellen Barkin) who's not all she's cracked up to be. The family bickers, fight then come together. There are odd fantasy sequences as when a drug-induced Jayne floats naked on a jellyfish only to see her unborn child tell her "everything will work out". The girls learn of their father's infidelity, search for buried treasure in the back yard & decide what's best for dear old dad. The ending's peculiar too with the entire dysfunctional group living together in California. I just didn't laugh much or really care about these characters. Plus, I just went down this road 3 years ago with the far superior "The Savages" with siblings tending to their ailing father. I did enjoy Moore's understated performance; Posey (who I personally love) was either going crazy herself or unsure of her character. It's always nice to see Barkin & Torn in the movies, I just wished they had more to do. On balance, a missed opportunity thanks to a mediocre script.

Remember Me
Remember Me(2010)
½

What an unpleasant romantic drama this is. Robert Pattinson delivers another "dead behind the eyes" bad performance as Tyler, a slacker who loves & supports his step sister Caroline (Ruby Gerins), but openly displays his hostility towards his workaholic father (Pierce Brosnan) & society in general. The movie opens with a murder of a mom in front of her daughter, then cuts 10 years later (no time line is given on purpose). After a brush with an equally thuggish cop (Chris Cooper), he decides to get revenge on him by dating his gorgeous daughter (Emilie de Ravin). The two have little in common & no real chemistry, but after dad hits her, she moves in with this dullard. Anybody who remembers the opening scene will figure out why she won't ride the subway & why her dad's an angry, pissed off cop. Romance "blooms", Tyler yells & throws things a lot- then love soothes the savage beasts & we're off to an obligatory happy ending - not so fast. If you really want to see this "Love Story" retread, stop reading! So, father-son, father-daughter are content - the two lovebirds find bliss; Caroline is accepted at school - the music's uplifting, the tone is lighter & relaxed then this happens. Dad uncharacteristically skips work to take his kid to school; Tyler waits for him to arrive at his office to discuss his legal problems - everybody's happy. A teacher at school welcomes Caroline back, she steps away from the chalkboard to reveal this: Tuesday, September 11th, 2001. Where's Tyler? The final shot pulling back from high in the WTC is cynical & heartless. I guess 9/11 was the basis for these dysfunctional people to love again, ride the subway & move forward in their lives. Those final minutes are cheap & takes a relatively bad film & makes it one of the worst this year. I can handle 9/11 as a theme for drama ("United 93" & "World Trade Center" were masterful), but here, it feels amateur gimmick - just like this film.

Don McKay
Don McKay(2010)

Don McKay (Thomas Hayden Church) is a troubled man who left his hometown 25 years earlier after a tragedy. He remained in letter contact with his old flame, Sonny (Elisabeth Shue) - upon hearing that she is dying, he returns home to be with her but circumstances are not what they seem. Everybody has a reason for Don to come home - Sonny's nurse, Marie (Melissa Leo), the family doctor (James Reborn) & his best friend (Keith David) raise eyebrows upon his return. So, what exactly is going on? There is a mystery surrounding all of this & Church is effective as an everyday man who is forced into one bad situation after another. At first, I was perplexed by Shue's character - at a moment's notice, she would "overact" feeling bad - is she simply a bad actress or is there more to her? A little of both I'm afraid. When the secrets & lies begin to unravel, most plot devices are easy to figure out. Leo's character is the most interesting - as a dutiful nurse, when she goes up against Church, it's both scary & funny - I would've enjoyed more of her as well as great character actor, M. Emmet Walsh who appears in 3 scenes as a convenient cab driver. Good casting, okay plot, I just wanted more than what was a "C" grade Coen Brothers film. First time writer/director Jake Goldberger has a future in film & for a freshman project, just okay. After playing the film festival circuit, the film was released in April theatrically & earned $13,722 at the box office - hits DVD on June 29th.

