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.

THE HUNTER Review

Willem Dafoe has always been one of the more out of place actors in the Hollywood pantheon. His filmography certainly allows him the rights to sit with the big dogs (Spider-Man, Platoon) yet Dafoe the man has always chosen to skew a little closer to the outskirts. Over the years he has made several, and I mean several, indie and art house films that few likely saw. He seems to always find solace in playing characters that possess darkly eccentric sides to them. It is not only a staple of the actors persona but it has infused every character he has taken on. This is certainly one way to become an engaging and in many instances, provocative actor that lets the audience know that if he chooses to play a role there will certainly be some kind of mysterious intrigue about it and hopefully about the film as well. That seemed to be the case with his latest titled The Hunter. Based on a 1999 book from author and filmmaker Julia Leigh (Sleeping Beauty) the film tells a very simple and straightforward story that keeps its own rhythm and minds its own beats that in the end comes up feeling more boring than insightful. It is one of those small films that pulls you in with its engaging premise in the trailer and then as you watch the film you begin to realize what you saw in the trailer was every moment that was engaging and has now been spread over the nearly two-hour run time. Despite another engaging and invested performance by Dafoe the film itself cannot escape from under the weight it is burdened with.

Martin (Willem Dafoe) doesn't take well to the locals
after arriving in town for work.
What might that engaging story be you ask? Well, this is how they get you, fair warning. We are introduced to Martin (Dafoe) a mercenary posing as a scientist who is sent to the Tasmanian wilderness on a hunt for a tiger believed to be extinct. So far so good? He is contracted by a mysterious company that is after the genetic material this animal produces (it has something to do with a toxin that can paralyze its prey). Mysterious and exciting right? When he arrives at his destination he becomes very well acquainted with the wife and two children of what seems to be his predecessor. The kids patiently wait on their father to return while their mother sleeps her life away knowing the truth. Are you completely sold? I was too. It has all the elements of a fantastic story, action, mystery, love, loss. How this ends up being one big borefest is beyond me but through thick or thin director Daniel Nettheim, known mainly for his TV work in his native Australia, prevails in focusing far too much on the dark brooding nature of the central character and his surroundings rather than squeezing every ounce of life out of the multiple plot lines he has going on. I am not saying a nice character study is a waste of time because it doesn't expose the action aspect of the title or flesh out the love story with steamy encounters. No, I want him to use his material wisely because it feels throughout he is actually trying too hard to hold back. He is trying to be too serious. The cinematography  is grand and the shots create a symbolic kind of pattern with a wonderful solemn score but all of this means nothing if the story doesn't keep us entranced.

"You said there weren't going to be any dinosaurs in
this movie Sam."
There are certainly moments in the film that keep us on the edge, hoping for more. Hoping that maybe this time the film might take off and really get going, but it never does. The Hunter just sits there and instead of developing into a narrative where we care what happens to Dafoe's Martin it instead follows the not too beaten path of not much happening. At all. I hate to come down on movies such as this because it is clear everyone involved was really trying to make a thought provoking piece of cinema that didn't fall into the traps of the predictable. I would like to have seen that movie had they not been afraid to tell this same story while not having to concern themselves about whether or not it would place the movie too far out of the genre, or the reputation it was trying to garner. It is as if the lines have been drawn so thick that to qualify as an indie/arthouse type film you can't have one too many bullets fired but you can certainly have an abundance of extended shots where the protagonist stares just off camera so long the audience should be able to read his thoughts. The tone I felt from the movie as the credits began to roll was one that was forced. It was as if I should like the movie, praise it even, simply because it didn't necessarily follow the pattern of a typical B-movie. The fact of the matter though is that I didn't really enjoy the film. I was bored the majority of the time, but I really wanted to like the movie. Besides Dafoe's committed performance there are a few surprises along the way in that Sam Neill shows up in a juicy little supporting role as does Frances O'Connor (A.I.) and it is a delight to see them take on such light parts in such a random film. In a weird way it compliments the tone just right. The performances are what hold this movie together. This is Dafoe's show though and no matter how many times I wanted to give up on Martin, I still had to see where this quest was taking him.

Lucy (Frances O'Connor) is trying to figure out her plac
in the world after the loss of her husband.
Where the story does end up going certainly isn't something you might see in one of those B-movie's but then again it isn't exactly revelatory to the point where we are truly surprised or taken aback either. Martin's quest for this elusive creature is certainly supposed to be some kind of metaphor for the relationships he begins to develop with the family and how they grow. That the companionship of those other human beings you care for and ultimately come to depend on in your life can sometimes be elusive as a...Tasmanian Tiger? I don't know. I'm not sure what exactly the film was trying to say, but I guarantee you that is the analysis someone who claims to have really dug the film will come out with. I guess I can be okay with that and I know it is not that animal specifically in terms of what it is but in terms of how it is believed to be extinct and that the writer at the time in her life when she wrote the book might have believed true love to be an extinct emotion. Something that people only make up to fool themselves into happiness. I get it and I'm certainly not going to criticize anyone who might be in a similar place and takes more away from the movie than I did. It's all relative as they say and no other cliched phrase could describe The Hunter better. A movie that is trying its darndest to escape every trace of those pesky little things. What the film can teach us though is that while it is always could to strive for originality and a new way of telling a story if the cliche applies that is probably because it's true. Embrace it for what it is because under all that brooding it might be what you truly are and there is nothing wrong with that.


THE HUNTER Review

Willem Dafoe has always been one of the more out of place actors in the Hollywood pantheon. His filmography certainly allows him the rights to sit with the big dogs (Spider-Man, Platoon) yet Dafoe the man has always chosen to skew a little closer to the outskirts. Over the years he has made several, and I mean several, indie and art house films that few likely saw. He seems to always find solace in playing characters that possess darkly eccentric sides to them. It is not only a staple of the actors persona but it has infused every character he has taken on. This is certainly one way to become an engaging and in many instances, provocative actor that lets the audience know that if he chooses to play a role there will certainly be some kind of mysterious intrigue about it and hopefully about the film as well. That seemed to be the case with his latest titled The Hunter. Based on a 1999 book from author and filmmaker Julia Leigh (Sleeping Beauty) the film tells a very simple and straightforward story that keeps its own rhythm and minds its own beats that in the end comes up feeling more boring than insightful. It is one of those small films that pulls you in with its engaging premise in the trailer and then as you watch the film you begin to realize what you saw in the trailer was every moment that was engaging and has now been spread over the nearly two-hour run time. Despite another engaging and invested performance by Dafoe the film itself cannot escape from under the weight it is burdened with.

