Monday, May 27, 2013

MOVIE REVIEWS #64: "WRECK-IT RALPH", "HITCHCOCK", "STRUCK BY LIGHTNING", "THE CABIN IN THE WOODS", "THE INTOUCHABLES", "END OF WATCH", "CELESTE AND JESSE FOREVER", "THE LORAX", "DANGEROUS LIAISONS", "AMERICANO" and MORE!

Happy Memorial Day Everybody! That great day where we celebrated those poor bastards who died for our country, those we lost in battle and conflict. (That's a "Patton" reference people, let it be.) Seriously, though, now that we're finding to the end of two wars, that have taken up, way too much of my life, and have kept me at the end of my emotional rope for awhile, it's nice to take and remember, that while I breathe a deep sigh of relief for some of the lucky loved ones of ours who've survived, hi Renee, it's nice to take a moment to reflect on those who unfortunately didn't.

So, while we all make an effort stay inside on this day off, and eat some nice hearty pasta while catching up on our Netflix and Hulu, remember to take a moment...- what do you mean people are bar-be-cuing, today, why the hell would you do that? It's a perfect day-off in the middle of Summer, why would you go outside at all! Much less swimming, and hang around with friends and family? What a waster! Well, anyway, whatever you want to do, the stupid bar-be-cuing, or the reasonable pasta thing, hope you all enjoy this 3-day weekend!

Also, before I begin, I wanted to point out some sad local entertainment news here, while it's easy to make fun of, even the idea of a theater community in Las Vegas, their is one, it is thriving by the way, and the best and the most notorious theater critic in town was Anthony Del Valle, of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He, passed away recently, at age 60. He's been the major theater critic in town since the mid-'90s, among numerous other credits, including teaching, directing, playwright, and acting even. In fact, I actually got the pleasure to direct him once, in a short film of mine, that unfortunately never got finished. It died in the editing room, after numerous disasters, and-eh, I gave up on it after we lost the voiceover that we had finally recorded after a year of editing, a long drawn-out post-production disaster of mine. But, actually, funny enough, I didn't know who he was at the time, but I casted him as a judge, who was overseeing a divorce case, which was going bad for the husband, and-eh, I had Del Valle, reading a newspaper, and not paying attention to anything. The absolute perfect casting, I must say. He came in, for maybe an hour at most, did his part, shared a few tales of plays that he's seen, and some of his vast knowledge, and-eh, I remember, that he came early, before any of the other actors did, and when they found out he was part of the production, they were a little starstruck at first, and had it ever gotten finished, his cameo essentially, would've made for a nice, little local in-joke, and it was very, very good of him, to come in, for such a minor part in my little production class short of mine. So, I was very saddened to hear of his passing. Still though, very happy, I got the few brief moments I did working with him. Great critic as well, if ever want to find his writings, they're always entertaining to read; he'll be sadly missed in this local theater community.

Well, not much else happening right now. Here's the latest batch of my RANDOM WEEKLY MOVIE REVIEWS!


WRECK-IT RALPH (2012) Director: Rich Moore

5 STARS



When you realize just what they've done, it becomes clear that "Wreck-It Ralph" is some kind of mini-miracle. I never was what some would consider a video game junkie as a kid, or even now, not in the traditional sense anyway. My games were more in the "NBA Jam", pinball and "Tetris" variety, as opposed to some of the more noteworthy games lately. That said though, I couldn't believe it when King Koopa, Sonic the Hedgehog, Pac-Man, and QBert, were all in the same movie. I don't know whether they had to negotiate for the rights of these characters, like the way they had to for the other major animation landmarks, "Who Framed Roger Rabbit", and "Toy Story", (Much easier with "Toy Story" to get Mr. Potato Head, it's product placement.) or if they made slight differences to the characters to make sure not to get sued, but I couldn't tell. From the moment the characters made their appearance, in their retro video game animation styles, I was sold, and knew I was in for something quite unique. Apparently, just like our toys in "Toy Story," when an arcade, if you can ever find one anymore (I do miss cool arcades, wish Scandia was still open, I think I held the record on "Clutch Hitter" on that.) , is closed for the night, the characters from all those beloved games come to life, and have lives of their own. They have fun, they go get drunk at Tapper, but for the bad guys, it's a little depressing. There's a Bad Anonymous group held by one of the "Pac-Man" villains every night. (I want to say Blinky, but I get confused on the "Pac-Man" character names.) Wreck-It Ralph (John C. Reilly) is a classic video game bad guy. Very classic, his game, "Fix-It Felix Jr", where he smashes and wrecks a high-rise condominium while, Felix, (Jack McBrayer) fixes it with his father's magic hammer. Ralph is tired of being the bad guy who gets thrown off the roof and living in the dump while Felix keeps medals. Desperate after wrecking a party he wasn't invited too, he leaves his game and goes through the Game Station Central, and decides to jump games, in order to play a good guy and win a medal. A very risky move considering that, people have noted that, if you did in another game, you die forever, and potentially lead to the death of both games. At first, he ends up in new first-person shooter game, where Captain Calhoun (Jane Lynch) leads a team of futuristic soldiers in a battle with giant multiplying bugs, but he escapes that game and then finds himself in a candy-influenced go-kart game called "Sugar Rush", where he meets a glitch named Vanellope (Sarah Silverman) A glitch in video game lingo, and btw I didn't know this either, is when a character is programmed into a game at one point, but isn't used in the final product, instead of going back into the program and digging the character out, it much easier for a programming to just leave the character in, but not use them, or have them unconnected to the actual gameplay. This is even done, when whole levels or sections or minigames for instance, are left unfinished or abandoned, they just leave them on the program. Vanellope wants to be a racer however, and with Ralph, she gets a shot, but having a glitch become apart of the game, can be devastating to the game, and King Candy (Alan Tudyk) doesn't want her to not only destroy the game, but also herself, as unlike regular characters, glitches are stuck in their games and can't jump. I love the care and imagination put into "Wreck-It Ralph". This is a film made by people who absolutely love video games, and not just playing them, every aspect of them. The design, the creativity, the history of them, how they, like animation, has evolved over-the-years, and how they have become more complicated. There's many kind of animation used in "Wreck-It Ralph", all of them done amazingly well, especially the inventive design of the candy-inspired Sugar Rush world, it's really inspiring. There's a lot of in jokes, some I caught others I didn't, but they weren't as pressing or obvious as they've been in recent animated films. Strangely, I think the key to the film was good characters, which can be rare enough in an animated film sometimes, but in the world of video games, they can really be rare, but here they really thought them through well. I don't quite know how high I'd rank "Wreck-It Ralph" in the recent animation canon, but I can't stress enough, just how much fun, it is. Visually special, creative story, that's knowledgeable, with legitimate twists and such wondrous imagination, which is really what separates "Wreck-It Ralph", one of the most fun movie experiences I'd had in a while. It's close to great, it's definitely fun; it's so rare to say that a movie is fun, anymore, but "Wreck-It Ralph", is pure fun.


