John Delia

Film Editor John Delia has been on all sides of the movie business from publications to film making. He has worked as a film critic with ACED Magazine for more than 12 years and earned a Bachelors degree in communications from the University of Florida. John is a member of the Southeastern Film Critics Association. Follow John on Twitter @staragent1 or send John a message at jdelia@acedmagazine.com

The Help on Blu-ray/DVD Coming December 6

BURBANK, Calif.,The Help, the inspirational summer hit film people can’t stop talking about, arrives in homes just in time for the holidays, delivering this powerful story on Blu-ray™ Combo Pack, DVD, Digital Download and On-Demand, December 6, 2011.

The #1 New York Times bestseller by Kathryn Stockett comes to vivid life through the compelling performances of a phenomenal ensemble cast including Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer and Bryce Dallas Howard. The Help is a courageous and empowering story about very different and extraordinary women in the 1960s South who build an unlikely friendship around a secret writing project. Read more

TOY STORY TRILOGY, POPS IN 3D

 

Now here’s the way to release a trio of classics, with the whole set, not only in Blu-ray but in 3D as well.  The whole Toy Story trilogy comes to Blu-ray with Toy Story 1 & Toy Story 2 in a 4 Disc package and it’s newest Toy Story 3 in a 5 Disc package.

 

Woody, Buzz and Jessie peep through a fence in TOY STORY 3

For the first time ever, I was able to see Toy Story in the new format and it is dazzling.  Not only do you get the enhancement of the Blu-ray but also it’s even more eye-popping in 3D.  And that goes for Toy Story 2 and 3 as well.  The colorful toys are enriched using the blu-ray system and when Buzz Lightyear goes into orbit the first time it’s like being in the room with him.

 

Toy Story 1 is set in a world where toys come to life when people are not present.  The movie opens in Andy’s room a youngster that adores Woody a talking cowboy with a pull string.  Going everywhere with the toy, Woody is the leader of all the other toys in the room and their protector.  But it’s Andy’s birthday and he’s about to get gifts putting Woody in a tizzy as to what new playthings will be added to his realm.  When Andy gets superhero space action fighter Buzz Lightyear, the toy room starts seeing a rivalry for supremacy. It’s a comical adventure with action and surprises at every turn, one that’s at the top of my list of animated films for children.

 

 

Toy Story 2 finds Woody kidnapped by a toy collector putting the gang in a panic.  Lead by Buzz Lightyear they leave the security of the toy room and go downtown to the kidnappers toy store to save him.  When things get out of control involving a valuable Woody’s Roundup Collection, the toys pull off a death-defying rescue. It’s a companion story to the first and introduces new characters that live on in the third sequel to this never aging trilogy.

 

 

 

 

Toy Story 3 finds Andy grown and getting ready for college leaving the toys in a quandary on whether they will have a home. In an attempt to give them a good home they are taken to the Sunnyside Daycare Center where they meet many new toys that look worse for wear. When Andy finds the going rough he plans an escape.  In this story we find the action more intriguing and suspenseful.  It’s Andy and Buzz against a whole room filled with mismatched dolls, cars, and other toys that have been abused.  I liked this one as an adult because it’s more edgy and has a lot of action.  The movie is the all time DISNEY/PIXAR release with a worldwide box office of over a billion dollars and ranks 10th in all movies live action and animation for the United States.

 

Toy Story 1995 was nominated for three Oscars for music and story and was presented with an Oscar for Special Achievement.  Toy Story 2 came out in 1999 and was nominated for and Oscar in the music category.  But 2010’s Toy Story 3 won two Oscars including Best Animated Feature.  It took the Oscar for best song “We Belong Together”.  Even though it is an Animated movie it received nominations in both the Animation Best Picture and the overall Best Picture.

 

Tom Hanks voices Woody in Toy Story trilogy

The main Voice Talent: Tom Hanks (Woody), Tim Allen (Buzz), Joan Cusack (Jessie), Don Rickles (Mr. Potato Head), Wallace Shawn (Rex), John Ratzenberger (Hamm) and Estelle Harris (Mrs. Potato Head) are superb in their voice roles. I especially like Joan Cusack as the feisty Jessie introduced in Toy Story 2 who hits on Woody to try starting a relationship. Her character provides a lot of laughs along with a few touching scenes.

 

Bonus features are many on each of the Toy Story sequels.

 

Toy Story 1 has Buzz Lightyear Mission Logs: Blast Off, three Animated Studio Stories, Buzz Takes Manhattan, Deleted Scenes, and over 90 minutes more bonus.

 

Toy Story 2 has Buzz Lightyear Mission Logs: International Space Station, three Animated Studio Stories, Pixar’s Zoetrope, Toy Box: Outtakes and Alternate Scenes, Deleted Scenes and more.

 

Toy Story 3 has “Day & Night” Theatrical Short, Buzz Lightyear Mission Logs: The Science of Adventure, Toy Story Trivia Dash – Interactive Game, Cine-Explorer with Director Lee Unkrich and Producer Darla Anderson, Bonnie’s Playtime – a story roundtable with director Lee Unkrich, Paths to Pixar: Editorial, three Studio Stories, and more.

