Knight and Day

Knight and Day

Starring Tom Cruise, Cameron Diaz and Peter Sarsgaard
Directed by James Mangold (3:10 to Yuma)
Rated PG-13 for sequences of action violence throughout, and brief strong language
Appropriate for ages 13+

    June Havens (Diaz) finds her normal life turned upside down when she gets mixed up with super spy Roy Miller (Cruise) on a seemingly innocent flight.  As soon as she crosses the line with him, there is no turning back, as she finds herself the target of not only the U.S. government, but terrorist arms dealers as well.  Roy, on the other hand, has a mission that he must complete, but feels the need to keep Havens alive, even though it could get in the way of his ultimate goal. 

    There have been a plethora of these types of spy movies of late, and while none can match up to True Lies in style or substance, this one manages to be a really good summer popcorn flick.  The action here is intense, but done with a great sense of humor.  Love him or hate him, you have to admit that Cruise is fun to watch in a movie like this.  Because he does most of his own stunt work, he manages to bring the action to life in a way that few actors can manage.  And the creativity with which the action sequences were dreamed up is most definitely worthy of praise.  There are only so many ways to do a car or motorcycle chase, but this felt original without going too over-the-top.

    The story, revolving around a small battery that could power a city, was not great and the twists felt a little forced, but because of the chemistry between Cruise and Diaz (and I’m going to put the blame mostly on Cruise’s great performance), you care more about their relationship than the story.  I kind of think that no matter what they did, I would have had fun watching them doing it. 

    I was surprised at either the poor makeup or continuity (or both) in regards to Diaz.  At many stages of the film Diaz looks normal.  Shocking, I know.  Of course it would have been fine if she just felt like going natural.  The problem is that there would be a close-up shot where she looks like a super model and then a three quarter shot where she suddenly ages ten years.  This was most noticeable during the beach sequence.  I would have typically not pointed this out, as it seems petty, but I have had three other critics tell me they saw the same thing, but were afraid to mention it as well.

    Bad makeup aside, you can’t discount a film for such a minor infraction and it hardly gets in the way of what is ultimately good escapist entertainment that most audiences will enjoy.  B+  

New on DVD

New on DVD

The Crazies
Rated R for bloody violence and language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

In this remake of the George A. Romero classic, something is turning the citizens of a small Iowa town into crazy sociopaths, and it’s up to the town sheriff (Timothy Olyphant) to figure out how to end what seems to be an unstoppable epidemic.  What could have been a stupid, lazy horror film, turns into a smart, twisty thriller with this great cast, frightening script, and very effective directing.  When a scary movie is this good, it becomes fun to watch, and boy was I entertained.  Sure it went a little too far with the gore, but that’s forgivable considering its genre.  A-

The White Ribbon
Rated R for some disturbing content involving violence and sexuality
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
German with English subtitles

This 2009 Oscar Nominated Foreign Film and winner of the Canne Palm D’Or tells the story of a small German village on the eve of World War I, where a series of mysterious accidents occur and it seems that some of the children in the village might be at the very center of them.  While there is some disturbing content in the movie, the most troubling elements of all come after when you’ve had time to think about who these children will grow up to become.  While this is not an easy film to watch, it is very rewarding and will stick around to haunt you for a long time.  A-

Showgirls: 15th Anniversary Sinsational Edition
Rated NC-17  
Available on Blu-ray

It has already been 15 years since Paul Verhoeven’s stripper movie, starring then teen television star Elizabeth Berkley, became the first mainstream NC-17 film to stir up controversy.  While this new HD release gives us a more clear view of, well, everything, the movie is still better at shocking than entertaining.  I guess it just depends on your definition of “entertaining.”  C-

Don McKay
Rated R for language and some violence
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Twenty-five years after leaving his home town for what he thought was the last time, Don McKay (Thomas Haden Church) gets a call from a woman claiming to be his high school girlfriend (Elisabeth Shue) and thus decides to pay his old home a visit again.  One thing this film is not is exciting, but it has quirky down pat.  What appears at first to be a melodrama quickly turns into a dark comedy that hits you completely by surprise, but you have to be patient to get there.  I think the film would have worked better as a play than a movie, but even as a film it was fairly entertaining and had me in stitches towards the end.  B-