MEN IN BLACK 3 Review

I am a huge fan of the first Men In Black film. Like, I would rank it up there in my top 10 favorites of all time. This, as you might suspect led me to really dislike the sorry excuse for a sequel that was released, count em, 10 years ago. In their absence from the cineplex alot of things have changed, but this might be why the third installation in the series feels so refreshing. Refreshing in the sense that it is reminiscent of the original film while throwing in a nice twist for good measure. There is nothing unconventional about this latest and some would say unnecessary sequel, but it lives up to every standard that was being held for it. All of the original stars are back here plus one and director Barry Sonnenfeld has of course returned as this is really his only bread and butter as a filmmaker. While I and everyone had good reason to be cautious before walking into the film and even still as the opening scene played. It began to come back to me, the excitement to see these characters go on another adventure was plagued by the blandness of the script and non existent enthusiasm of the cast. There was no spice to the routine, it was standard and I began to fear the worst: a repeat of the sequel. Fortunately something magical happens about a half hour into the film. All of the expository junk that began to clog our brains and all of the standard odd couple charm that seemed to be wearing thin between Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith was wiped away as if by a neuraliyzer and we were rendered completely charmed once again by the world in which the Men in Black exist. This is mainly due to the wonderful performance of Josh Brolin and his fine portrayal of a young Jones that re-infuses the odd couple relationship with the same engaging chemistry that made the first one such a stand-out.

Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) and Agent J (Will Smith)
prepare to neuralyze a confused crowd.
While a big part of the problem with movie number two was that of the story, the same cannot be said for Men In Black 3. The second entry in this series was seemingly a rehash of the first with less interesting characters. The bad guy that was Vincent D'Onofrio's Edgar is a classic in my mind and while I can only remember the baddie from the second one because Smith featured her name in his song for the sequel "Black Suits Comin", (is anyone else mad he passed the task to Pitbull for this one rather than do it himself?) it's Serleena by the way. I was fearing the worst (again) when I saw the first stills of Jemaine Clement as the villain Boris the Animal. He looked rather cheesy and seemed all but standard. Expetations weren't raised after his opening scene where he enjoys the luxury of a big special effects sequence designed to provoke a nice use of 3D. In the end, he ends up not playing as crucial a part in the piece of the story that the film documents and instead provides a funny and self aware, ridiculous baddie in the vein of Edgar. After escaping from his prison on the moon Boris makes his way to earth and travels back in time to kill K (Jones) before he can again shoot off his arm, throw him in prison, and stop Boris' entire race from invading the earth. Agent J (Smith) is still trying to crack the present day K's shell after their 14-year partnership. Smith is in fine, smooth form here after taking a 4-year break from movies and is seemingly able to pick up right where he left off. When Boris goes back in time and the effects start to show in present time J experiences a world where K died 40 years before. Thus, he has to travel back in time to save his partner and you can probably guess where things might go from here.

A young agent K (Josh Brolin) has some serious affection
for agent O (Alice Eve). 
This is actually where we run into the surprise of MIB3 because for as sci-fi standard as it seems to be there is real heart here, something the second installment was really lacking in. The film has some real moments of meaning whether they be in the form of J realizing what shapes someone as a person or the value of life and the circumstances that lead to everything that occurs in life as pointed out by extra terrestrial Griffin (Michael Stuhlbarg of A Serious Man). It should be noted that while Brolin gives a great performance and doesn't only imitate the vocal inflections of Jones. He is able to create a full fledged character and inhabits this man who we realize we have never really known or understood. Brolin lends the film a weight that it would not otherwise have and in doing so actually creates a chemistry that is more fun to watch than that of Smith and Jones. While this is obviously the draw of the film, and it does serve as the main highlight, what Stuhlbarg brings to the picture is even more of that credibility and poignancy. His ability, as an alien, is to see all possible scenarios in the immediate future. He is within every moment all the time. With his quick delivery and heartfelt tone he steals nearly every scene he is in. He plays Griffin with a Robin Williams kind of sensitivity and it makes all of this talk about philosophy and life on other planets and in other galaxies feel somewhat more earned. Not as jokey as we might expect, but in many ways, more profound. That may sound silly as this is essentially a crowd-pleasing summer movie, but for all the script problems this was rumored to have they seem to have conquered these nicely (although a love story between K and the new head of MIB, Agent O played by Emma Thompson in 2012 and Alice Eve in 1969, feels tacked on) and delivered a blockbuster worth thinking about.

Agents J and K are joined by Grifin (Michael Stuhlbarg) in
their quest to save the earth.
And so, it is with a sigh of relief that MIB3 turned out to be much better than expected and just as good as it should have been. While director Sonnenfeld and crew likely hope we have all forgotten about MIB2 the only real qualm I have with the latest movie is that it doesn't really compute with the story line of the first one. Usually, in a case like this, I would go back and watch the previous films before seeing the latest in theaters but that didn't end up being the case. I have seen the first one countless times and could probably quote every line and like I said before, I too would rather forget the first sequel even existed. I can accept most of what  goes on here but I distinctly remember Agent K longing to get back to a normal life in the first one because of the girl that got away. I know that he goes back to her and is then somehow brought back into the agency in part two, but that storyline was a distant memory here. It still stands the test of logic I guess as it clearly states K met O after he was part of the agency, but still, I like my continuity. What does it really matter though when it has been fifteen years since the original Men In Black came out? Most movie goers won't remember or won't care enough that not every single aspect lines up or makes sense. What does matter though is that the current experience they receive is well worth their time and their investment in these characters does pay off. As a die hard MIB fan I didn't necessarily love the film as I did the first, but it was very good when I had no doubt that it might be very bad.



  

MEN IN BLACK 3 Review

I am a huge fan of the first Men In Black film. Like, I would rank it up there in my top 10 favorites of all time. This, as you might suspect led me to really dislike the sorry excuse for a sequel that was released, count em, 10 years ago. In their absence from the cineplex alot of things have changed, but this might be why the third installation in the series feels so refreshing. Refreshing in the sense that it is reminiscent of the original film while throwing in a nice twist for good measure. There is nothing unconventional about this latest and some would say unnecessary sequel, but it lives up to every standard that was being held for it. All of the original stars are back here plus one and director Barry Sonnenfeld has of course returned as this is really his only bread and butter as a filmmaker. While I and everyone had good reason to be cautious before walking into the film and even still as the opening scene played. It began to come back to me, the excitement to see these characters go on another adventure was plagued by the blandness of the script and non existent enthusiasm of the cast. There was no spice to the routine, it was standard and I began to fear the worst: a repeat of the sequel. Fortunately something magical happens about a half hour into the film. All of the expository junk that began to clog our brains and all of the standard odd couple charm that seemed to be wearing thin between Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith was wiped away as if by a neuraliyzer and we were rendered completely charmed once again by the world in which the Men in Black exist. This is mainly due to the wonderful performance of Josh Brolin and his fine portrayal of a young Jones that re-infuses the odd couple relationship with the same engaging chemistry that made the first one such a stand-out.