 

Now for you guys who keep writing me and asking for more technical features about what 3D Blu-ray/Blu-ray/DVDs have to offer, Disney has covered all bases as far as my needs being met. For those of you who wrote about lightness and darkness issues in the 3D Blu-ray format, again it’s up to your systems quality and room lighting for best 3D viewing.

 

For Viewing, all three films have the same aspect ratio where the 3D Blu-ray/Blu-ray movie presentation fits the TV screen extremely well, especially if you have the 1080p HD system that translates into a 1.78:1.  It fills the screen like you were in the movie theater for best viewing.  Even the DVD in the package is set up as widescreen (1.78:1) for full effect on comparable equipment.

 

The audio for Toy Story 1&2 are identical for the Blu-ray 3D & Blu-ray = English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, English 2.0 DTS-HD, English DVS 2.0 Dolby Digital, Spanish & French 5.1 Dolby Digital EX. Toy Story 3 comes in slightly different with a Blu-ray 3D = English 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, English DVS 2.0 Dolby Digital, Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital EX. Blu-ray = English 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, English DVS 2.0 Dolby Digital, French and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital EX. DVD = English 5.1 Dolby Digital EX, English DVS 2.0 Dolby Digital.

 

Toy Story is also available in a 3-Disc Blu-ray 3D Trilogy Set (includes a Blu-ray 3D copy of each of the three movies).  So if you already have the DVDs of Toy Story then get ready for 3D Blu-ray and Blu-ray all in one box.

 

FINAL ANALYSIS: A trio of toddler family films that make the grade on home video. (A)


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hollywood Walk of Fame Adds New Star

John Lasseter is a two-time Academy Award-winning director and creatively oversees all films and associated projects from Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios (celebrating its 25th Anniversary in 2011). Lasseter made his feature directorial debut in 1995 with Toy Story, the first-ever feature-length computeranimated film and, since then, has gone on to direct A Bug’s Life, Toy Story 2 and Cars. He returned to the driver’s seat this year, directing Cars 2. Read more

THE RUM DIARY, A TIPSY TWISTER

A testy screenplay that turns conventional upside down becomes an enjoyable madcap adventure with Johnny Depp’s ‘intoxicating’ performance.  The daring filmmaking that takes a chance with the outlandish Hunter S. Thompson book The Rum Diary comes up a winner.  Not a Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, but a very good companion piece.

Johnny Depp nails Hunter S. Thompson’s oblivious character Paul Kemp in this sociopolitical drama making the sordid plot a delight to watch.  Playing a more likeable character than he did in Fear and Loathing, where he was extremely over the top, here you’ll have more feeling for Kemp, a confused and more malleable character that has no clue as to what he’s getting into.  Torn by extremely different surroundings from his last position as a reporter at the New York Times, Depp’s character crumbles quickly to the wims of the Puerto Rican establishment that runs the awakening island.

Sala (Michael Rispoli) and Kemp (Johnny Depp) in THE RUM DIARY

Bruce Robinson (Jennifer Eight) directs the ditsy story using every bit of Depp’s talent to develop his quirky characters.  Capturing Thompson’s early 60’s political scene of disenchantment with the United States in Puerto Rico, Robinson uses the sinking San Juan Star newspaper as his centerpiece to show Kemp entering a world very much unlike his former New York gig.  Being a plum for the failing rag, Kemp quickly makes friends with a couple of staff members including Sala (Michael Rispoli) the staff photographer who has become very acclimated to the quirks of this island ‘paradise’ who leads him down a primrose path.

The highly character driven film takes a lot of twists and turns that show Kemp’s naïve acceptance of the internal frustration of his fellow employees, discovering the greedy American Entrepreneurs and his fascination for Chenault (Amber Heard), a hot uncontrollable woman stuck in the world of her wealthy underhanded fiancée.  Throughout this incredible life-altering interlude, Kemp drinks himself silly, slowly becoming a part of the island’s madness and the popular insurrection he cannot avoid.

Chenault (Amber Heard) and Kemp get acquainted in THE RUM DIARY

The film has an outstanding performance by Respoli who makes his Sala a troubled man totally frustrated until he meets Kemp.  Providing the catalyst for Kemp to get involved in a story to expose the shady dealings in San Juan, Respoli brings an amusing character to an otherwise disciplined story.  As the half crazed writer Moburg, Giovanni Ribisi puts on an Academy Award worthy show.  His offbeat, drugged out role gives Ribisi a chance to show of his incredible talent.

The Rum Diary is rated R for language, brief drug use and sexuality.  The film also contains a scene of violence.  It’s a film buff’s delight and a mainstream moviegoer’s uncertainty, but if you stick with the pleasures of the craziness of it all you may find a real gem.

FINAL ANALYSIS: A toast to Depp, Rabisi and Rispoli for the tipsy twister. (B)

MARGIN CALL, A STUNNER

At first look you may think that Margin Call is an extension of the film Wall Street, but as the film progresses I found a very good movie that really shows the effect of greed, contempt, lack of compassion and survival of the fittest, no matter who gets squashed in the process.  It’s like our economical climate these days, you never know when or where the next shoe will drop.

