The Road

The Road

Starring Viggo Mortensen, Kodi Smit-McPhee, and Charlize Theron
Directed by John Hillcoat (The Proposition)
Rated R for some violence, disturbing images, and language
Appropriate for ages 15+

    Based on the best-selling book by No Country For Old Men author Cormac McCarthy, The Road follows a man (Mortensen) and his boy (Smit-McPhee) as they try to survive the end of the world.  We don’t know why the world has ended, it could have been a meteorite, nuclear holocaust, or the tail-end of 2012, but no matter the cause, the world is coming to a slow end.  As all of the vegetation and animal life have died off, some men have turned to cannibalism and those that haven’t simply starve until they can scrounge up their next meal.

    I was really scared about this movie going in.  Not about the subject matter, but about the quality.  I read the book a few years back and then heard that John Hillcoat, who directed the brilliant film The Proposition, was going to direct.  Needless to say I was very excited.  The movie was supposed to come out last Fall, but then got delayed due to “not being ready for release.”  Rumors were all over the place that the film was a disaster and what I once looked forward to so much wouldn’t come to fruition.  But I still had hope.  After all, Titanic is among a large group of great films that needed more time.  Maybe that’s what it was.  You just can’t rush genius, right?  And of course you can’t release any time but Fall because that’s awards season.  So holding off a year might be healthy for the film.  Well those were my thoughts.  I was looking forward to this film more than any other film in the last two years which usually leads to nothing but disappointment. 

    But not this time.  The visions of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book I read were precisely what I saw on screen.  The emotions of anger and fear I felt, the struggle to live, and the pure exhaustion, were all there, perfectly laid out by Hillcoat.  This would have had to have been a maddening undertaking and it was done better than I had hoped.

    It helps to have a cast that can carry out the mission and Mortensen puts himself into a role maybe better than any actor in Hollywood.  He is remarkable as the man, giving a convincing portrayal of a desperation who wants nothing more than for his son to survive this new hostile world.  The rest of the cast here also does a commendable job and there are some terrific cameos by Robert Duvall, Garret Dillahunt, and Guy Pearce.

    So if you couldn’t tell, this is not a movie that will entertain you and leave you feeling happy and warm all over.  This is a dark, dismal film based on a dark, dismal book, but it is a truly great experience if you are in the right mood and frame of mind for it.  A+

New on DVD

New on DVD

Terminator Salvation: Director’s Cut
Rated R for some violence and brief nudity
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Christian Bale is the adult John Connor, the leader of the resistance against the machines.  When he discovers that the man he is supposed to send back in time to protect his mother and become his father is in trouble, he seeks to find him and bring him to safety.  To complicate matters, his father is being escorted by an unpredictable terminator.  This new director’s cut still has a lot of scratch-your-head fuzzy logic and some crumby writing, but it is a vast improvement from the theatrical release for one main reason – it’s not made for teenagers.  I was so upset that the Terminator franchise was allowed to be PG-13 and this new version, while not as strong as the first three films, at least has a more similar tone.  Also, if you are a blu-ray owner, you will love the special viewing mode Warner Brothers has built here, similar to what was seen in The Watchmen.  B-

Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian
Rated PG for mild action and brief language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

In this sequel to the hit comedy, Ben Stiller discovers that Jebediah and Octavius have been shipped off to the Smithsonian and thus attempts a rescue.  Unfortunately, the Smithsonian comes to life as well and chaos ensues.  There are too many great adult comedians in this film (Steve Coogan, Christopher Guest, Ricky Gervais, Bill Hader, etc…) to offer nothing for adults, but yet that is exactly what it does.  The humor, the effects, the wit, and the tone are all family-based.  They like to act clever when there is an occasional double entendre, but I just can’t see how anyone without kids and over the age 15 would appreciate this.  Then again, that may be just fine for Twentieth Century Fox who made almost a half a billion dollars with the pic.  Obviously there is an audience, but it’s not me and I’m OK with that.  That being said, I still think there is smarter, more challenging material (such as anything made by Pixar) out there for children that won’t cause the adults to lose brain cells.  C

New on DVD

New on DVD

It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia: It’s a Very Sunny Christmas
Unrated but contains adult content
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Danny DeVito and gang at the FX original series It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia are premiering a not-fit-for-cable special premiering on DVD and Blu-ray this Christmas featuring the guys and girl from the worst bar in Philly as they celebrate Christmas in the worst ways they possibly can.  All they really want is nice, pleasant Christmas tradition to call their own when they realize that all of their traditions are less than desirable.  This 45 minute special, directed by Fred Savage, contains some some-splitting laughs including a set piece with DeVito that made me laugh so hard I had to press pause until I could catch my breath.  The gag was a copy from Ace Ventura 2, but worked so much better at a Christmas party than at a wild game park.  This is such an offensive show, and there is neither a redeeming quality amongst a single one of the characters, nor a full brain between them for that matter, and because of that, the comedy works so much better like this when they aren’t censored.  A

