Sunday, December 30, 2007

A Bloody Good Show

** out of ****

Premiering on Broadway in 1979, Stephen Sondheim's macabre musical "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" (adapted from Christopher Bond's play of the same name), makes it to the big screen 28 years later -- just in time for Christmas.

Directed by Tim Burton, Johnny Depp plays the title role in his sixth collaboration with the director and fifth collaboration with female lead Helena Bonham Carter.

Revolving around the themes of revenge, murder, poverty and cannibalism, this sure isn't "Mamma Mia!"

Set in a dreary 18th century London, "Sweeney Todd" tells the infamous story of Benjamin Barker (Depp), a barber, wrongfully accused and sent away by Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman) with the help of his sailor friend, Beadle Barnford (Timothy Spall). Turpin's motive is to get to Barker's wife Lucy (Laura Michelle Kelly) for whom he longingly covets.

Returning 15 years later to London with the alias Sweeney Todd, Barker hopes to be reunited with his wife and daughter and to seek out revenge on Turpin and Barnford.

Sweeney Todd opens his barber shop above Mrs. Lovett's (Bonham Carter) Meat Pie Shop, which she sings about in "The Worst Pies in London." Lovett and Todd partner in a heinous relationship. Upstairs, Todd slits the throats of his customers, while downstairs she'll fillet their meat into her pies. Sweeney lures his customers with a guarantee of "the closest shave you'll ever know."

Being sidetracked from his main goal and with the body count piling up, Todd is driven to exact revenge with nothing to stop him in this dark musical.

While with most films you wish the second half could have been as good as the first, the opposite holds true for "Sweeney Todd."

Finally gaining momentum after a sleepy first act, the film maintains a high energy until the satisfying end.

Burton orchestrates the stylized, large-scale production, having the camera zoom up and down the streets of the gloomy London landscape to establish much of the film's mood in a way that is eye candy for the viewer. Many kudos go out to the cinematographer, set designers and costume and make-up departments. Most of the film looks black-and-white. Until, of course, the blood gushes out in Tarantino-like quantities, looking almost cartoonish, to create an outstanding visual effect.

Johnny Depp, looking similar to his "Edward Scissorhands" character (his first film with Burton), is magnificent as Sweeney Todd in an award-worthy performance. He displays a strong singing voice.

The big surprise is Bonham Carter with some of the best lines in the movie. Her voice is soft, elegant and tuneful, but can't overcome the comparisons to Angela Lansbury's performance on Broadway.

The supporting cast keeps the film afloat. One surprise is a small role played by Sacha Baron Cohen as a faux Italian shyster.

Barely a word not spoken in song, Sondheim's lyrics are clever and witty for the most part, but the lines played just for laughs fall flat.

While "Sweeney Todd" is a musical, it isn't one for the whole family.

Like Mrs. Lovett's meat pies, "Sweeney Todd" is an acquired taste.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Almost 'Legend'ary

*** out of ****

Is it me or does every film set in the future have some sort of apocalyptic theme to it?

In "I Am Legend," the desolation is set in not-so-far-off 2012. From the first few scenes of the movie it is not hard to tell that something huge has happened to New York City.

Will Smith stars as Robert Neville, the last man alive in a deserted Manhattan. Weeds are growing out of the streets, the Brooklyn Bridge is dilapidated, lions and other zoo animals are prowling about, but everything else lies still. Come nighttime, however, the streets are alive -- or to be more precise, undead.

How did this come about? We cut to one of many appropriately placed flashbacks. It is 2009. While things look normal, there are some alarming changes taking place -- gas hitting a bit south of $7 per gallon and a cure for cancer has been found. The miracle cure's side effects, however, are more than just a headache.

The people given the revolutionary cure develop a virus, eventually turning into creatures that look like zombies with hairless pasty-gray skin and dilated pupils. Their vampire-like characteristics include feeding on blood and burning in the light. These primitive and aggressive people are called "dark seekers." The virus is transmitted through the air and during attacks from the monsters.

Neville, a scientist who helped with the cure, leads the chaotic evacuation/quarantine for New York City, aka ground zero. Events go terribly awry when his wife and daughter die along with others as the unstoppable virus wipes out humanity.

Immune to the virus, Robert's only companion is his dog Samantha. Living in a barricaded safe house, Robert works hard to find a cure for the virus using his immune blood when he's not out searching for survivors. He also broadcasts signals on the radio alerting possible survivors about where to meet up with him.

Racing against the clock to find a cure, with the dark seekers waiting for him to make a fatal error, the supposed "last man on earth" may not be alone after all.

Based on the 1954 novel by Richard Matheson, "I Am Legend" is the third film incarnation. The first was 1964's "The Last Man on Earth," starring Vincent Price, followed in 1971 by "The Omega Man," starring Charlton Heston.

The opening special effects are impressive. Seeing a deserted, rundown New York City with wild animals racing between abandoned cars is a spectacle. Later scenes are dicey at best. The dark seekers are effective but look as if they belong in a video game rather than a big-budget sci-fi horror film.

As far as acting goes, the one person that gets the credit (and there really only is one person to give it to other than a loveable dog), is superstar Will Smith. Smith is brilliant and makes "Legend" captivating. Showing paranoia, fear, loneliness and the willingness to survive and strive for a cure, Smith captures the audience's hearts as the hero, but also as a villain for having taken part in the virus' creation.

This is the second feature film for music-video-directing star Francis Lawrence. His first film was the passable comic book adaptation of "Constantine." While "Legend" is an improvement (Lawrence shows that he can create effective atmosphere full of many heart-racing, seat-jumping scary moments that leave shivers), Lawrence still needs to work on covering plot holes.
Most of the questionable consequences of a disaster you can shrug off, but you can't help wondering how there's electricity with no generators.

Not quite legendary, "I Am Legend" does make a name for itself.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

'Golden Compass' dazzles with its cast and effects

**1/2 out of ****

The holiday season is upon us, and to the fray of fantasy book adaptations comes "The Golden Compass."

The film is New Line's latest attempt at making another lucrative franchise like "Lord of the Rings," "The Chronicles of Narnia" and "Harry Potter."

"The Golden Compass" tells the first part of the popular "His Dark Materials" trilogy written by Phillip Pullman.

"Compass" is set in a 20th-century-ish England, one of many worlds in a parallel universe. In this mystical world, every human has an animal companion called a daemon that bears it's owners soul. As children grow up their daemons can change to different animals, while adults stay the same.

Twelve-year-old orphan Lyra Belacqua (Dakota Blue Richards) is the center of the story. With a strong-headed personality, she lives among scholars in Jordan College under her distinguished uncle, Lord Asriel (Daniel Craig).

The main events ensue when Asriel shocks the Magisterium, a big-brother-like hierarchy that rules the country, by finding a golden dust in the Arctic Circle that is believed to connect the universes together.

Before heading back to the Arctic, Asriel secretly gives Lyra an alethiometer, better known as a golden compass. The last one remaining, the alethiometer is a device that can tell the truth to any question.