Robin Hood
Robin Hood(2010)

Russell Crowe & Ridley Scott are reunited for the 5th film & it's time they took a long break from each other. Their movies are large, beautifully shot, long & a bit of a mess when it comes to story-telling. Body Of Lies (2008) was the only pairing I recommended - yes, folks, I said no to "Gladiator", "A Good Year", "American Gangster" and now, "Robin Hood" which is the weakest of the lot. This is a history lesson in how a common, but brave soldier became Robin Longstride. King Richard is killed in battle & his successor, Prince John (Oscar Isaac) lets power go to his head. He uses force against his own people to collect taxes with the aid of his right hand man, Godfrey (Mark Strong). Meanwhile, Robin through a series of events, ends up with King Richard's Lionheart sword & must return to Nottingham to deliver bad news about the real Robin & return the sword. There, he meets Marion Loxley (Cate Blanchett) & it's decided by Sir Walter Loxley (Max von Sydow) that he must take over for his deceased son & be Marion's wife. And, of course, have a major sword fight overkill action sequence every 20 minutes to prevent the audience from drifting off to sleep. What's good about it - the production looks good & Blanchett is winning as ever. When I saw her ride into battle, it reminded me of her "Elizabeth" films. What's not so good - it's violent as hell, the battle sequences are so confusing to watch, the merry men in Robin's clan have no discernable personality & it's long (139 mins). 'Nuff said. I liked a few moments between the 3 main players & wished director Scott would've edited this mess down. Same issue I had with "King Arthur" back in '05 - too long, confusing & dull. Only the Errol Flynn films had a true sense of fun & adventure - something truly lacking in this bloated movie. The film took 40 days to cross the $100 mil zone - with a $200 mil budget, audiences have turned away from this "Gladiator 2" retread - Scott & Crowe have missed their mark.

Youth in Revolt
½

There's not a middle ground when it comes to loving or hating Michael Cera. The haters claim he's the same, low-key whinerin every role; the mclovers praise his understated, complex teen angst - I generally like him - "Superbad", "Juno", "Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist", he's got charm & a winning spirit. "Youth In Revolt" starts out very funny with the Cera we all recognize. He plays teenager Nick Twisp who during a trip to a trailer park with his mom (Jean Smart) & white trash boyfriend (Zack Galifanakis), he meets Sheeni (Portia Doubleday), a pretty, smart & rebellious girl who loves everything French. But, she has a boyfriend, so Nick develops an alter ego, Francois to tell him how to woo the girl & leads him down a slippery slop of vandalism, assault & on the lame from police. The first 30 minutes are very funny & original; it's when we meet the boorish Francois character that brings Nick in touch with his darkside, that things go downhill. Justin Long arrives late & plays Sheeni's older brother who serves up hallucinogenic mushrooms to Nick & his family to keep things mellow - that's funny, but too late to save the film. Director Miguel Arteta likes to direct dark, complicated characters (2000's "Chuck & Buck & Jennifer Anniston's best film 2002's "The Good Girl"). The film was delayed a couple of times & I can see why. When a likable guy goes dark & twisted for no other reason than to get laid, it's hard to sympathize with him. Teen films these days are smarter & deeper than this. There are a few funny sequences & good character actors here, but the mean-spirit nature & a cynical ending does not win me over. It didn't win over audiences either, "YIR" earned $15,285,588 at the box office this past January with a production budget of $18 million. Cera will recover as an "Arrested Development" & "Gilligan's Island" films are on his horizon.

The Runaways
The Runaways(2010)

