The Grinch Review

Illumination Delivers Another Perfectly Acceptable if not Necessarily Exceptional Animated Diversion in this Re-Telling of the Dr. Suess Classic.

Bohemian Rhapsody Review

This Queen biopic Fails to Transcend the Genre the Way its Subjects Transcended the Music Scene, but at Least the Music is Good.

Overlord Review

Overlord Combines the Terror of War with the Terror of a Zombie Apocalypse and Accomplishes Exactly what it Means To.

The Nutcraker and the Four Realms Review

An All-Star Cast Attempts to Usher The Nutcracker Story to a New Generation Via Disney Blockbuster, but Unfortunately the Results Fall Short of the Ambition.

A Star is Born Review

Bradley Cooper Writes, Directs, Sings, and Stars in this Fourth Incarnation of this Story Alongside Lady Gaga to Rapturous Results.

WANDERLUST Review

I was admittedly worried when "Wanderlust" was pushed from last October to February. Though neither month is usually good stomping grounds for movies that studios expect to do well, February is decidedly worse. It is that time of the year when we are coming off all the high prestige projects that are recieving Oscar nominations and all the big budget effects-driven summer films. That time of year when studios dump movies on unsuspecting crowds that might venture out to something they may not have seen were it released at any other point in the year. Fortunately, "Wanderlust" is as funny and ridiculous as I could have hoped for. Director David Wain has a history of not only collaborating with co-writer Ken Marino but also star Paul Rudd. The three have collaborated on "Wet Hot American Summer" and 2008's "Role Models" as well as "The Ten". While they seem to have really found their groove with "Role Models" they continue to grow in the right direction with "Wanderlust". While this may not be as consistently funny as "Role Models" was it certainly has the amount of charm and despite hitting familiar beats story-wise it also has the guts to go a little gonzo and stretch for the slightly weird. This might appeal only to certain movie-goers tastes but it allows itself this quality by sporting such a widely-liked cast that stand by the out-there material while delivering some seriously good laughs along the way. "Wanderlust" may be all I needed it to be but I can understand where some will not be as pleased with it, but even they have to admit that for this time of year "Wanderlust" is giving us a break from the other releases we might have settled for.

George (Paul Rudd) and Linda (Jennifer Aniston) are
relieved after spending their first night at Elysium.
The story here is rather straightforward and like "Role Models' doesn't really matter all that much because the actors involved create characters (or stick with their personas) that elevate not really the material but simply make us more invested in them and convince us they are worth hanging out with for an hour and a half. Rudd and Jennifer Aniston are George and Linda, two New York Manhattanites who love their city life, well kinda. George has an office job that he hates but does well in supporting Linda who hasn't yet found her niche. When we meet them they have just purchased a "micro-loft" which is realtor speak for studio apartment. Linda is trying to pitch a documentary about penguins with cancer to HBO in her latest effort to find a career when George loses his job and now broke and having to sell their new place they have no choice but to travel down to Atlanta where George's brother Rick (a perfectly macho/idiotic/snarky Ken Marino) has a job for him at his porta potty business. Along their way George and Linda stumble upon a hippie commune posing as a bed and breakfast where they have a night of care-free fun that hasn't seemed to be a part of their life for a long time. As it is called, Elysium is a place of free love, pot smoking, and vegans. "Wanderlust" has such a great supporting cast populating the members of this little tribe we understand why George and Linda are so taken by them. Frequent Wain and Rudd collaborator Joe Lo Truglio as Wayne the nudist wine maker, Malin Akerman (The Heartbreak Kid) is Eva who wants to experiment the free love philosophy with George, Kathryn Hahn as Karen (who always seems to be playing the crazy lady whether it be alongside Rudd in "Our Idiot Brother" or alongside Rudd in "How Do You Know" and let's not forget "Step Brothers", "The Goods" etc...) and Justin Theroux as headmaster Seth who steals every scene he decides to show up in. Even Alan Alda as Elysium patriarch Carvin gets a few solid laughs and seems to be having a great time.

George watches on as Linda loves her new found freedom,
but Seth (Justin Theroux) seems to enjoy her changes more.
It is in this humbled and awkward group of people that George and Linda find a kind of solace from the busy world of, as Seth would put it, "web of beepers and Zenith televisions and Walkmens and discmens and floppy discs and zip drives, laser discs, answering machines and Nintendo Power Glove..." and where director Wain has tapped into a culture with a bizarre sense of humor that is a perfect platform for Rudd and the rest of his cast to lampoon. As Seth, Theroux gets his first real acting break with a role he can really bring something to after being the behind the scenes go-to-man for years. Every line the guy spits out is so full of ridiculous, made-up philosophy it all feels like great improv and on a movie like this you can't ask for much more. He is complimented nicely by the earnest Rudd who is so lovable and has an essence of being that every guy, that family man and to see him go all the way for it and sacrifice himself for a joke is not just endearing but it's hilarious. Every time. Wain knows when to let Rudd shine too, despite the obvious emotional trips his character is taking we watch as George knows what he should do and instead goes completely the wrong direction until his late in the game epiphany that rolls out the expected conclusion. As said earlier though the story stays within a safe structure but it is safe to say the content does not. What made "Wanderlust" so appealing was the idea of being what in essence the movies are about: escaping reality. And as Linda, Aniston continues her winning streak and lets her inhibitions fly free. She is hilarious in small moments and completely convincing in her turn. She is a vet at playing opposite comedic leading men yet this time she is given room to spread her own wings and she nails it.

Rick (Ken Marino) tries to get out of a sticky situation with
wife Marissa (Michaela Watkins).
While "Wanderlust" is certainly not going to be for everyone, for those that love Paul Rudd (how couldn't you?) it is a good time and there are plenty of laughs to be had. Everyone on screen seems to be having such a good time and none of them taking themselves seriously. It is an engaging film that offers up a trip none of us would likely mind taking given the grind of the work week and stress of bills. We are given a buffet of engaging characters and are treated to 98-minutes of consistently funny gags and chuckles. It certainly won't go down as Wain and Rudd's greatest collaboration but it is a noteworthy addition to their already stellar collection. Whether they are sending up cynics and helpful organizations, summer camps or hippies there is a quality about their films that give them a "we're just messin with ya..." vibe that never makes it feel like it would actually offend anyone, rather they would just laugh along at the truth the movie is hitting on and therefor truly bringing the funny. In a cinematic world of comedies that are either big hits or big misses it is nice to have a laid back romp that can offer a getaway and a fun time. Plus if you're not into that whole scene there is always the fall back reason to see this movie which is full frontal nudity by senior citizens. Suck on that for a while and tell me you don't love the idea of "Wanderlust".