Funny People 
Rated R for language and crude sexual humor throughout, and some sexuality
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

When famous movie star George Simmons (Adam Sandler) is diagnosed with cancer, he hires a young comedian (Seth Rogen) to write jokes for him, live with him, and basically take care of him.  Judd Apatow (The 40 Year Old Virgin) was on quite a roll until this gamble didn’t pay off in theaters.  It’s not that it’s a bad film.  Quite the contrary.  In my opinion, the box office didn’t hit because of two reasons: they don’t like to see Adam Sandler as a jerk and they don’t find cancer comical.  It’s a tough sell.  Those who saw the film were rewarded with an overall heartwarming experience with as many tears as laughs and Sandler’s image was only slightly tainted.  One thing Apatow is excellent at is making sure his DVDs are full of extras and this one is the most packed yet.  I watched for what seemed like hours and still didn’t get through it all.  And I found it most of it enjoyable.  Whether it be the new unrated edition, the hour’s worth of deleted scenes, hour’s worth of extended scenes, stand up comedy, or other miscellaneous documentaries, this thing is loaded down and well worth the dollars spent.  If you are a fan of stand up comedy, I will go as far as to say this is a must own.  A-

Four Christmases
Rated PG-13 for some sexual humor and language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon can’t leave for vacation when their flight is canceled due to weather.  But when a bad turn of luck puts them on TV discussing their misfortune, their four sets of divorced parents see them and demand Christmas visits over the next day.  You might read the premise and say “Wow – that sounds pretty funny – how can they screw that one up?”  Well they did, and big time.  This is one of the dumbest movies that came out last year, with every silly turn feeling more and more forced.  By the time Vaughn plays Joseph in the church play, most of you will have returned the disc to Blockbuster.  Or at least you’ll wish you had.  If you think at that point “It has to get better.”  It doesn’t.  Just get in the car.  Or better yet, don’t pick it to begin with.  F

The Messenger

The Messenger

Starring Ben Foster, Woody Harrelson and Samantha Morton
Rated R for language and some sexual content/nudity
Appropriate for ages 17+

    An American soldier (Foster) returns home from the war in Iraq and is given the task of informing relatives of deceased soldiers of their loss.  Given strict orders by the military and his partner (Harrelson), a tough loner that regrets never taking part in real combat, to coldly tell the next of kin and leave, he longs to connect to the humanity that he left behind in the war. 

    After first watching this film I didn’t quite know how to take it.  The trailer and basic description tell the story of a soldier that falls in love with the widow of a fallen officer, a move that is completely taboo.  I was glad to see the film is not that story.  It’s not that easy.  The relationship between Foster and Morton is interesting, but that is a minor subplot. 

    The real story lies within Foster himself as he tries to heal both physically from a wound he received in battle, and emotionally from the many scars that formed up while fighting.  At first he is resistant to the new job claiming that he has no grief counseling experience.  He is quickly told he is not to counsel.  He is merely to say the words on the script, do not touch the N.O.K.’s, and move on.  After a while, you can just see him wanting to leap out of his skin to help the people being told about their lost sons/daughters/husbands and not being able to because of rules and regulations.  It makes him sick.  And his performance his perfect.  Also played to perfection is Harrelson, whose tough as nails, no vulnerability character can see the empathy in his partner’s eyes, and doesn’t like it one bit. 

    As for a general story, the inner turmoil doesn’t provide for the best plot, which might drive some folks nuts that wish for tighter, more by-the-book storytelling.  The writing and directing are first rate as far as pacing, character-building, and overall energy, but it takes a lot of thought to figure out exactly what the film is about and there still might be some arguing afterward. 

    If you can’t tell, this is a difficult film to watch, but that being said, I want to watch it again.  There is a complexity to the story and characters that I want more insight on and I really believe that the movie might grow on me with a repeat viewing.  A-



Starring John Cusack, Oliver Platt, and Chiwetal Ejiofor
Directed by Roland Emmerich (Independence Day)
Rated PG-13 for intense disaster sequences and some language
Appropriate for ages 13+

    The world is coming to an end and John Cusack attempts to get his family to safety before all of mankind meets their doom. 