A bio-pic about the 70's all girl group, The Runaways in which Kristen Stewart finally comes into her own as an actress playing Joan Jett. Those silly "Twilight" films have not showcased what a talent she is - she's tough, strong-willed & plays a mean guitar with attitude. Dakota Fanning's also on board as the troubled, drugged out Cherrie Currie. Most of these rock n' roll pics follow very traditional course - we see the rise (putting the band together & accepting any gig), the pinnacle ("Cherry Bomb" is a success in Japan), the fall (drugs & sex gets in the way of the music) & redemption (Jett makes it big in the 80's & Currie turns out just okay). The film doesn't pull any punches in the graphic depiction of life broke & on the road. Michael Shannon is unrecognizable as Kim Fowley - their manager who gives them no slack or money - people don't go to concerts to watch cute girls playing their instruments, they want sex with an edge. There's few surprises here & as somebody who's followed music closely since the late 70's, I knew the outcome - so, the driving force & reason to recommend it is based on the performances & Stewart shines. I would've enjoyed seeing more of Jett's career once she took off in 1981 with "I Love Rock N' Roll" & scoring 8 top 40 hits - she even followed Currie's lead & tried her hand at acting in 1987's "The Light Of Day" with Michael J. Fox. There's plenty of material for a follow-up. The recreation of the time, place & music is accurate (though when Fowley calls the girls "diva" once that felt 2 decades to soon). Fanning's okay in her role & seeing a lip lock action between the two leads was a pleasant surprise. The film sadly tanked at the box office earning only a meager $3.5 million - it arrives on DVD & Blu-Ray July 20th & it's definitely worth a viewing - so skip the impending atrocious "Twilight Saga: Eclipse" & rent or buy this one.

Toe to Toe
Toe to Toe(2010)
½

A strained friendship is formed between 2 girls during their senior year at a DC prep school. Privileged, white Jessie (Louisa Krause) has a bad reputation & has attended 3 schools in 4 years; Tosha is a poor yet determined African-American student from the southside who strives for nothing more than to get into Princeton. They meet on the lacrosse field but things change when Jessie crosses the color barrier & expresses an interest in Tosha's Muslim friend, Rashid (Silvestre Rasuk). This coming of age tale was written & directed by newcomer Emily Abt & it works part of the time. Tosha is a well developed character - she's tough & independent & we wish nothing but the best for her; Jessie comes off as a spoiled white, rich girl - her mom is distant & works too much, she's raised by her aunt (actually a maid) & she freely gives herself to boys at her school. I enjoyed Tosha's story & wanted the film to stay focused on her - the struggles of her mom trying to hold the family together, her focus on getting out of the hood while threats of violence are around her & so on. When a hate crime is committed against Tosha, all eyes are on Jessie (since the girls had a falling out) - but a crucial scene before the accusation gives away the real culprit. The drama is real when Tosha's on screen - edit out the Jessie character & you have a more engaging film.

Case 39
Case 39(2010)

There's a couple of mysteries abound in this one filmed back in 2006. One involves Emily, a social worker (Renee Zellweger) who strives to save her 39th case; a young girl (Jodelle Ferland) allegedly being abused by her parents - she is rescued just before being cooked alive in the oven & moves in with Zellweger since a bond is established between them. The 2nd mystery is why this thriller from Paramount has never been released domestically. I saw it in Peru this past spring & it's earned nearly $14 million worldwide, but nothing stateside! Well, perhaps this psycho child horror film has been done so many times. Innocent, sweet Lilith has more going on behind those brown eyes. Anybody that threatens her bond with Emily receives a mysterious phone call with a gargled voice & their demise quickly follows. The talented cast of potential victims includes Ian McShane, Bradley Cooper & Adrian Lester. A strong cast, but we've all seen "The Ring" & "The Orphan" and the thrills are not served here. Zellweger is under used so just okay & Ferland is creepy - but the ending leaves them out to dry; so when we see parents trying to Shake & Bake their daughter in the opening, we know how the ending will turn out. Plus, there's very little explanation about the "evil force", the phone calls, etc. Certainly, Paramount should've added this to its schedule (it cost $27 mil to produce & it looks good); plus, they have released much worse thrillers in the past: "Along Came A Spider", "Pet Sematary", "Domestic Disturbance", "Friday The 13th" series - all of them! German director Christian Alvart made this film after his bloody debut in "Antibodies" but before the sci-fi horror dud "Pandorum" - this is better than those 2 films, but the thrills are missing, very little blood & violence & unless hornets crawling out of your nose or eyes frightens you, most of it is laughable. Perhaps an after life on DVD will be in store.

