Sunday, November 23, 2008

'Rachel Getting Married' is an engaging event

*** out of ****

Anyone who has been to a wedding knows the endless preparation it takes before the bride and groom say their, “I do’s.” While wedding films are hardly original anymore, Rachel Getting Married is a refreshing, and most importantly – an intimate, look at the emotions before, during and after the nuptials. Walking down the aisle with grace, Rachel gets a bit disjointed along its rocky path.

As the title implies, Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt) is getting married, but that is hardly the big event. Kym (Anne Hathaway), Rachel’s sister, is back from rehab to attend the wedding and can’t help but put the spotlight on herself.

Ready to see her family, halfheartedly making amends as a part of her 12-step program, Kym seems oblivious to the toll she has made on her relatives after multiple trips to rehab facilities. Temperamental, pessimistic, narcissistic and just plain unpleasant, Kym is not easy to like. Rachel who is sensible and forgiving to Kym is reluctant about her being the Maid-of-Honor and even more nervous what could happen if she isn’t.

Carrying a burden of a dark family secret, Kym, Rachel and their divorced mother Abby (Debra Winger) and father Paul (Bill Irwin) are about to face the harsh reality of their dysfunctional lives together. Arguing, bonding and accepting, Jonathan Demme (The Silence of the Lambs) directs a gripping and binding film.

Jonathan Demme provides more intimacy to the event by filming with a handheld camera. Those scared off by this queasy camera technique should find comfort in the fact that Demme has a sturdy hand throughout the process.

The editing is done nicely, but Demme goes overboard with the toasts and wedding band montages. By the fifth toast and second dance you wonder when will they cut the cake.

Rachel Getting Married is Jenny Lumet’s (daughter of Sidney which is also the name of the groom subtlety played by Tunde Adebimpe) first screenplay. Jenny writes powerful conversation scenes that are excellently played out by the cast.

Rachel is one of those films where the performances outpace the movie itself, with outstanding acting by Anne Hathaway (Get Smart, The Devil Wears Prada), Rosemarie DeWitt (Mad Men) and Debra Winger (Terms of Endearment, An Officer and a Gentleman.)

Hathaway gives the best performance of her career as Kym. Between being steely and emotional, Anne makes Kym endearing, even though you wouldn’t want to be in the same room as her, much less a wedding.

Overshadowed by Hathaway, but nonetheless brilliant are DeWitt and Winger. Trying to be accommodating, DeWitt is not afraid to be contentious, not willing to sacrifice her big day for Kym. Debra Winger makes a welcome trip back to the big screen as the bickering girls’ passive but loving mother. Winger does have a shinning moment during a confrontation with Kym that could possibly earn both actresses Oscar gold.

Rachel Getting Married’s greatest achievement is breaking the banal dysfunctional family-wedding genre. This marriage will have a long reception with its audience.

Josh Brolin takes office in 'W.'

**1/2 out of ****

President George W. Bush is the controversial subject for Oliver Stone's pretentious, gutsy and middling biopic "W."

This film with a simple title sets out to cover Bush's college years through his first term as president. Filmmaker Stone is no stranger to politics after driving his films "JFK" and "Nixon" all the way to the Oscars.

With "W." Stone makes an energetic and entertaining film, but drops the ball when it comes to giving a full view of the man the nation elected -- twice. Rather, he and screenwriter Stanley Weiser (who previously wrote Stone's Oscar-winner "Wall Street") pick an assortment of vignettes that chronicle the president's highs (the first time he meets his wife Laura) and lows, which in this film are plenty.

Stone spices up the conventional story telling, injecting interesting imaginary sequences that Bush uses as analogies, such as playing baseball to a cheering crowd as one-time owner of the Texas Rangers.

The main draw of "W." isn't the plot or the direction, but the film's first-rate actors and their impersonations of recent historical figures. Much like the excitement of Tina Fey portraying Sarah Palin on "Saturday Night Live," the whole film feels rather SNL-ish with more moments of laughter than one would expect in a historical drama.

Josh Brolin ("No Country for Old Men") goes beyond the call of duty as commander in chief, having everything from Bush's walk to his talk mastered.

Jeffrey Wright ("Casino Royale") does an amiable job as Secretary of Defense Colin Powell, but grows affected during his long monologues. Elizabeth Banks ("The 40-Year-Old Virgin") is a standout as Laura Bush in select scenes. Richard Dreyfuss nicely plays a subdued Richard Cheney, unlike the funny-yet-over-the-top Toby Jones ("The Mist") as Bush's right-hand man Carl Rove. James Cromwell ("24") gives a zesty performance as Bush's always expecting Poppy and Ellen Burstyn ("The Wicker Man") is convincing in a hammed-up portrayal of Barbara Bush.

With the cast's fine performances, it is easy to tell that the normally elegant Thandie Newton ("Norbit") gets the lowest approval rating. Newton falls flat on her face in an over-the-top caricature of Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice that leaves you cringing at her voice and facial impersonations.

It is not hard to read between the lines to figure out director Oliver Stone's less-than-favorable opinion of our 43rd president. "W." is still a moderately fair portrait of the man.

'Eagle Eye' flys high

**1/2 out of ****

What if the government is watching you read this review right now? Listening to your conversations through your phone’s speaker, looking at you from your webcam and following every move you make through your cell phone’s tracking device. This is the essence of the thriller Eagle Eye which lacks the anxiety of the idea that technology is surveying you everywhere.

Everyman star Shia LaBeouf (Transformers, Indiana Jones 4) leads; reteaming with director D.J. Caruso (Taking Lives, Two for the Money) who put him on the map with the modern-day revamp of Rearview Window, Disturbia. Borrowing and modernizing elements again from Hitchcock (this time North by Northwest) and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, Caruso makes a thoroughly entertaining thriller that dabbles more into action than smarts.

Jerry Shaw (LaBeouf) is a Stanford dropout who works at Copy Cabana, living in the shadow of his identical twin, Air Force Cadet Ethan (LaBeouf, again).

Getting a call from his mother that his twin was killed in a traffic accident, it isn’t long after the funeral that Jerry gets another fateful call. Coming home to find his apartment filled with terrorist weapons, Jerry gets a phone call from a mysterious woman to flee his apartment and if he doesn’t obey, he will die.

Rachel Holloman (Michelle Monaghan) is an overworked paralegal who sends her son (Cameron Boyce) off by train to perform at the Kennedy Center. Shortly after, she gets a call from the mystery woman. Rachel is told if she disobeys, the train her son is on will be derailed.

Slacker Jerry and divorced mother Rachel get paired together on the mystery adventure by the phone calls. Realizing whoever is pulling their strings somehow sees every move they make. Making traffic lights go from red to green, surveillance cameras going blank and machinery operate robotically (that’s only the tip of the iceberg).

Shia LaBeouf once again gives an outstanding performance, showing that he can carry a movie, going the extra mile to make a fully-developed character. Michelle Monaghan (Mission: Impossible III) has a motherly element towards Jerry while unselfishly going on with the requests to save her son.

Billy Bob Thorton is an FBI Agent and Rosario Dawson (Sin City, Rent), playing an Air Force Investigator, round out the talented cast, trying to track down Jerry and Rachel. Julianne Moore goes uncredited as the threatening monotone voice that stipulates the instructions over the phone.

D.J. Caruso fills Eagle Eye with edge-of-your-seat car chases and action sequences that have you enthralled. When the action stops, the plots ridiculousness seeps through and the hokey ending is disappointing for the film that started off strongly. Perhaps executive producer Steven Speilberg and the many people (John Glenn, Travis Adam Wright, Hillary Seitz and Dan McDermott) that wrote the film’s screenplay are to blame for the plot going from engrossing to unnecessarily dense.

Alive with fun, solid performances, adrenaline and intrigue Eagle Eye will certainly have your eyes glued to the screen.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

'Nick and Norah' do New York

**1/2 out of ****

Whoever said opposites attract clearly hasn't met Nick and Norah. After a summer of raunchy R-rated, laugh-out-loud comedies such as "Pineapple Express" and "Tropic Thunder," "Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist" turns down the volume a bit with a romantic high school comedy.

Michael Cera ("Superbad," "Juno") stars as Nick. Heartbroken by his girlfriend, Tris (Alexis Dziena), Nick becomes a recluse, but his band members (Aaron Yoo and Rafi Gavron) hope to cheer him up by convincing him to play at their New York City gig.

One girl at the gig is Norah (Kat Dennings), a straight-laced student who has been dragged there by her drunken friend, Caroline (Ari Graynor). After one of Norah's classmates teases her about coming to the club without a date, she grabs the first guy she sees and begs him to pretend to be her boyfriend.

The guy happens to be Nick and the classmate turns out to be Tris. With the rest of the night ahead of them, Nick and Norah hopscotch around the Big Apple trying to find drunken Caroline and their favorite band Fluffy, which is playing at a secret venue. While looking for Fluffy, they find love along the way.

"Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist" is based on a book by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan. First-time screenwriter Lorene Scafaria has a knack for dialogue that's sweet and touching, but misses the funny bone. Director Peter Sollett does a hip job that surpasses most of the recent glop in this field. He also has a great ear for independent music, although you wish at points some other genres were explored. Unfortunately, the film falls prey to predictability and sloppy transitions.

Cera and Dennings ("The House Bunny") have a fair amount of chemistry between them, but it seems forced or missing at times. Dennings pulls off a convincing performance as a timid spirit, while Cera stars as a dejected musician.

