Archive for March, 2013

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Posted in Drama, Independent, Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , on March 31, 2013 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

Charlie is nervous about beginning his freshman year of high school. He is shy and slow to make friends: on the first day, he only connects with his English teacher.

Charlie befriends two seniors, Sam and her stepbrother Patrick. After a football game they take him to a high school dance and then a house party. Charlie unwittingly eats a cannabis brownie and becomes intoxicated. He admits to Sam that his best friend committed suicide the year before. He also discovers Patrick and Brad, a popular athlete, kissing in a room. Sam realizes that Charlie has no other friends, and makes Charlie part of their group. Charlie agrees to help Sam prepare for her SAT exams so she may enter Pennsylvania State University. On the way home from the party, the three drive through a tunnel and Sam stands up in the back of the pickup truck while listening to a song they call “The Tunnel Song” (“Heroes” by David Bowie).

During Christmas, the group organizes a Secret Santa. Though Sam was not Charlie’s Santa, she gives him a vintage typewriter. While discussing relationships, Charlie reveals he has never been kissed. Sam reveals that her first kiss was from her father’s boss when she was 11 years old. Sam adds that she wants Charlie’s first kiss to be from someone who loves him before kissing him.

Sam, Patrick and their friends regularly take part in acting out The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Charlie is asked to take part in the show when Sam’s college boyfriend, Craig, is unavailable. An impressed Mary Elizabeth, one of their friends, asks Charlie to the Sadie Hawkins dance. After the dance, Mary Elizabeth takes Charlie to her house and they kiss. She declares how glad she is to have him as her boyfriend.

Mary Elizabeth dominates the relationship, and Charlie grows irritated by her. At a party, they break up during a game of Truth or Dare when Charlie, without thinking, kisses Sam after being dared to kiss the most beautiful girl in the room. Sam is furious at Charlie. Charlie returns to isolation after Patrick tells him to stay away while things cool down. Charlie has flashbacks of the death of his Aunt Helen who died in a car accident when he was seven years old.

Patrick breaks up with Brad after Brad’s father catches them together. In the school cafeteria, Brad calls Patrick a “faggot” because Brad does not want his friends believing they are friends. Patrick attacks Brad, but Brad’s friends beat him up. Charlie intervenes, lunging at Brad’s friends, but blacks out. When he comes to, he finds he has bruised knuckles and the boys are on the floor in pain. Charlie helps Patrick to his feet and coldly warns Brad, “Touch my friends again, and I’ll blind you”. Patrick, Sam and Charlie reconcile. Patrick takes Charlie to a park and discusses how he witnessed Brad’s father beat him when he found Brad with Patrick. Patrick then states his wish that he could meet a nice guy, and kisses Charlie, but immediately apologizes. He hugs Charlie and Charlie hugs him back.

Sam receives her college acceptance letter from Pennsylvania State University, which states that she must leave immediately for a summer introductory program. Sam breaks up with Craig after learning he has been cheating on her. The night before she departs, Sam brings Charlie to her room, and after several confessions to each other, they kiss. When she starts touching Charlie on his thigh, he pulls away. The next morning, Charlie says goodbye to Sam and Patrick. Charlie is left emotionally shaken.

Charlie goes to his empty home, having severe flashbacks of his Aunt Helen and her death. Charlie calls his sister and blames himself for Helen’s death. His sister believes Charlie is suicidal and calls the police. Charlie passes out as they burst through the door, waking up in a hospital. A psychiatrist tells Charlie’s parents that he was sexually abused by his aunt. Charlie repressed the memories because he loved her.

Charlie undergoes therapy, recovers and returns home where he is visited by Sam and Patrick. Sam explains what college life is like, and how she has found “The Tunnel Song” Charlie was searching for. The three revisit the tunnel, where Charlie stands in the back of the truck. Charlie acknowledges that he feels alive and in this moment, “We are infinite”.

REVIEW:

I may be a bit long-winded when it comes to blogging and such, but in real life, I am more of a wallflower, so a film like The Perks of Being a Wallflower should be something near and dear to my heart. It would seem that this is based on an extremely popular book. I guess I need to get to reading that one of these days, perhaps.

What is this about?

In this engaging coming-of-age tale based on the best-selling novel by Stephen Chbosky, a shy freshman struggling with depression deals with his best friend’s suicide and his first love — and finds help from two seniors who take an interest in him.

What did I like?

Get real. Think about every teen movie you’ve seen. Almost every single one of them focuses on the jocks, cheerleader, etc., and they all seem to be focused on sex, drugs, and/or drinking. Thankfully, this film gives a different take on things, showing that these students care about more important things, like relationships and their future. I don’t know about you, but those are a couple of things that were on my mine constantly during high school, especially my senior year!

Save it. The tone of this film doesn’t really change until the end, when one of the characters gets all dark thanks to some repressed memories that surface. For some people, they would have liked for this to have come up sooner, but for me, I was all up for saving something for the end. I mean, you don’t mix chocolate cake with your steak and potatoes now do you? No, you save dessert for the end!

Cast. The young cast is full of star just waiting to breakout, including the likes of Logan Lerman (best known from the Percy Jackson films), Mae Whitman, and Emma Watson (my, my…hasn’t Hermoine grown up?). However, it is lesser known Ezra Miller that is the true shining star and someone who hopefully we’ll be hearing big things from in the future. On the adult side of things, I do believe this is Paul Rudd’s best role since Clueless.

What didn’t I like?

WTF?!? Early on in the film, Logan Lerman’s character mentions that his best friend committed suicide. That is all we hear about it for the entire film. With all the problems this kid has, it seems as if that would have been brought up at least once or twice more, rather than just mentioned as an afterthought. I could be in the minority in thinking that way, but I felt that if they were going to bring it up, then they needed to either go somewhere with it in terms of relating it to the story, or not mention it at all.

Agenda. Given the era that this is based in, I understand that the public attitudes toward homosexuality weren’t the same as they are now (fight amongst yourselves about whether we have moved forward or backwards), but the way the film brought that to the forefront for a few scenes seemed to be pushing some sort of gay agenda. Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with alternative lifestyles. To each their own, but there comes a point when it is just too much. Then again, maybe I’m still bitter about how Glee went from a funny dramedy to one that brought up gay every chance it got.

Family. Obviously, the focus is meant to be on Lerman’s friends, rather than family, but I can’t help but think they meant for them to have something more to do. Why else do you cast name actors like Kate Walsh, Nina Dobrev, Melanie Lysnkey, and Dylan McDermott? Going even further, the flashbacks show something happened with the aunt, but it is never explicitly told to the audience. I’m thinking that should have been something that was brought up with all the family there in the mental institution.

For what it is, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a pretty decent and somewhat enjoyable film that will keep your attention. That being said, I cannot say that I will be going out of my to watch this again. I just wasn’t that into it, but that’s a personal preference. The next person may love it while someone else may despise every second. It is just a matter of personal taste. Would I recommend this, though? Yes, this is a really well-crafted film with few flaws. If you get the chance, check it out!

4 out of 5 stars

Basic Instinct

Posted in Movie Reviews, Thrillers/Mystery with tags , , , , , , on March 31, 2013 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

When rock star Johnny Boz (Bill Cable) is viciously stabbed to death with an ice pick during sex by a mysterious blonde woman, homicide detective Nick Curran (Michael Douglas) is sent to investigate. The only suspect is Catherine Tramell (Sharon Stone), a crime novelist who was the last person to be seen with Boz on the night he died. Nick and his partner, Gus Moran (George Dzundza), visit her Pacific Heights mansion, but they find only Catherine’s lesbian lover, Roxy (Leilani Sarelle), who sends them to Catherine’s Stinson Beach house. When they ask Catherine about her relationship with Boz, she shows little emotion at hearing he is dead. Nick and Gus, along with their superiors, discover that Catherine has written a novel about a former rock star who was killed in the same way as Boz (stabbed in bed with an ice pick, hands tied together with a silk scarf). During questioning by detectives, including Nick, at police headquarters, Catherine engages in provocative behavior, refuses to extinguish her cigarette, and re-crosses her legs — her short skirt revealing that she is not wearing underwear.

Nick, who accidentally shot two tourists while high on cocaine, attends counseling sessions with police psychologist Dr. Beth Garner (Jeanne Tripplehorn), with whom he has had an affair. Nick goes to a bar with co-workers after the interrogation and is taunted by Lieutenant Marty Nilsen (Daniel von Bargen), an internal affairs investigator bent on making life difficult for Nick. Beth arrives and Nick leaves with her. They go to her apartment, where aggressive foreplay escalates into rape. Nick learns that Catherine has a troubled history: Her parents were killed in a boating accident when she was an adolescent, leaving her a fortune; one of her college counselors, Noah Goldstein, was stabbed in his sleep with an ice pick when Catherine was attending UC Berkeley, and her former fiancé, boxer Manny Vasquez, was killed in the ring during a prize fight in Atlantic City. He also discovers that Catherine makes a habit of befriending murderers, including Hazel Dobkins, a woman who stabbed her husband and children for no apparent reason.

During a visit to her house Catherine taunts Nick with information that should be confidential. As a police psychologist Beth is the only person with access to that information. Nick confronts Beth and she admits that she handed his file to Nilsen, who threatened to discharge Nick if he could not evaluate him directly. An enraged Nick storms into Nilsen’s office, assaults him, and accuses him of having sold Nick’s file to Catherine. Nilsen then suspends Nick, who goes home and spends the evening drinking. Beth visits him but he throws her out after a heated argument. Nilsen is found dead in his car later that night, shot once in the head with a .38 caliber revolver. Nick is the prime suspect because of their recent altercation.

