Ready or Not

Movie title: Ready or Not (2009)
Grade: C- (2 stars)
Rated: R
Summation: A bachelor party gone all out puts four guys in Mexico.
Spoilers ahead: No

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In Ready or Not, a bachelor party gone all out puts four best friends in Mexico. Chris (Christian Oliver), Marc (Seamus Dever), Lawrence (Evan Hulmuth), and Dean (Jonathan Murphy) are buddies. They've gone through the best and the worst of times together, but Chris is about to get married. Marc doesn't want him to, and his thinking is that maybe a wild, unplanned adventure in the form of one hell of a bachelor party will pull him back over into staying a bachelor forever—such is the dream of Marc due to his status as a die-hard, eternal bachelor and lady's man (or more accurately, a "player").

It's been a while since I've been to a bachelor party, and though I'm not a big partier, I'd rather go to one as opposed to hearing about one or seeing a movie about one. Call me a bore, but seeing guys in tuxedos walking around Mexico with oddly happy expressions on their faces and a desire to breathe in booz like air isn't my idea of compelling viewing material. College kid immaturity is an affront to my intellect.

Pardon me. I wasn't totally honest a second ago. Let me emphasize my real feelings for the college-level immaturity of partying young adults: I hate them, a loathe them, I absolutely despise them! Gatherings of 24-year-olds who are still being wow-ed by the details of female anatomy and the affects of a shot-glass filled with vodka turn my stomach. If mindless partying still fascinates you, then your mind hasn’t come very far from a scanty schoolboy mentality. But I digress.

These guys don't act like guys who just got dropped off in the Mexican desert, not at all. I am appalled at their stupidity, in fact. The only funny part of the film was a scene in which, venturing into a church, Lawrence goes snooping around in the back for some wine. He finds it, but before lifting his loot, he knocks over another bottle of wine, causing the contents to run down the eyes of a Virgin Mary statue. The pious women who stand praying to her are convinced the statue "crying" blood is a miracle. That was ingenious, but nothing else was.

Seeing fools getting thrown in jail because they can't pay for food, and walking into a teepee out in the middle of nowhere and starting to trip out on peyote is, shall we say, moronic. But I'm sure many will be taken by such juvenile antics and find them a blast. Our four morons land in Mexico and wander around until they find a wealthy "connected" Mexican man and his guarded mansion. He takes them in. They get to swim in his pool. He hooks them up with massages and babes, but there's one rule: "Stay away from my daughter,” Puri (Fernanda Romero). Do they honor the rule? Go ahead and give it a guess. That's right. The answer in your head is the correct one.

When the flimsy, teen-appealing plot seems like it's dying, it’s actually going somewhere. And though not beyond the ability to predict, the ending may just surprise you and possibly even make you feel like the up-to-then pointless viewing you’ve endured wasn't all for naught.

Interspersed throughout the surprisingly respectable dialogue are allusions to the bachelor lifestyle being a superior one to that of marriage. Marc: "What's your favorite Mexican food?" Chris: "I don't know. Rice and beans." Marc: "Now, I'm going to feed you rice and beans, and nothing but rice and beans, for the rest of your life. Do you want that?" The application of the exchange you can’t miss. What the film seeks to accomplish it does a fair job of doing, but for me, the party didn’t get started till the movie ended.

(JH)

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Director: Sean Doyle
Starring: Christian Oliver “Chris,” Seamus Dever “Marc,” Evan Helmuth “Lawrence,” Jonathan Murphy “Dean,” Alex Rocco “Don Julio,” Ange Billman “Rebecca,” Andrea Bogart “Kelly,” Juliana Dever “Maid of Honor,” Leah Elias “Gretchen,” Jessika Fuhrmaneck “Raven,” Janet Lopez “Dancer,” Odessa Rae “Coco,” Steve Railsback “Pilot,” Fernanda Romero “Puri”
Genre: Comedy

My Bloody Valentine

Movie title: My Bloody Valentine (2009)
Grade: D+ (1 ½ stars)
Rated: R
Summation: A miner in a small town goes on a killing spree.
Spoilers ahead: No

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As an 8-year-old kid, I wrote a short story called "The Assassinators." It was about a band of 7 ex-military guys who got together and used their army connections to get a hold of high-end weaponry and went on a rampage killing. I was so proud of myself for coming up with what I thought was the greatest “shoot ‘em up” plot ever conceived until an aunt asked the question: "Why are these men killing?" "They're just bad guys," I replied. “Yes, but what’s their motivation?” I thought about it, but I couldn’t come up with an answer. Until she said something about it, it didn't bother me at all that I had written a story about smart, well trained guys risking their freedom and lives for no cause at all. Then it bothered me.

