Cloud Atlas

Cloud Atlas
Starring Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent and Hugh Grant
Directed by Tom Tykwer (Perfume), Andy Wachowski and Lana Wachowski (The Matrix)
Rated R for violence, language, sexuality/nudity and some drug use

    There are many movies out there with several interconnecting stories.  Some have been excellent examples of filmmaking such as Stephen Daldry’s The Hours and Richard Curtis’s Love Actually.  Then again some have been disasters, such as many of the films trying to copy these two.  Cloud Atlas is different.  Very different.  Yes there are several stories unfolding at the same time, but the connection between them is more complicated.  Based on the book by David Mitchell, Atlas attempts to show how one’s actions in the past and present can impact the future, while simultaneously telling several stories told throughout time with very loosely connected themes. 

    With such an ambitious film, it is hard to figure out how to tackle it.  Having not read the book first, I found the best way was to try to follow the individual stories and sort it all out later.  Most of the tales are very entertaining and they each encompass their own genre with very little relatable between them.  I found each of the stories to be watchable although only one of them really stood out for me.  The fifth story-line takes place more than a 100 years in the future in a city called Neo Seoul and follows the life of what we can assume is a cloned human, or fabricant, named Somni-451 who finds herself thrown into a rebellion.  It is the only individual story that has the potential to stand up on its own, but then I don’t think that is the point. 

    The point of the film is to show how each person’s life has an effect on their next life and how all of these lives come together.  Each actor plays multiple parts, both male and female, in this menagerie of adventures.  For example, Tom Hanks goes from playing a sordid physician, to a lowly hotel manager, to a scientist willing to betray his corrupt boss, to a violent gangster, and finally to the hero of the story in the far distant future.  It’s enough to keep you exhausted.  But it’s also a lot of fun.  Trying to keep up isn’t that difficult if you just let go and come to the realization that you might have to watch the film a time or two more to really comprehend it.  At least that’s the way I felt.  I left the theater wanting to watch it again, even though it is almost 3 hours long.  Fortunately, the film earns its long running time as the pacing is outstanding for a project of such immensity. 

    What really helps the film keep things together is the passion each of the actors puts into their roles.  That tells me they were having fun making the movie and that there is something to it.  And while I couldn’t figure it all out with one viewing, I fully expect there to many more until I finally do.

    The biggest disappointment I felt that is that I couldn’t connect with anything in particular.  My mind was attached but the emotional connection I fully expected to have just wasn’t there with any of the story lines.  That is a shame because I really wanted to come away with that.  A-

New in Home Entertainment – October 30, 2012

New in Home Entertainment

October 30, 2012

The Campaign
Rated R for crude sexual content, language and brief nudity
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Just in time for the big vote on November 6 comes this year’s hilarious election comedy starring Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis as two candidates in North Carolina running for one of that state’s U.S. House seats.  While the film is completely over-the-top and seems like a parody of our current situation, it is hiding an agenda to get its viewers to think about who is controlling some of the puppet candidates in real life.  Of particular relevance are John Lithgow and Dan Akroyd who play the Motch Brothers, a take-off of the real-life political kingmakers the Koch Brothers.  I don’t want to make this film seem like an intellectual masterpiece (it is first and foremost a raunchy comedy) but there sure is a lot of symbolism worth paying attention to.  A-

All in the Family: The Complete Series
Available on DVD

This new complete set of the gritty 1970’s CBS comedy about the Bunker family has the chance to make some fans happy and others furious.  Over the years, Sony had been releasing seasons of the show.  Now Shout Factory has taken over and released this huge set with 28 DVDs including every episode and tons of extras.  It’s the extras that have some fans up in arms.  In order to get your hands on the hours of extras, you have to buy this new set which contains a hefty price tag to go along with it.  I’ll admit, some of the extras are nice to have, especially the documentaries, but the show is the real winner and if you find you have a lot of time on your hands coming up, this will keep you busy and in stitches.  Although 40 years old, this comedy holds up nicely.  For those who haven’t been introduced to Archie Bunker and his family yet, you will certainly find this influential show familiar as this groundbreaking sitcom introduced much of America to dark comedy, and led the way to such hits as MASH and Roseanne.  A

