Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Reel Rhino has TRUE GRIT

...or so it would seem!

I have not seen the JOHN WAYNE classic that is the original TRUE GRIT. Nor have I read the classic American novel by Charles Portis that both films are based upon. The Coen Brothers both wrote the screenplay for this version as well as directed it, and while I intend to see the original soon, I cannot yet judge the two as a comparison.

All that being said, I think have seen just about everything the Coen Brothers have made and given their track record with me*, I went in feeling very confident I would enjoy this film.

(*I have liked everything except Burn After Reading, which has grown on me since my first viewing, even though I will always think that Pitt's performance was too self-admiring to truly be funny or impressive.)

True Grit has all the makings of an epic. Its Director of Photography was Roger Deakins (the Coens' staple DP) who has always given their films that extra touch of beauty, and his hand is evidence here as well. By those 'in the know,' it has been said that this film comes closer to achieving the settings that were described in the original work than the 1969 John Wayne classic. TRUE GRIT was first published as a serial in The Saturday Evening Post and it was then combined into the full-length novel. Much of the credit for this faithful translation certainly goes to Deakins' masterful eye.

The story here is simple. Fourteen year old Mattie Ross's father is gunned down in Fort Smith, Arkansas by a drunken worker of his own employ, for seemingly no good reason. The young Ms. Ross takes great issue with her father's death and especially the lack of official response into investigating the death.

Let me say first and foremost that Mattie is played with mastery by the young and fresh face of Hallie Steinfeld. I would not be surprised to see this young lady in strong consideration come awards season.

The worker in question, Tom Chaney, is played by Josh Brolin. It takes some length into the film before we meet Chaney, but Brolin performs far above par in the role of the slime-ball bandit, squaring off with dexterity against each of his adversaries when the time arises.

The real hero is Rooster Cogburn, played masterfully by THE DUDE himself, Jeff Bridges. I don't know how long it has been since there was a back to back acting win, but it is completely possible here! The Dude is a hesitant protagonist and while Mattie is shopping a bounty for Chaney's capture, she is presented Cogburn as the best candidate.

Texas Ranger La Boeuf is played by The Talented Mr. Matt Damon.  La Boeuf is a proud Ranger and while he makes mention of the reward for Chaney's capture relating to the murder of a Texas Senator, you get the feeling that his months on Chaney's trail has resulted in a mission of determination rather than monetary reward. 

These three form the unlikeliest of a hunting party, one out for vengeance, one out for pride, and one out for money. This film does feature the big Hollywood names that the Coens have the cheese to bring in, but this film does seem to push each of these actors into new territory.

There is not much I can say about True Grit except that I enjoyed the look and feel of the film, and while I liked the film a great deal, I loved the acting a great deal more.

Bridges owns Cogburn, Damon adds just the right comic sensibility to his La Boeuf, and Steinfeld comes across as delivering excellent stage speech, which is a perfect fit for the proper talk of the time represented here.

Speaking of comic sensibility, this film does have a bit more of a comic feel in both delivery of lines and editing, of which the Coen brothers were responsible for both (the Coen's acted as the film's editors under a pseudonym!). The Coens have always been able to delivery a spot on black comedy. While I really enjoyed the comedy, it wasn't so black as their previous efforts. They did add wit to what would have otherwise been a run-of-the-mill albeit well-acted mid-range blockbuster. These guys all have film chops which is why even when you may not be blown away, you still stand impressed.

I give TRUE GRIT a 4 of 5 horns...REEL RHINO has spoken. I hope everyone enjoyed the holiday! I was travelling and like I have done many times in the past, this review was started on Thursday evening. It was written bit by bit, each night, including one particular evening when I had perhaps one cup too many of the spiked eggnog. That's night's writing, while interesting and much misspelled, mostly was deleted.

Don't Drink and Drive...

Don't Drink and Text...

and now I guess, Don't Drink and Blog!

Happy Holidays and I will keep on posting into the new year....Black Swan and The King's Speech are up this week....

Take care!
The Reel Rhino

Monday, December 20, 2010


...but would that really be so bad?

Hola cinema fans and fanatics!

I did get to see The Fighter today, yes.  I posted said fact to my facebook profile and so many people quickly responded something to the effect of: Should I see it?  Or did I already see it when I saw Rocky?

My answer is this....THE FIGHTER is not ROCKY, but would that really be so bad?  Sly Stallone wrote and was nominated for Best Screenplay Written Directly For The Screen for Rocky.  He was also nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role....only the third person as of 1976 to do that, along with Orson Wells and Charlie Chaplin.  That's not such bad company, wouldn't you agree?

The original Rocky is as much a drama as it is a sports movie, although it usually only makes the best-of lists from the latter.  Keep in mind that Rocky is #213 on the IMDB top 250 and it sits quite high at 93% critical freshness on Rotten Tomatoes.  By all accounts, the original Rocky is a classic of American won 3 of the 10 Oscars it was nominated for, which did not include an acting win for Stallone (which as his career progressed, became less of a surprise - as a side note, the best acting win was a posthumous win for Peter Finch who was "mad as hell and not going to take it anymore" in the Sidney Lumet directed classic, Network.

Furthermore, the Rocky name has been watered down through the years.  Most people associate Rocky with Rocky 2, 3, or 4...all enjoyable guilty pleasures, and fine popcorn film fodder, BUT, none of which came close to the original.  And through in Rocky 5, it just got sad.  If not for the respectable effort of the more recent Rocky Balboa, and even more so, Stallone's new found chops as an action writer/director with the latest Rambo and this year's The Expendables.  He has made action/adventure fun and gritty once again.

So the veracity of the originally Rocky is proven, but the question remains: Is The Fighter a Rocky carbon copy, or does it stand on its own?

I am here to tell you that it indisputably stands atop its own mountain.  It is a great film, much like Rocky, but much different than Rocky is in many ways.

Rocky was inspired by the classic fight between Chuck Wepner and Muhammed Ali.  Wepner was TKO'ed in the 15th round by Ali, but no one ever expected Wepner to go the distance.  That 1975 fight was the basis for Stallone's genius tale of the underdog making a run at the title.