That's how it is in My Bloody Valentine, a remake of the 1981 original. It has its own style and a little to like, but it never explains why the killings began or what motivated them. The scenery is appealing. And who can't get into a foggy mountainous setting in a mining town? It looked and felt like West Virginia, though it was filmed in Pennsylvania.

What happens after the mining disaster, when the terrorizing Harry Warden becomes known? Some kids out on a date-night get attacked (not exactly surprising for a horror movie now, is it?) Some time passes, and just when you think the killing stopped, the nightmare begins again.

So what do we have so far? Thus far, we have a murderer who kills without motivation, terrorizes pretty-looking kids, and the third leg of this disappointing endeavor, a sub-plot love triangle between one girl, Sarah Palmer (Jaime King) and two old friends, Tom Hanniger (Jensen Ackles), a near-victim of Harry's, and Sarah's husband, Axel Palmer (Kerr Smith), the sheriff in town. The kid-ish cast taking center-stage in the storyline to appeal to the youth wasn't that bad. What could be called bad was the at times substandard acting and some lines delivered seemingly on a first take.

And you had better dig gore and 3-D if you want to like this because not much else is to be liked. What you will find is cliched moments of heads against doors being narrowly missed by pick-axes penetrating them, trained police officers getting snuck up upon and routed by a heavy-breathing, large guy in a cumbersome suit with a pick-ax, and the less-relevant characters getting snuffed out in the blink of an eye like those security extras on Star Trek.

What I really liked were the nude scenes, prolonged nude scenes where a beautiful girl shamelessly shows us her goodies for quite a while before succumbing to an inevitable death herself (it’s a known fact that anyone in a horror movie who has sex or gets naked must end up dead!) The nude scenes made the movie less bad. Oh yeah! I'd almost watch the movie just for those...almost.

A workable but still sub-par story does come together, but if you ask me, it just wasn't that interesting. What is it about a guy in a miner's suit who runs around with a light on his head and a pick-ax who gruesomely gouges people to death? Hmmm. Well, let’s just say it isn’t that scary, not enough to make a movie about. Anybody could dress up in a suit and chase people with garden tools, but I’d rather see a naked blond chick undress and screw, and when she’s done, run around naked with a pistol, baring all to the camera. Sorry, that's the only thing I liked about it!

(JH)

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Director: Patrick Lussier
Starring: Jensen Ackles “Tom Hanniger,” Jaime King “Sarah Palmer,” Kerr Smith “Axel Palmer,” Betsy Rue “Irene,” Edi Gathegi “Deputy Martin,” Tom Atkins “Burke,” Kevin Tighe “Ben Foley,” Megan Boone “Megan,” Karen Baum “Deputy Ferris,” Joy de la Paz “Rosa”
Genre: Horror

Death Never Looked So Beautiful!

Movie title: Rambo (2008)
Grade: B+ (3 ½ stars) (Recommended!)
Rated: R
Summation: Rambo is sought out by missionaries who seek passage in a war-torn country.
Spoilers ahead: No

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I remember a time not long ago when John Rambo was a status symbol of the 1980s. Rambo was as “bad boy” as you could get. Sadly, it was the spirit of Rocky, not Rambo, which lived on to steal a lot of hearts. Well, that shouldn’t have been. The way I see it, Rocky has no problem sharing his spotlight with Rambo, my knife-wielding hero who can eat what would make a goat puke. Even the cartoon that had a shot of him fastening that memorable red bandana on his head just before the action started was to be revered. Piss off God before you piss off Rambo—he’ll have mercy, but Rambo won’t!

The Rambo era is gone, unfortunately, along with the simplicity it carried. The days of Rambo were the days of the first Nintendo when the focus of so many videogames was to save the princess or accept the top-secret mission of the general who brought you your assignment. Lucky for you, you were the only one he could find to complete the task. You must succeed! Go!

