Friday, January 6, 2012

RANDOM WEEKLY MOVIE REVIEWS: EDITION 19: "THE DESCENDANTS", "THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN", "BEGINNERS", "SUPER 8", "TERRI," "CRAZY, STUPID, LOVE", "THE BEAVER," "SUPER," "ONCE MORE WITH FEELING," AND MORE!

Happy New Year everyone. Whew, it's been a long and busy week here at David Baruffi's Entertainment Views and Reviews". I want to report that our twitter account has proven to be surprisingly successful. As of this time, we've got over 30 followers, and it's evergrowing. Partly because of Twitter, December has been the best month for the blog yet, and January is already looking to be equally as strong. To some of those twitter followers, I hope some of you will follow the blog from the website through the google friend process. But, I understand if you don't, sometimes it's a little tricky. I've watched a lot of new films this week, including two films currently in theatres, a rare treat for me, so the reviews for "The Descendants," and "The Adventures of Tintin," are extended reviews this week. I know, you're not going to be able to tell the difference between them and other reviews. Well, I think they're longer and more extensive than normal, so I'm calling them extended reviews. I can do that; it's my blog. Besides, I like doing it. 

Alright, lot of newer films besides those two this week, so let's get to the reviews!


THE DESCENDANTS (2011) Director: Alexander Payne

5 STARS

You can tell how difficult it's become to take the camera off of George Clooney by watching "The Descendants". More than a few times, director Alexander Payne, keeps it on his face, even when others are talking, he's refusing to cut to them unless absolutely necessary. I don't blame him one bit. Clooney is that unusual kind of actor who is both an incredible actor and is simply mesmerizing to watch on screen, as he acts. His handsomeness makes the obvious comparison actor to be Cary Grant. Grant was incredibly underrated as an actor in his day, partly because of his looks; Clooney has evaded that problem. We're not looking at George Clooney when Payne comes in close, where looking at a character who's struggling with one emotional trauma as others keep piling on top of him. "The Descendants" is Payne's first feature in seven years, since his masterpiece "Sideways". "The Descendants," is probably not as good as that film, but so few films are. On top of which, he's also made "Citizen Ruth," "Election", (his other masterpiece) and "About Schmidt". His films, no matter the genre of comedy, have extra levels to even the most cliched of characters, and it elevates, what on ths surface seems like simple tales that might have been told once or twice before, to become far more interesting character studies. Matt King (George Clooney) is the distant ancestor of one of the first Europeans to settle on the islands, and the direct ancestor of King Kamehameha. He's also the sole decision maker in a family on a deadline on what to do and who to sell the land to before it's taken away from them, a decision which his numerous cousins have differing opinions on. This is the backdrop when his wife Elizabeth (Patricia Hastie) falls into a coma after a water-skiing accident. His youngest daughter Scottie (Amara Miller) is constantly getting in trouble in school for her mouth. He's realizes he's not fit to handle her alone, so he flies in his older troubled daughter Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) to help out, as he has to deal with the fact that his wife's not gonna make it. It's around this time, he learns that his wife has been having an affair. I don't want discuss any other events of the film. They should be discovered by the viewer watching the film. The same way that Matt discovers them. Sometimes by searching for answers, other times by finding them accidentally. In the meantime, he has to tell all his friends and family about his wife's condition, starting with her parents. Elizabeth's father (A perfectly casted Robert Forster) blames Matt for Elizabeth's condition. He thinks if Matt loved her enough at home, she wouldn't participate in so many death-defying activities. After Alexandra's friend Sid (Nick Krause) says one stupid thing to many, Forster punches him in the face. This seems to be..., I was about to say comic relief, but the fact is, while I'm describing a movie that sounds depressing, it's actually a comedy, and a very funny one at that, and that should be kept in mind throughout this review. Although Alexandra's insistance on Sid's presence seems strange at first she claims, he helps her out, only later do we realize why he might be somebody capable of that. When the family goes out to see the last remaining acres of land, still untouched by construction for a few days, do we begin,-, no I'm sorry, only when Matt begins to piece together the depths of his wife's affair, and even then, extra characters keep entering the picture, with surprising motives of their own. Matthew Lillard and Beau Bridges are very good here in minor key roles. As is Judy Greer, who has one of those movie parts that isn't long, maybe, seven minutes of screen time, but don't be surprised if her name gets called during the Oscar nomination announcements. There's a scene where she shows up unexpectedly, and it's about the only emotional moment when Payne isn't tempted to move the camera off of Clooney's face, and he tries to keep it on hers, again, for good reason. "The Descendants", along with "The Artist," seems to be the only sure thing Best Picture nominations this year, and I understand why. The farther away I've gotten from this film, the more I've found myself dwelling on it. It's about losing a love one, it's about discovering someone you thought you knew,  it's about discovering yourself, and yet, ultimately, the film is about family. At the end of the movie, there's one perfect last long take. It's of Matt and his two daughters at home. Not much is said. Nothing needs to be; they've been through a lot already.




THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN (2011) Director: Steven Spielberg

4 STARS

It's one thing when Robert Zemeckis, Richard Linklater, Wes Anderson, or even more recently, Gore Verbinski, start making animated films, but to find out that Spielberg is doing one, marks a turning point in animation to me. But, is there any other way to make Tintin? Do any of you even know who Tintin is? If you don't, you should. He's not particularly well-known in America, but with the rest of the world, especially Europe, he's one of the biggest comic book creations of all-time. Maybe the biggest. I first caught onto him as a kid, when they started airing an animated show of Tintin in the middle of the afternoon on Nickelodeon. That show was odd actually. Most of the episodes were part of serial, and instead of stories being wrapped up in 10 minutes, or even half and hour, you had a whole week of one story. That caught me offguard, as did Tintin himself. There's nothing particularly memorable about him as an animated character. He looks younger than he probably is, wears yellow like Charlie Brown, and visually, except for a little Conan O'Brien-type curl of his hair in the front of his face, he doesn't have much emotion in his face. He's a young journalist who's determination in getting a story is undaunted by all obstacles, although his dog Snowy's determination, is more of a reluctant nature. His appearance though is part of his persona. It's so blatantly simplistic, that there's no way to do a live-action version of Tintin. He's not emotionally visual enough of a character to be accurately portrayed by an actor, but his stories are too elaborate to be simply animation. There's too many eccentric characters he runs into, and his adventures cab go anywhere. (I remember thinking as a kid how it was similar to my favorite Saturday Morning cartoon, "Where on Earth is Carmen San Diego?", where globetrotting detective also try to get to the bottom of mysteries. [Oh that reminds me. Hey, J-Lo, I know you own part of the movie rights to Carmen, when are we getting that film?]) I once saw an episode of the TV show, where him and Snowy went to the Moon, and even then, there's some over-the-top dasterdly villains he had to fight. Spielberg got Tintin's creator Herge's permission to make a film before his death in 1983, but I think he made the correct decision in waiting 'til now. Only with this motion-capture technology can you adequately tell "The Adventures of Tintin". Actually, the full title of the film is apparently "The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn". The Unicorn is a 18th Century boat that Tintin (Jamie Bell) buys a model of from a flea market, which immediately grabs the attentions of multiple suspicious characters, the lead one being Rackham (Daniel Craig), who simply waits for Tintin to leave his humble abode to steal the Unicorn. But when Tintin tracks Rackham down, he already has a model of the Unicorn. From here on in, admittedly, it becomes a little Indiana Jones-y, (Usually Tintin thinks his way out of these jams, but I can live with that) as Tintin, tracks Rackham to a ship, where Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis, always up for motion-capture), the inebriated Captain is trapped by Rackham, who are scouring the seas for a long lost treasure from the original Unicorn which sank after a pirate attack century ago, an attack where the only survivor is Braddock's ancestor, Unicorn Captain Sir Francis Braddock (Serkis, again. Craig plays a second character too). My favorite sequences involves a long unbroken chase scene through the streets and skies over an Ancient Moroccan city. This sequence can only be done with animation, and not only does Spielberg know it, I think he's purposefully being over-the-top. He's discovered the freedom of animation, and he's not letting that opportunity go to waste. This movie is pure action/adventure fun. I want to stress the "fun" part, cause if you come into the theatre looking for realism with Tintin, you're asking to be disappointed. I confess I didn't see the 3-D version of the film, it was optional, but I'm not normally a 3-D guy, but maybe I should've here. Either way, come in looking for entertainment and fun, and you'll find it in "The Adventures of Tintin." Oh, I didn't even mention Thompson and Thomson, the two strange and absent-minded Interpol agents that always seem to show up unexpectedly, no matter what end of the world Tintin happens to be at the time. They're played by Nick Frost and Simon Pegg, and I don't think you could've casted them better.


