Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre

Starring Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender, and Judi Dench
Directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga (Sin Nombre)
Rated PG-13 for some thematic elements including a nude image and brief violent content
Appropriate for ages 10+

    Charlotte Bronte’s haunting Victorian tale of love and loss is seeing its umpteenth version with this new vision of the classic book.  This time out, Alice in Wonderland’s Mia Wasikowska is the the brooding Jane, an abused girl that makes it out of her hellish upbringing only to have her heart broken by the virtues of her day, and Inglourious Basterds’ Michael Fassbender as her employer hiding a terrible secret that will deeply hurt them both.  

    The story itself is too well known for the production to be original, but I think that possibly the filmmakers wanted to create a rendition of the story for those not familiar with the original book or movies and who have a clean slate to work upon.  In this case, the movie is extremely successful.  The screenplay is well enough constructed as to allow the viewer a different spin on the same subject.  

    Much like the recent Pride and Prejudice, magnificently directed by Joe Wright, the movie attempts to use a mix of story, sight and sound to create a breathtaking two hours of entertainment.  The ingredients were all there to create another Victorian masterpiece, but unfortunately the pieces of the puzzle didn’t fit together well.  Each part works by itself.  The acting is superb by the extremely talented cast and the scene direction works well for the picture.  Also of note is the lovely cinematography by Adriano Goldman (City of Men) whose use of shadow and fog combined with the beauty of the English countryside deserve recognition.  

    But where the film doesn’t work is that a lovely score by Oscar winning composer Dario Marianelli is buried beneath the other layers.  Rather than opening it up and allowing it to breath, the music sits in the background, stifled and censored.  I sensed there was a good score, and therefore bought the CD the next day to see if I was correct.  What I heard was a gorgeous piece of music that really could have been the star of the film.  Imagine Pride and Prejudice without the iconic scene where Keira Knightly stands at the edge of the cliff with the wind and the music blowing wildly.  For me, these kinds of moments can make a film and leave a lasting impression on my heart and mind.  Jane Eyre could have had wonderful moments such as this, and was in possession of all of the right ingredients, but chose not to follow the recipe.  B+ 

New in Home Entertainment – March 29, 2011

New in Home Entertainment

March 29, 2011

Rated PG for brief mild violence
Available on DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D

You know it’s a strong year for animated films when a movie like Tangled garners some of the strongest reviews of the year, makes over a half-billion worldwide, and still can’t muster up an Oscar nom for best animated film.  That being said, the tale of Rapunzel, the kidnapped long-haired princess locked high in the tower, couldn’t have been more entertaining or beautiful to watch.  The characters are all incredibly well-written, the music finds Alan Menken at the top of his game, and the animation is perhaps Disney’s loveliest to date (not including the Pixar pics of course).  While I abhor most 3D films nowadays – if you have a 3D television – you will love what the animators did with this one.  It really enhances the picture instead of getting in its way.  A+

Made in Dagenham
Rated R for language and brief sexuality
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

In 1968, a group of British women working in an automobile plant fight for equal rights, causing a disruption of the status quo in their own lives, their community and the entire country.  The true story of the Dagenham plant is inspirational, although a tad bit unoriginal.  Still, the performances are strong, especially those of the amazing Sally Hawkins and Bob Hoskins.  While not overly relevant for a message film, it is still a nice picture of the history of the Women’s Rights movement.  B+

The Resident
Rated R for violence, language and brief sexuality/nudity
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Hilary Swank is an ER doctor in New York that moves into an apartment with an unassuming landlord, played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan.  She discovers soon enough that something strange is afoot with her new place and that she might not be alone in the apartment.  Trying to be creepy, the film just turns out to be weird, perverse and laughable.  Hilary continues on a bad string of movie luck with this new project that not only does nothing for furthering her career but damages her reputation a bit as well.  C-

