Friday, November 27, 2009

'The Fantastic Mr. Fox'

'The Fantastic Mr. Fox' (PG) ***

Writers: Noah Baumbach and Wes Anderson based on book by Roald Dahl
Director: Wes Anderson
Starring: George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Michael Bambon, Owen Wilson, Willem Dafoe

"The Fantastic Mr. Fox" is quite a visual experience that is unique and yes a little trippy. It is a great film to just watch as chaos and a hypnotic beauty spring from every corner of the screen. This is a very fast, busy film that you have to pay attention to because there is a lot going on. It is a fun film to also listen to for I liked it's screwball dialogue and if you don't pay attention you might miss some key, funny dialogue. Therein lies a problem I have with the movie and that is it might be too damn fast and clever for it's own good sometimes. Is that a bad thing? When most kids movies are dumb, slow or dim witted this movie is a feat of imagination. It is based on something solid by a great, imaginative children's author in Roald Dahl. Now I had a lot of fun in this movie but somehow I didn't embrace it as much as I thought I would. I think it needed to slow down just a little so I could catch my breath. It is along the same type of groundbreaking animation like say a "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" but the story execution is somewhat weaker. That being said this movie is still worth seeing and on a second viewing I might grow to love it. This is a movie I think needs to be seen twice and I would love to revisit it on DVD. I think a lot of this material will go over very little kid's heads but there are wonderful visuals that will get their eyes to pop out of their heads. Older kids will love it I think. I could see it being played on college campuses at midnight also. Take a few drugs, though I don't condone this, and you can have quite a head trip. You can also have drinking parties as say every time a character says cuss you take a drink. I love how every swear word is replaced by cuss as in "What the Cuss" as this is a brilliant touch in a very clever movie. The voice work is very good as Clooney and Schwartzman are perfectly cast. The movie has some classic lines of dialogue and is beautiful to look at but maybe Wes Anderson needs to slow it down and lay off a little of the hip quotient. This might get better on a second viewing as is this week's "The Road" and I would rather have that desire to have a movie that wants me to watch it again to see if I missed something rather than be bored and hating myself for seeing it. With "Where The Wild Things Are" there is hope for children's movies now that also adults will appreciate.

'The Road'

'The Road' (R) ***

Writer: Joe Penhall based on novel by Cormac McCarthy
Director: John Hillcoat
Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Kodi Smit-Mcphee, Charlize Theron, Guy Pearce, Molly Parker, Robert Duvall

"The Road" is a difficult journey through a bleak and desolate post Armageddon World that is worth the trip because of two wonderful performances. The movie is based on a novel by who I think is one of our best modern writers in Cormac McCarthy. He is also responsible for the novel made into the Academy Award winning "No Country For Old Men". Here the material is harder to pull off for the novel is sparse with little dialogue but beautiful descriptions of the barren landscape that the two lead characters journey through. Most of the World has been laid to waste and there are few survivors left including a father and a son. The father is played by Viggo Mortensen in a beautifully measured and outstanding performance. He is proving again and again with subtlety that he is one of our strongest actors. The son is played by Kodi Smit-McPhee in a natural, unforced and great performance. The two actors have great chemistry and work well together. They encounter all sorts of people on their journey including cannibals who are called "Bad Guys" by the son as both try to figure out the difference between the good guys and the bad guys. The movie is not an action film though and it's goal is not really focused on eluding cannibals but it is about simple survival and about family.

Now I have read the novel and since I don't read as much as I should this is a rare occurrence of watching a movie of the book I did read. I loved the novel and found it poetic and suspenseful. There is little dialogue but you did feel a total understanding about this man and boy. After reading the novel I kept thinking there was no way they could make a movie out of this. After the movie I still feel that way and I find myself half right. I am actually amazed how great of a job Joe Penhall and John Hillcoat have done with this novel. The direction is sound, the photography is desolate but beautiful and there is a feeling of suspense and the characters are well developed. There is also a beautiful and stirring musical score that is just right. The only thing is I loved the novel and find that I didn't feel as strongly about the movie on an emotional level. I didn't feel the same connection because I felt more emotion reading the book. There was something missing here and I think that the filmmakers had a tough task and they did so well with the look of the film and capturing this World that some emotion was stripped from the experience. Saying all this I think Viggo Mortensen is outstanding in this movie! He makes it look so effortless and he can always show vulnerability mixed with strength. I am convinced he can do any genre of film he wants and come off as competent. Also a first time performance by Kodi Smit-McPhee is natural, beautiful and well played as he holds his own with Mortensen and creates a true and effective father/son relationship. I like this movie but wanted to love it like I did the novel but i was left a little disappointed but I do think it is worth seeing. I do think that John Hillcoat has done a very good job. He is an effective director whose last film is one of my favorite Westerns in a long time called "The Proposition" which is brutally violent and powerful. He gets the job done but I just think the story is better off experienced in the novel. Now should you see it? If you read the novel I say you have to see it. At least you will think it is a good adaptation like I did or you will love it. If you haven't read the novel I think you might have a tough time ahead of you. I would definitely like to revisit this movie again and see if the experience becomes more emotional. It must be the Fall Movie Season because movies are making us think again.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

'Happy Thanksgiving- My Thanksgiving Classics'

'My Thanksgiving Classics'

There are many movies that capture that Thanksgiving spirit wonderfully that families watch every year. There are classic movies like "Planes, Trains and Automobiles", and "Home For The Holidays" and classic television series like "All In The Family", "Cheers" and "Roseanne" that have great Thanksgiving themed episodes. I have three recommendations that are near and dear in my heart and that I can watch over and over. They are beautiful movies with memorable characters, great stories and a capturing of the holiday that is life affirming, touching and very entertaining so give them a try and have a great Thanksgiving and eat a lot!

'Once Around' (R) (91) ****

Writer: Malia Scotch Marmo
Director: Lasse Hallstrom
Starring: Richard Dreyfuss, Holly Hunter, Danny Aiello, Gena Rowlands, Tim Guinee, Roxanne Hart, Laura San Giacomo, Danton Stone

"Once Around" is a perfect look at a wonderful, loving family and a powerful, touching tearjerker with great performances and characters. Holly Hunter gives another of her outstanding performances playing a woman unlucky in love who meets an older man at a seminar that she falls in love with, brings home and then somehow starts to break her family apart. This man is played beautifully by Richard Dreyfuss and he is a loud, obnoxious and expressive man who at first seems to be a nuisance but someone we also grow to love as the movie unfolds. The Bella family is a close, Italian family and the father and mother played by Danny Aiello and Gena Rowlands are proud of their family and this interloper tests them for a while but the beauty of this movie is that there is nothing that can break this family apart and how this new man becomes closer to them is the power of this movie. Aiello and Rowlands are outstanding in this movie. The writing is beautiful ,natural and original and you definitely will cry at the end. It is also one of the most beautiful and touching movies about family you will ever see. "Once Around" was neglected when it came out but it should have been nominated for Best Picture that year at the Oscars. I hope you discover this gem because after you do it will become one of your favorites.