BEGINNERS (2011) Director: Mike Mills

3 1/2 STARS

While I admire "Beginners", I'm finding a lot of the reviews to be curious. I think they're reviewing the intent of the movie rather than the actual movie. The intentions behind it are very personal and honorable. Based loosely on writer/director Mike Mills own experience, when his mother passes away, six months later, Oliver (Ewan McGregor) gets told shocking news by his father (Christopher Plummer, definitely getting an Oscar nomination), "I'm gay." He's always known he was gay, but he married Oliver's mother (Mary Page Keller, in flashbacks), and he truly loved her. It was a different time, a point that Mike Mills drives home with constant reminders of the past, assisted with pointed photos and flashbacks. I think it works, but as not much as I think a few critics and Awards shows are led to believe. Alright, one review really bothered me. It's in last week's Las Vegas CityLife, part of Matt Keleman's Top Ten of the year list. He opens the paragraph on "Beginners," by saying, "Mike Mills made the most visually poetic film of the year...". First of all, in a year that includes "The Tree of Life," and "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives," there can't possibly be any film as poetic as either of those two, but even if "Beginners," is trying to be that poetic, I don't know if it completely succeeds. Plummer is the exception. He is as on top of his game as an actor as ever. He goes to dance clubs, he starts participating in local LGBT politics, including becoming fascinated with the Rainbow flag, and he even gets a younger boyfriend, Andy (Goran Visnjic). He's a little flighty at times, but it's an open relationship, and they do care about each other. Saying all this though, this is the subplot of the story. It's the most interesting part unfortunately. The movie does jump time and place constantly. Sometimes it goes into the past with long-forgotten conversations with Oliver and her mother. Most of the time, it bounces back to a relationship he starts after his father's death with Anna (Melanie Laurent) a French actress who's always traveling. Both Anna and Oliver have a tendency leave relationships before they get hurt. Sometimes, that's less than a year, other times it's after a few years. Her for more practical reasons. She travels a lot for work, unpredictably. They have an interesting meet-cute at a costume party. She has laryngitus, and Oliver is dressed as Sigmund Freud, complete with couch and chair set-up, and he's holding appointments. She sees through the facade though. They start a relationship. The title refers to the new beginnings both characters have. Hal, living life openly and happily as a gay man, even as he become sicker and sicker, he goes to great lengths not to let on, and Steve, beginning, the rest of his life with this woman, or the confidence to not leave women, or more confidence in himself?. There's another curious note in Kelemen's review, and the end of it, "...McGregor's best scenes are voice-overs for the fast-edit montages Mills inserts several times." He's not exactly wrong, but that tells you just how uninteresting McGregor's character is. Actually, except for the line about the movie being poetic, I agree with most of Keleman's analysis, as far as the intent of the film goes. I think Mills tries a lot here. He puts these two lives together, both beginning to live their lives to the fullest, one just as his life is ending, and another, trying to overcome his own demons. There's a lot here to like, and I'm certainly recommending it. I can't tell you not to see Plummer's performance, it might just win a well-deserved Oscar (In fact, I predicted he would win a few weeks ago, before seeing the film, although Albert Brooks is getting a lot of Supporting Actor Awards as well). I think the film is a little thin and flimsy at times. I mean, really, when one of the movie's highlight, are these powerpoint-like presentations that go through the history of himself, his parents, and Gay rights, and other things, how much of a film really is there. And I don't know, maybe there's something to the subtitled thoughts of his dad's Jack Russell, but I mostly chalked it up to boredom and loneliness than anything else.