HITCHCOCK (2012) Director: Sacha Gervasi

4 STARS



You do have to be a good director to even get half-way to having directed your 47th film, much less, have that one, arguably be your best film. Well, at least I consider "Psycho" to be Alfred Hitchcock's best film, (Sorry, "Vertigo" fans) and there wasn't a whole lot that I didn't know about the making of the film going into "Hitchcock", but they certainly found a few things, at least from a personal life standpoint, regarding the great Alfred Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins). I always did kinda picture Hitchcock to be an outwardly funny guy and sly guy, who found dark humor as much as fright in the films he made, and there's part of that here, but the movie also hypothesizes the more darker inner thoughts of Hitchcock. "Psycho" was famously influenced by Ed Guin (Michael Wincott), the famed Wisconsin serial killer (He was also the inspiration for Leatherface in "Texas Chain Saw Massacre", among other characters), and at times, he talks to him, as an inner monologue/alter ego-type character, as he wonders about his wife Alma Reville (Helen Mirren) as she starts working on an adaptation of Whitfield Cook's (Danny Huston) novel, which Hitchcock didn't care much for. Cook wrote the adaptation for Hitchcock's "Strangers on a Train", and had been working mostly in TV crime shows since, while working on a Hitchcockian-like novel. Alma played a major role in most of Hitchcock's films, often doing uncredited rewrites and even filling in as director on-set when Hitch couldn't be there. Hitchcock had just had a major hit with "North By Northwest," but was wondering whether he can make a film like his older, dirtier, grittier films. He mortgages his house, and bankrolls "Psycho" himself, with him and his agent Lew Wasserman (Michael Stuhlbarg) making a deal with Paramount only for distribution, this was after he bought, every copy of the novel "Psycho", to make sure nobody would go into the movie, knowing what's going to happen. "Hitchcock" is an interesting and fun, behind-the-scenes film story, although it wasn't quite as good as say last year's "My Week with Marilyn" to name a recent example, although that was a different story, and a different. "Hitchcock," while it veers into the darker side of him, it's a fairly light film, even the more conflicting material is easily brushed away, like how he's standoffish with Vera Miles (Jessica Biel) and somewhat infatuated with Janet Leigh (Scarlet Johansson) the latest ideal Hitchcock blonde, and the concern that a young Tony Perkins (James D'Arcy) has over the role reaching a little too close to home. "Hitchcock" is a shallow dive into the inner mind and workings of the master of suspense, and that's okay. I'm not sure how deeply we want to into that anyway, it might be better just to dip a toe into the pool. "Hitchcock" got an Oscar nomination for its makeup, which is moderately impressive; the real feat in that field is getting Hopkins to look like Hitchcock, and everybody else seems to have had only the slightest of makeup done to them, although during the shower scene, Johansson impressed me with how much she looked like Janet Leigh in the infamous shower scene when she was screaming. Her performance is underrated here. Helen Mirren got some major awards nominations for her work though, and I'll say she's deserving; you can almost argue that she's a second lead in this film; it's almost as much her story as it is Hitchcock's. It might be informative for those who don't quite know so much about the making of "Psycho" as I do, but I enjoyed "Hitchcock", more as a lightweight feather of a film. It give us, just enough of everything we'd want in this kind of film, but not really anything more than that, but it's entertaining, and the scenes of recreating the sets and shots of Psycho put a smile face on my face, so it's a definite recommend. It's not particularly special in this genre, but I had fun, I watched it again; makes me want to watch "Psycho" again, and it reinvigorates my love of Hitchcock.


