Saturday, June 30, 2012

Springtime in the Sierras

Cowboy crooner Roy Rogers and his horse Trigger, the smartest horse in Hollywood, team up in this classic 1947 western about bad guys shooting deer out of season and selling them for profit. Rogers, looking dapper in some really fringy cowboy outfits, plays a local cowhand who uncovers the poaching scheme and comes up with a plan to teach the bad guys a lesson they will never forget. The film follows the formula that made Rogers a Hollywood legend: there’s about five minutes of plot, then a song, then another five minutes of plot, then another song, ad infinitum. It’s all a bit quaint and corny to watch now, and that’s OK, especially if this is your first exposure to the singing cowboy genre. Everything about watching the movie takes you back to a different era, back when good guys wore white hats…and were always ready to break into song.

Friday, June 29, 2012

21 Jump Street

Hollywood has a bad habit of trolling through old TV Guides looking for once popular shows that they can turn into a movie, hoping that whatever wave of nostalgia they catch will sweep away the fact the movie, usually, is crap. 21 Jump Street, based (loosely) on the Fox TV show from the late 80s, is a delightful exception. It’s self aware enough to know that just the idea of two twenty-something guys going undercover in a high school is ridiculous to begin with, but it’s also sharp enough – and funny enough – to suck you in to the story in a surprisingly effective way. The real comic discovery is Channing Tatum, a good actor saddled with the kind of good looks that Hollywood tries to keep stuck in slick rom/coms like The Vow and Dear John. His work here is comedically bold, and hilarious. He’s hunky enough to sell the action scenes, yet shows no fear when it comes to making a total fool of himself on screen. You have to admire that.

Thursday, June 28, 2012


It could be the strangest TV series you’ve ever seen. It could also be one of the funniest. Elija Woods stars as Ryan Newman, a severely depressed man on the edge of suicide whose life is turned around when he makes an unexpected bond with his neighbor’s dog, Wilfred. The joke – and the weirdness – stems from the fact that Wilfred is an actor, Jason Gann, in a dog suit. Or at least that is how Ryan, and the audience, sees him. The other people in the show treat him like he was a real dog. If you have trouble wrapping your imagination around the concept, just wait. The adventures – drug-fueled adventures for the most part – that Ryan and Wilfred share would be surreal if it was just two actors and not a man and his ‘dog.’ The key to it all is to be like Ryan and just sit back and enjoy the ride.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Kids Go to the Woods … Kids Get Dead

It’s a bit of a cliché…ok, it’s a total cliché … but there’s something so totally engaging about this low budget slasher film from writer/director Michael Hall that it’s easy enough to unplug your critical senses and just enjoy it. As the title explains, it’s the story of a bunch of ‘kids’ – played by actors who look like they are in their mid-to-late 20s – who spend a weekend in a remote cabin (that looks more like a suburban house than a cabin). They meet a creepy old guy who warns them of strange things happening in the woods, and it isn’t long before the strange things start happening to them. The film is played like it’s a late night monster movie on TV, complete with a buxom hostess named Candy Adams (Carly Goodspeed), which only adds to the weird atmosphere.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Seeking Justice

Nicholas Cage is so good at playing total whack jobs that it takes a bit of time to get used to him playing a ‘normal’ guy. The wait, though, more time than not is usually worth it. In this new thriller, directed by Roger Donaldson (The Bank Job), Cage plays Will Gerard, a high school English professor whose life is turned inside out when his wife is brutally attacked. Waiting in the hospital to see if she will live, Will is approached by a mysterious stranger (Guy Pearce) who offers to ‘take care’ of the guy who attacked his wife. All he asks in return is a favor to be done at some future date. Angry, distraught and feeling helpless, Will agrees and sets in motion a complicated plot that often threatens to, but never quite goes off the rails. The key to making it real is Cage’s carefully controlled performance and the way his playing ‘normal’ allows Pearce to chew the scenery in a most delightful way.

