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Saturday, July 31, 2010

Vincere

You may not learn a lot of historical facts surrounding the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini’s reign by watching director Marco Bellocchio’s latest film, Vincere. But you will be highly entertained. It’s not that there isn’t a lot of history packed into the film; it’s just that because it was made for an Italian audience there isn’t a lot of explanation or perspective given to the facts it presents. But so what? Ten minutes of watching Bellocchio’s Mussolini work his way up the ranks of Italian politics will have you making a mental note to get a biography of the man from Amazon.com when you get home.

Friday, July 30, 2010

IP Man


Directed by Wilson Yip, this semi-biographical account of the first martial arts master to teach the Chinese martial art of Wing Chun is filled with enough fight scenes to satisfy even the most hard-core action film fan. What makes it accessible to audiences who don’t necessarily like kung fu movies is the compelling story of the reluctant hero who only resorts to violence when nothing else will work. The fact that IP Man went on to become master to martial arts legend Bruce Lee is a nice bit of trivia that’s not really explored in the movie, which is fine because the journey the man had to make to get to that level is absolutely fascinating.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Batman: Under the Red Hood

Along with a very successful series of movies, not to mention a very campy television series, the Caped Crusader has been starring in his own animated shows and movies for years now. Some have been good, some haven’t. This new one, which tells the story of Batman’s battle against a mysterious vigilante in a bright red hood, is among the best. From the opening scene, where The Joker is torturing the Boy Wonder, to the final showdown between Batman, the bad guy and the past they share, Under the Red Hood is a top-notch thrill ride. The cast is excellent, particularly Bruce Greenwoood as Batman and Jensen Ackles as Red Hood. But it’s the work of John Di Maggio as the voice of The Joker that will haunt you.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Chandni Chowk to China

Welcome to the wonderfully twisted world of Chandni Chowk to China, a Bollywood spectacular that’s good enough to cross over to mainstream America. Here’s hoping that it finds the audience it richly deserves. The film stars Bollywood superstar Akshay Kumar as Sidhu, a lowly cook in his father’s restaurant who is mistaken as the reincarnation of an ancient peasant warrior Liu Shengh by the representatives of an oppressed Chinese village. Armed only with the belief that he’s made for something better than life as a prep cook, and a potato bearing the image of the Hindu god Ganesha, Sidhu sets out to meet his destiny head on. What happens to him along the way is hard to explain, but a delight to watch. Those unfamiliar with the Bollywood style of filmmaking may have trouble understanding why the film switches genres so frequently. The actors can be in the middle of a heated discussion or an intricately staged action sequence and suddenly break out into an enormous musical number complete with Broadway-level choreography and costumes. But the great thing about Chandni Chowk to China is that you don’t have to know a thing about Bollywood to have a great time. All you really need to do is relax and let it happen. Don’t worry too much about the ‘logic’ of it all or over-think the story too much. Just let go of all your preconceived notions about what a movie should be and immerse yourself in what a movie can be.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Donkey Punch

A trio of lovely young ladies is out on a girls’ weekend when they run into a quartet of equally photogenic young men who just happen to have access to a luxury yacht, plenty of alcohol and enough pharmaceutical inhibition relaxers to guarantee everyone is naked and having serious fun before the ship is out of sight of land. In other words, it’s a perfect recipe for bloody disaster on the high seas. While horror movies have made a lot of money telling similar young adult excess fables over the years, what separates Donley Punch from the rest of the pack is director Oliver Blackburn’s skill at keeping the tension levels nail-bitingly high whether anything is actually happening up on the screen or not. He’s so good at it that when something actually does happen – usually with a lot of blood splattering across the screen – it’s almost a relief.