STRUCK BY LIGHTNING (2013) Director: Brian Dannelly

3 1/2 STARS



Brian Dannelly's first film, "Saved!" was the best high school comedy of the last decade, and one of the most underrated films of that decade as well. There's not the same kind of sharp satire in "Struck By Lightning" his second feature-length directorial effort, but you can see the glimpses of that kind of rebellious anti-high school movie nature in this film, which begins, with it's protagonists death. The kid struck by lightning and dead is the overly-ambitious Carson Phillips ("Glee"'s Chris Colfer, who wrote the film's screenplay). He's the kind of student who's too smart for the town, in this case, Clover, a town of 9,000, that nobody ever seems to leave, and everybody in the high school does some kind of school activities, out of boredom. Carson, is the editor of the newspaper, although he actually is the only one who writes, as the rest of the group never does any of the work, although the video-camera wielding Malerie (Rebel Wilson) does try to write, but usually ends up just copying the most famous first lines in the history of American literature. Carson does all this, so he can leave Clover for good, and become a famous journalist who wins the Nobel Peace Prize, all of which starts by getting into Northwestern. He clearly smart enough and determined to get in, and to compare the standard of the town, the school's ditzy career/college Counselor, (Angela Kinsey) has never heard of Northwestern. His homelife also is complicated. His mother Sheryl (Allison Janney, who has never given an incorrect line reading, of anything) is a pilled-up alcoholic, who's been a mess even before her husband Neal (Dermot Mulroney) left the family. He's back in town and his fiance April (Christina Hendricks) now works as the town's pharmacist, where Sheryl visits regularly for her pills. It doesn't take too long before they realize the connection they have. In the meantime, undeterred by his need to do everything possible to get out town, Carson decides to create a literary magazine for the school. Getting anybody to participate is hard enough, especially since nobody likes him for his obnoxious way he reveals his intelligence by making smartass remarks about everyone, including teh teachers, and also because he refuses to let his life get in the way of his dreams, even if that means, forcing the school to contribute to a literary magazine through blackmail. And there's no shortage of it either by the way. The athlete's gay relationship with the with drama nerd, the cheerleader's affair with the football coach, threatening to show the goth's BDSM photos to her Sunday School teaching mother, etc. etc. There's a lot of boredom going on in this school, and the lethargy get exorcized through many different distractions. Sex, powertrips, clubs, drugs, especially perscription drugs. In some ways, "Struck By Lightning" kind of reminded me of "The Last Picture Show", in how everybody's life was pretty much defeated before it began, and if you weren't on the football team, you weren't doing anything. Here, even that's not doing anything, just killing time before high school ends and the rest of their sucky lives begins, at least that's how Carson sees it. Or saw it. There's some good performance by Sarah Hyland from "Modern Family" and Remy Baker from "Weeds" and "Suburgatory" here, as some of the other popular high school students, who get blackmailed and forced into Carson's web. I was caught offguard by how much I enjoyed "Struck By Lightning", although I must confess being disappointed  that the whole movie is taking place, knowing that Carson's efforts are futile, and that he's telling this story from beyond. I love "Sunset Boulevard" as much as anybody, but sometimes, you want to see the character's succeed and achieve their goals, especially when they deserve them. Maybe that's the point, or maybe that's just a first-time screenwriter's mistake. Well, that said, for a first-time screenwriter, Chris Colfer's effort was pretty damn good actually. It's got some problems, it doesn't dive into some of the characters as well as it should, and yes, they do all come off as types, including Carson to some extent. There's is apart of his relentlessness that makes him a little one-note at times. Still, I was entertained and very much impressed by "Struck By Lightning", if for no other reason, than it was fun to see an actual smart high school character, who actually was smart for a change. Smart and driven. It's a shame, he's actually be closer to being an adult than anybody, except him, ever realize.


THE CABIN IN THE WOODS (2012) Director: Drew Goddard

2 1/2 STARS



This review is going to be one of the most conflicting ones I may ever write. I get what they're doing, probably more than most people do actually, 'cause being a screenwriter myself, I understood more than most that the overseeing workers who are guiding the dumb teenagers to their inevitable doom, Sitterson and Hadley (Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford) are actually the writers themselves, Joss Whedon and Director Drew Goddard, while they're simultaneously deconstructing, as well as going through the processes of writing a script. Yes, I understood the real metaphor, of "The Cabin in the Woods", the title itself, both generic and symbolic, but alas, why couldn't this have been done, with a better genre, or possibly with smarter characters in the genre. This has been the frustrating annoyance I've had with, pretty much everything Joss Whedon has ever done, which makes me dumbstruck by anybody who considers his work in such high regard. He doesn't create realistic or even believable or plausible characters,  so, instead, he extends upon cliched characters, never fully combining the elements dual elements that he constantly tries to mix together into a single character, and then, he insists on the generic natures of the plot, driving the characters, instead of the other way around. You may call this a style, and to that extent, he is unique and even talented, but he doesn't think he's doing that, and actually believes that he's creating complete, complex characters usually, and even important and seminal characters, and that mis-belief by him, and his fans, is why I've always taken issue with him, 'cause not only is he not doing that, but worse yet, he usually implies their intelligent characters in some way, when their not. Now, thankfully here, he's creating dumb characters, but at least he knows it this time, and they're dumb for a good reason as well. Come to think of it, they're not exactly complete characters either. In fact, they're basically "The Breakfast Club," without the depth, or the intellect, or much else. If it weren't for horror movies road trips to scary, middle of nowhere places, guarded by creepy inbred gas station owners named Mordecai (Tim De Zarn), would these kids even hang out together? Hey, my high school wasn't clique-y at all, but still, you didn't see this combination anywhere, including Saturday detentions. Anyway, the athlete Curt, and his slutty, newly-blonde whore girlfriend Jules (Chris Hemsworth and Anna Hutchinson) take Jules's, ehh-oh-ye-ikes-ooh-, hold on, I have to consult with my thesaurus for a bit here, one second-

(Eh, let's see, "virginal"'s not quite right, not celibate, not elegant, not immaculate, definitely not innocent, virtuous, maybe? Modest, we're getting there; prudish, ooh, maybe, maybe not? Moral? Ooh, this is a tricky- Vacant! Well, they're all vacant. Eh, can't quite say prude-, "more modest", does that work for everyone? "More modest"? Can you say that? Yeah, grammatically it's-it's alright, but descriptively is it accurate enough for...-, alright I'm going with "more modest", everyone alright with that? "More modest," no objections. Alright, good.)