My Favorite Horror Films

My Top Thirteen Scary Date Movies

by Danny Minton

Movie lists are fun to make and almost everyone sticks to a list of ten, but for Halloween I think it’s more than appropriate to make it a baker’s dozen.  A bloody-aproned, knife-wielding baker’s dozen.  Scary movies can be so entertaining, and yet as most of you are fully aware, they can also be extremely lame.  This Halloween, when you are picking out the right film to snuggle up to your date with, forgo the Twilights and torture porn, and pick up one of these great little gems.

13.  The Shining. 
You can’t go wrong with this classic Jack Nicholson scarer.  Stephen King wrote the book and Stanley Kubrick took care of the rest.  It’s one of the all-time greats. 

12.  Let the Right One In.
  This Swedish import tells the tale of a bullied young boy who befriends a young vampire girl who has just moved in next door.  There are some nice moments of sweetness, but don’t get too comfortable.  She may be young but she’s very hungry.  The American remake, Let Me In, is a good enough effort, but not nearly as creepy as the original.

11.  28 Days Later. 
Danny Boyle’s apocalyptic film, about a group of survivors in London who attempt to stay alive in their living-dead-infested town, rescued the zombie genre.  Just be careful.  These zombies are fast and way more deadly than what you might find on The Walking Dead.

10.  Shaun of the Dead.  If you need a lighter evening, but still want to stay in theme, check out this British zombie/rom-com.  Making the way for films like Zombieland and other cross genre hits, Shaun is a delightful romp through a land filled with dead baddies.
9.  30 Days of Night.  The scariest vampires you’ve ever seen have just ascended on a small town in Alaska that is about to see 30 days without the daylight necessary to keep them away.  This is not for the weak of heart or stomach.

8.  Fright Night.  If you are looking for lighter vampire film that still has teeth, check out this 80’s haunter about a teenager whose neighbor just happens to be Dracula.  Note – leave the new remake on the shelf. 

7.  Army of Darkness.
  This campy finale to The Evil Dead franchise, directed by Spider-Man’s Sam Raimi, is a bit silly, but full of great horror and hilarious comedy.  Bruce Campbell is a comic genius in the role of Sam Ash, the hardware salesman who gets sent back in time to fight an army of the undead. 

6.  Paranormal Activity.  I’ll freely admit – this movie scared the crap out of me.  While the gimmick has gotten out of hand, the first film in the franchise still makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck.
5.  Aliens.  James Cameron’s claustrophobic sequel to Alien was the first horror film I ever saw in theaters (I was a bit sheltered) and it still gets me today.  If only Prometheus could have been this scary…

4.  Perfume: The Story of a Murderer.  Before Tom Twyker co-directed the new film Cloud Atlas, he tackled this famous German tale of a perfume maker who kills attractive women in an attempt to capture their essence and create the most beautiful perfume in the world.  It was a huge hit in Europe but a dud here, even with great performances by Dustin Hoffman and Alan Rickman.
3.  Halloween.  The monster, the music and the mayhem all came together so well in this ultimate holiday scarefest about a psychopath with a mask and knife who loves to kill teenage girls. 

2.  The Exorcist.  So many horror films have tried to copy this classic frightener about a young girl possessed by a demon, but none have ever come close.  The acting, writing and directing prove that you can do horror and still make an incredible film.  The ten Oscar noms and two wins prove that this one succeeded admirably.

1.  The Descent.  This 2005 horror film is still the scariest thing I’ve ever seen.  Six British girls go cave-exploring in the Appalachians only to find themselves trapped.  And to make matters worse, there is a group of predators underneath the Earth hunting them.  This is a must-see if you consider yourself a horror fan.  It’s also the perfect film to get your date clinging to you tightly. 