That's the sort of simplicity I'm talking about. In those days, action movies were just action movies. A good action film didn't need a decorated storyline, just a pervasive premise that made sense. Times have since changed. Those old worn-thin storylines – together with their cackling, wicked crime bosses and their cheesy haircuts and plans for world domination – have served their time. We're ready for something new.

Something new is not what you get in Rambo. In a decade cursed with lagging creativity and rapidly-paced, half-witted remakes of the classics, the new Rambo installment succeeds in giving us just what we saw when Firebird Trans Ams and Fox-body 5.0 Mustangs combed the streets. Hey, I’m game for more!

An introverted Rambo is living and working in Thailand, capturing snakes for entertainers. His simple and secluded life coasts along in a part of the world that most of us would shy away from until Christian missionaries contact him who seek to rent his boat. They need the boat for passage into the war-torn area of Burma where they seek to help by offering humanitarian efforts. He refuses, like any good, burnt-out atheist would and should do.

Stupid Christians! They have no idea the kind of horrors life can throw at you, much less those of Burma, but Rambo does. The harrowing ordeals he’s seen are unmatched. Now, if only he can convince them to turn their bible-thumping behinds around and leave! But he can’t.

Reluctantly, he gives in because of the influences of one Sarah Miller (Julie Benz) and Michael Burnett (Paul Schultz, 24’s “Ryan Chappelle”). This, as you might imagine, leads the sheepishly Jesus-like believers right into the expectedly hellish war-zone of Burma. When captivity comes their way, they realize they got a little more than they bargained for. This leads to Rambo unleashing the tumultuous fury he's so known and loved for unleashing…you know, the kind of fury that Jesus won’t bring when his believers need him the most?

Put no stock in the story. It's just an excuse to get to the action anyway, but we're talking “tons” of action, bloodshed, decapitation, impalement, and enough shell-casings left on the ground to cause a grown man to trip and die. And I must tell you, death never looked so beautiful and inconsequential! But if you truly want to get into the spirit of Rambo, order a pizza and then watch this reddened Rambo. Ask for extra sauce when ordering! If you squint just right, the garlic dipping sauce with your crazy bread will resemble the eye goop from an exploded body. Enjoy!

Inordinately strenuous focus on a barbarous and violent plot is forgivable, and so are the untapped components of the story that are only vaguely touched on. But of course, when we sit down to watch Rambo, what the hell else are we looking for but carnage and vengeance? I found it refreshing, if not compelling, and for sure entertaining. John Rambo is like the older brother I never had. I haven't seen him in years, and when I finally get to, he hasn't changed a bit.

(JH)

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Director: Sylvester Stallone
Starring: Sylvester Stallone “John Rambo,” Julie Benz “Sarah,” Paul Schulze “Michael Burnett,” Matthew Marsden “School Boy,” Graham McTavish “Lewis,” Reynaldo Gallegos “Diaz,” Jake La Botz “Reese,” Tim Kang “En-Joo,” Maung Maung Khin “Tint”
Genre: Action / Thriller

Hotel for Dogs

Movie title: Hotel for Dogs (2009)
Grade: B- (3 stars)
Rated: PG
Summation: Two orphaned kids start a shelter for stray dogs.
Spoilers ahead: No

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Finding an animal movie that doesn't end in tragedy is somewhat of a rarity. Finding one with good animal direction and likable animals is a little less of a rarity, but still requires some work. Unlike Marley and Me (2008), Hotel for Dogs is a decent and lovable dog movie without tragedy and with the boxes checked "yes" for likableness and fine animal direction.

It's taken its share of criticism. Some of that criticism is just, and some of it reaches right past the intended beauty and simplicity of the film and its target audience. As go the charges, it’s predictable and unrealistic with a "give 'em what they want" happy ending. Well, sometimes predictable just isn’t that bad.

The arrogance of some movie critics in thinking that every movie in existence was made for adults with journalism degrees is hard to deal with. Before criticizing it, some should take a breath and realize that Hotel for Dogs is a kids’ movie, geared primarily for grade school audiences. I know that may come as a huge shock to some, but it’s true. So yes, there’s going to be some level of predictability. It's on level with any Disney movie you ever saw having to do with animals, and on that level, it's a cute film.