Monday, June 25, 2012


Marina (Ariane Labed) is trying her best to comfort her dying father, but the only things she really knows about human interaction she learned from watching nature documentaries of gorillas interacting in the wild. Her best friend, Bella (Evangelia Randou), isn’t much help in sharing her grief, but if Marina wants to practice French kissing or performing some really silly walks, then Bella will be there. It may take you a long time to get accustomed to the unique way that writer/director Athina Rachel Tsangari tells the story, but stay with it because all the unusual characters and unique points of view are building to something truly original and very emotionally satisfying. Attenberg is one of those rare films that not only stands a second viewing, but almost demands it.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Reel Love

A country girl who ran away from her roots to get a taste of life in the big city is forced to go back home by a family medical emergency. She fights the pull of her roots, determined to do what she needs to do then head back to her bigger and better life, but it’s only a matter of time before she realizes the things she ran away from are the things that really mean the most to her. It’s a story that’s been told many times before, but it gets a new coat of paint this time around thanks to a thoroughly engaging performance from country singing diva LeeAnn Rimes. She plays sexy and sassy very well, but also has the chops to add warmth and intelligence to a painfully underwritten part. Burt Reynolds is a perfect foil for her in the role of the grumpy father, and the bonding scene that father/daughter share in the movie is honestly touching.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Jeff, Who Lives at Home

Jeff (Jason Segel) is a man on a quest, a quest to find a connection with the world that means something special to him, something that transcends everyday existence and makes his existence special. And if it comes to him while he’s sitting in the basement of his childhood home where he still lives, even though he’s in his 30s, getting stoned and watching TV, then so much the better. On the surface, Jeff, Who Lives at Home feels like just another slacker comedy from the Duplas brothers (Mark and Jay). It’s slow paced, low-tech and plays like the cast and crew were as stoned as the main character when they made it. But don’t let the surface fool you; this is a sharp, well-written and really funny film.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Missing in Action

Chuck Norris was an original, even if his movies weren’t. While other action heroes seemed more concerned about how they look when they threw a punch or how they sounded when they said the movie’s tagline, Norris always looked like all he wanted to do in his movies was beat the crap out of the bad guys as quickly – and as brutally – as possible. It was cool back when he was a big box office star, and it’s just as cool to watch now. In this classic 80s action movie, Norris stars as Colonel James Braddock, an American soldier who survived seven brutal years in a North Vietnamese POW camp. Years after the war, and angry that the government is taking too long to make the Vietnamese return any POWS that were left behind, Braddock decides to go get them himself. Sure, it’s cheesy…but it’s also awesome.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Thin Ice

Thin Ice stars Greg Kinnear as Mickey Prohaska, a sleazy insurance salesman who is desperately trying to keep his life from spiraling completely out of control after his wife kicks him out of the house for spending their son’s college money on a new luxury car. (He can’t go on a sales call in a pieced of (junk) car, after all.) He thinks he’s found a way to make everything right when he discovers that one of his clients, an old man named Gorvy Hauer (Alan Arkin) has a very valuable violin in his possession and doesn’t realize it, a violin Mickey thinks he can con the old guy out of for a song. What happens next, you ask? Go buy the movie and find out for yourself.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

Usually when a movie is a big enough hit to beget a sequel, the second movie ends up little more than a carbon copy of the hit cranked up to 11 in the mistaken belief that if audiences liked it once, they will like it more if it’s bigger, faster, louder, etc. It’s rare for a sequel to actually be less of everything the first film is, and virtually unheard of for the toning down to actually make for a better movie. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is a perfect example of how less can be more, even when you are building the second of what the studios undoubtedly hope will be a block-buster franchise. It’s just as entertaining as the 2009 film, Sherlock Holmes. Maybe more so because it isn’t trying so hard to impress the audience by beating them over the head with lots of special effects, witty bon mots and over-the-top action sequences. They’re all there; they’re just done better this time around.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Chicago in Chicago

If you are of a certain age … like if you can remember when the dirge-like Color My World was the greatest high school slow dance song ever ... you tend to take a band like Chicago for granted. They probably play the summer concert series at your nearby outdoor venue every year (probably on the same bill as The Doobie Brothers, who share an encore with the band on this DVD). They play the hits and you sing along. So why buy a Blu-ray of the show? Well, the first reason is the music, which sounds as good if not better than you remember it, and it’s played with that rare combination of talent/energy that most longtime touring bands can’t even fake anymore. The second reason to pick this one up, is the great interview with the original band members that’s part of the DVD extras. It not only celebrates the work ethic of the band, but reminds you that although we take it for granted now, the music they created was groundbreaking when they first created it.

