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.

ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER Review

The expectations I was holding for Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter were likely way too high. I wanted so bad for it to defy all those dismissing it and doubting it as nothing more than a piece of camp without an ounce of intelligence. That is not what the book was, it followed the historical facts down to every detail and was smart enough to justify its ridiculous premise through twists of truth on those real, historical occurrences. The movie on the other hand plays fast and loose with these facts and makes so many amends to its source material it can hardly even be called an adaptation. This might as well have been a slapdash effort thrown together by Robert Rodriguez and pushed off on an amateur director allowing them to get their toes wet on a studio production. Its obvious the studio behind Vampire Hunter doesn't hardly believe in it though and despite a few inspired sequences of intense action the movie ends up feeling more like its villains than the complex icon it has positioned as its protagonist. The film is cold and heartless with hardly an ounce of real human emotion being divulged from the actions taking place on screen. Despite the whole motivation for Linclon's hatred of vampires being the death of his mother you would be hard pressed to find an ounce of real conviction or substance in the character that stage actor Benjamin Walker has brought to the screen. I knew not to expect a carbon copy of what happened in the book, I expected things to be changed and condensed but I did not expect to see something less than a cliff notes version of Seth Grahame-Smith's interesting and much more entertaining novel.

Benjamin Walker portrays our 16th President over a
span of 45 years in the film.
Granted, the whole point of this novel, of its premise was to see our 16th President as an action hero. Still, I didn't think the man who crafted such a brilliantly twisted piece of contradictions that ended up melding so nicely would turn his clearly well researched novel into a standard action flick of a film. That is more or less what we have here though with the twist that Lincoln is in the hot seat to carry out the revenge tale. What is so disappointing about the film is that they don't seem to take advantage of this. Lincoln was clearly a complex individual with a lot of struggles through his life. He really did lose his mother at a young age and it was a devastating loss, he and Mary Todd had four children only one of which survived to adulthood and he is the President who went against the wishes of his cabinet, his people even for the betterment of the country.  This belief in what he knew was right served him well in getting re-elected for that second term and this telling of his story uses his presidency well to justify the cause of such a man in such a position. In the novel he becomes allies early on with a vampire named Henry Sturges played here by Dominic Cooper, one of the few bright spots in the film. Sturges guides a young Lincoln on his monster hunting sprees as Abraham tries to quench his thirst of revenge on the things that took his mother. He also puts him in office so that he can do away with the main source of food vampires thrive on: slaves. It all works very nicely but for some reason Grahame-Smith thought it better that the movie version needed to show Lincoln and Henry at odds with one another while Abraham obtains the coveted title through his own free will. Not only does it make less sense, give the whole point of the premise less credibility but the film fails to even acknowledge key points in his life like that of him winning the election or the birth of his child. They throw in the Gettysburg address and focus on the love story between he and Mary Todd though which I guess is supposed to make up for everything else.

Adam (Rufus Sewell) is a bad vampire who means to
stop Mr. Lincoln.
That Grahame-Smith adapted his own book into this resulting screenplay gives me the feeling he had some serious pressure on him to turn the promising title into the most standard of fare so as the studio wouldn't be at too much of a risk. If you're gonna do it though, go all out. In what is the most disappointing aspect of the transition from page to screen is the fact the author felt it necessary to culminate all of the vampire enemies Lincoln has in the book to one bad guy inparticular. While Rufus Sewell is more than capable of handling these duties it came off as just another piece of evidence that the qualities so commendable about the book were squandered here. As Adam, Sewell is the leader of his kind and is a wealthy plantation owner in the south that has a certain intertwining history with Lincoln's mentor Henry. While Lincoln becomes rather good at his vampire killing skills he naturally gains some recognition by their head honcho. That Lincoln becomes President leads Adam to instigate the Civil War as he knows Lincoln is out to rid the country of the undead. This all fits into place nicely and director Timur Bekmambetov takes advantage of the action pieces by staging inventive and different fight scenes but he falls flat on the stuff that happens inbetween. Any scenes containing dialogue are rushed and feel more like chopped together bits of a montage rather than one coherent film. He literally caused the editor to fade out of every scene even if it was a few minutes long. The tone is way off which makes you wonder how he pulled off a nice piece of cheeky filmmaking like Wanted a few years ago. If he would have applied the same tone to this film as he did that one we would have at least been watching a film that has style and purpose. Instead what we have been served is a film floating on the promises of its great name. It thinks it can get away with not being that great, being absolutely standard because of the time period and people it involves mashed up with something as crazy as bloodthirsty vampires. Too bad it's not fooling anyone.

Will (Anthony Mackie) and Abe try to stop the blood-
suckers on their way to Gettysburg.
I hate to think that I only disliked the film so much because of the fact I read the book, but I have no doubt that certainly added to my disappointment. Still, even if I had not given the book a chance I feel that the end result would not have lived up to my optimistic expectations for it. Though critics and audiences alike seemed to dismiss it I rather enjoyed Dark Shadows earlier this summer. Directed by Vampire Hunter's big name producer Tim Burton and also scripted by Grahame-Smith I found it to be funny and entertaining with a nice twist on the vampire lore. I expected to enjoy this twist on it much more, but unfortunately I can't even recommend this to those who aren't familiar with the source material. That hurts because I wanted so bad to be proven right by the naysayers who laughed at the trailers for this. I thought I "got it" and with the author behind the movie version I believed it stood a chance of getting a fine interpretation. A fine enough cast has been assembled as with the aforementioned Cooper as well as the likes of Anthony Mackie and Jimmi Simpson playing Abe's lifelong friends Will and Speed. Mary Elizabeth Winstead turns in a passable performane as Mrs. Lincoln though her filmography only drags down the credibility I was hoping the film would carry (except for you Scott Pilgrim, you were great no matter what). Is it worth spending two hours on? Probably not unless you just want to see Bekmambetov's well staged action pieces, but it certainly isn't worth shelling out extra bucks for 3D or large screen formats. It takes about as much advantage of these aspects as it does the fact it has Abraham Lincoln killing vampires. Not much.

 


ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER Review

The expectations I was holding for Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter were likely way too high. I wanted so bad for it to defy all those dismissing it and doubting it as nothing more than a piece of camp without an ounce of intelligence. That is not what the book was, it followed the historical facts down to every detail and was smart enough to justify its ridiculous premise through twists of truth on those real, historical occurrences. The movie on the other hand plays fast and loose with these facts and makes so many amends to its source material it can hardly even be called an adaptation. This might as well have been a slapdash effort thrown together by Robert Rodriguez and pushed off on an amateur director allowing them to get their toes wet on a studio production. Its obvious the studio behind Vampire Hunter doesn't hardly believe in it though and despite a few inspired sequences of intense action the movie ends up feeling more like its villains than the complex icon it has positioned as its protagonist. The film is cold and heartless with hardly an ounce of real human emotion being divulged from the actions taking place on screen. Despite the whole motivation for Linclon's hatred of vampires being the death of his mother you would be hard pressed to find an ounce of real conviction or substance in the character that stage actor Benjamin Walker has brought to the screen. I knew not to expect a carbon copy of what happened in the book, I expected things to be changed and condensed but I did not expect to see something less than a cliff notes version of Seth Grahame-Smith's interesting and much more entertaining novel.

