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

 

 

 

 

‘FAST FIVE’ BLU-RAY REVIEW, HOT AND CRAZY

 

Film- 4.5, Video- 3.5, Audio- 5, Extras- 5, Overall 4.5

The action thriller Fast Five with its hot rod theme leaves the past four episodes of Fast & Furious in the dust.  Now on Blu-ray the high on energy, exhilarating plot and amazing chase scenes make this a must see adrenaline pumper. Within the opening 20 minutes it gets so wild it took my breath away.

 

This episode called Fast Five finds Brian (Paul Walker) and Dom (Vin Diesel) on the run after breaking Dom out from a prison bus on the way to the lock-up.  Looking for more action and going into hiding they end up in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil where they set up a new scheme to knock off a corrupt businessman who controls the city.  The plan set up by Dom seems foolproof until FBI agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) takes a stab at binging him and his crew down.

 

The directing by Justin Lin is creative, expensive and daring putting his cast and stuntmen in some intricate positions while blowing up a train, toppling a huge bus and destroying a plethora of cars and other vehicles. But that chancy move brings an explosive film to the screen and that’s one of the reasons I highly recommend Fast Five on Blu-ray.  If he tried to outdo his dynamite enhanced 2009 Fast & Furious, he succeeded.

 

Although the acting’s nothing to write home about, after all we are dealing with Vin Diesel, Paul Walker and Jordana Brewster who are best known for their looks and not their acting talent, their presence does make the film worth seeing. But, what saves the talent end however, comes from Tyrese Gibson, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Tego Calderon and Don Omar who provide a comical touch and Dwayne Johnson causing a lot of mayhem during their screen time.  Add to this the hot chicks in the form of Brewster, Elsa Pataky and Gal Gardot and with your Blu-ray system you have a recipe for sight and sound.

 

The Blu-ray/DVD combo pack includes two versions of the movie, an extended version and the original theatrical version.  Being a true believer in getting all I can out of a film, and having seen the original in the theater, I jumped into the extended Fast Five immediately.  But don’t get too excited as the extended version only adds a minute to the film. Being a Fast & Furious fan from the very beginning I can’t get enough of the awesome auto action and crazy stunts.  It was cool to be able to slow some of the chases down and watch the crashes frame by frame, especially the car heist on a train scene in the beginning of the movie.

 

Now to the ‘techie’ information:

 

For all you ‘techie’ people let’s look inside the box and find out about the cool technical aspects of this baby.

Video

 

By now most of you know the clarity and sharpness of Blu-ray and with Universal’s the quality is there.  However I was a little disappointed that the video has the 2.35:1 (2.39:1) aspect ratio and didn’t fill my 60-inch screen. Zoom it? No way, I’m not missing one centimeter of Fast Five.  I guess I’m just spoiled with the 1.78:1 or the 1.85:1 aspect that makes my TV a movie house.  But, into the movie about 10 minutes and I was too rapt with the action to think about it.  The color afforded my LG Blu-ray player/LG HD Television is magnificent when combined with Universal’s Blu-ray quality of contrast and black levels.

 

 

Audio

 

 

The English Dolby Digital 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio worked well with my system giving clear sound and very little noise.  Since 60% of Fast Five is the sounds of explosions, cars revving, strong dialogue, … well you know what I mean.  In an action film the “feel” of the film is sometimes more important than the visual affect.  During the heist on the train I jacked up the sound a bit for enhancement and it provided an awesome chilling feeling as the scene played out.

Special Features

 

The Fast Five bonus features make the purchase of this film a great buy.  The Blu-ray is loaded with interesting, exciting and entertaining additions to the film.  Most of the specials include shot for shot action and excellent commentary.  It’s the kind of stuff that gets into the nitty-gritty of the film showing special camera work, incredible stunts, creative sets, specially designed vehicles, green screen applications, and a whole lot more.

 

Here is a list of the bonus features by disc:

 

The Blu-ray Exclusive features include…

DOM VS. HOBBS, ON THE SET WITH DIRECTOR JUSTIN LIN, INSIDE THE VAULT CHASE, TYRESE TV and a whole lot more.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=–UYPsmzFZk&NR=1

But it doesn’t stop here.  The NEW ‘pocket BLU’ for tablets and computers features Universal’s Second Screen.  It’s a special treat for those who have the technology like iPad, iPhone, iPod touch, Android smartphones tablets, PC and Mac.  Some of the perks include things like Advanced Remote Control, Video Timetable and Mobile-To Go.