    There seems to be one thing that director Roland Emmerich does well and that is destroying the world. Whether it’s Independence Day, Godzilla, The Day After Tomorrow, or now this film, he seems to like the image of famous landmarks going down.  And more go down in this film than ever.

    For the first part of the film it’s actually pretty fun.  The action is riveting and the visuals add to the experience.  But then comes a moment of overkill.  Perhaps it’s the third time the plane takes off on a close call.  Or maybe the umpteenth city to go down.  It just seems like the film turns into a parody of all of his other films. 

    And then come the logic flaws.  My favorite was when the scientist’s friend is about to die from a giant tidal wave and he calls him from his cell phone to let him know that he wasn’t picked up when he was supposed to be and is about to die.  Never mind that there wouldn’t be cell phone service any longer in conditions such as those, but why wouldn’t he have called him earlier to say “hey – please pick me and bring me to safety so I don’t get killed by this frikin tidal wave in twenty-four hours.”  These kinds of flaws are all over the place and they are laughable. 

    And then there is the film’s length.  At 158 minutes, your brain is melted along with the Earth’s crust.  It’s just tough to sit through with a straight face for that long.

    The hardest part for me was having to listen to the over-excited fan afterward heartily exclaim “wow – the trailer just doesn’t do the film justice.”  We’ll just have to agree to disagree on that one.  C-

New on DVD

New on DVD

Gone with the Wind: 70th Anniversary Edition
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

It’s amazing how beautiful a film can look after 70 years when it is as well preserved as this one has been.  And now five years after the last special edition, they have made an even more impressive print.  So should you discard your last set for this new one?  That depends.  If you have blu-ray – absolutely, although I wish they would have released a smaller set, minus the book, that would fit in my collection a little easier.  Also, the two disc DVD set looks nicer, but only includes the same old commentary we’ve listened to before.  So if you are a big fan or a blu-ray collector, it’s probably worth the upgrade, otherwise, save your bucks.  A-

Rated R for pervasive crude and strong sexual content, graphic nudity and language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Sacha Baron Cohen really went all out in regard to pushing the limits of decency and good taste as Bruno, a German fashionista determined to be an American celebrity.  That being said, it is still incredibly funny, and if you watch with the commentary, which I highly recommend, you’ll find out just how brave he really was making this film.  There were a few moments in the film where I was certain his life was in real danger due to his stupidity, and sure enough, I was right.  Also on the disc are the deleted scenes, some of which were not allowed in the film due to being too objectionable.  That was hard to imagine before seeing them.  B+

Rated R for graphic bloody violence, disturbing images, strong sexual content, nudity and language
Available on DVD

This Korean vampire film from Oldboy writer/director Chan-wook Park tells the tale of a selfless priest that receives vampire blood during an infusion and is sentenced forever to a new diet.  This is a very violent, very sexual twisted little film, and it’s one of my favorite so far this year.  It has a dark sense of humor with a perverse creativity.  In a quiet home you don’t get the benefit of an inappropriately laughing audience, but it’s still enjoyable just the same.  A

Farscape: The Complete Series
Available on DVD

When an astronaut is hurled across the universe, he finds himself in the middle of an intergalactic conflict.  Dealing with strange alien creatures and dangerous mercenaries, he survived four seasons in this cult-classic Jim Henson Productions TV show which is finally getting an all-in-one box set in time for the holiday.  Sci-fi geeks everywhere will be celebrating.  B

Rome: The Complete Series
Unrated but contains graphic violence, language, sexual content and nudity
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

While it only lasted a mere two seasons on HBO, this highly regarded epic sword and sandals series is my absolute favorite television show.  Through the two season, the stories of Julius Caesar, Mark Anthony, Cleopatra, and Octavian are all told from the point of view of two Roman soldiers, Lucius Vorenus (Kevin McKidd) and Titus Pullo (Ray Stevenson).  With brilliant writing, acting, and tremendous production, Rome is an event that we were lucky to have seen and one that we may never see the likes of again.  This new set doesn’t add too much on the DVD side, but the blu-ray has lots more to offer, not to mention an even more beautiful way to look at the ugliness that was Rome.  A+

Fight Club: You Are Not Special Edition
Rated R for disturbing and graphic depiction of violent anti-social behavior, sexuality and language
Available on Blu-ray

This groundbreaking film starring Brad Pitt and Ed Norton is now ten years old and just as anti-social as ever.  Director David Fincher had a very fun time putting this blu-ray together, which should make it a very popular addition to many libraries.  You don’t watch a film like this for it’s stunning look, although the high def does add to the enjoyment, but the vast amount of special features, including a recent night out with Mel Gibson and some shocking deleted scenes, make this a great set to check out.  A

The Men Who Stare at Goats

The Men Who Stare at Goats

Starring George Clooney, Ewan McGregor, Jeff Bridges, and Kevin Spacey
Directed by Grant Heslov
Rated R for language, some drug content and brief nudity
Appropriate for ages 17+

    Ewan McGregor is a reporter from Ann Arbor who discovers a secret branch of the military that deals with expanding their paranormal abilities.  When he meets an operative (Clooney) in Kuwait that belongs to this branch, he follows him to Iraq where they get in and out of trouble and have to rely on powers of the mind to get to safety.  