Where was I? Oh, they take Jules's more modest friend Anna, (Kristen Connelly) the prophetic stoner, Marty (Fran Kranz), and the honorable, nice, black-guy-who-you-know's-gonna-die-'cause-he's-black, Holden, (Jesse Williams) to this out-of-the-way cabin, deep in the woods for the weekend. Little do they know... boy, how little do they know, that somehow this gathering of these fives archetypes are apart of an elaborate ritualistic science experiment, where, for all intensive purposes, they all have to die, and that they're entire surroundings are basically controlled and manipulated by Sitterson and Hadley, the two government employees who make sure they can't get out, and that, once the bad guys end up trying to kill them, they eventually get killed. It doesn't matter much who the bad guys are, especially since, there's a poll going in the bunker, on what exactly will actually kill them. Writer's trick, it doesn't matter what's killing you, as long as it's trying to kill you, 'cause the dramatic part, and soon, they start getting killed, some 'cause they're just stupid or horny, and it always does frustrate me how those two things states automatically go together in horror films. Interestingly enough, things go wrong in the killing of all the teenagers, and yes, if we're dealing with structure of a horror, especially from the perspective of film theory, then the "Final Girl" will come into effect, because the plot requires it. This is why I am so, back-and-forth, on this film, from the metaphor that's very apparent to me, and I believe to be the actual source of this story, as oppose to the actual film, at least up until the very end, when (ACTRESS NAME DELETED), will make her inevitable cameo, I have a certain affection for the film. Yet, that affection is very shallow; I understand and appreciate, the screenwriter's struggle metaphor, but he doesn't add something new to it. They haven't reinvented, or commented on the horror film and the genre therein, in any way, other than simply deconstructing, so it's all stuff we already knew. Also on that token, take the metaphor out, and you have nothing, but the most generic and vacuous of horror movies, ever. There's no new character, there's no interesting character, there's no real new twist, unless you really can't jump ahead and figure it out, but I easily could. It's interesting to see the differences between these two worlds, especially with the dialogue which is hokey horror film on one hand, and a lesser Aaron Sorkin in the bunker scenes, but neither world has real emotional pull. The directing by Drew Goddard is good, and I liked his last film "Cloverfield", which also dealt with challenging the ideas of genre. Yet, this movie feels like they just decided to pull the curtain and see the wizard, without actually making Dorothy follow the Yellow Brick Road. Normally you get the movie, and within the movie, you can find the metaphoric significance, of what they're saying, but "The Cabin in the Woods" seems to have done the opposite, they didn't make a movie at all, but they developed a fairly good metaphor. What works about it, is really good, but what works is not the part of the actual film. It's what the film represents that's good, the movie itself, isn't as good, or even really anything, so since I'm a movie reviewer, I won't stop anybody from seeing it, but I just can't find a way to justify giving it a positive review.  This film is like that Steven Wright joke, about going to the Air and Space Museum, and finding it empty. I can't recommend it, and I'm just more perplexed by Whedon's popularity and so-called genius than ever before.


THE INTOUCHABLES (2012) Directors: Olivier Nakache & Eric Toledano

4 STARS



"The Intouchables" is one of those films that an absolute delight to watch, while you're watching it, and then afterwards, you sit down, and think about how it's a completely manipulative and cliched story you've seen many times before about two people from different worlds, who end becoming lifelong friends, and learning from each other, and so on and so forth. Basically, you have to decide whether or not you like these characters enough to follow them from the beginning, and then let yourself be lead, or not. This one, has two very likeable characters, and is very well-made and well-acted, so we decide to be lead, and thankfully it's good enough to allow that from us. It's also a very popular movie, currently ranking #62 on imdb.com, Top 250, setting records all through Europe, and was France submission for the Foreign Language Oscar this past year. The two so-too-be close friends are Philippe (Francois Cluzet), an older widowed millionaire quadriplegic, and Driss (Omar Sy) an African former criminal, who comes in one day for an interview to be his home health care worker. Well, actually, he came in fo Philippe to sign a paper, saying that he came in for the interview so he can show his parole officer that he was out looking for a job, but despite constantly hitting on Philippe secretary Magalie (Audrey Fleurot), and talking about music, he gets a trial. He gets a live-in room and bathroom, and has to learn how to wash, clothe, feed, drive, Philippe, etc. Personally, I'd like in just the bathroom which is bigger and more glamourous than my apartment, but he gets a bad himself. The basic differences between these two, get explored throughout the film, through their many adventures and conversations. Occasionally some other characters come into the story, and we get a sense of their personal lives. Philippe adopted a daughter, Yvonne (Anne Le Ny), after they weren't able to conceive previously. She's a moody teenager now, (Well, what teenagers aren't moody) Driss's was kicked out of his mother, Mina (Absa Diatou Toure) but soon, he starts trying to help get his younger brother out of a similar life of crime that he went through. I've been going the movie a second time briefly, just to find out the brothers name, and the actor who played but I can't seem to find. In fact, I'm having trouble even finding a movie review that even mentions the subplot, I guess it isn't really an integral part of the movie, but I thought it could've been brought up, the comparisons between the daughter and the younger brother. The movie is more enjoyable as a deconstructionist tale anyway, and thankfully, most of these minor plotpoints are brief and light. The clash of cultures is really the important part. Opera vs. soul, stuffiness vs. energetic, rich vs. poor, high class, low class, wine vs. weed, and how the two of them mix, and whether or not we smile and laugh enough to enjoy ourselves watching it. The movie's well-acted, well-directed, Cluzet and Sy have wonderful chemistry, and the movie knows that if you want to play music that will always make the audience smile, play Earth, Wind & Fire. So, the movie works, just don't think, don't compare, just put on "The Intouchables" watch, and have fun.