A torrid affair between Nick and Catherine begins with the air of a cat-and-mouse game. Catherine explains that she will base her next novel’s character — a cop falling for the wrong woman only to be killed by her — on Nick, while at the same time he declares his love for her and his unchanged intention to nail her for Boz’s murder.

A jealous Roxy tries to run Nick over with Catherine’s car but is killed in a crash during a car chase. Her death reveals that she too has a murderous past — she killed her two brothers with a razor when she was a teenager (because juvenile arrests are sealed until the individual’s death, this record did not turn up earlier). Catherine seems genuinely saddened by Roxy’s death and Nick begins to doubt her guilt. Catherine later reveals that a previous lesbian encounter at college went awry when the girl, Lisa Hoberman, became obsessed with her. Nick identifies the girl as Beth Garner, who acknowledges the encounter but claims it was Catherine who became obsessed. It is also discovered that Beth’s husband was killed in an unsolved drive-by shooting, shot with a .38 caliber revolver.

Nick visits Catherine’s house. Before Catherine comes into the room he sees on a printer the final pages of Catherine’s new detective book. He quickly reads a few lines, in which the fictional detective finds his partner lying dead with his legs protruding from the doors of an elevator. Catherine comes in and explains that she has finished her book, and coldly ends the affair. Upset, Nick meets Gus, who has arranged to meet with Catherine’s college roommate at a hotel to find out what really went on between Catherine and Beth. As Nick waits in the car, Gus enters the hotel elevator. As he exits the elevator a hooded figure jumps out and stabs him multiple times in the neck with an ice pick. Nick figures out there is trouble brewing and runs into the building, but he arrives too late to save Gus and finds him lying dead with his legs protruding from the doors of the elevator. Hearing the floor creak, Nick grabs Gus’ gun and turns to find Beth standing in the hallway, explaining she received a message to meet Gus there. Nick suspects that she murdered Gus and, as Beth moves her hand in her pocket, he shoots her. Beth tells Nick with her final breath that she loved him. A dejected Nick checks her pocket, to find only her keys. The police arrive, and in a staircase discover a blond wig, an SFPD raincoat, and an ice pick, the weapon used to murder Gus, concluding that Beth ditched the items when she heard Nick coming up. A search of Beth’s apartment turns up the evidence needed to brand her as the killer of Boz, Gus, Nilsen, and presumably her own husband—the matching revolver, Catherine’s novels, and photos chronicling the writer’s life. At police headquarters, all the other detectives quickly piece together the story and conclude that Beth was the killer. Nick sits on his desk, confused and dejected, knowing based on Catherine’s foreknowledge of the manner of Gus’ death that she must actually have been the killer and that she must have set Beth up.

Nick returns to his apartment where he is met by Catherine, knowing she’s the killer. She explains her reluctance to commit to him, but then the two make love. Afterward, the conversation turns toward their possible future as a couple. Nick looks wary of her. While talking Nick turns his back on Catherine as she slowly reaches for something underneath the bed. He suggests their future will comprise sex and children. Catherine says she hates children and Nick then suggests their future will then just involve sex. At this Catherine stops reaching for something under the bed and she throws her arms around Nick, convincing him, and the two resume making love as the camera slowly pans down to show what she was reaching for under the bed: an ice pick

REVIEW:

Back in 1992, when Basic Instinct was released, there was tons of controversy surrounding its copious amounts of sex and nudity as well as the subject matter. By today’s standards though, this is quite tame. What a difference 20 yrs makes, right?

What is this about?

Facing internal inquiry, Det. Curran doggedly pursues a case involving Catherine, a writer and temptress who is suspected in a murder reminiscent of a crime detailed in her book. As the body count rises, so does Curran’s obsession with Catherine.

What did I like?

Whodunit? In a throwback to classic thrillers of yesteryear, or maybe just good thrillers, this film takes us in a multitude of directions as we seek out the killer. It can’t always be the person you most expect, I will leave it at that. The way the filmmakers foreshadow her, though, was quite impressive. Not to give too much away, but in an early scene the eventual killer says something along the lines of if she was the killer she would say she wouldn’t just to throw everyone off. Brilliant…bloody brilliant!

Sex sells. I was in high school when this was released, so you can imagine that all I wanted to see back then was boobs and a bit of sex. Some things never change, but now I have an appreciation for the art of these nude scenes that populate the film. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you want to watch some deep dramatic thriller. If that was the case, then you wouldn’t be watching this particular film. You’re here for the skin…admit it!!!

Stone cold fox. Sharon Stone doesn’t give her best performance, but it is way better than some of the later things we’ve been catching her in lately. Stone has the chops, face, and body to carry this film, despite a rather unimpressive script. She does so with such class that it is no wonder that she went on to bigger things. That little chair scene helped a bit, too, I’m sure.

What didn’t I like?

Motive and murder. Always in murder cases, the motive is the #1 thing they try to find out. For some reason, it seemed as if motive didn’t matter to these cops, though, as finding the motive was a second thought. Perhaps they were distracted by Stone, but I doubt it.

Internal. I’m not quite sure I understood what the whole angle with getting Michael Douglas’ character suspended, or whatever the term they used was. When we first meet all these cops, they seem to get along, then in a scene a few minutes later, animosity rears its head, and spirals for the rest of the film. I can’t say that it worked for me. I believe they could have done something more with it, or at the very least, done a better job of writing with that part of the plot.

Daddy would not be proud. Michael Douglas is quite the accomplished, competent actor, but this is not his greatest work. Ironically, it may be one of the pieces on his resume that he is best known for. I won’t say that he is sleepwalking through this film, because he isn’t, but there are times when it is quite obvious he feels as if he could be somewhere else. I wish I could give the guy a pass on this, but I can’t as I’ve seen him do so much better with far less.

Basic Instinct is one of those films that is a must-see because of it impact on culture at the time. As far as being a must-see film based on its own merit, I’m not so sure it warrants the same response. It is good in that respect, but not great. Keep in mind, this is the brilliant mind that brought us Showgirls a few years following this, so it is obvious where his mind lay. Do I recommend this? Sure. It isn’t going to hurt to watch Sharon Stone writhing around a bunch of men. Check it out sometime!

4 out of 5 stars

Unleashed

Posted in Action/Adventure, Movie Reviews with tags , , , , on March 30, 2013 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

Bart (Bob Hoskins) is a vicious loan shark whose method of persuading men to pay him back involves Danny the Dog (Jet Li), a man with the mentality of a child; only if a metal collar around his neck is removed by Bart will he become a violently skilled fighter who stops at nothing to take down his targets. But once the collar is on, Danny is a harmless, withdrawn person, with very little knowledge of how to live as a socialized person, and he is constantly bullied by his master Bart.

One day, Bart realizes he can end his loan shark career by regularly attending an underground fighting tournament and registering Danny to fight; in exchange, if Danny can win and survive the fights, Bart receives good money. After the first fight, however, Bart gets into a mishap with another criminal and is left for dead after a violent shooting. A critically injured Danny runs off to an antique warehouse for shelter, where he meets a kindly piano tuner, Sam (Morgan Freeman). Danny soon finds himself with Sam and his step-daughter Victoria (Kerry Condon) in their apartment, and he starts a new life with the benevolent family; curiously he is drawn closer to music while spending time with Victoria. He also develops curiosity about who his mother was when he learns what a family is.

Weeks later Sam informs Danny about moving back to New York, where he and Victoria are originally from. He invites Danny, telling him they think of him as family, and Danny happily accepts. However, Danny runs into Bart’s right-hand man Lefty in the streets and is forced back to Bart, who is still alive. Bart drags Danny back to the underground arena, where a death-match is set between Danny and ruthless martial artists. Despite Danny’s pleas, Bart shoves him into the pit, where he is pummeled by four fighters. Danny eventually retaliates, but refuses to kill them. Enraged by Danny’s change of character, Bart drags him back home and shuts him back to his cage. That night, however, Danny sneaks through his door and goes through photographs of Bart’s favorite prostitutes, finally finding one snapshot of who appears to be Danny’s own mother. He interrogates Bart, who tells him that she was simply a prostitute who is long gone. He angrily promises to make Danny repay him for the money he had lost earlier that evening.

Next morning, however, Danny manages to escape and runs back to Sam and Victoria, telling them what he had learned and where he was. With the two’s help, Danny regains memories from his childhood past: his mother was a music student with no money, so she offered herself to Bart to get some to pay for her lessons. But one day, Bart shot her when she defied him. Bart has been raising Danny ever since, not as a human being, but as a dog.

Bart and a plethora of thugs arrive at Sam’s apartement building to capture Danny. Frantic, Danny hides Sam and Victoria in their closet, and he runs out to take out the thugs all over the building. He then faces off against an attacker (Michael Ian Lambert) with skills similar to his own; Danny eventually causes him to fall to his death on Bart’s car. A vengeful Bart pursues Danny through the building with a gun, finally catching him in Sam’s apartment. He threatens to pull the trigger, all the while telling him that he was never meant for a different kind of lifestyle. But he drops the gun and instead takes out a collar, telling Danny to come home. Danny slowly advances toward the collar, but stops Bart at the last minute and disarms him. He proceeds to furiously beat Bart, causing Sam and Victoria to burst out and frantically beg Danny not to kill; however, a defeated Bart orders Danny otherwise. Bart then tells Danny he will always be an animal, to which Sam responds by smashing a flower pot on his head, knocking him unconscious. Danny, Sam, and Victoria embrace.

Some time later, Danny is with Sam at a piano recital at Carnegie Hall, where Victoria is getting ready to perform. Realizing Victoria is playing what his mother played years ago, Danny sheds a happy tear.

REVIEW:

This will also be a bit on the short side, sorry about that.