Monday, June 18, 2012


Written and directed by Laurent Bouhnik, this steamy French film follows the amorous adventures of a group of young people as they explore the passionate sides of their personalities and try to figure out how those passions define who they are and what they want to be. The film is also a scathing statement on how the crashing French economy is affecting the desires of people, and how women in particular are using their (and their mate’s) desires to help alleviate the economic tensions, but such lofty thoughts are best left for a second or third viewing, particularly if you are not well versed in French politics. The film stars Déborah Révy as Cécile, a sensuous young woman who uses her desire to manipulate the people in her life, or at least that’s how it appears on the surface. As her story unfolds, it’s clear that Cécile, like everybody else in the film, has a darker side that feeds on her desires in strange and dangerous ways. It is watching that battle between the natural desires and the unnatural ways they can be used against each other, that makes Desire so mesmerizing.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Safe House

It’s a story that feels very familiar, particularly if you are an action movie fan. A rogue government agent with a file of stolen secret documents is being chased by the agency he used to work for. He forms an alliance with a less-experienced agent that starts out distrustful, even dangerous, and gradually evolves into a bromance. So what makes Safe House rise above its inherent clichés to be so addictively watchable? It all starts with Denzel Washington as Tobin Frost, an ex-CIA agent who has been off the agency radar for almost a decade. It’s the kind of role that Washington can do in his sleep; in fact, it’s the kind of ‘bad ass’ role he’s been flogging on the public since winning an Oscar for playing a bad ass in Training Day. There’s something different about his performance in Safe House, though, and it has nothing to do with the script. There’s an energy to his acting that’s almost palpable. Even when Frost is just sitting in a chair, handcuffed to a pipe (he spends a lot of time that way in the film), Washington demands your attention.

Saturday, June 16, 2012


Goon is a smart aleck hockey comedy about a guy named Glatt (Sean William Scott) who gets picked up by a minor league team despite the fact that he has little to no actual hockey playing ability. He does, however, have a head of iron, a fist of steel and an IQ hovering around the same level as his jersey number, which makes him perfect to be the enforcement goon of the team. As played by Scott, Glatt also has something not associated with professional athletes these days: ethics. Glatt doesn’t see what he does as violence, at least in a negative sense of the word. He sees what he does as his job and, for a guy who was desperately trying to find his place in the world, having a job and being really, really good at it is all he’s ever really wanted.

Friday, June 15, 2012


Directed by Ralph Fiennes (Lord Voldemort from the Harry Potter films), Coriolanus tells the tale of Caius Martius Coriolanus (Fiennes), a Roman general whose recent victories on the field of honor convince men of power that he’d be a perfect candidate for the Roman senate. Unfortunately, after a lifetime of fighting in wars, Coriolanus doesn’t have the skills needed for peace. He sees politicians as men too weak to fight and the public only as the lowly scum he’s paid to protect if they are on his side and kill if they are not. Unskilled in the way so government, Coriolanus falls into a trap set by two senators who bait him into revealing his true feelings about the common folk on a national TV show. They charge him with treason and manage to get him exiled. Outraged at being betrayed, Coriolanus joins the army he once fought against and pledges his strength to help them destroy Rome instead.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Man on a Ledge

Don’t do any research before see Man on a Ledge. Don’t watch any trailers and don’t talk to anyone who’s already seen it. Don’t try to figure out who the man is, or why he’s on the ledge. Don’t think about how he got up there in the first place or how the heck he’s ever going to get down. Don’t do anything else … just watch it. What you will end up seeing is a top-notch action/caper movie featuring some fantastic stunts, plenty of plot twists and just the right level of comedy to keep you happy during those few minutes when the tension isn’t cranked up to 11. Man on a Ledge wasn’t filmed in front of a green screen in some safe and secure studio. The dizzying heights weren’t digitally added later. Those guys were up there on a ledge, 220-feet in the air carrying a 40-pound camera on their shoulder with virtually no peripheral vision. Safety harness or not, they risked their lives to shoot this movie … and it is so worth it.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Worried About the Boy

It usually helps if you like the music in the soundtrack of a biopic about a famous musician, but you don’t even really have to know who Boy George or Culture Club were to be enthralled in this fascinating look at fame, those who crave it and what happens when they get what they crave. (Of course you’d have to have been raised in a cave without a radio – or very young – not to remember Boy George’s string of smooth pop tunes from the 80s.) Douglas Booth gives a fascinating performance as George. He not only makes the outrageous makeup and fashion look great – no small achievement since one wrong swipe of the mascara could make him look like a clown – but he makes you see beneath all that style to find the substance beneath it all. And he has the swagger to let you know he doesn’t care if you like what you see or not.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Mutant Girl Squad