'In America' (PG-13) (03) ****

Writers: Jim Sheridan and Naomi Sheridan
Director: Jim Sheridan
Starring: Paddy Consindine, Samantha Morton, Sarah Bolger, Emma Bolger, Djimon Honsou

Here is another powerful and breathtaking drama about family and the journey of becoming an American citizen. What better way to celebrate America and family than the Thanksgiving holiday. This is such a powerful and beautiful movie that is a story that comes from the heart. It is about a family in the early 80's from Ireland who come to New York to live and become citizens. The father, played beautifully by Paddy Considine, is an aspiring and struggling actor and the family is poor. They live in a dilapidated apartment building full of the poor and the many drug addicts of the city. The husband and wife, played equally as strong by Samantha Morton, have lost a child and along with shedding that burden they have to make it through a life of despair. I was touched by how strong this family was and the movie is narrated by the older daughter and the kids are played perfectly and naturally by Emma and Sarah Bolger. The family also becomes involved with a man in the building who has the Aids virus and is an artist. How the daughters and finally the parents embrace this man and make him part of the family is one of the most beautiful and most life affirming moments ever caught on screen. This is a quiet, painful, beautiful movie full of tender moments and heartbreak. It is also one of the best movies of the decade and one of the most beautiful and powerful movies I have ever seen.

'A Home At The End Of The World' (R) (04) ****

Writer: Michael Cunningham based on his novel
Director: Michael Mayer
Starring: Colin Ferrell, Robin Wright Penn, Dallas Roberts, Sissy Spacek

"A Home At The End Of The World" is a beautiful drama this time dealing with an unconventional family with one of the most heartfelt characters I have ever seen in the movies. The movie starts out gracefully as a young man loses his older brother in one of the most shocking and powerful death scenes ever on screen. I say that because the brother is such a beautiful person with kindness and a big heart and the death is bizarre but powerful. This young man will grow up with that same kindness, heart and decency but he is a little confused also. He thinks he might have a strong attraction to a neighbor boy but can't figure out his sexuality. Both of these men will move to New York City and try to find their way in the World. The older versions of these men are played by Colin Farrell, in a beautiful and star making performance, and Dallas Roberts who is equally strong. They meet a free spirited woman, played wonderfully by Robin Wright Penn (one of our best actresses) who they both connect to. The Colin Farrell character falls in love with her and still is confused by his sexuality but he has so much love to give that he loves equally. This forms a basis for one of the most beautiful and touching families I have ever seen. It just proves that all kinds of families even unconventional ones show as much love and can enjoy the holidays just as strongly. The woman has a baby as the three try to raise that baby and you just know this family just can't work out. As I realized this and the movie comes to it's heartbreaking conclusion I was gushing tears. I was devastated by what happens but I also knew it was what should happen and somehow I find the ending life affirming and beautiful. The three performances are strong and Colin Farrell is so heartbreaking and Robin Wright Pen is so beautiful in this. I think she is one of the most beautiful women on screen and one of our best actresses and her performance here is masterful. This is another neglected drama that contains three of the most memorable characters, three of the best performances and one of the most heartbreaking stories ever made.

With these suggestions I know I might be trying to make you cry but trust me if you haven't already seen these movies they will be the most moving experiences you will have in your movie going lives. Have a great Turkey Day!

'Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call New Orleans'

'Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call New Orleans' (R) ***1/2

Writer: William Finkelstein
Director: Werner Herzog
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Eva Mendes, Val Kilmer, Alvin "Xzibit" Joiner, Jennifer Coolidge, Tom Bower, Brad Dourif, Fairuza Balk

What a week for two of our veteran actors and stars! First Sandra Bullock gives the best performance of her career in "The Blind Side" and now Nicolas Cage is back in a big way with the old Cage in one of his best performances of his career in "Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call New Orleans". This movie is a lot of fun to watch and it contains a crazy, wild but never over the top performance by Nicolas Cage like the old days before Hollywood neutered him. This noir type, gritty and outrageous crime movie directed by the great Werner Herzog captures it's setting flawlessly. It is set in New Orleans after the aftermath of Katrina and that destruction by Katrina becomes a third character in this movie making it rich in nuance adding to the greatness of this movie. The movie is sort of a retelling of the 1992 Harvey Keitel movie "Bad Lieutenant" where Keitel was a masochistic cop who used drugs and abused his power as a cop to have sex with his subjects. In this movie Cage plays the same kind of cop who after an accident is hunched over and becomes addicted to drugs as he uses his power to secure more drugs and taints evidence concerning a murder of a family during a drug deal. I like this movie better for it is just as wild, dirty and crazy but is more fun as the first one was hard to love mainly for it's rape of a nun and it just made me uncomfortable. I just had a big goofy smile on my face for Cage's bravura, nutso performance and for the absurd situations he gets himself into. This movie is funnier than 95% of the comedies out there and is one of the most enteartaining movies of the year. I think Herzog is the ideal director to make this work. Herzog has never made a bad movie and his capturing of New Orleans is perfect and adds to the color of the movie. Val Kilmer, Eva Mendes and Jennifer Coolidge are great in support. It all comes down to Nicolas Cage who is magnificent in this and it is a great compliment to him that I couldn't imagine another actor in this role. He jumps off the screen and gives a performance that should be awarded an Oscar nomination but never does because the Academy never seems to embrace brave performances like this one. This is a big surprise of a movie that is one of the best times I have had at a movie this year.

'The Blind Side'

'The Blind Side' (PG-13) ***1/2

Writer: John Lee Hancock based on book "The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game" by Michael Lewis
Director: John Lee Hancock
Starring: Sandra Bullock, Tim McGraw, Quentin Aaron, Kathy Bates, Lily Collins, Jae Head

I would call "The Blind Side" a great sports movie but it is deeper than just being labeled a sports movie. This is an inspiring, crowd pleasing drama that is about family and finding yourself. Though it also does a good job of showing us the strategy of football to a certain point. This movie is in the same style of "Rudy" as an underdog athlete finds his way and succeeds in his goals. "The Blind Side" is based on a true story about Baltimore Ravens Offensive lineman Michael Oher who was a homeless teen who was taken in by wealthy socialite Leigh Anne Touhy and her family and given a home. Leigh Anne is played by Sandra Bullock in the best performance of her career. Bullock has always been fun to watch on screen and I remember having a deep crush on her when I saw "Speed" and "Demolition Man". She has done a lot since "Speed" but I find most of the romantic comedies she does to be beneath her including one of the worst movies of this year "The Proposal". This is one of her smartest roles and she is up to the task and might finally get her first Oscar nomination. She is strong, tough, funny, looks good in her tight wardrobe and totally becomes Leigh Anne. Tim McGraw is also good as her husband showing he can actually act well and Quentin Aaron does a fine job as Mike. There are inspiring scenes, funny ones mostly involving Leigh Anne's son (Jae Head)and a good depiction of strong family bonds and all the football scenes are well handled. Though I do find it hard to believe that Leigh Anne alone was responsible for Mike learning how to finally block and become a better football player. That is okay for I fell in love with Leigh Anne's family, Michael and his growth as a football player and Kathy Bates as a tutor who is hired to help Michael with his studies. "The Blind Side" is a very pro family movie that is entertaining, will make you cheer and let you see that Sandra Bullock always had it in her to deliver an outstanding performance when lately Hollywood has let her down. She gives a commanding performance in a very inspirational movie.

