REVIEW: No Strings Attached

"This flick puts the fun back into romantic comedies."

After a series of chance meetings Adam and Emma hook up for sex. Both have hectic schedules and they’re own set of intimacy issues so rather than play the dating game they decide to keep their relationship strictly physical. That is, until it starts to become something more.

When it comes to romantic comedies I’m more for the scale tipping toward the comedy end of things rather than the romantic side. There are a few examples of films that I found funny for the first hour (CHASING AMY, KNOCKED UP, THE BREAK-UP) but due to the veering into dramatic waters for the second halves, I’ve never had the inkling to re-watch them, let alone buy them. My kind of romantic comedy has a visible mixture of both, combined with great writing and a fun cast whose chemistry is obvious (HOW TO LOSE A GUY IN 10 DAYS) and I’m as happy as I am surprised to tell you that NO STRINGS ATTACHED is that kind of movie.

Now say what you want about the Kutch but I love him. THAT 70’S SHOW introduced us to Michael Kelso, one of the funniest sitcom characters I’ve ever seen and though most people thought Kutch would end up a one hit wonder or a type cast character (DUDE WHERE’S MY CAR, PUNKED), he surprised the hell out of me with his stunning performance in THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT, still one of my favourite movies of all time. I also enjoyed THE GUARDIAN and as far as romantic comedies go, VALENTINE’S DAY was all him as far as I’m concerned. He’s a likable guy with talent, charisma, wit and charm; making just about any film he’s in a true delight to watch. That said, I’ve never been big on Natalie Portman but she’s growing on me and her performance here certainly helped. Here’ hoping she brings the same A-game to THOR.

The supporting cast here is nothing but fun as well with Kevin Kline pushing the envelope further than I’ve seen him go in a long while. He’s an absolute riot and goes out with a bang delivering some of the funniest lines in the movie (that bit about the dog at the end is priceless). Adam’s two best friends are equally funny, crude by some people’s standards I’m sure but I laughed my ass off at just about everything they said (Ludacris’ response to what Adam should text when asked “where are you” nearly had me in tears).

NO STRINGS ATTACHED is a film that shines because it’s all about adults acting like adults in a day and age where anything goes and the rules of love are made up as we go. When all’s said and done this film feels genuine and that’s rare these days as most romantic comedies like to create a fantasy that doesn’t tend to exist in real life. Now don’t get me wrong, Hollywood will always embellish when it comes to love but this feels much more believable when weighed against most. What this film really reminds me of is CALIFORNICATION, “THE” show about how tangled and ridiculous relationships can get. Sure, the setup here is obvious and the outcome no harder to guess but this is one film that delivers on both ends of the spectrum, doesn’t drag and won’t leave you disappointed.

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REVIEW: Dinner for Schmucks

"So much potential wasted."

Tim is a low level corporate executive who’s looking to move up and when the opportunity presents itself he goes all to get the boss’ attention. Complications arise when the chances of him getting a promotion rest upon his ability to find and deliver an idiot to his boss’ monthly dinner where each of his fellow colleagues do the same in hopes of landing first prize for bringing the biggest loser.

Paul Rudd has had some zany roles over the past few years more or less starting with ANCHORMAN and continuing on through many of the Apatow comedies but after ROLE MODELS and I LOVE YOU,MAN to me he became one of the better go-to guys for obscure comedies. Now on the other end of that spectrum you have Steve Carell who some might argue is the king of obscure comedies but from where I’m sitting Carell’s comedic exploits leave much to be desired. So what’s the logical thing to do you might be asking, put these two boys together and see what happens of course. Opinions will vary depending on how much you like either actor but I can honestly say that DINNER FOR SCHMUCKS does have some appeal but ultimately fails to do much with it.

Points definitely need to be awarded for the concept as the dinner itself is quite an idea to build on. Without giving too much away, my only issue with the dinner is that it’s built up and built up but takes forever to happen. Now I suppose you can’t exactly have a dinner last forty-five minutes to an hour but I did feel it was a touch weak, with a couple interesting weirdoes but nowhere near the gong show I expected it to be. A blind swordsman, a best beard champion and some fool with a pet vulture? These were the best ideas they could come up with? I’ve seen weirder people on the subway.

Now in my opinion the funny guy in this film is Kieran, the insane artist. The guy’s an absolute riot in nearly all of his scenes. I laughed myself into tears when he was going on about not mating birds and mammals, when he was explaining his paintings or when he says “poppycock”. Kieran should’ve been the guy to rock the dinner but then again I suppose you can’t make fun of someone who’s making insane amounts of money no matter how balls out crazy they are. Now two things I wasn’t happy with are Zach Galifianakis’ character in general; his subplot was totally unnecessary and just plain dumb which ties in with Barry’s subplot that was again, unnecessary and really not funny. I won’t give anything away but it these two things severely hurt the tone of the film.

DINNER FOR SCHMUCKS has a cool premise, one that could have made for one hell of a funny comedy. Instead we’re left with a half-assed attempt that will no doubt have you laughing more than a couple times but it’s unclear as to whether or not you’d sit through the entire thing again anytime soon. For me, I will watch this flick again because the funny characters are just too good to forget (speaking of which I don’t want to leave out Mueller, the rich client these guys are trying to bag. That elevator shot with him pointing his ring finger was priceless funny). I loved where this film was going, I just wish they’d taken a different route.

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REVIEW: Dispicable Me

"One of the funniest animted flicks I've seen in awhile."

Gru is so close to being crowned “World’s Greatest Villain” he can taste it, that is until a new kid on the villainous block, Vector, goes and steals a pyramid. Obsessed with showing him up, Gru decides to steal a prototype shrink ray and steal the ultimate treasure: the moon! Gru’s determination starts to dip however, when he reluctantly becomes attached to the three little girls he adopts to help with his plan.