What do you get when three of the best – and bloodiest –directors making action./horror movies today — Noboru Iguchi (The Machine Girl), Yoshihiro Nishimura (Tokyo Gore Police) and Tak Sakaguchi (Samurai Zombie) – decide to team up for a single cinematic experience? Words just can’t describe it. It’s the story of a young girl named Rin (Yumi Sugimoto) who gets a big surprise on her 16th birthday, an arm that can claw, slash and disembowel people at an alarming rate. We’re not talking about a tool or weapon, here: It’s her actual arm, a mutation that kicked in when she reached 16. Rin soon finds she’s not along in the world when it comes to bizarre mutant powers, ranging from a girl with samurai swords shooting out of her breasts to a cute cosplay nurse with tentacles and a trunk. Like we said: words don’t do a movie like Mutant Girl Squad justice, so just sit down, strap yourself in and enjoy the ride.

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Secret World of Arrietty

The story of ‘borrowers’ – little people who live under the floorboards and behind the walls of homes who come out to ‘borrow’ things when full-size humans aren’t looking – has been told many times before, but never with such inventive charms as this new film from Studio Ghibli. The Secret World of Arrietty, directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi, follows the adventures of the Clark family – mom, dad and daughter Arrietty – as they lead their miniature lives at a rambling old country estate. It’s enchanting to watch the Clark family interact with their environment; the artists at Studio Ghibli really let their imaginations run wild to show us how the human world would look to people who are only about four inches tall. Some of it is obvious, like the way a cube of sugar is suddenly the size of a stack of phone books and the way the house cat looks like a fat and furry Godzilla when Arrietty confronts him in the front yard. It’s the extra flourishes they add to the film that makes the world seem so magical, like the way a light spring rain falls in droplets the size of bowling balls. Or the charming way tea gets poured one drop at a time.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Walking Tall Trilogy

It isn’t too many movies that start out with an ad encouraging you to visit the home/museum of the man whose life the story is based on. But then again, not too many movies are Walking Tall and not too many men are Sheriff Buford Pusser. The original Walking Tall starring Joe Don Baker as the club-wielding Sheriff Pusser, is a 70s action movie classic about an ex-wrestler who moves back to his hometown after giving up his career in the ring. He isn’t home for more than a day or two before he starts wrestling with the local bad guys who have turned the town he was raised in into a den of gambling, bootleg liquor and prostitution. He decides to do something about it by putting on a badge and beating the heck out of the bad guys with a giant stick. There’s a lot of action but, since this is a 70s movie, there’s not exactly a happy ending to it all, which leads us to the other two movies in this set, featuring Bo Svenson in the role of the sheriff. The two sequels pale in comparison to the original – particularly the PG-rated Part II, but the trilogy eventually stands on its own terms.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Albert Nobbs

Glenn Close stars as a woman pretending to be a man so she can work as a hotel butler in mid-19th Century Dublin. She survives the crushing weight of her daily deception with a dream to save enough money to buy a business of her own one day, a dream that is achingly close to becoming a reality as the story opens. It’s certainly one of the most unique stories to come out of Hollywood in a long time, and it works primarily because of Close’s hypnotic, Oscar-nominated performance as Nobbs. It’s a performance that takes some getting used to, to be honest, because Close doesn’t depend on prosthetics or any other unnatural devices to try and trick the audience into believing she is actually a man. The performance she gives isn’t about the look; it’s all about the person inside the butler uniform as Nobbs finally lets his guard down with the people around him and goes on an incredible journey that’s romantic, funny, thought-provoking and, ultimately, tragic. By the end of it, you just feel privileged that you were allowed to come along for the ride.

Friday, June 8, 2012


Chronicle is the story of three young guys who crawl into a sink hole where they find some sort of eerily glowing alien device that infects them with telekinetic super powers. Chronicle is also one of those ‘found footage films,’ meaning it’s shot in a herky-jerky handheld fashion that is usually used by directors who don’t have the budget (or the talent) to use actual special effects to tell the story. Even though this is his first film, director Josh Trank seems to have the talent needed to make a real movie, and although his budget was probably pretty small compared to most of the stuff Hollywood cranks out, the effects in Chronicle are pretty cool.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Mother’s Day