END OF WATCH (2012) Director: David Ayes

4 1/2 STARS



You know, oddly enough, despite the fact that I work in film, except for a once-in-a-blue-moon acting gigs I've taken, I'm rarely, if ever photographed, much less, have my actions and appearance filmed. Yet, I know that, somehow, on this cheap-ass little cell phone I have next to my keyboard, I could start filming a movie if I wanted to, and even this computer has some kind of camera feature, that can take my picture, but I never use it. The two photos of me on my Facebook page aren't even taken by me, just by someone from a local website who was taking photo of a film festival I was at one weekend, and I still only ended up in those two photos, and neither is my profile photo, which is reserved for my pic of Statler & Waldorf. Yet, "End of Watch" exists in a world where everything is being recorded, and everyone's doing the recording themselves at that, almost as though, they want to make sure there's documented confirmation of their existence on Earth, for it's likely that there lives will be cut short. Very likely. "End of Watch" is a cop movie, and a rather traditional one at that. Brian Taylor and Mike Zavala (Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena) are patrol cops, working South Central L.A., which is exactly as rough as it sounds. Mike's going to college in his spare time, and has taken film as an elective, and the movie begins with a true-to-film, behind the scenes of his average day, which may include having to bust a guy, who refuses to cooperate, and then dropping the guns and badge, and really fighting until he's knocked out. It helps earn them respect, and an occasional new informant, since they didn't charge the guy for attacking a cop, just the minor disorderly conduct for being drunk. The cops are both lucky and good. The movie opens with a high-speed chase, shown from the it's beginning, to it's end, and to the afterwards, with the cops standing around, to the detectives and EMTs come in, investigating the scene, and everything's being recorded from that desk car cam. The next time we see them, they're back on the force, after the investigation into the case concluded. It's almost cliche, but yeah, Mike's a single white guy, while Mike's married his high-school sweetheart Gabby (Natalie Martinez), who's pregnant again. The work on the job, basically resembles a modern-day version of some of the more exciting episodes of "Adam-12". Some calls are more normal than most, others require heroic efforts beyond the call of duty, even for cops. In between, they're joking, listening to rap music, and giving advice to each other. They get caught up accidentally on a major drug cartel accidentally. When they were investigating on their own, they stumble across a bloodbath and a human trafficking operation that's so horrid, it shocks even them. The second cameraman in the film, belongs to one of the young members of the cartels, who records the drive-by shootings from inside the car, which to my surprise at least, were being driven, and practically run by a women, although the dominant male seems to be in charge, as he teaches his son how to be man during these shootings. Meanwhile, life goes on, and freewheeling Brian suddenly has a girlfriend, Janet (Anna Kendrick, and boy, she's becoming one of those actresses I'm always happy to suddenly see onscreen). Right away, you get the sense that she's perfect for Brian, although always heeding warnings from Gabby, who's funny and unusually frank about being married, and married to a cop during those, ever-more-often-occurring double dates they have. Writer-Director David Ayer, isn't exactly breaking new ground, but he doesn't have to. Every-so-often, this material needs to be revisited, and when it's done really well, it can be special. This time it's very special. "End of Watch" doesn't have the feel of the normal cop partners you see in movies, or a forced friendship that's manipulated because of high-action. "End of Watch", is a film about two people who really do care about each other, and will sacrifice their lives for each other, even if they weren't doing it already because of their job. It's gritty realism, it's emotional, and incredibly well-acted. Gyllenhaal and Pena give two of the performances of both of their careers. Ayer's been making gritty street-level cop movies for awhile now, he wrote the script for "Training Day", among other films, this is his second directing job after "Harsh Times", which I haven't seen yet, but I might go search for it now. "End of Watch" is certainly the best pure cop movie in a long while, and a reminder once again, that you don't have to break new ground or be as original as possible to make a good movie. I was delightfully surprised how much I enjoyed "End of Watch", and just how caught up in the lives of these two cops, that I got. Two good cops, by the way. I should point that out as well. This isn't one of those movies either where one cop's corrupt or some twist like that. These are two good cops, who we care about because they're two good human beings.


CELESTE AND JESSE FOREVER (2012) Director: Lee Toland Kreiger

4 STARS



Before I begin this review, one of my friends mentioned having seen "Celeste and Jesse Forever", right as I was about to watch it, among his complaints was that the film didn't seem like a realistic romantic-comedy to him. I paused the movie for a second, and asked what he considered a realistic romantic-comedy, and he finally replied "Sleepless in Seattle". In his defense, I think he meant to say "You've Got Mail", but either way, I thought I should mention that as the mindset I had going into the film. (And btw, I was working on "Realistic Romantic Comedy" myself, and the only I could come up with was "Annie Hall", so if anybody else has a good answer to that question, let me know.) Anyway, "Celeste and Jesse Forever" isn't what I'd call a romantic comedy. Celeste and Jesse (Rashida Jones and Andy Samberg) are married and have been together for years, but right now, they're separated, but they're still so close, that the only way that the audience even figures that out is by their friends Beth and Tucker (Ari Graynor and Eric Christian Olsen), on one of those couples' night out, get so frustrated with them for still seeming like the perfect couple, while he's living in the guest house and she's living in their room. Their friends want them to either be back together, or at each other's throats. Celeste works at a publicity firm, and is a widely-regarded trend forecaster. Yes, that's an actual profession, with a moderately-selling book and everything, including a helpful gay boss, Scott (Elijah Wood), who's ironically not that great at the flamboyant aspect of that typecast in this film. Actually, while the film plays with typecasting a bit, it doesn't allow for any character to be a complete cliche, even Riley Banks (Emma Roberts) the ditzy, talentless pop star whose image she's reluctantly working on, currently. Jesse is an artist, who's known for sculpture using found materials. I went and reread Roger Ebert's review of this film, and he chose to leave out the catalyst event that suddenly spearheads the divorce, and the inevitable blowup between them, and since I've staring at the computer screen for half-an-hour, trying to figure out what to write next, I'll trust him, and leave it out as well. The movie isn't about how these two eventually move on from their divorce, but how these two characters struggle to move. It's a character piece, seeing how one Celeste crumbles under her snobby professional veneer, and how Jesse finally has to get thrust into adulthood. The film was written by Rashida Jones and Will McCormack, he plays a stoner friend of the couple in the film. Jones, who's had some major film roles, is mostly known for her work on TV's "Parks and Recreation", and it's a good first script for them, and it's a far better film from Director Lee Toland Kreiger after his dreadful "The Vicious Kind"; he might found a genre he can work well with, with this character piece. There  isn't a whole lot of new, but there's a lot of good, good acting, good characters, and a good script, in "Celeste and Jesse Forever". It's one of those rare adult movie about relationships, that we're begging for more of from Hollywood these days. As despite my friend's earlier claim, I found it quite a believable tale, not a romantic-comedy, but of two people who try to deny the love-lost between them, and fail. Roger Ebert's review was also right about one other thing, "The way things are going now, if an actress doesn't write a good role for herself, no one else is going to write one."