WANDERLUST Review

I was admittedly worried when "Wanderlust" was pushed from last October to February. Though neither month is usually good stomping grounds for movies that studios expect to do well, February is decidedly worse. It is that time of the year when we are coming off all the high prestige projects that are recieving Oscar nominations and all the big budget effects-driven summer films. That time of year when studios dump movies on unsuspecting crowds that might venture out to something they may not have seen were it released at any other point in the year. Fortunately, "Wanderlust" is as funny and ridiculous as I could have hoped for. Director David Wain has a history of not only collaborating with co-writer Ken Marino but also star Paul Rudd. The three have collaborated on "Wet Hot American Summer" and 2008's "Role Models" as well as "The Ten". While they seem to have really found their groove with "Role Models" they continue to grow in the right direction with "Wanderlust". While this may not be as consistently funny as "Role Models" was it certainly has the amount of charm and despite hitting familiar beats story-wise it also has the guts to go a little gonzo and stretch for the slightly weird. This might appeal only to certain movie-goers tastes but it allows itself this quality by sporting such a widely-liked cast that stand by the out-there material while delivering some seriously good laughs along the way. "Wanderlust" may be all I needed it to be but I can understand where some will not be as pleased with it, but even they have to admit that for this time of year "Wanderlust" is giving us a break from the other releases we might have settled for.

2012 Oscar Predictions

This is the first year I think I have actually seen all of the films that are contenders or have actors competing in all of the major categories. I had to go back and rent A Better Life as I was surprised to see it's lead actor Demian Bichir recieve a best actor nomination over Michael Fassbender for his fearless portrayal of a sex addict in Shame. There were several surprises and many disappointments within this years nominees but I believe that with how the academy has picked their nominations we can narrow down who the winner will be in each repective category.

First things first, is anyone else upset Harry Potter didn't recieve any love? Oh well, though I was glad to see Terrance Malick and his extremely ambitious and personal Tree of Life recieve nominations for best picture and best director, I was upset by the fact The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and its director David Fincher were completely skipped in these categories. Fincher has been making great, envelope-pushing films for years and should have taken both the directing and picture categories with last years The Social Network, but here's hoping he will get his due sooner than later. It only makes me angrier that films like Albert Nobbs and War Horse who were critically divided recieved several nominations while Drive (which was the best film of the year in my opinion) couldn't even get a best supporting actor nom for Albert Brooks only getting one for Best Score.

Other surprises included The Adventures of Tintin not recieving a best animated feature award (though it got its due at the Globes) as well as Tilda Swinton not recieving a best actress nomination for We Need to Talk About Kevin and Bridesmaids only getting one acting nomination for Melissa McCarthy (thank God) though I was pulling for Wiig to get a best actress nom and hoping the film might even make the Best Picture category. Another widely debated film was Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close and despite it only recieving two major nods I thought they were well deserved as I was fully invested in the film. Never will everyone be happy though and so with that, here are my picks for who will win and who should win...

Best Picture

The Artist
The Descendants
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
The Help
Hugo
Midnight in Paris
Moneyball
The Tree of Life
War Horse

Despite "The Artist" not being my favortite film from last year I understand why the Academy is so in love with it. I enjoyed it myself very much and think it was a great idea, a loving valentine to cinema. Do I think there are other contenders like "Midnight in Paris", "The Descendants", "Hugo", "Moneyball", and "The Tree of Life" or even films that weren't nominated like "Bridesmaids", "50/50" and especially "Drive" that carried more weight and would win any other year? Yes absolutely, these are all great films. Last year I was upset with the Academy for not allowing itself to recognize a film that was all about the culture and world we live in now when they gave the best picture award to "The King's Speech" rather than "The Social Network"  but "The Artist" is significant and stands out for what it has brought to the art of making movies and love for the reason these kinds of awards shows even exist. For that it deserves the highest honor this year.

What Will Win: The Artist
What Should Win: The Artist

Best Supporting Actor

Kenneth Branagh, My Week with Marilyn
Jonah Hill, Moneyball
Nick Nolte, Warrior
Christopher Plummer, Beginners
Max Von Sydow, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Though I thought "Beginners" was a lovely film with good performances all around, I actually found Ewan McGregor's lead role more complex and deserving of the recognition Christopher Plummer is getting for his turn as an elderly cancer patient who comes out of the closet after his wife dies. It is a brave performance, no doubt, but I think if there was one supporting role in a film that really changed the rest of the movie this year it was Max von Sydow in "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close". All of the other nominees are fully deserving of these honors and I probably enjoyed "Moneyball", "Warrior" and "My Week with Marilyn" more than the two front runners films, but if there was one aspect of "EL&IC" it was Sydow's turn as a mysterious mute who aids our protagonist in his journey.

Who Will Win: Christopher Plummer
Who Should Win: Max von Sydow



Best Supporting Actress


Berenice Bejo, The Artist
Jessica Chastain, The Help
Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids
Janet McTeer, Albert Nobbs
Octavia Spencer, The Help

Don't get me wrong, I loved Octavia Spencer as the sassy Minny. She stole every scene she appeared in, that was until we met Jessica Chastain's Celia Foote. Chastain has had an incredible year with both "The Help" and "The Tree of Life" being nominated for best picture and her underrated turns in both "The Debt" and "Take Shelter". Chastain completely embraced the character of Celia and infused the movie with a real sense of transcendent emotion. We could see ourselves in Celia's position and we related most to her. I am glad Spencer won the Golden Globe and she will likely take the Oscar as well, but it would be a pleasant surprise to see Chastain get awarded for her incredible work here as well as in several other features this year.

Who Will Win: Octavia Spencer 
Who Should Win: Jessica Chastain

Best Actress

Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs
Viola Davis, The Help
Rooney Mara, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady
Michelle Williams, My Week with Marilyn

Meryl Streep even felt bad that she took the Best Actress award at the Golden Globes last month. As good as her portrayal of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher is, this award is destined for Viola Davis. We all knew she was a force to be reckoned with after her supporting nod a few years ago for "Doubt" but with "The Help" Mrs. Davis has cemented her status as one of our greatest actresses. The Academy will no doubt give her the gold this year, and deservedly so, allowing "The Help" to sweep all of the best actress categories.

Who Will Win: Viola Davis 
Who Should Win: Viola Davis

Best Actor

Demian Bichir, A Better Life
George Clooney, The Descendants
Jean Dujardin, The Artist
Gary Oldman, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Brad Pitt, Moneyball

Many people have Clooney and "The Artist's" Jean Dujardin in a head to head race for this award, but I think this will ultimately end up going to Clooney. The Academy loves him and "The Descendants" is a great film. If "The Artist" is going to take best picture and therefore director, they have to at least acknowledge Clooney's turn as a confused father, husband and lawyer searching for real meaning to life after the loss of his wife. Clooney will get it, but in all honesty I don't think anyone deserves it more than Brad Pitt. "Moneyball" is a great, great movie and will be overlooked in pretty much every category, but what makes the film work so well, its heart, is Pitt as Billy Beane. He is a wonder to watch on screen, fully inhabiting every aspect of this man in his present and what has made him the way he is. Pitt has given countless performances that have deserved Academy Awards and this is his pinnacle. He deserves to take one home for "Moneyball".

Who Will Win: George Clooney
Who Should Win: Brad Pitt


Best Director

Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris
Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist
Alexander Payne, The Descendants
Martin Scorsese, Hugo
Terrence Malick, Tree of Life

Many people will disagree with me on this one, but "The Tree of Life" is a film unlike any other. Both in its artistic aspirations and storytelling ambition. Director Terrence Malick has crafted a gorgeous and touching film and while the Academy generally gives the best director prize to that of the Best Picture winner I don't think it would be a bad thing to recognize the difference in the presence of a film and the craftmanship with which one is made. "The Artist" has so many elements that have made it so loved, and Michel Hazanavicius is of course a huge factor in this, but every aspect of "The Tree of Life" was up to Malick and he has accomplished a manifesto-like film. This mysterious director should be pulled from reclusion to accept a Best Director award.