Cool It
Rated PG for thematic elements
Available on DVD

Bjorn Lomborg is one of the most despised environmentalists alive, not because he doesn’t believe that there is a problem, but rather because he knows there is a problem and doesn’t think driving hybrids and using compact florescent bulbs are the solution.  While I consider myself to be a strong proponent of a green lifestyle, I also think that Bjorn has some great points.  His solution is to spend less money on research that will help the environment (not zero dollars like many of his adversaries claim) and to spend the money we are currently “wasting” on the green cause to bring the world out of the dark ages, giving people water, food and much needed resources to allow them to help themselves.  His case is strong and the message of the film really hits home as you watch it.  Whether you are on the right or the left of the debate, the solutions presented here are hard to deny.  B+

The Ten Commandments
Rated G
Available on Blu-ray

Even by today’s standards, Cecil B. Demille’s The Ten Commandments is an impressive achievement in cinema.  With huge sets, thousands of extras, and a solid group of big Hollywood actors, this film still carries itself well almost 55 years after its original release.  This new restoration looks and sounds gorgeous and will allow most of its audience to see the film in its original glory.  This is truly a film that could not be remade to this spectacle today.  A

The Complete Sherlock Holmes Collection
Available on Blu-ray

Growing up in a house with only 7 channels on the TV, I managed to see a whole lot of old movies on the good old UHF stations.  Some of my favorites were the Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes movies from the 30’s and 40’s.  So if you are like me and love to revisit these old films, you’ll love this set that includes 14 movies on 5 blu-rays.  Masterfully restored, this set includes favorites such as The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, and others, complete with six audio commentaries and many other great features.  Sure the movies are dated, and Basil isn’t as entertaining as Robert Downey Jr., but there is a nostalgia to the films that many will enjoy thoroughly.  B  

The Civil War: Commemorative Edition
Available on DVD

What many consider to be the crowning achievement from documentarian Ken Burns is getting a fresh re-release with this commemorative edition of the masterpiece series about the war that almost tore America apart.  Remastered  for optimal picture and audio quality, this is the best the film has ever looked and sounded and there are tons of new features in the set as well.  Considering that my set, before Paramount was kind enough to send me this one, was in a bulky VHS box, I love having it now on DVD, although I’m sure a time will come soon when I’ll own it on Blu-ray or whatever comes after that.  While many documentaries don’t appeal to the younger generation yet, I was imagining while watching this again that if any teenager or college student were to take a look at this series, they would ace whatever history class was covering the subject.  A+



Starring Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Jason Bateman
Directed by Greg Mottola (Superbad)
Rated R for language including sexual references, and some drug use
Appropriate for ages 17+

    Two British nerds (Shaun of the Dead’s Pegg and Frost) on an alien sight-seeing tour through America discover and pick up a real alien along the way.  The alien, simply named Paul (voice of Seth Rogen), requests their help to get back to his ship before U.S. government agents kill him.  So together the three pot-smoking misfits travel to the ship site in their motorhome, hot on the run from folks that want them dead. 

    The best quality of this comedy is that it is truly clever and original.  Combining the road trip comedy with sci-fi proves to be entertaining, witty, and at times very funny.  It helps that the actors are so likable.  While Pegg is a fairly talented comedic actor, it is important for Frost to be likable since he has never shown much in the likes of acting chops in his various films.  But in spite of this, his films have been a lot of fun to watch and his goofiness as an actor has become somewhat endearing. 

    As for adult comedies, this is certainly the best to come out so far this year and you will no doubt laugh yourself silly at times.  Then again – the year is young. 

    What many will not like about the film is the direct attack on Christianity.  I’m not sure if they intended the film to be an atheistic sermon, but having an alien declare there is no God and try to make you feel stupid for believing – well that won’t sit right for many audiences.  And it doesn’t help that they convey Christians as complete wackos either.  Personally, I tried to attach it to the overall story, but the movie does go out of its way to convey what many will be consider to be very, very offensive. 

