REVIEW: Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark

"There was promise here, it just didn't take off."

Sally is a young, sad girl whose just been shipped off to live with her dad.  Both her dad and his interior decorator girlfriend are up to their elbows in restoring a beautiful old house which Sally isn't particularly fond of.  What's worse, there are evil little creatures living in the basement who are out to get her but of course, everyone thinks she's making it up.

I wasn't sure what to make of DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK at first, beyond the fact that I was annoyed with the silliness of its initial trailer.  A black screen with a screechy voice flapping nonsense like, "you're sitting there...alone in the dark..." like it's actually talking to you for more than a few seconds gets old fast (besides, you can't force mood or tension people), not to mention that this was yet another one of those flicks that's had trailers circulating the internet for what felt like forever (remember how long CASE  39 floated through limbo before being released?).  The premise felt wobbly at best, the focus was on a little girl who didn't look like she could act, and when you scraped away all the mud the only thing going for it was Guillermo del Toro's involvement which isn't enough to carry a film, even though it should be.  The problem here isn't what DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK is (a mediocre horror flick), it's what it could've been (a stellar monster tale with real bite).

Guillermo del Toro is an artist to be sure, as the locale is breathtaking at all times.  The outdoor garden area of this estate is not only monstrous, but filled with equally cool decor and substance.  There's a mini labyrinth that I'm sure he put in there as a wink in PAN'S LABYRINTH's direction, the fountain and fish are a nice touch and the flowers blowing in the wind make the whole place feel alive with magic.  The house itself is nothing short of extravagant, from the original architectural designs (loved the treelike doorway), to the wood, flooring, high ceilings and windows.  This is exactly the type of structure you want for a gritty haunted house scare-fest, with an evil cellar that Ash himself would be proud of.  When it comes to style, visuals and pulse pounding atmosphere, this flick had it in spades.  Alas, this is where the praise ends however and the problems begin.

The opening sequence unlocks some interesting lore, it wasn't one hundred percent original but it was enough to get any audience motivated, but when you flash forward to modern day, the energy dries up and vanishes.  I can't complain about our little critters too much, for GCI they were immaculate, but it's all been done before and tied together much better.  A couple genre films with similar ties to this one, THEY and DARKNESS FALLS, weren't perfect films either but I have to say I enjoyed both of those flicks more than I did this one because they felt like a full story that didn't bounce around and try to be five different things all at once.  I loved the art in this film, that mural in the basement was insane, but they never really went anywhere with it despite everyone in the film being remotely artistic.

DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK is like running through the forest at night during a thick fog, barefoot, with no flashlight, surrounded by paths that all lead nowhere.  These creatures (who have no names, though the idea of them being sprites, fairies or gnomes is tossed around loosely) live in a hole covered by a flimsy grate in the basement of this house.  Where this hole leads...unknown.  What drives these creatures other than eating children and teeth (which is also debatable at this point)...unknown.  How or why they turn others into things like them...unknown.  Why anyone's supposed to care about Guy Pearce's typical work obsessed father character with Katie Holmes being the "stepmom" the little girl hates at first and then warms up to...unknown.  And don't get me started on the ridiculous ending that doesn't make much sense, nor does it do anything to satisfy the audience on any level.  Again, I see what this film is and what it could've been and those are two very different films.  Sadly, we're stuck with the mediocre version and one giant leap backward for horror films.         

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REVIEW: Fright Night

"Not the worst remake but I still prefer the original."

Charlie Brewster is coming into his own, with a cool mom and hot girlfriend, things couldn't be better.  That is until his childhood buddy tries to make him believe his new neighbour Jerry is a vampire.  But when a couple of his friends go missing, curiosity gets the better of him and Charlie starts taking a closer look into Jerry's business.  When the truth finally sinks in, Charlie tries to enlist the aid of Las Vegas showman Peter Vincent, an expert on vampires and the occult.

So here goes part two of my remake weekend, starring FRIGHT NIGHT (WARNING: this review will contain mild spoilers as I'll be comparing both the original and the new film).  The one thing  I didn't mention in my Conan review about remakes is how I personally place them on the hierarchy wheel.  Make no mistake, I don't feel any film out there is in dire need of a remake, but in the event of Conan and for example THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, I found myself nodding with approval.  Films like FRIGHT NIGHT and say, THE CROW however, could've easily been left alone.  Tom Holland's original FRIGHT NIGHT is still my favourite vampire flick of all time (LOST BOYS only lost the race by a hair), and though morbidly curious, I wasn't a huge fan of this idea.  So how'd it fare?  Better than the original?  Hell no, but it was still a pretty good time.

