In our everyday life things we don’t know do not necessarily cause us stress or anxiety. In a math class, there may be an unknown variable in an equation you must figure out. Maybe you have an appointment in a part of the city that is not familiar to you or you were invited to a party where you do not know what type of gift to buy for the host. As I said before, these scenarios should not be too stressful for you. Now if the unknown is the whereabouts of a loved one that would be a different story. I have been fortunate not to have experienced such an awful thing. When newscasts report on a missing child or relative, they usually show family members in distress. Days or weeks can go by without any news and the relatives just want to know what happened to their loved ones. This type of scenario was the premise for this dramatic crime thriller. Casey Affleck (Gone Baby Gone, Gerry) played Iraqi war veteran Rodney Baze Jr. Experiencing a hard adjustment to life back home, in the small steel mill town, Rodney could not find employment except for some clandestine fighting matches. When he did not return from one of his matches his older brother Russell, played by Christian Bale (American Psycho, The Prestige), could not wait for the local police to find him. He took matters into his own hands. From the start, this intense film created heaviness within me. It felt as if each scene was created to convey a sense of resigned depression. The cinematography which was beautiful further helped convey those feelings. As for the acting it was subtly superb by Christian and Casey. Then there was Woody Harrelson (Rampart, No Country for Old Men) playing Harlan DeGroat. He was as wickedly sinister as he has every been. I also thought Willem Dafoe (The Hunter, The English Patient) was perfect for his role as John Petty. The disappointment in this film festival winner came from the script. I found it weak as it lost steam by the end. If the actors’ incredible acting had a stronger screenplay, this movie would have been close to a 4 stars rating. Instead I left the theater knowing I had seen a great cast, but not knowing what the writers were thinking when they wrote the screenplay. There were scenes that had violence and blood in them.
2 3/4 stars
Out of all the holidays during the year, I have always felt the safest during this one. Maybe this sounds odd to you but this holiday was more of an internal one of celebration for me. There was no need to put up any kind of decorations, it did not represent one particular religious group, there were no gift exchanges, it did not require going anywhere but your own or someone’s home; Thanksgiving was simply a time to sit down and share a meal with the family. I would get excited by the variety of side dishes that spread across the table like steaming volcanoes, waiting for us to chip away at them. For me, the most important part came after dinner. Once the dishes were removed and the tablecloth was swept of any crumbs, the desserts would conquer the dining room table. There was such a comfort that came over me as I would sit quietly at my place and eat all the sweet treats that I had placed on my spotless plate. It was during this time of the Thanksgiving meal where my plate remained the cleanest; I would not let one morsel slip out of my mouth. To tell you the truth it did not matter to me if there was turkey served or not since my main focus was on the sweet stuff. The same held true in this animated comedy; it would not make a difference to me if Jake and Reggie, voiced by Woody Harrelson (Now You See Me, Zombieland) and Owen Wilson (Wedding Crashers, The Internship), succeeded in their mission. The two unlikely partners were going back in time to the first Thanksgiving in Plymouth, Massachusetts to stop the tradition forming to serve turkey for the holiday meal. As far as animated movies go, this one was not very good. It did not have the colors, the dimension or detail of other films I have seen. The humor remained on an elementary level, lacking any kind of sophistication. It was a shame because I enjoyed the cast which also included Amy Poehler (Mean Girls, A.C.O.D.) as Jenny and George Takei (Star Trek franchise, Heroes-TV) as S.T.E.V.E.; the voice of the time machine. To be released during the upcoming holiday season, this movie needed to be fun and uplifting. Save your money for your holiday shopping instead of seeing this film in the theater. Only if you have young children should you consider spending your money on this dull movie. If you do see it, stay through the credits.
1 3/4 stars
My first experiences with live magicians it turned out were not really performing magic. In fact, they were not even magicians. I would see them in stores surrounded by throngs of people. Each time I spotted one I would run up and join the crowd, enthralled with the magician’s flair during their presentation. I saw glasses that would never fog up, even if they were held over a steaming pot of water. There was the wonder knife that a magician would thrust up into the air to show its sharp gleaming blade, just before he used it to slice through a metal pipe. At the time I thought these individuals were doing magic; instead, they were product demonstrators. As a young kid I still could be entertained by the different demonstrations. It was the same feeling I had while watching this adventure film about illusionists. Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network, Zombieland), Woody Harrelson (Seven Psychopaths, Rampart), Isla Fisher (Wedding Crashers, Home and Away) and Dave Franco (21 Jump Street, Warm Bodies) played street performers who became The Four Horsemen, a popular magic act that appeared to rob a bank in the middle of their act. Mark Ruffalo (The Avengers, Shutter Island) played FBI agent Dylan Rhodes who was determined to catch the illusionists, but always it seemed was a step behind. Even with the help of Interpol detective Alma Dray, played by Melanie Laurent (Inglourious Basterds, Beginners) and magic debunker author Thaddeus Bradley, played by Morgan Freeman (The Prestige, Children of Men); it still seemed as if they were just pawns in the Four Horsemen’s high stakes game. The movie started out strong and fast; it was easy to keep up. The magic tricks kept getting bigger and more elaborate as they were expertly performed by the four actors. Everything was working to make this film a fun exciting experience to watch. But halfway through the story it became unfocused and lost steam. The quick editing and shifts in the story became too much to handle. Frantic pacing only deflated the thrills; I started to get bored. Now I may be gullible when it comes to magic, but I know when smoke and mirrors are being used in an attempt to create a passable story.