BATTLESHIP Review

I get it, I really do, but even the most casual of movie-goers seem to have caught on to what "Battleship" really is. First off, it is a movie based entirely on a board game and not one that readily lends itself to any kind of plot. With that in mind Hollywood has turned it in to what else? An alien invasion flick. That is what they know how to do best now isn't it? Why the makers thought the "Transformers" series wasn't sufficient in this area is beyond me especially as "Battleship" tries to dutifully make itself a carbon copy of those films. When I say that movie-goers who only venture out to the theater every once in a while have picked up on the scheme "Battleship" is trying to get away with I mean that it has become extremely obvious that pure B-movie fun has now become even more of a genre for critics to blast as it is apparent little real thought has gone into the production of this film. Some people may let this movie off easily as it is nothing more than an excuse to have a big summer popcorn movie but I can't help but hold "Battleship" more accountable for its actions. It has its moments, sure. It was even able to conjure up some tension at certain points, but the underlying fact that this spectacle was completely unimaginative and lacked originality in every sense of that word would not leave me alone. Director Peter Berg has certainly crafted a great looking film that follows a well worn format to a T, but the best special effects money can buy are no substitute for actual substance or, at the very least, interesting characters. "Battleship" is devoid of either of these and rather than being a pleasant surprise it turns out to be exactly the type of movie everyone expects it to be. A $200 million plus extravaganza that will dazzle your eyes while leaving your brain dumbed-down.

Sam (Brooklyn Decker) and Hopper (Taylor Kitsch) share
a perfectly-lit embrace
While I can occasionally get past the lack of story or plot consistency for the sake of fun, I have felt a harbored kind of dread for "Battleship" ever since the first trailer premiered. What the writers have added to the premise of moving ships around on a grid while the opponent attacks you and you they with strategy and reasoning are a few pretty people and some nice tributes to the brave folks that serve and have served in the U.S. Navy. We are introduced first to Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch) a troublemaker who has no ambition for where his life is going while his decorated Commanding Officer brother Stone Hopper (Alexander Skarsgard) is always giving him speeches about how he needs to get his life together. One fateful night Alex lays eyes on a beautiful blonde named Sam (Brooklyn Decker) who happens to be a physical therapist and who also happens to be the daughter of Admiral Shane (Liam Neeson). Alex tries desperately to impress Sam and when we fast forward a few years it looks as if it has paid off. Alex is now a lieutenant in the Navy, and ready to ask the intimidating admiral for his daughters hand in marriage. Let us not also forget there is a really cool and unafraid petty officer on Hopper's ship that looks alot like Rihanna and Japan Navy Captain Yugi Nagata (Tadanobu Nagata) who begins as Hopper's enemy but will clearly become his friend by the end of the film that will somehow resolve the lingering feelings still left from Pearl Harbor. In the opening of "Battleship" we get some quick insight into a group of scientists who have found a "goldilocks" planet that has the capability to sustain life as earth does. They send up some transmissions and lo and behold we get visitors right about the time Hopper needs to prove himself.

The aliens have arrived and they look the same as the ones
in the last movie.
While it may seem like I absolutely hated this film, I can't stand by and say that is completely true as it does offer some nice moments in the 10-minute cold opening sequence that establishes Kitsch's character with a kind of hopeless charisma that is better used here than it was in his box office bomb "John Carter" earlier this year. I wasn't sure I understood the appeal of Kitsch as I haven't seen an episode of the TV-series that launched his career, "Friday Night Lights" though  I have heard nothing but amazing things about it. Here though, Kitsch has a better arc to play and makes a fine attempt to naturally move Hopper from irresponsible youth to a determined and confident adult that is able to make his way in the world. This is a blessing for the film as most of its other big names including Skarsgard and Neeson have limited screen time and nothing much to do when they are present. While most of the action takes place within the Rimpac military exercises that contain 14 Navy's from around the world (which allows for the Japanese and the Americans to work together) there is also the unnecessary subplot that focuses on Decker's Sam and her patient Lieutenant Colonel Mick Canales, played by former field artillary officer Gregory D. Gadson who is actually a double above the knee-amputee. Again, this is a nice nod to those who have served in the armed services and all that they have done for the country, but it doesn't necessarily serve the best purposes of the film. While Gadson is fine for the most part, his inexperience shows especially when he spends the majority of the film with an amateur like Decker. Luckily comic relief in the form of Hamish Linklater (who you might recognize from The New Adventures of Old Christine) keeps these two safe from causing too much cringing in the audience.

Hopper relies on Rihanna to take out the alien forces.
What I really don't understand though is why aliens? I can understand that the writers wanted to give an impression of community and collaboration between the Navy's of the world and thus they bring in extra terrestrials to be the baddies, but really? That is the best you could come up with? It just feels so commonplace in today's movie going experience that audiences have become accustomed to it. After last summer's bomb that was "Cowboys & Aliens" you would think that studios might understand that just because you throw something in your movie that is out of this world doesn't mean it will make it a hit. It certainly doesn't always make it a better movie and if anything "Battleship" serves as a clear demonstration of why this is true. I have no problem with having fun at the movies with a product that serves no other purpose than pure escapism, in fact I enjoy many of these summer blockbusters just as much as anyone else. I think most critics do, they are simply afraid to let their scholarly facade down in fear their credibility may be damaged. I can admit to liking a brainless action movie but that is not what "Battleship" is. This is a film that doesn't defy all logic with a wink to the audience and an eye for satire, but it instead takes itself completely serious and is in many ways studio propoganda to make the movie-going droves believe it is okay to take a familiar title and create a film that bears little relation to those memories the inspiration came from. There has to be a line drawn somewhere and when a talented director like Peter Berg resorts to a copy cat of Michael Bay to produce a loud film based on a board game I think I've found where I'll put the pen to the paper.

BATTLESHIP Review

I get it, I really do, but even the most casual of movie-goers seem to have caught on to what "Battleship" really is. First off, it is a movie based entirely on a board game and not one that readily lends itself to any kind of plot. With that in mind Hollywood has turned it in to what else? An alien invasion flick. That is what they know how to do best now isn't it? Why the makers thought the "Transformers" series wasn't sufficient in this area is beyond me especially as "Battleship" tries to dutifully make itself a carbon copy of those films. When I say that movie-goers who only venture out to the theater every once in a while have picked up on the scheme "Battleship" is trying to get away with I mean that it has become extremely obvious that pure B-movie fun has now become even more of a genre for critics to blast as it is apparent little real thought has gone into the production of this film. Some people may let this movie off easily as it is nothing more than an excuse to have a big summer popcorn movie but I can't help but hold "Battleship" more accountable for its actions. It has its moments, sure. It was even able to conjure up some tension at certain points, but the underlying fact that this spectacle was completely unimaginative and lacked originality in every sense of that word would not leave me alone. Director Peter Berg has certainly crafted a great looking film that follows a well worn format to a T, but the best special effects money can buy are no substitute for actual substance or, at the very least, interesting characters. "Battleship" is devoid of either of these and rather than being a pleasant surprise it turns out to be exactly the type of movie everyone expects it to be. A $200 million plus extravaganza that will dazzle your eyes while leaving your brain dumbed-down.