On DVD: 'Julia'

'Julia' (R) **1/2

Writers: Aude Py and Erick Zonca
Director: Erick Zonca
Starring: Tilda Swinton, Saul Rubinek, Kate DelCastillo, Aidan Gould, Jude Cicolella, Bruno Bichir

"Julia" is an overwrought, overlong and over melodramatic movie that wastes an outstanding performance by Tilda Swinton. She is so good here that I can almost recommend this movie just for her performance. I just think with it's super long running time that I lost how much I enjoyed her performance. Tilda Swinton is that great actress that some people mix up with Cate Blanchett. She is very much her own with her tall, lanky body, her beautiful green eyes and her command of any performance she gives. She was wonderful battling George Clooney in "Michael Clayton" and here she owns the screen. The movie is inspired by the works of the King of independent cinema John Cassavettes and resembles his 1980 film "Gloria". It deals with an alcoholic woman who gets mixed up with a kidnapping plot when she hooks up with a woman in her AA meeting who is trying to get her son back. I think the movie captures that grit and subtle power of word and performance that Cassavettes always got but becomes inferior as the movie gets too complicated and long. A better and more sound film inspired by Cassavettes would be "She's So Lovely" which is a powerful movie with performances by Sean Penn, John Travolta and Robin Wright. I just couldn't stay with this story and I think it needed a rewrite and a more thorough editing job. Tilda Swinton is amazing in this movie though and was enough to keep my attention but I struggled towards the end keeping up with more absurd plot complications. If you like seeing an actress give a powerful, engrossing performance then you might like it. "Julia" is now available on DVD.

On DVD: 'The Informers'

'The Informers' (R) ***

Writer: Nicholas Jarecki based on novel by Bret Easton Ellis
Director: Gregor Jordan
Starring: Mickey Rourke, Billy Bob Thornton, Kim Bassinger, Winona Ryder, Brad Renfro, Rhys Ifans, Jon Foster, Amber Heard, Lou Taylor Pucci, Chris Isaak

"The Informers" at least will make you glad that the 80's are over. This strangely intoxicating movie is based on a book by Bret Easton Ellis who specializes in the indulgent me decade of the 80's right before Aids was about to arrive on the scene. He wrote the novel "Less Than Zero" (made into a movie with Robert Downey, Jr. and James Spader) that dealt with the same things "The Informers" does. It deals with drugs, loose sex, murder, crime, bad hair and sometimes bad music. This is a mosaic of the early 80's and is set in L.A. and tries to be like "Crash" and "Short Cuts" dealing with different characters in stories who all somehow become connected to each other. It is nowhere as good as those movies but I was somehow fascinated with this strange, messed up movie. This is a glorious car wreck of a movie that you don't want to watch but somehow can't keep your eyes off of. These are all characters that I actually should hate but again I just couldn't stay away from. There are good performances by Bassinger, Thornton, Rourke, the late Brad Renfro, Pucci,Isaak and a interesting one by Amber Heard. In this movie you deal with a kidnapper and his son (Rourke, Renfro), a movie producer and his estranged wife (Thornton, Bassinger), a lech of a father and his suffering son (Isaak, Pucci), a rock star and his manager and a young destructive couple (Foster, Heard). "The Informers deals with all these stories well for it is well directed and will make you hate the 80's again. This is either a really bad movie that I shouldn't even recommend to you or a guilty pleasure that is so bad it is good. All I can say is I never was bored, I saw some really good performances, I won't watch it again but yes I did like it in a strange way. "The Informers" is now available on DVD.

On DVD: '17 Again'

'17 Again' (PG-13) **

Writer: Jason Filardi
Director: Burr Steers
Starring: Zak Effron, Leslie Mann, Matthew Perry, Thomas Lennon, Michelle Trachtenberg, Melora Hardin, Nicole Sullivan, Jim Gaffigan

"17 Again" is a comedy in the tradition of the body/mind swap movies that date back to Jodie Foster in "Freaky Friday". This is where often a child and an adult of varying degrees swap bodies through magic and have to deal with the other's life. There are the good ones (Freaky Fridays), great (Vice Versa) and the classic ones (Big). This genre keeps coming back and this time it is an adult who tries to relive his high school years and transforms back into a teenager. The adult is played by Matthew Perry who doesn't really register in this movie and the teen is played by Zak Effron who is very good here. I wasn't really excited about this movie going in and the beginning is dumb and clumsy but once Effron takes over the movie gets better and I actually was into it. There is also Leslie Mann playing Perry's ex wife and Mann has joined my short list of actresses and actors that make me happy whenever I see them on screen, the ones that you know every movie they will be in is worth seeing just for them. She is very good here and funny as always plus Thomas Lennon from "Reno 911" is great as Perry's friend. You have a fun supporting cast, a very good performance by Effron and a story that starts to entertain. Then as the movie comes to an ending it becomes stupid, predictable and lets it's stars down. I really wanted to like this charming movie but I grew tired as the movie falls apart and becomes dumb. It is not a bad movie and I really like Zak Effron who I think has star potential with his easy screen presence and good looks and he is charismatic and charming. The movie comes close to being surprisingly good but needed a rewrite and it is definitely no "Big". I do look forward to seeing the next Leslie Mann movie though. "17 Again" is now available on DVD.

On DVD: 'Fast & Furious'

'Fast & Furious (PG-13) *1/2

Writer: Chris Morgan
Director: Justin Lin
Starring: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, John Ortiz, Sung Kang, Shea Whigham

The original "Fast and the Furious" was well fast and dumb but also sleek and entertaining and I even thought the sequel was fun. The third one didn't even have either of it's leads and was set in Tokyo and was a snooze. Now comes a fourth one with it's now established stars in Diesel and Walker coming back and trying to cash in on that magic form the original. It is back to the basics but I don't even care this time because this seems like a scene for scene rip off of the original. What a way to exploit some more cash out of an overdone franchise. This movie is dull, lifeless, stiff and there is not one point in any of this film where I had fun. Diesel and Walker don't even feel like they want to be here. Their acting is so lifeless and stiff and there is not really a credible villain. The only thing saving it is Michelle Rodriguez who I find tough, sexy and somehow I can never keep my eyes off of her but she leaves somewhere in the beginning. Now make a Fast and Furious movie around her and maybe we got something. "Fast & Furious" is now available on DVD.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

'Pirate Radio'

'Pirate Radio' (R) ***

Written and Directed by Richard Curtis
Starring: Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Bill Nighy, Rhys Ifans, Nick Frost, Kenneth Branagh, Tom Sturridge