After Asriel leaves, Lyra's friend Roger (Ben Walker) is kidnapped by a group called Gobblers who take children to the north for experiments to control their souls under the Magisterium.
Wanting to go after Roger, Lyra jumps at the opportunity to go north to the Arctic with the elegant and mystifying Miss Coulter (Nicole Kidman), a member of the Magisterium who has a knack of getting what she wants. While Miss Coulter is friendly to Lyra, she does have hidden agenda.

Flying to the north in a ship that resembles a blimp-submarine hybrid, Lyra quickly learns of the Magisterium's plans that Miss Coulter will carry out -- the power of the alethiometer, the fate of the children kidnapped and the war that is brewing.

Sound like enough? We are barely an hour in!

While Lyra seems to be nearing her doom, she learns of her secret allies -- a group called the Gyptians. The Gyptians are a group of freedom fighters looking for the location of the kidnapped kids.

On their journey, a cowboy-like character, Lee Scoresby (Sam Elliott) joins Lyra's campaign, which also included a giant armored polar bear, Iorek (voiced by Ian McKellen) and a flying witch, Serafina Pekkala (Eva Green) along with her fellow witches.

With both sides' forces rising, the unlikely heroes, Lyra and her friends, prepare for an epic battle.

While "The Golden Compass" has its flaws, it isn't without its high points -- such as the talented cast and spellbinding special effects.

Pulled out of 10,000 girls in an open casting call, newcomer Dakota Blue Richards is the highlight of the movie. Perfect for the role, Richards has a surprisingly commanding presence and understanding of the character's emotions.

Last seen together in the thriller "The Invasion," Kidman and Craig add to the all-star cast. Talented Kidman shines again, giving an icy, villainous performance that is memorable. Craig is suave as Asriel, but his fans will be disappointed for his minor part. However, he is expected to have a much bigger one in the upcoming sequels.

With talking animals, flying witches, innovative worlds and attention-grabbing aircraft, the computer-generated effects are flawless, along with the CGI backdrop for most of the scenes. What will amaze audiences are an exhilarating fight scene between two giant polar bears and the final battle sequence that is sure to keep eyes glued to the screen.

Director and writer Chris Weitz ("American Pie," "About a Boy") gives an great attempt at his first big-budget action film.

While it is fairly well-executed, it isn't too inviting for ones who haven't read the book, with a confusing first half and too much story crammed in just under the two-hour running time. These problems will likely have some audiences not wanting to return for the sequel, "The Subtle Knife," expected in 2009.

Overall, "The Golden Compass" points in the right direction, but it is still far from "golden."

Friday, December 7, 2007

'Juno' finds comedy in serious subject

**** out of ****

Winning major acclaim at this year's Toronto Film Festival, "Juno" serves up a comedic look at the rather unfunny topic of unplanned teen pregnancy.

The film opens with Juno MacGruff (Ellen Page), a 16-year-old high school junior, finding out she's pregnant. Over the course of several days and taking many pregnancy tests that keep turning up positive, the store clerk (Rainn Wilson) gives Juno these foreboding words as she shakes her pregnancy test: "That ain't no Etch-A-Sketch. That's one doodle that can't be undid, homeskillet."

Her geeky boyfriend, Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera), becomes the father after their first sexual encounter. When Juno breaks the news to her best friend, Leah (Olivia Thirlby), she is offered the options of abortion or adoption. She picks the former, but at the clinic decides she can't go through with it and plans to have the baby and give it to a loving family.

Juno's vacuum-salesman father, Mac (J.K. Simmons), and stepmother, Bren (Allison Janney), a dog-obsessed nail salon owner, aren't quite thrilled with the prospect, but are supportive nonetheless.

With Leah's help they find a married couple seeking a child in the local paper. Living in a gated community, the wealthy couple turns out to be the immaculate Vanessa Loring (Jennifer Garner) and her husband, Mark (Jason Bateman).

Vanessa is thrilled at the prospect of being a mother, but Mark, a composer for commercial jingles with dreams of being a rock star, isn't as ecstatic. However, Mark finds a connection with Juno, who shares the same interests in music and guitar.

"Juno" is quite the ride through a high schooler's ordeal of dealing with the emotional rollercoaster of being pregnant and the tribulations of carrying a child. Twenty-year-old Canadian actor Ellen Page is phenomenal as Juno, delivering her lines with great comedic timing and the ability to display emotion with ease. Breaking out in 2005's acclaimed thriller "Hard Candy" and then in "X-Men: The Last Stand," Page certainly has made a name for herself.

"Superbad" star Cera is charmingly funny as Paulie, but is slightly underused, not having much of a role during Juno's pregnancy, until the movie's end. Simmons and Janney deliver some of the funniest lines while supporting Juno throughout the film.

Bateman adds lighthearted comedy to his supportive role and Garner gives some of her best work as a mother-to-be.

Sophomore slump isn't a phrase you would use to describe Jason Reitman's second outing at a feature film. His first was the highly regarded comedy "Thank You for Smoking."

"Juno" is the first screenplay written by Diablo Cody (her real name is Brook Busey), a 29-year-old whose previous occupation was, oddly enough, as a stripper. Diablo certainly has proven she can write and her name will come up again soon with Showtime's "The United States of Tara," created by Steven Spielberg and starring Toni Collette, and an adaptation of her book "Candy Girl: A Year in the Unlikely Life of a Stripper."

With laugh-out-loud scenes every moment, a writer, director and actress who you can't wait to see what they'll do next, and a heartfelt ending, "Juno" is a film you need to see.

Monday, December 3, 2007

An "Enchanting" Tale

***1/2 out of ****

"Enchanted" is a classic Disney fairytale from the moment Julie Andrews begins narrating with the line "Once upon a time" to the closing "happily ever after."

A sugary-sweet family treat, "Enchanted" begins as a cartoon in the land of Andalasia, where people break out in song, animals do daily chores, and an evil queen rules the land.

The story starts with Queen Narissa (Susan Sarandon), who's in fear of losing her royal throne if her stepson, Prince Edward (James Marsden), marries. Edward's "friend," Nathaniel (Timothy Spall) is in on the Queen's plan of thwarting Edward's attempts at love.

While hunting for ogres in the woods, Edward hears a woman singing. The woman is Giselle (Amy Adams), a mash-up of every classic Disney princess. She is so jovial that she can't stop dreaming, smiling or singing to her animal friends. When they meet, it is love at first sight and quickly they are off to marry.

Determined to foil the wedding, Narissa, similar to the queen in "Snow White," transforms herself into an old hag, luring Giselle to a wishing well. But before Giselle has a chance to make a wish, Narissa pushes her down the well, only for Giselle to find herself in a new world. Ours.
Narissa's plan isn't without flaw, though, as Giselle's smart-alecky chipmunk friend, Pip (Jeff Bennett/Kevin Lima) sees it all take place.

Turning now into a live-action film, we see Giselle crawl out of a manhole in New York City.
Frazzled, confused, yet still extremely optimistic, Giselle hustles and bustles her way through the city in her full-flowing princess gown to find her way home with amusing outcomes.