Using the background of the stock market crash of 2008 writer director J.C. Chandor takes his film into the bowls of a stockbrokerage house that’s on the verge of folding due to the collapsing of the formula used to equate their business’s viability.  It’s a taught drama that reveals the workings of the investment company in relationship to its clients, workforce and the people at the top.  Chandor doesn’t pull any punches as he gets his characters involved in the plot to save the dissolution of the company no matter how many jobs, small businesses and lives are at stake.

Jeremy Irons as John Tuld in MARGIN CALL

From the onset of the first act there is this feeling of impending doom that slowly settles over the firm.  Chandor uses the strength of his cast to take on the company, deal with the problem and accept the solution.   Jeremy Irons brings his tough persona to John Tuld the owner of the investment house that’s about to change the economy of a good size portion of the world.  Stubborn and passionate about keeping his company going in spite of what it will be doing, Tuld works himself into a one way no return decision.

Kevin Spacey as Sam Rogers in MARGIN CALL

However it’s Spacey’s strong sense of right that makes Sam Rogers the adversary to the no win decision that makes this film work.  Chandor focuses on Rogers who goes head to head with the impossible in this clash between upper management and his devotion to the employees under him.  It’s his drive in an attempt for a resolve, no matter if it means the demise his own job that controls all the drama.

The support cast helps the film along especially Paul Bettany as Will Emerson the upcoming analyst that brings the problem to his boss and Stanley Tucci as the scapegoat for the error, both delivering excellent characters that up the suspense level.  Even though not in the film very much, Demi Moore makes an appearance as Sara Robertson a corporate damage control specialist.  Her Robertson reminded me of the malicious personality as Merideth Wilson in Disclosure.

The film is rated R for language so keep this in mind if you have to bring an immature child along to avoid a babysitter.

FINAL ANALYSIS: A taught drama that delivers an eye-opening blow. (B)

 

 

JOHNNY ENGLISH, A SQUEEKY SEQUEL

 

It’s very hard to repeat a performance of  a character after an 8-year hiatus from the role and Rowan Atkinson, as Johnny English just isn’t as funny anymore.  Maybe its because I love Atkinson as Mr. Bean and in Johnny English Reborn the lack of the amazing wordless dialogue in Bean’s facial expressions are hard to forget. Or it just may be that seeing another spoof on James Bond just doesn’t make it anymore.

 

In this sequel we find super spy MI-7 Johnny English setting out to stop international assassins from killing the Chinese Premiere and causing chaos among nations.  Now with new martial arts skills that he has perfected since his last mission he’s ready for anything.  Armed with some not so amazing gadgets, he leaps into action.  When he finds himself headed for disaster, Johnny must turn the tide back in his favor.

 

Atkinson really disappointed me with this go around and maybe he should have retired after his last Mr. Bean movie at the top of the heap.  He really doesn’t shine under the direction of Oliver Parker who strikes out yet with Johnny English Reborn after failing miserably in his last three outings.

 

Rowan Atkinson as Johnny English

Parker salts his production with a couple of notable actors including the gorgeous Rosamond Pike (Barney’s Version) and the dashing Dominic West (300), but from there on the cast dwindles into television actors and upcoming newbie’s.  He isn’t able to create the laughter necessary to keep the adults happy or the kids bopping in their seats more than a few times.

 

Maybe it’s the worn-out script as it’s somewhat like The Pink Panther, Get Smart, Spies Like Us, The Spy Next Door, Spy Hard and so many more action comedies.  However, movies with take off’s of James Bond have made it big at the box-office especially The Austin Powers franchise that made nearly $300 million.  So we’ll just have to see if America needs a rebirth of Johnny English.

 

The argument here may be moot considering that the film is aimed at a juvenile audience that spends a lot at the box office.  Just give them some falling down sight gags, a few dumb adversaries that can’t shoot straight, a foolish incredibly impossible escape and there’s money waiting to be banked.

 

The film is rated PG for mild action violence, rude humor, for language and brief sensuality. Oh yes, the brief sensuality was surly thrown in there for adults to at least keep awake during the showing.


 

FINAL ANALYSIS: If you must have your youngsters see this film, c’est la vie (Sorry for my French). (D)


 

 

 

THE MIGHTY MACS, A SLAM DUNK

 

We’ve had a bevy of sports true story films over the years and in most all cases even if you know who won, they are all inspirational.  This is the case of The Mighty Macs, a small women’s parochial college so obscure, that I had never heard of it before seeing the film.  Well, would you believe they had a run at the title of the first Women’s National Collegiate Basketball Champion?

 

Did they win? Well even if you know that point it’s a good film, but not knowing it becomes even better.  So don’t watch any trailers or go on line to find out or it may spoil the dramatic ending.

 

Cathy Rush (Carla Gugino) had just graduated from a major college and was looking for somewhere she could hang her hat in a basketball gym. Sending out letters she gets a meeting with Mother St. John (Ellen Burstyn) the head of a very small catholic college; her only reply. When she gets there she finds the place a mess, the original gym burned down and the auditorium now being used for a makeshift sports center.  She accepts the position and is handed one tattered basketball. With a very small salary, no coaching experience and no budget Cathy sets out to put a competitive team together to play within the school’s collegiate division.  When the impossible starts getting plausible, Cathy pushes for more help and support to keep her team going.