Rock n'Roll will never die! That is the spirit that is behind the very entertaining "Pirate Radio". It is such a true statement as we all know and to think so long ago certain people wanted to shut it down. That is the goal behind Kenneth Branagh's politician who is trying to shut down a radio station broadcast from the seas in a giant ship. The time is the mid 60's and a slew of British bands were hitting it big and not any radio stations were broadcasting rock and roll 24/7. A motley crew of DJs aboard a ship started to play rock music against government wishes. The Parliament found it immoral and the material disgusting. Though this is not a message movie and it is not a history lesson. This is a light and entertaining movie with a killer rock soundtrack that you must own right away. You have The Kinks, Cat Stevens, The Turtles, The Beach Boys, The Yardbirds and The Seekers and many more (no Beatles though). This movie could have been an excuse to just sell a soundtrack but I found this movie fun and charming. The cast is great including one of our best American actors and some British legends. You have Phillip Seymour Hoffman as the lone American DJ. You also have Rhys Ifans (Notting Hill), Bill Nighy (Love, Actually) and Kenneth Branagh who are all great. You have beautiful women, nice surprise cameos and wall to wall great rock music. This is the same creators and director who gave us "Love Actually" (a modern Christmas classic) and they know how to entertain. You don't need to be a genius to give us a good entertaining time and these guys know it. Just sit back, enjoy the actors and listen to some great music.

'The House of the Devil'

'The House of the Devil' (R) ***1/2

Writer, Director and Editor: Ti West
Starring: Tom Noonan, Mary Woronov, Jocelin Donahue, Greta Gerwig

You could not wipe the big grin off my face at any point during "The House of the Devil"! Man did I love this movie with all my heart! I have been starving for this kind of horror movie for decades! I want to call it the best horror movie of the decade and I just might. Forget "Paranormal Activity", this is the most scared I have been during a movie since I was 12 years old. "The House of the Devil" will best be appreciated by those who grew up in the 70's and 80's. It is a flawless recreation of that period's slasher and exploitation devil movies. The thing is it is better than most of those movies and equally creates the same fun I had watching "Halloween" and the old "Texas Cahinsaw Massacre". If you have seen those old slasher movies or haunted house movies you will nod in recognition at every moment in this film. I wrote an article before about how I was tired of these unscary torture porn horror movies that have been shoved down our throat lately. This movie is in the style of those old slasher movies that took their time setting a mood before the final bloodletting. They created old school scares like doors creaking, bumps in the night and boogeymen jumping out at you. "The House of the Devil" does just that and I actually felt my heart racing and my palms sweating with a big lump in my throat.

"The House of the Devil" sets it up just right as a college girl sees an ad for a babysitter. She responds and we know right away from the creepy voice on the other line that she is doomed from the start. Her friend tells her she is crazy to do this but she needs the money! The babysitter character played wonderfully by Jocelin Donahue is obviously a throwback to the Laurie Strode character in the original "Halloween". She goes to the house and meets the occupants and of course they are creepy but damn she needs the money! The couple tell her that actually it is not a child but an adult who needs special care. As they leave we know where this is heading and it is heading towards a suspenseful roller coaster. The house is big, dark, spooky and creaks and why haven't we seen this adult she is sitting for? Then all strange occurrences start to happen and we in the audience are like saying "Get Out" but damn she needs the money! The movie for the most part sets up this creepy mood and builds and builds until let's just say you will be jumping in your seats! This movie is perfect in every way! It is suspenseful, scary, funny and I felt so strongly like I was a child in the 80's watching this scary movie that was going to give me nightmares. The settings, the costumes, the look of the film is a perfect recreation of that time. The acting is good and seeing pros like Tom Noonan and Mary Woronov was a kick. I had such a great time at this movie! I also found myself actually scared during a horror movie for the first time in a long time! It also brought back memories of me sitting alone in my big house that I grew up in Libertyville and being sacred out of my wits when I heard creaks and bumps in the night. Director Ti West gets it and he has created a loving throwback to the fun and terror of classics like "Halloween" and "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" and man if he hasn't made a horror movie that is almost equal to them.

On DVD: 'Valentino: The Last Emperor'

'Valentino: The Last Emperor' (PG-13) ***

Producer and Director: Matt Tyrnauer

Valentino is one of the best and most famous clothes designers in the World. For 45 years he has designed some of the most beautiful dresses worn by many actresses on the Red Carpet and by many beautiful women on the runway. This new documentary tries to get a rare glimpse backstage at fashion shows and as Valentino prepares to make the final touches on the dresses. I say the movie tries and gets a lot of rare moments except whenever Valentino tells the camera to go away because he is having a private conversation with his business and personal partner Giancarlo Giametti. They have been together for 45 years and the best moments are when they have arguments just like your typical marriage but they do love each other and it shows and they always make up. The film then focuses on whether this will be the last show for Valentino and if he will retire. It also covers his company when it is sold and explains that Valentino was never consulted about it. The emotional payoff is during what does turn out to be Valentino's last show and it is bittersweet and touching. I love the relationship between Valentino and Giametti because it is funny, bitchy and touching. It is also a strong lasting relationship that has gone on for years. The most powerful moment in the movie is when Valentino accepts an award and tears up as he thanks his life long partner. I liked the movie better than I thought I would because it focused on the person and his love of his life instead of boring me with fashion show details which I don't find interesting. Though looking at these dresses that Valentino designed I found them beautiful and impressive and now I know why he is a legend. "Valentino: The Last Emperor" is now available on DVD.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

On DVD: 'The Girlfriend Experience'

'The Girlfriend Experience' (R) ***

Writers: David Levien and Brian Koppelman
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Starring: Sasha Grey, Chris Santos, Phillip Eyton

Steven Soderbergh has made a lot of movies in his career and he has built an impressive resume of a few blockbusters ("Ocean's Eleven"), some groundbreaking independent ones ("Sex, Lies and Videotape") and a few low budget experimental ones with non actors and strange subject matter. A few years back he made a strange and wonderful movie called "Bubble" with a budget below 2 million and first time actors. It was the first movie released simultaneously in theatres and On Demand on cable. Soderbergh strikes again with the unusual and experimental film "The Girlfriend Experience" that stars a real life porn star. Sasha Grey plays a high priced escort who has sex with a select group of clients and is always trying to promote herself more. Soderbergh follows her in improvised scenes where we see her with her clients and the film goes back and forth with fractured scenes that are pieces to a puzzle. We never see the actual sexual acts because this movie has more on it's mind. It is a very interesting exploration of an escort's lifestyle that makes it one of the best movies about that subject.

Sasha Grey is a real life porn star who here plays Chelsea and she is very beautiful and plays the role well as best as we can expect from her. I didn't know what I was getting into with this story but I was surprised that I found it fascinating and thought provoking. Chelsea has her many clients and she also tries to have a relationship with Chris who is a personal trainer. She also tries to go away with a married man for the weekend and she thinks maybe I can settle down with this guy which makes Chris jealous. Now the movie is making me think how is it possible that an escort can settle down with one man while having fractured sex relationships with other men. What kind of relationship can she have with Chris? Is she going to then quit being an escort? This movie won't provide pat answers to these questions but when we see Chris's reaction to her going away with the married man we can kind of figure it out. This is a movie that might surprise you. It is short and gets the job done and might bring up a good post movie conversation over coffee which is what most of the very good movies do. "The Girlfriend Experience" is now available on DVD.