It isn't until she is mugged and wandering through the rain that she meets Robert (Patrick Dempsey), a divorce lawyer who's, ironically, a divorcee himself on the verge of engagement to another woman, Nancy (Idina Menzel). Robert's young daughter Morgan (Rachel Covey) convinces her reluctant father into taking Giselle in for the night.

While Morgan believes Giselle is a real princess, Robert doesn't believe in this fairy tale until he sees his home being cleaned by rats, pigeons and fleas -- the New York version of woodland creatures.

Back in the cartoon world Andalasia, Pip the chipmunk tells Edward and Nathaniel of Giselle's fate, and they too go down the well and through the manhole arriving in New York City.

The dashing but dimwitted Prince Edward wanders around the city to rescue Giselle. This is where the adventures begin with many laugh-out-loud sequences. Nathaniel adds to the comedy while in cahoots with the Queen to thwart the Prince along the way.

Harkening back to classic Disney cartoons, director Kevin Lima ("Tarzan"), keeps a whimisically brisk pace during the 107 minute running time.

Set to Bill Kelly's ("Premonition," "Blast from the Past") clever screenplay, "Enchanted" pokes fun at fairytales, which is a comedic pleasure for both kids and adults. The script loses steam during the finale, opting for a semi-entertaining CGI extravaganza.

Nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her role in "Junebug," Amy Adams could get her second nomination here, playing the role with bubbly charisma. Adams elevates her role, and the movie, as a few great actresses can.

With a heart-warming message, hilarious songs, and something for everyone, "Enchanted" is nothing short of enchanting.

Friday, November 16, 2007

"Bee Movie" is 'Bee'-Rated

**1/2 out of ****

Among talking ants, fighting insects, dancing penguins, partying cows, zoo animals running amok in the wild and cooking rats, a new member of the critter kingdom gets a chance to be animated. This time it's a bee.

"Bee Movie" is Dreamworks' latest animated film and one of the most "buzzed" about for the past few months. Though the animation isn't as detailed as "Shrek" or "Ratatouille," it is simple and glossy like "Meet the Robinsons," it does a good job making an insect with bad conduct cute enough to stick in a McDonald's Happy Meal.

"Bee Movie" starts off with Barry B. Benson (Jerry Seinfeld), an idealistic bee, who just graduated from his three days of school, a clever joke about the short life span of a bee. He and his conservative bee friend, Adam Flayman (Matthew Broderick), now must pick a job to do for the rest of their lives.

Barry decides to become a pollen jock, a bee that leaves the hive to collect nectar, spreading around pollen to give other plants life.

On Barry's first trip out of the hive into New York City, he encounters a few pratfalls. Getting separated from the group, Barry finds shelter in the home of florist Vanessa Bloome (Renee Zellwegger). Vanessa's husband, Ken (Patrick Warburton, a frequent guest star on "Seinfeld"), tries to kill Barry, but Vanessa saves him.

Wanting to thank Vanessa, Barry deliberates whether or not to break bee law number one -- no talking to humans, or giving in to friendliness and curiosity. Affable Barry decides to befriend Vanessa. After the initial shock, Vanessa quickly warms up to Barry and the two become friends. When Barry and Vanessa hint at being more than friends, the movie flies off into act three, as if all this weren't enough.

On a supermarket trip with Vanessa, Barry learns that humans are collecting honey from the bees. Barry is repulsed and so is his hive when he tells them. This leads Barry to sue the human race.

Vanessa and his best friend Adam are his lawyers. But in court, one of the funniest parts in the film, Layton T. Montgomery (John Goodman), a Southern attorney for the honey companies, may be too much for the unlikely team to handle.

The film is created, produced, co-written and stars comedian Jerry Seinfeld in his first major role since "Seinfeld" ended in 1998. "Bee Movie" lacks that extra "sting" to make it rise above the recent animation fare. The extensive cast includes Oprah Winfrey as the judge at the trial, Kathy Bates and Barry Levinson playing Barry's bee parents, fellow "Seinfeld" alumnus Michael Richards, Rip Torn, Chris Rock as a mosquito, Megan Mullally, Larry King as a bee version of himself and Ray Liotta as the label of an evil honey-making company. Even the real Sting makes a cameo, being sued for the rights to his name.

Jerry Seinfeld is goofy, but personable and charismatic, as Barry. With a few jokes that fly over the heads of kids, "Bee" still is a kiddie-flick that can hold the younger crowd's attention, but lacks in keeping older kids entertained, unlike "Shrek."

With all the buzz, this is still a "bee"-rated movie.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Boy Meets Girl?

**** out of ****

Amidst an overflow of serious films in the multiplexes, you can find relief in the light-hearted comedy, "Lars and the Real Girl," one of the gems of 2007.

Ryan Gosling stars as the title character Lars Lindstrom, a lovable loser, who is socially inapt. Lars' rare trips out are either to go to church or to his job, where his new co-worker, Margo (Kelli Garner), is attracted to him. He lives in a sparsely furnished garage off of his brother Gus' house. Gus (Paul Schneider) and his wife, Karin (Emily Mortimer), are expecting their first child.

Gus insists to Karin that Lars likes to live alone. Karin, however, is persistent in her attempts to socialize with Lars.

The events change quickly when Lars actually knocks on Gus and Karin's door to have dinner with them saying he has a girlfriend, Bianca. Gus and Karin want to meet her, but are shocked when they find out that Bianca is a custom made life-size doll.

Lars treats Bianca as if she were real. He even gives her a life story -- that she is a Brazilian missionary with nurse training whose parents died at birth, among other various things.

Gus thinks Lars is crazy and Karin also has her doubts. But family doctor/psychiatrist, Dagmar (Patricia Clarkson), says he is fine but delusional, slowly letting out his bottled up feelings. The doctor recommends that they should treat Bianca as if she were real and Lars will eventually stop using her when he has come to terms with his issues. Easier said than done.

The movie progresses as Lars and Bianca step out and the snowy, small town accepts Bianca. She and Lars actually become minor celebrities.

Taking the place of last year's "Little Miss Sunshine," "Lars" is a subtle comedy with laugh-out-loud moments. At times it is a sad film about loneliness and the kindness of others, which is inspiring at the end.

After "The Notebook" and coming off his first Academy Award nomination for "Half Nelson," Ryan Gosling is a smart guy when it comes to films, and this only adds to his near perfect resume. Gosling is phenomenal as Lars. In a role with spare lines, he pours his emotions out on screen.

Indie-film star Emily Mortimer shines on screen. Playing a natural do-gooder, Mortimer is memorable in one of the few tear-jerker scenes towards the end where she confronts Lars.
Patricia Clarkson also stands out. Her character connects with Lars with their mutual loneliness in heart-touching conversations.

This is director Craig Gillespie's first film (his second "Mr. Woodcock" was released in September), and is a marvelous attempt. The same goes for screenwriter Nancy Oliver -- this is her first feature film screenplay.

Friday, October 12, 2007

'The Game Plan' Fumbles

* out of ****

"The Game Plan" is the newest Disney family comedy romp, though there aren't many X's and O's on the chalk board.