The supporting cast helps the movie move along, but sometimes a little too bluntly. Yoo stands out as Nick's best friend, but there is not much depth to his character. Graynor steals most of the laughs stumbling around New York City, though she seems out of place, as if she's in a different slapstick movie. The film has a few quirky charms, but mainly remixes the same old tunes.

As far as romantic comedies go, should "Nick and Norah" pop up on your movie playlist, you'll be in for an enjoyable time.

'Burn' a hit for Coen brothers

*** out of ****

What happens when an amateur duo of dim-witted doofuses beats the head honchos of the CIA at their own game? The answer is found in "Burn After Reading," a smart film about not so smart people.

Hot off of their success from four-time Academy Award winner (including Best Picture) "No Country for Old Men," brothers Joel and Ethan Coen, do a 360 with their new absurd spoof comedy. After variable success in the genre with hits ("The Big Lebowski") and misses ("Intolerable Cruelty"), "Burn" is without a doubt a hit.

Part of an all-star cast, John Malkovich stars as the angry, foul-mouthed CIA analyst Osborne Cox. The movie begins with Cox getting fired for having a drinking problem, angrily retorting to his colleague, "You're a Mormon! Next to you, everyone's got a drinking problem."

With his newfound spare time, spent mostly drinking and lounging, he decides to write his memoir, to the indifference of his icy wife (Tilda Swinton).

The plot gains traction when a disk containing parts of Osborne's memoir is somehow left on the locker room floor at a gym named Hardbodies. Mistakenly taken as CIA secret information, gym employees Linda Litzke (Frances McDormand), who is hankering for a plastic surgery makeover and the fitness-obsessed Chad Feldheimer (Brad Pitt), see it as an opportunity for easy money.

As the two carry out their half-baked blackmail scheme, Linda starts to date a married Treasury Department employee, Harry Pfarrer (George Clooney), who is having an affair with Mrs. Cox. As all of their lives converge, the Coens create the perfect set up for chaos, murder and hilarity.

Instead of an all-out parody, this film is more of a briskly-paced CIA comedy caper -- Joel and Ethan take the typical craziness out of a spy movie and push it to the max with their imaginative screenplay.

Playing for laughs, not awards, John Malkovich, Brad Pitt and Frances McDormand are still at the top of their games and give some of the most entertaining performances of the year.

J.K. Simmons deserves a mention as the baffled CIA superior who tries to follow the blackmail-murder-love triangle situation. At the end of the film he asks, "So, what did we learn?" The answer is "nothing."

However, like a good episode of "Seinfeld," learning much about nothing is rewarding even on its own, as long as it keeps us laughing.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Comic book flicks to watch out for

Look up at the movie screen! Is it a comedy, is it a horror? No, it’s a comic book adaptation! Since the 70s, comic book adaptations of superheroes and mystical creatures have went from page to screen. However, this fad absolutely erupted in May of 2002 with a little film you might have heard of called, Spider-Man. The juggernaut film broke box office records, along with its sequels, and every studio wanted a page of the comic book action.

Flaunting off flashy special effects, the big-budget flicks attract even bigger audiences, turning the cinema into a comic book lover’s paradise.
Even B list characters have been made into fairly successful films like Daredevil, Ghost Rider, and the upcoming…Ant-Man (ever heard of him)?
According to IMDB (Internet Movie Database), an outstanding 80 some comic book adaptations are announced to be made, soaring into movie theaters, TV sets or DVD players. America’s obsession to watch their favorite superhero fight off their favorite supervillain better not wear off anytime soon.

Here is a look into this upcoming year’s hottest and most anticipated comic book adaptations that will come alive on screen.

The Incredible Hulk-
It was half a decade ago when art-house director Ang Lee brought this 1962 Marvel comic character turned TV show to life in an underwhelming and underperforming flop. However, the giant green guy who you don’t want to get mad is making a reinvented comeback. The comic is about physicist Dr. Robert Bruce Banner who gets caught in an explosion by a Gamma bomb which he created turning him into “The Hulk”. Edward Norton plays our superhero in the upcoming remake with Liv Tyler as his love interest, Betty Ross.

Wanted-Published in 2003 by Top Cow, this violent miniseries makes its leap to the big screen. Forget superheroes, Wanted is all about the supervillains. The intriguing set-up circles around Wesley Gibson, a white-collar nobody with a boring life. Things hit the ceiling when Wes finds out that his father got assassinated and that he was a supervillain called, The Killer; a part of the villainous Fraternity. Rising star James McAvoy plays Wesley with Angelina Jolie and Morgan Freeman as his mentors that try to bring out the murderer in him.

The Dark Knight-The beloved caped crusader is back in his 6th film under Christopher Nolan who revamped the series with Batman Begins. Bob Kane’s creation published under DC Comics debuted in 1939 and was turned into a TV show in the late 60s. Under the mask is rich playboy philanthropist, Bruce Wayne, who protects New York’s Gotham City after his parents were killed. With no superpowers, he does have a super utility belt. Gliding into theaters this July, Christian Bale reprises the role of the Dark Knight with the belated Heath Ledger (in his last full performance) as the Joker and Aaron Eckhart as politician turned villain Two-Face.

The Spirit-From the 1940 Will Eisner newspaper strip, Frank Miller brings the comic to the silver screen this Christmas in vein of the visual styling’s of his other work, Sin City and 300. Denny Colt is a rookie cop returned from the dead as a masked vigilante, the Spirit, protecting his city. Gabriel Macht will play The Spirit. Samuel L. Jackson plays the villain, The Octopus with Scarlett Johansson as his accomplice. Eva Mendes is Sand Saref, the Spirit’s love interest who ends up on the other side of the law.

Barbarella-Originated in France in 1962, the raunchy science-fiction comic finds the busty Barbarella adventuring around the galaxy. It was made into a notorious 1968 flick starring Jane Fonda. Jean-Claude Forest’s comic might find new life as it is to be remade by Robert Rodriguez, starring his girlfriend, Rose McGowan. However, the big-budget is causing delays.

Justice League: Mortal-Super friends: Aquaman, Batman, the Flash, Green Lantern, Superman and Wonder Woman are to finally unite. The relatively unknown very young cast and director George Miller (Happy Feet) is an ominous sign. WB is hoping that this picture will jump-start separate series with the lesser known superheroes in the gang. However, shooting location disputes leave this picture hanging. Marvel Comics is pulling together a similar picture with its own line of superheroes, The Avengers, for 2011.

Watchmen-Alan Moore’s 12-issue series published by DC in 1986 is one of the most anticipated comic book movies coming out. The depiction of Superheroes as real people made it a success. The story follows a mysterious murder of a fellow superhero with shocking dark twists and turns. Zack Snyder (300) directs with the lesser known but talented cast that includes: Patrick Wilson, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Billy Crudup and Jackie Earle Haley.

Y: The Last Man- The 2002 Vertigo comic book stars Yorick Brown, the only male left alive after a suspected plague kills every mammal on earth with a Y-chromosome. This critically acclaimed comic shows a post-male world while chronicling Yorick and his friends’ journey. D.J. Caruso (Disturbia) is set to direct with a rumor of Shia LaBeouf to star.

The First Avenger: Captain America-Synonymous with American comics, Captain America will finally get a break and be made into a feature film. Created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby; Marvel Comics has published it since 1941. The alter ego of Steve Rogers, gains his powers by a serum to aid the US in the war effort. Director Nick Cassavetes is the son of John who directed Iron Man.

Also keep an eye out for the forthcoming follow-ups to our favorite comic book adaptations: Iron Man, The Punisher, Superman, Sin City, and X-Men. Other projects announced are: Barbarella, Buck Rogers, The Flash, Nick Fury, Shazam, and Wonder Woman.

These big-budgeted and special effects laden projects finally make our favorite heroes truly fly off the page.

"Indiana Jones" is back

**** out of ****

Everyone’s favorite globe-trotting, artifact-digging, whip-cracking, fedora-wearing professor is back in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Harrison Ford graces the silver screen again as Indiana Jones, exactly 19 years after 1989’s Last Crusade; Crystal Skull is the franchise’s 4th installment.

Not quite the Indiana Jones we know from Raiders of the Lost Ark, there is still plenty of nostalgia from start to finish, appeasing the older generation as well as today’s, bringing out the excitable kid in all of us.
The year is 1957 and Indy is once again in peril, being captured by Russian radical sword-wielding psychic scientist Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett). Spalko forces Jones to search for a mysterious magnetized artifact in a government warehouse, but just in the knick of time, Indiana escapes…temporarily.

Young greaser Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf) meets up with Indy for his aid in finding lost colleague, Professor Oxley (John Hurt), who was previously kidnapped by Spalko to find the legendary city of gold, El Dorado. But the gold is not at stake, rather a crystal skull. The crystal skull is a supernatural object that grants its retriever unimaginable powers.

Setting off to South America and the deep, dark dangerous jungles of Peru, Indiana Jones, with Mutt in tow, fight off creepy-crawlers, hoards of ants, ancient tribes and the Soviets with non-stop action and adventure at every turn.

Harrison Ford is back in action as the adventure-seeking, wise-cracking Indiana Jones. Even though he is well into his sixties, Ford still can crack a whip. Also aging well is Karen Allen reenacting her role as Marion Ravenwood. Indiana’s tough-girl love interest in Raiders, Allen is pleasurable in her scenes next to Ford.