 

BD-LIVE: Access the BD-Live Center through your internet-connected Blu-ray/DVD player to access the latest trailers, exclusive content and more.

 

UHEAR: Never miss another line of dialogue with this innovative feature that instantly skips back a few seconds at your command on your Blu-ray disc and turns on the subtitles to highlight what you missed.

 

 

Take out the DVD from your Blu-ray + DVD and slide it into your player for more bonus surprises:  There’s DELETED SCENES, GAG REEL, DOM’S JOURNEY, BRIAN O’CONNER: FROM FED TO CON, ENTER FEDERAL AGENT HOBBS and more.

 

Both discs have the ability of feature commentary by Director Justin Lin (Extended Version only) and it’s worth seeing the film again as he expertly tracks you to the reasons why and how he keeps the action going.  I was amazed at the costs of production, time it took for each special scene, breakdown of scenes, how each of the characters from past sequels were inserted into the film, and a whole lot more.

 

Final Analysis

 

Fast Five on Blu-ray/DVD becomes more than just a movie when you can control the film, special bonus features and other unique apps.  The movie is definitely a repeat thing in my house and I can see myself watching it over again from time to time.  If you like your action like I do, than Universal’s Fast Five should be in your library.

 

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=–UYPsmzFZk&NR=1[/youtube]


THE LION KING 3D BLU-RAY, MAJESTIC

 

Rating System (with best being a 5): Film- 4.5, Video- 5, Audio- 5, Extras- 3.5, Overall 4.5

 

I don’t know if you recently had the opportunity to see The Lion King in 3D at your local theater or the original version in 1994 when it came out, but I had the opportunity to see the film in the 3D Blu-ray disc version and it’s amazing.  The film will probably never be replaced as the all time animated entertainment event for me because it has all the action, drama, comedy and values that make it the best for family viewing, and now in 3D Blu-ray.

 

The movie follows the adventure of a young lion cub Simba who is next in line to be King of the pride.  But his uncle Scar has other plans and sets up Simba to fail leading to his taking of the throne.  Cast out into the wilderness Simba runs into Pumbaa and Timon who help Simba get his strength and courage back.  When Simba returns to the pride a fight for leadership begins.

 

The songs are classics with “The Circle of Life” at the very top.  It’s hard to get most of the songs out of your brain once you revisit them and I still toe tap to “Hakuna Matata”.  But my heart belongs to “Can You Feel The Love Tonight”, especially watching Simba and Nala begin their journey in life.

 

In 3D the movie takes on another level of entertainment.  This super visual mode put me right into the movie showing the characters up close and providing an amazing depth that brought the jungle to my living room.  If you have the 3D television and 3D Blu-ray system it’s the most unique way to see this classic spectacular movie.

 

The Four Disc combo pack turns out to be the best buy for now and the future.  This packaging includes the Blu-ray 3D, a regular Blu-ray disc with the feature film and the bonus features, a DVD of the film with it’s own bonus feature and a fourth Digital copy of the feature so you can download it and take it with you inside your laptop computer or other mobile device.

 

The Lion King has remained my favorite animated film over the years with just a few being it’s equal.  But, even though it has equals, it’s still the top one on my library shelf.  With the new Diamond Collection beginning, the original DVD has a new guest the 3D Version that will sit along side.  This product is among the new Disney’s Blu-ray Diamond Collection a selection of the most prestigious animated classics in the Disney vault.  The collection will be comprised of those treasured titles and will be released through the year 2016.

 

The Diamond titles represent the highest level of picture and sound, feature groundbreaking, state-of-the-art immersive bonus content, and include unprecedented levels of interactivity, personalization and customization, made possible because of Blu-ray technology. It all starts with The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast, both available October 4, 2011.  Look for Lady and the Tramp DE in Spring of 2012.

 

Disney makes it easy to upgrade your collection to Blu-ray by just going to dineyupgrade2blu.com for instructions. You don’t have to give up your old DVD format disc and you get an $8 coupon to use for a discount on that Blu-ray title for which you send in purchase tab.

 

For all you ‘techie’ people let’s look inside the box and find out about the cool technical aspects of this baby.

Video

 

The color, sharpness, contrast and other goodies depend on your system, but if it is high grade you can depend on the discs inside the box to be top notch.  I found the 3D to be extremely well presented in its 1.178:1 aspect ratio a widescreen format that filled the whole screen with pop out quality and no black bars to distract.  Imaging has been greatly improved over the 2004 release of The Lion King with this pristine high definition picture. It’s hard to beat Disney’s Blu-ray for quality of picture including the fine sharpness, contrast, color and black levels.