Monday, July 26, 2010

My Bride is a Mermaid


While on vacation with his family, a young boy is saved from drowning by a mermaid. When the mermaid’s family find out she’s been seen by a human, they announce that tradition demands that he either marry her or that she be put to death for letting her secret out. The fact that both the boy and the mermaid are high school students makes this a perfect series for young adults. What makes it great for older, more action-oriented viewers is the plot twist that the mermaid’s father is also a Yakuza boss who tries to get his mobsters to kill the boy so his daughter will forever remain his precious little girl.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Rolling Stones: The Mick Taylor Years

This well-written documentary about the most creative period of the World’s Greatest Rock and Roll Band – 1969-1974 – is filled with lots of clips, rare photos and even has the budget to include some of the music its talking about (although far too much of the soundtrack is bland rip-offs of The Rolling Stones sound). It also has a long list of aging rock critics ready to pontificate about the Stones, their music and what it means to the world. The real crime, though, is that the movie has only two actual interview clips with the man the whole movie is about – guitarist Mick Taylor – which is a shame.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Agatha Christie Hour, Set 1


This set of five Agatha Christie stories, originally seen on PBS’s Mystery, give viewers a look at one of the author’s lesser known characters, Parker Pryne (Maurice Denham), a man who doesn’t solve crimes so much as help people solve issues in their lives to make them happier. It’s a nice twist. The set also features three classic Christie tales, including the delightful The Girl in the Train, the story of a rich, spoiled young man who is always complaining that there is no real adventure in his life. What happens to him when he takes an impromptu trip makes him regret his words.

Friday, July 23, 2010

White House Revealed


Part of the joy of watching this delightful documentary is the vicarious thrill of getting a look at the parts of the White House that will never be opened up to the tour groups who walk the public hallways. The other thrill is hearing the stories told by the people who work at the most famous address in America, whether they’re talking about the eating habits of the Commander in Chief (like Bill Clinton wolfing down half a cake when the Monica Lewinski scandal hit the fan) or the president who never wanted to see the help and the lengths they went to make sure he never did. The staff’s perspective on the major historical events they’ve lived though is fascinating.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Rin

Rin is one of the strangest – and one of the most addictive – anime series to come along in years. It the story of an immortal detective and her 65-year investigation into a crime that almost defies description, particularly because of the way the chapters of the series weave the mystery together over the decades that the story takes place in. The mystery of why Rin is immortal, as well as the subplot of the vengeful forces who want to truly test whether she can die or not, is equally well told, although you almost need to make notes along the way and then go back to re-watch episodes to keep it all straight in your head. (The effort is worth it, though, once the light bulb goes off and you figure it all out.) A word of caution to potential viewers: Ren is definitely an adult anime series featuring some truly graphic – and haunting – images throughout. It’s not for the squeamish.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Pirate Radio

 It may seem hard to believe in an age where you can listen to just about any kind of music you want to on everything from your laptop to your cell phone, but there was a time when rock and roll was outlawed from the airwaves of Great Britain. Outlawed or not, the music still made it to the masses thanks to bands of roguish rock DJs who put their transmitters onto huge boats and sailed out onto the high seas beyond the reach of the authorities. In his new movie, Pirate Radio, director Richard Curtis assembles a top-notch cast to bring the exploits of the men who manned these rock boats to life. Buoyed by a fantastic soundtrack of early rock hits, everything from The Turtles to The Troggs, Pirate Radio takes the audience on a voyage into the lives of not only the DJs who played the music but to the everyday people who listened to them on their portable radios.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

O’Horten

When most men retire they get a pension, a handshake and a lifetime of memories to mull over as they ride off into the sunset of their golden years. Odd Horten, however, isn’t most men. Or at least he isn’t on the last day of his career as a train driver when a series of outlandish situations take the normally stoic Odd on the adventure of a lifetime.
Directed by Bent Hamer (Factotum), O’Horten is a sweet and funny comedy that doesn’t try to force itself on the audience, but instead seduces them into the world it creates and let’s the laughter take care of itself. It’s the complete opposite of 99 percent of the comedies American audiences are used to, and that’s a good thing. Hamer keeps you interested in the story by never going for the obvious joke – or sometimes any joke at all – and just letting the characters he’s created play out their part in Odd’s adventure. He also doesn’t worry about letting the silence build between his characters, never falling victim to the American style of comedy that seems to be based on the rule that if something is not happening or being said at all times, then the film stops being entertaining. It’s a refreshing difference.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Diary of a Nymphomaniac