The Fighter is the real deal.  It is the biographical sports drama film that looks at the lives of "Irish" Mickey Ward and is older brother, also a boxer, Dicky Eklund.  Ward is played by Mark Wahlberg in his finest role to date and Eklund is played by what appears to be a recently anorexic Christian Bale.  Not since THE MACHINIST has Bale been so gaunt and with The Dark Knight Rises on the near horizon, I am sure he is ordering double at McD's and BK until he brings the body fat back to a respectable crime fighting level.

This is a David O. Russell film.  Russell is a one of a kind director with a background worth learning.  Sharon Waxman wrote a book called Rebels on the Backlot, featuring Russell, Fincher, Tarantino, Soderburgh, P.T.A., and Spike Jonze.  Each director is covered in a no-holds-barred bio that highlights their rise to power as six of the most influential emerging directors of the 90's.  Find this book.  Read it.  It is worth a trip to the bookstore if you love movies and how those that make movies have come to be.

David O. Russell is a creative and truly visionary auteur and it shows in THE FIGHTER.

THE FIGHTER tells the tale of "Irish" Mickey Ward.  As we meet Mickey, he is coming off of his third in a row loss in the ring.  He is training with his big brother and hero, Dicky Eklund, who once went the distance with Sugar Ray Leonard and even knocked him down, while still losing the fight.  Dicky was known as the "Pride of Lowell"  and by "Lowell" I mean Lowell, MA, where most of this tale takes place.

I don't know if it is the type of camera used, the stock of film, or just some David O. Russell magic, but this film looks spectacular.  Blue collar Massachusetts was depicted with great skill and the viewer is literally transported back to the era that was the early 1990's, where our story begins (hairstyles and crappy cars included).  The visual appeal doesn't end at the sets, as the color tones and film grain look give this movie the absolute perfect look.

At the outset, we see Dicky being followed around by a documentary crew.  Dicky tells everyone that they are filming a story on his comeback, but given his gaunt, strung-out condition, something seems off with him.  Dicky's tale is intertwined with and plays a very close second to the primary through-story, concerning Mickey Ward's fall through the ranks before several life changing events provide him with a shot at redemption and a chance to do what his brother never could, make a run at the title.  Dicky trains Mickey and he does it badly, I might add, or so it would seem.  Whether Dickey and their family are helpful or hurtful is so very much the core theme in this movie and more importanly can Mickey create a balance between family and competent handlers, enough so that he might find success.  Yes, that Rocky-esque underdog story is happening as well, but this film is more a study of the people than of the boxing components that subtly lead the plot forward.  The catharsis will be deserved as you endure the destructive nature that these family members both suffer from and enact on one and other.

Very few films look this good, with such great casts, with such witty and real dialogue, with such competent direction.  The cast has Melissa Leo as the domineering head of household, presiding over Mickey and Dicky, and their seven sisters.  These seven sisters are hilarious and their banter mimics real life, which helps the humor hit home all the stronger.  Their early 90's hairstyles help add to the humor as well. 

The most relevant woman in this story is Charlene, played by the always lovely Amy Adams.  She becomes Mickey's girlfriend shortly after he meets her, and before long, she is factoring into how his career is being handled, which throws the rest of the family into turmoil.

Toss in brother Dicky's crack addition and the on-going pain he feels for being a has-been, he hits an all-time low at about the mid-point of the story that really spins our story for a loop.

The movie is really great, from all angles.  It is subtle, very subtle.  The story is as well told as the dialogue is on-target for "real-life" talk rather than Hollywood mumbo-jumbo.  The film maker had a bonus as this is a biography...Russell had access to both Eklund and Ward while making the film and they actually pop up with speaking roles in stingers during the credits.

So as the low-key, by gritty real plot pushes forward, an action movie this is not.  There is far less boxing in what many are calling a "boxing movie," but that is no accident.  You could take the boxing out of this and this movie would be just as great as it is, except maybe a little less cathartic as the final moments of this film will having you want to jump to your feet and cheer.  I felt compassion for the characters throughout the plot progression, but not until the end did I have that moment that started the waterworks.

What makes this movie great is everything!  You might think you are going to see Rocky 7, but instead you get something more on par with There Will Be Blood or No Country for Old plays very much like n an art film that a big budget blockbuster, but it is very appropriate for the mainstream audience.
That's what's funny.  Many of the films deemed "artsy" are very appropriate for a crowd much wider than their target audience.  I can't think of a single friend that wouldn't like this movie.

I think what I like the most about this film is that it is a complete film.  While this is true for the technical aspects of the film, it is especially true about the story itself.

You meet these brothers and their family at a fairy low point in their life and you follow it up to the pinnacle.  You leave with no questions, the whole story has been told and you become a completely satiated movie-goer in the process.

The character development is superb as we meet Amy Adams' Charlene, a University of Rhode Island high jumper who went to school on a full-ride, but dropped out and became a bartender.  Good thing for her, I guess, as she would have ever had the chance to meet her true love.

Mom (Alice Ward), played by the lively Melissa Leo, who blew us away in Frozen River.  Alice is a very complex parent figure as she clearly dotes more on Dicky, but probably because he needs her love more in his misguided attempt at redemption.  She grows from beginning to end, and to that effect, you see growth in them all.

Sgt. Mickey O'Keefe of the Lowell Police Department plays the other trainer to Mickey. Sgt. O'Keefe is played brilliantly by none other that Sgt. O'Keefe.  What a great movie and great payoff for taking that leap of faith.  But it was so deft a move, most likely because it is clear that O'Keefe cares greatly for Mickey.  It shows in O'Keefe's performance as it likely did in real life.

You must see this movie and the Reel Rhino gives is a very solid 4 of 5 horns!

What a great start to the holiday viewing season!  First TRON: Legacy and now this.  Up very soon will be True Grit and Black Swan.  Oh what a joyous time of year!  Nothing better than getting all those Oscar contenders at the big movie houses!  I am still shocked that my AMC didn't pick up 127 Hours!  I am sure it will get some love at AMC this year at their Academy Awards Best Picture Showcase.

I don't think I will make it to another movie until at least Christmas, so since I will probably miss the big holiday, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanuka, Feliz Navidad, Happy Kwanzaa, and so on and so forth.

Peace on Earth and Goodwill Towards All!