The Game Plan is about ace pro-NFL quarterback, Joe Kingman (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson), who plays for the fictional football team, The Boston Rebels. While Kingman is a national sensation, closing huge endorsement deals left and right, he is also an idiotic, self-absorbed playboy and portrays this behavior pretty much through the whole movie.
He never throws to his open receivers and runs the ball himself no matter how much it hurts the team, kind of like Terrell Owens.

While he throws huge parties in his lavish penthouse with his multiple girlfriends, he is also lonely. That is the cue to bring in Peyton Kelly (Madison Pettis), Joe's 8-year-old daughter that he never knew existed. And her arrival happens at the worse time imaginable, of course, because Joe is about to lead his team to the football championship.

While there are certainly many question marks such as: Would a mother really leave her child on a man's doorstep that she hasn't seen since she got divorced from him? Isn't there a better suitor for the job? Is emergency humanitarian work in Africa an excuse to leave her child for a month without a phone number or means of contact?

However, this is Disney so don't expect much to be answered.

The rest of the film focuses on Joe learning that little girls don't like protein shakes or workout regiments but ballet and dolls. Peyton acts equally as dumb as Joe, turning a blender on with the lid off, and putting two bottles of bubble soap into a bath tub. These comedic scenes, though, don't leave the audience laughing.

When Peyton convinces Joe to take her to ballet school, he falls for her ballet teacher, Monique Vasquez (Roselyn Sanchez), where he gets the ballet-is-a-sport-too nuance and she gets a crash lesson in football.

If Disney's game plan for "The Game Plan" was to make it as cute as possible, they scored a TD, but not really anywhere else.

Director Andy Fickman ("She's the Man") provides a certain level of originality, though it seems hackneyed and contrived; trying to please all demographics.

Wrestler-turned-actor Johnson is a decent in dramas ("The Gridiron Gang") and comedies ("Be Cool"). You see him genuinely trying to be funny, but he is so over exaggerated, when he first sees Monique, you think his eyes and heart would actually pop out and start thumping.

Ultra-cute, tinkering on being fake, Madison Pettis, who you might recognize from the Disney Channel, is funny, but starts to annoy halfway through when she's in one too many scenes.

Kyra Sedgwick is wasted as Joe's ice cold agent, Stella Peck, being too cartoonish -- like Cruella De Vil -- to pose a threat.

Meanwhile the best actor could be Spike (Tubbs), Joe's bulldog who gives off some funny sight gags thanks to a tutu and nail polish.

The movie's biggest problem is you probably saw it all before with titles like "Kindergarten Cop," "Father Hood," "Mr. Nanny" and "The Pacifier."

"The Game Plan" is silly, fun and harmless if you are 10 and younger. However, it's not so cringe-worthy you can't sit through it, and you'll probably get a laugh or two. "The Game Plan" is a weak one, but it's not a complete shut-out.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

'Fracture' just can't be healed

** out of ****

Fracture plays it straight, among a realm of thrillers with twists that don’t make much sense (Premonition, The Reaping, Perfect Stranger). Though, playing it straight all the way through may not be a good idea either.

Ryan Gosling (Half Nelson, The Notebook) plays Willy Beachum, a young hot shot assistant D.A. on the fast lane, who takes the case of Ted Crawford (Anthony Hopkins). Crawford, a construction engineer, attempted to kill his wife, Jennifer (Embeth Davidtz) sending her into a coma, after finding out that she was having an affair. With a signed confession the case seems like an easy win for Willy, who has an outstanding 97% conviction rate.

When Ted reveals, during trail, that his arresting officer, Rob Nunally (Billy Burke), was the man having an affair with his wife the case goes into a dramatic tailspin. The confession can’t be used and the gun that Ted used against his wife can’t be found, therefore he walks off a man free.

Beachum and Nunally know that Crawford killed his wife and they won’t stop until he is behind bars. Providing for a soul searching balance of truth or justice.

Although the audience knows what is happening every step of the way, the thrill is supposed to be how Beachum will find evidence to convict Crawford or how Crawford will get away with it. The thrill however gets old lessening the suspense and the final impact of the film. If Fracture were a 60-minute TV show it would be a nail bitter, but one thrill and no twists aren’t enough to carry a 112 minute movie.

Gosling does a great job verbally sparring with Anthony Hopkins, but Hopkins steals the show. Playing Crawford with the same intense charisma and wit as Hopkins own, Hannibal Lecter, every scene he is in is enticing.

Director Gregory Hoblit does a pleasant job, but doesn’t do anything that makes Fracture notable. Writers Daniel Pyne and Glenn Gers make a wonderful screenplay that is both witty and clever with snappy dialogue.

Fracture has a good premise but has nothing that makes it stand out among must-see films.
Starting off good Fracture gets worse and the “cast” can’t heal it either.

'Perfect Stranger' is far from perfection

** out of ****

According to Perfect Stranger, actions have consequences, if that is true then everybody involved in this film should never be able to step foot on a movie set again. Halle Berry, still recovering from 2004s ultra-flop Catwoman, and Bruce Willis star in one of 2007s many disappointing suspense-thrillers, ranking in the with Premonition and The Reaping.

Perfect Stranger is centered on Rowena (Halle Berry), a strong-headed investigative journalist for a New York newspaper. Waiting for a subway she runs into her childhood friend Grace (Nicki Aycox). Grace is a woman scorned, out to find the married rich top ad executive, Harrison Hill (Bruce Willis). Grace claims to have met him online, having an affair with her. Grace hasn’t heard from Harrison for days, leaving messages, and is out to tell his wife about the whole thing.

Soon after their encounter Grace shows up dead, Rowena thinking Harrison did it. Isn’t that a pretty big conclusion?

Rowena goes undercover at Hill’s ad agency, with help from her computer savvy co-journalist Miles (Giovanni Ribisi), to find the truth about Grace’s murder. As the movie progresses, Hill, known for his interoffice flings, seems to become more and more likely to have committed the crime and his wife more suspicious about his whereabouts.

Perfect Stranger is pretty much a game of cat-and-mouse. Full of red herrings and plot twists Perfect should be a nail-bitter. The thing is, you aren’t even clenching on the armrest. The tension is nowhere to be found, mainly because it is hard to have plot twists when there isn’t really a plot to twist.

Every character in Perfect Stranger has dark secrets. Though they are so dark you really don’t care about the characters, whether if they are guilty or innocent, live or die.

The ending is completely implausible, no matter what way you look at it and the more it is being explained the worse it sounds.

Willis gives a half-decent performance and Ribisi gives one of his best. Berry did a decent job, but due to poor editing, which also hurt the story, it seems as if she is having a mood-swing in almost every scene.

The end contradicting the movies message about “actions have consequences”; Perfect Stranger is a notch above Berry’s Catwoman and Willis’ The Whole Ten Yards, but that doesn’t say much either.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

'Thirteen' is a lucky number for 'Ocean's'

***1/2 out of ****

A-List gang is back for comedy heist flick, Ocean’s Thirteen, the third installment in the Ocean’s franchise. Minus Julia Roberts and Catherine Zeta-Jones but adding Al Pacino, Ellen Barkin, and Eddie Izzard the cast doesn’t miss a beat.