Hotel for Dogs is at times challenged, and to a good degree, unrealistic – especially from the last 20 minutes of the film to the end – but the kids won't notice. What they will notice is an enticing story about two orphaned kids, Andi (Emma Roberts) and Bruce (Jake T. Austin), with a dog named Friday. They live in foster care and they aren't happy. They want a permanent home, but they want to stay together. Their foster parents don't allow pets. They are forced to keep Friday in secret, and efforts to do so get them into trouble. It also causes them to cross paths with the stray dogs they find and reluctantly keep.

Stumbling upon an old, abandoned building and getting in good graces with a local pet store sets them up to take care of the growing number of strays taken in. But keeping the dogs safe from their timeless archenemy known as the pound isn't easy. It's tough to help all the animals and to stay clear of the law.

And things aren't going well at home. The kids need good parents, people who will adopt them and love them, but they don’t have that. Lisa Kudrow and Kevin Dillon play Lois and Carl Scudder, the spacey and loveless foster parents who add a teeny-tiny bit more dimension to the plot. Bruce is a whiz kid who builds all sorts of contraptions, but he gets no encouragement. Andy is a socializer, a goodhearted girl, but she has no support. Together with a few loyal friends, their big hope is a devoted social worker, Bernie (Don Cheadle) who looks out for them.

The overly joyous conclusion I can overlook because getting there was worth the watch. It's a touching film, it is, touching and interesting. The dialogue is mostly sharp, as is the acting, but the animal direction and choreography are excellent. Needing overlooking are imperfections, like squad cars that keep the sirens on when a call has already been responded to and dogs that whimper and tilt their heads in a few too many close-up shots, but once again, the kids won't even notice.

(JH)

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Director: Thor Freudenthal
Starrng: Emma Roberts “Andi,” Jake T. Austin “Bruce,” Don Cheadle “Bernie,” Johnny Simmons “Dave,” Kyla Pratt “Heather,” Troy Gentile “Mark,” Lisa Kudrow “Lois Scudder,” Kevin Dillon “Carl Scudder”
Genre: Family/Adventure/Comedy

Bride Wars

Movie title: Bride Wars (2009)
Grade: C+ (2 ½ stars)
Rated: PG
Summation: Two lifelong best friends butt heads when they are compelled to get married on the same day.
Spoilers ahead: No

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Bride Wars is a girly-girl film, the equivalent of a “that’s my boyfriend” schoolyard catfight. Two grown-up women and best friends butt heads in planning weddings when a scheduling mistake places their glamorously planned weddings on the same day at the same ultra-fancy location, The Plaza.

Candice Burgen tells the story from her point of view as Marion St. Claire, Manhattan’s most sought-after wedding planner. Emma (Anne Hathaway) and Liv (Kate Hudson) are two best friends, so close in fact that their grandiose weddings were planned out as young girls, and years of growing and pursuing different careers didn’t rip those plans apart. When the question for the two gets popped by their men, they say “yes,” and then it’s just a matter of making the arrangements. That’s when things get complicated.

Since the scheduling hiccup has them jammed into being married on the same day, they are forced to make sacrifices and work together in what should be separate weddings. This creates resentment and jealousy and competition between two seemingly inseparable girlfriends.

A girlfriend once told me that no one hates a girl like another girl, and it seems to make sense in light of their competitive nature. And when it comes to weddings, almost anyone who has had one can tell you that weddings aren’t fun, even when they’re a dream come true. The planning and preparation makes it a nightmare, and hence, a breeding-ground for turning on those closest to you. And it’s a life lesson that those closest to you can hurt you the most. Potentially at least, it is those closest to us who are our worst enemies.

What hurts the movie is that it doesn’t get interesting until forty minutes into it when the hissing and cat-fighting starts. In humorless “chick flick” style things progress; painstakingly, uninterestingly, they progress (unless the snooty rich girl life of manicures and making hair appointments happens to hold your attention).