Who Will Win: Michel Hazanavicius
Who Should Win:Terrence Malick


Best Adapted Screenplay

The Descendants, Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash
Hugo, John Logan
The Ides of March, George Clooney, Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon
Moneyball, Steve Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin. Story by Stan Chervin.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Bridget O’ Connor and Peter Straughan

I say the academy will gives this to "Hugo" as it leads the pack with this years most nominations but won't take home any from the major categories. While I have neither read Brian Selznick's "The Adventures of Hugo Cabret" or "Moneyball" simply hearing the long, and sometimes bleak road it took for "Moneyball" to make it to the screen and how the book, in no way, made itself easy to translate into a cinematic piece of art stands out for the job well done that the writers did. While "Hugo" was adapted by John Logan (Rango, Gladiator, and not to mention the upcoming Lincoln and Skyfall) and was a wonderful film that gave Scorsese an opportunity to tell a new kind of story it was likely more a less stressful endeavor than that Steve Zaillian (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) and Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network) had in trying to translate Michael Lewis's book to the big screen. Both are wonderfully executed films, but if we are looking at the writing I'd like to put my money on "Moneyball".

What Will Win: Hugo
What Should Win: Moneyball

Best Original Screenplay

The Artist, Michael Hazanavicius
Bridesmaids, Annie Mumolo and Kristen Wiig
Margin Call, J.C. Chandor
Midnight in Paris, Woody Allen
A Separation, Asghar Farhadi

This is absolutely no competition. While I would have liked to have seen "Bridesmaids" score some kind of recognition and while the surprise nomination of "A Separation" in this category worries me a little as it is a brilliantly written and subtle film, I can think of no better time I had at the movies this year than watching Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris". The story is a piece out of everyone's hearts and fulfills a fantasy so many people have. To watch a version of ourselves in Owen Wilson's Gil Pender get all giddy as he meets his idols from the 1920's infuses us as an audience with real excitement; genuine excitement over the film we are watching. I absolutely loved this film and though it isn't a heavy enough hitter to find its self vying for a bigger title, the category of Original Screenplay belongs to the romantics.

What Will Win: Midnight in Paris
What Should Win: Midnight in Paris

Best Animated Feature

A Cat in Paris
Chico & Rita
Kung Fu Panda 2
Puss in Boots
Rango

Can I just say that while I loved the adventure that Tintin took me on, it could not touch the originality that "Rango" brought to the screen earlier in the year. I found "Rango" so interestingly original I was delighted how much I enjoyed it. When "Tintin" took the statue for Best Animated Feature at the Globes I was more shocked than when Meryl beat Viola, but that is only to say the Globes were giving Spielberg a little something for his great effort and saving the real prize for the true winner. As the Academy did not even recognize "Tintin" with a nomination the award will surely be going home in the right hands on the 26th when "Rango" claims its spot as the true Best Animated film of the year.

What Will Win: Rango
What Should Win: Rango

2012 Oscar Predictions

This is the first year I think I have actually seen all of the films that are contenders or have actors competing in all of the major categories. I had to go back and rent A Better Life as I was surprised to see it's lead actor Demian Bichir recieve a best actor nomination over Michael Fassbender for his fearless portrayal of a sex addict in Shame. There were several surprises and many disappointments within this years nominees but I believe that with how the academy has picked their nominations we can narrow down who the winner will be in each repective category.

First things first, is anyone else upset Harry Potter didn't recieve any love? Oh well, though I was glad to see Terrance Malick and his extremely ambitious and personal Tree of Life recieve nominations for best picture and best director, I was upset by the fact The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and its director David Fincher were completely skipped in these categories. Fincher has been making great, envelope-pushing films for years and should have taken both the directing and picture categories with last years The Social Network, but here's hoping he will get his due sooner than later. It only makes me angrier that films like Albert Nobbs and War Horse who were critically divided recieved several nominations while Drive (which was the best film of the year in my opinion) couldn't even get a best supporting actor nom for Albert Brooks only getting one for Best Score.

Other surprises included The Adventures of Tintin not recieving a best animated feature award (though it got its due at the Globes) as well as Tilda Swinton not recieving a best actress nomination for We Need to Talk About Kevin and Bridesmaids only getting one acting nomination for Melissa McCarthy (thank God) though I was pulling for Wiig to get a best actress nom and hoping the film might even make the Best Picture category. Another widely debated film was Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close and despite it only recieving two major nods I thought they were well deserved as I was fully invested in the film. Never will everyone be happy though and so with that, here are my picks for who will win and who should win...

THIS MEANS WAR Review

Most of the time I can agree with critics, or at the very least understand where they are coming from. Most of the time I am even willing to defend the critics and their picks of non-mainstream films for the best of the year and academy award nominations, but I am also very much a fan of the mainstream. I enjoy the big budget summer flicks, I don't mind it every now and then when style overtakes substance as long as it is entertaining I'm good to go. I just have to like it, simple as that and I will have your back. I have to feel, in a way, defensive of director McG and his rapid style of filmmaking that more times than not does allow for substance to be thrown by the wayside, but that is not to say he hasn't tried. Just look at "We Are Marshall" or even "Terminator Salvation" where while these weren't great they strived to be a little more than you ever thought a McG production might try for. With "This Means War" the director is back to flashy, stylish action sequences and pretty stars with a film that oozes fun. Like his "Charlie's Angels" movies this is a refreshing jolt of a movie that is action packed from the opening sequence all the way until the last frame. It is bright, full of colors and though the storyline is rather improbable (and by that I mean completely ridiculous) it is just a farciacal piece of fantasy that plays upon the archetypal cliches that we all expect spies to be dashing, handsome guys who have plenty of time for relationships. The triple threat of Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine, and Tom Hardy doesn't hurt either as each of them looks to be having great fun and not taking themselves too seriously. You shouldn't take the movie seriously either. Don't listen to the critics on this one and go have yourself a good time at the movies.

Tuck (Tom Hardy) and Lauren (Reese Witherspoon) keep
things fresh on their paintballing date.
One of the main complaints I heard about the film before going in was the fact many people couldn't tell whether this was a romantic comedy or an action flick. The first thing wrong with this issue is that it is even an issue at all. Why audiences have been brainwashed into thinking a film has to fit into a specific type of category doesn't make much sense but beyond that is the fact a film should be able to cross genre borders and become fun mash-ups that offer a little for each side of the couple that will likely be seeing this. It did take the marketing standpoint of being a romatically infused film for a Valentine's day crowd and there is no problem with that. I saw it with my wife and we both really enjoyed it. She isn't generally a fan of straight up action movies and I don't gravitate towards a film just for the action but it was nicely done here and the balance was handled better than I would have originally thought. Best of all it was funny as well. Consistently we were both laughing whether it be Chelsea Handler throwing in her little bits or the complications that naturally arise from one woman dating two men, never mind the fact the two men are best friends and spies. That is the set-up we have here in case you weren't sure. Reese Witherspoon is the cutie who somehow has had no luck with relationships and at the urging of her friend Trish (Chelsea Handler) begins dating more. Lauren (Witherspoon) gets in over her head though when she begins seeing Tuck (Tom Hardy) after meeting on a dating website (yea right) and then runs into FDR (Chris Pine) in the video store where they hit it off (how convienent). It just so happens these two boys are super secret spies who work for the CIA (Angela Bassett) and are the best of friends.