The Twilight Saga: New Moon

I simply don't get the appeal of this lackluster vampire series. Bella and Edward are perfect for each other - they both equally have dull personalities - they look longingly into each others eyes are pontificate about love - they come off as depressed, loners who mope around and whose dialogue is barely above a mumble.... Soft-spoke ness does not make a romantic hero and Edward (boring Robert Pattison) is far from sexy - he looks like he's in dire need of a bath, make-over and dialogue coach. Bella (angst ridden Kristen Bell) isn't much better - her character longs from her love (i.e. "Romeo and Juliet" themes abound) but there's no substance to her - what makes these two so special? Nothing. The plot is convoluted and several times I got lost - other times it was so easy to predict what was going to happen. Essentially, the Cullen clan leave Bella forever (yeah, right) - she falls into a deep depression - meanwhile Jacob (Taylor Lautner) is there to offer sympathy and to fix her motorcycle - you see Bella catches images of Edward when she's in danger so she becomes an extreme sports junkie just feel his presence. A clan of half naked guys change Hulk-style into wolves - Edward thinks Bella is dead so he tries to get the Volturi council to rip his head off - they object and so he tries to expose himself as a vampire to be killed - Bella rushes off to Italy and they embrace then back to the drippy woods of WA for the set up to the next boring movie out in the summer 2010. I liked Dakota Fanning as Jane and Ashley Greene as Alice - but the leads offer no interest so their fate maters none to me. Maybe Jane and Alice would hook up, that would make for a more interesting movie than this snooze fest.

I Love You Beth Cooper

This is a violent, unfunny, vile movie and one of the worst films of 2009. Upon delivering his graduation speech, a nerd (dull Paul Rust) proclaims his undying love for the prettiest girl in school (psychotic Hayden Panettiere). For the rest of the graduation night, he is chased and terrorized by her jock boyfriend, run over by her reckless driving, beat up at a party of his peers - it goes on and on and on - not remotely funny or insightful to teenage love, lust or angst. Coming from director Chris Columbus he should be embarrassed. Larry Doyle wrote this mess - he's a former Simpsons writer and scribed the Drew Barrymore film "Duplex" in 2003. The film is mean-spirited through out and when certain intentions are revealed late in the movie, it feels telegraphed and forced - most characters are just put into humiliating situations like being stranded nearly naked only wearing Spiderman underwear in the woods - come on, does any 18 year think or behave this way? Not in my world called reality.

The Time Traveler's Wife

Love stories involving space and time between lovers are hard to pull off on screen - I'm always questioning the "logistics" of the storyline. This emotional melodrama gets most of it right - what works is the romantic chemistry between Eric Bana and the gorgeous Rachel McAdams - seeing her name associated with the film many would assume another "Notebook" - same genre, same emotional release at the end but with quantum mechanics. The story jumps over a period of 30+ years with our hero "coming too" bare ass naked in every shot - never saw Sam Beckett from "Quantum Leap" have that happen! Some scenes border on "creepy" - naked man in bushes ask small child for her blanket only to explain to her "I am from the future". Pedophiles don't take note. I also had an issue involving a child time traveler seen a couple of times - when she wakes up, is this 9 year old naked in the streets too? Okay, I am reading too much into this - not as good as "The Notebook" or "Ghost", but McAdams shines and Bana looks good - whether clothed or not!

The House of the Devil

A film that could had easily been made back in the 80's! The movie has the look, style and cliches of so many horror films I watched during the decade of excess. A college coed is lured into the woods on the promise of some quick cash to babysit. Upon arriving at the old mansion, she discovers there is no babysitting gig, but to stay and tend to "Mother" in case she needs anything. Well, the title "House Of The Devil" should predict what comes next. The lead actress (Jocelin Donahue) is actually quite good - not another pretty face who strips and screams on queue. She really has talent! The movie has a fair share of horror cliches and it's a bit slow in some scenes; the final 20 minutes felt rushed with an ample amount of blood letting and a surprise. The film is set in 1983 and it gets most of the gimmicks right (clothes, music, hair, no cable!); I would had liked more of Tom Noonan and Mary Wornov as the heads of the household and more of an explanation as to why human sacrifices are going on in the attic; but on balance a good effort by writer/director Ti West - this is his 2nd feature after 2005's "The Roost" - he's on the right
track.