BRAVE Review

Brave never enticed me like most of Pixar's features usually do. From the beginning I was somewhat weary of the project while remaining intrigued due to the scope on which it was operating and the fantastical elements that seemed to be involved with its story. That is the thing about Pixar though, they never divulge the entire story to you in the trailers but instead introduce you to the characters that anchor their films. In using this method the audience is attracted to the piece not only because it is made by the always reliable Disney/Pixar but because we want to get to know these people. That way, by the time we sit down to watch the movie we are swept up in a story that hasn't been completely given away in the previews. We simply know we like the characters, we find them interesting, funny, smart or whatever and we know we wouldn't mind going on an adventure with them. Such is the case with Brave where our red-haired heroine Merida has been the topic of much conversation as she is the first female lead in any of Pixar's 13 films. Lucky for us, she is more than up to the task of handling her own feature and is paired with the darkest of tales Pixar has ever had to offer. Though I wasn't overly optimistic for Brave after last years unnecessary sequel to their least beloved property I feel a fool now for doubting the animation studio as this is another moving tale that touches on something much more than any other animated film would fittingly, not be brave enough to touch.

Queen Elinor, King Fergus, Princess Merida, and her
triplet brothers dine together on a mighty feast.
I won't go into much of the details of the story so as not to give away the magic of it, but I don't think it is much to say that it explores the mother/daughter relationship unlike any film before be it animated or not. It was refreshing in many ways but mainly because I expected it to follow the more standard route of putting Merida (Kelly Macdonald who I always associate with No Country for Old Men but has lately been featured on HBO's Boardwalk Empire) on an all out adventure that takes her far away from her family and teaches her a lesson. No, this teaches her the ever important lessons of family and responsibility while shining a light in on the often ignored relationship that determines how a young lady will turn out and that is the influence of or lack thereof in her mother. In the case of Merida we have the overly complicated Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson). Elinor is a Queen's Queen who follows every rule and fits every stereotype to a T. She expects Merida to be this way as well and see no issue when it comes time for her to choose a suitor so as to keep peace between the clans of this ancient Scottish land. Merida, who is in no way trying to get married and settle down, or worse, become her mother, decides to break this tradition and carve out her own way. This leads to that lovely tagline we've been hearing since the marketing campaign ramped up, "If you had the chance to change your fate...would ya?" Merida certainly jumps at the chance and with plenty of old Scottish folklore thrown in and a strange witch voiced by Julie Walters to boot Brave turns into not just a heartfelt lesson of a movie but the darkest exploration of the human condition that Pixar has yet to produce.

Merida (Kelly Macdonald) follows the will-o-the-wisps
for a chance to change her fate.
Several critics have expressed their disenchantment with the film as it is definitely not Wall-E or Up but because Brave has the unfortunate spot of following up Cars 2 it seems that their jaded feelings with Pixar have not yet been resolved. Year after year the studio is expected to produce a masterpiece to join its rankings and though up to last year each of them at least explored such different areas of our world that it seemed almost impossible to compare any two. When that barrier of perfection was broken last year it gave people the sense that maybe Pixar wasn't exactly invincible and thus has resulted in several naysayers when it comes to Brave. The film, while not boasting as deep a lesson as Wall-E or conjuring up nostalgia like Toy Story 3 still does not deserve to be compared with these works because it functions, like every other Pixar film, within its own universe and on its own terms. Being only the third Pixar film to feature a cast of entirely humans we are transported to a place the animation studio has never taken us before with a lead character unlike any other they've allowed to front their films and delves into the mythology of a country that sets itself up perfectly for a wondrous story that will show the youngins in the audience why it is important to listen to their parents and why always doubting them can lead to things far worse than what their parents ask. On the other side it defends that childhood drive to make ones parents understand who they are, what they want to be and how they can't be pressured into the person their parents might have pre-expected them to turn into. In this case, everyone learns a valuable lesson and gains something from it. And while that is a tale as old as time, Brave puts a fresh enough twist on it while layering it with beautiful animation and lively characters to keep us oogling at the sights and laughing at the hijinks.

Lords MacGuffin, Macintosh, and Dingwall all have sons
competing for Merida's hand in marriage.
Not meaning to sound as if I am strictly defending the film, I would just like it to be made clear that Pixar's latest deserves just to be in the canon of films that have garnered the studio its reputation. It is a lovely film that doesn't stand to go past its limits and has a riotous bunch as a supporting cast that even out the dark and heavy with the light and comical. Billy Connolly as King Fergus is a riot as is the King and Queens three young triplets who are mischevious enough to keep the kiddies laughing and cute enough to keep the parents endured. They will likely fall into that roster of beloved side characters that enhance the memory of the film. Kevin McKidd, Craig Ferguson, and Hagrid himself Robbie Coltrane all provide voices for the different clan leaders who are as quirky as they are brutal. The moments with the host of them and their armies battling it out verbally and physically with one another are those moments where Pixar shines in its use of comic timing while the small moments where Merida and her mother create a connection out of more than just one incident, but with an understanding between them of where each is coming from show the storytellers are as keen as ever at adapting the truth of human emotions in cartoons. That is why Pixar continues to prove itself again and again. Even with Brave, which will unfortunately be considered a lesser work, they have created what will no doubt not only be one of the best animated films of the year, but one of the best films period. I enjoyed it thoroughly and am anxious to see if it will become more appreciated with age. I certainly hope so, much like those myths of old Brave is a reflection of our own selves in a time of children growing up too fast and why that bond between parent and child is more important than ever.



 

BRAVE Review

Brave never enticed me like most of Pixar's features usually do. From the beginning I was somewhat weary of the project while remaining intrigued due to the scope on which it was operating and the fantastical elements that seemed to be involved with its story. That is the thing about Pixar though, they never divulge the entire story to you in the trailers but instead introduce you to the characters that anchor their films. In using this method the audience is attracted to the piece not only because it is made by the always reliable Disney/Pixar but because we want to get to know these people. That way, by the time we sit down to watch the movie we are swept up in a story that hasn't been completely given away in the previews. We simply know we like the characters, we find them interesting, funny, smart or whatever and we know we wouldn't mind going on an adventure with them. Such is the case with Brave where our red-haired heroine Merida has been the topic of much conversation as she is the first female lead in any of Pixar's 13 films. Lucky for us, she is more than up to the task of handling her own feature and is paired with the darkest of tales Pixar has ever had to offer. Though I wasn't overly optimistic for Brave after last years unnecessary sequel to their least beloved property I feel a fool now for doubting the animation studio as this is another moving tale that touches on something much more than any other animated film would fittingly, not be brave enough to touch.

Top Movies of '12 So Far

While it is hard to believe we have already reached the halfway point of 2012 it is true, which means we have a good pool of films to choose from already in our favorites for the year. While looking back through the reviews I've written this year I could not yet justify a list that included ten films and so I have decided to go with the more challenging list of five. Granted, I have not yet seen a few films that have been released in bigger markets that I'm sure would stand a chance of making the list such as Benh Zeitlin's beautiful-looking Beasts of the Southern Wild that I have heard nothing but great things about as well as Wes Anderson's latest Moonrise Kingdom and a pair of indie comedies starring Mark Duplass that have been getting rave reviews. While both Safety Not Guaranteed and Your Sister's Sister will hopefully be making their way to my neck of the woods very soon I was able to create a list of a few blockbusters and a few others that have flown under the radar that I have enjoyed immensely this year. While a few such as Joe Carnahan's achingly lovely The Grey and Josh Trank's inventive mash up two tired genres in Chronicle land just outside the list I have narrowed them down by knowing a good number of these will withstand the Oscar hopefuls that will come out later this year and likely populate my end of the year list. For now, these are the reigning champs, but if the second half of 2012 is anything like the first there will be stiff competition for the top spot.