THE LORAX (2012) Director: Chris Renaud and Kyle Balda

2 STARS



While I usually consider myself well-read in the seminal literary works of one, Ted Geisel aka Dr. Seuss, yet somehow I missed "The Lorax", growing up, so this puts me a little behind the eight ball, since I really can't compare this one to the book. That said though, Dr. Suess has always been a difficult author to transition to the big screen to begin with. The best of the bunch, was the '53 film, "The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T.", which wasn't a book at all, as it was created for the big screen. The recent film bastardizations adaptations of Suess's work, have all been relatively disappointing, and "The Lorax" really isn't any different, except it's one of those animated movies that seems to have been made to push an environmental agenda. The biggest sin among this extreme subgenre would have to be, "Ferngully: The Last Rainforest", which even as a kid, was two manipulative for me. There's nothing inherently wrong with a "message movie", but it should be about a messenger, and not about the message itself. A person who cares enough to change the rules, and not a call to action so much. We need a Jane Goddall to care about monkeys, and in this case,... well, I'll say they're interesting-looking trees at least. Thneedville is a town entirely without trees, is all entirely made of plastic, and everything is artificial. The town's Mayor Aloysius O'Hare (Rob Riggle) became the richest man in town by bottling air. (Whoa. that was written in Suess-ical verse, completely unintentionally.) Young Ted (Zac Efron) wants to impress Audrey, who's fascinated by nature and wants to give her a tree. In order to do this, he's instructed by his Grammy Norma (Betty White) to go see some mysterious man called the Once-ler (Ed Helms) who tells the story of how, he was responsible for there not being anymore trees, after he destroyed them to make Thneeds, a popular multi-purpose item, that everybody thneeded.- I mean, needed, or so they thought. The people are quite gullable in this film, and rather loose on conviction, I must say. Easily swayed and manipulated, without much real dissent or discontent, especially during a couple crucial scenes, they seem to go from oblivious to all-caring, all-worrying in the blink of an eye. The musical numbers are sub-par. The animation is okay, and the trees themselves, colorfully look like cotton candy lollipops to me. The title character of the Lorax (Danny DeVito) a smallish-little minion-like creature, asks as a spiritual voice or presence over the trees, but we're not exactly talking "Princess Mononoke"-level spiritualism here, frankly his character is barely needed, except possibly for a rhyme. So far, I'm pretty sure it's not really possible to transfer Dr. Suess's work to the big screen rather well; although I'd be looking forward to any future filmed version of "One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish", his work really isn't a natural fit for film. I don't know, how accurate or not, "The Lorax" is to the book, as I mentioned, but it really is a rather unimportant and innocuous animated film. Music numbers aren't that inventive or inspiring, the story is manipulative; it might keep a five-year-olds attention while it's on, but they're gonna forget about it, right afterwards.


DANGEROUS LIAISONS (2012) Director: Jin-ho Hur

3 STARS



Every-so-often, it's been deemed that somebody must create a new version of "Dangerous Liaisons" every few years or so. I keep meaning to watch some of the other versions, which for some reasons, I haven't yet, (Well, I thing I might have seen "Cruel Intentions", but now I'm not so sure; I always get that one confused with "Wild Things" for some reason, I might have watched that one instead) but since the story's so well-known and basic, that even if you haven't seen it or read the novel (Another book I haven't read. Sigh.) your usually fairly familiar with the basic plot, which, the good thing about it, is that it's fairly adaptable. It's a story that really can be set at nearly any time and place that one chooses to tell, in this case, we have a Chinese version, made by South Korean director Jin-ho Hur, that takes place in 1930s Shanghai, which was essentially the Far East equivalent to the Jazz Age of Paris or New York in the '20s. Xie Yifan (Dong-gun Jang) is the playboy, and his former girlfriend Mo Jieyu (Cecilia Cheung) is the playgirl, the two, who go around bedding, well, everyone, for their own hedonistic enjoyment. Xie's in the middle of bedding the virginal Beibei (Candy Wang), who's got a crush on her art teacher Dai Whenzhou (Shawn Dou). During this time, Xie also has a crush on a the widowed Du Fenyu (Zhang Ziyi). Mo bets Xie that if he can't bed the widow that she's gets a piece of land he owns, but if he does, than he gets her. As they say in "Casablanca," human life is cheap. The movie, like the story, becomes a melodrama, soap opera from here, so basically what I'm determining here, is how well the telling is, and while I doubt this is the best version of "Dangerous Liaisons", but overall I think it's a good one. It's beautifully show, with incredible sets and costumes, can the film can be very erotic, and during the less sexual moments, the film seems to ooze lust and eroticism. A very good setting to tell this story, and it's well-acted and told, so I'm recommending it. Is it that good a story to tell, well, that's another discussion, but I think those come in expecting what they expect to get out of "Dangerous Liaisons" will get it, and for that, it's worth recommending.