For today’s youth, Shia LaBeouf, who seems to be Speilberg’s favorite actor (producing most of his films), joins the crowd as the young spelunker. Cate Blanchett dons a heavy Russian accent as our villain, but probably is one of the weakest dastardly characters in the series with a underdeveloped part.

Steven Speilberg and George Lucas team up again and still have the magic touch. Lucas, who dreamt up Star Wars, also came up with idea for Indiana Jones. However, David Koepp (wrote Speilberg’s War of the Worlds, The Lost Word: Jurassic Park) pens the fun script that at spots gets murky.

Speilberg keeps up his outstanding credentials with stupendous sequences that you must see to believe. In particular, a jungle car chase with plenty of swashbuckling and bullet flying action that will keep anyone on the edge of their seats.

With plenty of familiarity too it, one reason why this Jones feels slightly different from the others is its CGI. Still with plenty of practical special effects (reportedly only 30% of effects were CGI), the graphics in some scenes can’t help but go unnoticed, though they are of course top-notch. Also, the extraterrestrial subject matter doesn’t feel too Jones-ish.

With exactly the perfect amounts of danger, humor, adventure, romance and swashbuckling, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is nearly impossible not to enjoy.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Battles around in "Narnia" sequel

*** out of ****

Based on C.S. Lewis' timeless book series, "The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian" is the second installment and just as entertaining as 2005's "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe."

Taking place a year later, the Pevensie children are settling back into their normal life in London.
Older siblings Peter (William Moseley) and Susan (Anna Popplewell) seem to have put Narnia behind them, while younger Edmund (Skandar Keynes) and youngest Lucy (Georgie Henley) are aching to go back.

The younger ones get their way, being transported back to Narnia, only this time they travel through a subway station.

And the mode of transport isn't the only new thing to have happened since last visiting Narnia. Although only one year has past, 2,300 years have elapsed in Narnia time, and the once magical land is left in shambles.

The Narnians are near extinction thanks to the human Telmarines.

The Telmarine race is in chaos. Prince Caspian's (Ben Barnes) evil uncle, King Miraz (Sergio Castellitto), tries to assassinate Caspian after his wife (Alicia Borrachero) bears a boy who will become his successor. Caspian narrowly escapes his uncle's deadly clutches and runs off to Narnia for help.

Caspian promises to restore peace in Narnia if he can get his place back on the royal throne.

With the help of the Pevensies, Caspian rounds up all of the surviving mystical creatures in Narnia to rebel against Miraz and bring civility back to the land.

Even with more spectacular scenery, thrills, battles, creatures and carnage, "Prince Caspian" is slightly less impressive than it's predecessor. In lieu of the magical mysticism, we get more action.

Director Andrew Adamson ("The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe") has become more tactful with his crafty camerawork, sweeping across the beautiful landscapes.

Almost two-and-a-half hours, the same length as the first film, "Prince Caspian" noticeably needs trimming.

The battle scenes are intense, epic and gargantuan. Edited superbly, one or two scenes could have been trimmed along with some dialogue and unneeded new characters.

The writing team of director Adamson, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely return. The script delves a little too deep into the hierarchy of the land, and some humor also is missing.

"Prince Caspian" has a much darker and savage tone compared to the first, focusing less on the characters and more on politics and battles.

Peter Dinklage ("Death at a Funeral," "Nip/Tuck") as new character Trumpkin, a dwarf with dry wit, is a welcome addition. Eddie Izzard ("The Riches") also visits the world of Narnia as the voice of the swashbuckling mouse Reepicheep, who is reminiscent of Shrek's Puss In Boots (Adamson also directed the first two "Shrek" movies). Hopefully at least one of the two will return for the next installment, "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader," which is set to sail in 2010 and will be guided by new director Michael Apted ("Enough," "The World Is Not Enough").

The magnificent child actors that play the Pevensie children are marvelous and Castellitto is menacing as Miraz. Barnes, however, comes off too timid as the warrior Prince Caspian.

Not as perfect as the original, a faithful adaptation with rousing battles and likable characters makes "The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian" a summer blockbuster must-see.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

'Speed Racer' runs out of gas early on

*1/2 out of ****

"Speed Racer" is a candy-colored film that is more style than substance. Too long and confusing for young ones, too feverish and hip for most adults, "Speed Racer" runs off course.

Based on a Japanese cartoon series and popular comic, "Speed Racer" now takes a turn as a $100 million blockbuster.

In a film that possibly utilizes more green screen for its perfectly fine balance between cartoon and CGI than any other, "Speed" may go fast, but the film still is a drag.

Set in a futuristic society, Emile Hirsch is Speed Racer, a kid who has racing on his mind and in his blood. His Pops (John Goodman) builds race cars and his brother Rex (Scott Porter), one of the best racers in the world, drives them. However, things change when Rex dies in a tragic accident. Unfazed, Speed gets behind the wheel of his brother's car, the Mach 5, and vrooms-off.
One of the most precocious racers on the track, Speed catches the menacing eye of racing entrepreneur Royalton (Roger Altman).

Royalton shows Speed the dark truth about racing with a daunting ultimatum: Speed drives for Royalton or never races again.

With the help of the mysterious Racer X (Matthew Fox) and Taejo Togokahn (Korean pop-star Rain), Speed is determined to bring down the evil Royalton and bring credit back to the sport he loves so much.

The kaleidoscope visuals are equivalent to having Starbursts bombard your cornea. Trying to recreate the sugar-rush cartoon effect, "Racer" succeeds in essence, but not as a whole, playing out like a video game that has you searching for a controller.

In their first non-"Matrix" directorial effort in years, the Wachowski Brothers sputter-out with "Speed Racer." The camera work and creativity is top-notch, but feels uncontained. The race scenes are a rollercoaster ride on the crazy tracks that you might find inside a Hot Wheels box, but in between not much transpires.

"Speed" is a film that focuses more on visuals than acting. The cast looks the part, but still acts like the one-dimensional characters they are portraying. Emile Hirsch squints in concentration in front of the green screen with the mega-pixels doing the rest of the work. Christina Ricci, who plays Speed's girlfriend Trixie, nicely compliments Hirsch.

Paulie Litt, who plays little brother Spritle, fails to be energetic, though his role is of a hyper, sugar-crazed kid. Matthew Fox is dead behind the eyes, delivering the most monotone performance of the decade as the highly secretive Racer X.

The most animated performance comes from the Racer family's pet monkey, Chim Chim, who even upstages a pro like Susan Sarandon. Still she can't make the childish dialogue fly off the page as caring Mom.

Perhaps the film is too far ahead of its time. "Speed Racer" might win all of the races, but by the time he completes the first leg, the movie is low on gas.

"Iron Man" ushers in blockbuster season

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

All that glitters is iron as "Iron Man," the first summer blockbuster of 2008, starts off the season with a gigantic bang.

It was only a year ago that "Spider-Man 3" took theaters by storm in what was dubbed the "summer of the threequel," with the third installments of the "Shrek," "Pirates of the Caribbean," "Ocean's," "Rush Hour" and "Bourne" franchises. This summer could be dubbed the "start of a summer series" with the coming of "Get Smart," based on a TV show, "Mama Mia!," a musical and "Wanted," a novel. "Iron Man" comes from a comic series and is one of the best films of the year so far.

Stan Lee's creation, Iron Man first made his appearance in comic books in 1962. Unlike most of the superheroes of the time, Iron Man was one of the first to have no real superpowers other than an invincible suit. Always a second-tier Marvel superhero, it shouldn't be long until Iron Man becomes a household name.

Robert Downey Jr. plays the main character Tony Stark. Stark is a genius engineer/billionaire/playboy who lives in a futuristic house on the coast of Malibu. His fortune comes from Stark Industries, a company that sells high-tech military weapons capable of mass destruction.

On a return trip back home from showing weapons to an army in Afghanistan, a group of terrorists, led by Raza (Faran Tahir), kidnap Stark and hold him in captivity. They want him to build a Jericho missile for their group with help from fellow captive Yinsen (Shaun Toub). What Tony builds isn't a missile, but another weapon entirely. He manufactures a makeshift suit of iron equipped with flamethrowers and rocket technology to fly.

Eluding his kidnappers after an exhilarating shoot 'em up thrill ride, Stark arrives home with a conscience crisis from seeing his weapons being used against the people that they are supposed to protect.

After a snazzy red and gold paint job and some creative engineering adjustments, Stark suits up as Iron Man to protect the world from the harm that he created.

Downey plays the role with a slick ease, comical not cynical and has fun with the part while engaging the audience with enjoyment as he gets adjusted to the suit's gadgets.

The Oscar-caliber cast is exquisitely perfect. Gwyneth Paltrow plays Stark's breezy, sarcastic assistant/love interest Pepper Potts. Terrence Howard is Stark's right-hand man and military pal Jim Rhodes. Jeff Bridges plays Obadiah Stane, Stark's shady business partner.

Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby ("First Snow," "Children of Men") along with newcomers Art Marcum and Matt Holloway wrote the screenplay that captures the drama and development that most films lack, and supply a dose of comedy and action. The ending, however, misses the same ingenious spark as the rest of the film.

The countless special effects are some of the best to date and extraordinarily seamless with the reality of the scene.

Move over Spider-Man and Superman, "Iron Man" is flat out an all-around crowd-pleaser.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Helen Hunt reappears with new film

*** out of ****

Academy Award-winning actress Helen Hunt seemingly has fallen off the movie map since 2000's "Cast Away" and "What Women Want." Hunt makes her comeback not only as an actress, but as a first-time feature film producer, writer and director with "Then She Found Me"

The film stars Hunt as April Epner, a New York schoolteacher who goes into a mid-life crisis after multiple hits of fate.