Someone had actually mention Unleashed in a conversation awhile back and was surprised that I had not seen it. Truthfully, I don’t even recall it being released in 2005, but it has a pretty niche fan base, as it would appear. Will I join the club?

What is this about?

Raised as a slave, Danny (Jet Li) is used to fighting for his survival. In fact, his “master,” Bart (Bob Hoskins), thinks of him as a pet and goes as far as leashing him with a collar so they can make money in fight clubs, where Danny is the main contender. When Bart’s crew is in a car accident, Danny escapes and meets a blind, kindhearted piano tuner (Morgan Freeman) who takes him in and uses music to free the fighter’s long-buried heart.

What did I like?

Action. Jet Li is a bona-fide martial arts action star. If you’ve never seen his work, then this is one of those that really gets to show off the technique and skill he possesses. It is obvious that this is a vehicle meant specifically for him. Had it been any other way, this would not have worked as well.

Music. The use of music as a way to bring back Jet Li’s character’s memories was inspired. As a musician and music lover, it really appealed to me. Also, the music they chose was quite soothing which has been proven to soothe the savage beast, as well as bring back repressed memories. This is a small little thing that I believe they could have made more of a focal point of the film if they wanted to and may have even improved the film.

Heavy hitters. No, I’m not talking about how hard Li’s hits and kicks are, but rather the acting of Morgan Freeman and Bob Hoskins. These are two of the greatest actors of this time and they get the chance to do their thing here. Freeman is his usual mentor character, but Hopkins is on a villainous turn, something that he isn’t well-known for…at least at this point in his career.

What didn’t I like?

Victoria. Kerry Condon didn’t really work in this film for two reasons. First, her introduction makes her out to be a rather over-talkative teenage girl. Second, she’s playing an 18 yr old, but looks to be about 30 or so. Surely they could have found someone with a more youthful look to play this character, right?

Collar. For some reason, I assumed that since Jet Li’s character was wearing a dog collar that it would be some kind of shock collar which could be used to bring him back and/or track him, but that wasn’t quite the case. As it is, this was just a regular old dog collar. To me, that seemed like a bit of a waste.

All in all, Unleashed was a pretty decent flick. It wasn’t something that blew me away, but all the action keeps you interested. A decent story doesn’t hurt things, either. Do I recommend this? Yes, while it isn’t the greatest thing since sliced bread, there are worse things you can see. Check it out!

3 3/4 out of 5 stars

The Kentucky Fried Movie

Posted in Comedy, Movie Reviews, Spoofs & Satire with tags , , , , on March 30, 2013 by Mystery Man

PLOT:

A series of loosely connected skits that spoof news programs, commercials, porno films, kung fu films, disaster films, blaxploitation films, spy films, mafia films, and the fear that somebody is watching you on the other side of the TV.

REVIEW:

This is going to be a fairly short post, as I have just returned from a nearly week-long trip to Disney and am still reaclamating to the “real world”. Many of us love Saturday Night Live, especially in the time when it was actually consistently funny. The Kentucky Fried Movie is just like watching an episode, but without the network censors.

What is this about?

John Landis’s groundbreaking comedy features a lewd, loosely connected collection of skits that spoof blaxploitation films, news shows, porno movies, TV commercials, kung fu flicks and more.

What did I like?

Obscene. You know, there are times when things are so far out there that they cross the line, while other times the same things can push the envelope just enough to where they are funny. The latter is the case with this film. For example, the skits lampooning exploitation flicks could very easily have gone the wrong way, but instead they come off as some pretty funny stuff, if you ask me.

Plot. Don’t you get tired of the same, cut and dry films that have a point  A to point B plot all the time? I know I do, so when I get the chance to watch something that doesn’t necessarily have a plot, I jump at the chance to check it out. As I said earlier, this is a collaboration of sketches, none of which relate to each other, except for some bookending with the newscaster in a matter similar to the old Monty Python shows.

What didn’t I like?

One of these things is not like the other. There is this one sketch that is quite longer than the rest of the others and for some reason doesn’t quite seem to be as funny as the others. Instead it just seems to be a very bad movie that someone wanted to get made. At least that is how it looked to me. I wish they wouldn’t have done that, but instead gone with a few more sketches. It would have worked so much better in the long run.

Genre discrimination. I think every genre of  film is touched on here, they even spoof porn! For some reason, though, musicals were left out. I am curious to know what they would have done with a spoof of a musical. I bet it would have been something to have us all on the floor laughing.

Again, I apologize for the rather short review of The Kentucky Fried Movie, but I’m rather worn out. That point aside, this is a film that is sure to have you rolling on the floor laughing in more than a few parts. As with any other comedy, not everything works and some parts work from some and not for others. With that in mind, I think you should give this a shot and have a laugh. What harm will it do?

3 1/2 out of 5 stars

Seven Psychopaths

Posted in Comedy, Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 24, 2013 by Mystery Man

Seven Psycopaths

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

Marty Faranan is a struggling writer who dreams of finishing his screenplay, Seven Psychopaths. Marty’s best friend, Billy Bickle, is an unemployed actor who makes a living by kidnapping dogs and collecting the owners’ cash rewards for their safe return. His partner in crime is Hans Kieslowski, a religious man with a cancer-stricken wife, Myra. Billy helps Marty with Seven Psychopaths, suggesting he use the “Jack of Diamonds” killer, perpetrator of a recent double murder, as one of the seven “psychopaths” in his script. Marty writes a story for another psychopath, the “Quaker”, who stalks his daughter’s killer for decades, driving the killer to suicide and ultimately cutting his own throat to follow him to hell.

Billy and Hans steal a Shih Tzu, Bonny, unaware that it is the beloved pet of Charlie Costello, an unpredictable and violent gangster. Billy places an advertisement in the newspaper inviting “psychopaths” to call and share their “crazy or quirky” stories for him and Marty to use in their script. Charlie’s thugs, led by Paulo, discover Hans’s connection to the kidnapping. At a warehouse, they threaten to kill Marty and Hans unless they reveal Bonny’s location, but the Jack of Diamonds killer arrives and shoots the thugs. Marty and Billy meet Zachariah Rigby, who saw the advertisement and came to share his story. In his youth, Zachariah rescued a girl, Maggie, from a killer’s basement. As a couple, they embarked on a long career as “serial killer killers”, travelling America and dispatching murderers, ultimately separating when he became disillusioned with her cruel methods. Marty promises to place a message in the credits of Seven Psychopaths, asking Maggie to contact the regretful Zachariah. Charlie traces Myra to the cancer ward, killing her when she refuses to tell him Hans or Bonny’s whereabouts. Marty, Billy and Hans leave town with Bonny to escape Charlie. Marty tells the Quaker story to Hans, who reveals that it is true: Hans himself was the Quaker, and survived his attempted suicide. Marty unknowingly wrote his story after hearing it from Billy while drunk.

The trio drive into the desert. Billy suggests Seven Psychopaths end with an emotional shootout between the psychopaths and Charlie’s forces. Marty and Hans see a headline saying Billy is wanted in connection with the Jack of Diamonds killings. Marty confronts Billy, who reveals he assumed the Jack of Diamonds persona and went on a killing spree to give Marty inspiration for Seven Psychopaths. Disillusioned, Marty tells Billy they must go home. Meanwhile, Hans has a vision of Myra in a “grey place”. Hans questions his belief in the afterlife, dismissing Marty’s reassurances that his vision was a peyote hallucination. Billy sets fire to the car, stranding the trio in the desert, and calls Charlie, telling him their location. Billy intends to make the climactic shootout he envisioned a reality. Upset by Hans’s loss of faith, Billy claims he caused the hallucination by impersonating Myra. Hans leaves.

Charlie arrives alone, without a weapon besides a flare gun in his car. Billy shoots Charlie, enraged that he has not brought the men and weapons required for a satisfying shootout. Hans finds Charlie’s thugs waiting for a flare signal nearby. Marty drives away with Charlie, intending to bring him to a hospital. Billy realises the flare gun’s purpose and fires a flare. Hans motions as if to draw a weapon, causing Paulo to shoot him in front of police. The thugs head towards Billy’s flare, police in pursuit, only to encounter Marty and Charlie’s car on the road. Charlie reveals that he only suffered a flesh wound. Now with backup, Charlie returns to Billy and Bonny’s location. After a shootout, Charlie and Billy have a stand-off, holding Marty and Bonny hostage respectively. Charlie releases Marty and shoots Billy just as the police arrive. Charlie and Paulo are arrested, but Bonny stays at the dying Billy’s side. Marty visits the scene of Hans’s death, and finds a tape recorder with suggestions for Seven Psychopaths on his body. Later, Marty finishes the screenplay at home, having adopted Bonny as a pet. Marty steps outside and walks down the street, script in hand.

In a post-credits scene, Marty receives a phone call from Zachariah, who has just watched Seven Psychopaths and seen that Marty has forgotten to include a message for Maggie in the credits. Zachariah tells Marty that he will be over to kill him on Tuesday. On hearing Marty’s resigned acceptance, Zachariah realises that Marty’s experiences have left him a changed man, and decides to spare him for the time being.

REVIEW:

What does one think when they hear the title Seven Psychopaths? I know that I tend to wonder about serial killers and such, but if that is what you’re thinking that you will be seeing with this film, you may or may not be getting what you bargained for.

What is this about?

When struggling screenwriter Marty needs inspiration to finish his screenplay “Seven Psychopaths,” his conniving friends oblige by kidnapping a demented mobster’s beloved pooch and getting Marty entangled with other unsavory characters.

What did I like?