 

Audio

 

Featuring AC-3, Dolby Digital Surround Sound my system would have blew the doors off the room if I jacked up the levels to full bore.  Instead I notched the film at a level that would fix my body in the center of all the action without destroying the ‘feel’ of the film.  Sound is at least 50% of any film showing and without good levels the presentation fails. The Blu-ray 3D disc provides (English) a 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio that easily drives my speaker system.

Special Features

 

The special bonus features on the discs are quite good and do have more than 2004’s 2 Disc Special Edition of The Lion King. On the 3D Blu-ray there’s just the film where you will experience 3D to the max.  The Blu-ray disc included in the combo pack has many bonus features, but don’t get rid of your 2004 SE because it has some features this edition doesn’t.

 

Deleted Scenes: 4 never-before-see deleted scenes (6 min)

Bloopers: New funny ‘animated errors’ that make you laugh (1 min)

Deleted Song: I guess the film was a little too long or the scene was cut, but this special song was not in the original.

The Morning Report: After you watch the film check this bonus out as it provides a longer sort of alternate version of this scene from the film. (2 min)

Pride of the Lion King: a visit with the crew on the film (36 min)

Sing-a-long mode: The songs from the film are set up with subtitles so the kids (and yourself) will know all the words.

Interactive Blu-ray Gallery: It’s worth the look.

 

The DVD disc includes the bonus:

 

The Lion King: A Memoir- Don Hahn: Hahn takes you on a journey into the creation of the film introducing the people who helped make it happen.  It’s a wonderful behind the scenes memory not to be missed. (20 min)

 

Disney Second Screen: The Lion Ling Edition provides a chance to sync your laptop or iPad with your Blu-ray disc to provide additional content you control as your movie plays.  It can be a bit dicey to set up and a little techie to use but once you do,…Revelations!

Final Thoughts

 

For me The Lion King 3D Blu-ray is a no-brainer, but if you are not ever planning on purchasing a 3D system it may not be for you.  However, with the Blu-ray and DVD enclosed in the 3D combo pack, if you are going to purchase the Blu-ray anyway the Combo Pack may be a better deal for any future changes in your entertainment system.

 

 

 

50/50, STRONG MEANINGFUL STORY

 

When I see Seth Rogen’s name listed in the cast of a film the first thing that comes to my mind is a wild comedy.  But in 50/50 Rogen adjusts his bizarre persona and creates a character that provides the right medicine to a poignant situation.  Although the film gets a little sappy at times, it delivers a strong meaningful story.

 

The film centers on Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) a young guy how has been diagnosed with a malignant tumor in his back.  His therapist Katherine (Anna Kendrick) tries to get Adam to accept his cancer and do his best to live out his dreams. His best friend Kyle (Seth Rogen) goes into shock when he hears the news, but his strong sense of friendship takes over and wants to ‘be there’ for Adam. Never been a womanizer, Adam finds himself doubting his ability to charm the ladies for a chance to have a fling while he still can. When Kyle’s sense of ‘being there’ becomes more bizarre, Adam takes a chance at fate and jumps right in with Kyle’s plan.

 

aDAM (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Kyle (Seth Rogen) in 50/50

The actors chosen for the main characters, Gordon-Levitt and Rogen are perfect for their roles.  They work well together and the chemistry between them exudes a touching bond of friendship.  I have to admit that even with Rogen’s reputation of dominating most of the scene’s he’s in, Gordon-Levitt overcomes this in 50/50 and pulls off the best acting performance of his career.

 

Katherine (Anna Kendrick) tries to get into Adam's mind in 50/50

I liked the Anna Kendrick (Up In The Air) role of Katherine an upcoming therapist who gets assigned Adam as her third case ever.  She adds an important comedic touch that gets the audience through some very emotional scenes.  Also in support, Anjelica Huston (Prizzi’s Honor) does a sterling job as the dotting mother who falls apart when she hears her son has cancer.  Trying to look strong for Adam, she just can’t make him believe it’s love she feels and not sympathy.

 

Direction by Jonathan Levine (The Wackness) is controlling and keen, taking his characters through the good and bad times and wrapping the film in Kleenex tissue.  It’s a hard script to bring to the screen with comedy based on such a killer disease, but he presents it well and comes up a winner.  If you have seen the Showtime cable TV show The Big C with Laura Linney you will probably agree when I say 50/50 comes in equal to that show which treats Cancer with laughter.