As the title may suggest, there is plenty of sex, nudity and graphic adult behavior to watch in director Christian Molina’s controversial adaptation of Valérie Tasso’s provocative classic. The good news is that there’s also a heck of a good story woven into the provocative imagery as we follow the sexual adventures of young Valérie, played with astonishing abandonment and commitment by Belén Fabra, who does an amazing job of letting the audience vicariously experience the passion and the emotional consequences her character experiences on her journey.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

2:37

The lives of six high school student weave in and out of each other in this fascinating Australian drama directed by Murali K. Thalluri, who was just 22 when he made the film. While the troubles the teens face – everything from drug addiction and anorexia to the basic problems of not being liked by your peers -- are universal, Thalluri and his talented cast do a great job of tailoring them to the individual characters to make them feel fresh. Things fall apart towards the end of the film, but the journey you take to get there is worth it.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Parasomnia

A young woman suffering from a rare medical condition that makes her sleep most of her life away is haunted in her dreams by a deranged serial killer who just happens to be imprisoned in a padded cell down the hallway from her hospital room. A young man with a mysterious connection to the woman discovers the problem and tries to break the hold that the killer has on her. Although the plot gets a bit muddled at times, director William Malone fills in the gaps with plenty of visual style.

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Super Hero Squad Show

With the deadly seriousness of super heroes in the movies these days, it’s kind of fun to sit back and watch them act downright goofy in this fun kids series. There’s enough Marvel Comics lore sprinkled among the storylines to keep your inner geek happy, including the obligatory appearance by Stan “The Man” Lee as the Mayor of Super Hero City, and enough animated style to keep your eyes from rolling back in your head when things get too silly. Oh, and the kids will probably like it, too.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Touching Evil: The Complete Collection

If you stripped it down to its bare essentials – just the plot and the police procedurals used to solve the crime – Touching Evil would be as good as any CSI, Law & Order or any other American crime series you can think of. What makes it better that the rest, though, is the emotional depth that the script gives to each of the characters in each of the episodes, whether they are the good guys, the bad guys or, as is often the case, guys who live in the strange limbo in between. Robson Green (Wire in the Blood) stars as D.I. Dave Creegan, an offbeat inspector who relies on his instincts as much as the evidence to help him find who is guilty. The fact that he’s recently recovered from being shot in the head in the line of duty doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in his methods from his fellow police officers, but the results he comes up with soon do.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Star Trek

J.J. Abrams excellent new Star Trek movie is a glaring reminder of what was wrong with all the other Star Trek movies that came before it, the good (Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn) and the bad (Star Trek V: The Final Frontier). In those films all the characters – and all of the actors playing them – were just too old to be anything but past their prime reminders of characters they created when they were much younger actors. Wipe the nostalgia out of your eyes and you will realize that it's hard to believe in the guy up there trying to save the world from destruction when you can see it's a middle aged actor wearing a toupee and a corset. Not all of the things we see may correspond perfectly with past Star Trek lore, but thanks to the old 'alternate universe' plot twist none of it really matters. Its as if Abrams knew the only way to reboot the franchise was to wipe the slate clean, so he boldly goes where nobody else was willing to go before and gets the job done with enough verve and panache to make everybody – even the uninitiated – ecstatically happy with the end results.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Paper Heart

Does true love really exist? That’s the question at the center of Paper Heart, a sweet semi-documentary look at one young woman’s quest to find the answer. Charlyne Yi, who co-wrote the film with director Nicholas Jasenovec, stars as ‘herself’ in the movie and watching her interview people who say they have actually found true love in their lives is an absolute delight. The key is that Charlyne doesn’t have an agenda to her approach; she’s not a bitter woman out to prove love doesn’t exist or a doe-eyed romantic looking for affirmation of her own beliefs. Instead, she’s that rarest of cinematic creatures, an intelligent and curious young woman who honestly wants to listen to what others have to say. Her comic riffs on what she finds out are free of any cynical attitude, too, which is equally refreshing.
Of course, given its premise, it’s impossible not to think – or at least hope -- that Paper Heart will end with an answer to the question it’s been chasing for the past 90 minutes. And it does, in its own way, but like the rest of the adventure it takes you on, the ending isn’t too pat or predictable. It’s as charming as everything else.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Alien Tresspass

