Fruitvale Station

Fruitvale Station
Starring Michael B Jordan, Melonie Diaz and Octavia Spencer
Directed by Ryan Coogler
Rated R for some violence, language throughout and some drug use

I have to admit that I’m tired of hearing about Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman.  I’m convinced it was a tragedy but I’m not sold on injustice.  What surprises me is how much coverage the Trayvon Martin case is getting and how little coverage this true story that took place in 2008 in Oakland got.  Telling the story of the last day of Oscar Grant’s life before a true injustice befell him at the Fruitvale BART Station in Oakland, the movie is a beautiful, poignant and horrific punch to the gut.  The screenplay is absolutely amazing and the directing by relative newcomer Ryan Coogler is sure to garner attention come awards season.  I was completely blown away and I have a feeling this one will be rattling around in my head for some time.  A

The Wolverine

The Wolverine
Starring Hugh Jackman, Tao Okamoto and Rila Fukushima
Directed by James Mangold (Knight and Day)
Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence, some sexuality and language

The first Wolverine solo outing proved to be a huge disappointment but this new adventure looked like it had all of the ingredients for a great comeback.  In this latest journey, Logan makes a trip to Japan to visit a dying friend only to find himself losing his abilities while attempting to save the man’s granddaughter.  For the first two acts the movie proves to be very enjoyable.  The set piece on the bullet train is especially thrilling.  Unfortunately, once the third act hits the movie runs out of steam and becomes incredibly inconsistent in regards to Wolverine’s powers.  The third act had so many problems that I had a tough time focusing on the story and basically become over-distracted by the bad filmmaking.  In addition, at the beginning of the third act Wolverine throws out a huge F-bomb that I’m sure parents will love.  I’m not a prude, but I don’t think this kind of language belongs in our super hero films targeting pre-teens.  C

The Conjuring

The Conjuring
Starring Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor
Directed by James Wan (Saw)
Rated R for sequences of disturbing violence and terror

Real life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Wilson and Farmiga) have searched for evil activity in hundreds of homes but apparently this case of a demon haunting a family in Rhode Island is the one that they found to the most disturbing.  Personally, I was very scared watching it.  Easily Wan’s best film, this is a masterpiece of horror that relies on a credible and authentic look and feel rather than the torture porn normally passed off as horror nowadays.  The film is so well produced, written, directed and acted that there is no surprise that it is doing so well at the box-office.  So if you are like me and love it when the hair stands up on your neck, and you haven’t had that feeling in a while, you gotta check this one out.  A-

New in Home Entertainment -July 30, 2013

New in Home Entertainment

July 30, 2013

G.I. Joe: Retaliation
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of combat violence and martial acts action throughout, and for brief sensuality and language
Available on DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D

Cobra is back and this time they have kidnapped the president and put an operative in disguise in the White House.  So, it’s once again up to the Joes to step in and rescue the world.  Insane plot doesn’t begin to describe this mess.  If you are in it for wall to wall action and zero in the brains department – by all means check this out.  Personally, it hurt my head trying to piece this one together.  It’s nothing more than a ludicrous story filled with tons of bloodless violence and muscle.  I’m sure if I were 13 again that might be just enough to keep me tuned in.  D+

Rated R for sexual content, graphic nudity, violence, some grisly images and language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Slumdog Millionaire director Danny Boyle tackles this story about a UK art auctioneer who foils an art heist only to be taken prisoner by the thieves until they can figure out how to clear up his amnesia and find where he hid the painting.  Part of the movie is deeply fascinating, such as the concept of stolen art and the fact that many stunning pieces have been taken and aregone forever.  Unfortunately, the story is so confounding that a good head scratch won’t come close to help you piece it together in time and by the moment you do, if you’re like me, you won’t care any longer.  Boyle has such a unique and seductive style to his filmmaking and its a shame it had to be wasted on this project.  C+

New in Home Entertainment – July 23, 2013

New in Home Entertainment

July 23, 2013

Rated R for sexual content, language and some drug material
French with English subtitles
Available on DVD

When a sweet loser discovers that through a sperm bank mistake he now has over 500 children wandering the streets, of whom 142 have filed a class action lawsuit to discover who he is, he tries to get to know them by secretly doing kind acts for as many as he possibly can.  Apparently when Steven Spielberg discovered this film at the Toronto Film Festival, he just had to make an English language version and thus hired Starbuck director Ken Scott to remake his own film in New York with Vince Vaughn titled “Delivery Man.”  But why wait until Thanksgiving?  This film is a perfectly lovable picture that in spite of its many flaws will have you glued to your chair with an intense smile.  B+