    Overall, I would have to say that this is a movie for the Pegg/Frost fans of the world.  If you were a big fan of Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz, then this movie will be right up your alley.  If you’ve never heard of them before, then I would highly suggest you Netflix those two superior pics first and see if this might be a movie for you.  B

New in Home Entertainment – March 22, 2011

New in Home Entertainment

March 22, 2011

The Tourist
Rated PG-13 for violence and brief strong language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Shocking us all this year at the Golden Globes were the inclusion of The Tourist as best picture comedy/musical and best actor and actress noms for its stars Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie.  Sure it’s sexy and the locations are nice, but overall this is nothing more than a boring version of Tom Cruise’s Knight and Day.  Director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, whose German film The Lives of Others is rightly considered to be one of the greatest films of the last decade, received too much help from Hollywood on this film, which ultimately led to its blah-ness.  Not nearly as clever as it thinks it is, the film is as predictable as it is pretty.  But if you really just want a mindless spy movie that never pretends to be anything more than a silly love story – you might find some enjoyment.  As for me, I much prefer Knight and Day for my entertainment dollar.  C

Stand By Me: 25th Anniversary Edition
Rated R
Available on Blu-ray

When this classic coming of age tale was released twenty-five years ago I wasn’t allowed to see it due its R rating (please don’t tell my mom I watched it at a friend’s house on cable).  Watching it again now in this stunning HD transfer, one could easily believe the film was made yesterday.  This timeless tale of group of young boys that go on a journey to find a dead body is still relevant today and will bring a touch of nostalgia and a tear to the eye of anyone reflecting back on their own childhood.  I highly suggest checking out the picture-in-picture video commentary with director Rob Reiner and actors Wil Wheaton and Corey Feldman.  This too serves as a wonderful trip down memory lane, allowing the audience to hear Rob and the boys discuss their own reflections of making the film.  A

Yogi Bear
Rated PG for some mild rude humor
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Combining real life and computer animation, Yogi Bear brings back the old animated classic characters Yogi and Boo Boo into the setting of Jellystone Park for an adventure with Ranger Smith (Tom Cavanagh).  While young kids may find the movie slightly entertaining, adults will absolutely cringe at this steaming pile of bear dung.  It is an insult to family-friendly films and will most certainly make you to want to leave the room.  The only saving grace is a decent soundtrack that is very out of place with such an uncool movie.  My advice – skip this one and wait one week for Tangled to come out.  You’ll thank me if you do.  D-

Battle: Los Angeles

Battle: Los Angeles

Starring Aaron Eckhart, Bridget Moynahan, and Michelle Rodriguez
Directed by Jonathan Liebesman
Rated PG-13 for sustained and intense sequences of war violence and destruction, and for language
Appropriate for ages 13+

    Staff Sergeant Michael Nantz (Eckhart) is on the brink of retirement from a long life spent in the Marines when he is called back on duty due to an alien attack on the Earth’s major cities, including his own: Los Angeles.  With a green platoon and weapons that pale in comparison to their enemy, Nantz and his fellow Marines must find a way to not only stay alive, but take out the hostiles as well.

    Many of the major critics out there are not just panning the film, but are making it sound like the first major 2011 contender for the Razzies as well.  Going into the movie, I tried to keep an open mind.  Many films like this have a great trailer, but that’s all you get.  Personally I enjoyed the trailer and was looking forward to seeing if the other critics had any validity to their statements.  Let me tell you – I think the majority of press are dead wrong about the movie and are only rejecting it because it has become cool to do so.

    First off, this is a genre film built for a specific audience.  That particular audience expects to see Independence Day meets Black Hawk Down and in this situation, their expectation is largely met.  The film gives you a little chance to meet and get to know some of the characters in the first act, but once the Marines find out they are under attack, the film goes into full-on adrenaline mode where the intense action never stops.  Unlike a film such as Independence Day, you don’t get a dozen different stories and tons of comedy relief.  While that worked for that particular film, the filmmakers here simply chose to follow one group of soldiers for two hours without switching back and forth and without a whiff of a sense of humor. 