If you love old fashion sci-fi monster movies, then you are going to think Alien Trespass is the best movie to come out of Hollywood since 1953 when Gene Barry battled Martians to save planet Earth in the original War of the Worlds. And if you don’t love them, you are still going to have a lot of fun watching this tribute to those movies lovingly created by director R. W. Goodwin and his talented group of actors and technicians.
Alien Trespass stars Eric McCormack as Ted Lewis, a nerdy 1950s era scientist who discovers that a shooting star is actually a spaceship from another planet. While investigating the crash site, Lewis’ body is taken over by an alien being named Urp who needs his human form to hunt down the giant purple one-eyed Ghota that destroyed his ship before it can turn all of humanity into a gooey puddle of slime. If it sounds silly, don’t worry because it is, but it’s all done with such style and care that you can’t help but get swept up in the fun of it all.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Sugar

Sugar tells the story of Miguel “Sugar” Santos, a young Dominican with a good fastball and a potentially nasty curve trying to make his ways up from the local baseball academy to the big leagues. While it gives audiences a great inside view of what it takes to make it to the show – the training, the pressure and the uncertainty – Sugar really only uses baseball as a background to explore the American Dream as seen through the eyes of someone who wasn’t just handed it at birth, but is more than willing to risk everything he has to get his share. Newcomer Algenis Perez Soto is particularly effective in the title role, perfectly capturing the uncertainty of Sugar’s day to day struggles, whether it’s getting his curve to break over the plate or figuring out what to order on the diner menu that’s printed in a language he can’t read. Veteran character actor Jaime Tirelli is also very good as Osvaldo, the seasoned Bronx businessman who helps Sugar find his potential off the field.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Secret of the Grain

Set in a small French seaside village that's seen better days, Abdel Kechiche's The Secret of the Grain (La Graine et le mulet) tells the story of Slimane Beiji (Habib Boufares), a 61-year-old Arab immigrant who gets downsized after 35 year of working on the dock. With little hope of getting another job, Slimane decides to invest his severance pay and convert a derelict trawler into a restaurant where he can serve his ex-wife's secret couscous recipe to fellow immigrants, offering them a taste of home.
While many may dream of leaving a job they do just to get by to strike out on their own in a profession they love, the realities Slimane faces in making his dream come true are harsh. Not only does he have to cut through miles of red tape from bank loan officers to the local permitting process, he also must battle the local racism from the French residents who just don't want to see a foreigner succeed, no matter how long he's been living beside them in their country.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Terribly Happy

As punishment for some mysterious behavior unbecoming a police officer, Robert Hansen (Jakob Cedergren) gets temporarily transferred from his job in Copenhagen to a post as the new sheriff in a small town in South Jutland, a bleak and depressing bogland where the biggest problem seems to be keeping the locals from getting too drunk and sinking into the quagmire. Or at least that’s how it appears on the surface. The more time Hansen spends among them, the stranger the locals start to behave as they try to teach him the way things are done in their town. What was supposed to be a cushy assignment to pass the time until he’s ready to return to the big city soon turns into the toughest case the Copenhagen cop has ever been involved in.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Last Station