The first film on the list is one of much debate. Not just for the story and the mystery surrounding it, but of quality. Some people have loved it, finding it a worthy connection to their sci-fi/horror classic that is Ridley Scott's Alien. Others have written it off as another in Scott's late career that displays lovely visual stylings with very little substance. I, on the other hand, was never overly fond of Alien only having seen it in a film class and a rental just before viewing this supposed prequel. As for the visuals, yes they are stunning, Prometheus is absolutely gorgeous and invokes a dark tone that is consistent with the bleak and mysterious undertones of the story that has been severely underestimated by those who have written it off as standard B-movie action archetypes. I was rather disappointed with parts of the script myself (especially the ending) after the first viewing but the more I've thought about it the more complex it has become and the more questions I have come up with. There have also seemed to be more conclusions that could be drawn for each of the questions that have come up as well. Not just from reading others theories on different aspects of the film, but from thinking of the possibilities of where the next film in this series might go. Where I hope it might go is to give us a more concrete and inventive answer to the large, main question that it asks. The entire running time of the film the audience is looking forward to answers that the film continues to ask. Instead there is little in the way of revelation and more in the terms of philosophy and hints at ancient mythology than to write a chapter of its own. It is the one aspect of the film that kept it from perfection in my perspective. I only hope the inevitable sequel lends itself more to firm ideas rather than speculation.

The next film is another of the years biggest blockbusters so far and it just so happens to be one of the better films. One of my favorite films in fact. I would like to have ranked it higher, but despite it being a faithful and fervent adaptation of the source material it fails in the regard to make the strong impression upon us that the character of Katniss did in the book. Given, talented actress Jennifer Lawrence only has a mere two and a half hours to relate what a an entire novel of words did I can only hope that with the following two films Lawrence will stretch her ability to flesh out Katniss fully. The supporting cast is stellar and the three young leads certainly have what it takes to turn this into a serious analysis of the world we live in and a film that makes its audiences not question the story it is telling but the implications it means to make is something to be cherished, especially when in the realm of blockbuster films. The books are of a certain commentary on the world today and the type of entertainment we can find enjoyable. Will fans of the book think the movie is better? Probably not, but that has never been a fair judgement. Where the book gave us the internal thoughts and reasoning's of our characters the movies give us the how. What is so appealing about The Hunger Games film is that while it certainly delivers the "how" of author Suzanne Collins world it is able to tap into the "why" as well and give us hints of what is to come while setting everything up in this first chapter with satisfying results. I thoroughly enjoyed the book series and do believe that director Gary Ross crafted a fine adaptation, likely the best one could have made, and for that reason it finds itself among my favorites of the year so far.


Bernie will likely make my top 10 films of the year when 2012 draws to a close. I loved every minute of it. I was first happy to see star Jack Black and director Richard Linklater reunite after creating a minor classic in School of Rock almost ten years ago and second to see that Black would get the opportunity to portray a character that didn't fit the bill for his standard roles that have caused him more big budget misfires than hits as of late. I literally don't think he has appeared in a quality film since 2008's Tropic Thunder (I'm not counting his voice work in Kung Fu Panda or his extended cameo in The Muppets either). I have always liked the actors personality and willingness to go as far as it takes to pull off a good joke, but Linklater seems to know best how to focus these assets into a character that supports the story rather than a character who's story is struggling to keep up with him. Black plays the odd man with such a soft spoken, southern voice and hints of feminism that raise questions about his sexuality and only add layers to a man fascinating enough on his own without adding in other questions to make us ponder his true motives. Bernie Tiede was a caring man who became too involved in the life of an elderly lady and in the end came to regret his kindness to the point that he couldn't serve the woman anymore and ultimately felt he had no other option. Was he simply too nice a guy too break an old ladys heart? Did he just crave friendship and approval so much that he killed to carry on his charitable works? They are such contrasting thoughts it's hard to even narrow down the real source of why such a thing came to be, but it did and in this crazy true story out of east Texas has come a film that re-defines a career and refreshes faith in a storyteller seeing the value of that over-used tagline "based on a true story".  
What grabs and stays with you about Sound of My Voice is not just the idea the film revolves around, but the fact that you don't necessarily know what or where exactly any of this is coming from and where it might be going. It is an ambitious film on a small scale. If you have seen the trailer then you understand the intrigue of what is going on here and you adore the tone for its subtle and scarce feelings it leaves you with. This is a brief but very precise film. It knows what it's going for and by all accounts it captures it perfectly. There is a mystery to the going-on's that can't hardly be described and there is an intelligence to the writing that at the same time makes us feel both calm yet inadequate. It is a strange feeling, but that kind of confusion, hesitation, and flat out mesmerizing effect is no doubt what director and co-writers Zal Batmanglij and Brit Marling were going for. Marling, who is the new "it" girl for indie films after last year's underrated Another Earth does tremendous work here. This is an original and engaging film that not only proves you can make a good science fiction flick without green screens and space ships but that you can also make a film on a small budget that can blow you away. The film keeps you on the edge of your seat and at the end you really do want more. It is one of those movies you want to watch again as soon as it ends. You want to interrogate the film because you enjoyed it so much. It was truly an experience and for anyone that did in fact doubt Ms. Marling can surely now be silenced as she has proved herself more than a one cult wonder. This is a fantastic film and I can't wait to tell people about this movie. I'm still thinking about it. I'm still fascinated.
















The Avengers has to take the number one spot at the moment. Not only is it the highest grossing film of the year, but it is a grand spectacle of a film that 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. The best part about The Avengers is the fact it understands its audience and its wants and needs. This comes across, I think, because director and writer Joss 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 just the smallest amount of pressure. For this film, this introduction to all of these heroes as a team is one 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 and it delivers what we have wanted from these characters for the past four years 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 whose 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.


Though Bernie certainly falls into the category of comedy it is definitely darker than your average funny movie. When it comes to all out comedy there has been no better offering this year than 21 Jump Street. It was the first film of the year that I was genuinely looking forward to and it delivered on every level that I wanted it to. It was the test to see if Jonah Hill could regain his reputation as a reliable comedy star as well as a test to see if Channing Tatum could relate to a wider audience than teenage girls out there. Both proved to be successful as the film garnered a nice opening weekend gross of $35 million and continued to do well throughout its theatrical run. As an R-rated comedy that is something to be proud of. It would definitely make it inside the top 10 of the year so far but will it still be around at the end of the year? Maybe. I always try to include at least one major comedy on my list as most critics dismiss them as not worthy based on the fact they aren't garnering for award nominations and praise. There are plenty of other high profile comedies coming out in the second half of the year including The Watch where Jonah Hill shows up again and The Campaign as well as Ted and Judd Apatow's This is Forty. Still, I think 21 Jump Street stands a chance as it really is just an outlandish but highly entertaining comedy. It may not have followed the tone of the original TV show, but at least gave us what will likely be the best cameo of the year and made Tatum just as cool to guys as he is adored by girls. Their is flawless chemistry between its two leads and has a stellar supporting cast. If you haven't seen it, definitely check it out when it comes to Blu ray and DVD this Tuesday.  