AMERICANO (2012) Director: Mathieu Demy

2 STARS



Does any actress keep getting casted as a stripper more than Salma Hayek? Not that I'm exactly complaining about it, but she does keep getting that first call. "Dogma", "From Dusk 'til Dawn", "Midaq Alley", (Okay, they last one, she wasn't a stripper, she was a prostitute, but still) and now, here she is in "Americano", playing another stripper. Anyway, I can write material about that for awhile, but the movie itself, is a lyrical tale about the journey that Martin (Mathieu Demy, who also wrote and directed the film) takes, after hearing about his mother's death is the States. Martin has been estranged from his mother for years. His past is a little complicated in terms of geography, but basically he was dual-citizenship, and he's actually a legal American, as well as a Frenchman, and this trip back to Southern California, is a trip back to, what was very briefly his childhood home. There, he meets his Mom's neighbor friend Linda (Geraldine Chaplin) at the airport, and a few other friends, who are strangers to him, but treat Martin like the prodigal son. Soon, he learns of an old childhood friend Lola, (Hayek)  who his mother kept in touch with, and a letter she sent her, that got returned-to-sendered, says that she gave Lola the house. At first, Martin is furious, but soon, he's off to Tijuana, to find her at a dingy hole-in-the-wall strip club called "Americano", which is naturally run by a tough Mexican gangster type, Pedro (Pablo Garcia), who's not lenient on the drinks or the girls. Lola is standoffish and cold with Martin, who we're not sure if she remembers from when they were kids. For some reason, she strips in a hot pink wig, which I guess nobody bothers to notice considering what else she's usually wearing, which isn't much. She still looks great at 40something Hayek, but there isn't much else I got from "Americano". Martin's car, with the paperwork and his passports are stolen in Mexico for most of the film, so he's stuck in a country that he's completely unfamiliar with, and losing money fast, just trying to talk with Lola, who doesn't believe him, even after he finally tells, which takes an unreasonably long time to begin with. There's a beauty in the pacing of the film, that's lyrical at sensual at times, but mostly the film just drags on, especially in the second half of the film, and the ending also, was confusing and both non-nonsensical and ironically cliche. I don't know how they pulled off both of those things at once, but "Americano" is a mood, more than it a movie, and for that, I can't recommend. It's relatively entertaining as you're watching it at first, and you think it could go somewhere interesting, and it really doesn't.


HAROLD & KUMAR GO TO WHITE CASTLE (2004) Director: Danny Lenier

3 STARS



Somehow I never seemed to be able to get "Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle" until now. Not that I wasn't interested in watching it, but it didn't make a priority list of mine until it's first sequel came out, and even then, it wasn't exactly a high priority, no pun intended. I actually tend to have a minor quibble with these kind of films, well in this one two quibbles. One, nothing personal, but White Castle, isn't really that great a place to eat; maybe that's part of the joke, although I'm sure they didn't look at it that way. The other being that, there's an impossible-to-meet threshold with these kind of films, with an entire 2nd act, where literally anything can happen. This was actually one of my complaints with "The Hangover," in that, while the script allows for the absolute most outrageous things possible to happen, because it's so wide open that, it's practically impossible for a film to live up to those expectations. So when Harold & Kumar (John Cho and Kal Penn), after a early night of, as they say now on "How I Met Your Mother", eating "sandwiches", and suddenly they have a wicked craving for some White Castle sliders. Seems simple enough, but things get in the way of their humble goal. Harold is a shy, junior finance speculator, or something like along those lines, who's got a lot of work to do this weekend, 'cause his boss Billy, (Ethan Embry) made him do his work, while he's out in Atlantic City for the weekend. Kumar is a future, reluctant med student, who actually is quite a talented doctor as we see in one scene, when someone he ends up in an emergency surgery, removing bullets from a GSW victim, but would rather give up his free ride, and his father's (Errol Sitahal) money and connections, in order become a pothead. I should mention, although I doubt anybody out there doesn't know, that Harold is Asian-American and Kumar is Indian-American, and the movie plays with some of the, for-lack-of-a-better-word, stereotypes and customs of both nationalities. Harold, for instance, is constantly frustrated with Cindy Kim (Siu Ta) a fellow Princeton member of the Asian-American Outreach program, which she keeps trying to get Harold to help participate in, and also, has an obsessive crush on Harold, while he has a crush on Maria (Paula Garces) a neighbor girl, who he can't quite make himself talk to on the elevator, despite his best efforts. Actually compared to some of the other movies of this nature, Harold & Kumar are two really well-drawn characters. It's easy to see why two sequels have been made, I kinda want to see what happens to them, which is something I rarely say about most stoner comedies. As to some of the other pitfalls they run into, they get arrested, they get high a few times, they run into a character named Freakshow (Christopher Meloni), who looks like his name indicates, and his unusual horny wife Liane (Malin Akerman) who doesn't, a runaway cheetah, and of course, a regrettable run-in with Neil Patrick Harris, playing, an interesting variation on himself. I laughed a bit with "Harold & Kumar...", although not as much as I would've liked. I guess, I should recommend this film, for people who are predisposed to like this kind of movie; it's possible that the hype I've heard around the film was a little too much for me to overcome enough to enjoy it, as much as I would've liked. I actually had 2 1/2 STARS written on top of the review for the majority, I think I will change it to 3 STARS, because I think the people who like these kind of movies, will like this one, but overall, while there's definitely some high points in this, again no pun intended, overall I was actually disappointed. I don't know if this is quite as good as something like "Up in Smoke" in terms of stoner comedies, but I've seen a lot worse too. A mixed review here, while I hold out hope that the sequels are better. I guess I'm also giving points, for being a film that fairly knowledgeable in the geography of New Jersey, although, it should be noted, their aren't any White Castles, anywhere near Cherry Hill, which is Southern New Jersey, while White Castle is predominately a North Jersey tradition.