THE KID WITH A BIKE Review

When I first watched the trailer for "The Kid with a Bike" I was engaged not by the fact that it was a foreign film that had clearly made an impression (otherwise how would it have been playing before an American film?) but instead I was intrigued by the simple story it seemed to be telling. A universal story at that. Even the simple title of the film seems to serve as a reminder that this is not a tale specifically catered to the country that has produced it, but rather addresses emotions that every single person on the planet could relate to. As with the Academy award winning foreign film "A Separation" (which is also the last non-English film I saw) this shares that same interesting dynamic of everyday problems in a world that would otherwise seem so foreign to the average American mind. It is also notable as this is the latest feature from the Dardenne brothers. The directing team who are known for their naturalistic films that document lower class life in Belgium and are Cannes film festival regulars (this film won last years Grand Prix award) have captured a snapshot of youth that, while I have not seen any of their previous work, seems to be a constant through much of their films. From what I have heard about the directors though this film is very much a departure from their more stark style in turn for a lighter reflection of the world they have become so accustomed to documenting. The film is certainly engaging on the most basic of levels but it also contains some peculiar areas that show the difference not only in lifestyle between classes but also in the way of life between cultures. The main character, the "kid" in the title is a complex pre-teen who we don't always like (in fact alot of the time we can't stand him) who is dealing with a life event in ways that are somewhat expected but others that make us question how well we really understand not just his world, but our own.

Guy (Jeremie Renier) and his son Cyril (Thomas Doret)
share one brief moment together.
Now, that all may sound very conflicting as I stated that the film presents a predicament many people could relate to but also seem to think that the actions of this character lend to a misperception of others lifestyles. The main conflict within the plot is obviously something children everywhere might have to deal with to a certain degree but the way in which our protagonist deals with this event is what sets the culture apart. The story centers around 12 year-old Cyril (love the name) who is currently in foster care because his father has abandoned him. He is a mischievous young boy who seems to want to do everything he can to go against his superiors. He is determined to find his father with the mindset that is father is searching for him as well. His father also holds Cyril's most precious possession, his bike. Cyril is ignorant to the fact that his father has rejected him by choice and it takes more than showing him his fathers emptied apartment to convince him of this. In the process of trying to escape the foster care staff he flees through a doctor's office where he latches onto a woman in the waiting room. This chance encounter makes a bigger impression on the woman, who's name in Samantha, than anything in the film or anyone in the audience is led to understand. The next morning Samantha played by the wonderfully lovely and subdued Cecile De France (Hereafter) shows up with Cyril's bike simply because she seemed to sense a kind of connection with the young red head. Though Cyril still holds out hope he may be reconnected with his father he asks if Samantha will keep him on the weekends. She agrees, and off is not the adventures of Cyril and Samantha, but is instead a tough journey towards self-discovery at too young an age and facing the hard facts of life with the thought of consequences removed from his young mind.

The Kid with a Bike pedals with uncertainty.
While this is clearly a story about the progress of the character of Cyril it is how the character navigates his journey that interested me more than anything. As said, I didn't necessarily like the character all that much. He seemed a stubborn, ungrateful kid much of the time despite what he was going through. I myself have never had to deal with the absence of a parent but this young boy has looked his father in the face and heard him speak the words that his life would be easier without him. Still, I had trouble understanding what would then make him take for granted the opportunity to be taken care of by a sweet woman who would go out of her way to make sure he had food on the table and a place to sleep at night. What was his motivation? Why would he still want to go out and risk this new found ease for the companionship of a local drug dealer and thief. How could he so easily be coaxed into friendship, so easily influenced by the temptation of Assasin's Creed on Xbox. While this acting out still seems to come in full circle back to the daddy issue it also manages to address how, in the end, it is truly important to do what is right. Yes, Cyril has a time with accepting his father is a child himself and cannot take care of him but he also comes to realize the morality of his actions and what he goes through allows him to develop that compass which points him in the right direction. As Cyril, newcomer Thomas Doret is nearly flawless as he delivers his lines not with a calculated knowledge of meaning but with a quick, natural sense that displays his disdain for the world around him. The Dardenne's dress him in red in every frame of the film and though it is never clearly stated why (we could just say it's the boys favorite color) but it clearly represents that pent up anger and aggression the character possesses. That natural fire the boy will never lose.

Cyril finds peace with Samantha (Cecile De France).
In the end, Cyril's journey comes full circle when he is made to atone for what he has done which was caused by his feeling of loss. It is a lovely sentiment and a peaceful note for the simplistic film to go out on that delivers its moral lesson with just the right amount of understanding. I enjoyed the film. I am not one to seek out foreign films so as to make myself feel more cultured. In many ways, my movie-going mind is somewhat similar to Cyril's in that I don't like to accept that what I don't know as well, what I am not as familiar with is just as good, if not better than what I have been accustomed to. While I'm sure there are plenty of features, little gems just like "The Kid with a Bike" that I am missing out on I can at least feel good about the fact I was afforded the opportunity to see a Dardenne picture in its theatrical run.  It is a film about childhood that follows a normal, betrayed young man into the heart of his pain. With its free wheeling camera and little moments of musical inspiration the Dardenne brothers have captured not just innocence of childhood but what happens when that experience is interrupted by adults, parents too selfish to allow their young the right to enjoy that time in their life. It speaks to the children of divorce, of abandonment and lets them know that what is not conventional can sometimes turn around for other life experiences to help define who you are as a person. It is an engaging film from start to finish and one that deserves its praise and worldwide recognition. Not because it is some bombastic, profound story with elaborate filmmaking techniques but instead for all of the opposite reasons.


THE DICTATOR Review

Sacha Baron Cohen has made a career out of being outlandish and extremely inappropriate and does not shy away from that image in his latest "The Dictator". The man behind "Borat" and "Bruno" trades in his non-scripted documentary-like features for his first scripted romp and he comes out, for the most part, unscathed. I have always enjoyed the extreme lengths to which Baron Cohen was willing to go for his laughs and while I feared that the change to a scripted format would make the moments of random acts towards unexpected onlookers lose some of the edge out of his wit I was pleasantly surprised by how hard it was for me to contain my outbursts. There were several times throughout the screening where I couldn't help but to laugh out loud. I know it to be a film where I thought it genuinely funny because there were only four other people in the theater and so, I was not coaxed into laughing because everyone else was. Instead, I reacted out of pure surprise and sometimes shock at how far the comedian was willing to go, the racist, insensitive, hateful things he was willing to say to get a laugh and though I tried my best to put myself in the shoes of those who were being ridiculed, therein lies the trick. No one in particular can lay claim that Baron Cohen is after them specifically because "The Dictator" is universally offensive and in some way is making fun of every single person that is watching it, we are essentially laughing at ourselves. Someone once said we need to find humor in everything and if you agree with that statement then you should certainly be commending Mr. Cohen because he goes the extra mile to make sure we laugh at not just the most vulgar of acts, but the most ridiculous of realities.