SUPER 8 (2011) Director J.J. Abrams

3 1/2 STARS

Hold on, I'm double-checking J.J. Abrams imdb page. Let me see, "Alias," "Lost," that latest "Star Trek" film, "Felicity," "Fringe" the screenplay for "Armageddon," oh he directed a "Mission: Impossible," sequel. I can't believe that series took off, I have to get to those sequels eventually, eh, yeah. Just wanted to be sure that "Super 8," is the first thing he's done that I haven't absolutely detested. In fact, "Super 8," is pretty entertaining. It's also, basically Steven Spielberg's-,... well, not his worst film, (Although I think we'd all like to forget "1941") but, this movie will remind moviegoers of his old classic films. "E.T...." and "Close Encounters...,"  mostly. It even takes place in the early eighties. I can tell because "My Sharona," is a big hit at this time. Alright, I'm being unfair. I gave this one a fair shot, and it holds up on its own. The story involves a few local kids who are trying to help one of them make a Zombie movie for a local Super 8 film festival. The future George Romero is Charles Kaznyk (Riley Griffiths) tagged along with him are some typical strange kids. One who's always afraid of most everything, one who's obsessing with fireworks and blowing things up, (Naturally, that'll come in handy later.) and one kid who does the zombie makeup, Joe Lamb (Joel Courteney). His mother just died 'cause of an accident at the local plant, and his father, the local Deputy Sheriff (Kyle Chandler) isn't exactly sure how to handle him. His best idea is a summer baseball camp for six weeks. The crew begin filming a movie at night on an abandoned train platform. They've recruited reluctantly Alice Dainard (Elle Fanning) to play the Detective's wife in this story. "Why does he need a wife?" "Cause we need to have people feel for him, so that they're worried if he's in danger". That was probably not the exact quote, but the kid's right actually. Alice is pretty. Quiet. Apparently savvy enough to drive her dad's (Ron Eldard) car while underage and not get caught by him, most of the time, and noticing how she acts waiting around for the shot to be set up, she behaves like many actresses I know. While they're shooting, a train flies by, and it's a great opportunity to get the shot. They take advantage of it, but a car runs headlong into the train. The explosion is pretty massive. Everybody survives, luckily. They find the truck, and one of the school's science professors behind-the-wheel, about to die, but not before some cryptic hominous words. Also, a bunch of strange white cubes that one of the kids takes with them. Oh, and the film that might just show that the accident is not an accident. Not long after, there's a strange appearance of the military, that's not answering a lot of questions. It was an air force train, probably did have some airplane parts on it. It had something else on it as well, and whatever it is, all the local animals have left because of it. They were all found one county away. Where some of the townsfolk are, including the Sheriff, nobody's sure. I think "Super 8," has some flaws. The special effects are amazing. I'm actually a little surprised to find it's name not on the Academy's shortlist for the Visual Effects Oscar, but some of them are too slick for this movie. Some of the more effective scenes are more classical, and that's what the story needs more of a more classical touch. Other than that, it could've easily skirted it way into theatres, around the same time "Stand By Me," was in theatres. Spielberg is a producer on the film, unsurprisingly. He's clearly the main influence for this work, it's basically loving homage to those early films of his. Alright, Mr. Abrams, I'm won over on this one. Hope you keep that childlike magical view of film on your next few projects. I have a hope that it's as much you're perspective as it is Spielberg's, and that you just haven't had the opportunity to work with it until now. This is a good side of you.

TERRI (2011) Director: Azazel Jacobs

5 STARS

Slowly but surely, "Terri," grew on me. It seemed at first like this typical Indy smartass awkward high school kid story, with a weird family and stranger friends. The nightmare piece of crap "Napoleon Dynamite," comes to mind, unfortunately, but no. This movie takes its quirks realistically. It's not trying to make us laugh, but it's simply trying to see into Terri (Jacob Wysocki, in his first major role, and really good) and Terri's world. Terri is overweight. He still takes baths. He's depressed. Recently he's stopped bothering to even dress up, and instead wears pajamas everywhere, because he's more comfortable in them. He arrives late for class most days, as he has to watch his Uncle (Creed Bratton, from "The Office), who's usually under medication, and is beginning to suffer from some kind of Alzheimer's or dimentia, although he's still capable of insucient windows where he strives. When Terri finally arrive to school, he's bored and uninterested, and he has to deal with the kind of bully who should be shot (Justin Prentice), but never even get caught. If you don't know the kind, then you might been the kind, and consider yourself lucky that you survived this long. Because of the tardies, he has to see the Asst. Principal, Mr. Fitzgerald (John C. Reilly). He already noticed Terri, and he thinks he can help him out a bit. He tells him to come in and see him once a week. Mr. Fitzgerald is an odd character as well. His only interaction with adults, seem to be with his dying secretary (Mary Ann McGarry), some students' parents, and with a soon-to-be ex-wife over-the-phone. We suspect, and then get confirmed that he probably became an Asst. Principal because he was made fun in school and that he partially wants to change things for kids like Terri, and a few other oddballs that he hangs out with (Although how he goes about this raises eyebrows) and possibly because he wants to get revenge on the kids who made fun of him in school, by punishing the troublemakers in school now. During a HomeEc class, he sees two students doing something they shouldn't be doing. Thankfully, one of them is that bully from earlier, and things get better when he leaves. The other a is cute girl named Heather (Olivia Crocicchia). This isn't the kind of film where the good guy gets the girl, or all things gets settled at Prom, or any other cliche of high school movies. If I can compare it to anything, Todd Solondz's "Welcome to the Dollhouse," comes to mind, this could be a male version of that, withouth Solondz's strange idiocyncracies. "Terri," is a character study, that's surprises us by giving it's other characters an unusual amount of depth and intelligence. Terri, ends up befriending both Heather and another of Fitzgerald's kids, Chad (Bridger Zadina). He means well, but he is more trouble, and he hasn't evolved beyond the childish hormonal teenager stage. (Terri has either not had that stage, or has moved beyond it.) There's a great scene during the last part of the movie, where Heather and Chad hang out with Terri in his Grandfather's work shed. There's alcohol, and pills involved. At one point, Chad asks Heather about the incident. Her answer, and the way Crocicchia delivers it, reveal to us that if this film was told through her point of view, it might have made a great film as well. (I have a feeling the script by Patrick DeWitt, fleshed out these characters even more.) This is the first film I've seen of Azazel Jacobs, and I can't wait for his next one. "Terri," is a great character study, not just of it's lead character, but of all its characters. Sure, it's odd how and that they even come together, but, on the other hand, maybe it isn't. That scene I told you about in the shed. What happens in that scene, are how everyone reacts is perfect.