On DVD: 'American Violet'

'American Violet' (PG-13) ***1/2

Writer and Producer: Bill Haney
Director: Tim Disney
Starring: Nicole Beharie, Alfre Woodard, Michael O'Keefe, Tim Blake Nelson, Will Patton, Charles Dutton, Xzibit, Paul Guilfoyle, Tim Ware

"American Violet" is a powerful and engrossing independent movie based on a true life landmark case. It also gave me a great new discovery of a great new actress in a beautiful performance. This is a good court room drama with all the trimmings including an interesting case, great villains and suspenseful testimonies. Nicole Beharie plays Violet who is a young black woman who is divorced with four kids, two of them from two other fathers. Her mother is great support and she is played well as usual by Alfre Woodard. After a drug raid conducted by a District Attorney (Michael O'Keefe) Violet is targeted as a drug dealer who supposedly is dealing in a school zone. She denies this and it turns out that a drug addict has singled out her as a drug dealer. She is offered a plea bargain to admit guilt but she refuses because she did not do this. An ACLU lawyer approaches her to sue the District Attorney for racism as the drug raids only single out black people. Nicole Beharie is a beautiful, talented actress who gives an impactful and natural performance. The movie also has one of the best supporting casts including the great character actors Will Patton and Tim Blake Nelson as the two lawyers helping her out. There is also a great villain turn by Michael O'Keefe who is an under rated actor who I grew up watching and I have always loved in every thing he has done. You might remember him from "The Great Santini" and the television show "Roseanne" and here he is smug and evil and a perfect bad guy to hate. When depositions are given the movie becomes suspenseful and there is a final scene that is very powerful and very well written. This is an important and very well done movie with a character and story you care about and great performances. "American Violet" is now available on DVD.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

On DVD: 'Notorious'

'Notorius' (R) ***

Writers: Reggie Rock Bythewood and Cheo Hodari Coker
Director: George Tillman, Jr.
Starring: Jamal Woodard, Angela Basset, Derek Luke, Anthony Mackie, Antonique Smith, Naturi Naughton, Kevin Phillips, Marc John Jeffries, Christopher Jordan Wallace

"Notorious" is the real life story of Rap Icon Biggie Smalls and his rise and then fatal shooting due to a rap rivalry. Jamal Woodard gives a compelling and naturally engaging performance as Biggie as he goes from a life of drugs, to fame and then to a life of excess and danger. The movie is a little overlong and we have seen this story many times before but this has a slight edge because of it's subject. I Found Biggie as played by Woodard to be vulnerable, sweet sometimes and just a regular guy. Take away the rap career and the success and you have a normal and flawed man. He loves his mother and tries to be good to the women in his life but fails like others do. I found this movie interesting, well directed and acted and it kept my interest throughout. It covers Biggie's partnership with Sean Combs aka Puff Daddy, his romance with Lil Kim and Faith Evans and his at first friendly but then hostile relationship with Tupac Shakur that ends up in both of their deaths. The movie got me thinking about how sad that talented young black performers wind up getting killed just because of male bravado and poor communication. It kind of hit me as a parallel to what is happening in Chicago with teens getting killed for stupid reasons. Angela Basset is good as always as Biggie's mother, the actresses playing Kim and Evans are good and the story pulls us in and you don't even have to be a rap fan to enjoy it. "Notorious" is now available on DVD.

On DVD: 'Paul Blart: Mall Cop'

'Paul Blart: Mall Cop' (PG) ***

Writers: Nick Barkay and Kevin James
Director: Steve Carr
Starring: Kevin James, Jayma Mays, Keir O'Donnell, Bobby Cannavale, Peter Gerety, Adam Ferrara, Shirley Knight

Oh yes I am going to say it and I don't care. I liked Paul Blart: Mall Cop and this is not the first time I liked a movie that for many reasons I shouldn't have and that the critics ripped apart. I laughed quite a few times, enjoyed Kevin James's performance and appreciated it's slight parody of "Die Hard" I also love discovering new actresses that you instantly find infectious and who give a good comic performance. The actress is Jayma Mays and like her sweet performance in the instant classic television show "Glee" she just pulls you in. I also find Kevin James to be a very engaging and effective performer and he has that sweetness combined with a simple funny everyman approach that I find appealing. Mays and James are a good fit together and their little love story is touching and funny here. I don't say this much but I think this is a good movie for the family, not too crude and not too violent. It moves fast and entertained me most of the time. I like it's slight digs at "Die Hard" with variations on those characters. This movie is actually better than "Die Hard With a Vengeance". It also is better than a similar movie based on a mall security cop "Observe and Report" with Seth Rogen that had a lot of the same character types. That was more of an adult, black comedy version that I thought I would like better. I go for the dark, twisted vulgar approach most of the time but that failed because it didn't successfully do it's job. Paul Blart is more successful at it's goal. I felt a slight admiration for this because it reminded me of the guilty pleasures I saw as a kid like the Tim Conway, Don Knotts films of the late 70's and 80's and "Under the Rainbow" with Chevy Chase from 1981. Dumb movies for sure but I liked them as I do this movie because they tried, they could have been worse and they weren't afraid to be stupid. "Paul Blart: Mall Cop" is now available on DVD.

On DVD: 'Crossing Over'

'Crossing Over' (R) **

Writer and Director: Wayne Kramer
Starring: Harrison Ford, Ray Liotta, Ashley Judd, Jim Sturgess, Cliff Curtis, Alice Braga, Alice Eve, Summer Bishil, Jacqueline Obradors, Leonardo Nam

"Crossing Over" is in the form of Oscar winner "Crash" and the epics "Traffic" and "Amores Perros" interlocking multiple stories exploring one hot button topic. "Crossing Over" deals with immigration as it follows agents Harrison Ford and Cliff Curtis, an aspiring Australian actress trying to get a Green Card and two small stories about an Arab American teenager and a Korean teenager and some other side stories. The movie's intentions are good and there is great acting and compelling situations but some of the stories are very good and the others lackluster. The movie as a whole just doesn't come together as a complete powerful piece. My favorite deals with that Arab American girl who wears a Burka to class, lives with her family who is illegally working in the States and gets in trouble in school which leads to more problems with the parents. She reads an essay out to the class telling that she understands why 9/11 happened and that the perpetrators had the right ideal but went about it wrong. This leads to complications with her family and the result is heartbreaking and powerful and Summer Bishil is amazing as the girl! My other favorite deals with a beautiful Australian actress with similarities to Naomi Watts who gets tangled up with a creepy immigration officer played by Ray Liotta and blackmail. Alice Eve plays the actress and she gives a great memorable debut performance and being naked through most of the movie might help out her career.

The weak links in this movie are stories about a British singer played by Jim Sturgess trying to pass himself off as a Rabbi to get a Green card and surprisingly the Harrison Ford story. Ford is good again as always and Cliff Curtis has become an effective actor but the story lets them down. It deals with a family murder and Ford taking care of a child whose mother can't be found after Ford busts her as an illegal immigrant and she escapes. There is also the murder mystery involving the partner played by Curtis that has a laughable and preposterous ending. The movie slightly fails but the acting is good and Alice Eve and Summer Bishil give amazing performances and have announced their arrival. "Crossing Over" is now available on DVD.