Bride Wars is very well directed and sublimely acted, with properly defined characters and a story all throughout. The real fun begins when the hissy-fits and evil eyes give way to shear meanness and act after act of social, physical, and occupational sabotage. This provides an especially interesting insight into the dark side of friendships, even if the concept behind the movie is an exaggerated take on the notion of a “bride-zilla.”

It is supposed to be a comedy, but it’s not a comedy. It would have to be funny for that. At its closest, it’s a dry and sprightly smile-inducer with some wit. But I can’t say much more for it than that. I wouldn’t put it up there with the likes of Fried Green Tomatoes or Thelma and Louise, with their gravely entrenching storylines, but the non-serious girl-against-girl banter does bring out the light drama of temporary friendship fall-outs. That makes it cute, and for some, watch-able.

We conclude with a multiple-choice question: Who should see this movie? Is it, A) Chick-flick lovers. B) Wedding planners and others who are big-time infatuated with weddings. C) Those who don’t mind and have the time to watch a docile movie about friends in a spat. Or, D) All of the above. The answer is D.

(JH)

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Director: Gary Winick
Starring: Kate Hudson “Liv,” Anne Hathaway “Emma,” Bryan Greenberg “Nate,” Chris Pratt “Fletcher,” Steve Howey “Daniel,” Candice Bergen “Marion St. Claire,” Kristen Johnston “Deb,” Michael Arden “Kevin,” Victor Slezak “Colson”
Genre: Comedy

Making Rent-a-cop Headlines

Movie title: Paul Blart: Mall Cop (2009)
Grade: B+ (3 1/2 stars) Recommended!
Rated:
PG
Summation: A lonely mall security guard runs into romance and action when thieves invade his mall.
Spoilers ahead: No

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Appealing to middle-aged pie-lovers everywhere is Kevin James as Paul Blart, shiftless, overweight, hypoglycemic, wannabe cop/mall security guard. They could have chosen a better last name for the character, but that may have been an intentional comically immature reference to “blubber” and “fart” (two things that could be said to define James’ antics). That would have been a very Kevin James-ish thing to have, I’m thinking.

Kevin James, like the great Chris Farley (may he rest in peace), has the iconic ability to be awkwardly funny with heart-stopping hilarity. His penguin-like appearance on screen alone is a kneeslapper. His slapstick style isn’t just funny, but believable rather than corny. If you can handle James’ King of Queens-style self-put-down routines, then you should relate well to the character of Paul Blart. I’m no devoted Kevin James fan, but I liked the character he played.

All Blart has is his job, and he does it well out of not having much else of a life. He’s not a smooth operator, not a savvy socializer, and he’s clumsy enough to crush in the back of a minivan on his out-of-control scooter. He often shares too much and thinks he’s funny when others are downright embarrassed by him. He loves his daughter and his mom, who always see to it that he gets the food to eat that he can’t get out of his head.

Like many security guards, he wants to be a cop, but has some physical hang-ups. He’s disappointed by all of that, but his biggest disappointment is his loneliness. He wants someone to love. That’s Paul Blart, a nicely mapped-out character that makes everyone feel a lot more successful by comparison. That’s what’s to love about him.

I liked the movie. I liked the cast. Everyone looked real and fit their parts. Some wishy-washy slapstick aside and enough awkward social exchanges towards the beginning that make you want to run and hide under a table, this was damn funny. And sometimes, predictability isn’t so bad. It had a lovable plot and some light drama.

Blart meets a girl at the mall, and as with most things in his cellphone-abhoring, cassette tape-playing life, he’s not on the winning path. But while he may have the social skills of a ninth-grader in resource class, he can step up to the plate and be more than he is.

When there’s a crisis brewing at the mall, when something’s going down, there’s a man for the job. Better call Jack Bauer..or Paul Blart? Both can take care of business, but only one is available. Choose well!

At times, I almost felt camaraderie with Blart. Both of us have worked security, both of us have go-nowhere lives, and neither I, nor Officer Blart look good in a mustache! But tell me, who can’t relate to a life of failure and a guy who buries his sorrows in pies? I liked the character of the villains too. To me, it was a most welcomed parody of Diehard.