The diversity surrounding animated movies gets more and more interesting every year. First Disney led the way, then Pixar and now it’s a no holds barred free for all out there. TANGLED was pretty funny, TOY STORY 3 felt like they were pushing things too far and MEGAMIND was simply terrible. DESPICABLE ME was not a film I expected to see shoot ahead of those titles but I couldn’t help but find myself captivated from beginning to hilarious end. Then again, I’m always one to root for the bad guy.

Gru is gunning for the title of World’s Greatest Villain and doing a great job at it I might add. He had me at hello with the freeze ray at the coffee shop and that was just the tip of the iceberg as this dude’s got more toys than Batman himself. Everything about his weapons, his house, his car and his lab all point to the extreme but instantly become grounded and believable when you find out he gets his funding from the bank and like the rest of us, Gru’s a little behind. I loved that this was a film that focussed upon super villains for a change which right off the bat makes this film a lot like one of my favourite animated flicks of all time, THE INCREDIBLES. The shrink ray is always a fun toy to play with and what better way to flex its powers than by using it to steal the moon (loved it).

I’ve never been a big fan of Steve Carell but thankfully his goofy persona works here and with a thick German accent it was damn near impossible to tell it was actually him. He did a great job though, proving the man still is funny despite the many flops that have come his way recently. Speaking of surprises, I had no idea Russell Brand was in this film, let along voiced one of the main characters, Dr. Nefario, and the Doc provided more than a couple laughs along the way. Kristen Wiig’s Miss Hattie was also pretty funny, especially her “time out” box (priceless). The only underwhelming performance here was from Jason Segel but not because he was awful, just that his character Vector wasn’t nearly as over the top or drawn out as he should have been considering the brooding war between villains. He had a couple big moments but nothing special or memorable.

DESPICABLE ME was far funnier than I thought it would be, even with all the cutesy moments brought on by the children and Gru’s gibberish speaking minions. To be perfectly honest, those minions were hilarious as was Agnes’ obsession with unicorns. Make no mistake this film’s underlining premise may indeed feel a bit like a new age, hipper ANNIE (without the annoying singing) but as I quickly found out, this doesn’t at all hurt the film or make it less entertaining. If anything, this makes the film more well-rounded and likeable considering we’re dealing with villains instead of heroes. Either way, young or old, you’ll get a good kick out of this one.

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REVIEW: The Green Hornet

"A pleasantly surprising mix of comedy and action."

Britt Reid is the slacker son of a rich newspaper tycoon who uses all his father’s money and influence to drink and party his life away but when his father is found dead leaving the keys to the paper and his empire in his hands, Britt decides to team up with his father’s mechanic, Kato, to give a little back to a city that’s become overrun with crime.

THE GREEN HORNET is actually a really old franchise that began picking up steam back to 1966 with a TV series that helped launch Bruce Lee’s career, something I didn’t fully understand until I watched DRAGON: THE BRUCE LEE STORY (loved that Kato had some Bruce Lee drawings in his sketchbook). What’s ironic is that when the show aired back in the day, people really connected with Lee’s character, Kato, because of his raw martial arts abilities and it was no surprise that he stole the spotlight and the show (they actually called the series THE KATO SHOW in Hong Kong, rather than THE GREEN HORNET). Like Bruce Lee, Jay Chou steals the show making this film also feel like THE KATO SHOW but rest assured it’s a definitely a show worth seeing.

Hollywood’s been trying to breathe new life into this story for years which by now should come as no surprise but there’s been some mixed opinions concerning the film’s tone. I personally found the tone spot on, balancing the right amount of action into a “go with the flow” style comedy. I just don’t see this film being able to work any other way simply because nobody cares enough or really knows enough about THE GREEN HORNET to take the film seriously but splash Seth Rogen into the mix as a flawed hero who doesn’t even take himself seriously and you’ve got the recipe for a good time.

On that note, I (like so many other people) was more than a little thrown by the idea of Rogen as Britt Reid but like I said, the good news is that thanks to the film’s tone he makes it work (I was disappointed that one of the funniest lines in the trailer was nowhere to be found in the film but hopefully that means we’ll get an extended/uncut version when it hits the shelves). Jay Chou’s fighting prowess is flawless and I found him and Rogen’s characters worked well together. I didn’t care for Cameron Diaz’ love triangle bit or her character at all for that matter but that mostly stems from the fact that I just don’t like her as an actress. Either way, I don’t think they should have pitted the boys against one another for any girl regardless.

One thing that really did blow me away were the cars, I mean these things would give even the Batmobile a run for its money. The technical aspect of things was cool, not nearly as believable as they were in BATMAN BEGINS but cool just the same. I loved the jokes surrounding the gas gun despite being a tad worried by the way they were handled in the trailer but in all honesty I feel the trailer gives away too much as it is. I’ve also seen some stones cast in Christoph Waltz’ direction in regards to his off the wall villain performance but after the way he handled himself in INGLOURIOUS BASTARDS I don’t understand why anyone would mind or be surprised. I liked his attitude and sense of humour here, Chadnofsky was an absolute blast and that “disco Santa” bit was priceless (I won’t ruin that part but James Franco shows up for one hell of a funny cameo).

THE GREEN HORNET isn’t going to win any awards and will no doubt get its share of scrutiny because it stars Seth Rogen as a superhero but don’t let the smoke and mirrors fool you because this was a fun time at the movies. Sure, the 3D was a pointless cash-grab but there’s not much we can do about that these days. Do I feel there’s a franchise here worthy of sequels? I don’t know about a trilogy but I can honestly say I’d sit through another one. The bottom line is that this film was a gamble but for me came out on the winning side, so here’s to the boys.

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REVIEW: Catfish

"This pushes innocent online relatioships to a new level."

When Nev’s relationship with a family he corresponds with online becomes more involved, his brother Ariel and friend Henry, two aspiring filmmakers, start documenting the curious events that continue to unfold unaware of just how far this seemingly innocent adventure would take them.