    I’ve had several days to think about this film and I’m still not sure what this one is.  There are some good laughs throughout, but I wouldn’t call it a comedy exactly.  Then again, it doesn’t really work as a political commentary either.  It’s not a thriller.  Not an adventure.  Not a drama.  And it’s not so good that it rises above traditional genre.  What I’m getting at is that the film doesn’t work because it has no place to belong.  And the attempt at being clever, such as the casting of the father of all Jedis (McGregor) in a film that discusses Jedis throughout, gets old really quick.

    I’ll admit that the film opened with some good promise.  I liked the idea of a branch of the military dealing with these things and tying this to real-life leaders and situations is a fun concept.  But it felt like either the ideas quit flowing, or the story wasn’t very good to begin with. 

    Even though the film didn’t work well, the acting, especially by Clooney and Bridges, is as good as you’d expect.  They both did a terrific job building their characters and both were a pleasure to watch.  Also, Kevin Spacey plays a very good villain and the more smug he gets, the more enjoyable his performance. C

New on DVD

New on DVD

Rated PG for some peril and action
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
Pixar’s epic adventure of an elderly man that attaches thousands of helium balloons in order that he might realize his lifelong dream of traveling to South America, makes its home video debut in grand fashion this week.  Truly one of the most spectacular films to be released this year, Up is an emotionally impactful picture that plays as well with multiple viewings as it does on the first.  What’s more, it is a film that pretty much everyone will love, children, parents, grandparents, doesn’t matter.  This film hits a chord with its entire audience which is one of the reason why it is one of the top grossing films of all time at almost $300 million domestic box office.  I highly recommend getting the 2 DVD or blu-ray special editions due to the great special features found on them, including several documentaries showing the intense attention to detail and a wonderful look at man’s best friend.  Also out this week is a new blu-ray release of Monsters, Inc (still my personal favorite Pixar flick), and a new Cars collectors set including two die-cast collector cars. A+

The Accidental Husband
Rated PG-13 for some sexual content and brief strong language
Available on DVD

Patrick Sullivan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is as happy as can be thinking he is about to get married, until he discovers his wife received advice from a radio talk show host (Uma Thurman), convincing her to leave him.  In order to get revenge, he convinces a friend to hack into the city records, and creat a fake marriage between he and the radio show host, keeping her from getting to her fiance (Colin Firth).  This straight to DVD romantic comedy has its moments, but due to predictability and not being very funny, it’s a tough pill to swallow.  Apparently, the premise was realistic according to a making-of feature on the disc, but it seems so outlandish and frankly a fiance that leaves for the silly reason as the one in the beginning here would warrant good riddance rather than revenge. C

Discovery Atlas: Complete Collection
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
In this series, Discovery Channel travels to eleven countries, including France, Japan, Mexico, and India, and shows a unique perspective of each country by looking at its people, colors, and flavors and what makes them special.  This is not your typical travel documentary and what I like most about it is that instead of showing the similarities between their world and ours, it shows what makes their part of the world truly magical.  Information-wise the content is great, but aesthetically, the look is stunning.  If you are a world traveler, this might be one you might want to add to your collection. A

The Echo
Rated R for violence, disturbing images and brief language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

An ex-con moves into his deceased mother’s apartment in New York City where he discovers that there is a ghost haunting the unit, and his life is in danger until he can figure out the spirit wants.  While not a great film, the pic does what a horror film is supposed to do – it scares.  And it’s not the “boo” scare either, but rather a nice, lingering creepiness that helps you forget the bad acting and lack of rational thought from the script. B-