New in Home Entertainment – October 23, 2012

New in Home Entertainment

October 23, 2012

Rated R for sci-fi violence including intense images and brief language
Available on DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D

If you have questions about the origin of the Alien universe, Prometheus serves as a kind of prequel to the franchise and will provide some answers.  It will also raise many more questions.  The great thing about this new blu-ray release is that for a film like this that demands multiple viewings, it is now possible to do so without having to spend so much at the theaters.  And unlike many of the top directors that don’t do commentaries, Ridley Scott loves to offer his voice to the background and here gives a nice addition for your second or third viewing.  Now if only the film were a bit scarier…  B+

Magic Mike
Rated R for pervasive sexual content, brief graphic nudity, language and some drug use
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Director Steven Soderbergh (Traffic) leaves the indie fare behind and instead tackles the world of male strippers in this pic starring Channing Tatum, Alex Pettyfer and Matthew McConaughey.  So this might be more of a chick flick than a date film, but regardless, it’s decent enough entertainment if you don’t mind the lack of an interesting story.  Supposedly based on Tatum’s previous career as a stripper, the story is bland and a little bleak.  Just when you think you are heading into Boogie Nights territory, the movie takes you down a sort of lame turn.  Perhaps if they had based the crux of the story on Pettyfer’s character rather than Tatum’s the film might have been more intriguing to watch.  C+

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

Rated R for language including sexual references, some drug use and brief violence
Availalble on DVD and Blu-ray

Steve Carell and Keira Knightley are two neighbors who build a friendship as the Earth is only a short time away from being destroyed.  With the end of the Mayan calendar coming to a close, there have been many end of the world tales but the comedy approach taken here is original and funny, yet dark and pretty twisted.  I never really felt a lot of chemistry between the two leads, but maybe thats the point.  Great chemistry just might not be an option when you have hours left to live.  Still the film manages to be enjoyable in spite of a dire ending that is inevitable.  B

Secret of the Wings
Rated G
Available on DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D

While Disney’s Tinker Bell movies haven’t exactly told the greatest stories, the animators sure do show off their talent in grand style.  This new Fairies movie tells the tale of Tinker Bell as she visits the forbidden Winter Woods and discovers why her wings have been mysteriously glowing.  It’s a cute enough movie if you have young kids (especially girls) and is bearable due to the spectacular imagery.  It’s certainly not the best of Disney, but for a straight-to-video release it’s not half bad.  B-

The Invisible War
Not Rated
Available on DVD

This years Sundance winner for documentary is a hard-hitting film about the massive cover-up and mishandling of rape in the military.  Telling the stories of several men and women in the military who were brutally raped or sexually abused by their colleagues, only to be further victimized by the very organization that is supposed to protect them, this is a sobering and saddening expose that is a must-watch for any concerned citizen.  I would especially advise women or parents of women considering the military to check this one out.  The good news is that the film has already had a positive impact in the military.  The bad news is that this story exists at all.  A


Starring Ben Affleck, Alan Arkin and John Goodman
Directed by Ben Affleck (The Town)
Rated R for language and some violent images

    Based on a recently declassified true story, Argo tells the tale of a heroic CIA agent named Tony Mendez (Affleck) who goes undercover as a Canadian filmmaker pretending to make a B-movie named Argo in Iran in order to attempt to rescue six Americans hiding out at the Canadian ambassador’s home during the Iran hostage crisis. 

    This film is good for many reasons, but one thing makes it stand out: tension.  This film is the very essence of intensity.  From the beginning of the movie where the Iranians rush the embassy, to the final moments of the film, there is an ominous and urgent feeling that something any second could go wrong and ruin everything.  In screenwriting you are taught to build conflict into every scene, but here the screenwriter, Chris Terrio, takes that concept to an extreme with the help of the masterful direction of Affleck.  For example, Agent Mendez has to take the six Americans, disguised as Canadian filmmakers, into a crowded market and have them pretend to be scouting out the area for the film they are supposed to be making.  Already nervous from being out in the open for the first time, the audience would have been scared enough if nothing had happened and they had merely just walked through, but first they are asked difficult questions which could give away their true identities and then an Iranian man begins yelling at them and making a fuss for taking a Polaroid of his shop.  And when you compound that with such high stakes and dramatic music, its a wonder you still have fingernails after the movie.