A few months ago I had the chance to review a documentary type film very similar to this one called TALHOTBLOND, a film I’d never heard of but completely blew me away. The sad thing about CATFISH is that it’s essentially the same story except CATFISH is much tamer. The premise is the same as both films explore the lies and false intrigue that people create online but the end result here is much easier to swallow and nowhere near as extreme as it could have been. I liked CATFISH yes, but it pales in comparison to TALHOTBLOND when it comes to driving the idea home.

The worst thing about films like this one is that they’re like FIGHTCLUB; you can’t really talk about them much without giving anything away. Suffice to say, there’s nothing left to the imagination that the back of the box or the trailer doesn’t imply. We know Nev is heading for disaster here and I couldn’t help but cringe every time he talked to Angela on the phone or when he started piecing things together and/or questioning what was going on. People are lonely these days and we live in a day and age where the internet has become a social hub where anyone, anywhere can get showered in attention they wouldn’t normally get anywhere else. I can’t say that I’ve never stretched the truth a bit, but nothing as diabolically complex as this.

My biggest question about this sort of situation simply put is this; “Are you f*cking serious brah, are you seriously going to be duped like this?” I mean c’mon people, we live in a day and age where internet love stories are the butt end of jokes like, “dude, ten bucks says you’re not even talking to a chick.” That said, in Nev’s defence this did all seem legit at first and our first basic reaction is to believe people and take things at face value so I guess I can’t blame him but I’ve only heard of a couple relationships that started online and had a happy ending so it’s my humble opinion that the internet is not the place to go looking for love.

CATFISH is a great eye opener, especially if this is the first film of this sort you’ve watched (had I not watched TALHOTBLOND I’d have felt punched in the gut way harder). The dude I felt for the most was Angela’s husband who had a marvellously sober speech about Catfish at the end of the film, which clarified the naming of the film as up until that moment I had no idea what the correlation was. Everyone that dabbles on the internet should watch both CATFISH and TALHOTBLOND simply because these are examples of what can happen when a seemingly innocent lie takes hold, sprouts roots and then grows exponentially.

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REVIEW: Exit Through the Gift Shop

"An interesting trip into a world most of us will never understand."

Street Art phenomenon Banksy leads us through a series of events that would change his underground world forever. When an eccentric French dude with a camera starts popping up here and there filming street art, some of the artists think he’s crazy while others start to think he’s a genius but none of them could imagine where Thierry’s ambition would truly take him.

As a fan of art and being a bit of an artist myself (I’ve always loved to draw), I’ve always found myself interested in graffiti. For one, there’s an unimaginable difference between drawing and painting and beyond that an even bigger difference between using a paint brush and using a paint can. EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP is a provocative look into a world most people know exist but very few get the chance to see or understand. Using stencils to help create these works of art seems a hell of a lot more logical and quicker than freestyle painting but again, I’ve never actually seen someone sitting there doing it before so I’d have never known but I’m sure glad I got the chance to see it now.

The one time I actually did see something similar to this was back in Toronto when BATMAN BEGINS was coming to theatres. My girl and I were walking out of the Eaton Center Mall and some dude was creating a flawless representation of Batman on the sidewalk with different colors of chalk. Chalk, for Christ Sake and like I said, it looked flawless! What made me sad though was the fact the next rain would wash it all away like it’d never been there and the same could be said of a lot of the work the boys in this film put into some of their creations. Imagine for a second that the phone booth wasn’t actually appreciated or picked up for that show like it later was, instead just picked up by a dump truck and destroyed. What a waste that would’ve been and that’s something I’m not sure I could live with if I were these guys.

Banksy is an interesting character and the same sort of artistic genius I expected him to be. He reminds me of one of my best friends, Dan, who from the time I met him in Art class in grade eleven, had me mesmerized my his artistic abilities. Banksy has raw talent and if I were Thierry I’d have scoured the Earth to meet him as well. Sure, this meeting didn’t go the way either of them expected it to go but such is the way of the world and it’s obvious that no one saw the end result coming. I’m going to honest here; I thought Thierry was an idiot from start to finish. I have no idea how he was able to justify being out at all hours of the night with strangers, all over the world, spending all his money while he had a family waiting for him and depending on him at home. Sure, in retrospect it’s easy for them to seem like they were okay with it here in the film knowing how it all turns out but I have a hard time believing they were so nonchalant about it while it was happening.

EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP is an interesting watch if you’re into any form of artistic expression or if you just like to see how gullible people still are in this day and age. My fellow reviewer Chris Bumbray had this film in his favourite ten of 2010; I personally think that’s a pretty tall order considering this is a documentary/mocumentary type film but that said I’m very glad I caught it. When it comes to the film itself, there’s a lot of running around doing the same thing which makes this a slow burn at times but like most journeys it’s where they end up that counts and trust me it won’t disappoint in that regard.

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REVIEW: Easy A

"High School comedy at it's best."

Olive is just your average student trying to blend in at School until a small favour explodes into one hell of a crazy rumour making her the talk of the town. Before too long every guy in school wants in on the action making Olive realize that popularity isn’t always a good thing.

Teen High School flicks have become a bit of a cliché as of late and it’s pretty easy to assume that if you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all. In the wake of the AMERICAN PIE films (that have quite frankly gone on for far too long) SUPERBAD came a calling and re-wrote a few of the rules. Like SUPERBAD, EASY A plays by its own rules and re-writes a few of its own. I went into this flick with low expectations but was happy to discover what a gem of a comedy this truly is.

Emma Stone’s character in SUPERBAD stood out because of her quick-wit appeal and despite not getting much screen time there she rocked the hell out of ZOMBIELAND for pretty much the same reason. Again, I wasn’t totally sold on her leading a comedy on her own but I should have known better because she’s truly gifted and awesome at what she does. I loved everything about her character here but mostly I dig her witty dialogue and condescending burns. I also loved all the movie references written in at just the right time for added laughs but don’t get me wrong, there’s no shortage of good lines as the script is extremely smart and the dialogue very believable.