Unbeknownst to Lauren FDR (Chris Pine) is best friends
with her new date Tuck.
There is also the subplot about some guy named Heinrich who is after the boys for killing his brother. This was certainly something that could have been handled better, but it could have been a lot worse as well. This thread plays just enough into the story that we forget about it during all the antics of FDR and Tuck competing for Laurens affections that when it does come back around to bite them in the ass it feels rather tacked on. I can't decide what else they could have done with it other than cut it. Still it serves as the motivation for the big action set piece at the end of the film where Heinrich again isn't really that essential to the plot, it could have been anyone chasing them and I guess that is why they made him the most stereotypical of villians. This doesn't really matter though as the real meat of the movie is given to the competition over Lauren. There is one scene inparticular where (in a kind of creepy way) Tuck and FDR each sneek into Lauren's house and collect notes of what she likes and what would make good dating spots. The single take and well choreographed motions of all involved was impressive and expretly crafted. It was a shining moment that hinted at what McG's imagination is certainly capable of. That he is not all explosions and car chases, that he actually has an interest in building character into his film by the way he shoots it. This was all the more evident due to how well his three lead actors played the roles as if they were all kind of in on the joke. Hardy is especially endearing and likeable as Tuck, a gentleman who just wants someone to share life with while Pine plays up his Captain Kirk persona as the smooth talking playboy just looking for a fun night. You may know where all of this is heading the moment each guy locks eyes with Lauren but there is fun in guessing who she will choose or if she will choose either after she learns their secrets. Most important though is the fact that no matter how ridiculous the movie gets it is consistently fun and engaging. Allowing us to leave logic at the door and be swept up in ideal fantasy.

Tuck and FDR meet for the first time in front of an
awkward Lauren.
I can understand a person who is fickle about their details and needing a film to be more logical than anything else not understanding this movie or liking it, but if you are that type of moviegoer you should have had no interest after seeing the first minute of the trailer. Otherwise, I really can't understand what you could possibly dislike about "This Means War". Yes, it has enough action for those guys that don't like to admit it was a chick flick and enough romance for any women who go into this thinking it is pure rom com. That isn't the point though, the point is overall it is a funny movie you can enjoy and never think about again. It won't change you as a person, it won't leave you thinking about it hours later. It is simply a fun way to spend two hours. Oscar winner Witherspoon has had a bit of bad luck at the box office lately with "How Do You Know" flopping in December of 2010 and the underrated "Water for Elephants" not living up to expectations last year. It is not that these are bad choices, but it might be a bad sign for her star power as the opening weekend for this wasn't all that impressive either. What I'm getting at is that despite the slump as of late Witherspoon is still a blessing to any film and she holds this one together. While Hardy and Pine should be equally comended for bringing a different flow of charisma to their roles it is Witherspoons Lauren who has to make us believe and understand why these guys who even go through the trouble. She does that in spades and it is to her charm that McG owes a debt of gratitude. His film is fun and he would have no doubt accomplished this same level of fun without such an actress in the lead role, but it may not have been as believable as this outlandish tale already is. Give it up for Reese and go have fun at "This Means War".

THIS MEANS WAR Review

Most of the time I can agree with critics, or at the very least understand where they are coming from. Most of the time I am even willing to defend the critics and their picks of non-mainstream films for the best of the year and academy award nominations, but I am also very much a fan of the mainstream. I enjoy the big budget summer flicks, I don't mind it every now and then when style overtakes substance as long as it is entertaining I'm good to go. I just have to like it, simple as that and I will have your back. I have to feel, in a way, defensive of director McG and his rapid style of filmmaking that more times than not does allow for substance to be thrown by the wayside, but that is not to say he hasn't tried. Just look at "We Are Marshall" or even "Terminator Salvation" where while these weren't great they strived to be a little more than you ever thought a McG production might try for. With "This Means War" the director is back to flashy, stylish action sequences and pretty stars with a film that oozes fun. Like his "Charlie's Angels" movies this is a refreshing jolt of a movie that is action packed from the opening sequence all the way until the last frame. It is bright, full of colors and though the storyline is rather improbable (and by that I mean completely ridiculous) it is just a farciacal piece of fantasy that plays upon the archetypal cliches that we all expect spies to be dashing, handsome guys who have plenty of time for relationships. The triple threat of Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine, and Tom Hardy doesn't hurt either as each of them looks to be having great fun and not taking themselves too seriously. You shouldn't take the movie seriously either. Don't listen to the critics on this one and go have yourself a good time at the movies.

THE VOW Review

There is a certain caution with which you have to approach "The Vow". We know that it is going to be a sappy love story and that it is meant to induce tears and appreciation for the one you love in your own life. It is manufactured for the masses and is no doubt the perfect Valentine's date movie as that is the reason I saw it and the packed theater was full of couples old and young. There is nothing wrong with mass appeal, I actually get excited when I am allowed the chance to watch a new release with a large audience so I can gauge their reaction as compared to my own. Even with a movie I wasn't overly excited to see like "The Vow" it was still an opportunity to see how mainstream movie-goers would react to the latest in romantic drama's, a genre that since Rachel McAdams breakout film "The Notebook" has dipped in quality. I'll start by saying that it certainly wasn't as bad as you might have heard. Yes, it is a love story, but the premise is a touching sentiment and despite the trailer being the epitome of every romantic cliche the film as a whole is not actually as romantic as one might expect. It is based more around the honest struggle a man and woman in such a predicament might feel. The film has dressed up the two main characters as young liberals who are all about their art and contributions to that community, but all the extra stuff is just fluff. The core story the film tells is a sad, horrible situation that truly did turn out okay in the end. in some ways it is refreshing while in other ways it is almost regressive. That is shows glimpses of genuine care and love though is an accomplishment and for that I can't bash "The Vow". I'd feel bad about it.

Leo (Channing Tatum) and Paige (Rachel McAdams)
become newlyweds in "The Vow". 
If you have seen the trailer for the film you essentially know what is going to happen, but that isn't to say the movie doesn't give you a few moments where you second guess the conclusion. There were a few times I actually thought it might go the way of no choice but to come to terms with the matter of fact circumstances that were the result of a car accident. It would have no doubt let the audience down and made them wonder whether the movie was even worth watching, but luckily for the makers of the film they can stick with their "inspired by true events" bit and rely on the fact that the couple this was based on are still together and happily married with two children. It at least gives it a little more credibility and lends a helping hand to the tone of the film. At first glance this feels as artificial as many other romantic comedies of late and on the surface, it is. We meet young college of the arts students Leo who is a guitar strumming, care free guy who wears a cool hat and Paige, the new girl at school who is looking to do what she always dreamed of. We aren't immediately given their history, rather we are shown how quickly and how deep they fall in love. It is charming and thanks to committed performances from both McAdams and Tatum this is more convincing than initially expected. It is quickly delved into where our two love birds are victims of weather and roads where they are rear-ended by a truck and sent to the hospital. In quick flashes we see highlights from the time they met to their impromptu wedding that you have to admit was pretty fun and original. Leo wakes up quick and doesn't have much to show for his injuries but Paige seems to have lost a portion of her memory, forgetting the last several years of her life and anything pertaining to Leo.