CRAZY, STUPID, LOVE (2011) Directors: Glen Ficarra and John Requa

4 1/2 STARS

"Crazy, Stupid, Love," doesn't do anything particularly new, but it does it well. Very well, and with its amazing cast, it also does it with incredible acting. The film is a multi-narrative romantic comedy, all focusing originally around a couple, the Weavers, Cal and Emily (Steve Carell and Julianne Moore). On their date night, Cal says he wants the creme brulee, Emily asks for a divorce. Cal is blindsided, and luckily, he wasn't sideswiped. She's started having an affair with a guy at work, David Lindhagen (Kevin Bacon). The news sends middle-aged Cal into a tailspin, and into a bar, to drown his sorrows and tell his story whether anyone wants to hear it or not. This grabs the attention of Jacob (Ryan Gosling), the bar's local playboy who goes home with a different girl every night. He decides to help out Cal. Change his clothes, and help him learn how to score with the ladies. It takes awhile, but after a while, he has luck with Kate (Marisa Tomei), an alcoholic teacher who's turned on by Cal's unusual heartfelt honesty. I swear, you put Marisa Tomei in anything, and it automatically makes it better. Jacob, however is unable to win over Hannah (Emma Stone) a Law School Grad, who's overly-devoted to her work and studies, although she has a kinda boyfriend in Richard (Josh Groban) who's a lawyer, at an up-and-coming practice. Meanwhile, again, Cal and Emily's kid Robbie (Jonah Bobo) has a crush on his babysitter Jessica (Analeigh Riley), and is unusually persistant of her, despite the age difference and the lack of interest. Analeigh doesn't have much to complain about either, since she has a crush on Robbie's father Cal, and considers going to extreme lengths herself to get his attention. There's a lot of storylines here, but they all eventually come together, how, I won't reveal, but some of the links you might be able to guess. Even if you do, it won't deter your appreciation of "Crazy, Stupid, Love". There's a couple scenes at the very end, that push the movie into movie cliche a little too much. (Do they even have 8th Grade valedictorians, my Junior High didn't even have a Graduation) But, by that point, I was pretty much won over. The film was written by Dan Fogelman, who's mostly been in the Disney writer's workshop penning, both "Cars," movies, as well as "Tangled," and "Bolt". This is a very good script, that is aware of most of the cliches of these types of movies, and most of the time, we find ourselves buying into it, cause of the great dialogue, and the great acting, all across the board here. Maybe most notably Gosling and Stone, have the most noteworthyness, because we've never really seen Gosling in this character before, and haven't seen Stone much at all other than her great work in "Easy A". She's plays older than her age well here, which is unusual in of itself. Carell and Moore have some memorable scenes together as well. Carell, says some amazing lines under his breath, that are hilarious, especially during a PTA meeting that he knows can't end well. This movie is funny, and  is more knowing about love, than most other romantic comedies nowadays.

