WE BOUGHT A ZOO, Uplifting True Story

 

The heartfelt drama We Bought A Zoo comes to town and it’s for the whole family.  A true story perfect for the holiday season with an uplifting account that shows what one family can do to help a community while healing themselves.  I am a fan of this kind of film as it reminds us of the principles on which America is built, with dreams, hard work and service to humanity.

 

The recently widowed Benjamin Mee (Matt Damon) has had a hard time with the loss of his wife and raising his two children young Rosie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones) and teen Dylan (Colin Ford).  So much so that with Dylan’s school problems, no time for Rose and a dead end job, Ben decides to quit and move out of his city far enough away to get control of their lives.  After looking at unsuitable homes for his children the realtor takes a chance on showing him a house with a lot of property attached.  When Ben’s daughter Rosie says she feels that this is the one, the realtor presents them with a problem.  If Ben purchases the house he has to take a zoo complete with 200 animals.

 

Matt Damon as Ben in WE BOUGHT A ZOO

The actors are perfect for their roles as you can see it in the way they seem to have fun portraying the characters.  The Mee family proves exciting with cutesy Jones as an eager Rosie who loves animals; Ford realistically playing an upset Dylan who has to leave his friends behind; and Damon as Ben an earnest decision maker who takes a chance on a challenging future.

 

Scarlett Johansson and Matt Damon

In support Scarlett Johansson plays the no-nonsense Kelly Foster, manager of the failing zoo. She shows her steadfast side while trying to understand why the mild mannered Ben would take on the huge task.  Her pivotal performance makes the story work bringing sense to the family while trying to hold on to her job.  Elle Fanning becomes the ace in the deck being the one who brings Dylan out of his stubbornness and back into the family.

 

We Bought a Zoo provides a touching story that should hopefully resonate within the families of America showing what one family can do to help themselves and others in need.  “All you need is 20 seconds of insane courage and I promise you something great will come of it.”- Benjamin Mee. Whether it’s the reopening of an attraction that helps support the community, patching up relations or providing much needed work for people, the film should win the hearts of all who see it.

 

The movie has been rated PG by the MPAA for language and some thematic elements.

 

 

FINAL ANALYSIS: An inspirational film for the whole family. (B)

 

YOUNG GOETHE IN LOVE, LOVER’S CHOICE

 

I found something cool for you romantics a  love period piece movie with substance.  Based on a true story the movie is called Young Goethe in Love and if you had a female English Literature teacher in High School like I did then you probably have heard of Johann Goethe. But, how he became the soul bearing person of historical importance is why you should see this film.

 

Growing up in a wealthy German family in the 18th century should have been an easy way to success, but not for Johann Goethe (Alexander Fehling) who flunked out of law school because he’d rather write poetry to the dismay of his lawyer father.  In retribution for his squandering of a good education, his father sends him to a colleague to mend his ways at small provincial court.  Here he gets assigned to Kestner (Moritz Bleibtreu) a highly respected lawyer who finds Johann an admirable assistant.

 

Lotte (Miriam Stein) and Johann (Alexander Fehling)

But, that’s not the whole story as Johann meets the comely young lady Lotte (Miriam Stein) at a dance and starts seeing her.  This encourages him to write love poems and he starts to believe in himself and a future with Lotte.  However, Lotte’s family has run into debt and may loose their home, so her father promises the young woman to the prosperous Kestner.

 

Well you know where this one is going, but even if it sounds a little like a Romeo and Juliet moment there’s more than meets the description.  The romance comes from the story, the cinematography, costumes of the period and the actors who make the love triangle tragedy a splendid work of art.  It’s easy to recommend Young Goethe in Love because it captures a budding relationship, challenges the couple, involves an historical setting and comes to an atypical resolution.