Rated R for a scene of sexuality
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Jon Hamm is a cop whose son was kidnapped and presumed dead.  When he discovers the grave of a missing boy from a crime that took place 50 years ago, he decides to try to solve that crime to find catharsis for his own loss.  If that description didn’t drive you to call your doctor for a prescription for an antidepressant, than watching the film surely will.  I can’t recall such a downer of a movie, and while the production values were good, and you could tell a lot of love went into making it, it’s just not a story most people wish to see.  I, for one, wish I had never put the disc in.  C-

Toy Story 3

Toy Story 3

Starring the voices of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Michael Keaton, and Ned Beatty
Directed by Lee Unkrich (Toy Story 2)
Rated G
Appropriate for all ages

    As Andy prepares to head off to college, he decides to store his toys in the attic, but when they are accidentally donated to a local daycare instead, Woody wants to get back to Andy while the rest of the toys can’t wait to be played with by the new children.  When they discover that the daycare isn’t at all what they expected, they ban together to mount a daring escape. 

    It goes without saying that you can always count on Pixar to deliver a quality movie and they are most certainly still on roll.  With the first two Toy Stories, Pixar delivered not only two of the most wonderful animated films to date, but two of the most creative as well.  In fact, Toy Story 2 was a major factor in bringing about the Academy Award for Animated Feature.  That being said, Toy Story 3 brings it all up to another level of excellence. 

    First there is the story, which is creative, funny, heart-warming, sad, gut-wrenching, and awe-inspiring, all within in a hundred minute time frame.  And while I am far from the expert on the escape genre, I would have to put this one up against any film as possibly the best escape film ever made.

    Also, the emotional roller coaster this film takes its audience on is better than anything at Disneyland.  The first two films moved me, but this film grabbed me, pulled me in, and towards the end of the film I felt like I was actually on their journey with them and essentially having an experience like no other I’ve ever had at a movie before.  It was ethereal.  And all of this was done with brilliant writing. 

    Then there is the animation which has come so far since the first two films.  It is a big, bright beautiful film, filled with vivid colors and flawless execution of the computer animation.  I will admit that I saw the film twice, on both 3D and 2D, and due to the fact that the 3D strips away some of the color and doesn’t really add much more than a gimmick to the experience, I have to say that the 2D is the better version of the film to see.  I’ve had discussions with folks at Pixar who will admit the same, and would recommend you see their films in good old fashion two dimension.

    Where Toy Story could have used a change up is in the music department, as I think “You’ve Got A Friend In Me” is a little overplayed at this point (although I did like the Spanish version by the Gypsy Kings).  Also, Randy Newman’s new song “We Belong Together” doesn’t exactly say Oscar winner to me.

    Still, I’ll predict now that Toy Story 3 will be one of the films nominated for best picture this year (along with How to Train Your Dragon), and if the year were to end in June, it would have a pretty darn good chance of winning.  A+ 

New on DVD

New on DVD

The Book of Eli
Rated R for some brutal violence and language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Denzel Washington stars in this post-apocalyptic thriller about a man on a mission from God traveling west through America after civilization is destroyed, only to be hunted down by Gary Oldman for the book he is carrying with him.  I missed this one in theaters and wasn’t too keen on catching the Blu-ray release either, but figured there were far worse things to watch.  Little did I know that this critically-panned film is actually a pretty darn good movie that is hard to take your eyes off.  Washington is terrific in the butt-kicking journeyman role and once again Oldman pulls off a fabulous villain.  What really wins here though is the story and the message, and while I don’t want to spoil anything, I feel that if I don’t say that this movie is ultimately about the power of The Bible, the right audience might not give it a try.  That audience will probably have some difficulties with the extreme amounts of violence, but I’ve never seen a more convincing argument that the Good Book is the most critical weapon one can possess.  Just like many of the other Warner Brothers titles, the Maximum Movie Mode provides for the ultimate film school experience with picture-in-picture director and crew interviews and storyboard comparisons put right in during the film.  A-

The Last Station
Rated R for a scene of sexuality/nudity
Available on DVD/Blu-ray

The story of Leo Tolstoy and his wife (portrayed by 2009 Oscar nominees Christopher Plummer and Helen Mirren) is played forth in this heartbreaking drama about the famous author and his desire to leave his fortunes to the Russian people while his wife tries to do everything possible to keep this from happening.  The cast is as solid as you can get with Paul Giamatti and James McAvoy along for the ride.  The surprise for me was that there was a bit more sense of humor, in the beginning at least, than I expected.  I’m not sure if this is a good thing or not, but I feel like I know the life of Leo Tolstoy a lot better now; what I’m not certain of is how interested I am in it.  It’s a very well-made film, but for me it just wasn’t a very engaging one.  C+