After Paige loses her memory she tries to put everything
back together by creating a timeline of pictures.
While this is all rather dramatic and more than a writer could hope for when it comes to desperately romantic situations, what the movie does that I can get behind, that I can really commend it for is that it takes out that cynical view of love. We forget that this is a story easily turned into a cash cow to profit from the completely commercial holiday that is Valentine's day. Instead, there is such a genuine heart to the film that we don't see these characters as contrived versions of ourselves (despite their artsy yet profitable jobs/hobbies). What we do see is the stripped down basics of the human person, that he is in love with her and we are delivered all the reasons and moments why. Not only though does he love her, but he appreciates her, he laughs at her and he can't imagine experiencing his life without having her to share it with. The fact that all of this is threatened by a chance accident that brings into the picture Paige's estranged family who has never met Leo and with this kind of second chance try to regain her into the family. Sam Neill plays the judgmental and typical high society father that wants his daughter to follow in his footsteps by forcing her into law school. Jessica Lange is the mother who clearly misses her daughter and can only hope her memory doesn't return as to why she left for the city and a new life in the first place. It is once Paige is re-introduced to her old life, the only life she remembers, that the manipulation begins with the return of an old flame (Scott Speedman) and a mystery woman who clearly has something to do with Paige's life decisions. It is at once frustrating and depressing to see Leo go through what he has to in order to gain what is rightfully his, but depressing in that the writers found it necessary to keep piling on complications to heighten the situation. Their is enough tragedy in the fact she doesn't have a single memory of her husband. There is no need to saturate that with other factors, just give us the bear, raw meaning of love prevailing.

Leo and Paige: it is love at first sight.
There is a mixed bag of a reaction to "The Vow" and I am probably making this more difficult than it has to be, but this is a genre of film that has seen some of its landmark productions. In the "heyday" of Hollywood it was all about big, sweeping, romantic tales and now they have been relegated to generic half comedies that hardly resemble anything anyone really goes through when dealing with that all too complex emotion. "The Vow" at least attempts an honest interpretation of what that emotion when felt between two equals can mean, and it also strives to show why, if you are lucky enough to find a partner that compliments you, that you should not take them for granted. It has hints of greatness in moments like Paige asking for things that run much deeper in Leo's mind than she could ever imagine and her, caring enough to want to try and give him what she knows once existed. It is billed as a story of making this married couple go through the process of falling in love again, but what this really ends up being is a man fighting for a woman that doesn't know him. There were times I would get annoyed with the characters, especially Paige and her apprehensions, but I can only imagine being in her position. I have to give it up to Channing as well, I have never thought of him as a good actor. He is wooden in most things and is only there as eye candy. We better get used to him though as he is set to be in everything this year. He gives one of his best performances as Leo though and gives us a real person to hang on to as we are guided through this mostly contrived set-up with a pure heart and determination. This isn't all bad and certainly isn't the worst romantic drama you could see, but I'd still rather watch "Crazy Stupid Love" for the fifth time than see this again.

THE VOW Review

There is a certain caution with which you have to approach "The Vow". We know that it is going to be a sappy love story and that it is meant to induce tears and appreciation for the one you love in your own life. It is manufactured for the masses and is no doubt the perfect Valentine's date movie as that is the reason I saw it and the packed theater was full of couples old and young. There is nothing wrong with mass appeal, I actually get excited when I am allowed the chance to watch a new release with a large audience so I can gauge their reaction as compared to my own. Even with a movie I wasn't overly excited to see like "The Vow" it was still an opportunity to see how mainstream movie-goers would react to the latest in romantic drama's, a genre that since Rachel McAdams breakout film "The Notebook" has dipped in quality. I'll start by saying that it certainly wasn't as bad as you might have heard. Yes, it is a love story, but the premise is a touching sentiment and despite the trailer being the epitome of every romantic cliche the film as a whole is not actually as romantic as one might expect. It is based more around the honest struggle a man and woman in such a predicament might feel. The film has dressed up the two main characters as young liberals who are all about their art and contributions to that community, but all the extra stuff is just fluff. The core story the film tells is a sad, horrible situation that truly did turn out okay in the end. in some ways it is refreshing while in other ways it is almost regressive. That is shows glimpses of genuine care and love though is an accomplishment and for that I can't bash "The Vow". I'd feel bad about it.

SAFE HOUSE Review

Many people will bash "Safe House" for being exactly what it promised to be. This is because they wanted more from it, they expected, with such a top notch cast, for it to deliver a little more than the standard CIA-gone rogue story. You shouldn't expect more though, simple as that. This is a February release that boasts enough talent and enough action sequences to warrant the price of admission and get you into a seat and ready for a film that doesn't let up. No, Denzel is not working again with Tony Scott, though director Daniel Espinosa would like to have you think so with his tinted film stock and contrast to color ratio a bit off. Sadly, this is no "Man on Fire" but it fits nicely in line with other recent Denzel thrillers like "The Taking of Pelham 123" and "Unstoppable". Reynolds redeems himself somewhat in the wake of two bombs and with a strong supporting cast in Brendan Gleeson, Sam Shepard, and Vera Farmiga it is inevitable that you won't be at least entertained by the film. I'm not saying this is high art and it is nothing close to original, but it means well and it delivers on our expectations, occasionally even exceeding them. If you plan to see "Safe House" though you most likely already know this. You know what to expect and more importantly what not to. What you do get is a high octane, brutal and gritty picture that creates an aura around Denzel as being the most badass CIA agent ever. Mission accomplished.

Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds) prepares his safe house
for its first guess in a long time.
The set up might be the best part about the film though and despite most of it being given away in the trailer we are engaged from the first sequence where Reynolds Matt Weston and Washington's Tobin Frost are inter-cut in their proceedings leading up to their confrontation. Frost is the rogue CIA agent that has a secret meeting with a mysterious man who is of course a devious looking guy and they exchange some kind of high tech chip that contains what is no doubt some very important information. This triggers a group of strange assassins to hunt down Frost and try and extract that information from him, but we don't exactly know why. Meanwhile, Matt Weston is just a guy trying to get ahead in life and has currently been serving 12 months monitoring a safe house in South Africa. As the trailer shows you the safe house is compromised and Weston gets his chance to step up to the plate and prove himself as a real agent when he is given the task of bringing Frost in. From here it is a series of shoot outs and narrow escapes as Weston tries his best to be a serious agent without letting Frost into his mind and Denzel plays it very much like we would expect Denzel to play it as he runs around with that air of superiority that tells you he is much smarter than you are. Not that this isn't exciting and fun to watch it hints that the layers of the plot shouldn't really matter, but Espinosa keeps the narrative on track and doesn't let his gun battles run away with the story. It is not quite a cat and mouse thriller, but it contains that consistent tone that speaks to the audience and says all is not what it appears to be and though we also probably knew that from the trailer, it is nice to see the film stay so committed to being more than the average action flick.