Never mind that Amy (Jayma Mays), his love interest, is hotter than he should aim for or expect to get. Never mind the one-sided-ness of Veck Sims (Keir O'Donnell), the head villain, and the shallow-thinking crooks under his command, or the presence of rollerblading mall invaders. And never mind a story that doesn’t justify a fat guy knocking the bad guys out with the air duct he’s hiding in, or making his way stealthfully around a mall and using the merchandise to kick butt. It’s a comedy, and you watch lightheartedly, for the laughs.

If there is one thing I am disappointed with, it’s the critics and their uncalled-for trashing of the film. I’m tired of fake movie critics panning the film just because they’ve heard others pan it. Go and see it! This is good, funny, family-worthy entertainment, and those who don’t like it probably just don’t like Kevin James, which is fine. They just shouldn’t ruin it for the rest of us.

(JH)

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Director: Steve Carr
Starring: Kevin James “Paul Blart,” Keir O'Donnell “Veck Sims,” Jayma Mays “Amy,” Raini Rodriguez “Maya Blart,” Shirley Knight “Mom,” Stephen Rannazzisi “Stuart,” Peter Gerety “Chief Brooks,” Bobby Cannavale “Commander Kent,” Adam Ferrara “Sergeant Howard,” Jamal Mixon “Leon,” Adhir Kalyan “Pahud,” Erick Avari “Vijay”
Genre: Comedy

The Unborn

Movie title: The unborn (2009)
Grade: D- (1 star)
Rated: PG-13
Summation: A young woman is haunted by a demon wanting to be born.
Spoilers ahead: No

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I am disappointed in The Unborn, another horror movie-turned-teen flick for a boring Friday or Saturday night. If you’re still in high school and you can drive, take your date to the theatre, hold him/her close, and fulfill the wishes of quick box office cash-flow-obsessed Hollywood producers by seeing this. They’ll love you for it!

And tell me this; when will directors get tired of having faces pop out and scream? It keeps happening…and happening and happening. A kid with too much makeup on pops out of a medicine cabinet and spooks us. How many times have we seen the pop-out-and-scream maneuver? Maybe a thousand times? Two thousand? Well, we’ve seen it too many, and it was scary only the first time or two. Now we’re ready for something new, something better than cheap scares made for a Honda Civic-full of kids on the weekends.

The dialogue leaves some to be desired and the rest is the usual ghost story stuff, like bugs appearing from out of nowhere, mysterious tapping sounds on mirrors that fade when someone checks on them, and omens being seen in the form of dogs, masks, and baby gloves while jogging. Why? Because a demon wants to be born.

It missed out on making heaven, having lived a previous life. It now floats around on earth looking to take a new body (why God didn’t just send it to Hell I would like to know, but I guess I won’t have that luxury). It finds a body in the days when the Nazis experimented on captured Jews during the Holocaust. Their purpose was to turn brown eyes into blue ones when a boy they were experimenting on dies. The demon takes the body, but for some reason loses it and spends its existence trying to claim a new body, one from the womb of a grandmother, a mother, and her daughter. The daughter is the star of the show as Casey Beldon (Odette Yustman).

She’s seeing things, having dreams. As the demon (a mythological dybbuk) keeps stupidly stating over and over again, it wants to be born. Rather than just shutting up and being born already like any other demon who wanted to be born, or else claiming the body of a weak-willed person, like a drug-addict or invalid, this demon makes generations of women miserable by haunting them to the point of driving them insane and causing them to commit suicide. Oh, and he turns their eyes white too! Why risk exorcism, stupid demon? Just get born and get it over with!

A neighborhood kid is acting weird, and then a baby who looks at a mirror dies, which brings us to the next problem; namely, if the demon can take hold of the body of a young boy who died during the Holocaust, and the demon wants a body, why not possess the body of a neighbor’s infant who died in his sleep (apparently at the behest of the demon)? Fairly big plot-hole? I think so. And I am still curious to find out why animals (and in one case, an old man in a nursing home) have their heads turned upside-down? Guess I'll never know.

The movie’s use of the played-out premise of mirrors being a doorway to the spirit world appears to be a rip-off of the 2008 film Mirrors. As in that one, mirrors are broken to keep away demons. Another example of the similarities between the films is instant possession of the unwilling. If you’re a dybbuk and that strong, why care about being born? Just pick a human of your choice and live life to the fullest.