THE BEAVER (2011) Director: Jodie Foster

3 STARS

It is undeniable that Mel Gibson is a great actor. I'm constantly amazed at the range of roles he takes. Comedy, drama, action, you name the genre, whether he's got rich dialogue and quirks like "Conspiracy Theory," or "Lethal Weapon," to having, maybe 150 words in "Mad Max 2: "The Road Warrior". He can do it all, he's even grown into a director with an uncompromising artistic vision. What is also undeniable is that, he has demons, lots of them. Many of them have been seen in the public eye lately. Jodie Foster worked with Mel Gibson on "Maverick," is a close friend of his, and casted him in her latest directorial effort "The Beaver". It's the third feature she's directed, after the great "Little Man Tate," and "Home for the Holidays," which I haven't seen yet. I hope there's a lot of self-healing for Gibson in this dark comedy. He plays Walter Black. He's going through a depression. He's suicidal, his family hates him, his wife (Foster) wants to divorce him, and his father's toy company, which he now runs, has seen better days. In an hour of need, he finds an old hand puppet of a beaver, gives it a voice, and begins talking, mostly through the Beaver. He claims it's a perscription from his psychiatrist. This is strange and weird, and it kinda works for Walter, for awhile. His younger son (Riley Thomas Stewart) starts getting into carpentry, which is something Beaver knows a lot about. His older son Porter (Anton Yelchin), tries hard not to be like him. In fact, he posts sticky notes on bedroom walls of every way he's like his father so as too make sure he breaks any/all of his father's habits. He's also a genius, who's been accepted in Brown, who makes money writing papers for other students. He's starts an unexpected friendship with Norah (Jennifer Lawrence), who's paying him to write her valedictorian speech. She's a popular cheerleader, who's very intelligent, but once had an artistic past that was given up after her brother died of an overdose years ago, and her overprotective mother prefers she fit in more than express herself. Walter, as Beaver, begins making changes to his company, and they're fairly successful, including a new product, and he's become a media figure, for how Beaver helps helps him out. At this point, the movie starts to get a little over-the-top for me. In fact, I've gone back-and-forth on whether to recommend "The Beaver," or not, about three times now. I think the ending ultimately saves it, barely. There's strong performance, especially by Gibson. Foster had a find when she casted Jennifer Lawrence for this part. She was filming the film, just as "Winter's Bone," was coming out, and turned her into the next hot young actress. (She was also amazing in the "The Burning Plain," but I'm the only one that liked that film) I hope the part of Walter Black was good therapy for Gibson. I can see why Foster took a chance and insisted on casted him.

SUPER (2011) Director: James Gunn

3 STARS

"SUPER" (The title, is apparently meant to be written in ALL CAPS) is the second film I've seen in the last two years that takes on the premise, of what would happen if somebody were to try and become a real-life superhero. The first one was "Kick-Ass," which I liked, for entertainment value and fun, although that film took a more fantasy P.O.V. on the subject, hormonal teenage boy fantasy at that. "SUPER," is also partially a comedy, but the films I'd compare it too aren't superhero films. This one, belongs in the "Searchers"/"Taxi Driver" category. Not bad films to be compared, but, like those films, it leads to a disturbing film portrait of a man who's bordering on the psychotic. (Actually, there's two characters bordering on the psychotic in this one) Frank Darbo (Rainn Wilson) is a local fry cook who's devoted to his wife (Liv Tyler, with almost nothing to do, as usual) who's a recovery drug addict. He ignores some blatant signs that she's using again, but instead of doing anything about it, until she leaves him for her supplier, Jacques (Kevin Bacon, second appearance him this week). Jacques, is your typical rich drug-runner, who's always got an armed posse around him willing to kill. Then in his hour of need, Frank gets touched by God. God opens his brain up and touches him. He then gets inspiration from a religious superhero show called the Holy Avenger, and he decides to become a superhero calling himself, the Crimson Bolt. Well, first he has to look into superheroes, particularly those without superpowers. He gets some help from a friendly but excited Comic Book Shop worker, Libby (Ellen Page). After long, he's made a costume, and starts carrying and wrench, waiting in a dark alley for crime. It's a long and boring wait, but eventually, he starts finding drug dealers and pedophiles, and assholes that butt in line at the movie theatre, and beats them over the head with his wrench. He becomes a man wanted by the community for his violent streak, but he's also training for his final meeting with Jacques to save his wife, who is in, no particular rush to be saved. In fact, considering he's a vicious, murdering drug dealer, other than stealing Frank's wife from him, he's not even that bad a guy. After he gets injured, Frank shows up at Libby's house to heal. It's a party, she was throwing, although she was in another room making out with someone when Frank shows up. Libby then goes Bruce Wayne on everybody, and suddenly the Crimson Bolt has a new sexy, bloodthirsty, horny-as-hell, sidekick. The movie shifts continuously between these disturbingly real violence and this fantasy image of Frank as a superhero, and the effect is troubling. This is probably the best possible realistic scenario if somebody were to actually try to become a superhero in real life, even the fate of his marriage seems appropriate. I guess this is a comedy. I laughed, but this is a dark one, and, ultimately one worth exploring.