Naturally I have some reservations, but these stem from the insane amount of love I have for the source material, a flick I could narrate to you in its entirely down to each individual's facial expressions, so these reservations are simply observations as I dance you through the similarities, highs and lows.  First we have Colin Farrell who played a fantastic Jerry Dandrige.  Of course oddly enough, Jerry's last name isn't mentioned once during the film, nor is listed in the credits (I loved the way the boys made fun of the name Jerry though, calling it a lame vampire name).  I liked Ferrell's angle, his dialogue and all his mannerisms but I couldn't help but feel that he and Charlie didn't get as much one on one time as they did in the original which is too bad because setting up your nemesis is key.

Anton Yelchin was alright as Charlie Brewster, I certainly admired his spunk but I'm torn when it comes to his and Evil Ed's friendship here.  I dig Christopher Mintz-Plasse and I didn't mind him as Ed per say, but the whole turn of events between him, Jerry and Charlie felt very rushed to me.  I mean dang people, he's turned in like the first ten minutes or so whereas it doesn't happen till nearly the end in the original.  As a matter a fact, the whole film feels a bit rushed and I don't mean time-wise.  I've always found this hard to explain to the letter but you'll understand if you've noticed the same thing.  In many older films (like say in this case some of my favourites, FRIGHT NIGHT, STAND BY ME and LOST BOYS) it feels as though a lot of time passes in the film as you watch it.  These days however, films all take place like an episode of 24, you blink and it's said and done.  I'm not sure if this technique is intentional or merely a fluke, but when you tell a story it should be told with finesse and in a sober frame of mind, rather than a rambling series of drunken cliff notes.  Sure, either way you'll get this gist of it, but I probably don't need to elaborate on which method is more entertaining.     

FRIGHT NIGHT  is a decent attempt to revamp a spooky old monster tale, even if it is one that a lot of people haven't heard of (sigh, yes it pains me to admit that).  I liked the new twist on the story don't get me wrong, they had some fun with it and I dug it, but it did feel rushed and as a result I felt a little disconnected from the characters.  The real shame is that these characters were richly written in the original and due to the amount of extra screen time they shared together, the stakes felt higher and chemistry between them actually moved you because you saw how much they had invested in one another's plight.  David Tennant's incarnation of Peter Vincent and Fright Night were well done and I loved all the subtle details like studying of the occult, the weapons and Vegas Stage show, but again, you blink and it's all gone.  He and Charlie never click like they do in the original and the tie he has to Jerry is weak, it isn't terrible just weak.  FRIGHT NIGHT isn't doing too hot in theatres right now but I'm sure the numbers will be decent after it's run its course and tears out the DVD and Blu-ray market's jugular.  Will we see a sequel?  Probably not, but hey, who knows right?  Anything can happen in Vegas.  One thing I do know is that if you're a fan of the original, this ride is worth watching if for no other reason than to see a special cameo appearance that put a big smile on my face.

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REVIEW: Conan the Barbarian

"Spectacular.  Conan will cut you to the bone."

Having witnessed the brutal deaths of his father and his people as a young child, Conan the Cimmerian journeys across the mythical land of Hyboria leaving no stone unturned as he searches for the man who led the attack on his village.  Conan soon crosses paths with a strange female monk, one who just so happens to be being perused by the enemy he's been so desperate to find.

I know a lot of big films have come and gone this summer, but the two flicks hitting theatres this week were the ones I've had my eye on and have silently been rooting for, those being the remakes of CONAN THE BARBARIAN and FRIGHT NIGHT.  I hit up Conan first and let me tell you, it was love at first sight.  I'd been lucky enough to steal a look at an early draft of the script and one of the best things about it was the graphically violent, yet forcefully powerful opening scene with Conan's pregnant mother.  I won't ruin it for you but I'll say this, it unmistakably gets the point across as it sets the tone of the film.  Conan is a dark, brutal, unforgiving and unrelenting symphony of violence that would make Crom himself stand up and roar.