 

Johann brings papers to court

The actors are extremely good under the direction of writer Philipp Stoelzl, especially the two main characters of Johann and Lotte.  Played by Alexander Fehling (Inglourious Basterds) and newcomer Miriam Stein the two light up the screen with their flowering relationship of what dreams are made.  A perfect lost soul, Stoelzl’s characterization of Johann hits the mark as he meets all the challenges that lovers encounter.  And Stein’s Lotte shows her vulnerability to both Johann and her father’s wishes in the midst of her first real encounter with love.

 

Young Goethe in Love has not been rated by the MPAA but contains adult situations including sex and brief nudity. The film also includes an act of violence and brief language. The movie is presented in German with English subtitles.

 

 

FINAL ANALYSIS: An impressive film that believers in love should not miss. (B)

 

 

THE SKIN I LIVE IN, Deliciously Bizarre

 

This film gets so incredible that it’s perfect for mainstream and fans of the “bizarre” alike.  It’s called The Skin I Live In and if you use your imagination and accept it for face value you will be thoroughly entertained.  It’s not The Bride of Frankenstein, but revenge has never been sweeter.

 

The film centers on Dr. Robert Ledgard an amazing plastic surgeon that looses his wife to a burning car crash because he doesn’t have the proper skin to save her.  This event pushes him to develop a synthetic skin that will save lives.  Twelve years pass and he comes up with the perfect skin, one that’s impervious to almost anything.

 

Dr. Ledgard (Antonio Banderas) and his patient (Elena Anaya)

But Ledgard still harbors feelings for the wife he loved and longs for.  When his daughter becomes the victim of a rapist, he sets out to take vengeance on the man that’s preposterous yet poetic justice.

 

Elena Anaya in a chilling scene

Anytime you have Elena Anaya (Point Blank) in a film for the guys and Antonio Banderas (Desperado, Femme Fatale) for the gals you have a recipe for emotion, art and romance.  Add a little of the bizarre to the mix and the result is The Skin I Live In a phenomenal story that intrigues and mystifies. Perfectly executed, the movie moves along at a fast clip never lagging or distracting with fillers that don’t work.

 

Under the direction of Pedro Almodovar (Volver, Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down) his characters emit such poignant feelings for their actions that I found myself ‘believing’ the emotional trauma, reason for revenge and the astonishing resolution. It’s the kind of film you will leave the theater chatting about for a long time. It’s ice cream for horror fans and an enigma for lovers.

 

The Skin I live In is rated R for disturbing violent content including sexual assault, strong sexuality, graphic nudity, drug use and language.  Not a film for the meek or timid. The film is performed in Spanish with English Subtitles.

 

 

FINAL ANALYISIS: It’s Ice Cream for followers of the Bizarre. (B+)

 

 

ANSWERS TO NOTHING, meaningless entertainment

 

Here’s an attempt to make a film where the audience has to get involved with many characters for an ending payoff.  One problem with the movie, the title says it all, Answers to Nothing.  Taking a shocking event and building a story around it can be very entertaining, but not if it gets overly complicated and that’s what happens in the film.

 

Here is writer/director Matthew Leutwyler’s short synopsis of the film as provided by the studio. “Against the backdrop of a missing girl case, lost souls throughout Los Angeles search for meaning and redemption and affect each other in ways they don’t always see”.

 

Ryan (Dane Cook) and his wife Kate (Elizabeth Mitchell)

How convoluted does Answers to Nothing get? The characters do not fit the cycle that the synopsis describes.  We have random roles that try to connect, but tend to tell their own story without any depth.  Ryan (Dane Cook), a shrink, is married to Kate (Elizabeth Mitchell) a lawyer who wants to have a child but their only chance involves in vitro fertilization.  Since Ryan has been having an affair with Tara (Aja Volkman) making this complicated fertilization process work has been quite the challenge.  Detective Frankie (Julie Benz) has been assigned to a missing teen case and finds herself overwhelmed by it, but has a hunch it’s Beckworth (Greg Germann) the missing girl’s next door neighbor. Drew (Miranda Bailey) has been depressed over her fight to retain custody of her brother with the help of her lawyer Kate.  Evan’s (Zach Gilford) a childlike character that doesn’t know how to identify a female dog from a male dog yet finds himself connecting with the complicated Allegra (Kali Hawk).  Allegra has a lot of issues that she has been taking to Ryan; especially that she hates black people even though she herself is African American. Carter (Mark Kelly), a teacher in the middle school, feels he has been a looser in life and has visions of being a hero even if it is only on his computer game. Finally, Jerry (Erik Palladino) is a troubled cop with a notion that he can get even for the death of his wife.