Till later,

The Reel Rhino

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Reel Rhino Review: TRON: Legacy

Yowza! I don't know why anyone is complaining about the script for this movie! I remember very few lines of dialogue from my recent visit to The Grid!  But I remember very vividly the mesmerizing look of the 3-D and that vivid blue and orange glow as well as that hypnotic score by Daft Punk.

TRON: Legacy is well worth the trip to the theater and I do recommend visiting the IMAX rather than the standard sized screen.  Size matters, folks.

The story is set in modern time and ENCOM, the company Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) founded in the 1982 original TRON film is the Microsoft of the day.  The majority stockholder is Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund), son of Kevin Flynn, but he is a silent partner with no real concern for the direction of the company.  The chairman of the board and their board of directors have taken the company in a much different direction than originally envisioned by the elder Flynn.  

The rough of the story is this....Kevin Flynn disappeared in 1989 and his already motherless son, Sam, was left to live with his grandparents.  Kevin Flynn's old friend and business partner Alan Bradley (played in 1982 and now by Bruce Boxleitner) receives a page to Kevin Flynn's old office at the iconic FLYNN'S ARCADE.  Sam goes to investigate and while trying to find out the purpose of the computer in his father's hidden office, he is drawn into THE GRID. 

The Grid is the computer world, inhabited by programs, as made by the elder Flynn so long ago.  The world he created is now his prison.

Sam is very confused and overwhelmed at what has happened to him, but being star-quarterback style geek-saavy, he seems to adapt is quickly.  He is captured by agents of the reigning government, who take mis-behaving programs either to be re-programmed or to the games arena where they perform in to the death arena games.  This is a Disney movie, so "to the death" in a world populated by computer programs is only as graphic as the programs disintegrating into a sea of pixels and cubes that fall to the ground like sawdust.

Sam's goal throughout the movie is singular: to find his father.  When he is taken to the games arena, he is recognized by CLU, a program created by Kevin Flynn to help govern the grid.  It just so happens that CLU is the spitting image of the young 1989-ish Jeff Bridges.  So in this movie, we have the digitized Clu and the more realistic elder presented Kevin Flynn.  When Sam meets Clu, he thinks he has found his father as Clu looks exactly like Kevin Flynn when Sam last saw him.  Sam very quickly figures out the order of things on the grid.  He is thrown into a light cycle battle and he must escape the games arena if he is to figure out anything about what is happening.

The X-factor in his escape and a major sub-plot concerns Quorra (the lovely Olivia Wilde).  She is living with Flynn off-world, far away from the grid to avoid detection.  Quorra is his friend, assistant, understudy, or something to that effect, but it is clear they care for one and other in something of a parental type relationship. 

Clu wants to get to Kevin so he can take his identity disc, which is something of a skeleton key for The Grid, being that Kevin was its creator.  Sam wants to get to his father.  Quorra is just enamored by it all and really just wants to live and be free.

Jeff Bridges channels el Dudarino a bit in his portrayal of the elder Kevin Flynn.  He has been living a Zen life, and he talks and walks like someone wise.  There are religious connotations as Flynn is continually referred to as the creator and worshiped to some extent by many of the inhabitants of the grid.  Both of the Flynn's are users...they bleed, they exist outside of the grid, and they are the bane of those who follow Clu.

Quorra in many regards is channelling a bit of Leeloo from The Fifth Element...beautiful and curious, but deadly as anything.  ("Leeloo Dallas, multipass." - I love that flick!)

Finally, perhaps the most lively character I've yet to mention, is that of Zuse, who is played brilliantly by Michael Sheen.  Think Johnny Depp's the Mad Hatter meets Malcolm McDowell's Alex from A Clockwork Orange.  He is stellar in this role and he steals the screen when it comes to actually acting rather than just looking good.  This movie mostly looks spectacular but Sheen's performance is palpable and you can't take your eyes off of him.

Much of the conflict from within comes from a life-form called isorythmic algorythms, or ISO's.  Flynn discovered the ISO's in the computer world and saw them as a means to cure the real world of many ills and disease.  His fate was not so, as he was trapped in the grid, rather than being able to make this miracle discovery and now it may be too late as when he was forced to move off-world to protect himself, there was an ethnic-cleansing performed on all ISO's...a genocide....or was there?

The Daft Punk score is wonderful and they actually have cameos in the movie, as DJ's at Zuse's club.  Their outfits are a bit retro sci-fi and they look more like Storm Troopers than DJ's, but I'm not complaining.

The visuals are breathtaking and the 3-D world is a labyrinth within which you can easily be lost.  The first 25 minutes are in flat 2-D and it isn't until Sam enters the grid do things get into the well-crafted depths and textures.  This movie is just the type of film that is perfect for this kind of exhibition and boy their work to make it look good shows.

See this movie, it is everything that is wonderful about big-budget blockbusters.  The story is not terrible...there are a few errant characters and tangents that the plot takes, but like I said, who cares!

I could have watched this film with just the score and been almost just as happy - it is more about the EYEgasm than anything and dammit there is a plot there, regardless of what the "experts" say!  Grab your popcorn and drink and settle in, this flick is just over 2 hours long.  It is rated PG and I think that is fair.  There really isn't any language or situations that would push it into the PG-13 realm.  I give it a very solid and respectable 4 of 5 horns and recommend you see it ASAP, and that means you too MALONKA!

I should say that the first TRON is very much regarded as a classic. I agree with this sentiment and a recent viewing reinforced how ahead of it's time it was. Compare 1982's TRON to 1999's The Matrix and the quality difference is stark. Compare the original to Legacy and there is no comparison. We are jaded by the stellar effects possible today. Legacy is a great effects movie, regardless of what 'they' say. It looks beautiful and while just above par for other similar films, it is still worthy of note and it demands to be seen in the big-screen theater environment.

Perhaps I am too forgiving (keep in mind, Speed Racer was my favorite film of 2008 and I STILL think it deserves another look from both haters and those who just overlooked it!)

Here is my point: if something is bedazzling, then be bedazzled! Don't hold movie to an unfair standard when really, there is a high level of entertainment and our uber-critical perspectives can sometimes cause us to miss the tree for the forest. I may laugh at dancing popsicle sticks, but at least I am laughing!