Let me first say that I'm a huge fan of the original Arnold Schwarzenegger Conan flick (it's still one of my favourite films to this day).  CONAN THE DESTROYER and RED SONJA, not so much.  That said, all three of these films are flawless examples eighties lore, loved and cherished by nearly all who grew up in this era.  Now, I don't love the first Conan film for the acting, the fight scenes or all the campy amounts of cheese found therein, I love it because of Arnold Schwarzenegger.  The eighties were an iconic time and Schwarzenegger was one of those guys you looked up to and wanted to be, pure and simple.  Now Arnold had the physique, he looked the part of a barbarian and his broken English certainly helped complete the picture, but beyond that there were some boobs, some violence and some cool bad guys (who didn't love Thulsa Doom) and of course my personal favourite detail, the riddle of steel.  Yes, there were enough interesting bits found in the original to carry a tune but no film ever truly did the character any justice...until now.

Jason Momoa breathed a magic into this character that I didn't think was even possible.  No offense to Arnold but I'm afraid as of this moment, Jason Momoa IS Conan and I sincerely hope it stays that way.  You're rooting for him from day one as a kid, which I'll also add was the best coming of age character sequence I've ever seen, but that's just the beginning.  Momoa captures all the fire and intensity inherent to not just Conan himself, but a seasoned warrior as well.  The sword fighting is the other aspect of the film that really sold me.  I hate seeing actors fluff their way through fighting scenes, be it them trying to seem like they know martial arts or appear as though they know how to fight with weapons.  If you know what you're doing it shows...just as clearly as it does when you don't.  Momoa demonstrated some these moves in this season of GAME OF THRONES, but he saved the best for last, wielding Conan's sword like it was an extension of his arm.  The way it should be.

CONAN THE BARBARIAN was everything a Conan led fantasy adventure should be.  There's lots of swordplay, naked flesh, monsters, interesting villains (Rose McGowan creeped me out, but Stephen Lang brought it) and it's all tied together by an original storyline rather than a straight out rehash of the original film.  I've never been a big fan of remakes but when you redo a film in such a way that you keep the heart of the story as you explore new directions, giving the audience a fresh take on something they know, you may well strike gold rather than crap out.  Conan is pure gold, no mistakes about it.  I did however, miss the riddle of steel aspect of the original.  They go a different route with the idea which was cool don't get me wrong, I just prefer the original version.  I have zero complaints when it comes to this film as a whole and I'm pumped that Jason Momoa is writing a sequel as we speak (you deserve this break brother, I'm rooting for ya).  This is one stylish and memorable bloodbath that should be experienced in theatres, though not necessarily in 3D.   

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TRAILER: Underworld Awakening

It's too early to tell how epic this sequel will be, but I can honestly say I've loved all three UNDERWORLD films that came before it so I have no doubt I'll love this one too. It's cool to see Kate Beckinsale rocking the tight leather again and although Scott Speedman's character is nowhere to be seen, I'm hoping it's got him in there somewhere too.

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TRAILER: Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance

Well, I was remotely excited for the first GHOST RIDER, but we all know how that turned out. I have no beef with Nic Cage, rather I'm simply disappointed that Marvel would even try to make a Ghost Rider flick that wasn't rated R. It's a real shame because there's a great movie buried in that lore, but I'm not convinced this second attempt will be it.

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TRAILER: A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas

I loved the first Harold & Kumar and also loved how it single handedly reinvented Neil Patrick Harris' career. The second one had it's moments and although I'd heard this was supposed to come out a couple years ago I'm still pumped it's finally here. This is one Christmas movie I'm looking forward to.

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REVIEW: Supernatural: The Anime Series

"Great series with one small exception..."

Sam and Dean Winchester are hunters, trained by their father after the mysterious death of their mother when Sam was just a baby.  After losing contact with their dad, Sam and Dean continue to hunt monsters as they search for their missing father, inadvertently picking up the trail of the demon who killed their mother as well as Sam's girlfriend.

The CW's horror TV series SUPERNATURAL may not be perfect, but it's certainly become one of television's coolest guilty pleasures for me.  I remember a summer not so long ago when I began to have enough time on my hands to get a look at some of the TV shows I'd been missing.  My fiancée picked up SUPERNATURAL season one for me as a gift and I was addicted after the first episode, we both were actually.  We rolled through that season fast, impatiently awaiting the season two premiere.  I don't think Eric Kripke and crew had six or more seasons of this show envisioned in their playbook, but small complaints aside the show's done rather well for itself, sporting some of the coolest cliff hanger finales to boot!  Thankfully, story wise, this animated series sticks to the best story arc of them all, that of the yellow eyed demon Azazel and his transition to animation didn't hurt the character a bit, if anything it made him a bit more sinister.