 

Cathy Rush (Carla Gugino) and Sister Sunday (Marley Shelton) give a pep talk to the team

The Mighty Macs found my heart pounding wanting them to become winners and I was truly set up by the directing, acting and exciting storyline.  Although I felt that Carla Gugino was miscast in the role (too refined and not athletic looking for the part), she gives her all to the role. Working with almost nothing and girls with very little ability, her character drives the girls to games in a van and works them constantly while hoping for a miracle.

 

But what makes this movie work is the cast of inspiring young ladies, Marley Shelton as Sister Sunday and some excellent direction by Tim Chambers in his directorial debut.  Shelton does a great job as a nun turned rebel in order to help with the team. She brings sweetness to the role and slowly changes to a dynamo while being challenged by her desires to be holy.

 

1972 Mighty Macs Team Photo

Chambers takes careful aim at making sure that his audience gets entrenched in the drama around the impossible circumstances before moving into the first losing game followed by others.  Building up the suspense with each proceeding winning game, it’s easy for a sports hound to get hooked, and I did. I even found myself silently rooting for the girls right up to the final buzzer.

 

Chamber’s biggest challenge however, comes with his choice of Gugino with her lack of athleticism looks and sweet personality in a role that just wasn’t made for her.  But, he does work around it by putting a lot of the focus on each of the girls, Marley Shelton and the amazing Ellen Burstyn.

 

The Mighty Macs is rated G and fits the mold of a family film.  The inspirational true story has a lot going for it showing that it doesn’t take a big college to complete your dream in life. Make sure you stay through the credits for some actual archive film footage of the original basketball team.

 

FINAL ANALYSIS:  A slam-dunk true story. (B)

 

 

 

SHOLEM ALEICHEM, A STIRRING PORTRAIT

 

Sometimes you come across films that surprise you with an interesting portrait of a person who achieved fame after his death.  This is the case of Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the Darkness, a biographical documentary about Sholem Rabinowitz the writer of the musical Fiddler on the Roof.  His early life imbues the bitterness of Russian anti-Semitism, abject poverty and then a sense of social justice for himself and fellow Jewish immigrants who came to the United States.

 

Born 1859 in a small town called Pereyaslav near Kiev, Russia, and two years after Sholem moved with his family to Voronko, Russia a Jewish market town.  Ten years later his father takes the family back to Pereyaslav after his business goes bad.  Being the son of a poor innkeeper, Sholem grows up in poverty. So begins the film that follows his schooling, the first writing and the long road that includes the persecution of Jews following the assassination of Tsar Alexander II who they blamed for his death, his marriage to a wealthy landowner’s daughter, his investing in the stock market, and much more till his death and largest funeral procession ever on streets of New York City.

 

The largest funeral procession ever on the streets of NYC

Interesting and nicely told using film archive footage, photos, with the voices of actors Peter Riegert and Rachel Dratch, and interviews with leading experts such as Columbia’s Dan Miron, Harvard’s Ruth Wisse, David Roskies of the Jewish Theological Seminary, author and Yiddish translator Hillel Halkin, Aaron Lansky, the founder of the National Yiddish Book Center, and Bel Kauffmann, Sholem Aleichem’s own granddaughter.

 

Producer Director Writer Joseph Dorman

I liked the way the film plays out, sort of surreal in a good way.  I felt the hurt, enjoyed the comedy and the commentary.  But, Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the Darkness is more of a secular tribute to a great man who provided an insight into some dark times.  It’s his legacy that survives and supports the history of the trials and tribulations of the Jewish people who have fought for their lives and cultural upbringing.

 

The film is unrated but contains some disturbing images and violence.


 

FINAL ANALYSIS: A historical piece with a very good presentation. (B)


 

 

PIRATES ON STRANGER TIDES, CRESTS IN 3D BLU-RAY

 

Being a huge fan of Pirates of the Caribbean I just couldn’t wait for the On Stranger Tides 3D Blu-ray and was not disappointed on its quality and content.  The 5-disc combo pack has everything in it for pure entertainment and the movie measures up to the theatrical version (except not on a huge screen theatrical screen).

 

I saw the theatrical release in digital 3D when it was released back in May of this year which became the most successful box-office entry of 2011 earning over a billion dollars worldwide.  So I was very wary of how they could translate all the action and 3D special effects, but I have to say they did it right.  With the 3D Blu-ray there are many great features and all under the control of the user.    With the right equipment the film becomes more personal.  Especially since you can rewind, pause for a break and speed up the action.

 

On Stranger Tides entertains with comedy, suspense and a lot of cool action.  Whether you’ve seen the other three productions or just getting started, you’re in for a pirating thrill ride.

 

In this episode of Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), we find him being duped into looking for the Fountain of Youth by his newest sidekick and heartthrob Angelica (Penelope Cruz).  It doesn’t take long for Sparrow to find trouble and when he steps on the deck of the ship of his most feared nemeses Blackbeard (Ian McShane), his love life and dreams of a fortune start to spiral out of control.