I've got some movie watching to get to!  Either The Fighter or Black Swan is next up and I am catching One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest on DVD right now.  The Shining last week and now this...70's Nicholson is phenomenal!

Until later, take care!

The Reel Rhino

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Reel Rhino Review: The Tourist

I am back.  Officially.

I have had only one post in the past few weeks and by my own account, it was pretty rambling and disjointed.  I think I will have more time to continue my writing pursuits, which of course takes only second place to my enjoyment of movies.

As I write this, I am taking in The Shining.  If you can believe it, it is my first viewing of this mind-bending thriller from master director, Stanley Kubrick.  Holy manoli and then some, Jack Nicholson is truly an American icon of acting.  He is chewing up the scenery in glorious fashion and his performance combined with the creepy demeanor that Shelly Duvall seems always to project, combined even further with the eerie high pitched score and Kubrick's mastery of imagery, this is a film to truly be enjoyed.  I only wish is was dark outside with a treacherous snow storm afoot.

None the less, I am very much enjoying this!

What have I seen that I haven't enjoyed as much?  Well that would be The Tourist.

I think the folks making this movie assumed that Johnny Depp + Angelina Jolie would automatically = success.  It did not.

This film was directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, who achieved some indie cred last year with the The Lives of Others, a German film that made waves in the art house rounds.  Folks, I regret to say that a single successful film, doesn't guarantee you have chops.  Who knows what the future may hold for this director, but if The Tourist is any indication, we have reason to worry.

The Tourist is Johnny Depp, named Frank Tupelo.  He is on holiday from his days as a math teacher in Wisconsin.  He has the chance to live every man's meet Angelina Jolie on a train and to spark a little romance.  Truth be told, Angie Jolie is a sharp looking lass and many are saying that she has never looked better.  BUT, I am not particularly drawn to he and perhaps because of the hub-bub around her personal life, I am just easily annoyed by her antics.  Her role here is subdued, which is true of much of this movie.  Subdued.

That is the primary flaw's a snooze-fest.  Until her big reveal, Angelina basically spends the film sulking around town.  Now granted the town was nice to look at and there were some very stunning shots of Venice, our principal set for this film...but Angelina was just plain boring to watch!

I have heard intermittent reports of folks thinking the chemistry between Depp and Jolie's Elise Clifton-Ward is off-the-chart.  I say nay.  What seems like it may be the fringe of chemistry is just each actor's ability to emote.  Unfortunately, they each are on different wavelengths and I never felt any real relationship between the two of them.

I thought that the film telegraphed each twist, which was unfortunate.  If the film was full of action and thrills, poor relationships and foiled twists can be forgiven.  Here, they are not.  As a side note, I saw a trailer for The Tourist earlier.  If this film delivered half the action it promised, all would be well.  This particular TV spot had just about every bit of running, racing boats, and shooting that actually is in the movie.

Paul Bettany was uninspired here and Rufus Sewell was poorly used.  The gem of this film was Bond, James Bond.  In the less is better department, Timothy Dalton was only featured in two parts of the film, but I enjoyed them both.  Perhaps I was primed for Dalton on the big screen by his recent run on NBC's Chuck, but regardless, he was my favorite part of this flick. 

All in all, this is a barely watchable effort, which is getting a 2.5 of 5 horns from THE REEL RHINO.  Sadly, there were some decent and funny lines, but we had all seen them already in the trailer.

By the way, in the beware what you ask for's now 10 hours later from when I started this and Kansas City is currently getting pounded by a bitter cold wind and snow storm.  Fortunately, I have the last 45 minutes of The Shining to finish....oh boy, lemme get some popcorn!

In the meantime from earlier today, I also made it out to check out THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER.  This is the third film offering in the Narnia series, one of seven books from legendary author C.S. Lewis.  The books were written with Christian themes in mind, hints of Greek and Roman mythology, and in general created its own literary world that was mostly very unique.

This film compared to the first two seems to have much more overt Christian themes, especially towards the end.  I mean what movie doesn't draw parallels to stories from the bible or from different religions, so no big deal, but as the film going public, I think we like to see things a little less heavy handed. 

This one is the first distributed by 20th Century Fox as opposed to the first two which were the Mouse House.  Disney had actually announced the end of the series with Caspian and Fox breathed new life into it.  I can say that I wouldn't lose any sleep if it was over, but these moves have all been wholly watchable and this one in 3-D, was especially visually decent. 

The basics of the story are these: Lucy and Edward are back in Narnia, this time with their cousin Eustace(that's a boy cousin, FYI).  They are rescued from the water by Prince Caspian on the Dawn Treader after literally being dropped in the water after their transport from England.  They quickly find that all in Narnia is not status-quo.  They sail on a village that they expect to be flying Narnian flags, and there are none.  The city has been overrun by slave traders and the crew of the Dawn Treader walk straight into a trap.  While they quickly overcome this initial peril, they learn that the seven Lords of Narnia have gone missing and only the laying of the Seven Swords of the Lords (hey, that rhymes!) on the table of Aslan will make thinks right. 

Action and hijinx on the high seas ensue and the adventure is afoot.  Again, I like these movies, but I don't love them.  This one is right in line...a solid film that I would happily say is far superior to the Tourist, but these are two very different films.  Voyage of the Dawn Treader gets 3.5 of 5 horns.

As a side note, I was at first very annoyed by the character of Eustace, but I promise, if you feel the same, he grows on you quickly.  I think this was the goal of the filmmaker, especially because it seems as though the Pevensie children have now all run their course through Narnia.  Eustace has been tapped as the heir to the ongoing adventure.  Hopefully the whole series gets made and they continue to improve on the delivery.  Harry Potter it is not, but it is worth the trip to the theater (but maybe not the $14.00 it now costs to see a 3-D movie at the KC area AMC's). 

If you have a choice, go see 127 Hours from Danny Boyle, starring James Franco.  Great flick and a great story.  Well what happens is terrible, but it is, not to be too corny, a true story of human triumph.

Till next time...take care.

The Reel Rhino

PS...we are approaching legitimate blizzard outside.

PPS...great trailer for Transformers 3!  I am a noted Michael Bay apologist and especially for my fanboy favorite Transformers!  I have added the trailer at the bottom of the page...enjoy!