 

It’s nice to see Barbara Hershey (Ryan’s mother Marilyn) in a movie again, but what a waste of screen time for the icon.  Her part is so small and needless that it’s disappointing that she cannot lend her fine support to the film.  But, that’s the case of others in this film, especially the romance between Evan (Zach Gilford) and Allegra (Kali Hawk) that could have easily been eliminated with the right editing tools thus shortening the lengthy movie a bit.  The scenes of Evan’s character are unimportant to the plot and do nothing for the Allegra character.

 

The film is peppered with unresolved meetings and needless information bogging down the circle of redemption and heroism.  I found the affair between Ryan and Tara very unrealistic and awkward instead of something meaningful to the two of them. Jerry the cop is a great character and could have been developed more to add credence to why he wants to help Carter. Drew’s story could have been a stand-alone short film.  Aside from the heroism by Carter that does evolve within the missing teen storyline, Drew’s relentless need to give her brother back the opportunity she lost for him makes up the best part of the film.

 

The direction by Leutwyler of his chaotic storyline proves interesting at best as all the information has been provided, but it tasks the brain on how all the many pieces fit. Luckily I saw the film on a screening copy and able to replay the movie to make more sense of it, but who can afford to see the film twice at a movie theater to make sure all the stories in this convoluted story are meaningful.  This isn’t the Sixth Sense or Crash, although with the right script it could have been. My recommendation, wait till the DVD comes out and rent the film at a Redbox.

 

Answers to Nothing has been rated R for some strong sexual content, nudity, violence and language.

 

Final Analysis: A failed attempt at meaningful entertainment. (D)

BREAKING DAWN, A GOOD BEGINNING

 

Well the Twilight Saga has finally reached its ebb with the first half of Breaking Dawn that opens this weekend in theaters around the world.  Certainly expected to be earth shaking due to millions of young girls and twenty-something’s rushing to the box-office to get a look at semi-nude Robert Pattenson making love to his comely co-star Kristin Stewart.  It’s all about the look and feel of the film that makes this one a winner.

 

The Cullins at THE wedding

Bella and Edward have a stunningly beautiful wedding, one that could easily overshadow even some of the top weddings ever on film. Following the wedding Edward whisks his bride off to a secluded island for their honeymoon.  When they return home with Bella in pain it incites the Blacks to become vicious.

 

Edward (Pattinson) and Bella (Stewart) on their wedding night

Taking a crack at the ongoing series director Bill Condon (Dreamgirls) gets a little edgy with an intense sexually charged wedding night on a private island with his two central stars.  Biding his time with the camera close ups and leaning into the special moment, Condon brings his audience within a hair of the actual act.  But, his reveal the following day provides enough evidence of a very bruising passionate union making the first half of the fourth installment a vampire’s saga.

 

The acting here has developed to a higher level since first we met Bella Swan and Edward Cullen.  Time to grow up and practice with roles in films like The Runnaways and Welcome to the Rileys have made Stewart into a viable star quality actress.  Taking Bella through several almost mystical scenes, dramatic moments and a near death occurrence, Stewart shows she can act.

 

Pattenson has developed extremely well himself using his seasoned ability from such films as Water for Elephants and Little Ashes to make his Edward character very palatable. Together with Stewart they blaze Breaking Dawn in a hot screen appearance together.  His dramatic appeal continues beyond Twilight with Cosmopolis and Bel Ami looking for release dates.