New on DVD

New on DVD

North by Northwest: 50th Anniversary Edition

Not Rated
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

In this Hitchcock classic Carey Grant is Roger O. Thornhill, a mild-mannered advertising executive who is mistaken for an undercover agent named George Kaplan.  This case of mistaken identity sets him off on a dangerous adventure around the country with some of the most memorable set pieces in movie history such as a plane attacking him in a cornfield with nowhere to hide and the grand finale at Mount Rushmore.  If you have seen this film you will probably agree that this is one of the most entertaining films ever made.  If you haven’t seen it then shame – get it!  This new edition is loaded down with special features including a commentary by screenwriter Ernest Lehman, a brand new documentary on Hitchcock and a music only score featuring the composition of Bernard Hermann.  A+

The Maiden Heist
Rated PG-13 for some strong language, nudity and brief fantasy violence
Available on DVD

Morgan Freeman, Christopher Walken, and William H. Macy are security guards for a museum determined to steal pieces that they can’t live without when they discover that the exhibit is moving to Europe.  This is one of those of the films that you hate not to like.  The three have good enough chemistry, but the script is just not that great and the film lacks the energy needed to keep the pacing up.  I’m not sure why Sony decided to go straight to DVD with this one being that it might have had a small art house crowd, especially amongst older audiences.  C

Rocky: The Undisputed Collection
Available on Blu-ray

This collection of all six Rocky films on blu-ray sounded a little hoakie at first, but after digging in I forgot just how fun the Rocky franchise has been.  The first Rocky was a truly ground-breaking film and the second a great compliment.  But then how can you not love Rocky taking on Mr. T and Dolph Lundgren in 3 and 4 as well?  The films were total formula but the formula works.  Rocky 5 was a stinker, but 6 was tight and to the point.  Containing both brilliance and cheese in the same box set, this is a terrifically entertaining set of fight pics.  A-

Mummies: Secrets of the Pharaohs
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

This IMAX documentary film about how mummies were discovered and created is a fascinating and stunningly filmed look at a world very few people will be familiar with.  Using historical recreations to dramatize the ancient Egyptian world and modern science to unravel the mummies’ secrets (no pun intended) the film should provide an interesting educational experience for kids and adults.  What’s most surprising is how much is packed into only 39 minutes of film.  The only negative is they tried too hard to show how the mummies of old were helping medicine of today and the link seemed a little weak.  If anything, it wasn’t interesting enough to put into an IMAX presentation.  B

Say Anything: 20th Anniversary Edition
Rated PG-13
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

It’s hard to believe that twenty years have passed since this classic high school romance hit screens.  John Cusack was just an unambitious teenager who wanted to date the smartest girl in school, played by Ione Skye.  The two had an unbelievable chemistry, which played against a Peter Gabriel soundtrack that most of us around my age can still recite even now.  This new edition holds up great.  The movie looks like a period piece that was made yesterday, except with a starry-eyed Cusack.  The disc is full of special features including an engaging trivia track that plays while you are watching the film and a great interview with director Cameron Crowe.  A

This Is It

This Is It

Starring Michael Jackson
Directed by Kenny Ortega (High School Musical 3)
Rated PG for some suggestive choreography and scary images
Appropriate for all ages

    I was in grade school when Michael Jackson’s hit album Thriller hit the scene and for years he was it.  We all wanted to be like Mike, and not the basketball player.  We wore the glove, donned gaudy zipper-laden red leather jackets, and butchered the moonwalk.  From that point on he was known as the King of Pop and he earned the title. 

    But then things got freaky.  Since I graduated from college, I buried all the good MJ memories, and the thoughts of chimps and child molestation were all I could muster up until his recent death.  At the time of his death I didn’t even think it was tragic I was so cold to the thought of him. 

    So needless to say, I wasn’t looking forward to seeing this movie.  I was not going to be one of those folks that jumped on the sadness bandwagon, bought more of his music just so I could have a better-sounding version, and start wailing at his rendition of Smile.  I did not want to like this movie.  But as the Rolling Stones once sang – you can’t always get what you want. 

    I’m not quite certain that this movie was ever meant to be a movie.  It feels more like the special features section of a DVD, but that being said, I firmly believe that is what makes the film work so well.  Were it just a concert video, showing the finished product, you would get to see the Michael Jackson that he and his people wanted you to see – polished and show-ready.  What we get instead here is an intimate look at what he was really like.  And all of the negative thoughts just seemed to float away as I was brought back to why I liked Michael so much in the first place: he was one hell of talent.  The guy worked on a level that was saved for the most brilliant of history’s musicians. 

    Watching him backstage preparing for what were going to be 50 sold-out London shows, you get to see a side of Michael that he probably didn’t want to show many people, and on only a couple of instances during the course of the movie was I reminded of his strange eccentricities. 

    So what really works here is that this isn’t Michael at his best, but rather Michael showing what it took to be the best.  And now I must admit that I do miss him a little bit.  A-