PPPS...The Adjustment Bureau has reappeared in the trailer rotation at the movies.  This was originally slated for a September release.  Can we get on with this already?  This flick looks amazing!  Please, get this in the theater.  I do hope it wasn't pulled to be re-cut for fear it was no bueno.  Matt Damon is high on my list and I can watch General Zod in just about anything.  It seems March 4th, 2011 is the new date.

Great quote from It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia: "Without the sunglasses, Weekend at Bernie's would have been very dark."

Friday, December 10, 2010

Reel Rhino Review: FASTER

Over the past 3 weeks, I have been travelling, was sick a full week, and no I am in training for some work stuff (the chemical development of gunshot residue in a forensic setting).  I have been very, very busy and my only regret has been not a lot of time to write.  I have put intermittent thoughts down, but if this flows poorly, I apologize.

With that...

I did have the opportunity to see The Rock's latest offering FASTER.  From the preview, Faster seemed to be a run of the mill action flick.  It was not.

George Tillman Jr. is filmmaker from Milwaukee, WI. He is not exceptionally well known by the film going community and his biggest movie to date has been MEN OF HONOR, the very well told story of the life of Carl Brashear, the first African American to become a Master Navy Diver.  An earlier film also well received was the family-centric story in SOUL FOOD.  He has also found success in producing, with involvement in the BARBERSHOP series and also ROLL BOUNCE.

Here in Faster, Tillman may occasionally use too much flash and style where good ol' story through action would have sufficed.  But even with some telegraphed plot shifts, this story is told with enthusiasm and care.  It seems as though Tillman is passionate about this movie and he has a great star to communicate that passion through a well-acted, action-packed film.

The Rock as DRIVER has good company in Billy Bob Thorton as COP and Oliver Jackson-Cohen as KILLER.  A slew of other name actors make this a stellar cast, including Tom Berenger, Mike Epps, Jennifer Carpenter, Maggie Grace, Xander Berkley, Moon Bloodgood, and Mr. Eko himself, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje.  Also in the "Do You Remember?" category... Courtney Gains playing may recall his terrifying turn as Malachi in Children of the Corn and his frightening but hilarious turn as Hans Klopek in The 'burbs.

This movie is the story of a man driven by rage and revenge. In case you missed it, The Rock is now just Dwayne Johnson, and in my opinion, deservedly so. Mr. Johnson can act. I'll pause for a moment to allow you to reflect on this, but I am whole-heatredly a Dwayne Johnson apologist and I even list The Rundown as one of my all time favorite and FUN action films.

Faster is not a fun movie in the same regard as The Rundown, but this is an altogether different kind of movie. This flick jumps into the action with both feet and it doesn't stop until the credits roll. This movie is a hard R both in theme and in content. There is a high volume of brutal beatings and shootings, but of the best kind for this type of flick.

Yep, the cast is worth the trip to the theater but this picture as a whole was enjoyable all around.  It is a completely enjoyable revenge flick that doesn't fall short in the blood and bullets department.  Don't get me wrong, it is no Kill Bill, but it does deliver 4 horns of 5, so says The Reel Rhino.

In the meantime, I also had the chance to see TANGLED, Disney Animations latest offering and their 50th Animated Feature ever! Congrats to the Mouse House!!

Tangled stars Zachary Levi and Mandy Moore in the leads as Flynn Ryder and the titular Rapunzal.  This movie blew my mind! Generally speaking, it had the spirit of all my favorite Disney movies from my childhood.  Great adventure, beautiful hand-drawn animation, wonderful animal characters, and very unique side characters that both add to the story and standout on their own.  They chose to leave a page IN the Shrek playbook.  There were NO dick and fart jokes at all!  No groin punching! Nothing at all to taint the fun that was to be had.

It was enjoyable in every sense and I think this was a great coming out party for my man CHUCK!  Zachary Levi was excellent in the role of Flynn Ryder, our somewhat fearless hero.  Mandy Moore did a great job as well and boy can she sing!

All in all...see it! 5 horns of 5 from the Reel Rhino!

Next up...127 Hours, the latest offering from the uber-hot auteur Danny Boyle, last year's Oscar winner for Direction.  He has an amazing filmography and I am quite sure I would watch him direct Children's Theater!

127 Hours stars James Franco.  He is 95% of this movie, and he owns every minute.  The movie tells the story of Aron Ralsten, a mountaineer and canyoneer, who in 2003 was trapped while climbing in Utah.  He fell and a huge rock slipped, pinning him "Between a Rock and a Hard Place," the title of his book that the story is based upon. 

So yeah, knowing that he survives kinda spoils the ending, but the ending is a forgone conclusion that is spoiled even in the title.  Yep, it takes 127 hours for Ralston to free himself.  The actual scenes of him breaking free were disturbing, but only as it sends you into the mindset of contemplating the will power it must have taken to do what he did.,

The movie plays out in odd form.  The first third is Aron out and having fun and living life the way he knows how.  In the wild and on his own.

Boyle weaves together a great narrative from a subject that could have been very one-note.  This movie is vivid, colorful, and lively.  I left this film thinking that there was nothing I couldn't overcome.  It was truly a triumph of the human spirit.

James Franco is a tour de force in the truest sense of the phrase.  Over the past year, he has played a recurring role on General Hospital.  An exercise in acting to further stretch his already very dexterous acting chops.  His one-man show would make an excellent double featue with People's Sexiest Man, Ryan Reynolds' BURIED, which I have previously reviewed.

See this movie.  See it at the theater.  Take the message from this film and realize nothing is so difficult that the will of man cannot overcome the obstacle.

5 of 5 horns from the Reel Rhino

In this mess of movie-going, I also had the chance to catch Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1.  Wowza! I cannot wait for Part 2, because this is some epic that is rounding out very nicely.  I gave HP 7 a "Hell Yeah 5 Horn Salute!"

I think that is all for now...till later, here's hoping those people who at this very minute are getting into The Tourist.  I am not a huge Angelina Jolie fan, but I do like Johnny Depp.  Also, the trailer is brilliant!  My favorite lines...

He tried to kill me!

Well, that's not that serious!

When downgraded from murder, no.  But when upgraded from Room Service, it's quit serious.