Top Movies of '12 So Far

While it is hard to believe we have already reached the halfway point of 2012 it is true, which means we have a good pool of films to choose from already in our favorites for the year. While looking back through the reviews I've written this year I could not yet justify a list that included ten films and so I have decided to go with the more challenging list of five. Granted, I have not yet seen a few films that have been released in bigger markets that I'm sure would stand a chance of making the list such as Benh Zeitlin's beautiful-looking Beasts of the Southern Wild that I have heard nothing but great things about as well as Wes Anderson's latest Moonrise Kingdom and a pair of indie comedies starring Mark Duplass that have been getting rave reviews. While both Safety Not Guaranteed and Your Sister's Sister will hopefully be making their way to my neck of the woods very soon I was able to create a list of a few blockbusters and a few others that have flown under the radar that I have enjoyed immensely this year. While a few such as Joe Carnahan's achingly lovely The Grey and Josh Trank's inventive mash up two tired genres in Chronicle land just outside the list I have narrowed them down by knowing a good number of these will withstand the Oscar hopefuls that will come out later this year and likely populate my end of the year list. For now, these are the reigning champs, but if the second half of 2012 is anything like the first there will be stiff competition for the top spot.

HYSTERIA Review

Movies like Hysteria seem to always surprise me. This conclusion is based on nothing more than the time period in which the story is set. I always assume that anything having to do with the late 1800's or so will be terribly boring (see, it has even affected the way I describe the era) and that a story being told from this time can only be equally as exciting. Excitement, for lack of a better term, is exactly what Hysteria intends to induce though, if not in its audience at least in its characters which in turn relays some pretty good laughs to those of us unsure about what we were walking into in the first place. While the hook here is that the movie tells a story more appropriate to what might be featured on an MTV show today it places these actions in that time period when everything was supposedly so prim and proper. That time where everything private was actually kept that way and an individual prided themselves on their public image. It is funny to watch this, especially in the early scenes where our main character Dr. Mortimer Granville (Hugh Dancy) is exposed to the practices of his new employer and how they attempt to cover up what they are really doing with fancy medical talk. While it is entertaining to a point the joke quickly wears pretty slim and what we are left with is a pretty standard romantic comedy that is clearly trying to be something more by adding in the restrictions and conventions of the 1880's but instead gives us a few good laughs, a typical Maggie Gyllenhaal character, and a lovely little romance to tie everything up in the end.

Edmund St. John-Smythe (Rupert Everett) and Dr.
Mortimer Granville (Hugh Dancy) are the creators
of the modern vibrator.
That is not to say I didn't enjoy Hysteria for the majority of its running time. I was actually presently surprised by how charming the performances were and how well the film was photographed for such a small, under the radar picture. Director Tanya Wexler has directed two previous features neither of which I'm familiar with, but she shows great flair here for making a light piece with a subject matter that might easily appall yet goes down easy. There is ultimately no real need for fuss around Hysteria as it is a pleasant movie to watch but will likely never be desired as subject matter for day to day conversation. If anything it is an irrelevant film that will be dismissed as quickly as it was consumed. There is an inkling of a great idea here and good measure for plenty of interesting characters, but I have no idea how much of this is actually based on reality or how much has been fictionalized for the film. It is true yes, that Granville invented the electric vibrator but he genuinely seemed to have done this for reasons other than what it has become strictly used for today. You see, in this time period the diagnosis of "hysteria" was pretty much a label that covered all kinds of disorders but when Granville, in desperation to practice real medicine, comes across a job at the practice of Dr. Robert Dalrymple he finds that the good doctor has come up with a way to cure these women of their cravings and desires that they believed they should have been absent of. Granville goes into this believing he is simply relieving such mundane things as muscle aches when in reality he is meeting the sexual desires of hundreds of women that are left unsatisfied at home by their husbands who are either unable or unwilling to meet their needs.

Dr. Granville becomes enchanted by his employer's
daughter, Charlotte (Maggie Gyllenhaal). 
While the premise is rather provocative and the movie itself has a nice tongue-in-cheek attitude about itself, unfortunately for the actors, who really do seem to be enjoying themselves bringing this light romp to the screen, the writing gives them little to do beyond falling into the trappings of those formulaic rom-coms we've all become so accustomed to. Dancy is a wonderful little actor who breathes believability into a man not interested in taking advantage of the women he pleasures daily but is more interested in actually making a difference in peoples lives in a way his schooling has prepared him to do. This regularly puts him out of a job which is how he ends up working under Dalrymple which in turns begins to give him hand cramps because of all the work he is doing. In lieu of this injury the good doctor seeks comfort in one of his friends, the always charmingly reliable Rupert Everett as Edmund St. John Smythe, inventions. Smythe has developed an electrical fan and the vibrations from it give Granville the idea to modify it thus resulting in what we now know as the vibrator. For good measure it is thrown in that Dr. Dalrymple has two lovely daughters in the form of Felecity Jones (Like Crazy) and Gyllenhaal as Charlotte. Granville is naturally attracted to the more reserved and formal Emily (Jones) but I bet you can guess that the more rebellious and strong minded Charlotte will win his heart just from the poster.

Emily (Felecity Jones), Dr. Dalrymple (Jonathan Pryce),
and Dr. Granville discuss his future with their family.
Gyllenhaal gives a fine performance but really, it feels all the more familiar than it does original these days. She has made a career out of playing the hard-edged, determined woman who will not take no for an answer  and whether it be Stranger Than Fiction, Away We Go, or the upcoming Won't Back Down we feel like we've seen it before and the only saving grace for that upcoming role is the fact she is supported by the likes of Viola Davis. I like Gyllenhaal and think she has serious range as evidenced by the remainder of her resume but she is so drawn to these types of characters that she can't help but be attracted to them and in turn it kind of gives the movie a level of familiarity where it should be an exception to the rule as she is so proclaimed to be in Hysteria. Gyllenhaal is not the overall issue with the film though, it more falls on the fact the idea of the film isn't filled out well enough to support a feature length movie. There is plenty of talent and good performances here though to overcome the issues as I really did have a splendid, care-free time watching the movie, but I was left with little to think about as the credits rolled. There isn't necessarily anything wrong with this but even for a comedy we should be left with some impressions of our favorite jokes or in terms of romantic comedies a longing to know how the lives of our two lovers turned out, but none of that rings true here. I accepted the story for what it was and moved on. Even now, a day later I can hardly remember Gyllenhaal's characters name without having to look it up. It wasn't the intense, personal experience you'd expect from a well-made art house picture but it left me satisfied enough. Which, I guess, works just fine considering its subject matter has the same effect. 