The thirteen that make up the Ocean’s gang are led by Danny Ocean (George Clooney): one of the master minders behind the heists along with, Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt), the rookie, Linus Caldwell (Matt Damon), the machinery expert, Basher Tarr (Don Cheadle), a casino dealer, Frank Catton (Bernie Mac), Danny’s rich mentor, Reuben Tishkoff (Elliot Gould), con-artist, Saul Bloom (Carl Reiner), brothers that have knowledge in all fields, Virgil Malloy (Casey Affleck) and Turk Malloy (Scott Caan), expert in technology, Livingston Del (Eddie Jemison), acrobatic master, Yen (Shaobo Qin), the rich casino-owner that the gang robbed in the first two Ocean’s films, Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia), and another connoisseur in technology, Roman Nagel (Eddie Izzard). These thirteen make up a tidal wave of action.

Returning back to Las Vegas, Thirteen isn’t about getting the, money, but revenge. The victim? Willy Bank (Pacino), famous for his hotels winning the ‘Five Diamond’ award. Willy cheated Reuben out of his money and ownership in his new ultra-luxury hotel/casino in Vegas appropriately named, ‘The Bank’. The stress caused old man Rueben to have a heart attack.
The plan for revenge? To rig everything, from the blackjack tables to the slot machines by opening night so all of the gambling patrons will win, setting Willy back half a billion dollars, bankrupting him in the process.

Ocean’s Thirteen is back to its original glossy form, a slight notch below Ocean’s Eleven, but a vast improvement from the utterly disastrous Ocean’s Twelve whose heist was ripping off us American movie-goers $125 million.

The acting is first-rate like the first two, with the cast pulling in the audience having an extremely fun time. Ellen Barkin is great as the icy Abigail Sponder, Willy’s right-hand man. Pacino’s acting job as Willy Bank could be a dub for the Donald, but is too light in some scenes for a villainous character.

Directed again by Steven Soderbergh, Thirteen has a lickety-split pace, but never seems rushed. Soderbergh manages to give each of the cast members their own scene, a rare directing quality that keeps you involved throughout the film, though the presence of Pitt, Clooney, Damon, Barkin, and Pacino command most scenes.

New writers, Brian Koppelman and David Levein do a fine job, with an easy to follow enjoyable script, being taken along as if part of the heist. But in some scenes the lingo gets to technical to the point where you just say “Huh?”

So far out of this summer’s disappointing threequels, Ocean’s Thirteen beats the odds and comes up a winner.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

'Mr. Brooks' is a killer thriller

*** out of ****

'The Hunger Has Returned to Mr. Brooks' Brain. It never really left'. These chilling words start off the creepy dramatic thriller that is Mr. Brooks.

Kevin Costner stars in the title role as Mr. Earl Brooks. Earl leads two lives. On one side he is a husband to Emma (Marg Helgenberger) and father to his high-school daughter Jane (Danielle Panabaker). He is also named ‘Man of the Year’ in his community and well off, owning a successful box company. However, the other side of Mr. Earl Brooks is much darker and sinister than anyone can imagine, he is an elusive serial killer, nicknamed by the media, ‘The Thumbprint Killer’. Though he doesn’t like to murder strangers he is urged by his imaginary counterpart, Marshall (William Hurt) to do so.

Holding off temptation of killing from his alter ego for two years he breaks down and murders a couple (Megan Brown and Ross Francis) in their bedroom.

The next day Earl discovers someone caught him in the act and has pictures to prove it. He is Mr. Smith (Dane Cook), who lives in the apartment complex next door to the couple. However, Mr. Smith doesn’t blackmail Earl or threaten him that he is going to the cops, but rather wants to go on the next murder with him. Without a choice Earl accepts.

At the same time, Detective Tracy Atwood (Demi Moore), who is going through a bitter divorce, is on Earl’s trail. Devoting herself to this long-running case she thinks she is closer than ever before. However, as a side plot, escaped serial killer, Thorton Meeks (Matt Schulze), put away by Tracy, and his girlfriend, Sunday (Yasmine Delawari), are out to kill the Detective for vengeance.

Mr. Brooks is wildly original with many unexpected plot twists that actually make sense and lead up to a shocking revelation. However, Brooks never takes itself very seriously with laughs strewn about.

Good guy Costner is terrific as the sinister Brooks, a role that audiences are not familiar with him playing. Hurt playing Costner’s alter ego is marvelous and Moore adds direction throughout. Though the most surprising performance comes from funnyman Dane Cook, in his first dramatic role, stands his ground with the award winning trio.

Director and writer Bruce A. Evans gives the film style and terrifically manages to build up tension and releases it in short action filled bursts of time.

A great movie to see: Mr. Brooks is a killer of a thriller.

'Shrek the Third' isn't a king

** out of ****

Shrek the Third proves that, the third time isn’t always a charm. Back with Shrek (Mike Meyers), Fiona (Cameron Diaz), Donkey (Eddie Murphy), Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) and the rest of the old gang, Shrek the Third, an animated fractured fairytale, looses much of its charm, appeal, and originality.

Shrek the Third is different from the first two films of the trilogy by having multiple story lines, trying to appeal to each demographic, even at a brisk 92 minutes. Opening up with the first storyline, Fiona’s father, King Harold (John Cleese) is on his deathbed and tells Fiona and Shrek that they are next in line to rule the Kingdom of Far Far Away Land. Shrek, unsure of his King-like abilities, sets off to Worchestershire (a medieval high school) with Puss and Donkey to find another rightful ruler, Arthur “Artie” (Justin Timberlake), the class whipping boy. But just before they set off on their adventure Fiona reveals that she is pregnant and like in any sitcom, Shrek is unsure of his father-like abilities too.

Storyline two is probably the weakest because it should have ended with Shrek 2; it starts with Prince Charming (Rupert Everett) who now is reduced to working at a dinner theater. Charming soon devises up a sinister plan to take over Far Far Away Land and murder Shrek in the process, in cahoots with other fairy-tale villains.

The final story line and the most compelling and funny is with Fiona, her mother, Queen Lillian (Julie Andrews), and the princesses, Rapunzel (Maya Rudolph), Snow White (Amy Poehler), Cinderella (Amy Sedaris), and Sleeping Beauty (Cheri Oteri). All together to celebrate Fiona’s baby shower, they morph into Charlie’s Angels in an attempt to thwart Charming’s plans when he invades the kingdom.

Like Spider-Man 3, Shrek the Third’s problems are too many stories crammed into one movie, one of the underlying problems are the new directing and writing team. Many of the jokes fall flat and not one makes you keel over in laughter. Justin Timberlake gives a mediocre voice performance and Shrek is less of an ogre but more like a cuddly Winnie the Pooh type character.
I tried to like Shrek the Third, after the excellent Shrek, and the fantastic Shrek 2, but a smile became excoriating while watching, a film below mediocrity. The only plus is its improved stunning animation.