Also, a big week for trailers! TRANSFORMERS: DARK SIDE OF THE MOON broke this week and while we didn't get a great look at any action, if I am not mistaken, that big mamma jamma at the end sure looked a lot like Unicron.  Any thoughts?  I am a self-proclaimed Bay-apologist and I have a special fanboy spot in my heart for all things Transformers! 

Till next time, take care!
The Reel Rhino

Monday, November 22, 2010

Reel Rhino Review: FAIR GAME (2010)

I was in San Diego this week and whenever I hit the road, I enjoy taking in films in new and strange places.  The location of my hotel put a damper on my options in terms of local theaters and I was left with the La Jolla AMC 12 as my closest spot.  It served its purpose, but I much more enjoy seeing films in historic or unique venues.  AMC always comes through in the clutch, even though the 12 is your standard big picture movie house.  This one is built into a small mall, unlike the Kansas City AMC's which are all stand-alone buildings.

I got to see Unstoppable with a band of my fellow travellers.  It was one of our group's Birthday (Happy Birthday Chrystal!) and we opted for a little Denzel.  You can never go wrong with a little Denzel. 

Unstoppable was a monumental flick for a few reasons.  First, we had the birthday and a birthday movie is always a good thing. Second, Denzel and Tony Scott is always a great pairing.  And third, this film is essentially our introduction to the new Capt. Kirk, in his first post-Kirk, non-Kirk role.

Unstoppable was a great ride, but I don't want to write about a flick that has been blogged on so thoroughly already.  The Reel Rhino thinks this flick is great fun and gives it a solid 4 of 5 horns.

As for FAIR GAME....that's a whole other story!

You may have noted the 2010 designation in the title...that is of course to avoid confusion with the 1995 entry of FAIR GAME...starring the always stellar Billy Baldwin and Cindy Crawford....the IMDB description reads as follows: Max Kirkpatrick is a cop who protects Kate McQuean, a civil law attorney, from a renegade KGB team out to terminate her.

YIKES...that sounds like a winner for mid-90's action fare, but somehow it only managed a 3.9 IMDB score.  Whoda-thought-it?

I have never seen the 1995 entry, but perhaps I would have enjoyed it more.  Sadly, I was not a fan of this more recent go at the title, a Doug Liman film starring Sean Penn and Naomi Watts.  This story is the real life story of outed super secret spy Valerie Plame Wilson.  Plame was a CIA undercover agent who was running assets in the Middle East at the time her identity was abruptly made public.

Does this sound like the real life stuff that movies were made for?  Hell yes!  If it wasn't a movie, the first thing you would think after reading either Plume's book, or her husband's, is: 'why isn't this a movie?'

Oh, but it is a movie; it is.

This effort is written by Jez and John-Henry Butterworth and is based on the books written by each Plume and Joseph C. Wilson IV, her husband and former United States Ambassador to five different African nations, including Niger, which is the focus of this tale. 

Plume recommended her husband to her superiors as a potential candidate to visit Niger to investigate the suspected sale of yellow cake uranium to Iraq in the WMD investigation following the 9-11 attacks.  The CIA sends Wilson and he finds nothing.,  But the government spinsters took Wilson's negative findings and went public indicating that there was in fact evidence of a yellow cake sale.  In matters not so serious, I typically love yellow cake.

Wilson is furious when he sees Bush's speech indicating evidence of a yellow-cake sale from Niger, which he assumes is based on his intel.  Wilson's demeanor through the film is that of a stuffy academic with a very, very healthy ego.  In this film, the invasion of Iraq is presented in based in part on his findings, which was as said, false.  A man with his self-image, and I don't mean that in a good way, would not stand for such an atrocity.

Wilson writes an op-ed piece in the New York Times concerning this fallacy and it infuriates the powers on the hill.  Scooter Libby and Karl Rove in particular take umbrage with this claim that the yellow-cake intel was bad.  They start digging, and the story really takes off.

Here is where things get dicey.  The first hour of this movie is a mindless string of scenes, many starring name actors, trying to get you invested in the build up towards the invasion of Iraq. 

This build up should up should be engrossing.  The presence of these named actors should be the seeds needed to grow a decent flick.  This should be a fantastic ride for the viewer in a very terse thriller.  It is not.

The film seems to be acted with great dexterity but the story is told in extremely poor fashion.  I don't know if it is in the writing or the directing, but this film falls extremely short of its mark. 

I am leaning towards Doug Liman as the culprit.  Liman's last effort was an absolute train wreck: Jumper.  Remember the Hayden Christensen stinker about a boy with the ability to transport himself, or "Jump" from place to place.  Not good.  Not good at all.

Liman did give us Swingers, but I attribute the success there to the spectacular script from Jon Favreau.  He also gave us The Bourne Identity, but again Tony Gilroy's script was the creative background for that film.  Perhaps he showed some chops with Bourne but this was something of a standalone.  Many argue that he kept the train a rollin' with Mr. & Mrs. Smith, but I argue that Mr. & Mrs. Smith was a failure from what it could have been.  It suffered also, from Brangalina-itis, a debilitating disease of the film industry (see also: Bennifer and the atrocity that was GIGLI).

Liman doesn't have a reliable enough track record to not look his way first when considering the blame.  And in my humble opinion, there is some blame to be thrown here.

This film gets mired in a bunch of unrelated scenes that are supposed to tie everything together and instead make everything worse.  It plays out just as it sounds - the scattershot plot details are muddled and do very little more than confuse the viewer.

It is nearly a full hour before we get to the reveal.  The outing of Valerie Flume.  If her reaction would have given us high drama and drawn in the viewer, I would have forgiven the first hour.  The post-outing drama that unfolds is just as scattered and boring as the build.  In fact, the road to resolution is even worse.  We get more of Wilson's ego and little more than a stoic response from Flume, who is in reality furious and frightened at the same time.

Perhaps everything seems so disjointed because this film is completely devoid of emotion both on screen and in terms of what is stirred in the viewer.  From the first credits to the end roll, I felt nothing.  I will use the word disjointed again, because that is how it felt.  Perhaps with a more coherent story line, things would have played out differently and I would have been drawn in a bit more.

I started writing this last night and I have picked it back up watching Hot Tube Time Machine with some friends who are in town.  I am bored with FAIR GAME and I am done writing about it.  I hope to get to see Harry Potter soon. I hear it is fantastic and it is very, very dark.