The first is her inability to conceive a child naturally with her biological clock ticking. The second hit catches April off guard when her husband, Ben (Matthew Broderick), who works at the same school, unexpectedly leaves her. The third hit is her adoptive mother, Trudy (Lynn Cohen), passes away and, if that isn't enough, April's birth mother, Bernice (Bette Midler), decides to re-enter April's life. Then, a gentlemanly Brit named, Frank (Colin Firth), a father of one of April's students, unexpectedly enters her life.

Well directed, the movie has both April and the audience feeling overwhelmed with all of this happening and on board for a charming ride.

April has a hard time believing the bouncy Bernice, a semi-famous morning talk show host, is her mother, a woman who never is entirely honest about the story of April's adoption and her birth father.

When April finally settles in with the idea of Bernice being her mother and her newfound romance with Frank, a new problem arises: April finds out she is finally pregnant, but with Ben's baby. Ben, trying to come back into the picture as the father, brings complications to her romance with Frank.

Sorting through life with the help of each of these characters and her non-adopted brother Freddy (Ben Shenkman), "Then She Found Me" is a realistic look into making the best of what life gives you, even if it appears to be the worst.

"Then She Found Me" boasts a fabulous cast of actors who rarely are seen in films anymore, including Bette Midler, whose last appearance was in the underwhelming 2004 remake "The Stepford Wives."

Colin Firth ("Bridget Jones's Diary") is fine as the single father Frank, but the role isn't much of a stretch from his previous work. Matthew Broderick gives a rare dramatic performance as April's husband, who is finally ready to accept responsibility. Two-time Oscar nominee Midler fits her role like a glove as the over-the-top Bernice, who generates the film's biggest laughs.

Hunt marvels as April in a difficult role that reconfirms her status as an Oscar-winning actress. As a director and writer she pulls it off. Starting as a comedy, the film is a little rocky, but the fairly smooth transition into drama is where it excels.

The brave screenplay doesn't feel like a studio product, like most films of its genre today. The movie provides a content down-to-earth ending that caps off a satisfying journey. One of the better movies of its class in a long time, "Then She Found Me" truly is a find.

"Baby Mama" is a bundle of joy

*** out of ****

Baby movies seem to be all the rage in Hollywood. "Baby Mama" is a comedy that shows us the lighter side of pregnancy. While we confirmed this from last year’s "Knocked Up", "Waitress" and "Juno", unlike "Baby Mama" all of these films had a sober edge. "Mama" takes the sugary-sweet approach making it less memorable than the other films. However, it sure doesn’t skip on the laughs, providing many knee slapping moments.

From "Saturday Night Live"’s Weekend Update, the comedic duo Tina Fey and Amy Poehler have taken different career paths. Fey became a successful award-winning TV actress on NBC’s "30 Rock". Poehler stuck with "SNL" and took supporting scene-stealing roles in comedies like "Blades of Glory" and "Shrek the Third" to name a few.

In "Baby Mama" the laughable duo reteams again oozing with comedic chemistry.

Fey plays Kate Holbrook, a slightly altered version of her neurotic "30 Rock" character, Liz Lemon. Vice President at a Philadelphia organic supermarket chain; years of climbing up the corporate ladder, single Kate realizes all that is missing in her life is a baby. After many failed attempts at conceiving, 37-year-old Kate whose chances of becoming pregnant are one in a million, resorts to surrogacy.

When finding out that the hefty fee for a surrogate is $100,000, Kate wittily replies to clinic’s owner Chaffee Bicknell (Sigourney Weaver), “It costs more to have some one born than to have someone killed.” Chaffee casually rejoinders, “It just takes longer.”

Here is when Angie Ostrowiski (Amy Poehler) a loud trailer park slob comes into play as Kate’s surrogate. While it seems hard to believe that a woman like her could pass the clinic’s screening process, Angie agrees to help Kate achieve her dream of becoming a mother.

But after Angie and her common-law boyfriend Carl (Dax Shepard) break-up, Angie, who has no clue on the rules of pregnancy, moves in with the welcoming Kate.

While living together, Angie teaches Kate how to let loose while Kate teaches Angie how to grow up; their clashing personalities provide many laughs in this female buddy comedy. Not serious or offensive to anyone, Baby Mama’s message shows that there are multiple ways of obtaining a child and no choice is the wrong one.

Lone writer Michael McCullers ("Saturday Night Live", "Austin Powers 2-3", "Undercover Brother") also makes his directorial debut. Predictable but fun, McCullers adds in some curveballs that you never see coming, that involve Angie not being entirely truthful with Kate.

A big strong supporting cast adds to the movies fun. Weaver is comical as the extremely fertile clinic owner. Shepard has his share of humorous one-liners. Romany Malco ("Weeds", "The 40 Year Old Virgin") is the amusing door-holder at Kate’s building who becomes Angie’s confidant. Maura Tierney ("ER") adds snarky quips as Kate’s sister along with Holland Taylor ("Two and a Half Men") as her mother. Siobhan Fallon also has a brief part as the teacher at a Lamaze class with an Elmer Fudd accent, one of the movie’s funniest scenes.

Gregg Kinnear is a big player in the film as Kate’s love interest who mixes in some drama. Steve Martin however, is the weakest actors as Kate’s over-the-top hippie boss with most scenes not fitting in with the rest of the film.

The pairing of two of the funniest women today, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, is what makes this movie an event to see. The scenes without them together are usually the frailest. Thankfully about 90% of the time they are side-by-side. Fey plays the same role type of a buttoned-up character with an everyday charm. Poehler on the other-hand is a loud-mouth, shrill, obnoxious character that somehow manages to find a place in our hearts.

A smart light comedy, "Baby Mama" is certainly a bundle of joy.

EXCLUSIVE Interview with "Trailer Park of Terror"'s Nichole Hiltz and Director Steven Goldmann

(Stevn Goldman, far left, and Nichole Hiltz, center, at the Philadelphia Film Festival for their film "Trailer Park of Terror").

At the 17th Philadelphia Film Festival I got the chance to chat with the director, Steven Goldmann, and star, Nichole Hiltz, of the upcoming humorous horror flick "Trailer Park of Terror".

Part of the Film Festival’s Danger After Dark (aka DAD) series, "Trailer Park of Terror" is a countrified entertaining thrill ride. Goldmann who’s directed hit music videos for stars like Bruce Springsteen, Shania Twain and Faith Hill, makes his second feature length film.

Nichole Hiltz plays the lead, Norma, a Southern Trailer Park killer. With numerous supporting roles on hit films and TV shows like the FX hit series, "The Riches" and is to star in the upcoming USA Network show, "In Plain Sight".

Based off of the popular comic book series that started in 2002, "Trailer Park of Terror" captures much of the comic’s essence.

Quite a leap from country music videos to comic book horror, Steven Goldmann was drawn to the film because, “After the Kelly Preston family film Broken Bridges and country music videos, my fear was that I was going to get pigeonholed. I didn’t pick music videos, they picked me. I wanted to take my career in a different direction.” He also added, “With this I was able to build something from the ground up and make it appeal to a wider audience.” Nichole Hiltz joined onto the project for most of the same reasons. In a role that would have most actresses’ running in the opposite direction, Nichole took the role of Norma saying, “I’m ballsy and not scared. Truthfully, at first, I didn’t want to take the role. It was risky and could have killed my career if it wasn’t done right. It was the teen Norma and her back-story, seeing where she came from, that really drew me in. The first draft was much darker and tragic. It is every actress’ dream to play a comic book character.”

Originally created as a horror anthology Goldmann said, “No one wanted an anthology. They have a history of not doing well. Exceptions are Tales from the Crypt and The Twilight Zone which had bigger followings. Trailer Park only has a cult following of 500,000 readers an issue.”

According to Goldmann the filming took a brief 18 days, “On the last four days I was rushing through it on a golf cart going through the three sets that we had running. I would never want to experience something like this again because I am a perfectionist. I wish I had more time on some things, but overall I am happy on how it turned out.”

Nichole also felt the stress being a lead actress, “There is a lot more pressure to carry a film. You either go for it or not. As they say there are no small parts and you have to commit to everything.” Hiltz also took a lot away from the production. “This is the first time I had to stick up for a role. Being cast as a female horror character is different and difficult in an almost all male cast. I had to put my foot down. Norma is my baby.”

Finally when I asked if they had plans for us to see more of Norma and friends in the future? “I have every intention,” says Steven Goldmann, “This is the first movie in a while that has memorable and marketable monsters.” Nichole Hiltz already seems up to the challenge of reprising the role, “I hope for a sequel. I will fight anyone who tries to take her away from me.”

For more on the comic and film "Trailer Park of Terror" visit

17th Annual Philadelphia Film Fest Overview

(L-R: William H. Macy, Fiona Glascott and Jason Ritter at Philly Film Fest for their film, "THE DEAL")

The place to see an outstanding number of 243 feature length films and 108 short films, wasn’t Cannes or Sundance, but at the 17th Annual Philadelphia Film Festival (April 3rd-15th). Adding close to 100 feature length films more than last year, the Philadelphia Film Festival has become the largest film showcase on the East Coast.