KITES (2010) Director: Anurag Basu

2 1/2 STARS



KITES: REMIX (2010) Director: Anurag Basu. Remixed: Brett Ratner

2 1/2 STARS



"Kites" marks a milestone in Bollywood cinema; it's the first Bollywood film to break into the Top Ten at the U.S. box office. Actually, there's two different movies called "Kites" out there. The first one, is the original Bollywood version, which was actually shot, mostly in the Las Vegas area, and a remixed version, that's was reedited by Brett Ratner, which cuts almost 40 minutes, uses different footage occasionally, and was designed as a streamlined version of the film for American audiences. More driving the plot forward, less dance sequences (Actually, no dance sequences)  and more emphasis on the actions scenes, which actually looks and feel more like American actions scenes. I can completely understand Ratner's desire to remix or recut the film, "Kites" is the most American-influenced film I've seen come from India. Hollywood-American too at that. The original version already has more drama and and action and less music than most of the Bollywood films I've seen, and much shorter as well. Jay Ray (Hrithik Roshan) is a dance instructor in Vegas at night, and a con artist during the day. Small cons like the palming the ten trick at bars, as well as a green-card husband for many women. One of those women is Natasha (Barbara Mori) a Mexican immigrant, who, doesn't speak any Hindi, and only little English. (Jay Ray, can't speak Spanish either) We soon learn that she's engaged to Tony Grover (Nicholas Brown) just as Jay Ray, begins falling in love with his dance partner Gina Grover (Kangana Renaut), both of whom are the children of Bob Grover (Kabir Bedi) and in the tradition of Bollywood, the guys falls in love with the girl, with the disapproving in-laws. Although, in the tradition of American films, these disapproving in-laws, will simply go to the ends of the Earth to kill those who fuck with their family, and when Jay ray and Natasha suddenly run off together, well, that's fucking up their family. One the run, they becomes bank robbers, escape through some really entertaining car chases, including one that amazing involves a hot air balloon escape, and running off to Mexico to get married, again, and that's the beginning.  Ironically, while I can't quite recommend eithr film, I think I preferred Ratner's cut, which pushed the plot more forward and also fasttracked some of the important plot details so that, it's easier to keep track of what's going on. I do like the pace of the Bollywood version as well however, from Director Anurag Basu, but this really isn't a great story, no matter how it's edited. It may be a Bollywood film, but I've seen quite a few American films that "Kites" is basically a rip-off of, and most of those movies were better. I'm a little new to Bollywood, but I was finding myself getting used to the pattern and rhythm of those films, and "Kites" certainly differes from that however, but that might not necessarily be a good thing. "Kites" is an interesting anomoly, both versions, but neither one of them are good movies, although from an auteur theory perspective, you might get a kick out of comparing the versions.


THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS (1993) Director: Michael Mann

1 1/2 STARS



Well, on top of  every review I've read about "The Great Gatsby" this week, and reviewing both a version of "Dangerous Liaisons" and now, "The Last of the Mohicans", I'm starting to feel very illiterate, and not as well-read as I like to think of. I guess I should veer more into the classic sections of the library, more often-, ah, whom am I kidding, I have to veer into the book section, and take a few minutes away from the DVDs. Maybe read, instead of work on that damn crossword in the Las Vegas CityLife while waiting for the bus. Maybe get back into coloring while I'm at it, it's been awhile since I worked in crayon, and no mean teacher gonna tell me that I have to color inside the lines anymore. Well, all of those options would've been better than sitting through "The Last of the Mohicans". I haven't read it, no, although I'm told that content-wise, the film was pretty much a accurate adaptation of the James Fenimore Cooper novel, but I think this story needs to be told from a more down-to-Earth gritty perspective, and this, epic, old-fashioned, sprawling Hollywood film with that overbearing score beating us over the head with every scene. Ugh, the score really did frustrate me by the way. The story takes place during the French and Indian War, and Hawkeye (Daniel Day-Lewis) is a disgruntled Native American, like many of the Native Americans of that time and weren't exactly sure which side of the war to be on. They're disrespected by the British when they talk about how one attack in one direction, proves that an attacks coming in a certain direction. He also has an affair with Cora Munro (Madeleine Stowe), a British officer's daughter, who's slowly realizing that the war, isn't exactly fought to win or protect the soldiers as it is, fought more out of pride and ego. The higher-ups in the British soldiers reminded me of  Ralph Meeker's character in "Paths of Glory", making soldiers attempt an advance, knowing full well that is would cost lives, and have no bearing or chance of success or any positive impact on the war. While the details of the story, and the romantic tone make the feel like a sub-par David Lean epic, but this was a battle fought on the ground, with people of the land, I think a more realistic and down-to-Earth approach to this material would've made the material even powerful, not having every moment seem like a life-or-death melodramatic plotpoint. If that was the case, we would've actually cared the romance for instance, instead of it just feeling like an arbitrary necessity. It's like somebody went, "It's an epic, there should be a romance, there should be a battle, there be magnificent vistas and ghastly overbearing orchestral music, over everything!" Director Michael Mann has made good and even great movies before and since this film, and nothing here is technically bad, Day-Lewis, gives another one of his memorable performances, but these technical choices are wrong, and sometimes that really does determine the difference between a good movie and a bad movie, and unfortunately, it made the difference here. "The Last of the Mohicans" may not be the greatest story to begin with, but it could've been if it was told well.



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