Red Band Trailer for The Goods

Here is the new red-band trailer for The Goods starring Jeremy Piven.  Looks like we have a new sales movie classic.  Warning – not for the easily offended!



Cape No. 7

Cape No. 7

Mandarin/Taiwanese/Japanese/English with English Subtitles
Showing at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston July 30 and 31
Contact the museum for more details (www.mfah.org/films)

    In order to prepare for the performance of a famous musician in a small Taiwan town, they put together a rock band led by a moody postal worker captivated by a stolen cache of unopened love letters from 1940s occupied Taiwan written from a Japanese man to a Taiwanese woman he was forced to leave behind.  As the letters begin to change the guitarist’s life, he begins his own romance with the band’s Japanese organizer. 

    While this is one of the most successful films to have ever come from Taiwan, I feel that the cultural rift might be a little too much for some.  I’m not saying the film is bad, but I can’t say I would recommend it highly either.  I can blame much of the confusion of the film on the bad subtitles for which I’m certain that much is lost in translation.  After all, I don’t think a love song about Skywalker would whip the crowd into a frenzy of excitement, but if it would have, then I probably just have a clear lack of cultural understanding. 

    What is most impressive about the film was the beautiful cinematography and production.  I’ve never seen Taiwan look like such a lovely tourist destination in my life.  The beaches, the people, and the street life all look incredibly enticing.  B-


New on DVD

New on DVD

Battlestar Galactica: Season 4.5
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

I find it amazing, yet not surprising, that this spectacular series from the Sci Fi Channel was all but snubbed in the major Emmy categories this year.  I fully believe that were the exact same show aired on HBO instead of basic cable, it would have swept the nominations, but that’s a scenario that lies in an alternate universe, just as the setting for the show.  Regardless, Battlestar ended strongly with these last episodes and a finale blew its fans away.  Over the course of the last several years the series has challenged many social issues such as race, religion, gender, torture, freedom, and class in a way that no other show on television has dared.  Sure it’s science fiction, but this is not your normal brand of sci fi and has truly gathered a loyal group of followers.  Along with this season 4.5 is a new complete series set, both on blu-ray and regular dvd that will allow anyone to discover for the first time, or catch up on what they might have missed.  The blu-ray contains a special tease of the upcoming movie “The Plan,” as well as a six part retrospective of the show.  A

Fast & Furious
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some sexual content, language and drug references
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

This fourth film in the franchise brings the team together for only the second time.  This time around Vin Diesel and Paul Walker team up to bring down a heroin kingpin, and of course race cars.  Just like the other flicks in the series, the plot is thin, the acting is weak, but the action is big.  Before you watch the movie, check out the original short film Los Bandoleros which was written and directed by Vin Diesel.  It shows that Diesel actually does have some talent hidden away in there, and not only is it a better film than Fast & Furious, but it sets the movie up so that it makes more sense in the beginning.  C

Prison Break: The Final Break
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

After the fourth and final season of Prison Break aired on Fox, they decided to make a two hour movie to tag onto the end, with one more break.  This time, Michael’s new wife Sarah is put into prison and the gang needs to get her out before she and her unborn baby die inside.  When this show first started, it was such a great program.  An architect who tattoos the blue prints of a prison on his body and gets arrested so that he can help his innocent brother escape?  It was a seriously cool premise filled with colorful characters and great plot twists.  But over four seasons and now this final soiree, the show has become a parody of itself.  The Final Break came an entire season too late.  D

Big Man Japan
Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action and crude humor
Available on DVD
Japanese with English Subtitles

This mocumentary follows the life of Masaru Daisato, a not-so-normal human that has the ability to grow to an enormous size in order to protect Japan from giant monsters.  The problem is that he is lonely and depressed and unwilling to put his life on the line for his country.  His wife has left him and he is not allowed to see his child.  The people of Japan hate him for the destruction he leaves in his wake.  To make matters worse, he’s kind of a coward.  This is truly one of the weirdest films I have ever seen.  The special effects are super-cheesy, yet hysterically funny at the same time.  I found myself laughing throughout, all the time thinking that I wasn’t supposed to be.  But once I got to the random ending, I realized that the laughter I experienced was planned by the filmmakers all along.  What a strange and wonderful ride.  B


G-Force

G-Force

Starring Zach Galifianakis, Bill Nighy, and Will Arnett
Rated PG for some mild action and rude humor
Appropriate for all ages

    When a brilliant scientist with a knack for working with rodents (Galifianakis) finds a way to work with and train a group of highly skilled guinea pigs and a mole to do top-level spy work, they go undercover in order to infiltrate the lair of a power-crazy billionaire (Nighy).  When they come too close without getting the goods, the Feds pull the plug on the program, sending said guinea pigs to a pet store to become victims to childhood torture. 