However, with its satisfying ending this would be a nice place to leave off. But, for this DreamWorks/Paramount cash-cow you won’t see the end anytime soon. With a holiday special on ABC this December, Shrek the Halls, a Shrek 4, in the works along with the spin-off, Puss in Boots (both set for 2010) and a Broadway musical adaptation in the process, Shrek’s last note hopefully doesn’t have to be of mediocrity.

Waitress serves up fresh

***1/2 out of ****

In a summer of big-budget action flicks, sequels, and remakes Waitress is a fresh tart comedy with a strong plot, heart, and plenty of laughs.

Keri Russell (Mission: Impossible III) plays the extremely lovable small-town waitress Jenna, who has a knack at making pies suited for every mood. Jenna works in Joe’s Pie Diner, with her fellow waitresses; the saucy Becky (Cheryl Hines) and the shy Dawn (Adrienne Shelly)
Jenna is unhappily pregnant with her husband’s, Earl’s (Jeremy Sisto), baby. Earl is an over-controlling, rude, sleaze ball that is sucking the life out of Jenna. Wanting to leave him, Jenna doesn’t know what to do if she does.

Jenna soon develops a relationship with her new, married, gynecologist, Dr. Pomatter (Nathan Fillion) who is infatuated with Jenna. They soon begin to have an affair, finding happiness with each other.

The plot is simple. Everyone is trying to find happiness for themselves and for someone to love back.

Andy Griffith (Matlock, The Andy Griffith Show), gives a side-splitting performance as Joe. Joe is a grumpy old man who owns the diner and most of the town, giving advice to Jenna.
Waitress is hilarious, sad, dramatic, and heartwarming. The cast is terrific, Keri Russell showing her star-power. Cheryl Hines, Andy Griffith and Adrienne Shelly give funny performances. Jeremy Sisto does a tremendous job as Earl making you hate him even after the movie is over.
Waitress was also fantastically written and directed by the late Adrienne Shelly. Shelly was sadly murdered at the age of 40, November 2006. The Indie film actor was just beginning her directing and writing career. Waitress though is a fabulous film to end on, showcasing her magnificent acting, writing, and directing skills.

Nothing fancy or extravagant, Waitress is a realistic film with a terrific cast and crew. When the film is over, you aren’t asking this Waitress for a refund.

Monday, July 9, 2007

'Reign Over Me' reigns

*** out of ****

Adam Sandler playing a straight-forward character seems like a preposterous idea, though he proves us wrong and will certainly be in the running for awards for Reign Over Me (after The Who song, Reign O’er Me, the original title of the film). Reign is a soul searching tear-jerker about what’s important in Life.

Reign starts off with Alan Johnson (Don Cheadle), seemingly in a perfect family, a well-off dentist, owning a cosmetic dental firm, married with two daughters. Alan talks to a psychiatrist in his office building, Angela Oakhurst (Liv Tyler) on his uneasy-marriage to Janeane (Jada Pinket Smith), attributed to having no “guy” friends. While driving home Alan runs into his old dental college roommate Charlie Fineman (Adam Sandler) who looks like a Bob Dylan impersonator. To Alan’s surprise Charlie doesn’t remember him. Alan hasn’t seen Charlie since he lost his wife and three young daughters in the plane crash during 9/11, causing Charlie to shutdown. Charlie gives up on a responsible life, acts like a child ready to snap at any remembrances of the tragedy wearing headphones to tune out the world.

Alan tries to help the mentally unstable Charlie get over the grief that he doesn’t want to think about. While helping Charlie, Alan’s own unhappiness is addressed; together their friendship helps them forge ahead for the better.

A big subplot in Reign is of Alan’s patient, Donna Remar (Saffron Burrows), being sexually attracted to him in an indiscreet way. We later learn that this was just a way of acting out, in a similar grief of a broken heart like Charlie’s.

By no means is this movie like United 93 or World Trade Center; Reign Over Me only uses 9/11 to show how others continue to be effected by their losses.

Don Cheadle proves again his terrific acting ability like those in Crash and Hotel Rwanda. Liv Tyler and Jada Pinket Smith in supporting roles are also a great addition to the cast. Comedian Adam Sandler, turns the table and becomes a dramatic star of the film with an amazing portrayal of Charlie Fineman. He acts flawlessly and brings depth to the character.

Reign has a terrific 70s rock soundtrack with Bruce Springsteen, The Who and The Pretenders along with newer bands, The Fray and The Killers.

Directed and written by Mike Binder (The Upside of Anger); Binder showcases his talent and has a small acting role as Charlie’s Financial adviser, Bryan Sugarman. His directing style caused some unanswered transitions.

Reign is a retrospect on life, mental health, and friendships, ending with an opening for happiness, which leaves a teary eye for everyone.

'Notes on a Scandal' is something to take note on

***1/2 out of ****

Everyone likes to play devious, and the two actresses in Notes on a Scandal have a field day with it that can earn each of them an Oscar nomination. Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett have had quite a year. Dench being in Casino Royale, Blanchett in Babel and The Good German. This film is a great way to conclude 2006’s cinematic year and for most of America, who haven’t seen it, a great start for 2007.

Notes on a Scandal is based on the fictional book, 'What Was She Thinking: Notes on a Scandal' by Zoe Heller. Taking place in London, we first meet History teacher, Barbara Covett (Judi Dench). Barbara doesn’t have many friends and confides in her diary, which she reads, narrating the movie. At the start of a new school term Barbara is fixated with the new art teacher, Sheba Hart (Cate Blanchett). Sheba is married to the much older Richard (Bill Nighy), and has two children, Polly (Juno Temple) a high school teen and a 10 year old son Ben (Max Lewis) with down-syndrome.

Barbara helps Sheba with the frustrations of a first year teacher and during this time they become friends. Sheba has Barbara over to her house for socializing with her family. Barbara however becomes a little to obsessive over Sheba. But, Sheba seems to have also become chummy with her 15 year-old student, Steven Connolly (Andrew Simpson).

After school Barbara catches the two having sex (ala Mary Kay Letourneau). Barbara realizes that this secret can be her power. She has Sheba agree that she will end the affair. Though, aren’t you also in a person’s debt for them keeping a secret that can end up meaning jail time? Barbara holds this secret over Sheba’s head. Barbara invokes herself into every aspect of Sheba’s life.

Steven though is persistent, still wanting to be with Sheba and she gives in. Barbara finds out with Sheba replying, “It is like having a drink, knowing that you had enough, but can’t stop.” Now, she is in real debt. It is the day of Sheba’s sons play but Barbara’s cat dies and wants Sheba to be with her. Sheba however has to be with her family and son. This is where Barbara let’s the ‘cat’ out of the bag, to the faculty and where the scandal begins with media-a-plenty.

Notes is a steamy thriller that keeps you gripped to the very end; never knowing who to root for. Should you root for Sheba who is under Barbara’s wrath? Or, should you root for Barbara who knows that Sheba is having a predatorily affair with a fifteen year-old?

The superb Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett give a great performance with heavy emotions that carry the picture itself. Bill Nighy gives a terrific performance, though is overlooked by the work of the actresses. Scandal’s dark script, written by Patrick Marber who also wrote Closer, has great flare and spice throughout the picture.