 

Pirates’ 4 like its predecessors has all the fun chase scenes that find Jack in the thick of things.  With the addition of Cruz as Angelica, daughter of the infamous Pirate Blackbeard, she challenges Sparrow’s actions at every turn.  Does he face up to his arch nemeses or turn away to protect the only woman he ever loved?  That’s the quandary we find in this installment.  The film has a lot of twists and turns, but in the end there’s always one more following the movie credits.

 

Rob Marshall does an adequate job of directing this installment bringing a lot of excitement to the screen.  Although he didn’t have the full talent pool that included the likes of Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightly he still makes good use of the returning Geoffrey Rush (as Barbossa), Kevin McNally (as Gibbs) and even Keith Richards (as Jack’s father).  Throwing in some new faces like Ian McShane as Blackbeard, Sam Claflin as clergyman Phillip and a modest Astrid Berges-Frisbey as Syrena a mermaid we get some fresh newness.

 

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action/adventure violence, some frightening images, sensuality and innuendo. The film was viewed in 3D Blu-ray for this review.

 

The 5-disc combo pack 3D Blu-ray has the 136-minute film in both 3D on one disc and the regular Blu-ray has the film and bonus features on two discs. Included in the package is the DVD for those who have not upgraded to Blu-ray and a 5th disc digital copy to take with you for your laptop or download to your favorite roaming device.

 

The special features added to the package are very good including the cover that pops out in 3D.

 

The special bonuses are pretty wicked with some of the most beautifully filmed extras that are in itself a feature. On your bonus features Blu-ray disc you will find the special package of behind the scenes that show the making of several high points in the movie.  The Legends of On Strange Tides takes you to the beaches where most of the filming took place, and then it’s off to LA where with the use of Universal Pictures back lot tank the making of the mermaid scene is created.  Off again to London this time where at the 007 building the crew creates a Fountain of Youth set where Jack Sparrow and Blackbeard duel to the death.

 

Click to the next bonus on the disc and you are in the midst of Last Sail First Voyage where you get to see how Queen Anne’s Revenge gets created from the Black Pearl.  See how it all goes together and sails over 2000 miles to Hawaii for the shooting.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JAfiZPDHcLk[/youtube]

Click again and you are treated to the making of the Mermaid scene with three different sets of swimmers who are the basis of the screenshots that make up one of the most amazing scenes in the film. Using models for the close-ups, Olympic swimmers for the special underwater scenes and stunt swimmers for the fight with the pirates.  All brilliantly shot in HD showing the crew working to get the perfect picture.

 

The deleted and extended scenes are introduced by Director Rob Marshall, Jerry Bruckheimer and Johnny Depp explaining why they were not used or in some cases shortened.  Most of the cuts were of no consequence to the film, but I sure wish they had left the tango scene untouched.

 

There are other features including Johnny vs. Geoffrey and a feature involving a segment that was a perfect replica of one of the stops on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland. California. On disc 4 of the combo you will find the bonuses Bloopers of the Caribbean and Lego Animated Shorts: Captain Jack’s Brick Tales.

 

This package also has the Disney Second Screen Technology feature that allows customers to download the new Disney Second Screen App onto their computer or iPad and synch it with the film. They will have the power to engage in the story like never before, enjoying interactive extras depending on the film such as galleries, photos, trivia, and much more!

 

The technical aspects of the film include

Presentation: Blu-ray 3D & Blu-ray 1080p High Definition 2.40:1

DVD: Widescreen 2.40:1 – Enhanced for 16×9 Televisions

Audio/Language: Blu-ray 3D & Blu-ray English 7.1 DTS-HD MA (48kHz/24-bit), English 2.0 Dolby Digital, English 2.0 DVS Dolby Digital, French, Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital (3D Blu-ray), French, Spanish 7.1 DTS0HD HR (Blu-ray)

DVD: English, French, Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital

Subtitles: Blu-ray 3D & Blu-ray English SDH, French, Spanish

DVD: English SDH, French Spanish

 

For additional specs see packaging.


 

 

THE THING, THRILLER FOR NEWBIES

 

Fans of the film The Thing (1982) beware; even though the movie takes you back to the Norwegian outpost providing a beginning to John Carpenter’s film with the same title, this one may as well have been a remake.  Those that have never seen Carpenter’s masterpiece however, will get all the chills and thrills of the original.  For fun, why not rent the 1982 horror flick AFTER you see this release for a comparison of alien shape shifting.

 

A Norwegian snow tractor falls into an abyss in Antarctica and the crew discover an alien frozen in the ice.  The mining team moves the creature to their outpost where an American Paleontologist, Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) has been flown in to identify their find. A specimen is taken from the now thawing alien and Kate discovers that its cells are replicating those of a human.  When members of the mining team start getting attacked, the horror begins.

 

Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Sander (Ulrich Thomsen) dissect something very disturbing

The 2011 script delivers some new experiences; how the alien may have arrived on Earth, its original form and a way to identify humans from alien made replicas.  Beyond that there’s nothing more than the same violence, similar shape changes, firefights and ghastly results of vicious attacks.