The twenty-two episode stretch covers the ground between season one and two of the TV series (more or less), capturing the moments that count (the origin story of Sam and Dean's mother's death, Sam's girlfriend Jessica, their missing dad, season one's epic finale along with season two's heartfelt premiere and two part finale: ALL HELL BREAKS LOOSE) along with some of the more memorable monster hunts.  There are however, many original episodes as well, some are better than others but I guess it's better than a complete rehash of the TV series in a connect the dot fashion. 

The animation is tight, but anyone who enjoys anime can clearly see this was made in Japan first and then translated.  Now on that note, the translation is pretty good but there are moments when a character says something you know is a bit lost or void of proper emotion.  My biggest beef here is that although Jared Padalecki does Sam's voice throughout the series (flawlessly I might add), Jensen Ackles only does Dean's voice for the two part finale.  That's right, he does Dean's voice for two of the twenty-two episodes.  I just don't get this, the boys have intro's to each episode where they say a little blurb about it and seem all pumped and honoured to have their characters taken to the animation level, yet one half of the dynamic duo can't be bothered to voice the other twenty episodes!?  This really hurt the integrity of the animated series for me.  Obviously the guy's cool with voice acting gigs, he was Jason Todd in BATMAN UNDER THE RED HOOD, so why wipe your ass with the animated series of the TV show that put you on the map?  I'm a big fan of the show, but clearly this bothers me more than a little.

SUPERNATURAL: THE ANIME SERIES has all the swagger of the TV series (minus Jensen Ackles voice as Dean) and keeps some of the small tidbits alive like the intro and one of the theme songs by Kansas, Carry On My Wayward Son, which plays as each episode ends.  There are a couple small issues that puzzle me however, like Bobby's character, mainly his overhaul in the looks department, the guy looks like a bible salesman rather than a hunter.  And the fact that each episode is a slim twenty two minutes or so really cuts down on the mystery solving aspect of the TV show.  We're used to fifty minutes of problem solving whereas here, you blink and the boys have already taken care of business.  I'm not sure what's in store for future seasons on the animated front but I'd be inclined to take a look if another one surfaces. 

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REVIEW: Final Destination 5

"A killer ending that wraps things up rather nicely."

Sam Lawton's having a rough morning as he and his fellow employees load up into a bus and head for a work retreat.  But as the bus starts over a bridge undergoing repairs Sam has a vision of the bridge collapsing and everyone dying terrible deaths.  He quickly snaps out of it and gets a few of them off the bus in time but his victory is short lived as the lucky survivors start dying inexplicably one by one.

I still remember hitting up FINAL DESTINATION in theatres with some friends back in the day and I had a blast with it.  What's not to love here?  The premise of people surviving a near death tragedy that should have claimed their lives only to find out that you aren't so clever after all because death is coming back to smoke you, is awesome...that is unless you're the people on the list.  Devon Sawa was also a cast favourite of mine back then, funny thing about that is, death seems to have claimed his career as I haven't seen him around since.  Moving along with sequels was a no brainer, I mean this series has a crafty cart blanche by way of death being able to kill you in just about any and every ironic, messy or downright brutal way imaginable so I wasn't surprised to see the series breed.

But other than a couple memorable deaths (I still love part two's opening log accident the most) the series, though entertaining on some levels, became lazy, uninspired and eventually soulless.  Horror sequels are horror sequels but with an equation like the one they have here you really should be able to push the envelope a little farther or at least explore different avenues in a more creative fashion.  That said this newest fifth instalment brings the pain much like the original with strong characters that end up meaning something to you, a clever storyline (I loved the new idea about taking someone else's life) that ties in with the original one to create a very magical ending, and a series of deaths that actually appear to have some thought behind them for a change.  I know, I was a little surprised myself.

The cast line up is admitted a strange one but be that as it may, it worked.  First we have Nicholas D'Agosto who I enjoyed in TV's HEROES and in the surprisingly funny comedy FIRED UP.  I think he realized this was a nice breakout role for him and as such delivered his A game.  I also like Emma Bell, who likewise hasn't been in much but her roles in Adam Green's sinfully delicious FROZEN and the first season of THE WALKING DEAD  clearly turned enough heads to get her here and she also doesn't disappoint.  Naturally there's a slew of throwaway characters here as well, but the other magical face happens to belong to (the man) Tony Todd.  His character might not have a lot of screen time but he's a foreboding presence that blends in nicely with the film's brooding tension.