Director Richard Eyre also directed another Judi Dench film, Oscar-winner Iris. In Notes on a Scandal, Eyre never misses a beat and gives depth to the story with explanation but it never gets boring, just better.

A movie that leaves us satisfied, Notes on a Scandal is a superb dramatic thriller that should find itself being nominated more than once at this year’s Academy Awards. Whether, it is for Blanchett’s, Dench’s, or Nighy’s acting, Eyre’s directing, Marber’s script or for Best Picture. Notes on a Scandal is to be highly recommended.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Eragon Flys Low

*1/2 out of ****

Last holiday season, we were treated to some terrific big-budget action films which were The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and King Kong. However this year we weren’t so lucky only receiving Eragon, a Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Lord of the Rings hybrid which is flawed at best and nothing more than a special effects extravaganza that soon become tiring; something we learned this year from Mission: Impossible 3.

Stefen Fangmeier, a special effects master who helmed such hit projects as Terminator 2, Twister, Jurassic Park, and even 2004s holiday hit Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, makes his directorial debut with Eragon. However he brings little to the screen and his style of filming is so mish-mashed that it seems like your watching a tennis match.

Eragon is an adaptation of the book Eragon, written by Christopher Paolini, the first-part of the Inheritance trilogy.

The movie begins with a voice-over telling us how the land of Alagaesia once was a peaceful land of dragon riders and the Varden, a community of people who now live in secrecy in the mountains. However, one rider turned on all of the others, King Galbatorix (John Malkovich), and took over the land, killing all of the riders and their dragons.

The story starts when Arya (Sienna Guillory) steals a dragon egg from Galbatorix who sends his evil-doer, Durza (Robert Carlyle) a sorcerer possessed by demons to regain its possession. Joining Durza there are the Razac, a type of mummy looking creature, and the Urgals who look like WWE zombie wrestlers. But, just before Durza gets the egg Arya transports it before being caught as Durza’s prisoner.

Cut-to, Eragon (Edward Speleers), who goes hunting and finds the sapphire dragon egg, but thinks it, is a stone. To Eragon’s surprise it hatches into a sapphire colored dragon named oddly enough, Saphira (voiced by Rachel Weisz) who in a matter of days turns gargantuan. When Saphira hatched an E shaped scar formed on Eragon’s hand, the insignia of a dragon rider. Saphira is a mother-like figure to Eragon to whom they communicate to each other through thoughts.

Eragon soon meets a fellow villager, Brom (Jermey Irons) who is secretly a dragon rider, however his dragon got slaughtered. Brom soon becomes Eragon’s mentor. Galbatorix finds out about this and sends his army to kill both Eragon, Brom and Saphira.

Brom and Eragon now have to save Arya, go to the Varden to help fight their war against Galbatorix’s army, kill Durza, and end King Galbatorix’s reign of terror.

The acting in Eragon seems robotic and Edward Speelers, making his cinematic debut, seems more like a California Surfer than a Dragon Rider. Also making an acting debut is Grammy nominee Joss Stone, who plays a fortune-teller, but should stick to singing. The story is choppy and the ending is abrupt. Eragon would take flight better if it stay detailed to the book.
The saving grace in Eragon is its special effects which are great and Saphira looks breath-taking. The action scenes for a PG film were well-staged but could have been extended; they will probably show up though on the DVD release.

In the end, instead of paying $10 to watch Eragon I would prefer to buy the book.

Bobby Wins the Vote

***1/2 out of ****

Bobby is an up-lifting and at times heart-breaking semi-fictional drama focusing on 22 people, played by some of Hollywood’s most famous actors, showing their affection for Senator Robert F. Kennedy; a man that was being called President even before he was elected.

The story begins June 6th, 1968, the day of Kennedy’s assassination. It takes place at the Ambassador Hotel a.k.a. election headquarters and the story ends up at the point of Kennedy’s assassination.

The first piece of the story is with John Casey the Hotel Greeter (Anthony Hopkins) reminiscing about the past with his friend Nelson (Harry Belafonte). The next story is with Kennedy campaigners Wade (Joshua Jackson) and Cooper (Shia Labeouf) who decide to blow off campaigning for the day to do LSD with hippie/drug-dealer Fisher (Ashton Kutcher).

We then meet the kitchen staff, (Laurence Fishburne, Freddy Rodriguez, Jacob Vargas) who talk about the death of Martin Luther King and how Kennedy is the future to continue his path against discrimination, racial equality and about ways to get along with the ruling white majority.

The next story-line is with the hotel’s beautician Miriam (Sharon Stone) who is in a position to meet many of the Hotel guests, married to the hotel Manager Paul (William H. Macy), whom is sleeping with the switch-board operator Angela (Heather Graham). Miriam meets Diane (Lindsay Lohan) who is frivolously marrying her classmate William (Elijah Wood) so he doesn’t have to go to Vietnam in fear for his life. Miriam also meets the aging-booze-hound-cigarette-in-one-hand singer Virginia Fallon (Demi Moore) who often says hurtful things from fear of losing her audience. Virginia’s husband Tim is played by Emilio Estevez, who produced and directed the film.

The next story is of Czechoslovakian journalist Lenka Janacek (Svetlana Metkina) who wants to interview Bobby but has a hard time securing a meeting because she is representing a Socialist country.

The final story is with Samantha (Helen Hunt) a woman who finds “happiness” only in shopping for the latest fashion trends and her depressed husband Jack (Martin Sheen) who points out to Samantha that finding true happiness is their love for each other.

In the end all of the characters come together at Bobby’s assassination, showing their sorrow and the good that they found in his beliefs and what they could have done for us all.

All of the scenes with Robert F. Kennedy are archive footage of him; including the assassination. The ensemble of 22 actors and actresses, all are superb and give compelling emotional performances. However it seems as if the younger cast members steal the show such as Lindsay Lohan, Elijah Wood, Nick Cannon as Dwayne the head poll-counter at Campaign central, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Susan, a waitress at the Ambassador aspiring to become an actress.

Bobby is a film to see for all age groups. It is a tribute to those that remember what Robert F. Kennedy stood for the day he was assassinated and an engaging history lesson for the rest of us showing why Robert F. Kennedy was undeniably a person to be remembered.

Poseidon stays afloat

*** out of ****

Let me start off by saying Poseidon reminds me of last years hit, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, they are both remakes but, are different at the same time.

Poseidon is a $160 million film directed by Wolfgang Petersen (Troy, The Perfect Storm, Air Force One). This is the second remake (first was on NBC last year) of the 1972 The Poseidon Adventure, however, I think they dropped the “Adventure”, because, this isn’t an adventure. It is a thriller!

Unlike the first Poseidon movie this one wastes no time getting to the action. Poseidon which is the name of the luxury cruise ship opens with a brief 10 minute montage of the ships magnificence and of the main characters. There’s Robert Ramsey (Kurt Russell) former firefighter and mayor of New York, his teenage daughter, Jennifer (Emmy Rossum) along with Christian (Mike Vogel) who are secretly engaged, suicidal gay architect, Richard Nelson (Richard Dreyfuss), stowaway, Elena (Mia Maestro), and single mother and son, Maggie James (Jacinda Barrett) and Conor James (Jimmy Bennett). Lastly there is the independent Hero, Dylan Johns (Josh Lucas) who reluctantly leads the group to safety. What a colorful group!