 

First time director Matthijs Van Heijningen does his best to make his film better than the classic, but fails miserably.  For those that know the extremely suspenseful 1982 iconic scare fest, this one will not have that gripping expectation. Of course due to some extra special computer graphics that weren’t available back in the day, we do get treated to an even more ghastly experience.  It’s hard to remake a classic, but even though the filmmakers will call it a prequel, no dice.

 

That said, I do recommend the film highly for those who have not seen the original as this shock flick has some nicely placed scare scenes.  The mixture of human and alien bodies dart about, shoot out spiked tentacles, have huge teeth…well you get the idea.  Guys it’s a great flick to take a date, but make sure she doesn’t have long finger nails or you’ll have to wear long sleeves for a week.

 

The Thing is rated R for strong creature violence and gore, disturbing images, and language.  If your X-Box playing pre-teen has already been playing M rated alien infested games, he should be grabbing at your arm to take him to see the film, but it’s not suggested he attend alone.

 

 

FINAL ANALYSIS:  Terror at it’s best for THE THING newbie’s (B), veterans (C )


 

 

 

THE BIG YEAR, FUN WITH BIRDS

 

Now here’s an entertaining film with no violence, sexual content, abusive language, shooting, blood, well any of that stuff that’s designed to ramp up your blood pressure.  It’s called The Big Year and what a great respite from all that aggression that we are seeing at the theater lately.  Very funny, quick paced and fit for the whole family.

 

Stu Preissler (Steve Martin) has been trying to retire from the business he started, but no one wants to take over for him. Brad Harris (Jack Black) finds himself bored with his deadened job with chances for achieving his lifetime dream waning.  Ken Bostick’s (Owen Wilson) in a quandary with a life choice or a world record hanging in the balance.

 

Bostick (Wilson) Stu (Martin) and Brad (Black) go bird watching

The three have something in common, a chance to be number 1 in the world of birding. Umm, yes birding…the art of being in the presence of birds, the more the better.  In fact there is a contest held every year for counting (seeing or hearing) the most birds of different species with the winner having the title of World’s Greatest Birder.

 

Now, Bostick already holds that title and in fact three years running.  And in spite of the fact that his wife wants to have a child, he finds himself compelled to enter the contest again this year.  With both Stu and Brad on the hunt to topple his mark, the race begins.

 

Bostick leads Brad and Stu on a wild goose hunt in THE BIG YEAR

The three comedy experts work very well together, each putting their best efforts into portraying their characters the way they do it best.  In fact there’s one scene where Martin does his signature funny dance with arms flaying and legs going all directions.  I’m sure you’ll recognize it from several films (The Jerk for one).  Black brings his creative comedy like you’ve seen in the films Schoolhouse Rock and Shallow Hal as he goes around the country counting birds and spending his last dime to prove he can be a winner.

 

Wilson inserts his wry humor while outwitting Stu and Brad at every turn.  His calm and cool behavior shows up big in the wilds due to his birding knowledge, but dealing with a wife who has childbearing demands puts a damper on his bird finding hobby.  As Bostick he’s the Keven Rawley character in the Meet The Fockers series, especially when he has the upper hand over Stu and Brad.

 

Director David Frankel keeps his film moving at a fast pace, introducing his characters creating the reasons why they find birding challenging and sending them off in all directions on a very funny road towards their life’s ultimate goal.  It’s not really about the birds, but the challenges the three face in life, the choices they make and acceptance of their fate and Frankel keeps the focus there even in some of the funniest situations.

 

The Big Year is rated PG for language and some sensuality, but nothing parents couldn’t handle with a youngster in tow.  It’s a fun film for most all ages, especially nature lovers who are open to the joys of the great outdoors.


 

FINAL ANALYSIS: Get out your bird book and fly to see The Big Year. (B+)

 

 

 

RESTLESS, A FILM OF RARE QUALITY

 

Moody and broody Restless radiates with a weird and wonderful romance between an orphaned teen and a cancer victim who accidentally meet at a funeral.  The tragic little love story sucked me in from the opening scene and I became an onlooker of their fateful life.  Sometimes bizarre, often strange Restless is the rare kind of film that only independent filmmakers can provide.

 

Restless centers on Enoch (Henry Hopper), a teenager who dropped out of the normal social stream due to a horrific accident that took the lives of his parents. Not able to have a funeral due to the way they died, he attends other stranger’s memorial services to make up for it.  Using his phantom friend Hiroshi (Ry? Kase) for companionship and advice, Enoch makes it through each day.  On one occasion at a funeral attended by cancer patients from a local hospital he meets Annabel (Mia Wasikowska) a beautiful girl who finds Enoch interesting.  When the two decide to make a relationship, Enoch realizes that he will have to deal with death once again.

 

Anabelle's first kiss (Mia Wasikowska and Henry Lee Hopper) in RESTLESS

The sad little love story Restless could only be directed by Gus Van Sant the master of the morose (To Die For, Paranoid Park, Elephant) who takes on death in this quirky dark romantic drama.  I like the way Van Sant introduces his subjects as if they are just browsing with death.  His Enoch has lost touch with normalcy and searches for something or someone who can give his life meaning.  His parental loss has been a heavy burden to carry and while he gets a respite by attending funerals, it’s not enough to keep him going.