What really hit home for me was the phenomenal supporting cast and the fact that each character got enough of their own screen time to actually shine and stand out. Olive’s parents are hysterical; I find Stanley Tucci to be a real treat when he’s doing comedy, the guy’s a master. Just about everything he says is laugh out loud funny. I knew Thomas Haden Church could do comedy as well and he and Lisa Kudrow make for some interesting teachers (you’ll love Kudrow’s character if you’re a fan of her FRIENDS persona). The only person that threw me for a loop here was Amanda Bynes. I guess I haven’t seen her since that insanely hot MAXIM cover but I found she looked God awful in this film. I loved her crazy Jesus freak character but something about her looks just threw me off.

EASY A is easily one of the best High School comedies I’ve seen in awhile and kept me laughing my ass off from start to finish, something few comedies do these days. As much as I wasn’t looking forward to the SPIDERMAN remake, it just got a little cooler in my eyes knowing that Emma Stone is playing a lead role. I don’t remember much about the Scarlet Letter, though like most of the kids in the movie, I never actually read it either or watched the Demi Moore movie. I liked this story and found it pretty original for a High School film but bottom line is that it was funny as hell instead of just another sub-par one joke comedy or spoof earning it extra points in my book.

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REVIEW: Flipped

"Easily one of this year's best films."

Ever since they met in the second grade Bryce could instantly tell that Juli had the hots for him and it was all he could do to keep her out of his hair but as the two begin Junior High things start to change. Bryce decides that Juli’s affection might not be such a bad thing but as Juli starts to doubt his character, Bryce soon realizes that it might be too late.

Fresh off the heels of watching WINTER’S BONE (which was truly phenomenal all around), here I am blown away by yet another film that would’ve most definitely fallen below my radar. FLIPPED isn’t much to look at as far as the cover’s concerned (two young kids on bikes, yawn) and it’s even less awe inspiring when you read the back where it talks about the often one sided love affair between two young kids in Junior High School. Not the greatest selling points there but let me put your minds at rest because FLIPPED is anything but the norm, it’s a smart, fun, empathetic look at a place we’ve all been in our lives.

Naturally the fact that FLIPPED is based on a novel of same name means that we’re getting (at the very least) a well told story but better yet, we’re actually getting two. Our story’s two protagonists are Bryce and Juli. Since the day Bryce moved next door, Juli was all over him thinking it was love at first sight whereas Bryce wasn’t so sure. Each scene is told through both perspectives and it’s done so, flawlessly. I’ve seen many novels play around with this unique approach to things and the odd film use this technique to bring home the final punch of its climax but I’ve never seen it used for the entire film until now. I can’t speak for anywhere else, but here it not only worked, it drew me in closer to our characters and really made me feel what they were feeling, a feat that may sound easy but really isn’t.

Rob Reiner is a fantastic director and obviously has an eye for talent when it comes to kids. The man directed one of my all time five favourite films (STAND BY ME) and he clearly hasn’t lost his edge. It’s easy to forget how the world worked in Junior High, there was always at least one girl who was head over heels for me at any given time but rather than just hanging out with her or giving it a shot, I waited around to see what would happen and eventually the infatuation would ware off. This is what starts to happen in this film and Bryce, like so many of us guys (myself included) begins to see the error of his ways and tries to make up for it. I really felt for him when Juli caught his conversation in the Library and with the eggs, stuff like that really does happen which is just one of the many things that makes this story so special.

FLIPPED is easily one of this year’s best feel good family films because it really made me think of how lucky we are to have people care for us on such an emotional level and how easy it is to throw it all away. Other than the children, I was also impressed with FRASIER’s John Mahoney who played Bryce’s eccentric grandfather and Aiden Quinn who plays Juli’s dad (the whole bit with his brother was very moving). I wondered what happened to Rebecca De Mornay, which is clearly nothing as she’s here but ends up being an afterthought of a character. The entire film is touching but the ending nearly brought tears to my eyes it was so perfect. This is one film I strongly recommend.

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REVIEW: Season of the Witch

"I've seen better but I've also seen much worse."

After a long and brutal career of killing for God (which ends in the spilling of innocent blood), two weary knights, Behmen and Felson defect and head home only to find that the lands have been overrun by The Black Plague. When the two men are recognized by guards, they’re given an ultimatum; die or make one more journey for the Church. Reluctantly, the two knights agree to escort the witch believed to be the cause of the plague to a temple in the mountains where the monks will take away her powers and cure the lands.

I’ve always found the idea of the crusades entertaining. Killing hundreds of people by day followed by boozing and women by night sounds like good times but I somehow doubt that’s what God intended. I would have given anything to sit at King Arthur’s round table if I’d lived in those times but this film is definitely not what I think Knighthood is all about. Be that as it may, I dug where this story was going with the book of Solomon but not only did it fail to build on a cool concept, they made it very hard to fully understand who was in the right and who was in wrong. I know there’s always supposed to be a lingering doubt or two but it just seemed like they couldn’t make up their minds here, are the clergy good or evil, are any of the suspected girls witches or not? It all comes to light by the end of course but I still think the character progression was sloppy.

Now speaking of the characters, they certainly didn’t give us much fat to chew on. Nick Cage and Ron Perlman are your typical soldier types down to the last clichéd detail. I loved the camaraderie and dialogue between them (though some of the one liners were weak and lazy) but what I hated was the all too obvious setup of events leading to a predictable ending. On that note, I hope none of the people who own the rights to THE LORD OF THE RINGS watch this flick because this is a blatant Fellowship knockoff (a pitiful excuse for one when compared to LOTR). And I know this one is obvious, but did we really need that bridge bit? Why is there always a rickety bridge and why in hell did we need to waste ten to fifteen minutes with it when we all know what’s going to happen?

I don’t like to knit-pick but I have to mention the CGI because it was terrible. God help me, but the wolves in TWILIGHT looked far better than these ones. Don’t get me wrong, the wolves were fine until they added the “demonic face stretch” which begs the question, why add it? Wolves look crazy enough in the dark woods with their teeth bared, hell, make their eyes glow if you want to but don’t add children’s effects that a sixth grader would scoff at. The monks at the end were cool looking and I have to say that the whole bubble liquid thing that happened when they were beheaded was also cool which only makes the craptacular final vision of the witch/demon all that much more underwhelming. Remember JEEPERS CREEPERS (yes, the first one, I don’t like to acknowledge the sequel), how badass the monster looked at the end in full out winged demon form? Well, this looks nothing like that; it goes in opposite direction of cool and lands somewhere in the negatives. In a word, disappointing.