Tamir (Ben Kingsley) and General Aldeen (Sacha Baron
Cohen) are welcomed to the U.S. by John C. Reilly.
While the one thing Baron Cohen has always suffered from is not having a strong sense of storyline I would have thought he might have stepped that aspect up here seeing as it was scripted, but while there are clearly attempts at stringing together something logical it is mainly an excuse for Baron Cohen to get his point across. What little traces there are of a story concern Admiral General Aladeen (Baron Cohen) the dictator of a fictional north African country called Wadiya. Naturally he wants to build nuclear weapons and naturally he is then summoned to the U.S. to speak to the UN to explain his reasonings for the weapons and his plans for his country. Aladeen's right hand man and uncle Tamir (an underused Ben Kingsley) has other plans once they reach the states though and hires a hitman in the form of John C. Reilly to take out the dictator so Tamir may use an idiotic double to run the country as he should have been allowed to in the first place. Aladeen escapes his attempted torture session and runs into Zoey (Anna Faris) the purposefully lesbian-looking, liberal owner of a eco-friendly grocery store. Aladeen befriends Zoey in an attempt to regain control of his country. There are consistent stabs at the west for our general perceptions of this mix of real-life dictators that Baron Cohen has combined to create Aladeen and everything they stand for. Baron Cohen has made Aladeen a dimwitted  loose canon of a ruler who finds pleasure in his power. He pays the rich and famous for carnal needs (insert Megan Fox cameo) but desires more from the relationships. He has the audacity to change words in the Wadiyan dictionary to his name that cause a good amount of confusion (a running gag that really works). He operates his own Olympic games and once he arrives in the good ole' U.S. of A. he seems to make some slight observations that offer a great moment at the end that truly plays toward the more satirical direction I expected the film to take.

Zoey (Anna Faris) and Aladeen defend his remarks on a
helicopter to one of his arresting officers.
The film overall though is filled with more broad humor. I should have known better than to actually think Baron Cohen would subdue himself just to get his actual point across when he could be as gross out as he wanted or maybe needed to be. While the satire was merely sprinkled here and there we are also given more than enough offensive stuff going on throughout to satisfy fans who are going in expecting Baron Cohen to be like his characters of the past. You can see shades of Borat within Aladeen but the main issue I have with "The Dictator" is that while "Borat" was a film that had no shame in crossing the line it also seemed to have a purpose to its menace, to its controversial statements. what was enticing about it was that this stranger was forcing us to take a look in the mirror while "The Dictator" is clearly trying to make a similar kind of statement it doesn't feel as fresh at times and certain gags, such as having as talking on the phone while the phone is inside a woman's vagina, feel not necessarily out of place, but certainly not justified in any way. I laughed, sure but I wanted more out of it. I wanted to lose it like I did the first time I watched "Borat". It is evident from Cohen's writing that he likes to follow a similar format and in doing so he has given himself a sidekick again, this time in the form of Nadal (Jason Mantzoukas) who used to be Wadiya's former head scientist in charge of creating the nuclear weapons that was dispatched by Aladeen because he would not make the bombs with a point. There is some great scenes between the two of them (one in which is the helicopter ride you've seen in the previews) that produces some great banter and indeed another running gag with a deceased African-American's head that is yes, really funny. The unusual camaraderie between the two stands out but that only seems to be because the other characters critical to the story are simply sketches of stereotypes. This especially applies to Faris's character who is supposed to be the main love interest but proves to be of little interest at all despite Faris's honest comedic efforts.

Nadal (Jason Mantzoukas) shows the Dictator his new
nuclear weapons.
While I was not blown away with hilarity by the film as I wanted to be it did prove to be a worthwhile endeavor. Granted the film only runs for about 84 minutes. Still, this is a positive in the light that it gives the film a light, zany feel that zips from one joke to the next without focusing too long on whether it landed of flopped. There are plenty of celebrity cameos to spice up the going-on's including a nicely placed bit by Edward Norton. The real focus here though is in fact the character that Baron Cohen has created and who the movie is named for and in that regard it is easy to say that Aladeen dominates every scene he is in, though I did appreciate Sir Ben Kingsley's choice to play it straight with only a slight wink to the audience. It is too bad he was not a more integral part of the story that we watched play out on screen for as much as I enjoyed Nadal and Aladeen's back and forth I would have loved to watch Baron Cohen and Kingsley go toe to toe with one another. There is no shame in laughing at what the comedian has presented here as being offensive for he has only summed up the naivety and misplaced morality of people that he has seen in the world no matter the race or religion. He is laughing at us, he is pointing out obvious missteps while making us realize how dumb they look when we take a step back and look at them with a different perspective. Baron Cohen may not come off as if he is trying to get a serious message across with his films, but I have never questioned the comedian's intelligence and it is clear from every one of his projects that he is attempting to not simply analyze the culture with which we live, but he wants to expose it for what it really is and maybe, just maybe, in the end, help fix it. Side note: check out the soundtrack...it's awesome.


THE DICTATOR Review

Sacha Baron Cohen has made a career out of being outlandish and extremely inappropriate and does not shy away from that image in his latest "The Dictator". The man behind "Borat" and "Bruno" trades in his non-scripted documentary-like features for his first scripted romp and he comes out, for the most part, unscathed. I have always enjoyed the extreme lengths to which Baron Cohen was willing to go for his laughs and while I feared that the change to a scripted format would make the moments of random acts towards unexpected onlookers lose some of the edge out of his wit I was pleasantly surprised by how hard it was for me to contain my outbursts. There were several times throughout the screening where I couldn't help but to laugh out loud. I know it to be a film where I thought it genuinely funny because there were only four other people in the theater and so, I was not coaxed into laughing because everyone else was. Instead, I reacted out of pure surprise and sometimes shock at how far the comedian was willing to go, the racist, insensitive, hateful things he was willing to say to get a laugh and though I tried my best to put myself in the shoes of those who were being ridiculed, therein lies the trick. No one in particular can lay claim that Baron Cohen is after them specifically because "The Dictator" is universally offensive and in some way is making fun of every single person that is watching it, we are essentially laughing at ourselves. Someone once said we need to find humor in everything and if you agree with that statement then you should certainly be commending Mr. Cohen because he goes the extra mile to make sure we laugh at not just the most vulgar of acts, but the most ridiculous of realities.

THE KID WITH A BIKE Review

When I first watched the trailer for "The Kid with a Bike" I was engaged not by the fact that it was a foreign film that had clearly made an impression (otherwise how would it have been playing before an American film?) but instead I was intrigued by the simple story it seemed to be telling. A universal story at that. Even the simple title of the film seems to serve as a reminder that this is not a tale specifically catered to the country that has produced it, but rather addresses emotions that every single person on the planet could relate to. As with the Academy award winning foreign film "A Separation" (which is also the last non-English film I saw) this shares that same interesting dynamic of everyday problems in a world that would otherwise seem so foreign to the average American mind. It is also notable as this is the latest feature from the Dardenne brothers. The directing team who are known for their naturalistic films that document lower class life in Belgium and are Cannes film festival regulars (this film won last years Grand Prix award) have captured a snapshot of youth that, while I have not seen any of their previous work, seems to be a constant through much of their films. From what I have heard about the directors though this film is very much a departure from their more stark style in turn for a lighter reflection of the world they have become so accustomed to documenting. The film is certainly engaging on the most basic of levels but it also contains some peculiar areas that show the difference not only in lifestyle between classes but also in the way of life between cultures. The main character, the "kid" in the title is a complex pre-teen who we don't always like (in fact alot of the time we can't stand him) who is dealing with a life event in ways that are somewhat expected but others that make us question how well we really understand not just his world, but our own.