    With a film such as this it helps to have the perfect cast, and indeed it does.  It’s uncanny how much the actual actors resemble the real-life people they are playing.  Fortunately, they aren’t just a cast of doppelgängers, but rather an extremely talented ensemble turning in great performances. 

    While they never could have or would have used the recent tragedy in Benghazi for promotion, there will naturally be more interest in the film due to these events.  One thing I think the film does admirably is to point out the good and the evil as well as the misunderstood in ours and other cultures.  In an attempt to make an entertaining historical drama, the filmmakers have created a relevant and meaningful experience for its audience.  A-

New in Home Entertainment – October 16, 2012

New in Home Entertainment

October 16, 2012

2016: Obama’s America

Rated PG for thematic elements, brief language and smoking images
Available on DVD

Normally I wouldn’t think of reviewing, never mind leading off, with a film like this.  But after its relative success at the box office I just had to see what all the hubbub was about.  Now I wish I hadn’t.  Based on the best seller by Dinesh D’Souza, the author and director travels around the world in an attempt to help us learn more about our commander in chief.  The film puts on the veil of being an objective and non-biased doc with lots of repetitive visuals and a slick but silly journalistic style, but for anyone who is capable of independent thought, it is easy to see the film for what it really is: an un-American, unpatriotic, ultra-racist conservative slam-fest.  Sure the filmmaker admits Obama was born in America, but using the most absurd comparisons, he eventually asserts that Obama’s long-term sinister goal is to bring America down economically by the end of his second term. The sad thing is that many of the people who pay to see this crap actually believe it.  F

Moonrise Kingdom
Rated PG-13 for sexual content and smoking
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Writer/Director Wes Anderson (Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums) once again assembles a huge Hollywood A-List cast (Bruce Willis, Ed Norton and Bill Murray to name a few) for a feel good, slightly-less-than-family-friendly comedy about two pre-teen love birds who run away from home for an extended camping trip.  Cute and clever from start to finish, the film will put a smile on your face that you’ll regain every time you stop and think about it.  While not the best of his work, this is another in a long string of critically successful indie pics from a very creative artist.  B+

Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted
Rated PG for some mild action and rude humor
Available on DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D

All of the zoo critters are back and this time they are gallivanting around Europe as part of a has-been traveling circus.  I’ll admit that I’ve never been a big fan of the Madagascar franchise, but upon receiving relatively high critical praise (compared to the first two films), I was actually looking forward to seeing this new installment.  All it took was ten minutes to realize my colleagues were wrong and that I was about to endure 80 more minutes of pure animated torture.  The only saving grace here is the animation itself which is at times impressive.  D

That’s My Boy
Rated R for crude and sexual content throughout, nudity, pervasive language and some drug use
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

This might not seem like a stretch for Adam Sandler, who usually panders to the minds of thirteen year-old boys, but being one of his first Rated R comedies (Funny People doesn’t count), That’s My Boy makes an attempt to win over a new audience, or at least an older version of his former audience.  The story has potential as it places Sandler as the teenage single father to a young boy after his teacher/girlfriend has a baby.    While not the horrible mess I expected (I did laugh quite a few times), the film is by no means a great one.  Just manage your expectations and you might be able to enjoy.  C+

Mad Men: Season Five
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

The fifth season of Mad Men introduced us to a new and improved Don Draper who is trying diligently to get his life together after his dark turn in season four.  But while Don’s moral compass is beginning to point north, his colleagues are heading in the opposite direction.  It might not be the best season yet, but it sure is one that will get you hooked.  A-

New in Home Entertainment – October 9, 2012

New in Home Entertainment

October 9, 2012

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial
Rated PG
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