Caution, major plot point partially revealed: The inspiration for the movie came from the true experience of writer Will Riser who in real life is friends with Seth Rogen.  But although the story is based mostly on fiction, there are a lot of parts real to Riser.  Actually Rogen’s character is an amalgam of himself and Evan Goldberg.  Both writers for the Ali G Show, it’s where they met Riser. The three were close and when they found out that Riser had cancer, they remained friends through most of the pain and suffering. When Riser pulled through Rogen and Goldberg pushed Riser to write a script for 50/50.

 

50/50 is rated R for language throughout, sexual content and some drug use. Be cautioned that some of the dialog  may be truly tasteless if not taken in the right manner that it was intended.


FINAL ANALYSIS: A very good comedy drama about love, friendship and accepting whatever may come. (B)


 

 

WHAT’S YOUR NUMBER?, Cheesy & Familiar

 

It’s a chick flick, so there you go, I said it right up front.  AND, What’s Your Number? is very predictable, so there you go again.  AND it’s 27 Dresses with a bit more sex and without Katherine Heigl.  Actually, I almost liked the film up until two scenes that show signs of the moral decay of American cinema.

 

The story follows Ally Darling (Anna Faris) who has tipped the scale in sex partners for a woman’s lifetime according to a national ladies magazine. In fact according to the article, at 20 men her clock has stopped and if Ally doesn’t marry one of the men she already slept with, she’ll end up missing her true love.  Cornered with seeming no way out she decides to look up each of her previous lovers in an attempt to find one with which she could spend the rest of her life.  When Colin (Chris Evans) her across the hall neighbor comes into the picture to help her, the plan starts to get a very murky.

Ally (Anna Faris) gets burned

I’m sure director Mark Mylod (Showtime’s ‘Shameless’) had full reign with his actors and the script.  Faris, who also produced What’s Your Number?, known for her bawdy roles in films like The Hot Chick and House Bunny was easily molded into her character as the promiscuous Ally Darling leaving very little for Mylod to achieve with his actors.  That is except for Evans (Captain America) who took on the role of Colin.  Mylod uses Evans recent success as the super hero to show him off as lady eye candy guaranteeing a strong female word of mouth following for his film.

Ally (Faris) and Colin (Chris Evans) look up old beaus

If there is an upside to the film it’s hard to find as What’s Your Number? gets very predictable, cheesy and familiar.  Much like 27 Dresses the elusive ‘special one’ gets hard to bag, even if he’s right in front of your nose.  I will admit, however that some of the sight gags and toilet humor provided some laughs and some of Ally’s old beaus draw a humorous guffaw now and then.

 

Now I know it’s just a movie, but the shock of seeing 8 year olds swearing at a wedding reception turned me off to the film.  I’m not a prude and throughout even laughed at the extensive use of off color language by adults.  It’s obvious the filmmaker inserted the kiddie’s remarks to ice the chances of getting an R rating because the rest of the film borders on a PG-13.  Even the nudity is from the rear (pardon my pun) and the sex doesn’t show a whole lot of flesh.  My point? These are youngsters using the F word in unison, three males and a female, followed by a final run through using the F word combined with another word for breasts.  If there’s a moral to this film, it’s ‘amoral.’

FINAL ANALYSIS: Not much here that’s NOT been done already. (D)


MONEYBALL, STRIKES OUT

 

Even though the acting is stellar, unless you are a baseball fan or star struck on Brad Pitt, then you may want to shy away from Moneyball.  The film gets pretty hot and heavy into the subject matter of money versus mom’s apple pie and the rites of summer.  It’s not about little Jimmy loving his favorite player because that piece of collateral may not be on his favorite team anymore. Much like the movie Wall Street, it’s about greed. It’s a true story, but as far as I’m concerned, so what.

 

Maybe this will help.  Baseball manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) has run into a wall with his team the Oakland A’s who just lost the chance of being World Champions.  The first thing the head office does is trade three of his best players for their money’s worth.  This puts Beane in the position of getting new players to fill the spots vacated by the meat of his team.  Now while this is commonplace as shown by other small markets like Miami and Tampa for example, Beane can’t seem to come to grips with another year of rebuilding.

Brad Pitt as Billy Beane trying to make a trade in Cleveland

With no big money available from the owners, Beane makes a desperate attempt to buy some of the better players in other small markets like in the film’s case Cleveland.  ‘Are you following me on this?’  However, they are in the same situation if they loose their best players and want compensation that Beane cannot offer.  During the meeting with Cleveland he meets Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), a bean counter (No pun intended) and number cruncher that has a theory on how to fix a team that’s loosing their meat and potatoes.  When the two put their heads together, it starts a chain reaction that changes baseball forever.