DARK SHADOWS Review

There has always been a humbly engaging tone about the collaborations between Tim Burton and Johnny Depp. That may sound strange as many of their films deal with death and depression, but nonetheless, it is completely true. When watching them I have always felt that kind of warm feeling in the pit of my stomach that reassures me I am watching a movie by people who love movies. Even in their darkest collaborations like "Sweeney Todd" or "Sleepy Hollow" the energy that has come from the gothic sets and pale characters have an enduring quality that never fails to somehow strangely connect with you. The same can be said about their latest endeavor "Dark Shadows" as the story is yet again one that concerns much talk about death and demons, or more specifically vampires, but has the engaging quality of being a warm-hearted tale about the importance of family. Though the film has (surprisingly) earned mixed reviews I found it to be every bit as entertaining and funny as Burton and Depp's more popular films like "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" and "Alice in Wonderland". I was especially disappointed in the latter and found "Dark Shadows" to be more of a reassurance than anything that the team of all things strange had not yet lost their touch. This is not a judgement on the film as compared to the director and stars past team-ups but should be looked at as a singular effort. In that regard, the film is a funny take on an old TV show that was apparently best known for its campiness. Burton brings his visual flair and Depp conjures up another memorable character. What more could we ask for?

Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green) is an evil witch who
has placed a curse on Barnabas Collins.
Though I had never seen, or even heard of the original show this was based on from the first still released it was clear that Burton was again up to something especially Burton-esque. what stood out all the more was the fact the director has officially become such a stable hitmaker that the studios now allow him to make a $125 million dollar summer movie with no questions asked. Given, he has had to work many years to achieve this status (and has now sat comfortably in this status for 6 years or so) it is still nice to see he can do what he wants and is creatively rewarded for it. The film feels like a genuine Burton production with little interruption from studio heads. There are the little quirks of observation throughout that are heavily supplied by the fish out of water element that has an 18th century vampire trying to seem normal in 1972. The trailer like opening gives us a brief (but expensive looking) history of the Collins family and how Barnabas Collins came to be trapped in a love triangle with the lovely witch Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green) who seeks some serious revenge when she learns she is not the one Barnabas desires to spend the rest of his life with. Killing off his parents and beloved Josette Angelique punishes Barnabas by turning him into a bloodsucker and locking him in a coffin deep in the forest just outside the town his family established. Skip forward some 196 years and we find the Collins family has fallen into a rut with matriarch Elizabeth (Michelle Pfeiffer) trying to salvage any last bit of normalcy. This is a hard task to accomplish as her brother Roger (Johnny Lee Miller) is a deadbeat dad and total moocher who's son David (Gulliver McGrath) sees dead people. There is David's psychiatrist, Dr. Hoffman (Burton regular Helena Bonham Carter)who has overstayed her welcome by about two and a half years as well as Elizabeth's own daughter, Carolyn (Chloe Grace Moretz) who is in a very peculiar state of teen angst.

Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp) reunites with his distant
ancestor Elizabeth (MIchelle Pfeiffer).
When Barnabas returns he has several plot lines to deal with and herein lies the big issue with the movie. This is so much of a problem with the film that the fact the main character is a vampire is an afterthought. Not only does Barnabas have to rebuild the family name and business to its former glory, but he also has to deal with the fact he is now a vampire and in a completely new world. Then there is Angelique who continues to torment his family bu building a rival fishing business in Collinsport. On the eve of Barnabas's awakening an unsuspecting young girl by the name of Victoria Winter's arrives for the purpose of tutoring David and just so happens to resemble Josette (Bella Heathcote in both roles). Barnabas recognizes the similarities right off the bat and makes it his quest to win her heart. This ends up being the most neglected story line though as by the end of the film the romance between Barnabas and Victoria seems not only underdeveloped but simply convenient. There is no real motive, no deep reason why Victoria was chosen to be the vampire's new Josette other than she resembles her. It is this lack of justification that worries me as the screenplay was written by Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter scribe Seth Grahame-Smith. I am about halfway through the aforementioned book (which has a movie treatment hitting theaters June 22) and it is incredibly detailed and intricate. You can tell the material has been heavily researched, but there are no traces of this in his script. It has some great dialogue and the movie overall is much funnier than I expected it to be, but the multiple story lines he gets going never seem to get as much attention as they deserve with none of them standing out above the rest.

While the main focus wants to be the rivalry between Angelique and Barnabas it doesn't leverage that enough with the sprouting romance between Barnabas and Victoria. It wants to show Barnabas re-establishing the family business (and does so in a montage) but the operation of the whole thing is dismissed as the family would rather flesh out their relationships with one another at their big fancy mansion. It is as if the film has been divided into family dynamics and Angelique with everything else being thrown by the wayside. Near the climax of the film Barnabas throws a party with the justification of impressing Victoria and establishing the Collins family has officially returned but feels more like an excuse to feature Alice Cooper and make a joke about him being the ugliest woman Barnabas has ever seen. It is funny, sure, but there is no deeper meaning to it, there is no substance to the story.

Roger (Johnny Lee Miller) and Dr. Hoffman (Helena
Bonham Carter) enjoy a depressing breakfast.
Overall, I enjoyed the tone of the film and the roster of credible actors make this a lot of fun. While Pfeiffer doesn't have much to do other than stand around and look suspicious she is fun to watch as she camps up as much of the dialogue and wardrobe as she can. Bonham-Carter is extremely under used as the strangely engaging Dr. Hoffman (Did I forget to mention she has a subplot as well?) but does get a final wink that was probably intended for something that will never happen. Eva Green who was a sly yet empowered sex symbol in "Casino Royale" allows those qualities to seep through here as well mixed with a hint of goofiness that seems self aware of the ridiculous situation her witch has put herself in. While Moretz is also a weird side not in that Burton seems to be exposing her young, attractive vulnerabilities it does have a nice relationship develop between Barnabas and David who connect through the spirit world in which David's deceased mother exists. I can understand why critics have had such issues with the story and lack thereof in the character development but the star attraction here is still Depp and he, along with the beautiful spectacle of the visuals, is not a let down. Barnabas is a playboy, a family man, and Depp plays up every aspect of this out of place eccentric. He means well but he doesn't always have the best of intentions. The best thing that can be said about Barnabas though is that he guides a movie that doesn't always know where it needs to go. "Dark Shadows" may not be the best Depp/Burton collaboration but it is so much better than those other vampire movies that keep coming out.


DARK SHADOWS Review

There has always been a humbly engaging tone about the collaborations between Tim Burton and Johnny Depp. That may sound strange as many of their films deal with death and depression, but nonetheless, it is completely true. When watching them I have always felt that kind of warm feeling in the pit of my stomach that reassures me I am watching a movie by people who love movies. Even in their darkest collaborations like "Sweeney Todd" or "Sleepy Hollow" the energy that has come from the gothic sets and pale characters have an enduring quality that never fails to somehow strangely connect with you. The same can be said about their latest endeavor "Dark Shadows" as the story is yet again one that concerns much talk about death and demons, or more specifically vampires, but has the engaging quality of being a warm-hearted tale about the importance of family. Though the film has (surprisingly) earned mixed reviews I found it to be every bit as entertaining and funny as Burton and Depp's more popular films like "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" and "Alice in Wonderland". I was especially disappointed in the latter and found "Dark Shadows" to be more of a reassurance than anything that the team of all things strange had not yet lost their touch. This is not a judgement on the film as compared to the director and stars past team-ups but should be looked at as a singular effort. In that regard, the film is a funny take on an old TV show that was apparently best known for its campiness. Burton brings his visual flair and Depp conjures up another memorable character. What more could we ask for?