    I am going to preface this entire review by saying that this film is obviously not for me, but it seemed that the audience, chalked full of young children, really enjoyed it.  The kids couldn’t get enough of the talking animals and their antics.  They were standing up, dancing, excited, and in need of less sugar and stronger ADD drugs (in my humble opinion).  But nevertheless – they seemed to really be engaged and enjoying their time in the theater immensely.

    So what was wrong with the film?  First off, the script was pretty darn dumb and poorly executed.  First off, the jokes seemed very stale.  For example, Penelope Cruz’s pig Juarez makes a complaining comment about not being able to get anything off the rack due to her body shape, but then makes threats to the human girl for putting a dress on her.  These sorts of jokes just weren’t well thought out.  They weren’t very funny to begin with and then the inconsistencies set in.  The only dialogue that worked for me was that of Tracy Morgan’s creature Blaster.  He was just as funny as he is on 30 Rock, but in this case, no one around him could keep up. 

    The biggest disappointment, performance wise, was Galifianakis who is normally a really funny comedian.  All of the human interactions with the rodents looked awkward and poorly directed, but his talents especially were underutilized and he came across dry and boring.  Not a good turn considering the waves he made in The Hangover. 

    And while the animals all looked good on screen and the 3D (for those theaters that offer it) is of course eye-popping, I just couldn’t get excited about what I saw.  

    Still, if what you need is a 90-minute baby sitter, or something that will put a smile on your kid’s face, you could do worse than G-Force, but don’t expect to be blown away yourself.  C


New on DVD

New on DVD

Watchmen: Director’s Cut
Rated R for strong graphic violence, sexuality, nudity and language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

In time for the world-famous Comic-Con convention in San Diego comes this new three-hour cut of the cult comic classic turned big-budget blockbuster.  When one of a group of renegade super heroes named The Comedian is brutally murdered, one of his teammates, Rorschach investigates who could have killed him and what he discovers is bigger than he or anyone could ever imagine.  The movie itself is very good, but very dark, with, what I thought, were some questionable artistic choices in music and even story.  But I really liked this new cut and and what I liked even more was the special blu-ray feature of immersive maximum movie mode where director Zach Snyder shows you his take on the movie while you are watching it, with all kinds of great looks at the special effects and features that went into the making of the film.  This is truly one of the most impressive special features I have come across yet and it seems like Zack and Warner Brothers are really setting the bar high here.  A-

Coraline
Rated PG for thematic elements, scary images, some language, and suggestive humor
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

For young Coraline, the world just seems flat.  She has just moved to a boring, bland town.  Her parents are always working on their computers and have no time to spend with her and no money to buy her things.  One night when she enters what she discovers to be the “Other World” she finds a nice mom and dad, with lots of great food, and time, and things.  The new world is full of color and life.  But it comes with a cost.  This stop-motion animated film from Henry Selick, the director of The Nightmare Before Christmas, and based on the book by Neil Gaiman is masterfully crafted and just plain weird.  The film was in 3D in select theaters and is available in a 3D version here.  While the 3D is cool, it’s not nearly as beautiful as the 2D and I highly recommend watching the film without the included glasses.  The colors are much more brisk and you’ll end up with less of a headache from the red-blue tints.  Also, check out the making-of special feature as it is almost as impressive just watching them make the film.  A-

The Great Buck Howard
Rated PG for some language including suggestive remarks, and a drug reference
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Colin Hanks is a law school drop out that goes on the road to work as an assistant to an aging magician/mentalist (John Malkovich), whose claim to fame was that he appeared on the Johnny Carson show dozens of times.  While the film seems a little too indie, especially with a cast including these two plus Tom Hanks and Emily Blunt, it is fun to see Malkovich in such an incredible role.  The film is worth a rental just for his amazing performance as the lonely, end-of-his-life entertainer.  I hope that enough folks see this film come awards time this year so that he might get his due from it.  B