    I will admit that the plot is fairly simple: alien soldiers vs. human soldiers.  Also, the movie does have its cheesy moments, but there are some nice emotional scenes as well that the US military would be proud to have in the film.  It helps to have an actor of Eckhart’s ability who can bring an authenticity that is hard to find in genre pics like this. 

    What many folks were afraid of is that there were just enough special effects to make the trailer look good and the film would essentially be just another Skyline.  Fortunately that is not the case here.  While many of the set pieces are briefly shown in the trailer, there is much still to see on screen that will excite the target audience. 

    This film was never designed to be a critical success, but as an entertaining experience, this film is of a much higher quality than it is given credit for.  B

New in Home Entertainment – March 15, 2011

New in Home Entertainment

March 15, 2011

The Fighter
Rated R for language throughout, drug content, some violence and sexuality
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

While the real story of boxer “Irish” Micky Ward and his brother Dicky might have gotten by you in the mid 1980s, you would almost have to be living under a rock to have escaped the press The Fighter has gotten over the last few months.  Winning Academy Awards for supporting actor and actress, Christian Bale and Melissa Leo, as well as a host of other known and unknown actors like Mark Wahlberg and Amy Adams, turn in easily the best ensemble performance of the year in this unique boxing flick which is more about the relationships than the fight.  While the basic premise is essentially your typical boxing plot, the film turns out to be very special due to the strong writing and superb acting, as well as a nicely paced drama directed by the extremely talented David O. Russell.  Originally under the direction of Black Swan’s Darren Aronofsky, David picked up the reigns and turned what could have been just another sports flick into a critical and box office success.  A

Rated PG-13 for mature thematic elements including disturbing disaster and accident images, and for brief strong language
Available on DVD, Blu-ray and Video on Demand

When I first saw this film a few months ago, I didn’t really have much love for it.  And while I still don’t think it’s a particularly good film, the release is timely and completely and unexpectedly relevant.  The opening sequence of Clint Eastwood’s afterlife drama begins in a town as it is devastated by a tsunami.  The effects of the destruction were good enough to earn the film an Oscar nod and in light of what just happened in Japan, the movie couldn’t be more sobering.  I still think that the filmmakers chickened out of taking any kind of religious stance, and even went as far as to mock two of the world’s largest religions.  But this time around the film has a different vibe in spite of its boring screenplay and not-so-great supporting cast.  C+

Sony Masterworks Classic Film Scores
In 1972 Charles Gerhardt released his famous Classic Film Score Series featuring the music of some of the greatest composers of the Golden Age of film.  Now 38 years later, the scores are being re-released on CD by Sony Masterworks, having been re-mastered using the original analog masters and including the original LP liner notes.  Among this release is Citizen Kane – featuring music from scores by Bernard Herrmann, Sunset Boulevard – featuring music from scores by Franz Waxman, Elizabeth and Essex – featuring music from scores by Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Spellbound – featuring music from scores by Miklos Rozsa, Now, Voyager – featuring music from scores by Max Steiner, Laura/Forever Amber/The Bad and the Beautiful – featuring music from scores by David Raksin, and scores from movies featuring Bette Davis.  The recordings here sound like they were made yesterday and you could tell a lot of love went into releasing the series for the true movie music lovers of the world.  A



Starring the voice talent of Johnny Depp, Isla Fisher and Ned Beatty
Directed by Gore Verbinski (Pirates of the Caribbean)
Rated PG for rude humor, language, action and smoking
Appropriate for ages 8+

    When an eccentric pet chameleon separates from his owner and finds himself stranded in the desert, he winds up in the town of Dirt, a rundown Wild West outpost with a water shortage and no sheriff.  Calling himself Rango, the chameleon finds himself on the fortunate end of a battle with the town’s worst enemy, a hawk, and becomes a hero to the animals in deep need of one. 