In 1982, when I was a mere ten years old, I went from being a kid who liked movies to a cinephile.  I still remember sitting on lawn chairs waiting to see the film at the Reding Four in Oklahoma City, where I would soon discover the movie that would literally change my life.  There was something in that film that I really connected with, as I’m sure millions of other people did the same that year.  For the twentieth anniversary of the film, Spielberg made some changes to the film, which upset others a lot more than I, but for all of us, this long-awaited hi def edition takes us back thirty years ago when g-men carried guns rather than walkie talkies.  The film looks and sounds amazing, and I actually compared the blu-ray to the old dvd just to see the extent of the difference blu-ray really makes.  This new version is light on new features, but the featurette Steven Spielberg & E.T. is a nice addition.  Many of the old special features are still there including the wonderful The Music of E.T. where you get to see footage of Spielberg and John Williams around the piano as Williams gives the director a taste of what he has prepared for the soon to be legendary film.  I love this film just as much now as I did when I first saw it and I am so happy that I finally have such a high quality version of it to watch whenever I want to revisit Elliott and his little alien friend.  A+

Rock of Ages

Rated PG-13 for sexual content, suggestive dancing, some heavy drinking, and language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

I was so excited when I heard that they were making a big screen version of one of my favorite recent Broadway shows.  Having seen the live show three times, I was ready to rock out in the movie theater.  After twenty minutes of pain, I was closer to leaving a movie than I had ever been in my life.  What is supposed to be a glorious nostalgia-fest turns out quickly to be an example of how not to make a movie musical.  It’s not that the singers couldn’t sing (even Tom Cruise sounds decent) and it’s not that the Broadway version was a perfect show.  The biggest problems was the removal of the narrator, played in the movie by Russell Brand.  The show itself is very tongue in cheek and not to be taken seriously, but everything was tied together so nicely by the very comedic narration.  Without those jokes, and the overall humor they provided, the movie collapses upon itself.  This version is not very funny and at times gets down-right depressing.  In addition, any edge hair metal once had in the 80’s or even possessed on stage is lost here.  Rather than rockin’ out to some of favorite songs, I found myself understanding how bad they can be when rewritten for the cast of Glee.  F

A Cat in Paris

Rated PG
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

With last year’s animation slate turning out so lame, two foreign animated films managed to get themselves Oscar-nominated.  I discussed Chico & Rita a couple of weeks back, but now the same distributor is releasing the other, and much more worthy feature: A Cat in Paris.  Following a cat who is a pet to a young girl by day and an aid to a thief by night, the story manages to wind itself down paths you would never expect from a nice little family film when the thief’s life intersects with the girl and her family.  The story is good, but what really makes the film special is the fantastic hand-drawn animation that is as beautiful as it is creative.  With such a unique and vibrant color palette, each frame of the movie looks like it could stand alone as a piece of art.  A-


Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis and Emily Blunt
Directed by Rian Johnson (Brick)
Rated R for strong violence, language, some sexuality/nudity and drug content

    In the year 2072, time travel is possible but highly illegal.  When the mob wants to get rid of someone, they send them back in time 30 years where one of a wild group of wannabe gangsters is waiting with a gun and a plastic liner to take out the garbage.  Joe (Gordon-Levitt) is one of these so-called loopers who periodically waits in the country, armed with his stopwatch and blunderbuss, for one of these victims to be sent back so he can kill them and collect the ransom for their body.  But when the person sent back in time is his future self (Willis), young Joe is thrown off guard and accidentally allows old Joe to escape.  Knowing that its either kill old Joe, or he himself will be killed, he goes on a mission to save his present life from his future. 

    If that description sounds convoluted and complicated then just wait.  That is just scratching the surface.  This is one absolutely crazy sci-fi film that is almost as much fun to figure out as it is to watch.  The story is highly original and the whole production is so well put together that it is hard to imagine any sci-fi fan that wouldn’t enjoy thoroughly.