Vera Farmiga and Sam Shepard play CIA officials who have
the fate of both Weston and Frost in their hands.
You have seen this film before, no doubt countless times, but there is a level of understanding with this film. It knows what it is and it flaunts it unabashedly. It executes its story with finesse and documents its action in the free hand, sloppy style that mimics the films environment. The straightforward, no hesitation with which Frost kills his enemies is inherently the way a sociopath might act. He is a jaded agent, one who knows his lies have become his truth and that he can hardly tell the difference anymore. He shows no hint of conscious and will do anything to get him ahead, to keep him winning. Denzel plays it perfectly. He is one of only a few actors that can truly be as charismatic and ooze appeal in a villainous role as he can playing the hero. He dominates every scene he is in and gives Reynolds, the one usually playing the charming, charismatic type a chance to play opposite his stereotype. I actually really enjoyed Reynolds performance here. Despite his obvious physical stature he is still a guy who is insecure and vulnerable to the task at hand and makes us as unsure about his chances as he probably feels. There is an unnecessary love story tacked on for Reynolds that somehow managed the to nab the final scene in the film (no spoiler there!) but despite each of these actors having to speak in dialogue that only a Hollywood action thriller would provide they still come off as likeable and honest performances that along with the great and intense fight scenes and exhilarating chase sequences escalate this to a solid action flick that sticks to its guns while doing them a little bigger than some of the other boys.

Carlos Villar (Ruben Blades) helps out his old friend
Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington) in a time of need.
I really enjoyed the movie, even with seeing a late show of it and yawning before I entered the theatre I never once was given the opportunity to be bored or even consider nodding off. The audience I watched it with seemed to generally enjoy it as well, especially when Washington let his little Denzel-isms run rampart on the rest of the cast. Reynolds holds his own though despite the bite the name Tobin Frost offers, together these two more than capable actors deliver a predictable yet entertaining ride. It will certainly fulfill your need for action until we get closer to the summer months and the higher-budgeted actioners start to arrive (especially that new Bourne installment that was so strategically played before this movie). Even then it will be hard pressed to find one that has the privilege to cast someone as commanding as Washington in the lead role. I said in the beginning, that if you go in expecting what the film has promised then you will not be let down. Through the process of writing the review that remains true but I think even now I might appreciate the ferocity and blunt force the movie produces with a no apologies type mentality that forces us to confront these characters and their predicaments. Yea, this may be standard stuff but it pulls you in and doesn't let go. Its good solid action and really, would you want it to be anything else?

SAFE HOUSE Review

Many people will bash "Safe House" for being exactly what it promised to be. This is because they wanted more from it, they expected, with such a top notch cast, for it to deliver a little more than the standard CIA-gone rogue story. You shouldn't expect more though, simple as that. This is a February release that boasts enough talent and enough action sequences to warrant the price of admission and get you into a seat and ready for a film that doesn't let up. No, Denzel is not working again with Tony Scott, though director Daniel Espinosa would like to have you think so with his tinted film stock and contrast to color ratio a bit off. Sadly, this is no "Man on Fire" but it fits nicely in line with other recent Denzel thrillers like "The Taking of Pelham 123" and "Unstoppable". Reynolds redeems himself somewhat in the wake of two bombs and with a strong supporting cast in Brendan Gleeson, Sam Shepard, and Vera Farmiga it is inevitable that you won't be at least entertained by the film. I'm not saying this is high art and it is nothing close to original, but it means well and it delivers on our expectations, occasionally even exceeding them. If you plan to see "Safe House" though you most likely already know this. You know what to expect and more importantly what not to. What you do get is a high octane, brutal and gritty picture that creates an aura around Denzel as being the most badass CIA agent ever. Mission accomplished.

CHRONICLE Review

I did not look kindly upon "Chronicle" when the first trailers came out. Not even four months after the terrible excuse for a "found footage" film that was "Apollo 18" comes another movie using the same technique on a different genre. Since "The Blair Witch Project" this idea of mock documentaries seemed to have been tailor made for the horror genre. It made a standard method the audience had grown tired with new again, by using its own unique way of telling a story that mounted the tension and scares in a way that never gave anything away but still made your blood run cold. It has evolved over the years giving us some winners (the Paranormal movies) and some that we would rather forget even existed (The aforementioned Apollo 18 and countless direct to DVD releases) . I can't say I didn't enjoy attempts like "Cloverfield" or even "The Last Exorcism" but again, they fit into the specific genre that can benefit from this type of technique. Could super hero movies? That is the question posed and the answer, surprisingly, is yes. The way in which "Chronicle" lures you in and sets up our three main characters is a refreshing and raw perspective on a tale we've seen countless times before. It has an exciting vibe from the moment these three guys discover what they can do. It is like watching home videos and putting yourself in their place because the powers they attain are what every little boy dreams about when they are little...and maybe still a bit now. I'm just saying, you try and watch this movie and not attempt to move stuff with your mind as you leave the theater.

Dane DeHaan as Andrew Detmer, Michael B. Jordan as Steve
Montgomery and Alex Russell as Matt Garretty in ``Chronicle.''
We are introduced to Andrew first. As played by Dane DeHaan he is a reclusive high school senior that for one reason or another decides to begin filming everything. He feels like an outcast and the rest of the kids at school give him no reason to think otherwise. Except for maybe his cousin Matt (Alex Russell) who Andrew will occasionally open up with he has no one he can call a friend. His mother is sick and dying while his father is an injured fireman you was injured on the job and now lives off the disability checks. With his abusive father and sick mother who clearly loves him, but has no strength to defend him we are introduced to a teen that feels no purpose in life and will no doubt relate to many kids in the audience that feel like an underdog everyday. The writers are smart to make this an opportunity for those who feel similar to Andrew a way to live through him and feel a sense of redemption while also teaching that age old lesson of with great power, comes great responsibility. That to let the emotion get the better of you and to act out will only end in creating more of a barrier between yourself and those you yearn to be closest with. Besides doubling as a kind of after school special though, "Chronicle" feels fresh and layers its fast paced story by getting to the point quickly and never over-developing any one theme or idea. Things are only hinted at by the time we move to the next scene and it works, especially with the found footage technique. Though this was slightly distracting at first, once the boys start to better control their abilities they are able to make the camera float behind them which lends a more cinematic feel to the piece. It is a gimmick, no doubt, but director Josh Trank uses it to his advantage and builds the exciting, personal tone with big-blockbuster scale.