GOD BLESS AMERICA Review

Like any interesting theory put to paper, "God Bless America" has a very specific agenda and a very precise point to make. It offers some very intriguing food for thought, but in the end leaves us more hungry than satisfied. This is a film that centers around the current society and why, for two specific people, it has gone down the drain. While the main mission of our protagonist (or maybe antagonist, I don't know) is to actually understand why people have become so mean and dim witted instead turns into a mission of someone unafraid of killing a person if they get in his way. It is a small qualm to make with a movie production, but if I am going along with the point the film is supposedly trying to make then it is in fact not a small qualm at all. Every life is to be cherished and every life is meaningful even if only meaningful to the person that possesses it. It should still be considered and therefore not shot down without consideration of the repercussions putting that bullet in them might have. I certainly don't pretend to know everything about anything and I can understand why director Bobcat Goldthwait has become fed up with society as it is today. I can understand why it is hard to take today's youth seriously as I myself dislike most of the people my age and even more so the generation that is coming out of high school now and thinks that Flo-Rida wrote "Right Round" and did it without sampling Dead or Alive's 1985 hit. It is frustrating, and in many ways sad. The thing about "God Bless America" the movie though    is while it is funny to see such ridiculous fantasies taken out on the morally barren it ends up not feeling as gratifying as director Goldthwait might have imagined it to be.

Frank (Joel Murray) teaches Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr) how
to handle a gun...
The early scenes in the film are full of crackle and spirit and truly allow what is Goldthwait's thesis in this film of idea and thoughts to be formed. As average everyman Frank, Mad Men's Joel Murray plays it cool and evokes a good amount of empathy from the audience early on. We completely understand his point of view and we support it. We completely get it. It is as if he is perfectly addressing every issue we have with the pop culture society that seems to have taken over. The culture that rewards people for being famous for the sake of being famous rather than being famous because they actually possess a praise-worthy talent. Throughout, I like Frank, he is a stand up guy that doesn't mean anyone any harm, but when he learns he is going to die of a brain tumor and gets fired from his cubical job on the same day well, needless to say, he snaps. The story sets this up perfectly. Frank is given plenty of targets in the form of his neighbors who don't practice common courtesy to those spoiled brats on My Sweet 16-type shows that cry because their parents buy them the wrong car. Sure, they may be easy targets, but this is nothing anyone sitting at home scrolling through channels and realizing there is nothing on better than that garbage hasn't fantasized about. In executing the selfish and ignorant child that is the product of her parents trying to be more friend than teacher, Frank crosses paths with the young, but equally disgusted Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr).

then they pick on those that add to the deterioration of society...
There is literally (and they would hate me for even using that word) no one who is safe from the wrath of Frank and Roxy when they get into their discussions about what kind of people deserve to die. The thing about being an audience member when it comes to these moments is that although you may agree with their common goal here, there will be mentions of things they despise that you probably have a fondness for. I don't mind watching televised talent shows (Are there too many? Yes. Do they rarely produce a real, all around talent? True. Do they pick on the weak and their false aspirations to get higher ratings? Absolutely.) I am as guilty as anyone for laughing at William Hung and it is evident Goldthwait has a real problem with that. I enjoyed "Juno" as well as Diablo Cody's writing. Clearly Goldthwait didn't. In regard to Cody and her movie the joke that Frank makes is funny, I'll give him that, but it is also a perfect example of how the gen x generation has labeled those that have come after. It paints the writer into a corner though because it points the finger right back at itself. For, Cody was not trying to validate teen pregnancy in her movie but was instead shining light on a real, human situation. Goldthwait takes something he seems to think he understands (another reason to dislike the younger generation) and twists it in a way that validates his point.The truth is that teen pregnancy happens, (is that a result of poor parenting? Certainly, but that also points the finger at Goldthwait's fellow generation.) but that movie wasn't glorifying it, in fact it was simply showing compassion for those unfortunate enough to not be educated enough to not get themselves into that situation. There will be arguments made that the character clearly chose this for herself, but one only take a look at her surroundings to see why she might have thought it wasn't such a bad idea. This is not an essay in defense of the movie "Juno" though. This has simply been used as an example to point out that while "God Bless America" gets a lot of things right and does, for the most part, have good intentions it is far to narcissistic to come out wearing a medal of honor for honorable work.

...and then they shoot some more people.
Despite the previous paragraph I actually enjoyed the majority of the film and was only mildly disappointed that the writer in Goldthwait seemed to run out of steam about half way through the movie. From that point on, instead of continuing to be an analyzation of our country's current climate we desolve into a standard action film that has our two characters gunning everyone in site down. Not to mention the director steadily sexualizes Roxy more and more as the film goes on and cannot resist the storyline of having Frank have to fight off his urges in making Roxy more than just a friend. In the beginning, Frank is a guy so stable, so sure of who he is and how he should and more importantly wants to act. By the end, and rightfully so after going through many injustice's, Frank is frazzled and on edge. We understand why he is beginning to think the way he is, but when you set up characters who are so overly critical of everything it is hard not to allow them to fall into those same, stereotypical traps. I hoped, after such a great opening that Frank would live to be a three dimensional character that truly came to symbolize his stance on society. In many ways he does end up doing this, unfortunately he does it in a way that is reminiscent of every revenge fantasy we have seen before. What this really comes down to is the fact that every generation will have its folks it's ashamed of and will always look down on the newer ones because they are no longer able to make those memories over or act irresponsible as they see them doing. They will look down upon them in many ways in jealousy, but nonetheless, they will pick out all the negatives to make themselves feel better. It has been going on for generations and will no doubt continue to be the same way. This film is just one man taking those frustrations to a whole other level. Now in limited release or on VOD.




GOD BLESS AMERICA Review

Like any interesting theory put to paper, "God Bless America" has a very specific agenda and a very precise point to make. It offers some very intriguing food for thought, but in the end leaves us more hungry than satisfied. This is a film that centers around the current society and why, for two specific people, it has gone down the drain. While the main mission of our protagonist (or maybe antagonist, I don't know) is to actually understand why people have become so mean and dim witted instead turns into a mission of someone unafraid of killing a person if they get in his way. It is a small qualm to make with a movie production, but if I am going along with the point the film is supposedly trying to make then it is in fact not a small qualm at all. Every life is to be cherished and every life is meaningful even if only meaningful to the person that possesses it. It should still be considered and therefore not shot down without consideration of the repercussions putting that bullet in them might have. I certainly don't pretend to know everything about anything and I can understand why director Bobcat Goldthwait has become fed up with society as it is today. I can understand why it is hard to take today's youth seriously as I myself dislike most of the people my age and even more so the generation that is coming out of high school now and thinks that Flo-Rida wrote "Right Round" and did it without sampling Dead or Alive's 1985 hit. It is frustrating, and in many ways sad. The thing about "God Bless America" the movie though    is while it is funny to see such ridiculous fantasies taken out on the morally barren it ends up not feeling as gratifying as director Goldthwait might have imagined it to be.