HYSTERIA Review

Movies like Hysteria seem to always surprise me. This conclusion is based on nothing more than the time period in which the story is set. I always assume that anything having to do with the late 1800's or so will be terribly boring (see, it has even affected the way I describe the era) and that a story being told from this time can only be equally as exciting. Excitement, for lack of a better term, is exactly what Hysteria intends to induce though, if not in its audience at least in its characters which in turn relays some pretty good laughs to those of us unsure about what we were walking into in the first place. While the hook here is that the movie tells a story more appropriate to what might be featured on an MTV show today it places these actions in that time period when everything was supposedly so prim and proper. That time where everything private was actually kept that way and an individual prided themselves on their public image. It is funny to watch this, especially in the early scenes where our main character Dr. Mortimer Granville (Hugh Dancy) is exposed to the practices of his new employer and how they attempt to cover up what they are really doing with fancy medical talk. While it is entertaining to a point the joke quickly wears pretty slim and what we are left with is a pretty standard romantic comedy that is clearly trying to be something more by adding in the restrictions and conventions of the 1880's but instead gives us a few good laughs, a typical Maggie Gyllenhaal character, and a lovely little romance to tie everything up in the end.

ROCK OF AGES Review

Going into Rock of Ages my main concern was how the makers were going to take a format such as the musical and successfully mix it with a culture that seemed completely opposite what is considered a higher class art form. The funny thing about these two things though is that 80's rock can match the glitz and glam of Broadway musicals step for step. It may represent a stronger form of rebellion while the musicals of the stage are filled with more finesse but these two very distinct brands of entertainment compliment each other well enough for this experiment in the strange to be called a success. I had not previously heard of the hit stage show before reading that Hairspray director Adam Shankman would be at the helm of turning it into a feature. I went into 2007's Hairspray expecting to hate it. It looked campy and cheesy despite featuring a star-studded cast. I came out having loved every minute of it though and so when the first trailers for Rock of Ages came out and it looked like Shankman had done the same for the 80's as he'd done to the 60's I was excited to say the least. While Rock of Ages doesn't carry that same wonderfully bright and bouncy feel of Hairspray, it is just as unabashed and unapologetic about what it is. The main issue with the film is that it builds itself around two less capable stars whose relationship we don't really end up caring about. I would have rather seen Stacee Jaxx: The Movie than to have taken side steps for Julianne Hough and Diego Boneta's characters. Stacee Jaxx is where it's at and if you see the movie for any reason, see it for Mr. Cruise. Even now, as I write this review I have my Pandora station set to 80's rock.

Sherrie (Julianne Hough) and Drew (Diego Boneta)
have a meet-cute in Tower Records.
The film starts out in the most promising and epically cheesy of ways as Hough's Sherrie (no, they didn't use Steve Perry's "Oh Sherrie" from '84 which really bummed me out) is on her way to the big city of Hollywood. Departing her small town Oklahoma roots she has big dreams and intends on giving them her best shot. The musical numbers waste no time showing up as Hough belts out Night Ranger's "Sister Christian" and is joined by her fellow travelers as the chorus kicks in. It is so gloriously ridiculous the movie seems to be heading nowhere but up. Sherrie arrives on the sunset strip and is quickly mugged, her favorite records stolen, but is rescued from the streets by an employee at the famous Bourbon Room named Drew (Boneta). Drew is of course an aspiring singer as well and it is clear after the five minutes into the film that these two are predestined to be together. Drew sets Sherrie up with a job at the Bourbon Room which is under the management of Dennis Dupree (Alec Baldwin) and his quirky British sidekick played energetically by Russell Brand. The Bourbon is in trouble as it hasn't paid taxes in over a year and is counting on a show by the one and only Stacee Jaxx to bring them out of the black. As an Axl Rose type, Stacee Jaxx has become more famous for his strange behavior and off-stage antics than the music that first made him the rock God figure he now so depressingly bathes in. There is a great if not rather typical side story that concerns the hypocritical mayor of Los Angeles (Bryan Cranston) and his wife Patricia (Catherine Zeta-Jones) who plan to clean up the strip which entails doing musical numbers to Pat Benatar's "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" with the local church ladies. Zeta-Jones goes over-the-top in every aspect of her performance while pulling out her experience in the field to create one of the better choreographed numbers. Paul Giamatti shows up as Stacee's manager Paul Gill and gives a slick and sleazy, if not reliable performance. It is clear he, along with lighter supporting cast members Mary J. Blige and Malin Akerman are just having a blast here.

Constance (Malin Akerman) sparks something in Stacee
Jaxx (Tom Cruise) that he hasn't felt in a while...
While Hough has not yet proved herself in film outside the realm of those that are heavily influenced by music I thought she did rather well in the Footloose remake and expected more from her here. This was a starring role in a big summer musical, it was basically tailored for her and while her performance is certainly passable, even heartfelt in certain moments, it just doesn't fit the tone of the overall film. Worse off is newcomer Boneta who handles his singing duties with ease but embodies them awkwardly and feels stilted when he has to deliver dialogue for more than a few moments. For acting as the core of the film, their romance fizzles quickly. In fact, as soon as we set our eyes toward the mystery that is Stacee Jaxx we have completely forgotten about the young, naive, leads who are taking it all way too seriously. Cruise expands his filmography and his list of versatile characters by not only being featured in a musical but by stealing every scene he steps into. He plays the reclusive rock star with an edge that is not so easily seen past. He plays up the stereotypes of the character while delivering a subtle undercurrent of a jaded human being that has become disenchanted with the life he is living and yearns for something more simple. It takes Constance, a reporter from Rolling Stone, to lift the curtain on what he has become and motivate the rocker to return to form. As played by Akerman, Constance is a lively fan girl who tries her best to contain the excitement she holds for meeting Jaxx. She is a super fan who wants to see the man that made her love music in the first place become what she knows he could be. That is the story Shankman and crew should have focused on if they were decided to cast such wonderful supporting players with weaker leads.

Dennis (Alec Baldwin) and Lonnie (Russell Brand) are
inseparable and love the Rock N' Roll lifestyle.
What is best about the whole project though is that the older, supporting members of the ensemble do realize the campiness with which they are playing. Shankman does well to capture this wink and nod tone to the audience. They aren't taking this all too seriously and neither should we. If anything, the movie is simply an exercise in nostalgia. Screenwriters Chris D'Arienzo and Justin Theroux (Tropic Thunder) have re-worked the script to nicely tell a classic boy meets girl story through a collection of songs from the era where men wore just as much make-up as the women they were singing to. I wish the songs used in the film might have dug deeper into the era it was representing rather than relying so heavily on such standards, but I understand it. More kids today will know Joan Jett than they will Foreigner, but at least the oddly fascinating trip had the sense to go out on a blazing, belting , pile of Journey and their countless arena rock anthems. I would have also preferred it had the story been a little more coherent. It wanders a bit in the second act and only finds its footing because again, Stacee Jaxx and his influential past shows up to set things right. I don't mind Mary J. but I don't really know why she is here. I would have liked for the overall feel of the film to be less flashy and more gritty, you know kind of like the musical style it is representing, but then again we likely wouldn't have had Russell Brand and Alec Baldwin singing "I Can't Fight This Feeling Anymore" to one another either. It's hard to speak negatively about a film that doesn't mean any harm, especially when it is as fun as this one. Though it has its fair share of faults, Rock of Ages is pure pleasure and there is no reason you shouldn't let your guard down and give into the music.