SEASON OF THE WITCH is not a film I went into with overly high expectations, not because it’s January or because this film’s first trailers came out over a year ago but simply because it looked like a straight to DVD half assed fantasy adventure starring a couple big names. I miss the Nicolas Cage from THE ROCK, CON AIR and GONE IN SIXTY SECONDS (which was directed by the same cat who directed this flick) but have come to terms with the new Nick Cage and therefore go into his films with a fifty-fifty frame of mind. I do however really dig Ron Perlman and not because of HELLBOY but because of my recent obsession with SONS OF ANARCHY (if you don’t know what that is, look it up and watch it, you’ll thank me later). I’m also a bit of a fantasy buff and anyone who knows the lay of the land when it comes to that genre knows we have to take what we can get. On that note, SEASON OF THE WITCH is watchable to be sure but no more than a rental. If you want a real fantasy flick that’s dark, ambition and an all out insane ride from start to finish, pick up SOLOMON KANE. Again, you’ll thank me later.

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REVIEW: Little Fockers

"It was everything I expected...and that's not a good thing."

Greg Focker’s life has had its share of ups and downs but learning to juggle a beautiful wife, two kids and a job promotion finally has him feeling like he’s living the dream. That is, until father in law Jack Byrnes decides to crown him King of the family, a title that Greg soon discovers comes at a ridiculously high price, especially when misunderstanding after misunderstanding land Greg back on Jack’s radar.

MEET THE PARENTS was and still is a hilarious comedy. For me, it’s the “be all end all” of impressing the in-laws films (and trust me, there’s more of them out there than you think). Ben Stiller captured the hilarious aspects of THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY (a comedy that isn’t as re-watchable as I’d like it to be) and raised it up a few notches with MEET THE PARENTS making a more stable romantic comedy effort that feels grown up without going overboard and out of the comfort zone like THE HEARTBREAK KID. MEET THE FOCKERS was no more than watchable, expanding on the life of characters that I don’t feel needed more attention (I’ve only watched it the once). LITTLE FOCKERS was somewhat more entertaining than the second film but much like that film, comes across as a painful cash grab conveniently showing up just in time for Christmas.

Ben Stiller is a mixed bag for me when it comes to comedy lately. While not as lost a cause as Jack Black (my film choices to review this week were LITTLE FOCKERS or GULLIVER’S TRAVELS and my girlfriend wouldn’t even debate it, she hates Black so much) or Will Ferrell, he’s cutting it pretty close. I’d all but given up on Stiller until TROPIC THUNDER, where I felt that he and Black both brought the funny which begs the most obvious question, are these dudes only funny when challenged by top notch writers and surrounded by A-list co-workers or can they be funny on their own? I want to believe the second one but my mind always drifts back to Martin Lawrence and how well he works alongside Will Smith in the BAD BOYS films. Lawrence kicked all sorts of ass in BLUE STREAK but not much else since (case in point being that BIG MOMA’S HOUSE 3 is coming...sigh). So whether or not Stiller got lucky with MEET THE PARENTS, suffice to say, it’s time to retire Greg Focker.

The one saving grace this film had for me was Robert De Niro and the gut busting relationship that his character has with Stiller’s. For me, it’s the only thing that makes these films even remotely engrossing. I’m not overly impressed by yet another lean on Viagra-esque medicine and boners, I mean seriously guys, it was funny in TOMCATS but that was 2001. We’re a week from being a decade later, so in my humble opinion it’s time we gave those things a rest as well. Joke-wise there’s a lot of recycling here, some things work, some things I just sighed and shook my head at but the one truly impressive use of this came about with Greg’s speech and then the YouTube remix Jack finds at the end of the film. That much, was at least funny.

LITTLE FOCKERS was without a doubt strategically aimed at the Christmas season in hopes of meeting little resistance at the box office and losing out to the boredom of those on holiday with nothing else to do but hit the theatres. For this reason it’ll make money but I can only hope it’s not enough to merit another instalment. There’s an overabundance of newcomers here that although didn’t overly hinder the story (with the exception of the Wolf, who in this case shouldn’t have been called) just felt oddly out of place. Dustin Hoffman was wrote in at the last minute and it shows, Jessica Alba was an annoying waste of a character and despite the fact that I like Owen Wilson, nobody stays that close with their ex’s, nobody. Yes, it is indeed slim pickings at the movie theatre this week but like that noisy toy your kid got from Grandma and Grandpa, this is one gift that just may give you a headache.

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REVIEW: Salt

"Makes me see Russia in a whole new light."

Evelyn Salt is one of the CIA’s top operatives, especially when it comes to shaking people down in the interrogation room but all that comes crashing down around her when a Russian defector accuses her of being a double agent here to assassinate the President. Pleading her innocence, Salt races to avoid capture and find her husband in hopes of clearing her name.

Just when you think spy movies can’t go any further something like SALT falls into our laps. Now it’s my firm belief that THE BOURNE IDENTITY (arguably one of the best spy films ever made) helped speed up the judo chop to the nuts given to the James Bond franchise at a time when it was truly needed. Daniel Craig continues to push this genre forward as I don’t doubt Tom Cruise will with the next MI film but new blood is always welcome. Angelina Jolie can rock the action train and holds her own here as Evelyn Salt (not to shabby considering the part was originally written for a man). Does SALT raise the bar? No, not really but it’s a fun action flick nonetheless.