Commentary. Sam Rockwell’s character makes some rather astute observations that are sure to have you shaking your head in agreement. One of his best points is about how Hollywood has to sanitize everything to the point of almost no return. If you look at films throughout the years, and society for that matter, we have gotten rather soft. For instance, I just reviewed Commando yesterday. I was reading somewhere that could have been a PG film, as it is, if not for the language. PG?!? If that was the case today, it would be, without question, an R. *SIGH*

Quaker. The stories that introduce the psychopaths are interesting, but the one that involves the Quaker was, in my opinion, the best one because it comes back, surprisingly, to one of the main characters. This brings out the true psychopath part of the film and the audience can’t help but with for more.

Cast. A talented cast is not an option for a film such as this. Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell are the standouts for me, but it is good to see Colin Farrell take a break from making crappy remakes that do nothing but flop, and star in something that is worthy of his talents. Also, a small cameo by Gabourey Sidibe surprised the hell out of me. Too bad it was just that, a cameo.

What didn’t I like?

Dogs. I’m probably the most anti-dog person you will ever come across, short of those who wish them harm. The way Harrelson’s character reacts to his dog, treating it like human is one of the very reasons why I hate the infernal beasts. These things are nothing more than dumb animals and should be treated as such. Cats, on the other hand, are a different story.

Women. The women in this film are pretty much nonexistent, with the exception of the old woman in the hospital who is near death. This wouldn’t be a problem if this was meant to be something of a guy flick, but it isn’t. As such, it would have been nice for them to have gotten something more than just a couple of scenes, even if they were meant to be eye candy or actually characters.

Walken. Christopher Walken’s character was great, but given the way he is described, it seems as if he should have gone off the deep end after certain events transpire that direct him. The guy is apparently a cold hard killer who has retired. I wanted to see that side come out and it never did, leaving me a bit unfulfilled.

Not knowing what I was getting myself into with Seven Psychopaths, I was a bit reticent in any kind of prejudice for or against it. The trailers didn’t really do this film justice, as they portrayed it as either too much of a slapstick comedy or more serious and dark in tone that it is. In the end, though, I can say that this is a film that falls into the category of “you need to see it and make your own opinion”, because it is all over the place. Some will like it, some will hate it, and some will be “eh” about it. Check it out and decide for yourself.

3 1/2 out of 5 stars

Commando

Posted in Action/Adventure, Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , on March 23, 2013 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

Retired Delta Force Operative Colonel John Matrix is informed by his former superior Major General Franklin Kirby that all the other members of his unit have been killed by unknown mercenaries. The mercenaries, among them Bennett, an ex-member of Matrix’s team fired for overt brutality in service, attack Matrix’s secluded mountain home and kidnap Matrix’s young daughter Jenny. While trying to intercept them, Matrix is also overpowered by the mercenaries.

It is revealed that Matrix is needed to carry out a political assassination for a South American dictator named Arius, who wishes to lead a military coup in his home country of Val Verde. Arius, who was deposed by Matrix in the course of one of his missions, has chosen the colonel because the current president trusts him implicitly. With Jenny’s life on the line, Matrix reluctantly accepts the demand.

After boarding a plane to Val Verde, Matrix manages to kill his guard, Henriques, and jumps from the plane just as it is taking off. With approximately 11 hours’ time (the period of the flight), he sets out after another of Arius’ men, Sully. He then enlists the aid of an off-duty flight attendant named Cindy, and instructs her to follow Sully to a shopping mall. Cindy first assumes that Matrix is a maniac, but after seeing him desperately trying to get his hands on Sully, she has a change of heart and henceforth assists him in his endeavor. After a lengthy car chase, Matrix catches up with Sully whom he drops off a cliff to his death.

With Cindy’s aid, Matrix learns where Jenny is being held. He then breaks into a surplus store to equip himself with military weapons, but the police arrive and Matrix is arrested. Cindy helps him escape, and after commandeering a seaplane from a nearby marina controlled by Arius, Matrix and Cindy land the plane off the coast of Arius’ island hideout. Matrix instructs Cindy to contact General Kirby and then proceeds to Arius’ villa, kills Arius’ entire private militia, and subsequently confronts and kills Arius in a gunfight.

Matrix locates Jenny in the basement of the villa, where she has fled and was cornered by Bennett. After a fierce struggle, Matrix finally kills Bennett. Kirby arrives with a military detachment and asks Matrix to rejoin the Special Forces Unit, but Matrix declines and departs the island aboard the seaplane with Jenny and Cindy.

REVIEW:

Many critics and reviewers, myself included,  have been saying that they want to see some legit 80s action. With this in mind, a friend of mind suggested Commando, one of Schwarzenegger’s upper tier, yet somewhat forgettable, films.

What is this about?

Col. John Matrix (Arnold Schwarzenegger), the former leader of a special ops team, is vaulted back into action to save his young daughter (Alyssa Milano) who has been kidnapped. Her life is threatened lest John assassinate a South American president. Rather than being strong-armed into such a proposition, John takes matters (and lots of guns) into his owns hands as he fights through the jungle against his enemies to save his daughter.

What did I like?

Body count. From the opening scene to the end, there is a pretty high body count, and I couldn’t have enjoyed it more! Man, I miss 80s flicks, where movies got away with killing people for no other reason then they were there. In a way, I was hoping for more bodies strewn about and more blood. Yes, you can call me bloodthirsty, sadistic, etc., but I know what I like.

Ridiculous. Many of the things that Schwarzenegger does make no sense. They make him almost super human with these feats, such as carrying a tree from the forest to his house. Also, driving a bulldozer into a weapons store and then stocking up on everything without cops showing up for quite some time. I feel like I should have a problem with this, but the over-the-top ridiculousness of this sold me even more on the whole flick.

What didn’t I like?

Score. This can be a big or small thing, depending on how much you pay attention to the score. For me, as a musician, I analyze everything about the things. This score isn’t bad, mind you, but it doesn’t really fit, especially in the early parts of the film when they are still in, I want to say outside of L.A., but don’t quote me. The steel drums and exotic feel didn’t seem to be the best choice. Truthfully, I didn’t really notice it until the introduction of Schwarzenegger. It was played almost like his theme music. With that in mind, in the latter half of the film, when location shifts to the island, not only does it work better, they also go with some cheesy 80s music. I felt it would have worked better the other way around.

Obvious. Look at the cast. Isn’t it quite obvious who is going to live and who isn’t? I don’t believe this was a big budget film, but they could have at least brought in some actors that wouldn’t have made it so obvious that they weren’t going to make it to the end. It just seems like that does the audience no favors.

Skin. This is sure to sound a bit hypocritical of me, but I really saw no reason for Arnold to strip down to his skivvies just to go from the plane to the land and then put clothes on. To me, that seemed like that was just a way to show off his muscles. Conversely, there is a scene a little earlier where we see gratuitous boobs. No reason for them, as she isn’t even a character in the plot, but I have no complaint about that. Arnold, though, I have to issue with.

Anyone looking for a fun, bloody, action flick, need look no further than Commando. With this you get everything you’re looking for, including Arnold in his early prime (this was around the time of The Terminator). Make no mistake, though, this is not a great film. It is just mindless fun, the kind of thing that movies of this era were made for! Check this out sometime!

3 3/4 out of 5 stars

Argo

Posted in Drama, Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 23, 2013 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

Militants storm the United States embassy in Tehran on November 4, 1979, in retaliation for CIA involvements in Iran. More than 50 of the embassy staff are taken as hostages, but six escape and hide in the home of the Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor (Victor Garber). With the escapees’ situation kept secret, the US State Department begins to explore options for exfiltrating them from Iran. Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck), a CIA exfiltration specialist brought in for consultation, criticizes the proposals, but is at a loss for an alternative. While on the phone with his son, he is inspired by watching Battle for the Planet of the Apes and begins plans for creating a cover story for the escapees being Canadian filmmakers who would scout exotic locations in Iran for a similar science-fiction film.

Mendez and his supervisor Jack O’Donnell (Bryan Cranston) contact John Chambers (John Goodman), a Hollywood make-up artist who has previously crafted disguises for the CIA. Chambers puts them in touch with film producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin). Together they set up a phony film studio, publicize their plans, and successfully establish the pretense of developing Argo, a “science fantasy” in the style of Star Wars, to lend credibility to the cover story. Meanwhile, the escapees grow frantic inside the ambassador’s residence. The revolutionaries reassemble embassy papers shredded before the takeover and learn that some personnel have escaped.

Posing as a producer for Argo, Mendez enters Iran and links up with the six escapees. He provides them with Canadian passports and fake identities to prepare them to get through security at the airport. Although afraid to trust Mendez’s scheme, they reluctantly go along with it, knowing that he is risking his own life too. A scouting visit to the bazaar to maintain their cover story takes a bad turn, but their Iranian culture contact gets them away from the hostile crowd.

Mendez is told that the operation has been cancelled to avoid conflicting with a planned military rescue of the hostages. He pushes ahead, forcing O’Donnell to hastily re-obtain authorization for the mission to get tickets on a Swissair flight. Tension rises at the airport, where the escapees’ flight reservations are confirmed at the last minute, and a guard’s call to the supposed studio in Hollywood is answered at the last second. The group boards the plane just as the Revolutionary Guards at the airport uncover the ruse and try to stop their plane from getting off the runway, but they are too late, as Mendez and the six successfully leave Iran.

To protect the hostages remaining in Tehran from retaliation, all US involvement in the rescue is suppressed, giving full credit to the Canadian government and its ambassador (who left Iran with his wife under their own credentials as the operation was underway; their Iranian housekeeper, who had known about the Americans and lied to the revolutionaries to protect them, escaped to Iraq). Mendez is awarded the Intelligence Star, but due to the classified nature of the mission, he would not be able to keep the medal until the details were made public in 1997. All the hostages were freed on January 20, 1981, the day that Ronald Reagan was sworn in as the 40th U.S. President. The film ends with former President Jimmy Carter’s speech about the Crisis and the Canadian Caper.