Housing independent films with unknown to well-known actors such as William H. Macy, John Leguizamo, Elle Fanning, Matthew Broderick, Meg Ryan, Bette Midler, Jason Ritter, Patricia Clarkson, LL Cool J, Saffron Burrows, Tyrese Gibson and Felicity Huffman are a few familiar faces you will see on screen during the festival. Festivals like these are an excellent opportunity to view amazing films on the big screen and spread the word for them to have a chance at theatrical release.

As an added bonus to going to film festivals, the attendees get the rare and unique opportunity to meet the director and stars after many of the films. There to help promote the movie, audiences are given the chance to ask questions during Q&A’s that are fun and insightful. Among other things such as parties and free promotional giveaways are events like educational seminars on how films receive funding as well as a critics roundtable where the professionals give their critique on the films playing.

This year I got to view some of the most talked about movies at the festival. Most lived up to the hype and hopefully will get the recognition that they deserve.
  • American Teen
    **1/2 out of ****
    USA, 2008, 95 minutes
    Dir. Nanette Burnstein
    "American Teen" is a documentary that gives an insightful but ultimately tired look on High School life, chronicling the lives of High School Seniors in small town Warsaw, Indiana. The film focuses on Hannah, an artistic outsider; Colin, a friendly basketball jock; Megan, the school’s popular bully; and Jake, the nerd, tackling peer, family and college pressures with some expected and unexpected outcomes.
    Academy Award nominee director Nanette Burnstein gives each of the students an equal amount of face time and knows where and how to cut to the next High-schooler for a seamless transition. Periodic animated vignettes that attempt to paint an image of what the teenagers are saying are awkward. "Teen" has spark and reality, but the same message has been played out many times before.

    Dangerous Parking
    ***1/2 out of ****
    Great Britain, 2007, 109 minutes
    Dir. Peter Howitt
    Starring: Peter Howitt, Saffron Burrows, Sean Pertwee, Rachael Stirling, and Tom Conti
    Director, writer, producer and star, Peter Howitt brings to us the dramatic and hilarious "Dangerous Parking"; a film dangerously close to perfection. Howitt is Noah Arkwright, a cynical drug and alcohol addicted filmmaker. Noah narrates the out-of-order visual film that gives the true feeling of Noah’s abstract thinking and personality. Following his marriage to cellist Claire (Burrows), detox, and his fight with cancer, eccentric Noah keeps us laughing with pessimism and internal thinking throughout.
    Peter Howitt wonderfully adapts Stuart Browne’s novel in a stunning directorial. Howitt takes on the task and succeeds at making the audience enjoy such an unlikable character with quick wit and charisma. Burrows gives one of her best performances as Noah’s wife as well as the supporting Pertwee and Stirling as his friends.
    The choice of going out-of-order works well, all coming together in the end. However, the beginning is quite confusing and some dramatic scenes are hindered by not fully understanding what lead up to them. Overall, "Dangerous Parking" is a success with no major violations.

    Deadline U.S.A.
    *** out of ****
    USA, 1952, 87 minutes
    Dir. Richard Brooks
    Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Ethel Barrymore, Kim Hunter and Martin Gable
    A blast from the past, "Deadline U.S.A." is a nostalgic noir from 1952. Bogart stars as Newspaper editor, Ed Hutcherson who tries to save his paper from being bought out in a matter of days while bringing down mobster, Thomas Rienzi (Gable) in a shocking expose. Dealing with layoffs and closings of newspapers, the message is still prevalent today in this exciting crime drama.

    The Deal
    *** out of ****
    Canada, USA 2008, 100 minutes
    Dir. Steven Schachter
    Starring: William H. Macy, Meg Ryan, Jason Ritter, Fiona Glascott, LL Cool J and Elliot Gould
    Based on the book by Peter Lefcourt, William H. Macy adapts and stars in this Hollywood comedy. Playing an out of luck producer, Charlie, who swindles an executive, Deidre (Ryan), at a troubled studio to green-light his nephew’s (Ritter) script on the Jewish English statesman Benjamin Disraeli. Changing the script from a serious drama into an action comedy, they cast black action star (LL Cool J), who recently converted to Judaism as Disraeli for funding. Numerous setbacks and delays including a terrorist kidnapping and other chaos provide abundant laughs.
    Macy and Ryan are at the top of their comedic game. Ritter along with Fiona Glascott as the female lead add well to the script. LL Cool J is the deal-breaker as a dim-witted action star adding lots of Jewish humor as Elliot Gould guides him as his equally clueless Rabbi.

    Phoebe in Wonderland
    **** out of ****
    USA, 2008, 96 minutes
    Dir. Daniel Barnz
    Starring: Elle Fanning, Patricia Clarkson, Felicity Huffman and Bill Pullman
    Fanning is brilliant as the titled character, Phoebe Lichten, an imaginative young girl who has trouble with following the rules. Phoebe is obsessed with Alice in Wonderland, having visions of the characters pop-out throughout her day, much like her mother (Huffman) who is writing a book on Alice. As coincidence has it, her school is putting on the play Alice in Wonderland, run by the eccentric new drama teacher (Patricia Clarkson). While Phoebe is fine during rehearsal, her behavior outside of the theater is worsening in this extremely moving picture on what is and isn’t “normal” from the perspective of children and adults.
    Desperate Housewives star Huffman shines as Phoebe’s mother while Clarkson plays a strong supporting hand. Pullman skillfully undertakes the part of Phoebe’s father. Director and writer Daniel Barnz makes a powerful debut that will certainly leave viewers in marvel.

    Son of Rambow
    **1/2 out of ****
    USA, 2007, 95 minutes
    Dir. Garth Jennings
    Starring: William Poulter, Bill Milner, Jules Sitruk, Jessica Stevenson and Adam Godley
    Set in the ‘80s, "Son of Rambow" is a sweet and funny family film that is enjoyable for all ages. Milner stars as the 11-year-old Will who has never seen a film in his life due to his religion of the Plymouth Brethren and strict leader (Godley). When school bully Carter (Poulter) decides to enlist Will into making a homemade version of First Blood to enter into a young filmmaker competition, the two set off with their video camera to make an action film. Reminiscent of the recent Be Kind Rewind, "Rambow" falls into the same pitfall: building a film off of one joke. However, "Son of Rambow" handles the problem much more properly by adding a dramatic element of friendship and religion to aid the film.
    Writer and director Garth Jennings ("Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy") who drew experiences from his own childhood adds a lot of heart to the film. Jennings draws fantastic performances from his young actors. Younger audiences certainly needn’t see Rambo to get the joke, but the older audiences will enjoy the references.

    Summer Scars
    ½ a * out of ****
    Great Britain, 2007, 75 minutes
    Dir. Julian Richards
    Starring: Kevin Howarth, Ciaran Joyce, Amy Harvey, Jonathan Jones, Darren Evans, Christopher Conway and Ryan Conway
    "Summer Scars" is a suspense-less thriller and drama with little emotion and sense. Kevin Howarth plays Peter, a stranger that stumbles upon six fourteen year old friends that cut school to hang out in the woods. Deciding to help Peter find his dog, it isn’t until Peter takes out a gun that they realize he has a different agenda. Peter supposedly is trying to teach the kids life lessons as they are about to reach adulthood. The chance of escape comes multiple times, but the brain-dead kids make the worst possible decisions to propel the plot that in the end is pointless.
    The kids have a long way to go in acting. Howarth is the highpoint to the film as the stranger. Director Richards never seems to know where to go with the film that would make a better short, than feature length, which it barely is at 75 minutes. Bad acting, plot, writing and ending makes "Summer Scars" one of the worst of the fest.

    The Take
    **1/2 out of ****
    USA, 2007, 96 minutes
    Dir. Brad Furman
    Starring: John Leguizamo, Rosie Perez, Bobby Cannavale and Tyrese Gibson
    "The Take" is about family man Felix De La Pena (Leguizamo) who’s held at gunpoint as a thug, Adell (Gibson), kidnaps Felix while on duty as an armored truck driver. After stealing the money, Adell shoots Felix, leaving him for dead. Felix miraculously survives albeit personality changes. The police (Cannavale) not being helpful in finding the culprit, the now violent Felix is hell-bent on finding the perp. Driving away his wife (Perez) and children in the process, The Take is a gritty and dark crime drama.
    Leguizamo gives one of his best performances but seems to be trying a bit too hard. Academy Award nominee Perez, on the other hand, does a fine job with a natural aura. Cannavale plays the average cop figure and Gibson is dead weight.
    The plot is contrived and far from original with one or two glaring plot holes. For a low-budget flick, Furman brings some style and nice editing to make it worth checking out.

    Trailer Park of Terror
    **1/2 out of ****
    USA, 2008, 91 minutes
    Dir. Steven Goldmann
    Starring: Nichole Hiltz, Lew Temple, Brock Cuchna, Myk Watford, Matthew Del Negro and Trace Adkins
    From the Reading, P.A. based comic books; "Trailer Park of Terror" stars Nichole Hiltz as the headstrong beauty Norma who’s to leave the trailer park life behind her with boyfriend Aaron (Cuchna). When things start looking up, they soon come crashing down when fellow trailer-parkers Marv (Temple) and Roach (Watford) kill him. Running away, Norma encounters, The Man (Adkins), fueling her rage, giving her a rifle to take revenge on her trailer park neighbors. Cut to twenty years later when a group of six troubled teenagers and their pastor (Del Negro) get in a car accident during a thunderstorm coming home from a retreat. Seeking shelter in the nearby trailer park, they meet a now awry Norma who offers them shelter for the night. This is if they survive the night as monster zombie rednecks start picking off the kids one by one.
    This not-for-everyone B-movie, filled with dark humor, a country rock-n-roll soundtrack and blood is an entertaining ride. Famed country music video director, Steven Goldmann, certainly breaks away from his roots with the help of screenwriter Timothy Dalton in this Predictable but fun southern terror.