 

Director Gus Van Sant goes over a scene in RESTLESS

Annabel on the other hand has accepted her fate and although it’s not a voyage she wants to take, she moves through life tolerant of whatever may come.  Never having a boy’s affections and not wanting to miss a chance before she dies, Enoch becomes her outlet.  The pairing is perfect and Van Sant delivers his sad story all wrapped up in a dreary blanket that for Enoch has no ‘final’ warmth.

 

The beautiful Wasikowska and handsome Hopper are perfect for their roles.  As the blossoming Annabel, Wasikowska shines, no radiates.  So much so however, that you are hard-pressed to want to accept that she will soon die. Hopper makes his character emotionally drained over the loss of his parents and not being able to attend their funerals.  He’s turned himself into a lost sole and Hopper makes me a believer.  When the two become close, both actors expend their chemistry for each other like lovers who will never be separated, not even in death.

Restless is rated PG-13 for thematic elements and brief sensuality. Although quite dark and moody, the film should be okay for mature teens.

 

FINAL ANALYSIS: A very good drama of rare quality. (B)


 

 

REAL STEEL, A BOY AND HIS BOT

It’s not Rocky, it’s Real Steel, but you would think you were watching the great boxing film in another dimension.  The gritty, action packed fight film blows the lid off some extreme robots on it’s way to being an entertaining film for those who like a good punch fest.  I liked this film for the action, comedy and father-son relationship.

 

It’s the year 2020 and human-to-human boxing has been moved aside for the exciting 2000 pound 8 foot steel robot contenders who draw crowds and gambling from around the world.  It’s a big business with huge purses for the right boxing events.

 

Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman) tries to get a match for his robot in REAL STEEL

Down on his luck ex-boxer Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman) has just had his bot destroyed in a bout and heads back to his hometown gym.  The only thing left for him to do is sign custody papers for his deceased ex-wife’s parents to take his estranged son Max (Dakota Goyo) to live with them.  Needing money to purchase another bot Charlie makes a big money deal with his ex-wife’s father in exchange for his signature.  The deal would include keeping max for the summer while the couple takes a trip to Europe. When Max gets to go on the road with Charlie for a robot fight however, their relationship gets complicated.

 

Director Shawn Levy working on a scene with Hugh Jackman

Real Steel has an explosive script and director Shawn Levy fills every inch of the screen with hard-hitting robot action.  Much like Transformers, the robots here move about so realistically that it’s like having a ringside seat in the future of boxing.  Levy keeps the film moving at a fast clip making the 2 hours plus an exciting event.  In fact, I can see sequel written all over Real Steel involving an option for a rematch.

 

Levy’s biggest challenge in Real Steel concerns two main points.  He has to show that Charlie is so caught up in the world of bot boxing, that Max becomes second.  In addition he must create Max as a boy who becomes so disheartened with Charlie that he’d rebel.  Levy comes up a winner here with his casting of Goyo and Jackman filling those roles.

 

Jackman and ATOM the fighting robot in REAL STEEL

Jackman puts on a great show and makes his character a tough adversary much like his cage fighting Wolverine.  But, his boxing style had to be more refined for the movie and director Levy provided Jackman with the best.  Sugar Ray Leonard was hired on as boxing consultant for the fighting and taught Jackman how to box.  He also worked on the moves of Atom the robot in tandem with Jackman using the art of green screen motion-capture.  Leonard also choreographed real boxers that were hooked up to motion capture for the other robots in the film, showing them his boxing skills he used in the ring.

 

A standout performance by Dakota Goyo as Max makes the film work.  The feisty kid has his mind set on winning big when he finds a worn-out ‘fighting robot’. Goyo works well with Levy turning out a stubborn yet emotional character that becomes very likable.

 

Real Steel is rated PG-13 for some violence, intense action, and brief language, but nothing more than you see in the Transformer films.  As a side note: Besides Rocky, one other film comes to mind that brought back flashes of a similar storyline. It’s called Over The Top.  Both Sylvester Stallone movies, the two films are worth a rent on Blu-ray/DVD.

 

FINAL ANALYSIS: A good story with awesome action to boot. (B+)


IDES OF MARCH, POLITICAL CHILLS

 

Watching Ides of March gave me déjà vu thinking of some of the past political campaigns that tanked due to indiscretions. Released during a period of the current US presidential primary, the timing helps the effort.  I am not very fond of political films that have an agenda, but this one appeared fair to each side of the aisle.  If you like a good drama that has suspense and a reasonable ending than this film should win your praise.

 

It’s nearing the last few months of the presidential primary with Ohio being the most contested state and the probable nominator. The two opposing candidates Mike Morris (George Clooney) and Senator Pullman are very close in the running and any glitch can be a disaster the race.  Confident in his campaign chairman Paul Zara (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) and his press secretary Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling) Morris feels he has the nomination in the bag.  Pullman’s campaign manager Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti) doesn’t see it that way and still has a few tricks up his sleeve.  When a campaign worker Molly Stearns (Evan Rachel Wood) gets pregnant, a scandal starts to brew.