Echelon Conspiracy
Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense violence and action, some sexuality and brief language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

A young engineer obtains a cell phone that sends him messages granting him good fortune wherever he goes, but soon he finds himself the center of a deadly international plot.  Ed Burns, Martin Sheen, Ving Rhames, and Shane West all phone their performances in for this horrendous Bourne wannabe.  It’s badly directed, badly written, and you could tell the actors were just taking their paychecks.  F


Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Michael Gambon, and Jim Broadbent
Directed by David Yates (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix)
Rated PG for scary images, some violence, language, and mild sensuality
Appropriate for ages 10+

    With Harry’s Uncle Sirius dead, Professor Dumbledore has now taken it upon himself to take care of Harry.  Little do they know that Professor Snape has also taken an oath to protect the malicious student Malfoy, and he has been tasked by the death-eaters to do something very awful this year at Hogwarts. 

    Through chance, Harry discovers an old text full of helpful notes and spells that once belonged to someone who called himself “The Half-Blood Prince.”  While Harry is not sure who the mysterious prince is, the special text brings his wizardry up a notch, and helps him not only in school, but in his battle against evil as well.

    I am fully understanding of the need to make the screenplay different from the source material and until now, I have never thought it a big deal in this series.  I have always felt that the major points were covered and the themes were carried out well.  With this new movie, though, I’m just not so sure.  I can appreciate that it can be a real problem taking such a large volume of material and putting it into a two and a half hour movie, and I wouldn’t want the task myself, but I think this coverage is the least faithful yet in the series.

    The major points were all touched on, so for that I guess you could say they did their job.  The Malfoy, Snape, Dumbledore, and Harry story lines were completed in good fashion.  But when I read the book, I felt that the most important thing it did was to tell the story of young Voldemort, or Tom Riddle, through Dumbledore’s memories.  This very important character development is vital to the overall story and will now never get the chance to take place on screen.  Sure there were a few little scenes with young Tom, but they were merely there to progress a different plot line.  I guess that I found this character development so deeply interesting and important, that I think it would have been worth a little more time sitting in the theater. 

    The acting here was also inconsistent.  Radcliffe and Gambon were solid in the dramatic leads, and I was very happy to see Tom Felton finally get a chance to show his stuff as Draco, but Harry’s friends Ron and Hermione (played by Rupert Grint and Emma Watson) made many bad choices as they tried to steal screen time.  In addition, many of the students seemed like they were trying to show off in the small amount of time they were allotted and ended up coming across like amateurs.

    I realize that this review probably makes it sound like I thought this was a bad movie and that is far from the truth.  I just had very high hopes that didn’t get lived up to.  I am excited that the next and final movie will be in two parts, which means that the story might actually get the time and attention it deserves.  B


New on DVD

New on DVD

Leverage: The First Season
Unrated
Available on DVD

This new TNT action series starring Oscar winner Timothy Hutton (Ordinary People) tells the story of a former insurance investigator who leads a group of thieves on a series of Robin Hood adventures after they achieve the score of their lives.  Designed for an audience that is fed up with corporate America (for which TNT is part of), the lies they feed, and the money they steal, this movie could be a real crowd-pleaser.  I just wish the writing was stronger and that the stories were a bit more plausible.  The dialogue is fast and witty, almost like a sleight of hand keeping the audience from realizing that the substance of the show is so shallow.  C+

Karl Malden (1912-2009)
We’ve heard so much about Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett lately that we have all but missed the passing of one of the true legends of Hollywood: Karl Malden.  With this being a week where there’s not much out on DVD, I’d like to take this opportunity to recommend taking a look back at this truly amazing star.  While he acted in movies for almost fifty years, he was best known for his Oscar-winning turn as Mitch in A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) costarring Marlon Brando.  A few years later he teamed up with Brando again in On the Waterfront (1954) as Father Barry, the priest that tries to convince Brando’s character to do the right thing and testify against the mob.  This role also had him nominated for a second Oscar (and with that kind of performance he should have had a second win).  The last film I’d like to recommend is the brilliant Patton (1970), where Malden took on the part of General Omar Bradley during World War II.  Overall, Malden lead a brilliant career and I think that in between listening to Jacko CDs and watching Charlie Angel’s reruns – check out this legendary actor and some of his magnificent films.