Hung: The Complete First Season
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

In HBO’s breakout freshman comedy, Tom Jane is a down-on-his-luck high school coach who needs to find extra work in order to support his teenage son and daughter.  The only career he thinks he is suitable for, besides coaching, is becoming a male prostitute due to the fact that he is so, well, the title of the show kind of says it.  I’ve always thought that Tom Jane could have been an A-lister were it not for his unfortunate choice in name (he was actually born Thomas Elliott).  His comic abilities in this series are showing what he is capable of and this has quickly become one of my favorite guilty pleasures.  It’s funny, moving, weird, sexy, and very entertaining.  B+

She’s Out of My League
Rated R for language and sexual content
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Jay Baruchel (How to Train Your Dragon) is just your average lovable loser until he somehow impresses a beautiful woman at the airport to the point where she wants to date him.  From the trailers this looks like an unbelievable tale dreamed up by someone that looks like Jay Baruchel.  Once inside the movie, you find a sweet interior that helps you understand how something like this could and actually does happen.  The pic is really raunchy, just like you would expect in an r-rated comedy, and there are some gags that will have you in absolute stitches.  There are also a few two-dimensional characters that are as badly acted as they are written,  so the film is far from perfect.  But if you need a laugh, you’ll get your money’s worth.  B

Entourage: The Complete Sixth Season
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

In this latest season of HBO’s hit show about celebrity and friendship, Vince  is finally on top again as he stars in the newest Martin Scorsese film while his crew are all trying to make it doing their own thing.  While the group are still friends, they are getting to be less and less of an “entourage.”  Still, their antics are fun to watch and if Johnny Drama making an idiot of himself doesn’t make you laugh, not much will.  One mistake they made this season was taking the Ari Gold/Andrew Klein relationship a lot too far as Ari tries desperately to both save his friend’s marriage and be as mean to his assistant Lloyd at the same time.  These story lines just didn’t take hold like they should have and made Ari seem like a bad business man rather than the shark he is.  The writers might have been trying to make him look human, but frankly, I like the shark.  C+

Green Zone
Rated R for violence and language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Supremacy) re-team in this fictionalization of events that took place during the war in Iraq where Damon is a rogue U.S. Army officer who is trying to hunt down either WMDs or proof that they don’t exist.  There is some good food for thought and the action is pretty solid throughout, but for the first half Damon is just a little too redundant as he repeatedly asks about the WMDs over and over and over again like a broken record.  Once he gets it that there aren’t any, the film starts moving in the right direction and turns into a decent enough thriller.  Some might think it’s closer to fact than fiction.  I can’t say.  I can say it will start discussions no matter which side of the argument you may stand on, but if you lean too far right, you may want to skip it entirely.  If you check out the special features you’ll learn that the soldiers working with Damon in the film are actual veteran soldiers and not trained actors.  In order to get the realism they needed, they hired the real thing and they did an impressive job.  B

The A-Team

The A-Team

Starring Bradley Cooper, Liam Neeson, Sharlto Copley, and Quinton Jackson
Directed by Joe Carnahan (Narc)
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence throughout, language and smoking
Appropriate for ages 15+

    An elite group of U.S. soldiers look to clear their name after they’ve been framed for a major crime and sentenced to prison.  Once out of prison, they must figure out a way to not only reclaim their innocence, but stop the bad guys as well.

    This is the epitome of big, dumb action films.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing either.  Sometimes you need some really huge action without having to think.  From start to finish, this film is loaded down with gigantic explosives, huge stunts, and what must have been a very expensive special effects budget.  And it’s always to fun to see some new ideas that have never even been conceived before, such as a helicopter turning off to avoid heat seeker missiles, or a tank falling through the sky by parachute and shooting down drones on the way down. 

    Here’s the problem – you can’t stop for one minute and think about it.  For instance, the opening scene has Hannibal (Neeson) captured by a couple of Mexican lawmen.  One of the thugs is told to kill him.  He is about to shoot him in the head when he is told to stop and use Hannibal’s gun instead.  He tries to use it and it doesn’t work, so they leave him to be eaten by the dogs.  Now here is the problem: the scene requires the timing of the plan to be perfect.  But what would have happened if the Mexican lawman would have just shot him in the head with the working gun?  I know, Hannibal would be dead and we wouldn’t have a movie, but that’s not the point.  Everything in this film runs on perfect timing built on insane assumptions such as this.  So my suggestion again – don’t think about it.