 

But, for the guys Breaking Dawn has dragging issues, especially the long-winded honeymoon that rolls out slowly with too much lovey-dovey before it becomes intimate enough to attract a macho audience.  Even Bella’s ‘growing’ entity within her seems to be drawn out with each of the Cullen women getting into the act, but here there’s forgiveness because Condon needed the time to split the film into two parts.  On the plus side the werewolves vs. vampires attack is very cool.

 

Breaking Dawn is rated PG-13 for disturbing images, violence, sexuality/partial nudity and some thematic elements. Be extremely cautious when deciding to bring immature pre-teenagers. The 1 hour and 48 minute film is part one of the final book of the Twilight Saga with part two being released in November of 2012.

 

FINAL ANALYSIS: A hot beginning to an expected violent ending. (B)

 

 

 

LIKE CRAZY, FLIMSEY & FORGETABLE

 

How to screw up your life without really trying seems to be the theme of the film Like Crazy an inconceivable little film that’s poorly written and delivered.  Even with heartthrobs Anton Yelchin and Felicity Jones, the unlikely plot just kills any chance for a dramatic winner.

 

Writer director Drake Doremus centers his film on Jacob (Yelchin) and Anna (Jones) two college students who are about to graduate when they meet.  After a quick romantic interlude, the two decide to spend the summer together before going on to their chosen professions.  One problem, Anna is a British subject in America on a student visa and since she graduated must return to England.  But, the whimsical Anna chooses to be with Jacob for the summer turning her nose up at ‘immigration’.

 

Following an amazing summer together, Anna returns to her parents in England to try and figure out her life.  After some long distance romance, Anna returns to America only to get rejected due to violating her student visa and gets sent back to England.  So starts a complicated relationship that mixes marriage, unfaithfulness and a whole lot of sex.

 

Drake Doremus on the set of LIKE CRAZY

Although Doremus sets up a great theme to work with, he fails to instill any chemistry between his characters, provide a realistic script in a reasonable time frame and chooses (like his Anna character) to believe the audience will accept all this in the name of love.  Well, NO! Anna and Jacob have found a special kind of ‘true’ love in the first act that I accepted.  The moment Anna is out of the picture locked in London, however, Jacob starts to get sexually involved with Samantha (Jennifer Lawrence) while he builds his chair business.

 

Anna then convinces Jacob to join her in London and the two decide to get married thinking that would get her a Green Card.  The red tape bogs the couple down so Jacob returns to the United States to run his chair business and goes back to his sexual tricks with Samantha, etc…. leading to an unlikely ending. I could fill in the blanks but just in case you really want to go see Like Crazy, so you can moon over the two main actors, there’s no reason to go any further.

 

As to Jones and Yelchin a suggestion, sweep this one under the rug and move on to another project.  From the looks of things on the screen, you probably already did this by the beginning of the third act.

Like Crazy is rated PG-13 for sexual content and brief strong language.  The film runs 1 hour and 29 minutes.

 

FINAL ANAYSIS: A romantic comedy running on empty. (D)

 

 

 

 

 

“J. EDGAR” a JUNIOR G-MAN

 

The interesting and historical J. Edgar has reached local movie theaters with very good performances by Leonardo DiCaprio, Naomi Watts and Judi Dench.  The film has a few flaws, but it does give a good account of the man who was the first director of the FBI.

 

The film follows the life of J. Edgar Hoover (DiCaprio) the first director of the FBI who was appointed to the position in 1935 by the then Attorney General of the United States. During his 37 years in the position he set up a bureau that sought out many famous criminals, set up a library of information on persons of interest to the federal government, and he amassed some unsavory secret files that kept him in his job. His private life with his mother and tawdry long time affair with his assistant Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer) plays out intermittently throughout the film.