ONCE MORE WITH FEELING (2010) Director: Jeff Lipsky

2 STARS

"Once More with Feeling," has a cute premise, and is well-acted, but their really isn't much reason to see it. It's got the "Moonstruck," multi-narrative where an entire Italian family is going through their own personal crises. Let's start with Frank Gregorio (Chazz Palmintieri), the head of the family, and a psychiatrist, who's long-forgotten dream of being a lounge singer has resurfaced as he gets introduced to kareoke, confusing his wife Angelina (Maria Tucci). His daughter Lana (Drea de Matteo) is a former career-woman, who's headlong drowned in the throws of motherhood. She looks in the mirror disappointed that the body of her youth is gone, and sneaks off to a plastic surgeon, during the few free moments she has, when she's not driving her kids around, and getting pulled over for talking on her cell phone while driving. There's a funny scene where the kids insist the officer take her phone away from her as she's breaking down worse than Lynette Scavo used to "Desperate Housewives". She starts to have thoughts about the cop, who's married with kids also, although his intentions seem honorable. He's in-over-his-head too, while his wife, oddly isn't. (Trying to figure out the actor that plays the Cop, I think it's Chris Beetam, put it's not completely clear on imdb.com). Meanwhile, Frank, living off memories of his father's time as a singer, starts to practice for a Kareoke contest in Connecticut, with some inspiration from Lydia (Linda Fiorentino, and man, when's the last time she's been seen until now?) who's a strange patron that goes to kareoke clubs but never performs. There's other storylines that matriculate through, including a wedding, which seems oddly like the least important thing to happen in the film. There's a few interesting pieces to the puzzle here, but ultimately, it's all over the map, and just not enough conflict for me to take about the fate of these characters. "Once More with Feeling," is cute but forgettable, and could use a little more, (sigh), I hate to use this pun, but yeah, feeling.

BOOGIE MAN: THE LEE ATWATER STORY (2008) Director: Steven Forbes

5 STARS

Lee Atwater is the originator of modern GOP campaign political tactics. He's the one, that began inventing fakes smears against candidates, as well as single-handedly getting V.P. George H.W. Bush elected, using a racism-based fear campaign against a then heavy-favorited Gov. Michael Dukakis. His tactics starting as an aide in South Carolina, have basically been the playbook for GOP campaign since. He taught Karl Rove everything he knows. And yet, after watching "Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story", I'm convinced that not only did he not believe a single policy initiative that he partook in, I don't think he ever voted. He represents the most cynical kind of campaign operative. Win-at-any-cost philosophy. He plays blues guitar, and he played it well, with many African-American Bluesman. Why was he a Republican? I think it's because he liked being the bad guy. The boogie man, if you will, that swoops in and performs evil deeds on the good-hearted Democrats. Think I'm being biased, I'm not. Actually, after watching this film, I found myself appreciated the guy. Respecting him even. He never talked about his brother who was killed in an accident when he was a kid. When he mentioned to friends of his that he was bringing his wife and kids up to Washington, everybody was stunned to find out he had a wife and kids. His mind was genius. He knew how to turn an opponents advantage into his weakness. During one campaign, he preportedly sent out a third-party religious candidate, just so his guy's opponent had to answer questions about his beliefs, ultimately costing him the election. He's the guy who produced the famous Bush ads that highlighted Willie Horton, that brought down the Dukakis for being soft on crime, and spread the rumor that his wife once participated in an event twenty years ago where a flag was burned. Almost all of his claims were false, but they all ended in victories. Then, just as he was the biggest name in the GOP, a tumor attacked his brain. The irony wasn't lost on him or anyone else. The evil genius getting attacked by his greatest strength. There's a lot of talking heads, of them, only Mary Matalin seems to be the one claiming that Atwater didn't become apologetic for his tactics in his last days, and her accounts of certain description of Lee seems to be disputed the most. He searched for meaning as his body gave in, even asked for a Bible, which his wife claimed afterwards, that he never opened. The ultimate spinmaster. Andy Kaufman would've loved Atwater. In fact, Atwater loved one sport; it was professional wrestling. He said it was, blatantly fixed, the audience knows its fixed, but they're entertained anyway. From all evidence in this movie, he looked at politics the same way. Distract the electorate until everybody votes their fears. He would've made a great wrestling villain, manager probably. Instead, he chose politics, and in many ways, we're suffering because of it.