    If the Coen brothers ever decided to do an animated film, I would picture it looking much like this.  It’s beautiful, quirky, and well told with some really great performances by the ensemble.  While the scale of the animals feels off since all of the creatures are roughly the same size, they are still wonderfully conceived and stunningly put on film.  Better than that though, the characters are well-written.  I realize that much of the plot of the film is a cross between China Town and Pale Rider, but it still comes off as original and charming, and most of the audience won’t catch the easy references. 

    Much like the voice recording of Fantastic Mr. Fox, the cast was recorded while actually acting around each other, rather than by the actors by themselves alone in a studio.  This type of recording obviously brought out the best in these performers and managed to make the action much more enjoyable.  Johnny Depp, who carries the film as Rango is superb, and unlike characters voiced by the likes of Jack Black, Tom Hanks and Tim Allen, I wouldn’t have even known it was Depp had his name not been plastered over the title.  He really gets into the character here and turns in a much stronger performance than he did in his Golden Globe nominated role in The Tourist.  The rest of the cast here is also pretty darn solid and the good time they had making it comes through in the finished project.

    While I know it will be hard to get your young kids not to see it, I will say that some parents will have a big problem with the language.  It’s probably not enough to garner a PG-13 rating, but there are enough hells and damns to throw off any parent who might be trying to “earmuff” their kids.  What stinks is that the bad language is unnecessary and the filmmakers should have had better sense than to include it in a film that will make most of its money from families. 

    Overall, I think that while this is not nearly as good as the best animated films of 2010, it is on par with the likes of Kung Fu Panda and Despicable Me in entertainment value.  A- 

New in Home Entertainment – March 8, 2011

New in Home Entertainment

March 8, 2011

The Walking Dead
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
With the popularity of all of the vampire shows popping up recently on TV, it’s no wonder that someone wanted to create a series based in the zombie world.  In the wrong hands, this sounds like a horrible idea, but in the hands of Shawshank Redemption director Frank Darabont, it turns out to be brilliant.  In this short first season, a group of survivors during a zombie outbreak gather just outside of Atlanta and do their best to survive.  Although many of the ideas are stolen from the cornucopia of zombie flicks such as 28 Days Later and even Shaun of the Dead, the show turns out to be daringly original due to strong character development and just enough of the walking dead to keep you freaked out.  The relatively unknown cast of actors perform as a strong ensemble and the production values are through the roof, cable television or not.  And if you are like me and a victim of your cable company (AT&T in my case) not carrying AMC in HD, then you will love the boost in quality of the viewing experience.  A-

Jackass 3
Rated R for male nudity, extremely crude and dangerous stunts throughout, and for language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

I still can’t believe that no one from the cast has died or been too injured to keep on making these movies, but each one is getting funnier than the last, with the proof coming out on DVD and Blu-ray this week.  While I could still do without the bodily function stunts, the rest of the film is so funny it will make you hurt from laughter almost as much as the cast hurts from the actual stupidity.  Sometimes when I watch this stuff, I feel like Dax Shepard in the movie Idiocracy watching “Ow! My Balls,” hardly believing that this is the funniest movie of the year.  But then I take off my snobby critic hat and sit back and enjoy the awesome display of fatuity.  B+

Birds of the Gods
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

You could have David Attenborough narrate a movie about dung beetles and it could almost trick you into thinking you were watching the most interesting film in the world.  But when you give him material like this, the experience is very satisfying.  While not quite as beautiful or well-produced as Earth or Life, this short doc from PBS on the Birds of Paradise is one marvelous-looking piece of nature footage.  In order to educate and not just just allow you to chill out and stare at nature, the film ties in two researchers who follow the birds and dream of filming them during the mating rituals.  The results are peculiar and captivating.  On a nice TV in 1080p, this makes for not only an enriching, but an entertaining experience as well.  B+

Cedar Rapids

Cedar Rapids

Starring Ed Helms, John C. Reilly and Anne Heche
Directed by Miguel Arteta (Youth in Revolt)
Rated R for crude and sexual content, language and drug use
Appropriate for ages 17+

    Ed Helms is just a plain, honest insurance salesman from a small midwestern town who is sent to represent his company at an insurance convention in the metropolis of Cedar Rapids, IA.  Not knowing a soul there, he relies on three veteran salespeople to guide him through the meeting, and eventually lead him down a comically dark journey full of sex, drugs and corruption.