Rebecca De Mornay gives a terrific performance in this remake of the 1980s horror classic about a seriously sick family whose crime spree is cut short when their latest bank robbery goes horribly wrong. Seeking shelter, the three brothers who did the bank job return to their family home only to find it’s been foreclosed on and sold to a young couple. The boys, one of whom is gravely injured, kidnap the new homeowners and their friends, and then put in a call to their mom knowing she will set everything straight. In less talented hands, the role of the murderous matriarch could have been too campy to be effective, but De Mornay finds just the right balance between craziness and cheesiness, creating a character that is as unforgettable as any of the franchise monsters working in horror today.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Front Line

While he certainly has a talent for making stunning action scenes on a grand scale, director Hun Jang’s ability to create fully developed characters among the people fighting the war is what makes this movie so memorable. It tells the story of two armies fighting for possession of a hill that, in the long run means absolutely nothing to either side. They just keep fighting, trading possession of the hill back and forth, in some sort of deadly time-killing exercise while they wait for the powers to be to finish negotiation a peace treaty. The fact that they’ve been negotiating for more than two years is stunning; what happens when the treaty is actually signed will take your breath away as generals on both side decide that since the peace doesn’t take effect for 12 hours, it’s the perfect chance for them to commit to all out war while the final hours tick away.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

War Horses of WW I

Eschewing all the sentimental emotions that director Steven Spielberg crammed into his epic, War Horse, this fascinating documentary tells the actual story the horses and men who sacrificed so much during the ‘war to end all wars.” It beautifully combines archival footage with interviews with the surviving members of the fraternity of soldiers who rode horses during the war to give the audience a real sense of what it was like to ride a horse into battle. There are plenty of modern day experts on hand, too, to give you the factual information needed to really understand the story, ranging from the number of horses who died in the war to what happened to those who survived.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Inspector Morse’s Oxford

You don’t have to be a fan of the popular British television series, Inspector Morse, or of the Colin Dexter novels on which they are based to enjoy this compelling travel show. By the time the show ends, you’ll be both. Hosted by Brian Redhead, the show takes audiences on a leisurely stroll around the historic English town, tying together the pubs, shops and other buildings along the way with scenes from the shows and the books. The author himself is on hand to give some background detail on why certain locations were chosen, and there are interviews with cast member and producers to shed some light on why Oxford was such a big part of the series. The story gets derailed a bit with an overlong section exploring the music of the series, but soon gets back on track.

Sunday, June 3, 2012


Cher (a delightful Alicia Silverstone) is a California high school student who is much too busy taking care of everybody else to realize that something may be missing from her life, something that is standing right next to her in the guise of her cute stepbrother Josh (Paul Rudd). Somewhere between giving her new best friend (Brittany Murphy) a makeover and playing matchmaker to two lonely teachers, Cher finds true love. Directed by Amy Heckerling, the movie is an updating of the Jane Austen classic, Emma, but don’t let you stop you from settling in for this funny 90-minutes of romantic fluff. If you haven’t seen it since it hit theaters (back in 1995) you’ll be delighted at how well it holds up. If this is your first time seeing it, you are in for a sweet treat.

Saturday, June 2, 2012


Haywire, the latest film from director Steven Soderbergh, uses the familiar framework of a spy going rogue to showcase the fighting/acting skills of Gina Carano, a professional Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighter who quickly proves that she’s more than a gimmick with a pretty face, killer body and awesome fighting movies. She can act, too. Granted, playing a character like the spy Mallory in Haywire doesn’t make a lot of demands on her fledgling thespian skills, but that’s fine: all what audience watching Haywire needs from her is that she make Mallory believable, whether she’s arguing with her shady boss Kenneth (Ewan McGregor) or kicking his ass. Carano does it with style and, a rarity for this kind of movie, substance.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Nazis at the Center of the Earth

While in the Arctic doing some research, a group of scientist discover a secret Nazi lair under the ice where Dr. Josef Mengele (a delightfully demented Christopher Karl Johnson), the Angel of Death from Auschwitz, is creating a race of Nazi super soldiers/zombies. The scientists are forced to work on a super secret project that is just too weird to spoil in a review. Suffice it to say that if you enjoy truly twisted horror movies, this one is for you. The action is strong, the gore level is cranked up to 11 and the story is twisted enough to have you shouting “what the ….” at the screen. Some of the effects look cheap, to be sure, but there are others that will blow you away. Director Joseph Lawson keeps the tension levels pretty high throughout, to the point where you’ll find it hard to keep watching every time Dr. Mengele picks up a scalpel.