What helps this film right off the bat is the cast. After watching WANTED, it was clear to me that Angelina Jolie still had what it takes to carry an action film. I enjoyed her exploits as Lara Croft as much as the next guy but Fox and Salt were both far better character performances because they’re unknown rather than Angelina wrestling with people’s expectations of Lara Croft. Liev Schreiber has also come a long way since his days as Cotton Weary. Despite what most people thought, I loved him as Sabertooth and find that he plays as great a villain as he does hero (loved him in PHANTOMS yo).

Where this film lost me was the storyline, but I won’t give anything away here that the trailer doesn’t already imply. I dug the trailer’s hook with the old dude they’re interrogating pointing her out as the Russian double operative whose going to assassinate the President but what I didn’t care for was how they try to back it up. I know the Russians were pretty pissed about the Cold War and all but to imply that they can and did do the things shown in this film puts just about every season of 24 to shame from a scheming government cover-up standpoint. I’m not saying I have a hell of a lot of faith in our government but I certainly hope they function with a touch more clairvoyance and common sense than they do here.

SALT will not redefine the spy genre, explore new territory or push the envelope anywhere it’s not already been but the pace is sharp, the action is sweet and the story (though farfetched) is still pretty entertaining. My only other complaint comes down to Salt’s husband, a character whose made out to be someone of vast importance and significance from start to finish but ends up going nowhere. There’s more to it than that of course, but you’ll see what I mean and no doubt scratch your head as I did feeling that his journey ends on a weak note. The two extended cuts only really add to the ending which reminded me of an episode of THE OUTER LIMITS with Ryan Phillipe, again, cool idea in theory but rather difficult to back up in reality.

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REVIEW: The Sorcerer's Apprentice

"Good, lighthearted fantasy fun."

Balthazar has been searching through the ages for the right pupil to become the greatest sorcerer’s apprentice who ever lived, one who could finally rid the world of an evil older than Balthazar himself. His search leads him to modern day New York where he meets Dave, the unlikeliest of candidates.

I’ve always been a fan of magic and Disney helped nurture this obsession for years while I was a kid watching The Wonderful World of Disney every Sunday night. The good news is that as I grew up so did Disney and with the help of Jerry Bruckheimer we all saw a very different side of Disney when THE PIRATES OF THE CARREBIAN came out. Bruckheimer has since remained allied with Disney and has shown me they certainly have more to offer with this past summer’s THE PRINCE OF PERSIA film and now here with THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE. Bottom line, the Disney train is still full of steam and I still love the ride.

The story instantly drew me in with the flashback to the old days when Merlin himself was training our main characters in the arts. Merlin doesn’t get used much here but his presence did add an extra level of intrigue in my eyes (and if you love Merlin as much as I do, I hope you’re watching the TV series MERLIN which has been picked up for a third and fourth season). Bringing magic into the modern world can be a tough sell but the transition here not only made sense but worked without going overboard or getting ridiculous. The fact that Dave was the biggest science geek to ever live really helped their cause.

I wasn’t sure about Nicolas Cage in the lead but I have to say this is the sort of role that suits him. Balthazar was a cool character and after seeing the trailer for SEASON OF THE WITCH, I’m hoping a dash of fantasy is just the thing Cage needs to bring him back into the spotlight. Jay Baruchel plays the exact same goofy character he always does so if you’ve liked him in everything else you’ll no doubt enjoy him here. I love Alfred Molina as a villain. I wasn’t completely sold on the idea of him as Doctor Octopus at first but was blown away after watching SPIDERMAN 2. He was also one of the many highlights in Mel Gibson’s MAVERICK. Last but certainly not least, I’m always up for seeing Monica Bellucci’s fine ass and rest assured she looks as sexy as ever.

THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE is a good time for anyone who loves magic and fantasy. I dug the shout out to MAGIC THE GATHERING, despite the Chris Angel wannabe it represented. Little details like the ring, the urn and that doodle he drew on the bus window were all fun and what Disney fan wouldn’t love the wink in FANTASIA’s direction (though creatively TRUE BLOOD still holds the prize). I also dug the releasing of all those villains but I did feel that none of them lasted very long and for that reason ended up being forgotten almost as quickly as they were introduced. A sequel would definitely work here as most of this film is spent training Dave rather than having him do much of anything on his own. That said, his musical tone lighting show was pretty damn impressive.

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REVIEW: Tron Legacy

"Visually breathtaking on every possible level."

Sam Flynn, son of tech genius Kevin Flynn who was responsible for creating the cyber world known as the grid, hasn’t seen or heard from his father in nearly twenty years until he gets word of a page that came from his father’s office at the arcade. Sam soon discovers the secret to his father’s disappearance when he too is pulled into the grid where, with the help of his father’s mysterious protégé Quorra, father and son must fight for their lives as they make their way toward a portal that will take them home.

Knowing full well that I’d be reviewing TRON: LEGACY I tried to remember if I’d actually ever watched the original TRON, I was five when it came out and other than the fact that it was made by Disney I couldn’t remember much else. Now usually when there’s a sequel or remake coming, the original is re-released in some capacity or as per lately, the Blu-ray makes its way onto the market. For some reason, Disney dropped the ball here as neither of those things happened. What’s worse is that I couldn’t find TRON in any video store to rent or buy so as much as I hate to say it, I had to download it. TRON was pretty much what I figured it would be and certainly made me appreciate the visual awesomeness that was TRON: LEGACY.

Some critics are stomping the storyline in the circuits pretty hard which I don’t really get. I’m not gonna sit here and try to defend the integrity or creativity film’s past decade but it seems to me that most critics want movies to fail these days, so much so that they jump all over any negative slant they can find without stopping to appreciate the blood, sweat and tears that go into making these films. There’s no denying that TRON: LEGACY is a film to be proud of. Visually there are few flicks that could hold a candle to it, conceptually there’s enough badass machismo to keep just about anyone’s eyes glued to the screen and talent-wise, well, the cast can’t get much better than this. Oh, and the door joke making a second appearance was priceless.