    Going into this film I was baffled by the fact that this was a small indie from Fox Searchlight.  After all, it has a great ensemble of comic actors and a tried and true formula of the debaucherous night out.  I thought before going in that this being an indie with a limited release is a bad thing, and my opinion turned out correct.

    The subject matter is right up the alley for the adult comedy audience, but the look and feel scream low-budget filmmaking with a decent cast.  Also, the script seems like it was put together with only the set pieces in mind, almost like the writer thought up some hilarious ideas after going to an insurance meeting, but didn’t know how to tie them together with a working narrative.  The MacGuffin here is the two-diamond award which supposedly every insurance company desires.  But it seems only Helms has his eyes on it, because the other agents don’t even compete and the way it is won is amateurish.  Also, the cost for him earning the award only works on an emotional level.  So much could have been done with the script to juice it up and force the actions of the characters to make sense, but because the subplot wasn’t thought out properly, it only serves as a distraction from the hi-jinx. 

    The good thing about the movie is that Helms, Reilly, and Heche do an excellent job with what they are given and they make the comedy work.  I’ve been to too many of these types of meetings, and the drunken behavior shown is fairly accurate and pretty funny.  Still, a comedy like this could have and should have been better than what ended up on screen.  C+

New in Home Entertainment – March 1, 2011

New in Home Entertainment

March 1, 2011

Bambi: Diamond Edition

Rated G
Available on DVD/Blu-ray Combo

What was originally supposed to be Walt Disney’s second feature film after Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, became his fifth release and almost bankrupted the studio due to WWII and the loss of the European box office.  Now, almost seventy years later, Bambi still holds up as a masterpiece of animation and art.  With this blu-ray premiere, the print was cleaned up and enhanced again and looks simply gorgeous in 1080p.  Also there are many new special features that will have you watching the disc long after the movie ends.  Perhaps the coolest feature, and a groundbreaking one at that, is the new second screen technology which allows the movie to interact with your iPad or laptop while you are watching the film, providing a new and innovative way to learn more about the movie you are watching while you are watching it.  A

127 Hours
Rated R for language and some disturbing violent content/bloody images
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Certainly one of the best films of 2010, 127 Hours was also one of the most difficult to watch.  Hours tells the true story of Aron Ralston (James Franco) who finds his hand trapped by a boulder in the middle of nowhere which leaves him very few choices if he wants to survive.  Almost the entire length of the film is spent with Aron and his struggle, yet because of the superb acting by Franco and the intense directing of Danny Boyle, the film is extremely fast paced and never bores.  If you are even the least bit squeamish, however, you won’t want to come near this as it would make the strongest of stomachs weak.  But even with the gore fest, the film comes out triumphant and gives a great insight to the events that occurred and provides a positive, life-affirming message to its audience.  A-

Love and Other Drugs
Rated R for strong sexual content, nudity, pervasive language, and some drug material
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

This controversial film starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway appears on the outset to be a romantic comedy about a drug rep that falls for a patient at one of his doctor’s offices.  But then it converts to a romantic drama about learning to love someone no matter what the consequence.  The comedy part of the film doesn’t work too well at all, mostly due to a poorly thought-out script that lacks authenticity.  The drama however, delivers a punch to the gut as it asks the question of committing to someone knowing that their disease will eventually put you through hell.  If the film had a better sense of itself then I think it could have been a classic romance, but as it stands, it’s simply going to be known as the Jake and Anne sex flick.  C