Philip Seymour Hoffman, Max Minghella, Marisa Tomei and Ryan Gosling in IDES OF MARCH

The Ides of March is an actor’s film and as director George Clooney does a great job of showing off his talent. Putting his actors through their paces he shows the pressure of a presidential primary; the suspense of the behind the scenes deals, raw emotion between political camps and the backstabbing that goes on to win a campaign.  If there is a downside, it’s Clooney’s speed to get to the crux of the plot. His haste lessens the chance to connect better with his characters by omitting a lot of the outside influences that create the suspense and action of the campaign pitfalls.

 

The acting here is extremely good although Clooney really doesn’t have to push the Morris character too much because he normally has an easygoing personality.  But it’s Gosling, Giamatti, Wood and Hoffman that really carry the movie anyway.  Gosling does a great job as the up and coming press secretary who finds he’s putting out fires more often than not.  His character is in the thick of things and Gosling’s up for the task at bringing on the suspense and cunning politics that surround a tight campaign.

 

Evan Rachel Wood with Director George Clooney and Ryan Gosling on the set of IDES OF MARCH

Although Giamatti gives a good performance as the opposing camp’s leader, his character is just a walk in the park for him as he’s played that persona often in films.  Hoffman’s character has to be many faces and here he plays Morris’s campaign chairman cunningly well while finding himself knee deep in a scandal, overcoming secret meetings by his press secretary and taking control of a potential downslide campaign.

 

The Ides of March delves deeply into the bowls of dirty campaign politics with payoffs, false promises and indiscretions much like what I’ve gathered from most films of this ilk.  In many cases the consequences of the ruthless practices don’t show up till after an election. But it’s entertaining to see a ‘what if’ with The Ides of March certainly laying it all on the line.

 

The Ides of March is rated R for pervasive language so be cautious when deciding to bring immature youngsters to the showing.

 

FINAL ANALYSIS: A political chiller that keenly penetrates the campaign underworld. (C+)


 

 

 

 

 

 

MACHINE GUN PREACHER, TRUE MERCY

 

Director Marc Forster who gave us Quantum of Solace and Monster’s Ball brings Machine Gun Preacher to the screen and drives home a winner.  His production of the true story of the merciless killings in East Africa and one man’s untiring commitment to helping children in the path of civil war provides a chill that’s hard to forget.

 

The story involves Sam Childers (Gerard Butler), a badass biker with a penchant for drugs.  His life is out of control and leads him to prison.  Upon release he goes back to his way of life, but takes notice that his wife Lynn (Michelle Monaghan) has found a religious path over the past years since he’s been gone.  Shirking the notion of church, Sam continues his violent ways. After being knifed on one of his drug flings, he starts to think about his past and what it has done him and his children.  He decides to attend his wife’s church and there he finds the good he has been missing in his life.  When a visiting preacher talks about the strife in Africa, Sam takes notice and builds a church of his own.  Not content with this calling he goes to Africa where he sees the violence being done to the children, taking him on a path to save them in the face of the brutal Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).

 

Gerard Butler as Sam Childers with freedom defenders in East Africa

It’s a strange role for Butler, but he handles it very well depicting the druggie turned savior.  Forster makes Butler this worthless wreck of a human wallowing in the mire of drugs and violence.  Giving an outstanding performance, Butler brings out the nastiness in Childers and his defiance, even to his family.  Slowly Forster starts to shed Butler’s skin as Childers moves out of the ugly cocoon into a place of moral acceptability.  But it doesn’t end there because Childers is so obsessed with meeting his goal that anyone around him feels the pain, even if it’s his best friend Donnie (superbly played by Michael Shannon) and daughter Page (Madeline Carroll).  When things start to fall into place, however, then finally Butler as Childers can be a man to be valued.

 

Childers outside the church he built in East Africa

Machine Gun Preacher is all about the fight within Childers because that’s where the real story lies.  He’s a man that cannot accept anything that’s not his way, whether beating a drug dealer nearly to death while stealing his drugs or showing no mercy for fallen LRA members who are killing under orders.  Caught up in an impossible war with very few options, he fights even as I write this article against the slaughter of hundreds of kids.  It’s a bitter film that has a two-sided coin where the audience must decide whether it’s righteous or a desire of forgiveness for a life of crime.

Marc Forster directing and Gerard Butler in MACHINE GUN PREACHER

The film shows the inhumanity of man in this seemingly outrageous civil war taking place even today in East Africa.  Foster doesn’t spare any visual proof depicting charred bodies, children being sliced and families destroyed.  In one unforgettable scene, Childers has to decide which twenty of the forty children who are in harm’s way to take to safety in his pick-up truck.  When he returns to get the other twenty…. Well let me just say it’s a jarring illustration of a shameful society.

 

Machine Gun Preacher is rated R for disturbing content including disturbing images, language, some drug use and a scene of sexuality.  The film gets so intense at one point that I winced and turned away.

 

FINAL ANALYSIS:  A disturbing film with a cause. (B)

 

Gerard Butler the actor and the real Sam Childers pose for a photo