Andrew lets his dark side take over his new found abilities.
When Andrew is dragged to a party with Matt they along with class favorite Steve (Michael B. Jordan) come across some type of alien (maybe?) artifact buried deep in the ground. The early scenes after their encounter with the source of their abilities are the best as each reacts with a genuine and honest sense of humor and shock. It is nothing short of fun, joy even. The narrative doesn't hit the standard script points but instead builds our involvement with the characters through a series of adventures in which they test out their abilities. Whether it be learning to control things with your mind or fly we see it all from the exuberant mind of three young leads who aren't at first concerned with the ramifications of what these powers might cause but are instead just pumped because they can seemingly do whatever they please. The possibilities are endless and it is when they do come to realize this that Andrew's mind begins to flourish into those that have humiliated and those that continue to do so because they have no idea what he is now capable of. This unavoidable resolution can be seen coming from the opening shot of the film, but my only disappointment in "Chronicle" is how quick it descends into standard, mash-up action that doesn't feel as personal, as meaningful as those earlier experiments. It reaches a point where we forget that there was ever a good time in Andrews life, that things almost turned around before they took a turn and tailspin into the irretrievable. I provides a strong case for a legit drama but instead of focusing more intently on the characters that he has so well established, Tank opts for Mayhem and delivers what will no doubt please the masses when he could have given them something closer to revolutionary.

Matt is forced to make some tough decisions when Andrew
uses his powers for his own, hateful purposes.
Though I was not going into "Chronicle" with high hopes it is always a pleasant surprise when a film not only exceeds expectations but becomes a film you enjoy and want to watch again. I actually wanted there to be more to the film, it is one that would make no sense to have a sequel, but where i wouldn't mind paying to see it because I became that invested in the characters and want to know more about their lives. They could even do a prequel where the kids didn't have powers and I would feel at least a little more complete. I did like that this was brief in its execution though, any film that chooses this technique can only tests its limits with an audience for so long, yet I feel I would have preferred a little more insight and a little less rushed conclusion. In the climax of the film we see the result of years of pressure and hate spew out of a young man in the form of rage backed by unbelievable ability. It is at once exhilarating but also frightening in that those who are unable to handle the role they've been dealt deal with it in the most destructive of ways. Ultimately self-destructive. "Chronicle" shows hints of greatness with real emotion such as this displayed throughout, but can't help but be peer-pressured into building to a point where the end result is that of every other super hero movie on the market. You proved me wrong "Chronicle" but then you let me down. Let's hope this was only an origin story and you have more coming our way, only then will I possibly forgive you.

CHRONICLE Review

I did not look kindly upon "Chronicle" when the first trailers came out. Not even four months after the terrible excuse for a "found footage" film that was "Apollo 18" comes another movie using the same technique on a different genre. Since "The Blair Witch Project" this idea of mock documentaries seemed to have been tailor made for the horror genre. It made a standard method the audience had grown tired with new again, by using its own unique way of telling a story that mounted the tension and scares in a way that never gave anything away but still made your blood run cold. It has evolved over the years giving us some winners (the Paranormal movies) and some that we would rather forget even existed (The aforementioned Apollo 18 and countless direct to DVD releases) . I can't say I didn't enjoy attempts like "Cloverfield" or even "The Last Exorcism" but again, they fit into the specific genre that can benefit from this type of technique. Could super hero movies? That is the question posed and the answer, surprisingly, is yes. The way in which "Chronicle" lures you in and sets up our three main characters is a refreshing and raw perspective on a tale we've seen countless times before. It has an exciting vibe from the moment these three guys discover what they can do. It is like watching home videos and putting yourself in their place because the powers they attain are what every little boy dreams about when they are little...and maybe still a bit now. I'm just saying, you try and watch this movie and not attempt to move stuff with your mind as you leave the theater.

THE WOMAN IN BLACK Review

Patience. Patience is a virtue and we must not only possess this characteristic to watch Danny Radcliffe's new ghost story "The Woman in Black" but we must have it in order to relate to his character Arthur Kipps. There is a point in a ghost story where you just get the hell out of there and never look back. No doubt this doesn't usually bode well for characters in a movie but at least we can respect them enough because they have the sense to flee when they have the chance. Mr. Kipps is not looking for a way out. He embraces his involvement with the supernatural and to a point we can understand why, but in the end things are just a little too grim, a little too bleak that he could actually conceive to find any real hope in his situation. This train of thought doesn't exactly go along with the conclusion of the film which was actually a nice break from modern horror flicks, but as depressingly sad as it was there was a hint of peace in it. That it is actually what our protagonist wanted, and if that is the perspective you take on it (I surely did) it will feel all the more haunting to you. That is the accomplishment of "The Woman In Black"; it is not a gory all out screamfest. In fact, dialogue is few and far between. The movie is all about tone and telling a good ole fashioned ghost story in the most effective of ways. It may not break any new ground or offer as many scares as I originally hoped for, but it succeeds in becoming a haunting tale I wouldn't mind hearing around a campfire.

Mr. Daily (Ciaran Hinds) helps our protagonist go about
his business when visiting his small town.
The tale of the woman in black is one that has its origins in the early eighties. A novel is the source material for the menacing spectre that was later adapted into a stage play that still runs in London's West End and is the second-longest running play in the history of the West End. It was also adapted into a television film in 1989 but I had neither seen any of these previous incarnations nor had I read the novel. I went into the movie knowing little about the story other than what the trailer indicated and I love experiencing a scary movie that way. "The Woman In Black" begins as dark as one might expect. A chilling sequence in which the stage is set for our title villain. We meet the young lawyer Kipps as he is getting ready to travel to a remote village for work on sorting out the estate of a deceased couple. It is clear upon arriving that the locals intend to get him out of town as quick as possible, but Arthur is hard pressed to prove his worth at his job. You see, he recently lost his wife during the birth of his child and has been in a state of grieving ever since. The film shows us this without over explaining. It gives us small clues and indicators as to who these characters are by their decisions and not by having the script's dialogue tell us. Slowly the clues become more evident as to what the ghost of a woman does to the local villagers and why they fear her. Why they all believe in her. It is taken with an ease of acceptable truth. Only the town's wealthy Mr. Daily (Ciaran Hinds) tries to ignore the rumors of the haunting. Mr. Daily becomes a sort of companion in Arthur's struggles to get past a personal complication with the local town and just to do his job and bid him goodbye. If those that came in contact with the woman in black could escape her there would be no story though and so we know Arthur will do his best to put the towns and his own sorrows to rest.

Arthur Kipp (Daniel Radcliffe) starts to believe in what the
locals have been whispering about... 
The real point of interest in the film though is if Radcliffe is able to begin a post-Potter career that will set him apart from the character that has encompassed most of his life. Though it feels he is a little young to play the widowed father of a four year-old he takes on the responsibility of the role well and reacts to the scary moments with just the right expressions. It is hard to judge how his career will go from here not because the performance isn't any good or not convincing, no, he just isn't required to do much here. Much of the film he is lurking through the dark mansion holding a candle waiting to see what lies just around the corner. There is little action despite his characters one attempt at a rescue but even in this moment the best of the film shines through. It is a quietly creepy movie that offers plenty of chill-inducing moments. It is not the type of film we are used to seeing Radcliffe in which is to say he isn't playing a version of Harry Potter and though this may put off some of the audience who expects that, it is a good indicator that Radcliffe is trying to show range and if he continues to try he certainly will. Though Arthur Kipps is nothing if not a common man, for that reason alone he couldn't be any less similar to the boy wizard, and Radcliffe keeps in tune with the films tone and gives a quiet, haunting performance that creates a coherent film that is dressed in period costumes and sets to add prestige to its ghost story proceedings. It works. It lends to the atmosphere that is necessary for an audience to buy into the unreal things going on. Writer Jane Goldman (Kick Ass, X-Men: First Class, Stardust) understands her message and world enough to make everything she puts into the script compliment these two items; these two items that allow this to stand above the standard ghost story.