***1/2 out of ****
Great Britain, 2007, 107 minutes
Dir. Stephen Walker
Hilarious and heartfelt, Young@Heart is a documentary following a choir of senior citizens that sing….Rock N’ Roll? Originated in Northhampton, MA, the choir has toured the world and the film documents them preparing for their next tour.

Laughs are inevitable watching these old folks (whose average age is 81) sing everything from Sonic Youth to Coldplay to James Brown. Heart strings are pulled in scenes when a couple of the choir members fall fatally ill, but ultimately "Young@Heart" is a feel good flick for any age. By the time the film is over it makes you feel, well, young at heart.

Last year the festival hosted the likes of hit films such as Away from Her and La Vie en Rose, both Oscar nominated and winning pictures respectively. While it is unsure what films this year will be lucky enough to reach such a broad audience, there is enough picks worthy enough to reach such a status. For the ones that don’t, many are still worth searching out for.

Monday, April 7, 2008

'21' falls short of winning hand

** out of ****

"21's" winning slogan, "winner, winner, chicken dinner," is quoted quite often, but the movie is more of a turkey. The newest card playing movie since last year's Drew Barrymore-Eric Bana flop "Lucky You," "21" is definitely more entertaining, but still goes bust.

From across the pond, "Across the Universe" and "The Other Boleyn Girl" star Jim Sturgess puts on his best American accent as the film's lead, Ben Campbell. Ben is an Massachusetts Institute of Technology student who can do math faster than a calculator. He's in desperate need of a scholarship or $300,000 to achieve his dream of attending Harvard Medical School. Opportunity knocks on his door when his math professor Micky Rosa (Kevin Spacey) offers him a place on the school's secret card counting team, the "MIT Blackjack Club."

Ben reluctantly takes Rosa up on his offer, realizing his financial woes and the persuasion from seductive Jill Taylor (Kate Bosworth), his campus crush. The condition that he imposes upon himself is playing only until he can win enough money for Harvard -- "a means to an end."

Jetting back and forth from chilly Boston to glossy Las Vegas on the weekends, the team counts their cards and then their chips, raking in the dough.

As they change their names and wear disguises to masquerade their identities, their days become numbered with increasing security technology. The day arrives sooner than expected as the casinos see that their profits are slipping and vigilant security pro Cole Williams (Laurence Fishburne) starts to unearth Micky's elaborate system.

For blackjack novices, don't fear, the movie gives a brief tutorial on how the game works, as well as the intriguing team's hand gestures, body movements and word signals to indicate if a table is "hot," "cold" and other player codes.

"21" has exciting blackjack table scenes, though away from Las Vegas' glitter the film is stale. "21" does manage to be rousing enough to follow through, even at its most tedious points. Screenwriters Peter Steinfeld ("Be Cool," "Analyze That") and Allan Loeb ("Things We Lost in the Fire") capture the excitement of the game, but provide a failing hand with the rest of the story.

The ending is a slight disappointment. As the film progresses, the story becomes too unrealistic, which is funny, since the movie is loosely based on the true story of the real MIT Blackjack Team and adapted from the book "Bringing Down the House," written by Ben Mezrich.

Director Robert Luketic ("Legally Blonde," "Monster-in-Law") certainly has some style with fascinating aerial shots of Vegas and the fast-editing on the casino floors, but it's Something we've seen already in the superior "Ocean's 11."

Jim Sturgess does a fair job as Ben, but seems somewhat miscast. Kevin Spacey tries his best with the role, but gives up along the way becoming over-the-top without much depth. The same goes for Fishburne. The average Bosworth surprisingly works well in the role of Ben's love interest. Aaron Yoo ("Disturbia") and Liza Lapira ("Cloverfield") are affable as fellow teammates Choi and Kianna.

With a great concept, "21" folds on quality story telling. Not worth the gamble to see in the theaters, "21's" good enough to ante up $3 for a rental.

'Shutter' should click with horror fans

**1/2 out of ****

Does the thought of another foreign horror remake make you shudder? Well, fortunately there is "Shutter," one of the best in recent memory. The profitable Asian horror-remake phenomenon took off in 2002 with the wildly successful "The Ring" and "The Grudge," but has since crashed with this year's "One Missed Call" and "The Eye."

"Shutter" manages to standout with a complete, sensible and suspenseful storyline, which makes up for the lack of scares. What's the common everyday technology we should fear this time around? A camera. Produced by the makers of "The Ring" and "The Grudge," Rachael Taylor from "Transformers" plays the role of Jane Shaw, taking the place of Naomi Watts and Sarah Michelle Gellar as our blonde leading lady. The movie starts on Jane's wedding day as she and her husband, professional photographer Benjamin (Joshua Jackson) prepare for a quick move to Tokyo, where he is renewing his career with a company he worked at two years ago.

After developing his first photo-shoot assignment, all of the pictures appear ruined by orbs of an unknown light source. The same quirk materializes on pictures from their honeymoon and tourism shots. While Benjamin thinks it is a camera problem, Jane believes it's a supernatural event after seeing a ghostly young Japanese woman (Megumi Okina) suddenly appear and disappear throughout her day. As Ben becomes immersed in his work, Jane tries to figure out why she is having ghostly hallucinations. The photos are "spirit photos" according to Ben's assistant, Seiko (Maya Hazen), knowing this because her ex-boyfriend, Ritsuo (James Kyson Lee), coincidentally operates a magazine featuring "spirit photos." This is one of the big plot-turning coincidences that occur in "Shutter."Learning from Ritsuo that the photos are trying to communicate, Jane tries to figure out what that message is before it is too late. Benjamin begins to see the woman, and his friends Adam (John Henley) and Bruno (David Denman) also detect her, with knowledge of who she might be.

As the mysterious light in the photos becomes a clearer image and the sightings turn into violent physical attacks, the newlyweds must find a way to end the manifestations before death do they part.

"Shutter" has a solid story with fairly reasonable explanations. Still, why the photo ghost can also appear physically outside of the pictures is a head-scratcher.

The young actors play their parts with intrigue -- though "Dawson's Creek" star Joshua Jackson seems absent and uninvolved in most of his scenes. Taylor does an effective job for the majority of the film but is static at times. The supporting cast holds up the film but does nothing spectacular to improve upon it.

Staying true to scary Asian remakes, writer Luke Dawson keeps the same imagery of the original 2004 Thailand version, but tones the plot down. Masayuki Ochiai directs the film with style but forgets how to leave the audience spooked. Even at the feature-length run-time of 85 minutes, it seems to drag a bit.

"Shutter" certainly works as a thriller, but not as a horror flick mainly because the camera shies away from gory parts and scenes that are too frightening to maintain a PG-13 rating.

For thrills without shrills, "Shutter" will definitely click for you.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

It's a who's who of stars in 'Horton'

*** out of ****

"A person's a person, no matter how small." That is the lesson for us all, that walk down the theater hall, to see Dr. Seuss' "Horton Hears a Who!" -- a worthy Hollywood adaptation once and for all.

After the so-so "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" and the dire "Cat in the Hat," a Dr. Seuss story has found the right form in animation instead of live action, capturing the true essence of the book. The cartoon-y animation, true to book form, helps the movie come to life with many of the scenes inspired by the book's drawings. The talented voice cast with top-rated comedians of old and new, along with the hilarious script, boost "Horton" to one of the best family and comedy films this year.

"Horton" starts off with the star of the film, Horton (Jim Carrey, who starred in "Grinch"), a lovable and eccentric elephant living in the jungle of Nool, dictated by Sour Kangaroo (Carol Burnett) who dislikes imagination and things out of order. While taking a bath, Horton hears cries for help coming from a speck of dust floating in the air and chases it down, catching it on a daisy. Trying to talk to the speck, he ends up communicating with the Mayor (Steve Carell) who, unbeknownst to him, oversees the mircoscopic town of Whoville. Dr. Mary Lou Larue, the town's scientist, says that if the town cannot reach stability it is doomed. The Mayor, not believing Horton, who he can only hear but not see, makes the task of survival that much harder.

The Mayor passes on the information to Horton, who is determined to find a stable place for Whoville. He decides to go to the top of the highest mountain in the jungle of Nool. When the resident of the jungle catch wind of the story and start using their imaginations, Sour Kangaroo is unyielding in her attempts to destroy the speck, saying "The only things that are real are what you can see, hear, or feel." The Mayor, too, is under pressure, unable to convince his wife (Amy Poehler), the wicked councilman (Dan Fogler) and the rest of the town of their impending fate.

Sour Kangaroo solicits help from an evil vulture, Vlad (Will Arnett), to destroy the speck. Horton must watch out for aerial attacks from Vlad and the vigilant eye of Sour Kangaroo on his journey to the top of mount Nool.

First-time directors Jimmy Hayward and Steve Martino do an excellent job of recreating the imaginative landscape created by Dr. Seuss with gratifying colorful visuals. Screenplay writers Dan Daurio and Cinco Paul also find the quintessence of the book, not straying far from its many themes with jokes-a-plenty.