FINAL DESTINATION 5 was one hell of a ride for a sequel so far into the series, and I almost can't believe I'm going to write this, but the 3D end of things actually worked well for a change (I particularly dug the opening shattering sequences as well as the homage to the many deaths from the series at the end of the film).  Some will no doubt throw this series into the same bundle as the SAW films due to the string of deaths, blood and gore.  I can understand that, but as a horror fan who enjoys both these franchises I can honestly say they're very different.  This sequel gets some high praise though, higher than I anticipated giving it because I felt very satisfied when I left the theatre (mainly due to the sweet ending).  Of course, it almost seems like Hollywood is putting more effort into sequels lately (FAST FIVE ) because I think they're starting to realize how fed up we're getting with remakes.  Whatever the reason, I like it and I hope the trend continues.

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REVIEW: The Change-Up

"A non-stop laugh fest of epic proportions."

Mitch and Dave have been best friends since childhood but couldn't be more different.  Dave is a career driven machine on the verge of making partner at his law firm and is also happily married with three kids.  Mitch is a big kid who dabbles in acting, smokes a lot of weed and sleeps with just about anything that moves.  On a random night out boozing, the two wish for each other's lives as they're taking a leak in a public fountain.  When the two of them wake the next morning to realize they got exactly that, neither friend is prepared for truth.

Let me start by saying that as much as I love raunchy comedies, by the time I got to the theatre yesterday to see THE CHANGE-UP I'd already worked a double and all I had time for was the ten o'clock show, the fact that I didn't fall asleep at the wheel was a surprise in itself.  The good news is, this flick blew my expectations out of the water and had me wide-eyed and happy for the better part of two hours.  This sub genre has its ups and downs but I can honestly say that this movie is the funniest comedy I've watched this year...by a long shot.  I can't count how many times I was laughing myself into tears, I mean even the promo trailer (where Reynolds and Bateman just joke around) had me in stitches.  This flick is the real deal and well worth your money.

Now before I heap on the much deserved praise I will deal with the one elephant in the room, the body switching premise.  I know, it's weak, I wasn't thrilled about it either, the last thing anyone needs is another FREAKY FRIDAY, raunchy or not.  But seeing as how the boys are real life buds, a fact brought to life by their unrivalled chemistry (I haven't seen two actors play off one another so flawlessly since Will Smith and Martin Lawrence in the BAD BOYS films), this small weakness quickly evaporates into the atmosphere to the sound of thunderous laughter.  My girl isn't even that big into raunchy comedies and she was laughing just as hard as I was.

I can't deny that Mitch and Dave are somewhat stereotypical characters whose lives follow the same beat and are action packed with all the obvious obstacles we've seen before (big promotion on the horizon, potentially troubled marriage, the grass is always greener, I've been a slacker and never amounted to anything until now), but what movie doesn't follow the beaten path these days?  I can handle obvious as long as it's hilarious, that, ladies and gentlemen is the game changer and this flick has humour in spades.  Sure, it's not everyone's humour, I mean I love Ryan Reynolds' character Mitch because I feel the same way he does about kids (not really my thing) and I'm also obsessed with swords but I also share Dave's insane work ethic (I juggle three jobs while writing novels, attempting a social life and trying to keep my fiancée happy).  Both characters felt real to me because I've gotten into some ridiculous mix-ups with some of my best friends too, no body swapping or peeing in public fountains but certainly more than enough to jam into a series of raunchy comedies.

THE CHANGE-UP is a non-stop laugh fest of epic proportions, it has everything I look for in an R rated comedy (if only HANGOVER 2 had been half this good):  loads of laughs, fun characters acting like adults really do for a change, unsuspecting nudity (still not sure how I feel about Olivia Wilde's CGI nipples though) and more cursing that you can shake a stick at.  I haven't seen Reynolds' shine like this is in a comedy since VAN WILDER and WAITING and brother it's good to have you back!  Jason Bateman is a hoot as always and both Olivia Wilde and Leslie Mann were a welcome addition to a winning team.  Some of this humour will no doubt be considered offensive, but no more than anything else in this genre.  The good news is if you know this is your thing (and trust me, you fans know who you are), you'll be more than happy you caught this one in theatres.  Personally, I loved it.   