Arthur Kipps attempts to set right what has caused
much heartache for the woman in black.
Parts of the film certainly drag and there could no doubt have been a bit more exposition that delve deeper into the back story of our antagonist seeing as it is her movie, but again, this is all about mystery and in many ways feels like a more grown up horror story than those the cinema usually delivers. "The Woman in Black" may not even be that great of a film, but with literally the only good "scary movie" last year being "Insidious" movie-goers are desperate for decent films that deliver the scares and "The Woman in Black" certainly delivers more than a handful of genuine moments where you look around the dark theatre to make sure no one is standing over you, watching. It is good fun and a refreshing look back at horror movies of yesteryear. I can't say that it is something everyone will love, but it has a strong story behind all of its "gotcha" moments and in that story we receive a few genuinely touching moments that build together with the reasoning for our existing ghost to create a feeling of something more bittersweet than bloody. The resolution comes at the expected time, but it turns the entire film around in what direction you expected it to go that you are taken aback and begin to reevaluate the themes that are at work here. It seems odd to call a scary movie touching, but this film is an exception to the rule on almost every level as far as horror flicks go as of late. Good for you Danny boy, you may just have a little magic left in you yet.

THE WOMAN IN BLACK Review

Patience. Patience is a virtue and we must not only possess this characteristic to watch Danny Radcliffe's new ghost story "The Woman in Black" but we must have it in order to relate to his character Arthur Kipps. There is a point in a ghost story where you just get the hell out of there and never look back. No doubt this doesn't usually bode well for characters in a movie but at least we can respect them enough because they have the sense to flee when they have the chance. Mr. Kipps is not looking for a way out. He embraces his involvement with the supernatural and to a point we can understand why, but in the end things are just a little too grim, a little too bleak that he could actually conceive to find any real hope in his situation. This train of thought doesn't exactly go along with the conclusion of the film which was actually a nice break from modern horror flicks, but as depressingly sad as it was there was a hint of peace in it. That it is actually what our protagonist wanted, and if that is the perspective you take on it (I surely did) it will feel all the more haunting to you. That is the accomplishment of "The Woman In Black"; it is not a gory all out screamfest. In fact, dialogue is few and far between. The movie is all about tone and telling a good ole fashioned ghost story in the most effective of ways. It may not break any new ground or offer as many scares as I originally hoped for, but it succeeds in becoming a haunting tale I wouldn't mind hearing around a campfire.

MAN ON A LEDGE Review

I have always had a soft spot in my heart for cheap action thrillers like this. "Man On A Ledge" reminds me of one of those 90's action flicks we see constantly re-played on late night TV now, those ones that seem to never get old and you can't help but stop and watch when you come across them. There is nothing spectacular about the film and the plot in general is so highly unlikely we forget about halfway through the movie that there is even such a thing as logic. The film is nothing short of entertaining despite this fact and if you are a movie-goer willing to let details slide and simply allow the experience to be one of escapism then "Man On A Ledge" is a solid piece of fun you will no doubt enjoy. If you are a stickler for realism though, you might feel otherwise and have your patients tested within the first few scenes. I am a movie-goer of the former category and so with a stout cast that includes Sam "Avatar" Worthington in the lead and stronger supporting players like Elizabeth Banks, Jamie Bell, Anthony Mackie, and Ed Harris bringing this tale to a head is almost as easy to watch as it is for Jamie Bell and his girlfriend Angie (Genesis Rodriguez) to steal back the diamond that put Worthington's Nick Cassidy in the slammer.

Lydia Mercer (Elizabeth Banks) attempts to negotiate Nick
Cassidy (Sam Worthington) off of the ledge.
Though the title is pretty self explanatory the writers have enough wit about them to pile on enough New York cop procedural cliches to fill out the remainder of the running time. Inherently, this is really a part of the problem. Not only does "Man On A Ledge" have a good idea, a nice premise with a promising starting point, but is there enough here to flesh out an entire feature? Ehh, probably not, but they stretch it the best they can. Early on after first being introduced to Nick Cassidy we have a flashback that sets up the story; Cassidy was a cop accused of stealing a diamond from business tycoon David Englander (Harris). For this accusation he has been sent to jail with no hopes of getting out anytime soon. In the flashback we get an action-packed escape scene as well as establishing Nick's support team in his brother Joey (Bell) and girlfriend Angie. The pacing is quite smooth and allows for a real ease in the audience member to slip into this convoluted story that is as entertaining as it is pointless. The film tries to stay both two steps ahead of us while allowing us to know a little more than the cops do. It is a difficult line to walk but luckily we have Elizabeth Banks in the role of Lydia Mercer, a negotiator now famous for not being able to prevent a rookie cop's suicide the previous month. Banks deserves some serious credit for holding this all together while allowing the audience member a perspective that makes this more credible than it ever should have been.

David Englander (Ed Harris) has a lot to lose if the man on
the ledge's stunt goes off as planned. 
While the film moves along at a fine pace and there are more than enough moments to keep us on the edge, the film feels slightly understated as it doesn't exactly have to try that hard. While we watch Worthington stand on the ledge, drawing the attention to himself while his brother and Angie break into the Englander building to find the diamond Nick was accused of stealing we know things won't be so easy, we can feel the twists coming yet despite this and even sillier acting (just wait until you see Kyra Sedgwick as a news reporter) the movie consistently proves to be fun and engaging. I have still not bought into the whole idea of Sam Worthington as a movie star, but I was surprised by his charisma here where he really doesn't have much to work with. The script literally has the guy trapped in this one spot for the majority of the film, his range is restricted and his tools limited, the actor has to depend on his conviction to relate his commitment to being in his current position. Worthington and Banks form a nice back-and-forth as two of the only honest cops left in the city while Ed Burns stands around in the background for no apparent reason. Worthington is more than willing when it comes to the action set pieces at the beginning and end of the film, but if "Man On A Ledge" exists for any reason at all it could be as a testament to the fact Worthington is capable of more than just running and fighting.

Joey (Jamie Bell) and Angie (Genesis Rodriguez) relax with a
drink after a long days work.
No, "Man On A Ledge" is nothing to write home about and it surely won't be recognized any further than getting those replays on late night TV in a few years but that is what this type of movie is made for and the makers realize that. There is an element to the movie that is almost tongue and cheek, we know not to take it all too seriously and those behind the scenes know how outlandish it would be for an audience to accept this without having any issues with the implausibilities. What makes us willing to forgive these things is that simple fact that we are indeed entertained by what is going on on screen. There are enough credible actors giving good performances and strong and inventive direction by first time feature director Asger Leth. There is a better, more serious movie to be made out of this subject matter that could likely take this original and intriguing concept in a more inventive direction. This had promise when taking in the trailer, but ends up being more stock characters and cop cliches than we can avoid and so we are left to wonder what might have been as we leave the theater. The one up side is we don't question this as we watch the film as this current form at least lives up to the expectations of entertainment. Don't expect this film to take thrillers to new heights, but if you're in the mood for a light, fun film with a few good thrills you could do much worse than "Man On A Ledge".