    The acting here is a mixed bag also.  Bradley Cooper is certainly getting much better and he could very well be a superstar someday.  Neeson makes for a good Hannibal and I didn’t have a problem with Jackson as Baracus.  What did bug me was the miscasting of Sharlton Copley (District 9) as Murdock.  It’s not that he’s a bad actor, it’s just that he hasn’t gotten the accent down yet.  And it seemed like the filmmakers sort of gave up on him.  Occasionally he gives a nice red-neck, but his very thick South African pops up way too much, and only once intentionally.

    Aside from those annoying timing issues, the script works for the most part.  The dialogue is fairly witty and were it not for all of the lame CIA Lynch jokes I would claim pretty consistently funny (according to the story everyone from the CIA is named agent Lynch – haha). 

    Overall, I walked out of the theater thinking that for the most part, some of the ideas ideas were at least original and entertaining.  Ridiculous, but entertaining.  C+

New on DVD

New on DVD

When in Rome
Rated PG-13 for brief suggestive content
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Beth (Kristen Bell) is unlucky in love until she goes to her sister’s wedding in Italy and steals a few coins out of a local fountain.  Upon returning to America, she is confused as to why she is being heavily stalked by a group of fanatical men, when she realizes that she stole those mens’ coins from the fountain. Unless she returns them to the fountain, they will be stalking her forever.  If you just watched the first and last act of the film, you would think you were in worst film of the year territory.  The setup and conclusion are both so horrendous that it’s hard to believe the actors were able to get through their lines with a straight face.  The second act, however, has some pretty bright spots.  The men chasing her, played by Josh Duhamel, Will Arnett, Jon Heder, Dax Shepard, and Danny DeVito, all had some pretty hilarious moments and make you rethink your synopsis, that is until you get to the end.  If you are looking for the great romantic comedy that we’ve been missing for a long time now, this isn’t it.  I’ll keep searching though and let you know.  C-

Not Rated
Available on DVD

Former Los Angeles police officer turned reporter Michael Ruppert was one of the only people who correctly predicted our recent financial crisis, almost perfectly.  Now Chris Smith (The Yes Men and American Movie) sits down for a riveting interview with him where he gives his next prediction: a new meltdown based on oil, economics, and covert U.S. policies that he thinks are leading us to an impending global catastrophe.  Is he paranoid?  Brilliant?  Crazy?  Perhaps a little of all of these, but frighteningly so – he is convincing.  His arguments have a lot of facts thrown in that are hard to refute.  This is an incredibly exciting documentary that you really should check out, no matter what your politics dictate.  A-

Supernatural: The Complete First Season
Available and Blu-ray

For five seasons now this CW show has flown under my radar, and I’m not exactly sure how, because this is exactly the kind of show I like to watch.  Supernatural follows two brothers whose father hunted evil for 22 years.  When their father turns up missing, they must hunt what their father hunts.  Along the way they run into vampires, ghosts, and demons, all of which must be brought down.  It’s a fun concept and a pretty well constructed show, with great special effects – especially considering it’s on the CW (no disrespect intended).  B

The Illusionist
Rated PG-13 for some sexuality and violence
Available on Blu-ray

Back in 2006, two magician film went head-to-head at the box office: The Illusionist, starring Edward Norton and Paul Giamatti and The Prestige, starring Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale.  The Prestige might have won the box office battle, but in my humble opinion, The Illusionist was by far the better of the two.  The acting is excellent, the story is tricky but not impossible to follow, and the production values are spectacular.  Plus, the award-winning score by Philip Glass gives the film an added dimension of beauty.  A-

Get Him to the Greek

Get Him to the Greek

Starring Jonah Hill, Russell Brand, Sean Combs, and Elisabeth Moss
Directed by Nicholas Stoller (Forgetting Sarah Marshall)
Rated R for strong sexual content and drug use throughout, and pervasive language
Appropriate for ages 17+

    A record company intern (Hill) comes up with the bright idea of putting on a rock concert featuring the once famous, but now down and drugged-out, rocker Aldous Snow at the venue that made him famous to begin with: the Greek theater in L.A.  The problem is that Aldous is in London and the concert is only 72 hours away, and getting him there is all up to this young, inexperienced and shy intern.

    After Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Judd Apatow, Nicholas Stoller and gang decided that Aldous Snow was just too great of character to leave alone, so they decided on a spinoff movie.  Forgetting about Jonah’s turn as the waiter in Sarah Marshall, they gave him a new persona and made him the co-lead in this very original road-trip buddy film that almost works. 