    That being said, while the film is easily classified as sci-fi, it has a low-budget, almost indie feel to it that makes it come across in a more organic fashion than your average sci-fi pic.  The problem is that at times this low-budget nature is distracting like when the main child in the film is wearing the same pajamas that we bought for our two-year-old at Costco.  Or the sword in the room is the same foam sword we bought at target.  Any time the production team is sent to the local store to buy clothes and props for a film that takes place decades in the future, then you know that there are monetary constraints involved.  But still, the story overcomes any of the little distractions that might pop up. 

    But even a great story like this can’t cover up Gordon-Levitt’s nose, which they tried desperately to give a Bruce Willis look.  The problem is that it just doesn’t appear right and you end up staring at his nose wondering what they were thinking.  My question is, couldn’t they think up a plot device like maybe Old Joe got a nose job in the future in order to avoid detection?  Why did they have to give us a familiar actor who has a distracting facial issue. 

    While Gordon-Levitt’s nose is distracting, his acting is terrific as are the performances from rest of the cast.  And for the most part, I was able to get past the minor things and just sit back and enjoy this creative and entertaining tale by a visionary writer and director.  B+

New in Home Entertainment – October 2, 2012

New in Home Entertainment

October 2, 2012

American Horror Story: The Complete First Season
Rated TV-MA
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

I sat down to watch two, maybe three episodes of this new FX horror series on a rainy Saturday and thirteen hours later, upon finishing it, I couldn’t believe how engaged I was with this innovative mini-series about a family living in a house known for dozens of grizzly murders that took place over the last century.  This twisted and risqué drama took a lot of guts to bring to television (quite literally) and I admire the courage to produce such a quality creepfest.  While I wasn’t exactly scared, I was effectively goose-bumped throughout much of the show.  The script is a fantastic example of good writing, and I love that they completely changed the rules when it comes to ghosts.  But what really makes the show work is the amazing cast including Jessica Lange, Dylan McDermott and Connie Britton, along with the rest of the talented group.  Now I can’t wait to see where they take it in season two.  B+

Dark Shadows
Rated PG-13 for comic horror violence, sexual content, some drug use language and smoking
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Loosely based on the 1960’s campy soap opera by the same name, Tim Burton directs Johnny Depp and a slew of talented actors in a tale about a several-hundred-year-old vampire who returns to 1970s America to seek his revenge on a witch.  As you would expect from a Tim Burton film, the production design is top notch.  Unfortunately that’s the only decent attribute the project has going for it.  Its biggest problem is the film doesn’t know what it wants to be.  Is it a comedy?  Is it a horror flick?  Well it doesn’t scare and I can’t exactly see folks chuckling much.  What it is can be described as a beautiful mess.  And to make matters worse, the scenes trod by at a snails pace making the film feel three hours long even though it clocks in at 113 minutes.  Whether that’s the acting or the directing is debatable, but what is not is that this irrelevant film is not in the least enjoyable.  C-

People Like Us
Rated PG-13 for language, some drug use and brief sexuality
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

When a distant son (Chris Pine) discovers that his recently deceased father had another child (Elizabeth Banks), he sets off on a journey to introduce himself awkwardly into his newfound sister’s life.  While this movie seems like more of an after-school special than a theatrically released film from Disney and DreamWorks, this well-written and extremely well-acted family drama turns out to be a nice little gem of a film that will make you think, put a smile on your face and a tear in your eye.  I’ll admit that it’s a very manipulative and the characters’ actions don’t make a lot of sense in moments, but it’s fun sometimes to come away with some unexpected joy after watching what you are certain will be a lame drama.  B

Cinderella: Diamond Edition
Rated G
Available on Blu-ray

Disney’s classic 1950’s fairly tale about a young girl who is transformed from rags to riches and back to rags is getting the hi-def treatment with this new blu-ray release.  If you’re like me, you kind of miss the hand-drawn animation we used to watch growing up.  This short but impactful movie really looks fantastic on the right television.  Make sure to check out the terrific Disney animated short Tangled Ever After which tells the story of Maximus and Pascal, the couples fun-loving horse and chameleon, as they attempt to chase down the rings they clumsily manage to lose during Rapunzel and Flynn’s wedding ceremony.  A-