REVIEW:

In the fall, a little film called Argo was released with a plot that seemed totally out of the box but, as it turns out, this was based on a true story. Fast forward a few months and this little film is now the winner of quite a few awards, including the Academy Award for Best Picture. As has been proven before, though, there is often a disconnect between what the Academy deems quality entertainment and what the public enjoys.

What is this about?

In 1979, when Iranian militants seize the American embassy, six Americans slip into the Canadian embassy for protection, prompting the CIA to concoct an elaborate plot to rescue them by pretending that they are filmmakers rather than diplomats.

What did I like?

History. I don’t recall hearing about this in any history class I’ve ever taken. Chances are, it was just brushed over. Since this happened in the late 70s/early 80s, there wasn’t much time to cover it, and those later chapters are quite thin. If this was in there at all, it was probably no more than a paragraph or two. What I’m trying to say is that it is a good thing that someone took notice of a part of history that isn’t as well know as say, WWII, and brought it to the masses.

Just like old times. One critic said, “It felt like a movie from an earlier era — less frenetic, less showy, more focused on narrative than sensation”, but that the script included “too many characters that he doesn’t quite develop.” I would be hard pressed to disagree with that statement. As someone who frequently watches older films, I did notice that the pace of this film was in no rush. Sure, there moments that are changed in order to create dramatic tension but, for the most part, this is a film that gives its audience credit for having a brain and an attention span, rather than just wanting to see stuff blow up and be done with it (those kind of films are nice, too, mind you).

Mix it up. I’m real big on films that insert a little bit of comedy here and there. This is a film that, from the outset, appeared to be nothing more than straight-forward, serious subject matter. Ben Affleck did a masterful job of throwing in some humor here in there. Not too much, but just enough. It is like that friend that cracks a joke or two when you’re having a bad day to cheer you up.

What didn’t I like?

Confusion. As I said earlier, I am not that familiar with this part of history, and I’m sure there are many in the same boat. This film does not to a good job of explaining what actually went on, because I was completely confused for most of the first half. Maybe it was just me, but there had to be some way that it could have detailed better.

Stereotype. Earlier this week, I was reading about how the Iranian government is wanting to sue Hollywood for all the accolades this film has received because they feel their people are being portrayed. Rather or not this influenced my view on this or not, I cannot tell you, but it is more than obvious that there is an anti-Iran tilt to this film. At times, it felt like watching a video game where you’re being chased by Iranian terrorists, and that should not have been.

Suspense. The problem with true stories is that when you try to  make them suspense they don’t work, mainly because we already know what happens. Suspense thrillers work best when we don’t know what happens. This is a minor complaint, but a factor that, through no fault of its own, hurts the film.

When all the smoke clears, Argo lives up to its reputation and is worthy of all the awards it received, if not more. This is a film that should be high up on the list for everyone to see. There is a mixture of drama, action, comedy, and a great story. Affleck has proven that he is a decent actor and an ever evolving great director. A definite must-see film, to be sure!

5 out of 5 stars

The Rebound

Posted in Comedy, Movie Reviews, Romantic with tags , , , , , on March 21, 2013 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

A housewife and mother of two, Sandy (Catherine Zeta-Jones), discovers that her husband has been unfaithful. After a hasty divorce, she leaves home and goes to New York City with her young son and daughter. There they begin a new life. Sandy quickly rents an apartment above a coffee house and befriends one of the waiters, Aram Finklestein (Justin Bartha). Aram, at 25, is not sure what he wants to do with his life although he has a college degree and a tendency toward women’s studies and feminism. He decides to babysit Sandy’s children ultimately becoming their full-time nanny. He develops a close-knit relationship with both children and a chemistry starts to brew between Aram and Sandy ensuing in an awkward sexual encounter that the children come to know about.

Notwithstanding, they start to date and after two months they seem perfect together. One day Sandy feels nauseous and suspects she is pregnant. Aram is thrilled and looks forward to raising a child with her. A doctor confirms that Sandy is pregnant, but it is an ectopic pregnancy and will result in a miscarriage. As they leave the doctor, a fight breaks out between Aram and Sandy, with the latter confirming that she thinks it’s ludicrous that the two of them, with an age difference of 15 years, would ever be happy together. After the break up, Aram decides to travel the world and to improve the lives of others. Sandy gets promoted at her job.

After five years, the two share a chance encounter in a restaurant. Aram reveals he has adopted a young boy from Bangladesh and is still single. Sandy, who is celebrating her promotion with her children and a colleague, invites Aram and his family to join them. The film ends as the two hold hands underneath the table whilst their children start to bond.

REVIEW:

March Madness started this morning, so I was looking for some kind of basketball flick. Couldn’t find one, but The Rebound is sort of a basketball related title, so it works.

What is this about?

A beautiful single mother living in New York City, Sandy surprises everyone, including herself, when she becomes romantically involved with Aram Finklestein, her 20-something neighbor who’s many years her junior.

What did I like?

Love. Most romantic comedies that we see tend to forget about the two things that define their genre, romance and comedy. While this film doesn’t exactly leave the viewer rolling on the floor laughing, it does offer up lots of romance. There is just enough of it so as not to feel sickened with all the sap.

Chemistry. Catherine Zeta-Jones and Justin Bartha have great chemistry together. If I didn’t know better, I’d say that Bartha actually felt like he was actually vying for the affections of the nearly twice his age Zeta-Jones (can you blame him?) I believe we’ve all seen these age-challenged romances, but often times they just don’t seem believable.

Sound of Silence. I didn’t realize it until the final credits, but Art Garfunkel plays Mr. Finkelstein, a typical Jewish father…great comic relief.

What didn’t I like?

Montage. Right before the film’s final scene, Zeta-Jones has the typical female overreaction that we get in romantic comedies and breaks up with Bartha. I won’t go into the ludicrous way that this was a total 360 from her behavior for the rest of the film up to that point, but it causes him to go on a journey around the world. Basically, in the 5 yrs he;’s gone, her kids get older, she gets a new job, blah, blah, blah. It was just a way for them to fill some time because they couldn’t think of anything better to do.

Cliche. All the prerequisites for a romantic comedy are here, bitchy best friend, pushy Jewish parents, cheating signficant other, comic relief best friend. The only thing missing was some sappy love song, and I think we got that in the opening credits. Sometimes, all this stuff works, and other times it is just more of the same. For me, it felt like the latter. I was hoping we’d get a new monkey wrench thrown in there, and it just didn’t happen.

Flava Flav. No, Flava Flav isn’t in the film, but he does make an appearance on one of the televisions. I had totally forgotten about that God-awful show until then. Oy!

Despite the lack of basketball (Zeta-Jones is seen playing Fantasy basketball…she trades Kobe Bryant for Lebron James), The Rebound satisfied me this afternoon. Is this a film that I would watch over and over again? No, but it is decent enough to where I wouldn’t complain if I had to watch it again. If you get the chance, check it out!

3 3/4 out of 5 stars

Dr. No

Posted in Action/Adventure, Classics, Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 20, 2013 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

John Strangways, the British Intelligence (SIS) Station Chief in Jamaica, is ambushed and killed, and his body taken by a trio of assassins known as the “Three Blind Mice”. In response, British agent James Bond—also known as 007—is summoned to the office of his superior, M. Bond is briefed to investigate Strangways’ disappearance and to determine whether it is related to his cooperation with the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) on a case involving the disruption of rocket launches from Cape Canaveral by radio jamming.

Upon his arrival at Kingston Airport, a female photographer tries to take Bond’s picture and he is shadowed from the airport by two men. He is picked up by a chauffeur, whom Bond determines to be an enemy agent. Bond instructs him to leave the main road and, after a brief fight, Bond starts to interrogate the driver, who then kills himself with a cyanide-embedded cigarette.

During his investigation in Strangways’ house Bond sees a photograph of a boatman with Strangways. Bond locates the boatman, named Quarrel, but finds him to be un-cooperative. Bond also recognises Quarrel to have been the driver of the car that followed him from the airport. Bond follows Quarrel and is about to be beaten by him and a friend when the fight is interrupted by the second man who followed Bond from the airport: he reveals himself to be CIA agent Felix Leiter and explains that not only are the two agents on the same mission but also that Quarrel is helping Leiter. The CIA has traced the mysterious radio jamming of American rockets to the vicinity of Jamaica, but aerial photography cannot determine the exact location of its origin. Quarrel reveals that he has been guiding Strangways around the nearby islands to collect mineral samples. He also talks about the reclusive Dr. No, who owns the island of Crab Key, on which there is a bauxite mine: the island and mine are rigorously protected against trespassers by an armed security force and radar.

During a search of Strangways’ house, Bond found a receipt, signed by Professor R. J. Dent, concerning rock samples. Bond meets with Dent who says he assayed the samples for Strangways and determined them to be ordinary rocks. This visit makes Dent wary and he takes a boat to Crab Key where Dr. No expresses displeasure at Dent’s failure to kill Bond and orders him to try again, this time with a tarantula. Bond survives and after a final attempt on his life, sets a trap for Dent, whom he captures, interrogates and then kills.

Having detected radioactive traces in Quarrel’s boat, where Strangways’ mineral samples had been, Bond convinces a reluctant Quarrel to take him to Crab Key. There Bond meets the beautiful Honey Ryder, dressed only in a white bikini, who is collecting shells. At first she is suspicious of Bond but soon decides to help him, leading them all inland to an open swamp. After nightfall they are attacked by the legendary “dragon” of Crab Key which turns out to be a flame-throwing armoured tractor. In the resulting gun battle, Quarrel is incinerated by the flame-thrower whilst Bond and Ryder are taken prisoner. Bond and Ryder are decontaminated and taken to quarters before being drugged.