On DVD-'X Men Origins: Wolverine'

'X Men Origins: Wolverine' {PG-13) **

Writers: David Benioff and Skip Woods
Director: Gavin Hood
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Lynn Collins, Liev Schreiber, Danny Huston, Taylor Kitsch, Danny Huston, Ryan Reynolds, Dominic Monaghan, Will i. am

"X Men Origins: Wolverine" is the fourth movie in the X Men franchise this time focusing on one character who is probably the most memorable character in the group. This focuses on Wolverine before he joined the X Men and it is a solid but forgettable movie full of some great fight scenes but no momentum. Hugh Jackman is fine as Wolverine, Danny Huston is great as the villain and Taylor Kitsch and Lynn Collins look good but it takes too long to set up the story It also has a weak villain in Liev Schreiber who goes back and forth between evil and maybe good? This is a better movie than the third X Men but I wish they would make a fourth of the original series because how many of these origin movies can they make before we "Cry Uncle!" "X Men Origins: Wolverine" is available now on DVD.

'The Box'

'The Box' (PG-13) **

Writer: Richard Kelly based on the short story "Button, Button" by Richard Mattheson
Director: Richard Kelly
Starring: Cameron Diaz, James Marsden, Frank Langella, James Rebhorn, Holmes Osborne

Richard Kelly's first movie "Donnie Darko" was a box office bomb that became a cult classic thanks to a group of devoted fans and I was not one of them. I admire Richard Kelly's dark, original vision and that he tried to do something different. I just don't get why people love that movie? I am a big fan of cult films that are dark, confusing and different but not that one. Be careful what you wish for Kelly fans because since "Donnie Darko" had become successful on DVD you were then given "Southland Tales" which is Kelly's second film and it is horrible and insufferable. That second movie joined my short list of movies I wanted to walk out of in the middle and I rarely do that. Well "The Box" I can pretty much guarantee will not become a cult hit and I actually think it is his best movie so far. I always give an actor and a director another chance. Heck I even gave Tyler Perry 12 tries before I liked a movie of his.

I think "The Box" is the most coherent and entertaining story Kelly has given us up until a certain point. That is thanks to it being based on a short story by the great writer Richard Matheson who writes suspenseful and out there stories. This is the same short story "Button, Button" that was a basis for a "Twilight Zone" episode. The film is set in 1976 and a couple played by Cameron Diaz (lame Southern accent) and James Marsden (no Southern accent?)are given a box by a disfigured and mysterious stranger played well and solemnly by Frank Langella. The box has a button and if the couple pushes it someone they don't know will die and they will receive a million dollars. There are some rules to this though and this movie is off to a good start. It makes you think if you would push the button if given the chance and with my situation now in real life I would probably do it. We know of course that if they push it something brown will hit the fan. So the movie has you going and then something happens that grinds the film to a halt. The movie becomes hazy, confusing and boring. Kelly throws in NASA experiments, aliens, the ideal of heaven or purgatory I think and the movie then lost me as did his first movie not because it was confusing but because it became sloppy and dull. Then the last half hour turns out to be fun and suspenseful as twists and turns start to develop but by then I lost interest. "The Box" is not a bad movie it just doesn't move smoothly or make an impact after the bravura first half hour. I still won't give up on Kelly though.

'Michael Jackson's This Is It'

'Michael Jackson's This Is It' (PG) ***1/2

Director Kenny Ortega

Michael Jackson will forever be remembered for the strange life he had in the latter part of his career. Most of his critics saw the strange turbulent path his life took and it takes this new film to remind us that Michael Jackson is one of the most creative and most talented Pop singers and performers of our time. I felt great sadness watching "This Is It" because it was obvious from footage in this film that Michael had more in him. This is a simply fun, entertaining and poignant concert film that is rougher in style than most concert films but still powerful and bittersweet. "This Is It" is a glimpse at Michael rehearsing for a new string of concerts he was going to perform in London. We see Michael rehearsing with choreographer and director Kenny Ortega with the musical numbers and the use of sets and videos that were going to be part of the concerts. Boy were these concerts going to be something special. I was afraid with the big production numbers that this was going to look gaudy and silly but I was impressed. From a recreation of the number "Thriller" with it's video that looked better than the original to a beautiful ballad that showed beautiful pictures of nature and the environment. All the greatest hits are covered as they are played out in their entirety as Jackson and his dancers rehearse. He has wonderful back up dancers that look great and an outstanding guitarist in 17 year old Orianthi Panagaris who is amazing on "Beat It" (as good as Eddie Van Halen) and more boys will want to take up guitar lessons when they see her.

I wasn't too excited to see this because I thought it would be a rush job and a reason to exploit Michael's death for money but after watching it I think it is a celebration of him and his music. All the songs are covered here and they are well performed and Micheal can still move and sing like he is in his 20's. There were rumors that you could see he was about to keel over and die and that he would look old, tired and there would be signs of drugs but that is ridiculous. Michael Jackson looks good and could still perform and I think these concerts would have been amazing for what I could see. I actually felt sad because I would actually go to see these concerts and wanted to after the movie was over. It will make you appreciate his music and M. J. more. With all the child molestation charges and weird physical transformations we forget how great his performing was. He comes off like a perfectionist in this movie but never yells and always says "God Bless You". He is genuinely nice and probably not as harsh as say other arrogant performers we heard of. I really don't care about my actor's personal lives because I just want to see them act. I felt that way about Jackson that I just want to see him perform and I think everyone should. I have not been a big fan of his music later in his career so I was surprised how much this movie entertained me. You shouldn't judge someone until you have walked in their shoes or moon walked in them.

Friday, November 13, 2009


'2012' (PG-13) ***

Writers: Harold Kloser and Roland Emmerich
Director: Roland Emmerich
Starring: John Cusack, Amanda Peet. Chiwetel Ejiofor, Thandie Newton, Oliver Platt, Tom McCarthy, Danny Glover, George Segal, Woody Harrelson

Writer and Director Roland Emmerich sure doesn't make small movies! He is the creative force behind many Hollywood Blockbusters like "Independence Day" and now the gargantuan "2012". I hated "Independence Day" because it was smug, stupid and a rip off of "Star Wars". I expected to hate "2012" but I was completely surprised and actually thought it worked. Maybe because John Cusack was in it or maybe it had a good cast who do a good job of selling what could have been a goofy movie. The dialogue is mostly hokey and dumb but you will be too busy watching the special effects to notice. Compared to the lackluster "War of the Worlds" this actually creates tension, scares and thrills. I would not take a small child to this movie. John Cusack does a better job here than Cruise did in "War of the Worlds" because he is more identifiable and more likable. At first I thought he was miscast but he actually convinced me he could help save the World. The supporting cast is also excellent selling this especially Oliver Platt in a scene stealing performance.