Jim Carrey has a wide vocal range for Horton, providing a great character voice, and Steve Carell also gives equally fine voice-work as the reluctant Mayor. Dan Fogler and Will Arnett make excellent villains and Seth Rogen gets some snickers as Horton's mouse friend. Jaime Pressly ("My Name is Earl"), Jonah Hill ("Superbad"), Jesse McCartney ("Alvin and the Chipmunks") and Niecy Nash ("Reno 911!") round out the superb supporting cast. However, it is Carol Burnett that creates the fullest character with plenty of personality that you can't help but love and hate.

From the animation team that brought us "Ice Age," "Horton Hears a Who!" is another magical hit.

No matter what, "Horton" is definitely for you, even if you are a Grinch.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Action-packed '10,000 B.C.' short on facts

**1/2 out of ****
Woolly mammoths helped build the pyramids, dinosaurs hid in jungles, saber-toothed tigers were the size of cars and humans spoke English 12,000 years ago? Do not expect to walk out of the theater with historic knowledge by watching the timeline-twisted "10,000 B.C." What you should expect is a historically inaccurate thrill ride of pre-historic creatures and tribes with plenty of action.

"10,000 B.C." is set among a secluded mountain tribe of mammoth hunters that has managed to find the miracle of 21st-century dental care. The simplistic plot focuses on the young, unwilling leader, D'Leh (Steven Strait), who finds his tribe attacked by a marauding group on horse back, capturing much of the tribe for slavery. During the raid, D'Leh's promised wife, Evolet (Camilla Belle), is one of the many abducted, prompting him to go save her and the others.

The perilous journey cuts through the stunning CGI-landscape of high-peaked, snowy mountains, predator-infested jungles and blistering deserts. As D'Leh fights through the conditions, he also must conquer the tyrannical empire and its leader by uniting fellow clans to rescue his people. The story smoothly flows with periodic narration by Omar Sharif.

Roland Emmerich, the man behind "Independence Day," "Godzilla," "The Patriot" and "The Day After Tomorrow" certainly doesn't know the meaning of small scale, and "10,000 B.C." is no exception. Co-writing the screenplay with the film's composer, Harald Kloser, Emmerich masterfully crafts the computer-created world of "10,000 B.C." Scenes of woolly mammoth stampedes, dinosaur attacks and gigantic pyramids make "B.C." easy to enjoy.

You cannot help but feel as if the film pulled a page from the '06 Mel Gibson film "Apocalypto" or the '60s Raquel Welch movie "One Million Years B.C." where the pyramids and dinosaurs are a better fit, respectively.

If only Emmerich cared as much about his actors than his CGI, "10,000 B.C." could have been better received by audiences. While the performances from the relatively unknown actors are surprisingly sturdy, more than a few scenes are laughable, but for all the wrong reasons.

Leading man Strait ("The Covenant") gives a solid performance as an outcast (his father abandoned the tribe when he was young) turned leader, though never exuberates much charisma in battle for a savior role. Belle, known for being the victim in the 2005 horror remake "When a Stranger Calls," plays the damsel dimly without much sense of distress.
The battles on top of the pyramids with charging wooly mammoths are the type of moments when "10,000 B.C." are at its peak. The other scenes are just idle until the next grand battle, which thankfully are only about five minutes away. Watchable and at times admirable, "10,000 B.C." is still visually fascinating and entertaining one that the whole family could enjoy. For fun and excitement, this is a point in history worthwhile to look back upon.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

"Semi-Pro" is only Semi-Decent

**1/2 out of ****

Will Ferrell's latest comedic outing, "Semi-Pro," never becomes a slam-dunk, or a three-pointer for that matter. It does score a few points, but mainly just hits the backboard.

In the vein of Ferrell's other hilarious sports satires "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby," "Kicking and Screaming" and "Blades of Glory," "Semi-Pro" drops the ball, taking it one too many with a stale been-there-done-that taste.

Funnyman Ferrell still generates enough sporadic laughs to make "Semi-Pro" a worthwhile venture for fans of the star and this genre.

Ferrell once again plays a superficial, self-absorbed and highly confident character, this time under the alias of Jackie Moon. Set in the mid-1970s, Jackie is a one hit wonder with his Barry Manilow-esque "Love Me Sexy" and uses the money from the song to acquire an American Basketball Association (ABA) team -- the Flint, Mich., Tropics.

Acting not only as the owner, but as a coach, player and promoter, Jackie learns that the ABA is to merge with the National Basketball Association (NBA) at the end of the season. The catch is that only the top four teams will be part of the merger.

At the bottom of the rankings, the sad-sack team gets a much-needed boost when Jackie recruits a former NBA has-been, Monix (Woody Harrelson). It isn't long after Monix clashes with the only promising player on the team, ball-hog, Clarence "Coffee" Black (Outkast's Andre "3000" Benjamin). As the team starts shaping up and the attendance increases, the Tropics look as if they are on their way to be a part of the NBA.

We all know that Will Ferrell can be funny, even in his sleep, with his comedic ability, but he doesn't bring anything new to the table in a film relying heavily on sight gags rather than dialogue. You can't help but laugh at the song "Love Me Sexy" and the promotions to bring in the fans.

To be noted, this film is rated R, unlike Ferrell's other sports films. Ferrell and crew never bother to go the extra mile in what could have resulted in a PG-13 rating, by editing a few words.

Woody Harrelson, who reached film stardom in his 1992 basketball comedy "White Men Can't Jump," shines in most of his scenes. Harrelson carries a majority of the funny lines that work, but a subplot with his ex, Lynn ("ER's" Maura Tierney), just slows down the poorly paced film thanks to first-time director Kent Alterman.

As random as "Semi-Pro" is, there are a number of subplots and scenes that should have wound up on the cutting room floor. A prime example is the scene of a drugged-out hippie fan who receives an un-cashable $10,000 check after scoring a free-throw, played by Jackie Earle Haley of sports comedy "Bad News Bears" fame.

"Saturday Night Live's" Kristen Wiig makes a brief appearance, as well as Patti LaBelle, Rob Corddry and Andy Richter. Andrew Daly ("MadTV") and Will Arnett are dependable for laughs as the wise-cracking sports commentators.

When the fourth quarter rolls around, "Semi-Pro" stays strong, but that isn't enough to win the game. While the film is worth a watch if you like Will Ferrell's previous work, but ultimately "Semi-Pro" is just a semi-decent flick.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

"Be Kind Rewind" Short on Laughs

** out of ****

"Be Kind Rewind" is one of those movies that would make a stellar short film, but stretch it to feature length and you're looking for the fast-forward button. The movie's simple idea is to take popular films and parody them on a shoe-string budget with YouTube quality. This is the concept for this relatively absurd film.

"Be Kind Rewind" has a lot of heart, but never delivers on the laughs. Set in Passaic, New Jersey, the film starts off strong. The opening scene focuses on a dumpy, corner brick-and-mortar movie rental store called Be Kind, Rewind. In this store you won't find a DVD anywhere, only VHS, and yes, this is set in present day.

The store owner is Mr. Fletcher (Danny Glover), who leaves Mike (Mos Def), the only other employee, in charge of the store while he scouts out local competition. Mike is odd and shy, with a strong sense of morality that sometimes gets twisted by Jerry (Jack Black), his goofy friend who works in a junk yard.

Jerry hits the play button on this slow moving plot when he destroys a local generator claiming it was controlling his mind, sending magnetic waves through his body. Next morning when Jerry enters the store, he inadvertently magnetizes all the tapes, rendering them blank. In fear of upsetting Mr. Fletcher, and the survival of the store, Mike hatches an idea. Jerry and Mike remake short versions of all the films. In come the parodies.

"Be Kind Rewind" relies on its laughs to come from the parodies that rarely generate a chuckle. "Rewind's" biggest belly-busters are from the natural moments, but they aren't enough to carry the film. The parody highlights range from "Driving Miss Daisy," "Rush Hour 2," "The Lion King," "Ghostbusters" and "Boyz N the Hood" -- anything is fair game.

The director and writer is the Oscar-winning visionary Michel Gondry ("Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," "The Science of Sleep"). A Frenchman, Gondry shows his love for American cinema in his most mainstream film yet. Gondry shows his troubled writing skills with poor pacing, but manages to stir up natural, down-to-earth dialogue even for such a quirky film.

Jack Black ("King Kong," "Nacho Libre") again can't contain himself, but is more relaxed than in his past comedic outings. Black is the perfect fit for a character like Jerry who is obnoxious and unaware of his surroundings. Mia Farrow makes another trip back to the big screen as Miss Falewicz, a friend of Mr. Fletcher who keeps an eye on naive Mike. Melonie Diaz joins in on the fun as one of the actresses in the parodies.

Mos Def ("16 Blocks," "The Italian Job") is the one to keep an eye out for. He is excellent as Mike with his quirky mannerisms and shy behavior. Like Mark Wahlberg, Mos Def is one of the few rappers-turned-actors that manage to make a smooth transition to film.

"Be Kind Rewind" is one to watch on DVD. However, you won't find yourself hitting rewind when it is over.

Monday, February 25, 2008

The Fantasy of "Spiderwick Chronicles" Charms

*** out of ****

"The Spiderwick Chronicles" is another book-to-screen outing, but unlike the rest, this one stands out. Fatigued after all of the fantasy novel adaptations from last year alone, high-profile films such as "The Golden Compass," "The Seeker: The Dark is Rising" and "Stardust" were all shunned by audiences. With rushed starts, abrupt stops and confusion all around, "Spiderwick" shakes things up by letting the viewers take a breath without skimping on the CGI warfare.