Nothing Like the Holidays

Holiday and ethnic stereotypes run amuck in another lame Christmas film. I personally am not a fan of the holiday and it amazes me when folks ask "where's your Christmas cheer?" Well, by looking at recent films focused on the holiday, there's little cheer on the silver screen! (The deadly line up "Four Christmases", "How The Grinch Stole Christmas", "Fred Clause" and so on) This film is better than those, but not an exception - dark themes as adultery, gang retaliation, dad harboring a medical secret, career over family, unrequited love, etc. are abound. The film does provide one joyous moment of Christmas caroling through the streets of Humboldt Park in Chicago - I wish there was more of that. The heavy-handed drama just did not work. Another ethnic holiday film, 2007's "This Christmas" fell victim to the same plot problem. The cast is fine (especially Alfred Molina, the beautiful Elizabeth Pena and Jay Hernandez), the script is full of high drama and quick resolution. The poster and trailer makes this film look light-hearted fun - another example of marketing mis-fire - the movie did not connect at the box office either earning just $7.5 million last November and was gone from theaters before Christmas 2008.

Whatever Works
½

I'm not familiar with Larry David or "Curb Your Enthusiasm" - after watching him "doing a neurotic Woody Allen", I am intrigued to check his HBO series out. His delivery of Allen's sharp tongued dialogue is perfect. He is convinced he is a genius and everybody around him are small-minded buffoons who constantly reproduce then search for true love! The film has dozens of hilarious quotes - one of my favourites - "If it wasn't for sexual inadequacies, the National Rifle Association would go broke!" Funny stuff. David's character is so dismayed at the human race, he leaves his attractive, successful wife and attempts suicide - "How'd he get that limp?" "He jumped out of a window and his suicide didn't work" "Well, you just can't win 'em all". He teaches chess to feeble minded children then into his life comes a distraught, vulnerable southern belle (Evan Rachel Wood) who tries to change the curmudgeon with little success. She's trying to find a life for herself in NYC and on the lam from her separated parents (the wonderful Patricia Clarkson and Ed Begley Jr.) - when they appear at different times in New York, the hilarity continues. Smart, well-paced and acted, Woody Allen is definitely back on track after years of mediocre work. Welcome back, Woody!

Dead Snow (Død snø)

Zombies and vampires are all the rage this year at the movies. "Zombieland" set the bar high for the others in these horror genres combining thrills with laughs. I was not laughing with "Dead Snow" - just repulsed at the disgusting amounts of blood and guts spilled across the frozen Norwegian landscape. Medical students on Easter vacation get more than they bargained for when they hear of a legend of Nazi's stealing all the town's gold back in 1942 then attacked by the townsfolk's. Wouldn't you know, some of the gold is in a box under the floor board of the cabin and all sorts of nasty stuff takes place then. Not sure how or why the Nazi's come to life and nothing seems to kill them either! The film is extremely repulsive without laughs or even nudity! To make matters worse for the average American film watcher, it's sub-titled! If any of my words prior to the last statement did not resonate, the need to read a movie is far more horrifying for feeble minds to contend with than any amount of violence presented on the big screen. So my two star review is unnecessary, nobody will see this lousy film anyway!

Paranormal Activity
½

Incredible film - very scary and marketed to perfection - buried "Saw 6" it's opening weekend and rivals "Blair Witch" - I love it!

Pandorum
Pandorum(2009)

Strange sci-fi horror film with a neat twist in the end but this is no different than Event Horizon meets Resident Evil type of films -

The Informant!
½

Matt Damon does a fine job as an informant with many layers to him. Not over the top hilarity, but a good job by all.