An Affair of the Heart
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

My music collection numbers in the tens of thousands of tracks, but I still remember the first record I ever bought.  I went to the local Sound Warehouse to pick up Rick Springfield’s Jessie’s Girl single but it was sold out.  Instead I picked up the single I’ve Done Everything For You and played it, along with the B-side Red Hot & Blue Love until the record broke.    I’ll admit that both songs were inappropriate for a 9 year old but today’s hits can be far worse.  For some reason I have always had a strange attraction to Rick’s music and after watching this new documentary about his fans I am finding that I’m nowhere near to being alone in this.  While there is a good bit of music here, and it all rocks, most of the doc focuses on his rabid fan base that are truly dedicated to the star.  So I’m not as crazy as some of these ladies, but I loved watching the connections Rick has made with his fans.  And it appears I picked a good guy to follow as well since he seems to really be a caring and thoughtful individual who really gives back to his fans, making the relationship truly symbiotic.  But whether or not you like his music, the movie shows a unique underground of otherwise normal people with a highly unusual fixation.  This to me is what makes the film most entertaining.  A

Home Run
Rated PG-13 for some mature thematic material
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

This little Christian indie focuses on a professional baseball player whose life is changed when a DUI that almost kills his brother forces him to commit to community service in the small Oklahoma town he grew up in by  coaching the local little league team and starting up a 12 step program for his alcoholism.  The script is a little stiff at times and the directing isn’t always the best, but the decent acting and overall production value really make this a film worth watching for the right audience.  Like many Christian films it can get a little preachy, but unlike most of them, it is not overly long and you don’t get a lot of the bad distractions from a film poorly made.  Also, the theme of recovery from addiction in its many forms is a welcome message for those deeply affected by it.  B

Babette’s Feast: The Criterion Collection
Danish, Swedish and French with English subtitles
Available on Blu-ray and DVD

This 1987 Oscar winner for best foreign film tells the story of two adult sisters in 19th century Denmark who take in a young French woman named Babette who is escaping her homeland.  In return for her safe keeping, the young woman offers her services as housekeeper and cook.  Years later, after Babette discovers that she has won the lottery, she decides to create a French feast for the village who have only experienced dull food their entire lives.  It’s a little slow going getting to the dinner but once there the film is enlightening.  It really shows how good food and wine can truly transform the soul.  While it might not be the best movie about food ever made, it is easy to tell that it has served as inspiration for other remarkably tasty films such as Chocolate, The Big Night and Ratatouille.  B+

Pacific Rim

Pacific Rim
Starring Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba and Rinko Kikuchi
Directed by Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth)
Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence throughout, and brief language

    In the near future, a rift opens up at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean allowing alien monsters to invade Earth, destroying everything in their sight.  In order to stop them, humankind has banded together to create giant robots roughly their size, capable of defeating the enormous beasts.  But as more and more of the creatures attack the planet, mankind must find a way to stop them before they are eradicated. 

    I’ve been super excited to see this film ever since I heard they were making it.  Guillermo del Toro has been one of my favorite directors for years and I love a good monster movie.  I was also very happy when I saw how well the film works.  The robot/monster fights are an epic spectacle and an absolute blast to watch on a big screen.  My only wish is that some of the fights could have been during the day when everything might be easier to see, but even with the huge battles taking place at night or under the water, the immensity of the project is still truly impressive. 

    I will admit that for the plot, you better be prepared to listen.  The exposition is complicated and comes at you quickly.  Personally, I found the sound in the theater I was in to be a little off, making some of the dialog a little hard to understand at times.  Since I missed some of the important exposition I had to rely on the internet, which is fine, but I wish I could have had a better understanding of everything while sitting in the theater.  But story aside, I was there to see monsters tearing stuff up and this just might be the mother of all monster films. 

    Also of note is that once again, I don’t think the 3D was necessary.  In fact since many theaters don’t do a good 3D projection and leave their projections too dim, the almost sunglass-like shading of the 3D glasses might just really cause the film to get way too dark.  Since the fights are all a little hard to see with good projection, I have a feeling that many theatergoers will be deeply disappointed in the 3D offering.  A-

New in Home Entertainment – July 16, 2013

New in Home Entertainment

July 16, 2013

Rated PG-13 for thematic elements including language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

In 1946 Brooklyn Dodgers owner Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford) made a huge gamble by introducing a black player, Jackie Robinson (newcomer Chadwick Boseman) into the white league.  When the gamble paid off, Jackie was an early face of a sweeping change that became a pivotal moment in the civil rights movement.  This film tells the story of how Jackie came to play for the Dodgers and the success he had with them.  Director Brian Helgeland (A Knight’s Tale) does a superb job of recreating this tumultuous and triumphant period in American history.  The problem with most biopics is they don’t tell very good stories, but this is a tidy little package that gives you a very good sense of the big picture.  The movie has a bit of cheese, such as the young black kid they keep coming back to as he idolizes his hero, but that’s bound to happen in a pic like this when fillmmakers feel they need to add these kinds of characters in order to show the impact of their protagonist.  I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if this movie finally gives Harrison Ford an Academy Award.  Not only is he great as Rickey, but being a legend without the big trophy has Oscar bait written all over it.  A-

Evil Dead
Rated R for strong bloody violence and gore, some sexual content and language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