 

Billy Beane chats with Peter Brand (Jonah Hill)

Acting’s not everything and the two hour plus film tends to move along at a fast clip leading one to believe that the director Bennett Miller assumes that most of the audience already knows that trading players is part of the money game of baseball.  NOT SO, and nor does he project any reason why his audience no matter how well versed they are in the game cares much about how deals are made. Jimmy just wants to see his favorite players and catch a fly ball in the stand.

 

Now, it boggles the mind that no one has ever come up with the idea that Brand and Beane develop to make silk purses out of sow’s ears, because isn’t that what farm teams are for?  And, according to the film it isn’t luck that gets hits, it’s playing the right person no matter how bad they field or how goofy they pitch or look while batting at the plate.

 

Director Bennett Miller with Phillip Seymour Hoffman on the set of MONEYBALL

Well that’s my rant on the film but if you do want to see some very good acting and don’t mind having your brain filled with critical mass, then it’s worth a see.  I did especially like Brad Pitt’s performance as the manager who couldn’t be in the stands of his own games.  He handles most of the dialogue in the film and does an exceptional job of developing his character to the point of believability.  The run-ins with his coach played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman are priceless. But, unlike Michael Douglas’s role in Wall Street that affects everyone’s pocketbook, although informational and historical Pitt’s cold and callous Beane just doesn’t make Moneyball great entertainment.

 

Moneyball is rated PG-13 by the MPAA for some strong language. But, even though you approve your youngster to attend with you, he probably won’t understand the greed of it anyway.

 

FINAL ANALYSIS: Keep your baseball to the ballpark not the movie theater for this one. (D)


 

 

 

KILLER ELITE, A THRILLER

 

The film Killer Elite plays out like you are watching a video game, kill an assassin and move up to the next level.  Exciting, power packed and relatively predictable, the film tends to mirror other action movies that have been released this year. The thing that does play better than the rest involves the suspense that comes with trying to decide who really is the bad guy here?

 

The script goes something like this; best friends and fellow assassins Danny (Jason Statham) and Hunter (Robert DeNiro) are finishing up a job in Mexico when Danny gets shot in the leg when he hesitates during his kill shot.  Torn by a near death moment, Danny decides to quit the business and retires to a secluded retreat.

Assassins Danny (Statham) and Hunter (DeNiro) in KILLER ELITE

At least a year goes by with no contact from Hunter until he gets notified from his former mission advisor that Hunter’s been captured and being held by a subversive government. Danny hesitates at first then takes on the challenge of rescuing Hunter.  When the top assassins in the world get mobilized to stop the rescue and Spike (Clive Owen)  a highly trained policeman thinks Danny’s a spy, Danny has to face impossible odds.

 

Danny faces his nemice Spike (Clive Owen)

The film rolls out like an X-Box game with the hero getting several weapons to choose from, endless ammunition and several help stations along his journey to kill assassins and free the girl, except in Killer Elite it’s a DeNiro.  Actually I enjoy a good game and that’s a good thing here. Statham makes a great gamer role model with a lot of muscle and agility to face off against his foes.  Hey if someone’s developing a video game out there called Killer Elite, just remember you heard it here first.

 

Statham works well with Robert DeNiro, especially in the opening sequence where the two have to face off against Mexican government police.  DeNiro looks like his younger self and exhibits the kind of intensity that made him famous.  Good make-up and special CGI may have helped, but who’s caring when the extreme fighting looks real.

 

I am very happy to see Clive Owen in this action packed thriller and it’s he who makes Killer Elite suspenseful.  Thinking he’s got an easy job in tracking down a bungling assassin, especially since his men under him are highly trained, get him into a tight situation when he has to decide who’s the bad guy.

 

The direction by first timer Gary McKendry looks high quality.  He starts his film with a great firefight and doesn’t hold back right up to the blazing ending. He moves the story along at a fast clip and inserts his adversaries in piece meal so as to string out a lot of guts and gore.

 

Killer Elite is rated R for strong violence, language and some sexuality/nudity.  McKendry inserts a lot of realistic killing for shock value so use extra caution when deciding to bring immature children. Although the film has a similar name as the 1975 spy thriller, the story is very different and so are the thrills.

 

FINAL ANALYSIS:  A strong action thriller to end the summer. (B)