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TRAILER: The Sitter

Imagine ADVENTURES IN BABYSITTING with SUPERBAD's insanely hilarious character Seth as the sitter, can you see it, me too and guess what, we're looking at a slam dunk from where I'm sitting. This flick looks awesome in all the wrong ways but that's good because I wouldn't have it any other way. This is exactly why I don't babysit kids because something tells me I wouldn't get a call back for a second round.

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Cool Video: Game Of Thrones RPG

This parody of what GAME OF THRONES would look like if it followed a FINAL FANTASY 3 path is hilarious if you're fans of the GAME OF THRONES, FINAL FANTASY, RPG games or all of the above. The appeal and humour will no doubt be lost on you if not however.

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TRAILER: Knights of Badassdom

I've always been a huge fan of Fantasy...yet I've never dressed the part and taken place in a live tournament (I did however almost take a job as a Knight at MEDIEVAL TIMES). This flick is what would happen if that cosplay bit in ROLE MODELS became an entire movie and I'm cool with that. There's some familiar faces here (Peter Dinklage for the win) so here's hoping epic laughter ensues.

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TRAILER: Spartacus: Vengeance

Andy Whitfield created a monstrous character in Spartacus. I'm still very sad to hear of his medical condition which came between him and this third season of STARZ spectacular series, which picks up where BLOOD AND SAND left off (remember, GODS OF THE ARENA was a prequel). It's been a long year waiting for more Spartacus and I'm pumped as hell by this trailer. My heart and prayers go out to you Mr. Whitfield as your commanding presence will surely be missed.

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TRAILER: Drive

I'm not sure how most people felt about The Rock's action flick DRIVER, but I certainly dug it. This action piece is a little bit DRIVER and a little bit TRANSPORTER which to me equals total badass! I like where this is going and it's nice to see Ryan Gosling's action chops.

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TRAILER: In Time

So I'm not loving Timberlake in the lead here but I'm sure as hell loving this concept about time and mortality. Every few years a cool flick like this comes out and really blows our minds, and I hope this is that flick. Time will tell, but I'm definitely on board for more.

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TRAILER: Tower Heist

Well what's not to love here!? We've got a glimpse of old Eddie Murphy back doing what he does best and might I say, it's about fucking time too! I'll try to overlook the fact that Ben Stiller's there too, but hey, no movie's perfect right. Well, I guess the rumors of Brett Ratner making a new Beverly Hills Cop flick might be false, but at least he was working with Murphy in the end and that's what matter. Let's hope it don't suck.

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TRAILER: Red State

Now this is what I'd call a paradox. Kevin Smith, who doesn't appear to have a serious bone in his body and is famous for raunchy comedies is treating us to a hell of a different sort of film here. This is why I don't like small ass towns in the middle of nowhere and would sooner die in my car of starvation if I broke down on the road rather than look for help from shady locals. I'm thinking this is gonna be a good time.

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TRAILER: Battleship

Now I know what you're thinking and yes, I agree, a movie about that old ass game Battleship!? It sounds preposterous, insane and a totally lame...but (God help me) I'm a little intrigued by this trailer. Either this might actually be looking good or I need a lobotomy.

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TRAILER: Tucker & Dale VS. Evil

Okay, so this one is a bit out there and came out of nowhere, but hell, I can't deny the hilarity and spunk we're being treated to. This is bar none the best spoof-ish film I've ever seen so lets just hope they're not giving it all away in the trailer.

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BLU-RAY REVIEW: Lord Of The Rings Extended Edition

"How could a fifteen disc set be wrong?"

There can't be many people out there at this point who don't know about Frodo and his quest to destroy the one ring, saving Middle Earth from Sauron and his minions, and there's no better way to view the tale than here on Blu-ray with the extended editions.  And you don't know the story, you must watch it...the precious demands it.

For a guy who loves the fantasy genre (which I most definitely do), THE LORD OF THE RINGS was the epic event I needed after crap like DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS and "ho hum" attempts like DRAGONHEART.  Rating the films individually was tough as with most trilogies the key is to analyse the story as a whole, but be that as it may I still have a favourite.  The extended editions were scoffed at by more than a few people as cash grabs, but trust me, I'm a guy who has bought many films again because of an extension and of the those many (excluding these ones), DONNIE DARKO, DAREDEVIL and GLADIATOR were a couple of the better ones to name a few.  Rest assured that these films are the best extended editions of any films out there and not only are these added scenes welcome but in most cases they help us understand things that were either a mystery or missed by those who didn't read the books.

THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING:  I hate to play favourites but it can't be helped as this one is my favourite individual film of the three.  I enjoyed the assembling of the fellowship, the introduction to the ring wraiths and of course, the opening scene featuring Sauron 's epic battle and loss of the ring.  The extended version helps us understand a couple of things here.  The first one gives us a better understanding of how Isildur dies and loses the ring, a minor addition but a welcome one.  The best part comes from Galadriel and specifically when she gives each companion a gift.  In the regular version they end up with these things and if you didn't read the book you're scratching your head wondering what you missed.

THE TWO TOWERS:  This film is a solid midpoint for our story and presents some of the coolest battle scenes I've ever seen on film.  The battle at Helm's Deep is spectacular to behold, that opening bit where the orcs are banging on their shields to scare the holy hell out of their enemies still sends chills down my spine.  The added flavour here comes in the form of Faramir as we're shown a bit more of his background with Boromir and their father.  It adds to the drama of Boromir's death and gives you a better understanding of the bond the two brothers shared.  There's also a small added scene with Grima and Eomer where he shows him the banishment papers signed by the King. 

THE RETURN OF THE KING:  I'm not completely sure why, but I didn't like this one nearly as much as the first two.  I think it was partly because I knew the third film meant it was all coming to an end, but there was more to it than that.  I didn't care for the army of lost souls, the foolish ramblings of Denethor or the layered ending...that just never seemed to end.  The extended edition didn't help the last part, but where it shined brightest was with the explanation of Saruman's fate.  In the regular version you never find out what happened to him which I found to be odd, but here Gandalf and the crew come to Isengard where Saruman and Grima are atop the tower.  This was a cool scene and also explains how Gandalf got the palenthia. 

THE LORD OF THE RINGS EXTENDED EDITION is a must own for fans of the series for a slew of reasons; it's a riveting experience on Blu-ray, it adds over two and a half hours to the length of the films which really help tie this baby together and it comes with a several more hours of extras to boot!  If you're a fan of the fantasy genre, the LOTR books, films or all of the above, this is one treat you really owe yourself and won't be disappointed with when you give in. 

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REVIEW: Entourage S7

"The boys are solid gold in their seventh run for the money."

Vince and the boys are back and at the top of their game as more than just Vince now have something to add to the table.  But as good as that sounds, Vince takes a turn to the wilder side after being pressured into doing a death defying stunt on the set of his latest film, the results of which become very taxing for the group.

Let me start by saying I love ENTOURAGE, I've been a fan since day one and I'm very sad to see the boys enter their final season (which just started).  I'm also happy to say that their seventh season was a homerun on all levels.  It's been said (and understandably so) that the last couple seasons have been quite similar with Vince's life going up and down and the boys falling in behind him, but last season started seeing the rest of the crew try their own things and this season is all about stuff starting to happen for the rest of the crew.  Add to that, Vince explores his darker side which yes, ends up being a self destructing pattern of insanity, but at the same time is something new for a change as Vince's character never really slid off the deep end until now.

Vince's edgier persona is cool to watch at first (I enjoyed him doing his own stunts as well as skydiving) but what I didn't enjoy was his entangled relationship with Sasha Grey.  I have nothing against porn stars but I dated a stripper once and it was fun at first but complications arose much the same way for me as they did for Vince (she wanted me to come with for a show).  I didn't freak out,  go on a coke infused bender and get the shit kicked out of me (I just dumped her) but Vince's way was much more entertaining.  I dug Johnny's arc with the cartoon series and thoroughly enjoyed his ping pong showdown with John Stamos (that, "it's gonna be a long day for Uncle Jesse," bit was hilarious).

The two most interesting story arcs were Turtle's and Ari's.  I've been waiting for Turtle to have his day and was happy as hell to see him in action.  The car gig was alright but going for the gold with the tequila company was awesome and he definitely rose to the occasion.  Poor Ari.  The guy's got such mad ambition as well as a heartfelt love for his family but sadly he's never able to juggle them both successfully.  The football deal was a nice touch and the scandal that followed certainly believable.  That said, I'd never want to see Ari change, his verbal assassinations are what puts the "Gold" in Ari Gold as far as I'm concerned, and even though his rant to Amanda Daniels was for nothing, it sure was one hell of a speech.  Eric's settling down with Sloane was also satisfying as was his up and down relationship with fellow agent Scott Caan.  I love Scott in this series and think this was a role made especially for him. 