When director Sam Raimi created The Evil Dead in 1981, it was a cheaply-made but inspired comedy/horror that to this day is a huge cult classic.  Now, over 30 years later, he is producing this new vision of that film about a group of teens stuck in a cabin that are subject to an evil curse when one of them reads from the Book of the Dead.  The style of the film is creepy and extremely gory, but the film doesn’t come off as either scary or funny.  If you simply need a few good gotchas and whole lotta blood, then you’ll probably like this film.  As for me, I just couldn’t get into it or appreciate it.  I was expecting a spine tingling nightmare with a sense of humor and it just didn’t deliver the goods.  C

Bullet to the Head
Rated R for strong violence, bloody images, language, some nudity and brief drug use
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

In the 1970s and 80s director Walter Hill (The Warriors) and Sylvester Stallone (Rambo) were huge.  Unfortunately neither of them could pull in any semblance of a box office in this ultra-violent action film about a hitman who teams up with a cop in order take down a crime lord.  While not nearly as bad I thought it would be, it still isn’t a great film by any stretch of the imagination.  The dialog, filled with horrid exposition and cliches, sounds like something that Max Fischer could have written for his school plays at Rushmore.  But at 90 minutes, the film is tight and not boring.  That at least is something.  Then again, does anyone really want to see super violent right now?  The violence that a film like this portrays might finally be becoming undesirable.  C

New in Home Entertainment – July 9, 2013

New in Home Entertainment

July 9, 2013

Rated PG-13 for language and some sexual material
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

If you watched the ads for this latest flick from Tina Fey and Paul Rudd, you would think you were getting a silly slapstick romcom.  But then you get into the meat of the pic and realize that is neither very romantic or comedic, but rather a thoughtful and witty look at parent/child relationships with a valuable lesson on how to get into a good college.  I was as entertained as I was surprised.  What I was most shocked about was the luke-warm reception by other writers.  It’s hard for me to believe that they saw the same film I did.  A-

The Host
Rated PG-13 for some sensuality and violence
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Filmmakers might have struck gold with Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series but their efforts were an ultimate fail with this story about a race of aliens who have taken over the world and the small group of human resistors.  In the story the aliens capture the bodies of the humans and much of the film is spent in an internal dialog between the alien Wanderer and her host Melanie Strange, both played by the typically great young actress Saoirse Ronan.  This teeny bopper version of Body Snatchers is just lame throughout and filled with way too many eye-rolling moments.  In my opinion the film isn’t any worse than any of the films from the Twilight saga, but the big difference is that it wasn’t based on a book with a cult following.  D+

Spring Breakers
Rated R for strong sexual content, language, nudity, drug use and violence throughout
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

When a group of young, scantily clad teenage girls go on spring break, they find themselves lured into a criminal underworld by a drug-dealing arms dealer played by James Franco.  I found this film to be extremely uncomfortable and rather sick.  Franco was interesting, but the behavior displayed here by all is pretty disgusting and only made worse by the exploitive nature of the project.  I’m not sure who the audience is for a film like this but you get the feeling that they might be going for the same crowd that likes to buy Girls Gone Wild DVDs.   C

New in Home Entertainment – July 2, 2013

New in Home Entertainment

July 2, 2013

Into the White
Rated R for language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Since Harry Potter we’ve seen much of Hermione and Harry in various films, but Ron (Rupert Grint) has chosen much more obscure projects like this little indie about British and German airmen shot down over snow-covered Norway and forced to cohabitate in a small mountain cabin until it is safe to travel.  Apparently based on a true story, the tale has potential and the movie gets you interested in the characters but even though the actors do a fine enough job, it still feels like something is missing.  I can’t say the film is completely boring, but there is definitely a lack of energy in the filmmaking.  Perhaps part of the problem is that the film’s blu-ray cover promises air battles and action, and every moment of the film actually takes place on the ground after the battles are over, all in overly dramatic fashion.  C

Death by China
Available on DVD

This documentary based on the book by Peter Navarro explores our very complex relationship with China and how it is destroying America.  Whether from our manufacturing jobs disappearing or the slow wave of polluted air coming to us via the jet stream, China, if you are to believe this film, is having a very negative effect on many aspects of our lives.  Yes the movie feels very much like propaganda, but that being said it is still effective.  Much of the information is believable, although slanted to the right of the political spectrum.  Many complain that this is a very one-sided documentary, but I’m not sure that is completely accurate.  After all, we have all seen the effects of our lost jobs hit home in a very hard way and the positives of our relationship with China aren’t very apparent.  B

The Producers
Available on new Blu-ray/DVD Combo

In 1967 Mel Brooks came on the movie scene in a big way with this infamous comedy about two Broadway producers (Gene Wilder and Zero Mostel) who set off to make a show so bad that it would be sure to flop and make them rich in the process after they cook the books.  Unfortunately, their musical comedy about WWII, titled “Springtime For Hitler,” becomes a huge surprise hit, which is the worst thing that could happen to them.  Winning Brooks the Oscar for best screenplay and Wilder a nomination for supporting actor, this film almost mimicked the movie when a universally offensive comedy achieved international fame.  Even today the movie comes off as edgy and hilarious.  I wish the new blu-ray set had new features to go along with it, but the previously released features found here will have to do until the next special edition.  A