THE AVENGERS Review

So, it has begun. The Summer movie season kicks off with what is likely the most ambitious film in recent memory. When Samuel L. Jackson showed up after the credits in 2008's "Iron Man" the reality of there actually being an "Avengers" film seemed like complete fantasy. Never had a studio developed individual projects to work towards something bigger. It was clear Marvel wanted to do something unprecedented though and they have stuck to their guns and pulled it off. Each of their four stand alone heroes including Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, and Captain America bring their talents together along with side notes Black Widow and Hawkeye to form a serviceable army against Thor's demented half brother Loki. "The Avengers" is the kind of film that not only a comic book fans can get excited about, but for those that simply love the super hero genre or action adventure movies in general; there is something here for everyone. One doesn't even have to be overly familiar with the previous films for them to understand everything that is going on here (but it certainly would help). In bringing this group of diverse but gifted individuals together director Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly) has crafted what is a pretty standard story for the team to execute, but he does it with such style and wit he is easily forgiven as he has brought together what had no reason to exist. He has made the impossible possible and given the fans and interested newbies a movie that is action-packed, consistently funny, and motivated by more than simply seeing these cool characters fight a bad guy. What "The Avengers" demonstrates best is the understanding of its audience and to that regard it is nearly flawless.

Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) initiates the assembly.
What was always going to be interesting about this film from the beginning was how one would accomplish getting all of these characters together for a common purpose. This has been a plot point Marvel president Kevin Fiege and his team have clearly been concerned with as well. While the strand of Tony Stark's ability to go on living after his close encounter with a bomb left pieces of shrapnel close to his heart has always dealt with the arc reactor technology there is also the concern of an ancient energy cube called the tesseract. We saw at the end of "Captain America: The First Avenger" that Howard Stark found the tesseract after the Captain went down and likely invented a technology that was inspired by the cube's energy. This provides reason as to how Stark was able to create the principle tech-based arc reactor in a cave. Howard Stark created humanity's approach to the technology while still aspiring to match that of what belonged to places such as Asgard. In this way of thinking, the cube rightfully belongs to Loki and his new friends he's made after being cast out of Asgard by his father Odin and brother Thor. The catch here is that since WWII the tesseract has stayed in the possession of earth, but more specifically in that of S.H.I.E.L.D's hands. The secret government agency that has been trying to put the Avengers initiative into action for years. When S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) finally gathers the able scientists, including "Thor's" Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard), to unlock the mysteries of the artifact it also seems an opportune time for Loki to steal it and take over the world.

Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Black Widow (Scarlett
Johansson) encounter things they weren't trained for.
The mythology of these movie universe's coming together to form one coherent story is what makes this movie so highly anticipated. What makes it so exciting to watch. There could be no plot at all, but it would still be a treat to see Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) talk science. It would still be awesome to see the God of Thunder, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) square off against Banner's Green rage monster. It is engaging to watch Captain America aka Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) adapt to his new surroundings and still be able to take charge and lead his team. Good thing for us is that the movie does not rely only on the fact that it is simply cool to watch these guys interact with one another but also provides strong dramatic tension between them and their enemy. As the assembly begins, Loki has infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D, brainhwashed Clint Barton aka Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Selvig as well as the tesseract. Fury recognizes the situation and sends his best agents, including Scarlett Johansson's Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow and Clark Gregg's Phil Coulson out to recruit his team. Captain America, having just woken up from a 70-year slumber is naturally up for anything, while Stark and Banner are a little harder to convince after previous dealings with the agency. Thor, who arrives on earth to stop his brother inadvertently becomes a part of the team after an early misunderstanding with his future comrades.

The Avengers from Left: Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and Captain America (Chris Evans).

The story unfolds rather nicely and offers each of the characters a moment to shine. While I was surprised how underused Hemsworth as Thor seemed to be, this was the only real shaft in the script as even Hawkeye was given as much of a conflict as Thor. I was surprised in this regard mainly for the reason that Loki is our villain here. That is Thor's brother and he is having to take out someone he has lived his whole life believing was someone he could love and trust. This difficult situation is hinted at in different moments throughout, but the complexities are not investigated. Granted the film is 2+ hours and has a roster of main characters, but still, if there was one thing I could change about the experience it would be that. The other main concern I had going into the film was that of how Mr. Ruffalo would take over the role of Banner/Hulk. With him being the only actor not reprising his role from a stand-alone film I wasn't what you would call worried, but rather concerned with how he would mesh into the role as he and Ed Norton don't strike me as similar-styled actors. While there was slight disappointment in Thor's storyline, Banner became a more integral part and pal of Stark's than I imagined and their shared dynamic was flawless. The Hulk was also handled properly here and though I feel in the minority when I say I really enjoyed 2008's "The Incredible Hulk" this is definitely an improvement of where the big green guy's solo films may be headed. Downey Jr. does his thing as the perfectly sarcastic and narcissistic Stark and doesn't end up stealing as much of the show as you'd expect. Evans improves his Steve Rogers and makes him still the most earnest and honorable of soldiers while allowing just the right amount of new world thought into his persona.

Director Whedon was nice enough to weave in a strong character for Johannson's skillset and gives Tom Hiddleston as Loki room to flourish as he brings a menacing if not at times laughable evil to the occasion. While in the beginning we wonder what significance his army has to the story and who provided them, where they came from is never really explained. Though, if you stay just mid-way through the credits you'll receive a hint as to why they were included here and what they are setting us up for. I would have complained about a lack of justification, but after witnessing this extra scene and realizing the level of planning that has gone into this universe and franchise it is clear that there will be plenty of justification to follow. What we have witnessed here is simply the tip of the iceberg it seems.

The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) performs his signature smash.
"The Avengers" is a grand spectacle of a film and delivers on every cylinder I expected it to. Sure there were things dismissed and looked over that I was hoping would be included, but knowing that this is not the pinnacle of what Marvel is trying to do, but merely a starting point makes me all the more excited. I mentioned earlier that what the best part about "The Avengers" was is the fact that it understands its audience and its wants and needs. This comes across I think because Whedon never let himself forget who this was for and more importantly, what he would have wanted to see as a viewer. He is clearly a beloved fan of the source material and to be given the freedom to realize this project on screen was no doubt nothing short of pure joy mixed with a little bit of pressure. For this film, this introduction to all of these heroes as a team is one of not just fun, but pure entertainment. When people began making movies that were inspired by the imagination this is where they someday hoped we would be. This is that epitome of what the cinematic experience should be incarnate. It is fun, breathtaking, and completely bombastic in the best of ways. It builds to the final battle (which we've all seen clips for in the ads) and it delivers what we have wanted from these characters in their own regards. This is not the meeting of two enemies, it is all out warfare between an army of outcasts and a race whos purpose is yet unknown. There is something extremely engaging about how this all came together and something magical about watching it all unfold. All we can wonder is where it might go from here and with no hesitation will I commit to follow these heroes.