  


ROCK OF AGES Review

Going into Rock of Ages my main concern was how the makers were going to take a format such as the musical and successfully mix it with a culture that seemed completely opposite what is considered a higher class art form. The funny thing about these two things though is that 80's rock can match the glitz and glam of Broadway musicals step for step. It may represent a stronger form of rebellion while the musicals of the stage are filled with more finesse but these two very distinct brands of entertainment compliment each other well enough for this experiment in the strange to be called a success. I had not previously heard of the hit stage show before reading that Hairspray director Adam Shankman would be at the helm of turning it into a feature. I went into 2007's Hairspray expecting to hate it. It looked campy and cheesy despite featuring a star-studded cast. I came out having loved every minute of it though and so when the first trailers for Rock of Ages came out and it looked like Shankman had done the same for the 80's as he'd done to the 60's I was excited to say the least. While Rock of Ages doesn't carry that same wonderfully bright and bouncy feel of Hairspray, it is just as unabashed and unapologetic about what it is. The main issue with the film is that it builds itself around two less capable stars whose relationship we don't really end up caring about. I would have rather seen Stacee Jaxx: The Movie than to have taken side steps for Julianne Hough and Diego Boneta's characters. Stacee Jaxx is where it's at and if you see the movie for any reason, see it for Mr. Cruise. Even now, as I write this review I have my Pandora station set to 80's rock.

THAT'S MY BOY Review

This was never expected to be that great of a movie and I can accept that. Despite my soft spot for Adam Sandler it is impossible to ignore the fact that in the past two years his Happy Madison productions have gone nowhere but down in terms of quality and the amount of laughs they deliver. While I felt like one of the few who really enjoyed Funny People for what it was supposed to be rather than what audiences expected it to be everything that Sandler has done since proves he learned nothing from the experience of making that movie. It seemed things might be turning around this year though as Sandler (kind of) left his comfort zone where instead of being surrounded by his usual cohorts he teamed up with prime-"SNL" star Andy Samberg for an all out raunchfest. While Samberg has certainly brought his random and ridiculous humor to the table there is also the very evident touch of writer David Caspe who is credited with several episodes of the well-reviewed show "Happy Endings" and director Sean Anders who before directed the underrated teen comedy Sex Drive. The free-wheeling tone of the film can absolutely be credited to their guidance and though Sandler does resort to silly make-up and a greasy wig to make the character more than just a version of himself he goes backwards a few steps with the over-exaggerated northern accent. To his credit though, this is certainly the funniest thing he's done in recent memory and in that regard I guess we can be thankful. Maybe it is a step in a funnier direction, but as I write this he is making his first sequel and out of all the films he could have picked from we will be watching Grown Ups 2 next year...maybe.

Todd (Andy Samberg) shows his dad, Donny (Adam
Sandler) the tattoo he gave him when he was eight.
That's My Boy is a movie that unlike most of Sandler's comedies doesn't carry the heavy weight of a lesson learned. It does, but it's not out in the forefront at the conclusion of the film like so many corny lessons usually are. The film instead simply goes for the laughs and Sandler is in a no holds barred mode as he let's the f-words fly with no regard to what others will think of him. His character, Donny Berger knocked up his jr. high teacher and fathered a child he was forced to raise by himself until the boy turned 18. That the film goes there so early is an indication of where it is heading and while most of what we will see is going to be a predictable mess the writers throw in some good jokes along the way as well as a few genuine surprises even if they are completely out of left field and devoid of any real substance. Donny finds himself nearing 40 and has spent all of his money earned from his 15-minutes of fame as the kid who hooked up with the hot teacher. He owes the IRS $40,000 and is in need of some quick cash so he can avoid the same fate as his lover/teacher. Donny's son, who left when he was 18 to make a life for himself is now getting married, is super wealthy, and has changed his name to Todd. As Todd, Samberg plays the straight role to Sandler's out of control Donny and for the most part the story arc and the relationship works. I would liked to have seen Samberg get a little more crazy as he and his dad begin to mend their relationship, but despite the vulgarity of the jokes being there the antics don't ever seem to get to out of control. There is a nice underlying point here in that the family Todd is marrying into is just as crazy and messed up as his own, but they have to go to some pretty extreme lengths to make this true. I couldn't believe they actually went where they did as it just seemed pointless and didn't exactly get a huge laugh, but to their credit it was an unexpected, weird, and ballsy move.

Donny and Todd reunite with their old friend Vanilla Ice.
What was smart about Sandler's move here is that he likely knows what the internet and fanboys are saying about him and though he probably could care less as long as he gets his box office returns that guarantee his checks (the reason Grown Ups is getting a sequel) but you know it has to hurt him a bit when so many people make the critique that he is no longer funny. People genuinely used to think the guy was funny and a lot of that has been lost. Teaming with someone like Samberg who practically is Sandler from 16 years ago will give the Sandman an opportunity to redeem himself in the eyes of those who have given up on him. In that regard, the movie should be a success. This has a lot of laughs and is a flat out comedy that could be described as a party movie but overall it is just a fun, R-rated night out at the movies. It has no more depth to it than that and shouldn't be expected to. It is what it is and one of the best things about that is the fact it isn't ashamed to act out or be loud and obnoxious. The argument could be made that the movie should have gone a little deeper, maybe even exploring the humor in dark situations such as the realization on the teachers part that she literally ruined the life of a young child. Sure, it was fun and they can call it love, but this boy could have amounted to be anything in the world but was robbed of those opportunities because of one adults selfish (I know it's hard to see things that way) actions. There was not a shot in hell that is where this movie was going. The film gets as deep as showing a man child learn to be an adult from the kid who took away his actual childhood. It is very subtle in these themes as the dick jokes are pushed to forefront, but give it a while to resonate, they're there if you want them to be.

Joined by his best man Phil (Will Forte) and future
brother-in-law Chad (Milo Ventimiglia) Todd and Donny
meet with the priest for the wedding rehearsal.
As with any Sandler comedy there is a host of cameos here, most of which actually improve the film and are accountable for many of the laughs. The biggest and most obvious is that of Vanilla Ice playing himself. He actually (surprisingly) does a pretty good job at playing up his image and making fun of what most would likely hope he is doing now. As a fellow celebrity alongside the fictional Donny in the 80's Vanilla comes into play as an integral part of the mayhem and an influence in Todd's young life. This is just one of the many examples of how ridiculous the movie gets. Sandler staple Nick Swardson has some funny bits as does Todd Bridges from Diff'rent Strokes, Tony Orlando has a pretty stable supporting part and "SNL" alums like Will Forte and Rachel Dratch pop up occasionally. In actual supporting roles Leighton Meester does nothing for me as the evil bride to be though her brother as played by "Heroes" alum Milo Ventimiglia steals his handful of scenes. It is another ridiculously exxagerated role that in the end turns into something weird and unexpected, but the acting ability he displays almost makes the whole thing feel plausible. Kudos to Milo. In the end this will likely show up on Sandler's filmography as an effort to re-cement himself as the funny man he once was. It is hard to say whether it will be embraced or not. It is a film that is all out raunchy and dirty for the sake of being raunchy and dirty but it does deliver serious laughs consistently. The additions of Samberg's credibility will certainly lend some interest in the project that Sandler will lose by skewing to the older demographic. I liked the movie, I laughed alot, and came out of the theater not feeling like I wasted my time but in fact that I found enjoyment in the comedy. You can't really expect or really want more out of a comedy than that. Maybe a little more class to the jokes, maybe a little more sense to the script but it is what it is and I hope people give Sandler another shot.