Rated PG, "Spiderwick" does have some genuinely scary moments, but this is one that the whole family can enjoy.

Based on the five-part, best-selling kids' series, the film is a faithful adaptation which combines all of the books into one presentation.

The story starts with Helen Grace (Mary Louise-Parker) moving the family to the dilapidated Spiderwick Estate after her divorce. The estate was inherited from her great-great uncle Arthur Spiderwick (David Strathairn). Oldest daughter Mallory (Sarah Bolger), who enjoys fencing, and her bookish, pacifist brother Simon (Freddy Highmore) are supportive of their distraught mother and the move. Simon's identical twin, Jared, (also played by Freddy Highmore) isn't as supportive. Adventurous, curious and headstrong, Jared is upset with his mother and would rather live with his father.

The action starts quickly when Jared finds Arthur's secret laboratory and discovers a strange old book. The book, which has a "do not open" note attached, turns out to be a field guide of the magical world around the estate and the secrets of the mysterious creatures in the surrounding woods. Jared soon becomes a believer after he meets Thimbletack (voiced by Martin Short), a small, hamster-like man who was Arthur's assistant.

Simon also becomes aware of this mystical world with strange occurrences, though Mallory and their mom are not yet convinced. The twins learn that the evil shape-shifting ogre leader, Mulgarath (Nick Nolte), will stop at nothing to retrieve the book to become even more deadly. Mallory and mom soon become believers when the house is attacked by frog-like goblins.

Unlike most fantasy films, "The Spiderwick Chronicles" doesn't hold back -- goblins not only chase the kids, but also claw and stab to the point of cuts and bruises. With many evil and hideous creatures, there are also helpful ones such as the hog-looking Hogsqueal (voiced by Seth Rogen), and flower-like fairies who help with the fight in an action-packed CGI sequence.

Known from his Lindsay Lohan hits "Freaky Friday" and "Mean Girls," director Mark Waters enters new territory and is just as successful. Waters has stunning and majestic imagery filled with CGI creatures and live-action actors intertwining beautifully making this one a must to see in the theaters -- or IMAX, where it also is being shown.

Karey Kirkpatrick, David Berenbaum and John Sayles wrote the welcoming screenplay from Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black's novels. It leaves no confusion and a longer exposition to create character depth, adding a much bigger impact when it comes time for the final result.

"Weeds" star Mary Louise-Parker takes the backseat playing the caring-but-unaware mom.

The real star of "Spiderwick" is the young and very talented British actor Freddie Highmore ("Finding Neverland," "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory") who sports a decent American accent. Highmore, who acts both roles, amazingly creates two very separate characters as if they were played by different performers.

The animation department deserves recognition for the stunning visuals, as do Short and Rogen for being the friendly and likeable voices of their unique characters.

Working as a stand-alone film, with a nicely closed ending, "Spiderwick" isn't the next "Harry Potter" or "Narnia," but there is still so much adventure and fun, you would want to go back for another round.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

It is the time of year when stars shine bright and the paparazzi line up at Hollywood's Kodak Theater while moviegoers sit in front of the small screen (TV), equally anticipating whose name will be read from the envelope and receive the golden statue at this year's 80th Annual Academy Awards ceremony.

Jon Stewart will host Hollywood's biggest award event, which is broadcasting live at 8 p.m. Feb 24. on ABC. There may be less glitz and glam due to the writers' strike, but the show must go on. If the strike is resolved, though, the red carpet may be as crowded as ever.

As the votes of the Academy members are being tallied, it is a year of many predictable nominees, but, as always, there will surely be some surprises. The Academy, which consists of over 6,500 individuals from every field of entertainment, will decide the nominees' fates on award night.

2007 has been a fantastic year for cinema, which is evident in the strong list of nominees. But for those who still are baffled about who will win, here is a guide to nominees that will help in one of the most competitive years in recent memory.

Best Picture
"Atonement," "Juno," "Michael Clayton," "No Country for Old Men" and "There Will Be Blood"
The Best Picture category is one of the most coveted, and most of these films have a decent shot at having its name read on award night.

The frontrunner in this category is "No Country for Old Men," a story of a Texan who stumbles upon drugs and money with a killer in pursuit. In pursuit of "Men" is "There Will Be Blood," which could be a possible upset. The dark horse in this race is audience favorite "Juno," which tells the story of a pregnant teenager. The older members of the Academy, though, are less likely to embrace it.

Will win: "No Country for Old Men"
Should win: "No Country for Old Men"

Best Actor
George Clooney ("Michael Clayton"), Daniel Day-Lewis ("There Will Be Blood"), Johnny Depp ("Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street"), Tommy Lee Jones ("In the Valley of Elah") and Viggo Mortensen ("Eastern Promises")

As a mad oil tycoon in "There Will Be Blood," Day-Lewis is so phenomenal, Clooney recently said that he has given up hopes of winning. While the win shouldn't be surprising, the nominations for this category certainly were.

Viggo Mortensen shocked audiences in a nude fighting scene as a ruthless London gangster, as Jones moved us as a patriotic father searching for his son who disappeared after returning from Iraq.
If there's any competition, it's going to come from Clooney as a smart attorney or from Depp as a murderous singing barber, but don't expect any upsets here.

Will win: Daniel Day-Lewis
Should win: Daniel Day-Lewis

Best Actress
Cate Blanchett ("Elizabeth: The Golden Age"), Julie Christie ("Away from Her"), Marion Cotillard ("La Vie en Rose"), Laura Linney ("The Savages") and Ellen Page ("Juno")

Best Actress is a three-way race that's sure to surprise. Christie brilliantly plays an Alzheimer patient, while Page seems to instinctively act the role as a smart-aleck pregnant teenager. Cotillard plays a memorable role as the late French singer Edith Piaf in a musical biography. All with an equal shot at winning, judging by precursor awards, Christie seems to have an edge over Page and Cotillard.
Will win: Julie Christie
Should win: Ellen Page

Best Supporting Actor
Casey Affleck ("The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford"), Javier Bardem ("No Country for Old Men), Phillip Seymour Hoffman ("Charlie Wilson's War"), Hal Holbrook ("Into the Wild") and Tom Wilkinson ("Michael Clayton")

If you thought I sounded sure that Day-Lewis will win Best Actor, then consider me 100 percent for Javier Bardem winning here. Playing the violent villain in "No Country," Bardem, who acted so naturally, gives us a character that should be remembered for some time.

Will win: Javier Bardem
Should win: Javier Bardem

Best Supporting Actress
Cate Blanchett ("I'm Not There"), Ruby Dee ("American Gangster"), Saoirse Ronan ("Atonement"), Amy Ryan ("Gone Baby Gone") and Tilda Swinton ("Michael Clayton")

Two actresses have a 50/50 shot at winning the statue here. One contender is Blanchett for playing, of all things, Bob Dylan, in the quirky biopic. The other is Broadway's Amy Ryan as a trash-talking Bostonian, grieving after the disappearance of her young daughter.

In a category that is more kind to newcomers, Ryan has won key precursors and has a more conventional role. However, Blanchett is an Oscar favorite, being nominated in two categories.

Blanchett has a slight edge as a seasoned actress, though Ryan could swoop in for the prize.

Nominated in a blink-it-or-you-miss-it role, Dee could spoil the night, as she won in a big upset at the Screen Actors Guild Awards in a film that was once to be a frontrunner.

Will win: Cate Blanchett
Should win: Amy Ryan

In other top categories, brothers Ethan and Joel Coen should grab Best Director for "No Country for Old Men."

Julian Schnabel's "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" can fly in for the win in a visually fantastic film.

While "Juno" may not win in its other three categories, at least it should find an award as the Best Original Screenplay: Former dancer and first-time screenwriter Diablo Cody deserves the win for her witty and smart dialogue.

The Best Adapted Screenplay category has a far less clearer picture of who the winner could be. Once a front runner, being left behind in other major categories, "Atonement" could find itself winning this nomination for the screenplay by Christopher Hampton, but the Coen Brothers can sneak in with "Old Men."

For every nominee there is always one that didn't make the cut. The biggest snubs went to "Talk to Me," "Zodiac," "The Simpsons Movie," "Crazy Love," "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead," "A Mighty Heart" and "Waitress." These films didn't receive a single nomination.

Cate Blanchett stole the spot in the Best Actress category that belonged to Angelina Jolie for her amazing portrayal as Marianne Pearl, the wife of slain journalist Daniel Pearl in "A Mighty Heart."

Ryan Gosling should have received his second Oscar nomination for the comedy "Lars and the Real Girl," starring as a delusional that falls in love with a mannequin.

In the supporting categories, "Juno" should have dominated with Award-worthy performances by Jennifer Garner, J.K. Simmons, and Allison Janney.

David Fincher was robbed a spot as Best Director for the true-crime mystery "Zodiac" as well as a Best Adapted Screenplay nomination. Pie-comedy "Waitress" should have cooked up a nomination for Best Original Screenplay in a film written, directed, and acted by the late Adrienne Shelley.

The last and maybe biggest snubs come from smaller categories. "Crazy Love," an interesting and wild love story, should have received a nomination for Best Documentary. In the animated category, "The Simpsons Movie" got replaced by the mediocre-at-best "Surf's Up."

In a year of fantastic achievements in film, we'll have to wait another 10 days to find out who will go home with a golden statues in hand.