Long before there was Paris Hilton or Linsday Lohan or Madonna or Michael Jackson, there was Leo Tolstoy, the rock star of Russian literature whose life and death was more important than anything he actually wrote. At least that’s the case being made in Michael Hoffman’s delightful new movie, The Last Station. The movie follows the aging Russian author as he struggles to define the legacy he will leave behind when he passes on. Will his beloved books be enough? Should the fledgling social movement based on people’s interpretations of those works be his greatest achievement? Should he leave nothing behind, because his quasi-socialistic philosophy demands he not, or should he take full ownership of the wealth and fame he has gained over the years to leave an inheritance for his family? It may all sound a bit dry and philosophical, like a tedious PBS docudrama, but Hoffman, who also wrote the script, fills the film with humor and humanity, bringing the meticulously researched history of the man, and his myth, to joyous life on the screen.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Based on the best-selling book by Stig Larsson, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a fascinating thriller that that will have you on the edge of your seat trying to figure out what happened to young Harriet Vanger so long ago. On top of that, it is a film filled with compelling characters brought to life by some truly unforgettable performances. As Lisbeth Salander, the tattooed girl of the title, Noomi Rapace is an angry Goth biker chick who just happens to be a genius when it comes to hacking computers. Just why she is so angry is eventually revealed in the film, but while the reason is compelling it pales in comparison to watching Salander in action. She makes the relatively static art of working on a computer as exciting as any fight scene you’ve seen in the past few years. When she finally steps away from the keyboard to actually fight, it will take your breath away.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Blood on the Highway


It’s almost embarrassing how much fun you can have watching this low budget horror film about a trio of teens on the way to a concert who get trapped and hunted by vampires. Directors Barak Epstein and Blair Rowan take just about every cliché you can imagine and gleefully splatter it across the screen with humor and ferocity. The acting is better than you would expect given the obvious budget constraints of the production, and while the effects may not be special, what they lack in authenticity they more than make up for in sheer volume.

Monday, July 5, 2010

It Came From Kuchar

George and Mike Kuchar have been making movies for decades. Whether or not you’ve seen any of them, though, depends a lot on whether you are a fan of underground movies from the 1960s or not. From the clips you get shown in this fascinating documentary, the quality of the films the brothers make is questionable, but there is no denying the passion they bring to every production no matter how cheap it is. And it’s nice to see these old cinematic hipsters passing along the message to young filmmakers that you don’t need a big budget and stars to make a movie. All you need is an idea, a camera and some fools willing to stand up in front of it and do what you tell them.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief

A troubled young teen finds out that his mood swings and trouble at school aren’t really the result of his dyslexia or ADD. He’s actually a demigod, the half-blood offspring of the Greek god Poseidon and a human woman. Oh and his best friend isn’t really handicapped, but walks with crutches because he’s really a half man/half goat satyr who pretends to be handicapped because he doesn’t want to scare everybody with his cloven hooves.
Welcome to the wonderful world of Percy Jackson, star of a series of extremely popular books written by Rick Riordan and now his own big budget adventure movie directed by Chris Columbus. Like that other franchise Columbus helped bring to theaters -- you know, the one about a young wizard fighting a guy whose name you aren’t supposed to say – Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief is an uneven blend of broad mainstream entertainment and very specific details designed to make the rabid fans of the books happy with the adaptation. As a result, the film gets a little bogged down in details along the way, and way too much of the dialogue plays like a Cliff Notes version of a high school history book, but the special effects are cool and the adventure is fun to watch.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

FrightFest lets diehards decide what they’ll see

For far too long, horror movie fans have been at the mercy of studio heads who refuse to put scary movies into theaters unless they know it will make money, which usually means it’s a reboot of an old franchise or its been drained of all its potential gore so it can get a PG-13 rating and be suitable for teen audiences.


Now it’s time for horror movie fans to take back the power and decide for themselves what they want to see on the big screen thanks to Fangoria magazine and Lightning Media who have partnered to launch a unique, multi-tiered distribution program for eight new feature-length horror/thrillers.

As part of the multi-faceted program, fans will be the voting jury in a mini film festival

“Demand It” through July 19, to select one of the eight films for limited theatrical release in late July (www.FangoriaFrightFest.com). Fans will be able to view and vote for their favorite trailer and will then be automatically entered into a summer consumer sweepstakes to win a trip to Las Vegas and other prizes.