Upon waking they are escorted to dine with Dr. No. He reveals that he is a member of SPECTRE (SPecial Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion) and plans to disrupt the Project Mercury space launch from Cape Canaveral with his atomic-powered radio beam. After dinner Ryder is taken away and Bond is beaten by the guards.

Bond is imprisoned in a holding cell but manages to escape through a vent. Disguised as a worker, Bond finds his way to the control centre, a multi-level room full of high-tech instrumentation with an atomic reactor set into the floor, overseen by Dr. No from a command console. Bond overloads the nuclear reactor just as the American rocket is about to take off. Hand-to-hand combat ensues between Bond and Dr. No; the scientist is pushed into the reactor’s cooling vat, in which he boils to death. Bond finds Ryder and the two escape in a boat just as the entire lair explodes.

REVIEW:

I cannot believe how big of a shock it has been to some of my friends that I have never seen a James Bond film. One of my resolutions this year was to see at least a couple of them, and what could be better than to begin with the one that started it all 50 years ago, Dr. No?

What is this about?

Sent to locate a colleague who’s vanished in Jamaica, debonair Agent 007 — in the first of the James Bond films — finds villainous scientist Dr. No plotting to derail the U.S. space program and take over the world.

What did I like?

Beginning. All legends have a beginning, and Bond is no exception. All the benchmarks that have come to be synonymous with Bond over the years are present. We get to hear his now infamous intro, “Bond…James Bond”, watch as all he drinks are vodka martinis shaken, not stirred, and then of course, there are the women. Gorgeous doesn’t begin to describe them!

Plot. If I’m not mistaken, subsequent Bond films go into a rather campy turn, but this one plays it straight, much like what I hear Daniel Craig has been doing with his interpretation. Personally, I think the more straightforward approach works to start this franchise off and establish the character.

Villain. A great bad guy is something that is often overlooked when one thinks of what makes a good hero. Dr. No is a great villain with a great back story and sadistic tendencies. There have been many duplicators, but only one originator. It is too bad that we don’t get more of him, but perhaps that is why he works so well. This guy is also responsible for influencing characters such as Dr. Klaw (from Inspector Gadget), Dr. Evil (from the Austin Powers franchise…note that they have the same suit), among others.

What didn’t work?

Looks can kill. Ursala Andress is a knockout in that white bikini. Other than Raquel Welch in that cave girl bikini, I think this is one of the most prominent bikini scenes of classic, if not all, cinema. It is just a crying shame that she didn’t have the acting chops to back it up. I get the feeling that they were trying to hide her inability to carry a scene, but it just wasn’t working.

Legacy. We all know about the Bond legacy and have our own ideas for what we expect. Me, I was looking for campiness and fancy gadgets, but didn’t get that. Does it hurt the film? No, but I can see some people having issue with it. A curse of this film being around so long, I’m afraid.

Dr. No serves as a great introduction to the Bond franchise. I wasn’t in love with this film, but did enjoy it, especially once it ratcheted up in the last 30 minutes. I highly recommend this to anyone looking to get started with Bond. It is always best to start from the beginning, and this starts with a bang!

4 1/4 out of 5 stars

The Man with the Iron Fists

Posted in Action/Adventure, Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 17, 2013 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

In nineteenth century China, Jungle Village is home to several warring clans. The village blacksmith creates deadly weapons for the clans, intending to use his payments to purchase the freedom of his lover Lady Silk, and leave the village. The region’s governor tasks the Lion Clan’s leader Gold Lion with protecting a large shipment of gold that must pass through the village. Gold is betrayed by his lieutenants Silver Lion and Bronze Lion, who plan to steal the gold. They use the chaos ensuing from a fight with the Hyena Clan to allow their co-conspirator Poison Dagger—the governor’s aide—to assassinate Gold, after which Silver becomes the Lions’ leader. Gold’s son Zen-Yi learns of his father’s murder and sets off to the village to seek revenge.

The Emperor’s undercover emissary Jack Knife arrives in the village to monitor the gold and takes up residence in the Pink Blossom, a brothel run by Madam Blossom, Lady Silk’s madame. Silver sends members of the Rodent clan to kill Zen-Yi before he can reach the village, but Zen-Yi kills them. The mercenary Brass Body arrives in the village and meets with Silver; he is sent to kill Zen-Yi. The blacksmith meets with Silk in the brothel and delivers the final payment needed to free her. After arriving in the village, Zen-Yi and his men are confronted by Brass and find that they cannot physically harm him because his skin turns to metal on impact. Brass beats Zen-Yi and destroys his blade-laden armor. Zen-Yi’s last surviving man sacrifices himself to pull a canopy support beam loose, burying Brass under heavy stone. The blacksmith is watching the fight; he rescues Zen-Yi and helps him recover as penance for crafting the weapon that killed Zen-Yi’s father.

Meanwhile, the gold shipment arrives in the village, accompanied by two skilled warriors, the Geminis. The Lions soon confront the Geminis and their men, and in the ensuing fight, Poison Dagger assassinates the Geminis and the Lions capture the gold. Jack later arrives to investigate the incident and learns that the Geminis were poisoned with mercury-tipped weapons, leading him to the blacksmith. The Lions’ theft prompts the governor to send his Jackal troops to recover the shipment or destroy the village. Zen-Yi asks the blacksmith to craft him a new suit of weaponized armor. The Lions suspect that the blacksmith is helping Zen-Yi and have him tortured for information. The blacksmith refuses to talk, and Brass cuts off his forearms. Jack, who had been following the blacksmith, saves him. While the blacksmith recovers, he tells Jack of his past as an emancipated American slave who accidentally killed a white man who refused to let him go. He fled America by boat and went to China, where monks trained him to use his body’s energy to perform superhuman feats. Jack and the blacksmith craft his greatest weapon: a pair of iron forearms that he can animate using this energy.

Zen-Yi recovers and joins Jack and the blacksmith. Meanwhile, Blossom offers to let Silver hide the gold in a secret tomb beneath the brothel in return for payment. The gold is stored in a coffin which is raised up to the rafters. That night, Blossom has her girls serve the Lions, and Silk serves Brass. At Blossom’s signal, the girls use weapons hidden in their mouths to poison many of the Lions, and they join with Blossom as the Black Widows. When Silk tries to poison Brass, his skin protects him, and he beats and almost kills her. Zen-Yi, Jack, and the blacksmith arrive and join with the Black Widows to fight the remaining Lions while Blossom and Bronze fight and kill each other. While fighting Jack, Poison Dagger is crushed between large moving gears. Silver and Zen-Yi fight in the tomb; Zen-Yi cuts the coffin free, and it crushes Silver. The blacksmith finds Silk, who dies in his arms. He confronts Brass, and his iron fists prove capable of inflicting damage on Brass’ seemingly invincible body. While Brass is in metal form, a powerful punch from the blacksmith shatters him to pieces. Jack runs outside in time to stop the Jackals from decimating the building with a Gatling gun.

In the epilogue, Jack leaves the village to accompany the gold, and Zen-Yi tells the blacksmith that he has gained a brother. With the clans destroyed and the village safe, the blacksmith vows to keep it that way and destroys the sign pointing to his weapon shop.

REVIEW:

It would seem that the next genre of films that I am destined to come to love are martial arts flicks, though I’m long overdue to finally watch a James Bond picture. As it were, The Man with the Iron Fists is a sure-fire way to get one interested in those flicks from a time gone by, but whether it can stand up to them is not for me to answer at this present time.

What is this about?

Combining kung-fu action and hip-hop style, this martial arts thriller relates the saga of a Chinese blacksmith caught up in a battle between clans. Forced to defend his own village, the blacksmith channels primeval forces that make him invincible.

What did I like?

Familiar. There is a look and feel to this film that may seem very familiar to those that have seen Kill Bill, vol. I. That is, aside from both starring Lucy Liu, this film had Quentin Tarantino’s touch on it. Now, he doesn’t direct, produce, or appear, but he has been “mentoring” RZA, if you will. The resulting styles are obvious.

Over-the-top. 99.9% of the time, I’m all about over-the-top things, be it jokes, violence, sex, etc. The graphic violence that permeates thought this flick can be a bit much, but I don’t think anyone watching this is actually taking this seriously. If they are, then they seriously need help. Having said that, I think RZA could have just let the reins go and watch this thing go insane and it would have been a thing of beauty. Just the same, what you see is equal to your more bloody animes.

Batista. When we think of wrestlers that have made the jump to the big screen, immediately, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson comes to mind, as he’s had the most success, followed by more modest careers of “Stone Cold” Steven Austin, Chyna (yes, porn counts), The Great Khali, and the up and downs of Hulk Hogan. It appears as though Dave Bautista (Batista in his WWE days) is trying his hand at acting. They did a good job of giving him a major role, but with little speaking, much like The Rock in Be Cool. Not to forget that this character, Brass Body, is a pretty bad guy. That fight scene at the end is definitely worth the wait.

What didn’t I like?

Music. I realize that RZA is a hip hop artist. I also have respect for what he does. I love the beats he gave to Afro Samurai. With that in mind, I think they were a bit overkill in a 96 minute flick. Here and there was nice, but in almost every scene of importance, our ears are made to bleed with this mess. Tarantino did the same thing in Django Unchained, as I mentioned in that review. I guess this is just some bad teaching from Tarantino.

Not quite right. Something about this story just didn’t jive with me. I think it was the fact that it wasn’t coherent or interesting enough, perhaps even disjointed. I’m not sure what it was because, by all means, this story should have worked, it is decent enough, but RZA isn’t a strong enough to storyteller to engage the audience.