ENTOURAGE SEASON 7 was nothing but fun, despite having to wince in pain at some of the pitfalls that befoul our characters.  This is a brilliant series, well written, superbly acted and heartfelt to the letter when it comes to friendship and loyalty.  Sure, this is loosely based upon Mark Wahlberg's life but at this point it's safe to say they've embellished a bit.  There are those who cast stones at this series but for me, it feels bang on.  I have a tight group of friends like these guys do, five of us that all grew up together and have seen one another through thick and thin.  If one of us were to become famous like Vince, I could easily see the same sort of things happen, after all, we all enjoy this show and have joked about exactly that since the first season.  I've already watched the season eight premier and am sad to see this final season go out with only eight episodes.  I'm overjoyed however, by the prospect of this series heading to the big screen next.  Good luck fellas, I'm with you all the way.

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REVIEW: Cowboys & Aliens

"Pretty damn good, considering it's mixed themes."

Jake Lonergan wakes up in the middle of the Arizona desert with no memory, a nasty wound and a strange mechanical bracelet attached to his arm.  Jake soon discovers that not only is he a wanted man, but there's a race of aliens abducting the local townspeople and he may very well be the key to stopping them.

Cowboys and Aliens...now those are two very different types of characters and putting them together stands out like seeing Conan in a Jaws movie (which coincidentally I would pay to see).  Clearly this was a volatile project and needed to be handled as such, but when I heard Johnny Favs was directing I knew they would ride graciously into the sunset...well, violently into the sunset is more like it, but it was definitely exciting to watch!

The story was decent considering what they had to work with when it comes to the old west.  There's a good many inexplicable things going on here, but thankfully they're staggered in such a way that you never get overwhelmed.  The alien menace is never given an origin story beyond the usual "pillage and conquer" routine, but it still manages to work.  As for the critters themselves, well, Spielberg's involvement became evident when you see them in action and though they do look cool in a DOOM/DUKE NUKEM sort of way, the similarities between these aliens and the alien from SUPER 8 are irrefutable.  I'm not going to play the "which came first" game, but with Spielberg attached to both projects is rather hard to dismiss the idea that one of these alien designs was influenced by the other.  It's not such a bad thing when all's said and done, but it would've been nice to see even a little more tinkering and originality in our villains.  And as for the intent of these otherworldly baddies, well I won't ruin it for you, but it's definitely a first in my books.

Now as much as I love RDJ (who was apparently up for Jake Lonergan's role) Daniel Craig won me over with his revamped version of Bond and I've not looked back since.  Craig is a phenomenal actor whose unwavering presence, slightest movements or stern glances can command a scene and win over any crowd.  Lonergan was a perfect protagonist whose actions remained congruent with the film's dark tone.  There was a good share of funny moments with his character but I don't even think he cracked a smile the entire film, which was great because comic relief just wouldn't suit his gruff anti-hero persona.  Harrison Ford was also a welcome presence in the film.  The trailer has us believing that he's an angry, old bad guy of some sort with an ironclad grudge against Lonergan.  He is, and does of course, but thankfully there's more to him than this simple two-dimensional setup. 

COWBOYS & ALIENS is a tough one to categorise as anything but a unique summer blockbuster that delivers what counts from both the Western and Sci-Fi genres without going too overboard into ridiculous territory (something that would've been very easy to do, I might add).  There's still a couple head scratching scenarios like Olivia Wild's resurrection scene, though I'm guessing the fact that she's naked at the time is supposed to be a clever bit of misdirection (nice one Favs).  I also couldn't help but notice the concept  of captives starring into a bright light and becoming white eyed and comatose being awfully similar to the process and results of the "moon-touched" from Zach Snyder's LEGEND OF THE GUARDIANS: THE OWLS OF GA' HOOL.  Again, I understand similarities in this day and age, but sometimes they come across as being blatant copying.  These small issues aside, I had a blast with COWBOYS AND ALIENS and am glad they were able to re-visit the old west in a risky but slick fashion.

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