“This is a great promotional idea because it gives fans a chance to send a message to the people who put movies in theaters that there really is an audience for good horror movies,” said Darin Scott, director of Dark House, one of the features in the running to be released. “Not all horror movies should be just dumped in the direct-to-video bins because they’re too intense for teenagers. I hope the festival helps educate studio heads about what fans want and what they will support at the box office.”

The Fangoria FrightFest line-up represents a diversified array of quality genre entertainment, embracing a range of horror film styles from supernatural chillers to psychological horror and slasher flicks. These eight new feature-length horror/thrillers feature such stars as the Twilight saga’s Xavier Samuel, Calista Flockhart, Keri Russell, Michael Madsen, Eric Roberts and more.

Films included in the Fangoria FrightFest promotion are:

Fragile —Amy Nicholls (Calista Flockhart), the new night nurse at a soon-to-be-abandoned children’s hospital, readies the last group of orphans to leave. But it becomes increasingly clear that these are not normal children.

The Tomb (aka Ligeia) —Successful writer and scholar Jonathan Merrick (Wes Bentley) falls under the spell of the bewitching beauty Ligeia, who is fighting a fatal illness. Willing to stop at nothing in a quest for immortality, Ligeia plots to steal souls … beginning with Jonathan’s. Co-starring Michael Madsen (Kill Bill).

Grimm Love (aka Rohtenburg and Butterfly: A Grimm Story) — In this fact-based thriller, German graduate student Katie Armstrong (Keri Russell) is researching cannibalistic killer Oliver Hartwin (Thomas Kretschmann) for her thesis. Obsessed with her subject, she plunges into “the lifestyle.”

Road Kill (aka Road Train) — An Australian surprise starring emerging heartthrob Xavier Samuel (The Twilight Saga: Eclipse and festival favorite The Loved Ones). In this supernatural thriller, a group of teenagers (including Samuel) embark on a road trip and find themselves menaced by a driver-less truck in the Australian outback.

Dark House — Directed by writer/producer Darin Scott (Tales From the Hood), this thriller is a high-tech take on the traditional “haunted house,” featuring a charismatically maniacal performance by horror legend Jeffrey Combs (Re-Animator).

Hunger — Steven Hentges’ shocker stars Lori Heuring (Wicked Little Things) in a physically and psychologically demanding role. Five strangers (including Heuring) find themselves trapped in an underground dungeon. Realizing they are the subjects of a sadistic experiment to test the depths of a human being’s will to survive, their hunger increases as their humanity fades.

Pig Hunt — A young man and his pals embark on a guys’ weekend to hunt wild boars on his late uncle’s remote ranch. But as the group treks deeper into the forest, the awful truth is revealed about his uncle’s demise and the hunters become the hunted.

The Haunting (aka No-Do: The Beckoning) — This Spanish chiller from director Elio Quiroga (La Hora Fria) was inspired by the Catholic Church’s documentation of actual, unexplained supernatural phenomena in the ’40s and stars Ana Torrent (Tesis) as a new mother driven to the brink of madness.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Black Sabbath: Paranoid


Four working-class blokes get together to make music, make some money and impress a few girls. They end up changing the music world forever by creating an intense sound that will influence bands for generations. What’s fascinating about this documentary is the time it gives to each of the band members to tell their stories about the creation of this classic rock album. The intelligence and the passion they brought to the project, and the pride they still feel about it, come shining through. Make time for the excellent extras, too.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Please Remove Your Shoes

It’s a pain in the butt to have to take your shoes off before going through the metal detectors at airport security, but you do it because you think it’s somehow making the post-9/11 skies safer for everybody. Well think again. By detailing airport security before, during and after the tragedy without ever resorting to fear mongering to get their point across, this compelling documentary makes a strong case against the idea that we’re any safer now than we were before terrorists flew two jets into the World Trade Center. The interviews are balanced, the interviewees are intelligent and well spoken, and the end result is a chilling indictment of the aviation security system – and the people who run it. It will not only make question just how safe you really are, but hopefully inspire you to contact the powers that be to do something about it.