Cusack's character like Cruise in "War of the Worlds" is estranged from his wife who is seeing someone else. The son calls his Dad by his first name and is estranged from his father and likes Mom's boyfriend better. Cusack has to repair his family at the same time he has to save the World when it is about to be swallowed up. You know the plot already and the theme is how all the Countries pull together besides their differences to save the Planet. There is a wonderful roller coaster like action set piece as Cusack and his family have to drive then finally fly through mass destruction. I might be sick here but I think it would make a great ride at an amusement park with chunks of Earth, cars and debris flying at you as you try to get to safety. The movie is fun and suspenseful and the special effects are amazing and look kind of real. Cusack, Harrelson and Platt are great and I don't think you will be bored despite the 2 hour 40 minute running time. This movie gets the job done and is probably the best disaster, End of the World movie I have seen recently. Get yourself a big tub of popcorn, sit back and strap yourselves in and have a good time as long as you don't think too much.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Classic on DVD-'Say Anything'

'Say Anything' (PG-13) (89) ****

Writer and Director: Cameron Crowe
Starring: John Cusack, Ione Skye, John Mahoney, Eric Stoltz, Lilli Taylor

We all need and should have someone like Lloyd Dobler in our lives. Maybe you have had someone like that and if you have you are really lucky. Lloyd Dobler is one of the most classic characters ever written for the screen and he is flawlessly played by John Cusack. Cameron Crowe is one of my favorite writers and here he has written a funny and touching classic that is one of the best movies ever about high school. It is also great because it is about life, love and family and has a mature and multi layered story. Lloyd is attracted to Class Valedictorian Diane Court and many in his class thinks she is out of his league. Lloyd pursues her and asks her out and she accepts mostly because as Cusack plays him he is charming and decent and wins her over. A true love relationship blossoms and this is one of the sweetest and warmest relationships ever on screen. Lloyd is such a wonderful character and we root for him and Diane to make it. Cusack is so charming and winning in this role, Ione Skye as Diane is beautiful and also decent and there is great comic support by Lilli Taylor in a wonderful subplot. This movie is known for it's classic boom box scene as Lloyd tries to win back Diane to Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes" and what could have been corny is played brilliantly and touchingly. There is also a great performance by John Mahoney as Diane's father and a subplot about the father surprised me. I had never seen such a compelling adult story in a teenage movie before. The father and daughter story is also very sweet, touching and heartbreaking. This is a feel good movie that will reaffirm the power and beauty of love that everyone knows can exist. It is a movie about life and all the growing pains and the story is universal and suitable for any audience. This is one of my all time favorite movies and it has not aged one bit. "Say Anything" is available in a special 20Th anniversary DVD and it is a must own! Also check out Crowe's other classics "Jerry Maguire" and one of the best movies of the decade " Almost Famous".

'Precious': Based on the Novel 'Push' by Saphire'

'Precious' (R) ****

Writer: Geoffrey Fletcher based on the novel 'Push' by Saphire
Director Lee Daniels
Starring: Gabourey Sidibe, Monique, Paula Patton, Mariah Carey, Sherris Shepherd, Lenny Kravitz

Once in a while a movie comes a long with such strong and compelling characters and a powerful story that knocks you on your ass! "Precious' is such a movie and what an unrelenting, powerful and finally uplifting movie it is! This is what we go to the movies for! To immerse us totally into another World, keep us there and move us in powerful ways. This is the incredible story of Precious who is a large, quiet and uncomfortable teenage girl who is emotionally and physically abused by her mother and was raped by her father who has now left. She became pregnant by the father and had a child and now is pregnant again by the same father. She is a smart girl in school but is somehow illiterate. She is also picked on by other kids at school and on the street. Her mother takes out her welfare frustrations and the father leaving out on Precious. She is mean and unrelenting in her abuse of Precious. There is a silver lining as she is steered towards a special school that can help her learn to read. She does try to escape the abuse by her mother by fantasizing about being famous and a model.

This is a fascinating story and Precious is one of the most compelling characters I have ever seen on screen. Newcomer Gabourney Sidibe gives a natural and powerful performance that will get her an Academy Award nomination and possibly a win. Her face masks a lot of pain and emotion and Sidibe is wonderful capturing this girl's pain. Monique is equally powerful as the mother and if you know who Monique is you will be amazed by her performance. She has the tough role because her character is evil and selfish and a monster but Monique has to try to gain our sympathy in a powerful final scene but can we possibly feel anything for her besides hate? There are also two more Oscar caliber performances by Paula Patton who is so good as Precious's teacher at her new school. She is one of the people that truly cares about Precious and Patton makes her a strong, beautiful and great influence on her. There is also an unrecognizable Mariah Carey who completely threw me for a loop with a subtle and nuanced performance as a welfare case worker(the girl can act!). Also Sherri Shepherd from "The View" is great and unrecognizable in a small role. All actresses are outstanding and powerful in this movie.

The director Lee Daniels who also wrote the powerful movie "Monsters Ball" has done a flawless job getting these great performances from these actresses. He is a great storyteller does a great job of capturing the emotion and the power of the story. He also handles the tricky fantasy scenes very well and they don't distract us at all. There are many brutal and ugly scenes of abuse that made the audience jump and gasp but it does not come off as exploitative. There are also many touching and beautiful scenes between Sidibe and Patton. There are also girls from Precious's class which are small roles but every character has nuance and detail. This is her new family and they also help to spring Precious out of her shell and out of her unrelentingly sad life. There is a truly powerful ending scene in a welfare office between case worker Carey, Monique and Sidibe and you will see how powerful Monique is in her performance and if she doesn't win an Oscar it will be a travesty! I cried all throughout this movie from beginning to end and not always because of the pain. This is an ultimately uplifting movie with scenes of beauty and grace and there is humor that relieves a lot of the tension. These are some of the most memorable characters and performances you will ever see on screen. This is also one of the most powerful and engrossing films of this or any other year. You will never forget Precious and her story. This is rough material but so worth seeing! "Precious" is one of my favorite movies of the decade.

'The Men Who Stare At Goats'

'The Men Who Stare At Goats' (R) **

Writer: Peter Straughan from a novel by Jon Ronson
Director: Grant Heslov
Starring: George Clooney, Ewan McGregor, Jeff Bridges, Kevin Spacey, Stephen Lang

I love original movies and I love black comedies for I have a wicked sense of humor and I like fresh outlooks on familiar movie subjects. "The Men Who Stare At Goats" is a wacky black comedy and a different look at war movies. It resembles something like the movie "Mash" and my favorite War film "Three Kings". "Goats has great characters and great individual scenes but can't quite come together for something truly magical and hilarious. The set up is great as newspaper reporter McGregor tries to track down a story about a secret army unit of psychic soldiers who use the mind to kill instead of weapons. He tracks down a soldier played wonderfully by George Clooney. What a wonderful career Clooney is building! He is becoming a great actor and one of our best movie stars. He is also I think the smartest man in the movie business and I don't think he has made one film that I thought was bad. He always picks challenging characters and he is perfect here. The movie also has another dependable and outstanding performance by the great Jeff Bridges (in my top five best actors). Here he is in "Big Lebowski" mode but to show how great Bridges is he makes this character somehow different. Kevin Spacey is also hilarious in a small role but I didn't find this movie as good as it could have been. First I think the McGregor character is weak and a distraction. I wish there were more scenes between Clooney, Bridges, Spacey and the great character actor Lang and I felt there could have been more scenes like that. I like the beginning half hour and the last half hour but found the middle boring. This movie made me laugh but there is something missing and I think the screenplay could have been polished more. There is a classic comedy trying to get out but it doesn't quite make it but then again this could become a cult classic.