Fame
Fame(2009)

Ridiculous to remake a classic film and turn it into High School Musical light - only Naturi Naughton shines in the dull remake.

Zombieland
Zombieland(2009)
½

Another smart, pop culture comedy with zombies - the pacing is great and the scares are lightened with plenty of comedy. A great time at the movies

The Invention of Lying

Funniest comedy of 2009 - this will piss a lot of people off too - that's not in the ads - but the cast is great and the writing smart

500 Days of Summer
½

One of the best romantic comedies made - a realistic boy meets girl tale told out of order over a period of 500 days. The leads are wonderful, the romance believable and the ending pitch perfect.

Dance Flick
Dance Flick(2009)

Since most Wayan's Bros. films are DOA comedies - this film had a few smiles of recognition and 2 laughs (both in the trailers) - I guess after screening "Crank 2" earlier, anything would had been entertaining.

Crank 2: High Voltage

A vulgar, offensive, sexually hyper-kinetic action film that hates and objectifes women. Jason Statham should command a better script - this is vile garbage on the big screen. One of the year's worst films.

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra

The biggest turkey of the summer movie series - yes, it's worse than "Transformers 2"! Ridiculous action and F/X, wooden acting and pathetic, lame dialogue - you get exactly what you think you will from this bomb

District 9
District 9(2009)
½

A smart movie that's a cross between "Cry Freedom" and "Predator" - filmed for only $30 million, the production values and special effects are incredible.

The Final Destination

Silly and unnecessary - stupid people being chopped up and their body parts thrown at the big screen - in 3D - didn't see it in that format - I liked the original, but the series has run out of gas and the 3D gimmick is just that - nothing special

Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (Ice Age 3)

Dull, unfunny, boring and the 3-D gave me a headache which lasted for hours - the series is out of gas

Orphan
Orphan(2009)
½

A guilty pleasure - good acting some thrills and a neato twist at the end!

Milk
Milk(2008)

Simply put, one of the best films of 2008 - a visual history of the rise, love, life and murder of the first openly gay man voted in public office...Harvey Milk. Sean Penn turns in a spectacular performance as he follow Milk over a period of 8 years from NYC to SF. Director Van Sant combines archive footage with live action shots that blend effortlessly (like "JFK")...the supporting cast does some of their best work to date (kudos to James Franco and Josh Brolins for scoring 2 great performances in '08). The film is inspirational and important in gay culture - what an irony as this film is released, CA voters and Prop 8 - what a sad commentary on how prejudice will not change in America.

In Search of a Midnight Kiss

The most romantic film of the year - this generations "Before Sunrise" with two seemingly mis-matched 20-somethings looking for connection at the magical hour of midnight on New Year's Eve. The performances are pitch perfect, the dialogue is smart and the final moments that take place at midnight are both hopeful and sad. The only fault with the film would be some of the secondary characters - Vivian's ex-boyfriend is way over the top and I could've done with less of Wilson's roommate and gf. Minor faults in an otherwise smart, sweet film - the ending is perfect!

Burn After Reading

The Coens should had better, but at least the energy and joy of performance was there by Brad Pitt and Frances McDormand. I would had preferred the film to stay with these two wacky loveable lunks and taken out all the CIA subplot and mystery of what's on the disc they find. Coming off the great "No Country For Old Men", any movie would had paled in comparision, but the Coens have done this genre very well before - revisit and rent '96 "Fargo"

Twilight
Twilight(2008)
½

Okay, I am not a 12 year old girl, I have not read any of Stephanie Meyer's books, I do not care for vampire films (well except one this year!) - so I am not the target audience for this melodramatic, lame romantic sap. "Twilight" had the misfortune of being screened just after an incredible, scary, romantic vampire movie that is heading to my Ten Best of '08...the Swedish film, "Let The Right One In"...enough said...that is the good teenage vampire film, skip this stuff.