RZA. I cannot think of many actors who direct themselves that do a good job. RZA on his own isn’t that great of an actor, when he’s directing himself, he isn’t much better. I think this would have been a better film had he not used this as a vehicle for himself. This is a character that deserved much better than rookie acting chops, and this film could have used a full-time director. At least, RZA isn’t the worst actor in the film.

It may sound like I didn’t enjoy The Man with the Iron Fists, but that isn’t the case. I really did find this to be quite the enjoyable flick. As I mentioned earlier it has over-the-top violence but, at times it seems as if it is trying to be too serious. I would have liked to have seen the rumored crossover with this and Django. Initially, I had wanted to see this in theaters, but in hindsight, I am glad I didn’t waste the money. This is one of those shut your brain off and enjoy the ride type of films that is best seen from the comforts of home.

3 3/4 out of 5 stars

 

Jeff, Who Lives at Home

Posted in Comedy, Drama, Independent, Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , , on March 16, 2013 by Mystery Man

PLOT:

The film is about two brothers who reside in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Jeff (Segel) is a 30-year-old unemployed stoner, living in his mother’s basement. His older brother Pat (Helms) struggles with a failing marriage. Their widowed mother, Sharon (Sarandon), is disappointed with Jeff and with her unfulfilled dreams.

Jeff looks for his destiny in seemingly random occurrences. He finds inspiration in the feature film Signs, which reinforces his belief in his outlook. One day, he answers the telephone; it’s a wrong number, from somebody asking for “Kevin,” and Jeff contemplates the meaning of this and decides it’s a sign. He pursues people or things named Kevin as a result.

After coincidentally meeting his brother Pat, they suspect that Pat’s wife, Linda (Greer), is cheating on him. They try to determine how to handle the situation. Meanwhile, Sharon finds some solace in a “secret admirer” sending her messages at work. Throughout a day of random meetings and emotional revelations, Jeff, Pat, Sharon, and Sharon’s secret admirer come together in a traffic jam on a bridge, and Jeff finally finds what he’s looking for.

REVIEW:

This must be some kind of Freaks and Geeks alumni weekend, first with James Franco, and now with Jason Segel in Jeff, Who Lives at Home. This is one of those independent dramedies, so the question is does it remember that it has comedy roots, or does it go down that drama route without ever looking back?

What is this about?

Siblings Jay and Mark Duplass direct this comedy focusing on two brothers — one a moderate success, the other still living with Mom. A trip to the store for glue, however, turns into an encounter with destiny for the stay-at-home slacker.

What did I like?

Believe it or not. I know that I can’t be the only one to notice that nearly every movie, TV show, or what have you has characters that are pretty well-adjusted (by default), live in big fancy houses and, for the most part, have no real problems. The filmmakers decided to turn that on its side and give us characters who are struggling both mentally and financially. In other words, these are real people. A breath of fresh air, to be certain.

Old lady crush. There are a few women of, shall we say, advanced years that I have a giant crush on. Helen Mirren tops the list, of course, but Susan Sarandon is up there pretty high. It was a good thing to see her on the screen again, and better looking than ever. Separation/divorce did her good!

What didn’t I like?

Shrill. This is another flick where the woman seems to be doing nothing more than nagging her husband. I love Judy Greer, don’t get me wrong, but they could have either written her character better, or found another actress. Also, a redhead? I guess Ed Helms’ character was looking for someone like his mother.

Location. As someone who actually lives in Baton Rouge, I can say that there is not a single place in this city that looks like that dilapidated semi-ghetto they portray it to be. As a matter of fact, this was filmed in Metairie, LA. Why wasn’t it actually filmed here, rather than an hour or so down the road? Your guess is as good as mine!

Kevin. Segel’s character is one of those that is innocent to a fault, as we see when he gets his mugged by the guys he was playing basketball with, including “Kevin”. Maybe it is just me, but wouldn’t it have been a nice touch to have “Kevin” show back up at the film’s end in some manner? Maybe to return Jeff’s money, have a part in the climax, or even be Sarandon’s secret admirer.

Jeff, Who Lives at Home didn’t really do anything for me. There were moments that made me chuckle and the story is good enough, but there isn’t anything here that will have me wanting to go buy this DVD or move my schedule around because this is on television one day. Do I recommend it? That’s a tough one because this isn’t bad, it just doesn’t have anything work recommending. I guess if you’re in a bind, desperately looking for something to watch, this will do. Otherwise, it is best going on to something else.

3 out of 5 stars

Jane Eyre

Posted in Drama, Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , , on March 16, 2013 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

The film begins with Jane Eyre running away from Thornfield Hall in the middle of the night and finding herself alone on the moors, in the pouring rain. She manages to reach the doorstep of Moor House, the home of Mr. St. John Rivers, a clergyman, and his two sisters. They take Jane in, saving her life.

There follows a flashback, to the ten-year-old Jane Eyre, an orphan, living with her maternal uncle’s family, the Reeds, at Gateshead. Jane’s aunt, Sarah Reed, doesn’t like Jane and is very cruel to her; Mrs. Reed’s three children are also abusive towards her. One day, Jane is locked in the Red Room, where her uncle died, and which Jane believes is haunted. She knocks herself unconscious on the door, after a huge puff of smoke comes down the chimney. Jane’s aunt sends her to Lowood School for Girls, which is run by a cruel clergyman, Mr. Brocklehurst. Mrs Reed tells him that Jane is a deceitful child and is not to be trusted. Jane tells her aunt how much she hates her and that she is a hard-hearted woman.

Jane arrives at Lowood. While another pupil, Helen Burns, is being beaten, Jane accidentally drops her tray. Mr. Brocklehurst brands her a liar and makes her stand on a chair all day. Jane and Helen become close friends, but Helen later dies of typhus.

Eight years later, Jane leaves Lowood and takes up a post with Alice Fairfax of Thornfield Hall. She will be a governess to Adele Varens, a young French orphan girl. When she first arrives at Thornfield, a gloomy, isolated mansion, Jane mistakes Mrs. Fairfax for her employer, but she finds out that she is only the housekeeper for her absent master. While Jane is walking into town to post a letter, a horse passes her and throws its rider. Jane helps the gentleman to his horse. Later, back at the mansion, she learns that the horse rider is Edward Rochester, master of the house. He jokingly tells her that she must have bewitched his horse to make him fall. They gradually fall in love with one another.

One night, Jane is awoken by a strange noise at her door, only to find that Mr. Rochester’s room is on fire, which the two of them manage to extinguish. He thanks her for saving his life and holds her hand affectionately. The next day, Rochester leaves Thornfield to visit Lady Blanche Ingram, his future wife; he brings her back to Thornfield with him a few weeks later. When a man named Richard Mason of Spanish Town, Jamaica, shows up, Jane can see that Rochester is disturbed. That night, a scream awakens everyone. Rochester assures his guests it is just a servant’s reaction to a nightmare, but after they go back to their rooms, he secretly has Jane tend to a bleeding Mason while he fetches a doctor. Rochester has the doctor take Mason away.

Jane receives a letter from her old nurse, Bessie. Jane’s cousin, John Reed, has committed suicide, the news of which has so shocked his mother, Sarah Reed, that it has brought on a stroke. Apparently, Mrs. Reed has been asking to see Jane. Jane returns to Gateshead, where her dying aunt shows her a letter from Jane’s paternal uncle, John Eyre, asking for her to go to live with him in Madeira. He wants to adopt Jane and bequeath her at his death. Jane notices that the letter was dated three years ago. Mrs. Reed admits to telling her uncle that Jane had died of typhus at Lowood School. She tells Jane that she (Mrs. Reed) has been cursed by her. Jane forgives her aunt and returns to Thornfield, having begun a correspondence with John Eyre.

Jane informs Rochester that she must leave Thornfield due to his impending marriage to Blanche Ingram. However, Rochester suddenly proclaims his love for Jane and proposes to her; they kiss passionately. However, during the wedding ceremony, Mr. Mason appears, along with a lawyer, declaring that Mr. Rochester cannot marry Jane, because he is still married to Mr. Mason’s sister, Bertha; he adds that his sister is still living at Thornfield Hall. Mr. Rochester admits this is true and takes Jane to meet his wife, calling her his own demon; they find her locked away in a room at Thornfield. Rochester tells Jane that his father wanted him to marry Bertha for her money. Once they were married, he discovered that she was rapidly descending into madness and was forced to lock her away in Thornfield; she was the one responsible for the strange happenings in the house. Refusing to go against her principles, and despite her love for Rochester, Jane leaves Thornfield in the middle of the night.

After Jane regains her health, St. John finds her a teaching position at a nearby charity school. One night, St. John appears, informing her that her uncle, John Eyre, has died, leaving her all his property and that she is rich, to the tune of 20,000 pounds. Jane offers to share the money with St. John and his sisters, suggesting that they live together at Moor house; they agree to the offer. St. John asks Jane to marry him and go with him to India. Jane agrees to go to India with him, but rejects the marriage proposal, suggesting that they travel as brother and sister, as that’s how she sees their relationship. On the moor, Jane suddenly hears Rochester’s voice calling her name.

Jane returns to Thornfield, only to find the house a blackened ruin. She learns from Mrs. Fairfax that Rochester’s wife set the house on fire and died, jumping from the roof. Jane finds Rochester, but in the rescue attempt he has lost his eyesight. Jane reunites with him and they embrace.

REVIEW:

I am known to criticize films that are heavy drama and artsy-fartsy, and yet here I am watching Jane Eyre, a film that fits both those categories to a ‘T’. By the times the credits roll, will I be bored to tears, surprised with how good it is, or just plain disappointed?