2 1/2 stars
I am a defensive pessimist and I am proud of it. As with most things in life there are pluses and minuses associated to everything. On the one hand I am better equipped to handle deviations from a set plan. The reason being, I look at all the negative options that could happen; so, if there is a change, more than likely I have already prepared for it. On the down side, when I am asked to do something my first reaction is to say no; until I can process the request. I know what some of you must be thinking. Let me just say I prefer to shake hands with my neurosis instead of wrestling with them. I think if the political players on Senator John McCain’s team had my ability, things would have been different. This movie was about John McCain’s 2008 campaign for president. I will not be getting into the political aspect of the story; I am reviewing the film and its screenplay. Ed Harris (A History of Violence, The Abyss) did not necessarily look like Senator McCain, but I enjoyed his performance. Woody Harrelson (Seven Psychopaths, The Messenger) was excellent as McCain’s chief political advisor Steve Schmidt. The best performance from the cast was Julianne Moore (Being Flynn, Children of Men) as Sarah Palin. She had the look and mannerisms backed by her excellent acting ability. Whether the events presented here were true or not, one could not help but see Sarah in a sympathetic light. I found it fascinating to witness the dealings behind the public events surrounding the campaign. If any part of the planning depicted in this film for the Katie Couric interview was true; all I have to say is, “Wow.” By the director inserting actual footage into this movie, it added validity to the story. This DVD could be used as an example to show people the pitfalls of being an optimist–in my opinion.
3 stars — DVD
A pet is a part of the family. The unconditional love, their eyes filled with devotion looking up at you; there is nothing better. When I would come through the front door and see that dog tail whipping side to side I would say, “Who wants a doggie massage?” Immediately Baldwin would plop down at my feet, waiting for his rubdown. That is a fond memory I keep close to my heart. Presently the far western suburbs where I teach are being warned not to let their small pets outside alone due to coyote attacks. The idea sends chills through me. Now imagine my confusion when I heard what the story was in this comedy. Struggling screenwriter Marty, played by Colin Farrell (Alexander, Total Recall), had two crazy friends Hans and Billy, played by Christopher Walken (The Deer Hunter, Hairspray) and Sam Rockwell (Moon, Everybody’s Fine), who were dog kidnappers. They would do it for the reward money. Like me, you have to wonder how this could be a funny movie. This was one twisted film filled with great one liners. Christopher Walken was at his crazy best and may get a nomination for his role. When Billy and Hans unknowingly took the Shih Tzau of LA criminal Charlie, played by Woody Harrelson (The Messenger, Zombieland), their lives would not only be put into jeopardy, but they would become fodder for Marty’s new script. As you can imagine this was no ordinary comedy. Think of this wild film more like a fine rich broth, spiced up with a touch of Tarantino and a smidgen of the Coen Brothers; the offbeat dialog was precisely delivered by the incredible actors for maximum affect. Seeing what someone will do to get their beloved pet back will surprise you and amuse you. Scenes with graphic violence and blood.
3 1/4 stars
The closest I have come to witnessing some of the events in this movie have been from a co-worker’s stories, who is part of a patriotic honor guard riding group. What was special about this movie was the fact there was no political bent or one-sided criticism of war. This was not a typical war movie per se; the only battle was between protocol and compassion. After being injured, Staff Sergeant Will Montgomery played by Ben Foster (The Mechanic, Birds of America) was assigned to assist Captain Tony Stone, played by Woody Harrelson (Rampart, The Hunger Games). The two of them had the task of informing family members on the death of a loved one. Having never experienced this situation, I was moved on what it took to perform such a monumental task. The acting by Woody and Ben was believable, at times heart wrenching. I could see why Woody received an Oscar nomination for this role. He brought such intensity to this character who was trained to do things by the book, no matter how conflicted he may have been. Also, I was completely impressed with Ben’s performance; he was amazing in this tough role and was able to keep up with Mr. Harrelson. This emotionally charged drama, with such strong characters, truly did justice in showing an aspect of war not usually covered in other military movies.
3 1/3 stars — DVD
When you need crazy intensity who better to get then Woody? The role of Los Angeles dirty cop, David Douglas Brown aka Date Rape Dave, was perfectly cast with Woody Harrelson (Zombieland, The Messenger). I could not think of another actor who could have brought the intensity the way Woody did for this character. As I watched this movie, I cringed with anxiety every time it looked like Woody, as Officer Brown, was about to explode with dark, fiery emotions–that is how good he acted in this role. Not only was I tensing up, but almost every character in the movie was when interacting with this police officer. For example, his former wives Barbara and Catherine, played by Cynthia Nixon (The Babysitters, Sex and the City) and Anne Heche (Volcano, Cedar Rapids) were excellent as they had to tread carefully around their explosive ex-husband. This movie was all about the acting, unfortunately sacrificing the story, letting it sink into a mess. The story was set in 1999 Los Angeles, where scandal had befallen the police department and Dave Brown already had an outrageous reputation. When he was recently filmed severely beating a citizen, officer Brown’s life spirals out of control, while the police department tried to figure out how to get out of the mess. If you are a fan of Woody Harrelson, you definitely want to see him in this movie.
2 2/3 stars