After watching the original and then coming back to the trailer I was confused by the fact that Flynn had a son and was trapped in the grid (as he escaped in the first one and lived by himself) but thankfully all this is explained right away. I didn’t have a problem with where the story went, there have been various comparisons but there always are if you look hard enough. The story was original enough and built upon the TRON universe in what I consider to be a smart way. Another point I’ve heard bounced around was the special effect driven Clu. So yes, you can obviously tell he’s computer generated but who cares? The glass half full approach would be to nod your head and raise your glass in approval to celebrate just how far we’ve come in that regard because bottom line it’s a cool trick and something we’ve been dreaming about doing for years.

TRON: LEGACY is a wonder to behold in 3D and the perfect popcorn flick for the holidays. The lavish color scheme inside the grid, the vivid textures and fluid patterns of the bikes, the disintegration of the programs as they battled in game; each and every detail are sheer brilliance to behold. The score is also something to celebrate here; from the eighties tunes down to the techno, it was all invigorating and the perfect fit. I’ve had my eye on Garrett Hedlund for awhile and knew he’d do well in the lead, the guy’s got mad talent and it shows. Jeff Bridges and Olivia Wilde were just as good but Michael Sheen took the cake for me with his off the wall persona. It was also very cool seeing Bruce Boxleitner again and a brief cameo from Cillian Murphy (I get the impression he’ll be back for more). So if you need a break from shopping look no further because with TRON: LEGACY Christmas came early.

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REVIEW: Vampire's Suck

"Words simply can't describe how terrible this film is."

All the characters you love to hate from the TWILIGHT universe are here in all their shameless (and shirtless) glory to suck more money out of your wallets with a spoofed tale of the infamous love triangle between a girl, a vampire, a werewolf and...The Black Eyed Peas?

Every year I keep praying to God, Satan, Odin, Henry Winkler or anyone else who’ll listen in hopes of putting a stop to all these atrocious spoof movies, yet at least two or three (sometimes more) get made each and every year like clockwork. I can only assume these things must be relatively cheap to make because I can’t see them pulling in much cash. I watched this simply because it’s my job and I had to as make no mistake, it would have been a cold-ass day in Hell before I ever considered watching this on my own. Baring this in mind, I’m sure it will come as no surprise when I tell you that yes, VAMPIRES SUCK sucked hairy werewolf balls.

First off, as easy as it is to make fun of TWILIGHT (and brother is it EVER easy to do), to fully “get” where this film is trying go would require you to have watched all the TWILIGHT films. Naturally, I have to follow that comment by admitting that yes, I’ve watched all the TWILIGHT films and though I don’t exactly loath these movies, I couldn’t help but chuckle at some of the things they were poking fun at (Bella being a spoiled bitch and whining all the time and the various gaps in logic and Jacob’s shirtlessness were at least grin worthy). That said, this flick does follow the basic play by play of the first two TWILIGHT films rather flawlessly so it really does help to know the actual story going in. Of course, that still won’t make you laugh very much.

The actors were pretty good at keeping a straight face I’ll give them that, not to mention most of them really did look the part of whichever character they were playing. I feel particularly sorry for Diedrich Bader (Oswald from the DREW CAREY SHOW) as this is certainly not a high note for his career, so I’m glad he’s got a decent gig with DC for animated voice work. I also wish Ken Jeong would stop whoring himself out to any and every flick with a goofy character to offer as he’s worth more than this and truly funny when given a worthwhile script to work from.

VAMPIRES SUCK lives up to its name and sucks like no spoof film has sucked before. The irony here is that although they’re making it a point to bash the holy hell out of TWILIGHT, all they’re really doing is feeding the fire by adding yet another film to the TWILIGHT universe. Usually a spoof takes many films into consideration for this type of thing but this one is purely TWILIGHT related. Yes, it does poke fun at vampires and werewolves in general (and the occasional stab at celebs like Tiger Woods and Lady Gaga) but it’s obvious where their focus is pointed and I just find it sad that in a world so dead against what the TWILIGHT films are doing to Hollywood (allegedly anyway), that they would so blatantly give TWILIGHT even more power through this mess of a film.

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REVIEW: Winter's Bone

"A remarkable journey of strength and hope."

Left to fend for herself, two younger siblings and sick mother, seventeen year old Ree has a lot on her plate. When her dad skips on his court date, Ree stands to lose the house and all their property if she can’t locate her father or prove he’s dead, something that could end getting her killed if she’s not careful.

From my experience, most Sundance Film Festival films don’t dwell within the grey area, they’re either exceedingly well done or a dreadful bore. I didn’t know what to expect from WINTER’S BONE but thankfully this was an emotionally deep rooted film with far more to offer than I’d have guessed. For me, this film stirred up all kinds of memories from spending summers at my grandparent’s farm in Cold Stream. I wouldn’t expect many people to know where that is as like the barren landscape the people in this film call a home, to most it would look like a beat up piece of land in the middle of nowhere. And like this film, Cold Stream has a lot of character when viewed up close.

I think one of the scariest things about Horror films like THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE or even the new FRIDAY THE 13th remake are the locations themselves. I never saw it as a kid, but now as an adult I view these country spots quite differently. The tense mood behind this film feels as real to me as the chair I’m sitting on. My grandparents have acres upon acres of land, loaded with livestock, old abandoned cars, woods and streams, so many places to get lost and buried. Much like Ree soon discovers, I too realize just how easy it would be to simply disappear out there and never be heard from again. It’s a spine tingling and ever so creepy thought but one that made this film resonate with intensity.

I have to hand it to Jennifer Lawrence here as she carries this film flawlessly as a tough as nails kid determined to fight for her family. There are more than a few solid moments where her true acting prowess shines and I sincerely hope they don’t go unnoticed. John Hawkes’ performance is just as noteworthy, especially coming from a guy who’s usually just a bit part actor with a couple lines and maybe two to five minutes of screen time. The standoff between him and the cop when he gets pulled over and refuses to get out, both men holding guns intent on killing the other, was by far my favourite scene and got my adrenaline pumping pretty hard.