What is this about?

Driven from her post at Thornfield House by her love for her brooding employer and his secret past, young governess Jane Eyre reflects on her youth and the events that led her to the misty moors in this artful adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s novel.

What did I like?

Cast. Fassbender and Wasikowska shine in these roles. Wasikowska’s work I’m not too familiar with, other than the few films she’s done over here in the states, mainly Alice in Wonderland, but Fassbender has more than proven that he is capable of pulling off roles of substance on both sides of the pond. Leave us not forget Judi Dench, who seems to be the comic relief (if you can call her that).

Source material. I vaguely remember reading this novel once, I belive it was in British Literature, but I could be mistaken. From my recollection, everything seems to be in order. Sure, there are some changes, but those are mainly due to time constraints and/or things that would not work so well on the big screen. Still, I give kudos to whomever decided it was best to keep this as close as possible to the source material and not try to make some weird “hip” updating so that audiences will “relate”.

What didn’t work?

Time. Speaking of time constraints, maybe it is just me, but I felt as if this could have been a slightly longer film, like most flicks like this tend to be. I’m not saying it needed to be some 3 hr long snoozefest, but parts of it felt like they rushed through some parts and others felt like they hovered in the scene too long.

French. The little French girl was a great asset to the cast, but after about the halfway point of the film, she sort of disappeared. I seem to remember her being in the later parts of the book, so why did she just vanish from the film? Maybe I’m wrong about the novel, though.

Jane Eyre isn’t my cup of tea, admittedly, and as such, I don’t feel as if I can give this film the review it deserves. Having said that, I do think that there is an audience out there that is all about this period dramas. If this is the kind of film you tend to go for, then by all means, check this out. You will love it. If you’re like me, then chances are you’re more likely to be bored. That is ok, different stroked for different folks.

4 out of 5 stars

Oz the Great and Powerful

Posted in Movie Reviews, Sci-Fi/Fantasy with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 16, 2013 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

In 1905 Kansas, Oscar Diggs (James Franco) works as a barnstormer and a small-time magician in a traveling circus. As a storm approaches the circus, the circus strongman (Tim Holmes) learns Oscar has flirted with his wife and goes to attack him. Oscar escapes in a hot air balloon, but is sucked into a tornado that brings him to the Land of Oz. There the witch Theodora (Mila Kunis) finds him and believes him to be a wizard prophesied to overthrow the Wicked Witch who killed the king of Oz. En route to the Emerald City, Theodora falls in love with Oscar. They also encounter the flying monkey Finley (Zach Braff), who pledges a life debt to Oscar when the latter saves him from a lion.

On reaching the Emerald City, Oscar meets Evanora (Rachel Weisz), Theodora’s sister, who is skeptical of Oscar being the foretold wizard. Evanora tells Oscar that the Wicked Witch resides in the Dark Forest and can be killed by destroying her wand, the source of her power. Oscar and Finley are joined en route to the forest by China Girl (Joey King), a young, living china doll whose home and family were destroyed by the Wicked Witch. The trio reaches the forest and discovers the “Wicked Witch” to be Glinda the Good Witch (Michelle Williams), who tells them Evanora is the true Wicked Witch. Evanora sees this with her crystal ball and manipulates Theodora against Oscar by showing him together with Glinda, saying he is trying to court all three witches. She offers the heartbroken Theodora a magic apple she promises will remove her heartache, which Theodora eats, transforming her into a heartless, green-skinned Wicked Witch.

Glinda brings Oscar’s group to her domain of Oz to escape Evanora’s army of Winkies and flying baboons. She confides with Oscar that she knows he is not truly a wizard, but believes he can still help them stop Evanora, and provides him an “army” of Quadlings, tinkers, and Munchkins to do it. Theodora enters Glinda’s domain and angrily reveals her new, hideous appearance to Oscar before threatening to kill him and his allies with the Emerald City’s well-prepared army. Oscar despairs that his army cannot defeat the Wicked Witches, but after telling China Girl about his exploits, he realizes they can fight using prestidigitation.

Glinda and her subjects use an automated army of scarecrows blanketed by thick fog to trick the Wicked Witches into sending their flying baboons through a poppy field that puts the baboons to sleep. However, two baboons manage to capture Glinda, who is brought to the city square to be executed. Meanwhile, Oscar infiltrates the Emerald City with his allies, only to seemingly abandon them in a hot air balloon loaded with the king’s gold, which Theodora destroys with a fireball. Oscar then secretly reveals himself to his friends, having faked his death. Oscar uses a hidden smoke machine and image projector to present a giant, holographic image of his face as his “true” form, and a fireworks display to attack and intimidate the Wicked Witches. Evanora fearfully hides in her castle while Theodora flies from the city on her broom, unable to hurt the “invincible” wizard. China Girl frees Glinda, who defeats and banishes Evanora, destroying the Wicked Witch’s necklace that hides her true, crone-like appearance before she is carried off by flying baboons.

The film concludes with Oscar, now king of Oz, using his projector to sustain the belief that he is still a powerful wizard and keep the citizens of Oz united against the Wicked Witches. He also presents gifts to his friends: Master Tinker (Bill Cobbs), who helped build his machines, receives a camping-tool jackknife; Knuck (Tony Cox), the grumpy city herald and an ally of Glinda, receives a mask with a smiley face; the long-suffering Finley receives Oscar’s friendship; and China Girl accepts her friends as her new family. Finally, Oscar takes Glinda behind the curtain of his projector and kisses her.

REVIEW:

Recently, there has been a string of films that have taken classic tales and reimagined them as dark and modern, that is not to forget those God-awful remakes Hollywood keeps shoving down our throats. Oz the Great and Powerful does not fall into that trap, but instead goes the prequel route, which wasn’t a bad choice considering how much of a sure backlash and uproar there would be had they even mentioned remaking that immortal classic, The Wizard of Oz.

What is this about?

In this prequel to The Wizard of Oz, circus magician Oscar Diggs is magically transported to the Land of Oz, where he deals with three witches and uses his illusionist skills and resourcefulness to become the wizard the residents have been expecting.

What did I like?

Know your history. For those of us purists out there, fret not, there are plenty of homages to the original. Take for instance the way this film is shot. It starts in black and white (yes, i know the original was more of a sepia) then, when we are in Oz, it goes into full color. A character has the last name of Gale, just like Dorothy and she is wearing a gingham dress. We see a flying monkey, the scarecrow’s face, a lion that runs away, etc. Basically, everything they could fit in there that wasn’t ties up in legal mumbo jumbo, they found a way to stick it in. Also, it should be noted, that many of the cha

Out-Burton Burton. In my review of Frankenweenie, I mentioned how Tim Burton went back to what made him such a great filmmaker in the first place. Well, apparently, Sam Raimi took notes from him, as well, because this is just as good, if not better than what we expect from Burton. The brilliant, vibrant colors pop on the screen as the imaginative characters take center stage.

China girl. All the reviews of this film I’ve been reading have been praising the little china girl. I’m going to join that group. Not only is she a great, emotional, relatable character, but her design is fascinating to behold. The back story they gave her is sure to touch even the most hardened of hearts.

3D. For some reason, the theater where I went to see this today didn’t offer a non-3D option for seeing this. Normally, I’d be all up in arms about the lack of the option, as I am no fan of 3D. To me, it is just a gimmick for studios and theaters to charge even more than they already do just for a pair of rental sunglasses (which is all those things are, really). Having said that, I do believe this is the first 3D film that I’ve seen since the resurgence of the technique that really takes advantage and does it right. It isn’t too much, nor is it distracting. As a matter of fact, there were a couple of times when I actually dodged. That, my friends, is how you do 3D!

What didn’t I like?

Romance. No, I don’t have any issue with the wizard’s romance with the witch sisters, as that leads to some animosity and makes for good reasons for villainy. However, it is his relationship with Glinda that I call into question. Never is it implies anywhere that the two of them had any kind of love connection, but somehow the filmmakers decided it needed to be there…at the very end of the film.

Witches. While these three actresses, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, and Michelle Williams are very talented in their own right, they didn’t really work as witches for me. First, Kunis just seemed more like a fish out of water than when she’s voicing Meg on Family Guy and let’s not even mention that gaudy hat. Weisz felt like she was holding back. It was as if she wanted to just be your stereotypical, insanely evil witch, but they wouldn’t let her. Personally, she seemed like she was trying to be Azkadelia from Tin Man (another Wizard of Oz film). Finally, there is Michelle Williams, who came off as rather bland. Also, I picture Glenda being this being or pure innocence and I didn’t quite get that from Williams, perhaps that chick that plays Snow White on Once Upon a Time…Gennifer Goodwin, would have been a better choice.

Wicked. The actress who ends up turning into the Wicked Witch we all know just doesn’t cut it. Part of it has to do with the way that they had her made up, the other part was her acting. It just didn’t become of a Wicked Witch that would turn eventually become the evil being we come to know. Also, where is Elphaba and Nessarose? Maybe there were some legal issues with Wicked, too, since they just (finally) greenlit it to become a film, but Theodora and Evanora. Those names sound like they were just randomly pulled out of thin air.

Oz the Great and Powerful is probably the best new film I’ve seen this year. As a matter of fact, I think it is the only new film I’ve seen this year. With that said, while watching this, I felt underwhelmed, much in the same way I did after watching Alice in Wonderland. That isn’t to say this is a bad film, it just may have been overhyped. I can’t help but think that this was made not as a way to tell us the story of the wizard, but to soften audiences up for a forthcoming remake of The Wizard of Oz down the line. They did green light a sequel Monday, after all. That being said, I did like it and give it a high recommendation, especially for those that are looking for something to take the kids to go see.

4 1/2 out of 5 stars