Quantum of Solace

Bond is back and he's transformed into Jason Bourne...okay, I'm mixed on the Bourne films - too much martial arts kick ass crap in my opinion...only the fine direction and acting hold those films together and the new James Bond is the same - this time he's out for vengeance. The action scenes are predictable (land, air, sea and a foot chase through Venice), the acting is cold but the Bond girls are hot. You're going to get exactly what you pay for in this one - nothing special or bad, just Bland like Bourne.

Australia
Australia(2008)

Like watching the evolution of the country Australia in real time - I had high hopes for this one, but Baz Luhrmann's overly long epic romance is no "Gone With The End" - true, the film looks grande and the actors do a good job, but the film is bogged down with editing and script problems that make it unbearable. I even heard that FOX can not understand why their movie is not be pirated on line...

Slumdog Millionaire

Danny Boyle's "Slumdog Millionaire" is simply the best film of 2008 - Boyle's past triumphs includes '96 "Trainspotting" and '05 "Millions" and this one ranks right up there too. The film has romance, action, violence and all nicely pulled together at the end. Not to reveal much about the plot, this is the little indie film that could in '08 (a year that was plagued by bad movies left and right)...check it out, you will not be disappointed!

Bolt
Bolt(2008)

Disney does animation the best..."Wall-E" will be on my ten best of 2008 and "Bolt" is a rousing entertainment as well - the film looks great, the story keeps adults and kids entertained and the celebrity talent lending their voices was not a distraction. The film has plenty of heart and humour and as a cat lover, I would petition for more scenes with Mittens - she steals the show for me!

Seven Pounds
Seven Pounds(2008)

I must admit knowing the "secret" BEFORE seeing the movie, let me enjoy the movie even better. I would had felt cheated if the wild turns occured while watching. The movie plays with time and place and tells the story of an IRS agent with a secret...he's doing good deeds for people (namely 7 strangers) as he attempts to find redemption and closure for...something...EW put this on their worst list citing not able to understand the jellyfish or blackberry...trust me, it makes sense...the jellyfish's role is set up early in the movie - the romance between Will Smith and Rosario Dawson is pitch perfect - I wish the film would had been titled Three Pounds and focused on fewer stories - there is much emotion on screen and many tears were shed, but not by me since I knew the secret going in!

Yes Man
Yes Man(2008)
½

Typical Jim Carrey "funny" role which for me usually doesn't work - okay, I did like 1994's "The Mask" and 1997's "Liar Liar", but with the Ace Ventura films, "Dumb and Dumber", etc...this one comes in the middle. The story of a man who finally gives in and says "yes" to everything is a contrivance to say the least. There are a few laughs, but wait for this to appear DVD (probably in April '09)...

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

An amazing film from an amazing director (David Fincher) who tackles romance after so many dark films (Seven, Zodiac, Fight Club). Brad Pitt delivers a robust performance as a man born old and appears younger as time goes by. The beautiful Cate Blanchett compliments the cast as does Taraji P. Henson who's come along from 2005's "Hustle and Flow" - look for multiple awards to be announced next month - the length is tremendous (165 minutes), but well worth the reward at the end.

Four Christmases

Just another reason to hate the holidays - other than last season's charming "This Christmas", Hollywood can not get the formula right. No holiday cheer, just four lumps of coal as two independent, career-minded folks spend the holidays with their relatives...all 4 of them - the comedy is bad slapstick (getting thrown up by a baby, falling off a roof, you get the picture). Reese Witherspoon deserves better and Vince Vaughn deserves to stop making movies - he's the same lame character in every flick since 1996's "Swingers"...let's make a holiday wish that he will stop making movies...bah humbug to this turkey of a film.

The Day the Earth Stood Still

New Age aliens come to earth to rid man from destroying an already dying planet...I agree with the aliens...the F/X were not over the top, the story bland and acting was as dull as Keanu Reeve's black eyes...poor Jennifer Connelly, she wins an Oscar and reduced to dribble like this and "Dark Water" - time for a new agent, girl.