I also want to see The Next Three Days.  It actually looks like a different take on the standard action drama.  The Next Three Days is going to pale at the box office next top HP 7 Pt. 1, but Russell Crowe still has it and I hope some folks make it out there to check him out.

As for Fair Game, I really didn't like it...2 of 5 horns from the Reel Rhino and I think that is being generous.  The best one-minute of that movie is the last minute.  An impassioned speech by Sean Penn about the responsibility of the people to protect themselves from oppression and tyranny. It is a well delivered speech that stirred the only emotions in me that I felt the entire film.  This was a poorly made movie of a fantastic story.  

I will catch up with you soon...till later, take care.
The Reel Rhino 

Saturday, November 13, 2010


I made a judgement call yesterday (Nov 12th).  The Reel Rhino opted to see SKYLINE instead of UNSTOPPABLE  thinking I might have caught lightning in a bottle and seen a winner before anyone realized what Skyline actually was as a movie.

Oops...I was wrong.

SKYLINE is an alien invasion film.  Those of you that know me, will testify that I fall into the extremely easily entertained category of movie-goer.  This is typically a good thing, but the other side of the coin is when I don't like a movie, I typically don't like it in glorious fashion.  I love Sci-Fi and I especially love end of days type battle for earth movies, which is what Skyline shoots for, but misses.

Skyline is a Brothers Strause picture...Colin and Greg...who have had very illustrious careers in the visual effects department of many well-known and much-loved films.  Their best known directorial effort has been Alien v. Predator: Reqieum.  AVP: R was not received well, currently at 12% from the critics and 37% overall on Rotten Tomatoes.  I thought AVP: R was fantastic!  These guys took a very modest budget and made a very smart sequel using primarly practical effects!

Given their history with effects and my enjoyment of their first mainstream feature, I went in hoping for the best.  I mean clearly, Denzel Washington and Tony Scott...that was the safe bet. SKYLINE was a wild card.

My first question is this: Who is this cast?  I guess they were hoping that shooting with a lesser-known cast, this movie would slide low on the radar for a while, which it did.  I don't think I knew this movie existed until around August, and I keep my ear to the ground about movies pretty much all the damn time!

The movie stars Eric Balfour as Jarrod, who has travelled to L.A. with his girlfriend Elaine (Scottie Thompson) to visit his old friend, Terry (Donald Faison).  Terry is an actor who has just come into his own in Hollywood, hitting it big.  He and Jarrod are old friends having a reunion at Terry's place, a penthouse apartment in L.A.  Terry lives with his girldfriend (Brittany Daniel) and his assistant (Crystal Reed).  David Zayas rounds out the cast, as Oliver, a Security Guard for the apartment building in which Terry lives.  Sadly, not even Sgt. Angel Batista (see also: DEXTER) couldn't even save this sinking ship.

For starters, I will say that I commend the Brothers Strause for making movies.  They seem to be extremely creative and I hope that they continue forward and I look forward to enjoying their work in the future.  This film was written by Joshua Cordes and Liam O'Donnell, so the full brunt of the blame doesn't fall solely on the Bros.  To that end, the dialogue in this film was awful.  There was a reunion scene early between Jarrod and Terry and the stilted exchange was not one I would have expected from old friends.  For starters, the dialogue was very much read rather than performed or acted with any sense of emotion.  The same goes for some early relationship drama between Jarrod and Elaine.  It's in there to try and hook us into caring about these relationships, but it completely misses the mark!

We are introduced to the alien visitors in the beginning as lights in the sky, falling to the surface of the streets of LA.  Significant time passes before we really figure much of anything out and our lack of understanding doesn't add to the suspense, but instead adds to the confusion.  I am all for telling the story through action instead of dialogue, but if you don't have the action, the story won't tell itself!  75% of this film takes place in the apartment in L.A. and while our cast has little idea what is going on, the audience knows even less.  Holding back information for the sake of suspence is great and all, but most of the time in the apartment is basically spent watching these folks worry, with little plot unfolding for the viewer.

When the action scenes hit, they were impressive.  This film toggled between mediocre shots and great shots, at random intervals. This lack of continuity in tone, badly damages this film as a whole.

There is one eerie shot used a few times early, but sadly that shot is used as the hook in the trailer, so it was not at all impressive once projected in the theater. 

This film starts to live a bit once the group we are following ventures out from the apartment.  The only scenes that really impressed were the broad shots of the initial invasion and then the broad city shots of the military response and the ensuing aerial battle.

I will not be alone in comparing this film to Roland Emmerich's Independence Day, and it would be hard to review this and not do so.  Some of the scenes felt like shot for shot remakes of the major battles from ID4. At different points, I expected to hear Will Smith or Harry Connack Jr scream "WOOOOOOO!" or for Harry COnnack to bust in with the MLK Jr. speech.  If nothing else, I would have gotten Randy Quaid in this flick as a nod to Emmerich's film, which would have maybe made the similarities more forgiving.  I think Quaid would have been unavailable, though, as he was likely on the run from the Super Secret Celebrity Assassination Squad. 

While this movie does not nearly succeed on its own, I would love to see this movie and ID4 mashed-up into a single flick.  This presents a limited perspective and ID4 presented a broad view of all aspects of how the invasion affected people.  This movie essentially is an entire movie about one group of people and what we have may have been enough to support itself as a side-story in another movie, but it is not enough to support itself here.

1.5 of 5 horns from The Reel Rhino for SKYLINE.  This is a film that would have benefited from a few dancing popsicle sticks! 


Morning Glory is something of a chick-flick with less chick and more flick.  This isn't a romance (per say) and it isn't a touchy-feely everybody hug kind of movie.  Morning Glory is a solid dramatic comedy with small bits of romance thrown in.  It is a darker comedy, but not too dark.  It is just risque enough to really make this film interesting.  In a nutshell, it is a sharply written (Aline Brosh McKenna) and well directed (Roger Mitchell) movie, which I very much enjoyed.

MG stars Rachel McAdams as Becky, who at the beginning of the film loses her job as the producer of a small morning show in New Jersey.  Desperate, Becky takes an Executive Producer position on a show called Daybreak, on fictional studio IBS.  Daybreak is nationally broadcast every morning as a talk-show in the vein of The Today Show and Good Morning America.  While the movie in action admits it is a stretch to put a person as inexperienced as Becky into the position of Executive Producer for such a large-scale show, it works none the less.