KOLYA (1996) Director: Jan Sverak

4 STARS

"Kolya" won the 1996 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. It tells a cute story of Frantisek (Zdenek Sverak), a cellist who plays at churches after being thrown out the state orchestra (This takes place back in the late '80s when Czechoslovakia was still behind the Iron Curtain). He spends most of that time, trying to feel up the vocalist instead of playing. He also paints old tombstones at the cemetary to make money, but he's in great debt. His gravedigger friend Broz (Ondrej Vetchy) talks him into making some easy cash by marrying a Russian girl for money for a few weeks, until she can become a Czech citizen. Soon after however, the girl flees for West Germany, leaving her son Kolya (Andrej Chalimon) behind. Kolya is a longtime bachelor, and is in no way prepare to take care of a kid, much less one that doesn't even speak his language. The movie is mostly predictable from here, but that's okay. It's more of a film of pathos than anything else. Basically a reworking of Chaplin's "The Kid", with the Fall of Communism thrown in at the end, and a reunion with a long-missing mother on the horizon. Is it just me, or do all little adorable litle boys in European films look alike, and also look and dress like they're from the 19th Century Italy? That was the other thought that went through my head, worth noting during "Kolya". It's a good film.

THE VICIOUS KIND (2009) Director: Lee Toland Kreiger

1 1/2 STARS

I came out of "The Vicious Kind," wondering what exactly was I supposed to care for about this film. That's not necessarily for me to like a movie, but it was confusing after awhile. Actually, it was confusing right from the beginning, but it never adequately explained it. It tried, but I might be able to argue that even the explanation might be a lie. It all comes down to whether Caleb (Adam Scott), was given an accurate piece of information from a dying mother several years ago. It wouldn't explain why he's a smart-alec jerk, who according to him, hasn't slept in a week. I think an argument can be made that he's bipolar. I think he's the well-acted product of an erratic screenwriter that gave him way too many contradictory emotions and actions. In the beginning, he's meeting his brother Peter (Alex Sinclaire) at a diner. He's home for a while, and he's bringing home his girlfriend Emma (Brittany Snow, with jet-black hair). Caleb's dialogue is erratic and intelligent, like a bad poet whose hung around in coffeeshops way too long, and read way too much Hemmingway. His only intention as far as I can tell is to disturb the order. Well, that and to either sleep with his brother's girlfriend, or not. He's goes back-and-forth so often it's hard to tell. He drops off the brother at his father's (J.K. Simmons, always good) house, although he refuses to go see him, but he keeps running into Emma. At the bowling alley, where she sneaks cigarettes behind Peter's back, at the grocery store, at a few other places. Caleb pins her down easily as a girl who's done some things that Peter, who's too innocent-minded, probably wouldn't accept. I bet he even thinks that black is her natural hair color. Emma has a sob story about her broken family that she repeats occasionally. I might even argue that maybe her story is a lie. This is a more interesting movie to debate than it is too watch. Other than that story, Emma is basically there to ask all the family members questions about what happened with their mother, and eventually fuck Caleb. Why does she do that? To prove him right? Cause it's her natural nature to not be Miss GoodyTwoShoes because her boyfriend is trying to save this damsel? I think the movie argues that it was inevitable that these two characters, with their natural chemistry and idiosyncracies eventually made them. I think it was writer/director Lee Toland Kreiger's choice that it was inevitable. This movie bothered me. As well as some of the parts are acted, I think the characters we're cliches, and one-note, or in Caleb's case, two very annoying and contradictory notes, that never really materialized into a believable character. Because I'm not sure I believe anybody, I'm not even sure I can care about any of them. Maybe we're supposed to care about innocent little Peter, but he's so slow-witted, I almost want to get him checked for a learning disability or something. Maybe both the father and the brother over-protected him. Maybe the girlfriend's protecting him from her past. Maybe he just needs to hear the truth. (Or get a blowjob, one or the other, maybe both.) I guess "The Vicious Kind," has characters that are vicious. That might be true enough, but other adjectives come to mind first for me.
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