THAT'S MY BOY Review

This was never expected to be that great of a movie and I can accept that. Despite my soft spot for Adam Sandler it is impossible to ignore the fact that in the past two years his Happy Madison productions have gone nowhere but down in terms of quality and the amount of laughs they deliver. While I felt like one of the few who really enjoyed Funny People for what it was supposed to be rather than what audiences expected it to be everything that Sandler has done since proves he learned nothing from the experience of making that movie. It seemed things might be turning around this year though as Sandler (kind of) left his comfort zone where instead of being surrounded by his usual cohorts he teamed up with prime-"SNL" star Andy Samberg for an all out raunchfest. While Samberg has certainly brought his random and ridiculous humor to the table there is also the very evident touch of writer David Caspe who is credited with several episodes of the well-reviewed show "Happy Endings" and director Sean Anders who before directed the underrated teen comedy Sex Drive. The free-wheeling tone of the film can absolutely be credited to their guidance and though Sandler does resort to silly make-up and a greasy wig to make the character more than just a version of himself he goes backwards a few steps with the over-exaggerated northern accent. To his credit though, this is certainly the funniest thing he's done in recent memory and in that regard I guess we can be thankful. Maybe it is a step in a funnier direction, but as I write this he is making his first sequel and out of all the films he could have picked from we will be watching Grown Ups 2 next year...maybe.

PROMETHEUS Review

To be fair, I may show a bit of favoritism in writing about Prometheus. This is my kind of movie and I was hooked from the beautiful opening shots of the soaring landscapes of a distant, alien planet. Also, to be fair, I should state that I may be one of the few cinema lovers who does not have Ridley Scott's Alien ingrained into my mind as a film I grew up on, I never even considered it one of my favorites. Before refreshing my mind just before screening Prometheus I had only seen the movie that made Sigourney Weaver a star once. So, while many reviews you might read about this film will contain a high level of discussion about how this new film contains DNA of the directors genre-defining sci-fi flick, mine will not. In essence though this aspect feels like nothing more than an afterthought and so the knowledge of those previous films is unnecessary only offering a bit tacked on to appease those who have waited 30 years for the director to re-visit the genre he so generously made contributions to. Prometheus is a monster all its own, with a strand of thinking that goes after what Alien only hinted at. Alien was a minimal sci-fi film, it was elegant in its execution and a slow burn in its pace. Prometheus, on the other hand, while sharing the fine eye for the pacing of its predecessor, also goes beyond the walls of the ship to explore the existential longings of two scientists who believe they may have just solved the mystery of human existence. With such a big question premise there was bound to be some disappointing aspects to the revelations but Scott has concocted a film that is nothing short of an accomplishment in visual wizardry despite fumbling the ball in the final act.

Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) and Janek (Idris Elba)
watch from the ship as they discover the unthinkable.
We, as human beings, develop belief systems based on basic human needs. We do this to protect ourselves and function in the world. People strive to have happy events occur in their lives while feeling as if we are connected to the world in which we live. We create these systems though in an attempt to understand the world we live in, it provides structure and it helps us understand information so that all of this makes sense. Prometheus asks the question of what if these are all nothing more than self fulfilling prophecies? Are they nothing more than tools to interpret events in a way that fit into those belief systems? That is what I found not only the most engaging about the film, but also the most pleasing. That this large scale film that looks like a summer blockbuster has the balls to meditate on big philosophical questions. It is visually stunning and intellectually stimulating much in the vein of something like The Tree of Life while maintaining a demand that is something closer to that of a Marvel movie. Prometheus approaches these questions with the fact that there is biology somewhere else in our universe, that Earth is not the only planet able to sustain life, even if only in the smallest of organisms. The way in which it chooses to explore these themes is by pondering the questions of the origins of mankind.  The thesis is that life came from another race of extraterrestrials. It is kept strictly scientific throughout only upping the credibility of what we are witnessing. That is not to discourage beliefs in a higher power, but is instead something that quenches every single persons need to see to believe. At times, we can feel the strain of the script being unable to meet the epic expectations the dialogue reaches for. Still, for the most part this satisfies our sense of wonder and mystery with the awe-inspiring visuals that also carry a good amount of dread.

Dr. Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green), Dr. Shaw (Noomi
Rapace) and android David (Michael Fassbender)
investigate ancient ruins on a distant planet.
These thoughts and musings are played out through the story of two doctors, Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) who have discovered markings in caves that span thousands of years but share a common characteristic. These drawings lead them to a specific set of stars and planets where they believe the secrets to the origins of mankind will be found. The two scientists are on board the ship appropriately titled Prometheus after the God who is credited with the creation of man from clay and the theft of fire for human use, an act that is said to have enabled progress and civilization in mythology. Shaw and Holloway are funded by Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce in tons of make-up) an aging corporate tycoon who believes in their theories. They are joined on board by Captain Janek (a scene stealing Idris Elba) as well as corporate manager for Weyland Industries Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron playing the baddie for a second week in a row). And then there is David, the android who looks, talks, and for the most part acts like a human being. There is always one robot in these kinds of movies, but Michael Fassbender makes David one for the record books. While David is neither good or bad, he clearly has his own agenda and he will stop at nothing to accomplish his personal goals. While there are plenty of scares to be expected from the slimy alien life forms to the several creative ways crew members are dispensed, nothing comes close to the frightening realization of what David is and how much he is capable of. Fassbender makes the most out of this already stand out character by creepily yearning to be a human himself yet taking full advantage of the perks that come with existing without a soul and bottomless database.

David gets to the heart of the truth the explorers hoped
to find on their expedition.
While the first hour or so of the film is completely compelling with non-stop discussion of the possibilities that lie ahead and the talk of what they already know and what they hope to discover; the conclusion does see the script slightly crumble. It is all very fascinating and is both in word and scope genuinely epic. I don't know that I have ever seen more clear, pristine visuals coated with such looming nuances of fear. Each of the actors bring a fine performance to the table and Rapace should certainly be commended for anchoring this huge film with such humility and confidence. Though her Dr. Shaw is unlikely to become as iconic a character as Weaver's Ripley, that role was of a different time and social landscape where now a woman protagonist is not as unheard of. What is most important is that Rapace proves herself up to the challenge and I am excited to see where her career in the U.S. will go from here. The only disheartening bit about the film and the only reason it ranks a four-star rather than a full five in my books is because of the questions it leaves unanswered. While this could of course be left to the explanation that Scott wants viewers to discuss and draw their own conclusions the truth feels closer to the fact that the screenwriters were unable to create an end result that matches the hype the early discussions build. The entire running time the audience is looking forward to answers to continuous questions being asked. When we finally reach the climax of the film we receive no concrete explanation (which I can live with) but we are not really given anything to draw from either. We see a set of actions take place with no justification. It's as if the writers hope the crowd will be so distracted by the loop around to the Alien connection that we will forget about the meat of why we are here. Not true, and I held such high hopes for what revelation might come. I can only hope that those unanswered questions were left open for a sequel that might offer insight rather than a discussion that will only ever consist of speculation.