On DVD-'Anvil! The Story of Anvil'

'Anvil! The Story of Anvil' (NR) ***1/2

Director: Sacha Gervasi
Starring: Steve "Lips" Kudrow, Robb Reiner

Anvil is one of the best Heavy Metal bands that a lot of people don't even know about. They were an unusual band from Canada with a huge following in the early 80's with a huge fan base but something happened to them as they disappeared from the scene and faded away. The new documentary "Anvil! The Story of Anvil" tries to find out what happened as it tracks down the two founding members. Anvil was destined for greatness as they were emerging at the same time The Scorpions, Bon Jovi and Whitesnake were about to hit it big. That stardom eluded them though and this wonderful new movie tries to track them down. Director Sacha Gervasi tracks down the lead singer Steve "Lips" Kudrow and the drummer Robb Reiner as he finds them doing odd jobs but still trying to make beautiful and thrashing music. This is a documentary but it has two of the most memorable characters you will ever meet in the charasmatic and emotional Kudrow and the smooth and cool Reiner. This is a fascinating documentary and all kinds of music fans will absolutely love this! "Anvil! The Movie" was seen as a real life Spinal Tap. There are some similarities and it shows how Rob Reiner's "This Is Spinal Tap" was brilliant. This though is the real thing and you will grow to love and be fascinated by these men!

Success is a fickle thing. No one knows why some bands become successful and can stay together and other bands can't quite make it. The band's music is very good but talent can only go so far. This movie wonderfully revisits Kudrow and Reiner as they do their odd side jobs while still enjoying playing their music. Now decades later they want to recapture that music with some new members. They go on the road and play a tour through different countries and they try to reemerge on the scene with the help of a well meaning but incompetent road manager and the band can't understand a word she is saying sometimes. They also deal with an incompetent club owner who won't pay them. Some of the incidents that happen to the band could fill a Spinal Tap sequel. This is not a joke though because you really grow to love these guys and you root for them and you want to see them succeed. Steve Kudrow has a big heart and he loves Reiner like a brother. He is very emotional and takes a lot of frustration out on Reiner. Reiner is so cool though that he can shrug it off a little but there is only so much one can take and you can see why this band couldn't keep it together. Their relationship is like a marriage and it has many ups and downs. Rock band members do go through a lot together like a marriage and some marriages work (The Rolling Stones) and some don't (Anvil). Reiner and Kudrow are just good men with good hearts and I loved following their new adventure as they also try to make a new album. There are many tense scenes between the two as they try to recapture glory.

This movie is great and highly entertaining and is more complelling then 95% of recent movies. Gervasi conducts great interviews from other rock stars who were influenced by Anvil including guitarist Slash and Lars Ulkrich from Mteallica. Also he interviews family members and the wives of Reiner and Kudrow and they are great support. This is a very funny, powerful and fascinating look at a great band and you will be rooting for them to succeed. This is one of the best documentaries ever made and one of the best movies of 2009. It is available on DVD and there is a great extended interview with Lars Ulrich that is fascinating and the DVD commentary by Gervasi, Kudrow and Reiner is hilarious and must be heard and this movie is a definite msut see!

On DVD-'Obsessed'

'Obsessed' (PG-13)) ***

Writer: David Loughery
Director: Steve Shill
Starring: Idris Elba, Beyonce Knowles, Ali Larter, Bruce McGill, Christine Lahti, Jerry O'Connell

'Obsessed is one of those slick, trashy guilty pleasures you shouldn't like but boy is it entertaining and here the filmmakers do a decent job of telling this goofy story. This is yet another variation of "Fatal Attraction" which was an over rated button pusher. I like this movie better and it has two great performances, one by a good new actor doing good work and one a complete surprise. Idris Elba is a fresh and good new actor and he is great as an executive tempted by conveniently a temp in his office. She is played by Ali Larter and I was shocked at how great she is. She owns this role looking very beautiful and sexy with that dangerous side just peaking out trying to emerge. Needless to say she starts trying to seduce this successful, good looking man who happens to be married to a nice beautiful wife who is with an adorable child. The wife is played by Beyonce Knowles. Knowles is getting better as an actress but she is just a little short of being a really good actor. She only comes alive in the end when she kicks into "Oh no you don't, you ain't gonna steal my man"! mode. I was never bored with this movie and I was entertained and I had fun. This might not be rocket science but it is effective. The main selling point of this movie is at the end when Larter and Knowles get into a wicked cat fight. It is a pretty good cat fight but more vicious then arousing if that is the type of thing you are looking for. This movie also has one of the best character actors in Bruce McGill and Ali Larter who I couldn't take my eyes off of. She gives a great performance, is sexy and looks "pretty good". "Obsessed" is now available on DVD.

On DVD-'The Great Buck Howard'

'The Great Buck Howard' (PG) ***

Writer and Director: Sean McGinley
Starring: John Malkovich, Colin Hanks, Emily Blunt, Ricky Jay, Tom Hanks, Steve Zahn, Debra Monk, Donny Most

The Amazing Kreskin was a "Late Show With Jonny Carson" regular who was a hypnotist and a pretty crazy guest. I remember watching him a few times and the bemusement that Carson displayed towards him. "The Great Buck Howard" gives us a character inspired by and based on Kreskin and it does a very good job of capturing that Kreskin wackiness. This is a light, quirky comedy that is a lot of fun. John Malkovich plays Buck Howard and he is pitch perfect. Malkovich can do anything and is more known for his dramatic roles but here he is hilarious and never panders down to his character. Buck Howard is really small time but he is very arrogant and cruel to his employees. One of those employees is played by Colin Hanks and he is becoming a fine actor who can play the everyman pretty well just like his father has built a career on. He becomes Howard's assistant and takes a lot of abuse and his father (played by Tom Hanks) thinks he is wasting what could be a law career. The best scenes are between Malkovich and Colin Hanks as an underlying respect grows between the two. Less effective is the romantic story between Colin Hanks and Emily Blunt who plays a publicist along to help. This kind of distracts from the story of Howard and his assistant. Malkovich is amazing in this role and I am convinced he can do anything. There is a fun supporting cast and a great look at the second rate entertainment business. This reminds me of my favorite Woody Allen film "Broadway Danny Rose" in it's depiction of the lower depths of show business. Buck Howard might be an arrogant jerk on the surface but I like his dedication and perseverance. I also liked this movie which is light, easy, entertaining and a nice look at an unconventional friendship with a little pathos at the end. "The Great Buck Howard" is now available on DVD.