Rachel McAdams is adorable.  I hope that doesn't sound bad, but she is one of the most watchable actors working today.  I hate to refer to such a cheesy (and underrated) flick in The Hot Chick, but how great was it to see McAdams in such a radically different role compared to much of her other work.  Perhaps the best "mean" role she played was as super bi-otch Regina George in Mean Girls. 

We have the extreme pleasure of seeing two of the finest all-time actors playing the antagonistic anchors of the morning show Daybreak in Diane Keaton as Colleen Peck and Harrison Ford as Mike Pomeroy.

Harrison Ford has been active in film for around 45 years.  Of course the late seventies, early eightes brought him the roles for which he will never be forgotten in Han Solo, Indiana Jones, and Rick Deckard.  Ford bleeds career icon, later becoming Jack Ryan and Richard Kimball and even reprising his role as the good Dr. Jones in 2008.  If you look at his filmography, Ford is somewhat of an enigma.  Ford would often go a year without a role and went several years appearing in no more than one film a year.  I think it can be said that he is somwhat selective, although if he were selective enough, perhaps he would have opted out of Hollywood Homicide (hehehe I couldn't help it!).

Diane Keaton is also an icon.  She is the strong matriarch to the Godfather, Michael Corleone and the titular character in the classic Woody Hall flick, Anie Hall.  She and Ford together was exactly what you would expect...dynamite!

Keaton's Colleen Peck has been on the show for years, while Ford's Pomeroy spent his career primarily as a straight newsman.  You learn early on that Pomeroy is under contract with IBS and is essentially being paid off to ride out his contract years.  Becky is a life-long Pomeroy fan and when she sees that he is available, she wants him to fill the other anchor role on Daybreak. For a life-long newsman, the thought of morining TV is insulting.  Morning TV to Pomeroy is not worthy of his greatness.  From here forward is just a joy to watch the relationships unfold.

Yes, this is very much a character based relationship film, but not necessarily a romance.  The film centers around Becky as the driving force in an effort to turn around this low-rated morning show.  As a competetor to the big boys of morning TV, Daybreak doesn't hold a candle.  Becky is brought in with little experience in the big leagues, but as nothing else seems to work, they are willing to take a chance on her.  She screams youthful vigor and optimism.  She simply refuses anything that is negative, using jedi-like focus. 

Becky is a young, attractive executive and it is completely clear that she has not thought much about romance, acting like a 15 year old girl being asked to her first dance when it comes to anything related to boys.  She drops a great line in somehing like: 'I usually don't realize a guy is interested in me until he's naked in my room.'

He romantic opposite in this flick is played by the very charismatic Patrick Wilson.  Given the hours that Becky pours into her show, you would think there is no way that she could survive in a relationship, but luckily, Wilson's Adam Bennett is also in the industry.  The biggest upside for Wilson in this movie is that there are several scenes in which he gets to wrestle around with McAdams while she has stripped down to her under-things....

...awkward topic. 

Perhaps my favorite component of this film was Jeff Goldblum in the studio executive role of Jerry Barnes.  Compassionate, brutally honest, borderline cruel....he runs the gamut of his treatment of Becky.  In this film, he is the person who hires Becky and then the one who gives us our danger element...the risk of cancellation.

This movie is very much a comedy with bits of effective drama and a bit of romance.  The movie looks great, being set in New York.  The film is beautifully filmed with only a few excessively artsy shots of slow-mo running, with birds taking flight and things like that.  These scenes are very much noticiable but they detract very little from a great flick.

I especially enjoyed Harrison Ford's Mike Pomeroy and I think he acted with more enthusiasm than he has in recent years and perhaps it was just the extent to which Ford's facial expressions play into his character.  He emotes like a champ with sweeping body movement and wild facial reactions that specifically had me busting a gut.  It was very reminiscent of the pained looks we got from Ford in his early Indy roles.

I thing this is a very solid movie and The Reel Rhino gives it 4 horns of 5.  If you are looking for something less action-packed than Unstoppable, less animated than MegaMind, less-darkly comedic than Due Date, and LESS TERRIBLE THAN SKYLINE ~ check out MORNING GLORY.

I am running long, but let me share with you that I also saw CONVICTION starring Hilary Swank, Sam Rockwell, Minnie Driver, among others in this true story procedural surrounding the wrongful conviction of Kenny Waters for a 1980's murder in rural Massachuchetts.  Convinced of her brother's innocence, Betty Ann Waters endures divirce, much time away from her children, and other hardships as she puts herself through an undergraduate education and then law school, in an effort to prove her brother's innocence.  This film, directed by Tony Goldwyn and written by Pamela Grey is well made and a great watch!  The film keeps you invested from start to finish and the film as a story takes place in two eras.  One, in the days of Kenny and Betty Ann's childhood, where you see the roots of their bond as brother and sister; and two, in the 'present day' mid-eightes when the murder occurs then the running story of the trial, his imprisionment, Betty Ann's days as a student, lawyer, up through a more-curremt present day where we get to see the resolution of this up/down/up/down/up storyline.

CONVICTION was a wholly enjoyable film that I can recommend without reservation.  The movie is rated R for a few EFF's, Rockwell's naked bum, and grisley images of blood and a beaten body from the murder in question.  Truthfully, if this movie had cut the EFF's, I think it would have caught a PG-13.

4 of 5 horns from the REEL RHINO on conviction.

Lots of movies this week.  I am going to see Unstoppable ASAP but I probably won't review it as it will have been reviewed extensively already.  I will keep my eye on what's coming out and will be back soon with more on the movies!

I will take a moment to admit a mistake here.  YES, I AM A MAN AND I AM SAYING I WAS WRONG!  We watched GROWN-UPS last night.  This past summer, I had denounced GROWN-UPS and refused to see it, on the assumption it would be terrible.  I was wrong and I actually enjoyed it a great deal.  I give GROWN-UPS a 3.5 of 5 horns, a decent rating for a wholly decent and very funny movie.  Sorry Adam, Kevin, Rob, Chris, and David!  My bad!!

Until next time, take care....