    Brand and Hill have great chemistry here that shows throughout.  While at first it appears that they almost work too well together, Brand’s character fixes that dilemma and the conflict really helps not only the comedy, but also the story.  Also adding to the huge laughs is Sean Combs who steals every scene he appears in. 

    What doesn’t work here is the overly-dramatic romantic subplot between Hill and Moss.  Not only does it take away from the buddy film, but the scene where Brand, Hill and Moss finally confront each other almost ruins the picture and while it doesn’t quite kill the movie, it definitely puts the brakes on and kills the mood to the point where it’s hard to get it back. 

    Still, I went to this film to laugh, and that I did.  My wife laughed so hard it drove her into labor and we gave birth to our first son the next day.  It doesn’t possess the comedy consistency of the other Apatow projects, but nevertheless, it’s still a more enjoyable movie than most of the pictures showing right now.  B

New on DVD

New on DVD

Shutter Island
Rated R for disturbing violent content, language and some nudity
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

When a girl goes missing in an insane asylum located on a remote island, two U.S. Marshals (Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo) attempt to investigate her disappearance, and anything else fishy that might be going on in the hospital run by its strangely-behaving doctor (Ben Kingsley).  Watching Shutter Island for the first time, I found myself really enjoying the ride trying to figure out what the heck was going on in the completely unpredictable world author Dennis Lehane (Mystic River) created.  Watching for the second time I understood why director Martin Scorsese wanted so badly to direct this film and what a masterpiece it truly it is.  Lots of films have surprise endings that throw a huge twist at you, but I’ve never seen a picture like this that is capable of taking you on two completely different journeys.  You could literally watch it twice back-to-back and not feel like you just saw the same film for a second time.  It is masterfully directed and wonderfully acted by the entire talented cast.  I do recommend you watch the extras on the disc, but only do so after you’ve seen the film as the spoilers will give away way too much before hand.  My prediction is that years to come, this could steadily climb many lists to reach the status as one of the great American films.  A+

Curb Your Enthusiasm: The Complete Seventh Season
Available on DVD

Much of the Seventh Season of Larry David’s hit HBO show’s excitement was brought on by the promise of the great Seinfeld reunion, and while the Rated-R Seinfeld is hilarious, some of the other episodes were so wrong and uncomfortable that my stomach still hurts just thinking about them (from both pain and laughter).  You have to have a twisted sense of humor to appreciate Larry David as he will really try to offend you if he can.  The season opens with him wanting to break up with his girlfriend because her breast cancer interferes with his ability to get out and play golf.  Then he dates a girl in a wheelchair just because he realizes that people in restaurants treat them better.  And these are minor offenses compared to some of his other misdealings.  But somehow he makes you laugh and the season turns out, once again, extremely satisfying.  A-

Ice Road Truckers: The Complete Season Three
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

250 miles north of the Arctic Circle lies Prudhoe Bay and during the winter, a brave group of truckers have three months to get as many loads to the Prudhoe Bay oil fields as they can before the road created from ice over the water, known as the Dalton Highway, melts away.  The problem is, the Dalton is the most dangerous highway in America, having claimed more than 400 people since it was built 30 years ago.  Season three cranks up the amps by adding a hot woman driver, great computer-generated graphics demonstrating exactly what can go wrong, and some of the most beautiful scenery on TV.  It’s a little too much testosterone for most folks, but the element of danger combined with big rigs and raw determination make this, at the very least, and interesting show to check out.  B-

Elvis 75th Birthday Collection
Available on DVD

Had The King made it past 1977, he would have turned 75 in January, and to celebrate, Fox is releasing this set of Elvis pics including Clambake, Flaming Star, Follow that Dream, Frankie and Johnny, Kid Galahad, Love Me Tender and Wild in the Country in one deluxe box set.  While certainly not amongst his better-known, or better-made films, the collection is sure to make some fans happy, although it would have been nice to have had them remastered for the new set.  C+

The Man with No Name Trilogy
Available on Blu-ray

Since the subject is birthdays, Clint Eastwood just turned 80 last week and even though he seems to be still going strong, these early films of his are still some of my all-time favorites of his.  This set, containing A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, and The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly are arguably some of the best westerns ever made and yes, I’d put up young Clint above John Wayne any day of the week.  These blu-ray transfers look and sound amazing and are stuffed with special features that have been collected throughout the years.  Thanks for the birthday present Clint!  A