Clyde (Hammer) and J. Edgar (DiCaprio) during their younger years
The older J. Edgar and Clyde Tolson

The acting and make-up are a plus factor with DiCaprio giving an extremely good effort in the role of J. Edgar Hoover.  His ability to capture the essence of the man showing the power monger unwavering and stern in the quest for the best possible government bureau should get him an Oscar nod.  The skillful make-up prosthetics changes his face showing the character grow older and eerily becoming very reminiscent of the actual man.

 

Naomi Watts as Helen Gandy with DiCaprio as J. Edgar

In support, Naomi Watts brings Helen Gandy his secretary and loyal devotee to life with a superb performance as the ‘other’ woman in his life. But the first lady to Edgar, his mother played by Dame Judi Dench in a performance only she can give, stands out beyond any other support character.  She would only have to give one expressive look at Edgar in response to a question and it shows volumes.

 

What I don’t like about J. Edgar comes in the presentation.  Jumping back and forth from his final year as director to his early life as head of the G-men is very bewildering.  I would have enjoyed the film more if Director Clint Eastwood had introduced the character and started from the beginning of his life with the bureau to the final years.  I found some sections of the film hard to enjoy, especially the Charles Lindberg case that lost its importance with repetitive flashbacks.

 

J. Edgar is rated R by the MPAA for brief strong language, but it also contains a couple of sexual scenes, drug use and crime violence.  The film runs two hours and 17 minutes, about 20 minutes too long.

 

FINAL ANALYSIS:  A good film that could have been better. (C+)

 

GAINSBOURG: A HEROIC LIFE, Interesting But Long

 

A biopic of a very talented French singer, songwriter, actor and director Serge Gainsbourg comes to the screen in all its glory in the film Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life.  Set in a time where film stars and the well to do hob knobbed with upcoming artists, the movie is a cornucopia of oddball personalities, wicked interludes and imaginative cultural music.

 

Director Joann Sfar begins his film with the young Lucien (Later changed to Serge) a strong willed young man who fancies art, especially drawing naked women with whom he is enamored.  It’s a time in France when the Nazis are in control and being Jewish Lucien’s family must keep on their toes to avoid being singled out as protesters.  When the yellow Star of David gets introduced, Serg is the first one in line to get one sewed on his jacket. Proud and rebellious, he starts to write songs about the defiant times and romance.

 

 

Serge Gainsbourg (Eric Elmosnino)

The film takes a giant step forward and we find Lucian now Serg living the life of a the illustrious singer/songwriter writing jazz in the early 60’s moving into funk, rock and reggae in the 70’s and contemporary in the 80’s.  During all this time he gets married and divorced, runs with movie stars like Bridget Bardot, Julliet Greco and Jane Birkin.

 

The period piece covering 5 decades shows the changes that went on in Europe, the strong will of Serge and a society that didn’t really give a hoot except for love and music. Joann Sfar captures the moments through Gainsbourg as he moves through life living it at it’s fullest and making a mark in musical history.  He does a terrific job of turning Eric Elmosnino into the prolific icon who challenges the music of the times continuously protesting with his lyrics and catchy tunes.

 

Brigitte Bardot (Casta) and Serge Gainsbourg (Elmosnino)

As Bardot however, Laetitia Casta steals the show depicting the star as this sweet innocent to Gainbourg until he masters her charms with some of his own.  The chemistry between Casta and Elmosnino gets hot and steamy in a very prurient scene that lingers all too long after Sfar moves to another scene.

 

The film’s downside comes with the length of the story bursting at its seams.  Sfar goes way too much into the depth of this biopic and tires his audience.  I felt that there should have been an intermission between the youngster Lucien (played by Kacey Mottet-Klein) and the accomplished Serg (played by Elmosnino) just to rest my mind between the two brilliant performances. I won’t say the film is boring at all, but I will say overly aggressive.

 

The film is unrated but it does contain nudity, sexual elements, language and some violence.

FINAL ANALYSIS: A good film that would have been better shorter. (C+)

 

 

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

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)

 

 

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)

 

 

 

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)


 

 

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

 

 

 

 

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.