It is New Year’s Eve when suddenly, a “rogue wave” hits the ship flipping it over. All is chaos and the only way out is up, or down, or… well… you get the point. With the water rising this ragtag team must find a way out. Poseidon plays out like a videogame, just trying to get through obstacle after obstacle with dead bodies strewn about.

Poseidon is short for a disaster film, clocking in at only 95 minutes. There was great acting and a half-decent script but no character development; making the plot paper thin. I am sure though on the DVD extras there will be a lot of deleted scenes. Speaking of things being left out of the remake there is no “Morning After” song, and no Shelly Winters character. Also, unlike the first movie where most of the characters are trying to sabotage the others to save themselves, these characters get along all to well.

With amazing sequences of special effects that look superb you will always be on the edge of your seat. All of the actors did their own stunts which is rare for a thriller of this magnitude give the film more of a realistic feel.

This is a film to see in theaters, or, better yet on an IMAX for the amazing special effects. Poseidon is an entertaining film and easy to follow. Just sit back relax and enjoy. Bottom line: Poseidon is an enjoyable ride but nothing to flip over.

The Grudge 2 scares!

*** out of ****

Remember two years ago when The Grudge was first released? When horror movies and remakes and sequels were new and fresh? Now fast forward two years. This year most of the movies released are sequels, remakes and horror films; The Grudge 2 being all three. We ask ourselves when will they end? However, The Grudge 2 brings something new to the table which we haven’t seen for quite sometime, a fresh idea. And it is back with blind fury.

First, let’s recap, in the first Grudge, Karen Davis (Sarah Michelle Gellar), is a nurse who takes care of an elderly woman, Emma (Grace Zabriskie) who is in a catatonic state. She later finds out that the woman’s house bares a curse, and that she is now haunted by it, with everyone around her dyeing. Karen burns down the house yet the curse doesn’t stop. Remember now?

In The Grudge 2 the curse continues in three different story lines. The first story begins right off where the last one ended. Aubrey Davis (Amber Tamblyn) finds out from her ill mother (Joanna Cassidy) the news that her sister, last Grudge’s heroin, Karen Davis, is in the hospital. She is told to go to Japan to bring her back home.

When Aubrey arrives at the hospital she sees Karen being treated as a mental patient. Karen only has enough time to tell Aubrey, “Do not go into the House!” before she dies from the curse. But, does Aubrey listen? No.

We then cut to story number two, involving three school girls (Sarah Roemer, Teresa Palmer, and Misako Uno) who go into the House for fun but instead end up with the curse. However, like Aubrey they also need to find a way to stop it.

The third story involves the family of one of the school girl’s neighbors who end up with the curse because it follows and surrounds her. And like the other two stories they need to find how to stop the curse before it is too late.

In The Grudge 2 the curse can strike anywhere and at any time since it is no longer contained in the partially burnt down house. Back and scary as ever are the ghost boy who has the cat’s meow (Yuya Ozeki) and his ghost mother Kayako (Takako Fuji), with the long stringy black hair who makes her presence known with the creepy gargle sounds. All of the characters in each story must defeat and end the curse; even though they never really connect, they do help each other in the end. The Grudge 2 ends with an unexpected outcome that is frightening.

The Grudge 2 by far surpasses the first Grudge and did what The Ring 2 could not, still scare you. It is less as a sequel, but more of a beginning, getting to the roots of The Grudge and how it all started. The Grudge 2 is more satisfying then the first because all of the loose ends are tied up. For the average teenage horror fan which the Grudge is geared to, this one takes you hand-in-hand explaining what is happening, while diminishing some of the atmosphere and mystery which helped make the first one a hit. Otherwise you shouldn’t be disappointed.

Amber Tamblyn a horror alumni (The Ring) gives a great performance and proves that she has moved on from her hit TV show Joan of Arcadia and is ready for mainstream film. Sarah Michelle Gellar’s short appearance is well acted along with the rest of the cast.

The Grudge 2 is a scary film that will make you bite your nails, jump and scream. Unlike the first movie this one doesn’t leave much room for a third installment so maybe Kayako will take my advice, forgive and forget.

'Little Children' is a Winner

**** out of **** stars

This week there was a movie faithfully based on the phenomenal book by Tom Perrota, Little Children. Tom Perrota (who wrote Election which was also made into a movie) co-wrote this fantastic screenplay. Little Children is a New York Times best seller and has gotten praise from everyone everywhere. Likewise so should the movie.

Little Children however falls into a new phase that has been sweeping Hollywood. Other than original screenplays this phase is based on books, plays or “true” stories. But the movies usually don’t stay faithful to the book at all, like last month’s The Black Dahlia. Last year there was the some-what faithful but majestic The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Also there is the faithful Harry Potter franchise and the superb Rent and In Her Shoes. However their was the horrible Memoirs of a Geisha, Zathura, Just Like Heaven, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and Robots just to name a few.

This year alone there was The DaVinci Code, The Devil Wears Prada, The Lake House, and more. I am not implying that these films are bad, in fact quite a few of them were good; but I would like to see something original and leave what I have just read to my imagination.

The movie and the book Little Children is about a typical suburban neighborhood with thirtyish parents raising ‘little children’. We start off by meeting the frumpy Sarah Pierce (Kate Winslet). She has a three year-old daughter Lucy (Sadie Goldstein) and a husband in advertising, Richard (Gregg Eldelman). However Sarah is bored with her marriage and Richard is addicted to his on-line fantasy life involving a pornographic site starring Slutty Kay aka Clara (Sarah Buxton). But in Little Children it seems as if all of the characters have their own secret fantasy life.

Sarah goes to a playground with Lucy; however the three super-moms there make Sarah feel like she is worthless. That is until Brad (known to the other woman as “The Prom King”) Adamson (Patrick Wilson) shows up. Brad is an at home parent who is also bored with his marriage and is looking for something more without commitment.

Sarah soon finds a quick liking to Brad and on one rainy day they start an adulterous affair. Brad who is married to the beautiful, Kathy (Jennifer Connelly), and he have a son the same age as Lucy, Aaron (Ty Simpkins), who quickly become friends.

Soon the neighborhood is turned upside down when a convicted pedophile, Ronald James McGorvey (Jackie Earle Haley) comes back to town to live with his elderly mother, May (Phyllis Somerville). The neighborhood wants him to leave, especially Larry Hedges (Noah Emmerich) who is ‘friends’ with Brad.

Little Children is a superb heart-breaking story which has you captivated till the end. All of the performances are terrific and Kate Winslet is a surefire nomination for Best Actress and possible winner. The portrayal of the characters in the movie and book are extremely realistic and leaves one feeling sad that their lives are on a path to a figurative train crash.

In the end I would highly recommend everybody to read and see Little Children, I think you will be pleasantly surprised on what you will find.