  

PROMETHEUS Review

To be fair, I may show a bit of favoritism in writing about Prometheus. This is my kind of movie and I was hooked from the beautiful opening shots of the soaring landscapes of a distant, alien planet. Also, to be fair, I should state that I may be one of the few cinema lovers who does not have Ridley Scott's Alien ingrained into my mind as a film I grew up on, I never even considered it one of my favorites. Before refreshing my mind just before screening Prometheus I had only seen the movie that made Sigourney Weaver a star once. So, while many reviews you might read about this film will contain a high level of discussion about how this new film contains DNA of the directors genre-defining sci-fi flick, mine will not. In essence though this aspect feels like nothing more than an afterthought and so the knowledge of those previous films is unnecessary only offering a bit tacked on to appease those who have waited 30 years for the director to re-visit the genre he so generously made contributions to. Prometheus is a monster all its own, with a strand of thinking that goes after what Alien only hinted at. Alien was a minimal sci-fi film, it was elegant in its execution and a slow burn in its pace. Prometheus, on the other hand, while sharing the fine eye for the pacing of its predecessor, also goes beyond the walls of the ship to explore the existential longings of two scientists who believe they may have just solved the mystery of human existence. With such a big question premise there was bound to be some disappointing aspects to the revelations but Scott has concocted a film that is nothing short of an accomplishment in visual wizardry despite fumbling the ball in the final act.

BERNIE Review

Sometimes those true stories that are so strange and intriguing and really deserve the movie treatment are either embellished to the point of non recognition or played so straight its hard to believe we aren't watching a "48 Hours Mystery" episode. What is appealing about Bernie though is the way it walks this line so carefully. Sure, it sways pretty heavily in either direction from time to time but it always regains its balance and in the end delivers a dark comedy that is nothing short of entertaining and completely unbelievable. The unbelievable factor comes squarely from the personification of our title character. He is such a strange and mysterious being. You think you have him figured out and then you learn something else about him, some other aspect of his life and it makes you re-evaluate him completely. In that lead role, Jack Black has given what is one of his finest performances. I have always loved Black and his manic energy despite his many failures as of late. Here, he has calmed himself down and subdued his energy while channeling it into this character that is at times very complex while on the surface remaining a kind of simpleton. He is a gentle man, but someone who clearly has ambitions and motivation and as he becomes the most liked man in a small community in east Texas. While Black delivers on every level he is also backed by a subtle and all too brief performance by Shirley MacLaine and a wonderfully over-the-top turn from Matthew McConaughey. Director Richard Linklater (School of Rock) surrounds these characters with a Greek chorus of town members and fleshes out his story with the most absurd of commentaries. It is a strikingly odd film that even more strangely becomes as appealing and charming as its main character.

Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine) becomes controlling
of her new found friend Bernie (Jack Black).
The crazy thing about the film, the hook of it, though really is the story and that is a lovely thing. When we first meet Black's Bernie Tiede he has accepted a job as the assistant funeral director in the little town of Carthage, Texas. Bernie quickly becomes a town staple and everyone's favorite person. He is more than just a committed worker at the funeral home, he teaches Sunday school and sings in the church choir. He ran the drama productions in town and he volunteered and would lend a helping hand anywhere he could. It comes as no surprise when Bernie befriends one of the widows of the husbands that has passed away. Marjorie Nugent (MacLaine) is pretty much hated throughout town and has been sued at least once by every member of her family. Marjorie also has a good amount of money to her name and so it works out perfectly that Marjorie can match Bernie's ambition with her finances and Bernie can fulfill Marjorie's desire for a companion. They do in fact become frequent travel buddies and Bernie goes as far as to begin managing her bank accounts, but she pushes him. He becomes more of her servant, waiting on her hand and foot and he is just such of a nice guy that he literally cannot tell her no. Instead of breaking the ties and having to deal with a disheartened friend he kills her. This, I find to be no spoiler because that is not the surprising part about the story. What is indeed surprising about the story is what happens after. The townspeople are glad to be rid of Marjorie and they would rather thank Bernie than condemn him. Bernie doesn't know what to do about what he's done and so he carries on as if nothing happens for nine months and in this time we find it fascinating what we really discover about the character of Bernie.

District Attorney Danny Buck
(Matthew McConaughey) is set
on finding Bernie guilty.
Because this does star Jack Black it might immediately be assumed this is a flat out comedy and this is partly true, but not really. There are funny bits, the commentary by the townspeople in itself is a guaranteed laugh, but there are strong hints of drama here as well. It is more than fitting into these genre lines though, Black makes his character a real human in the way that he captures the restrained madness and conflict that are no doubt hidden below the bubbly surface of Bernie. This becomes more than just a comedy film it is a social commentary on the south, specifically east Texas where the "real south begins....life behind the pine curtain" as one character calls it. That was the intrigue of the subject matter for me. It is all very specific, it knows what it is and it wraps you up in the world it documents while never clarifying or forcing its opinions of the title character on the audience. It leaves that up to us and in doing so it leaves just the right amount open while delivering everything we need to know to come to a well educated opinion. I still don't know what I think of Bernie though. The movie itself I loved, but the man is another case entirely. He is an earnest man and it is clear that he is simply a sweet guy who gets himself in to deep to something that his world and the way he works doesn't know how to deal with. It is interesting though that Bernie befriends most of the widows in town in an effort to keep them company and console them after the loss of their husbands. why he chooses Mrs. Nugent to become so involved with raises the question of is their more of a motive there because of her known wealth. Of course, it could be routed back to the fact they find in one another what no one else can offer but even still, what Marjorie can offer that no one else can is the money. Bernie has a large appetite for helping others and he uses Mrs. Nugent's money to do so in most cases. Even after her death he spends and spends. It is made clear that Bernie spent little to nothing on himself but it does show him, multiple times, taking a plane out for a fly and we assume it is his own personal one.

When this comes down to a trail (which is fittingly the finale of the film) McConaughey's cocky DA Danny Buck uses this angle to work the jury in his favor of putting Bernie away in prison. As a Linklater staple McConaughey doesn't come into play really until about mid-way through the film, but when he does he is certainly a force to be reckoned with and he seems the only one that is fascinated with the spell Bernie has seemed to cast over the townspeople. Director Linklater who also wrote the script was present for the actual trial of Bernie Tiede in the 1990's. This is clearly been a labor of love for the director and he paints a portrait of small town southern America in such a honest and pleasant way that this string of tragic events flows seamlessly as a big screen comedy.

Bernie explains how his fellow neighbors can get tax
deductions for what they've personally spent on
equipment and uniforms for work.
Bernie is absolutely in my top 10 films of the year so far as I loved every minute of it. I was first happy to see Black and Linklater reunite after creating a minor classic in School of Rock almost ten years ago and second to see that Black would get the opportunity to portray a character that didn't fit the bill for his standard roles that have caused him more big budget misfires than hits as of late. I literally don't think he has appeared in a quality film since 2008's Tropic Thunder (I'm not counting his voice work in Kung Fu Panda or his extended cameo in The Muppets either). I have always liked the actors personality and willingness to go as far as it takes to pull off a good joke, but Linklater seems to know best how to focus these assets into a character that supports the story rather than a character who's story is struggling to keep up with him. Black plays the odd man with such a soft spoke, southern voice and hint of feminism that raise questions about his sexuality and only add layers to a man fascinating enough on his won without adding in other questions to make us ponder his true motives. Was the real Bernie Tiede simply too nice a guy too break an old lady s heart? Did he just crave friendship and approval so much that he killed to carry on his charitable works? They are such contrasting thoughts it's hard to even narrow down the real source of why such a thing came to be, but it did and in this crazy true story out of east Texas has come a film that re-defines a career and refreshes faith in a storyteller seeing the value of that over-used tagline "based on a true story".