WINTER’S BONE isn’t a film you’ll hear much buzz about or see splashed all over the TV but rest assured this is one Sundance Film that deserved to win best picture. I find moments like these refreshing, having enjoyed a film I know for a fact I wouldn’t have looked twice at had I not needed to review it. I tend to get so caught up in all the mainstream flicks that I forget to roll the dice as often as I should sometimes, but rest assured that hitting this flick up for a watch is no gamble and thoroughly encouraged from my end.

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REVIEW: Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

"Not as dark as I wanted but good nonetheless."

When the first instalment of THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA came out there was a ton of buzz as most people had read or at least heard of C. S. Lewis’ books. I personally had not. Though I found the idea remotely curious, it felt like a lame Harry Potter concoction (I mean seriously, how many groups of English kids get pulled into these strange situations anyway?) and an obvious ploy to fill the fantasy gap after LORD OF THE RINGS breathed new life back into the genre. I went into THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE with low expectations but admittedly the film had its moments (especially the final battle) but it wasn’t until the second instalment that this series truly began to shine. For some reason I’m one of the only ones who loved the second film but I played it cool this time around and again went it with low expectations. Thankfully there was no need as this third instalment kept the party going.

Objectively, I try to keep in mind that these types of films are indeed books in a series and should be considered as such (one big story) rather than analysed as individual films. I was worried after watching the first trailer for DAWN TREADER simply because it didn’t seem like much was going on which I found to be extremely odd seeing as how many Narnia fans have nothing but great things to say about this novel and some even consider it to be their favourite. I did enjoy this third instalment but it paled in comparison to PRINCE CASPIAN in my eyes but then again, I’m a sucker for all out war.

What upped the ante in the second film was the tone; the story got dark and serious in a hurry and that’s just the way I like it. THE DAWN TREADER re-focussed on the “cute” aspect of talking animals and childish humour, which is fine at times but I didn’t feel that any of these characters were in any sort of mortal peril (except maybe at the end). The violence was also toned down and anytime there was a death there was a conveniently timed joke to wash it down with. Looking around the theatre there were a lot of kids, but these stories are different from stuff like MEGAMIND and TANGLED and should be given a chance to appease all audiences, not just children, so next time I’m hoping for a serious trip to Narnia.

The biggest surprise for me came with the cast. I was thankful to have Caspian aboard the ship but found it curious that only Lucy and Edmund returned for the fight. Oh, and their annoying as hell cousin, Eustace, who quickly becomes the Jar-Jar of this story. Now beyond the ridiculousness of his presence, there were plenty of times I had to shake my head, like when their heading for the slave trader island for example, why bring Eustace? He’s no warrior, everyone else knows how to fight but him, yet they don’t leave him on the boat, instead they bring him along and he screws it all up. Huh, didn’t see that coming. Eustace does become likable by the end of things but all in all I don’t feel he was necessary.

THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER is a fun addition to the Narnia series despite reverting back to the innocence of the first film. Now many people (myself included) wondered about the transition from leaving the hands of Disney but I don’t think it hurt the film at all. The special effects brought Narnia to life here in just as beautiful and magical a way as ever and though the 3D aspect of things looked alright at times I don’t feel that it was absolutely necessary or that you’ll be at a loss for seeing it in 2D. The seven swords were a cool twist, the evil being in everyone’s mind and trying to turn everyone against one another was also cool and I can’t complain about the climax either as it was bang on for the money. Here’s hoping that the Narnia series has nothing but clear skies for the rest of its voyage.

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REVIEW: The Last Airbender

"Despite all the negative hype, I really love it."

The four elements are at war and the fire nation is trying desperately to shift the balance of power in their favour. The world’s one hope for returning peace rests in the hands of a young avatar that ran away from his destiny. With the help of some unexpected friends, the young avatar must continue his training if he’s to stand a chance in the upcoming war.

By now there’s no denying the lack of love fans have the once great M. Night Shyamalan. Personally I know they can’t all be hits but even I’ve found his last few films to be severely lacking. As fate would have it, DEVIL was actually a fiendishly good time and as far as the trailers were concerned, I had high hopes for THE LAST AIRBENDER as well. Many fans of the animated show were outraged for a long list of reasons but as with any film based upon a rich amount of source material, sacrifices need to be made in order to condense all that information. G.I.JOE: THE RISE OF COBRA, TRANSFORMERS, countless films have been and are being made under similar circumstances and as such need to be viewed with an open mind. I for one, found this film to be a fantastic fantasy adventure.

Before I get to the good stuff I feel it only fair to say that though I did enjoy this film, it wasn’t without its problems which primarily comes down to the acting. It’s always a gamble when you need to use younger actors and actresses (this also being the biggest problem with ERAGON) but what happened to the kind of young talent we saw in the eighties and nineties? Surely there’s still some decent young talent out there, so why are we running into this problem lately? Aang and Sokka were the worst by far with Zuko and Katara close behind, but at least those two had their moments. Some of you may recognize Cliff Curtis, Aasif Mandvi and Shaun Toub who play the important adult figures and despite not having the meatiest roles they at least provide a balance that makes this ride a little smoother.

Where this film excels to levels of superior greatness is in the special effects department. I didn’t catch this film in 3D but it sure as hell was breathtaking on Blu-ray. A war of elements is a cool concept on paper or as an animated TV show but seeing it in action was either going to make or break this film and I’m happy to say they nailed it down flawlessly. The flying Ox with a beaver tail was a touch much but I was willing to forgive that when Aang introduced me to the Spirit realm. And if that wasn’t cool enough, the dragon he was hitting up for information there sure as hell was.

All in all THE LAST AIRBENDER exceeded my expectations and ended up being a nice treat which is a shame because I know the amount of negative buzz surrounding the film will probably have an effect on whether or not this becomes the trilogy they no doubt intended it to be. I personally would have sat through another ERAGON film as I would certainly sit through another AIRBENDER film. Will I get the chance, who knows for sure but what I do know is that I’ve seen far worse films and ideas explored further despite how awful the source material was or how hard the critics kicked them.

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