Bruno

Bruno

Starring Sacha Baron Cohen
Directed by Larry Charles (Borat)
Rated R for pervasive strong and crude sexual content, graphic nudity, and language
Appropriate for ages 18+

    Flamboyant Austrian fashion talk show host Bruno decides that he wants to become an A-list celebrity in America, but every attempt he makes turns out badly for him.

    If this plot seems kind of simple, that’s because it’s inconsequential.  Really, just like in his film Borat, Cohen mixes reality with scripted comedy to show a look at America that most Americans will be very uncomfortable with.  He learned a valuable lesson with Borat though – a story can really sell the stunts.  And so this loosely sewn together set of gags and punks shown in a 90-minute tale is much more entertaining than like they would have been on their own as they were in his HBO program Da Ali G Show. 

    I really thought he was pushing the boundary of decency with Borat, and he was, but Bruno is surprisingly offensive.  Whether it’s the one of dozens of homosexual jokes, the African baby he adopts, the Ron Paul seduction, or the many, many full nude scenes, this movie crosses the line to the point where you wonder if the MPAA even watched it. 

    That being said, it is funny.  Really funny.  I found it hard not to laugh at the many antics and sketches.  I felt bad for some of the folks, such as Ron Paul and the poor preacher he picks on.  I wanted lightening to strike others, such as the parents of the babies he interviews for a casting session.  But regardless – I laughed at all of it.  If he’s good at one thing here, it’s pointing a finger how silly our obsession with A-list celebrity culture really is. 

    Unlike Borat though, the story is not quite as strong and the character is not as likable.  Cohen and company probably took it up a notch because they knew this and they had to get folks in the theaters somehow.  After all, while Borat was just as silly, the narrative was strong enough to earn an Oscar-nomination for screenplay, and this story doesn’t have a chance.  B-


New on DVD

New on DVD

Eastbound and Down: The Complete First Season
Unrated but appropriate for 17+
Available on DVD

In this new HBO comedy, Danny McBride is Kenny Powers, a former professional baseball player that lived a little too hard and who has now lost his pitch.  Since he has also lost all his friends and his money, he has gone home to live with his brother, where he takes a swing at substitute teaching.  With zero humility and an uncontrollable urge to do and say the wrong thing to everyone he meets, Kenny finds himself in one ridiculous mess after another.  Will Ferrell produces and costars in this six-episode season that is a must-see for comedy fans.  A

The Unborn
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and terror, disturbing images, thematic material, and language including some sexual references
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

When a scary little boy starts haunting a beautiful girl that likes to walk around in her underwear, she enlists the help of a rabbi and a priest to help her exercise him.  I know this sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, but it’s not.  Believe it or not, the movie is written and directed by David Goyer, the writer of Dark Knight.  Just shows that not everyone’s movies are perfect.  At least the girl gives you something lovely to look at for 90 minutes.  C-

Two Lovers
Rated R for language, some sexuality and brief drug use
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Before Joaquin Phoenix fell off the deep end he made this kind of depressing, but lovely love story with Gwyneth Paltrow.  As a lonely man living in New York City, he develops a relationship with two women – one that he can have and one he can’t.  Of course he really only wants the one he can’t.  The performances are very good, but be prepared for a moody experience.  And while the characters have a deep sadness to them, I didn’t empathize, but merely felt sorry for them.  I also was happy I wasn’t in their shoes.  B

The Mafia: The Cold Blooded History of the Mob
Unrated but contains very violent content
Available on DVD

If you are like me and you have learned all of your mafia knowledge from Coppola and Scorsese films, then you will really welcome this History Channel series of documentaries of the mafia in America.  Covering everything from prohibition years to the Gambinos, this is a 10 hour, very comprehensive look at the history behind the legends behind some of our favorite stories and movies.   B+

The Universe: The Complete Season Two
Unrated
Available on Blu-ray

This highly technical History Channel program makes its Blu-ray debut and while I didn’t understand much of it, I still found it interesting, and moreover – stunning to look at.  If you are looking for something like Planet Earth – this isn’t it.  This is hard core science and lots of it.  But who knows – if you let your kids veg out in front of this you might just end up with an Einstein on your hands.  B-