Amidst an annoying element of girl-talk and her boyfriend, Casey has support. To make the plot more interesting, Casey has a token superstitious friend who’s into all sorts of superstitious claptrap. And I suppose that’s good because Casey is up against a very powerful demon. The thing is so powerful that as in most horror movies, exorcisms only get the crud kicked out of the priests, and the evil force can take control over most anyone in the circle it wants to. Since this can happen so easily in the world of horror movies, one would think it would happen often enough for their to be networks of spiritualists on how to deal with it. But their aren’t, so no one believes anything supernatural is happening before it is too late. Of course, the super power level of demons in exorcist-type movies of this sort is to appeal to the theatrically religious who believe in it. That’s the case here.

It is worth saying, however, that The Unborn was a little scary, due in part to excellent music selection and lighting that manufactured great suspense, making what would have been a slow teen horror flick suspenseful enough to watch (if you can tolerate everything else). The growing white blemishes to the eyes was an effectively creepy element, and it has got to be a fact that scary movies where bodily changes are undergone prove scarier than those without. High school teen thrillers I have little patience with, and that’s what we have here. I say, save your money.

(JH)

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Director: David S. Goyer
Starring: Odette Yustman “Casey Beldon,” Gary Oldman “Rabbi Sendak,” Meagan Good “Romy,” Cam Gigandet “Mark Hardigan,” Idris Elba “Arthur Wyndham,” Jane Alexander “Sofi Kozma,” Atticus Shaffer “Matty Newton,” James Remar “Gordon Beldon,” Carla Gugino “Janet Beldon,” C.S. Lee “Dr. Lester Caldwell,” Michael Sassone “Eli Walker,” Ethan Cutkosky “Barto”
Genre: Horror

The Poughkeepsie Tapes

Movie title: The Poughkeepsie Tapes (2009) ***
Grade: F (0 stars)
Rated: R
Summation: Experts examine a serial killer’s recorded footage of torture, murder, and mutilation.
Spoilers ahead: No

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Ask yourself why you’ve never heard of The Poughkeepsie Tapes (TPTs) or the Poughkeepsie murders before. Now you can go hunting around for the answer or I can just come right out and tell you. Alright, I’ll just tell you. The reason is that it’s bogus.

The Poughkeepsie Tapes is a “mockumentary,” like a documentary and done in the same style, but phony. It’s an altogether terrible film, but you have to acknowledge that making a mock documentary and selling it as a true story does stir up a lot of discussion and makes people ask questions.

What the makers and promoters (Tribeca Films, MGM, and writers Drew and John Dowdle) of TPTs want you to think is that an unknown and still uncaught serial killer from the late 1980s thru at least 2001 orchestrated a string of murders and left behind some 800 meticulously kept and organized VHS tapes of over 240 hours. These tapes contained horrific footage of a man’s abduction, torture, mutilation, disfigurement, and murder of his victims.

We are led to believe that a New York cop by the name of James Foley who picked up prostitutes was fingered for the murder of eight individuals, their bodies found buried in a yard on Waters Street. He became known as the Waters Street Butcher, so we are told. But the serial killer wanted the authorities to find the house and the videotapes that the police recovered. In that house was found the only survivor of this madman ever, a young woman named Cheryl Dempsey. The cop was executed for the murder of the women when it was discovered only days after his execution that the real killer was alive and still out there.

Believe that if you love murder mysteries and urban legends, but it’s not factual. The plot of TPTs seems to be based on the killings of Walter Francois, a man who kidnapped and murdered eight prostitutes, burying them in his backyard, for which he received eight consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole back in 1998. But Francois never videotaped his murders. And the supposed murderer/prostitute-loving cop James Foley was apparently pulled out of thin air. He doesn't exist.

And there was nothing particularly historical about Poughkeepsie, New York. There have been murders there, but none exceptional enough to make a documentary about. So while having been possibly inspired by tidbits of true events, this is all a bunch of hooey. Don’t let it fool you for a second, and don’t let the anonymous posting marketers who down-talk naysayers of the film on every movie blog and forum on the net convince you that they grew up there and witnessed these things firsthand. It’s more baloney.

Despite trying hard to be horrifying, only a few scenes are. It wasn’t as horrifying as Saw and other super-bloodbath flicks that know how to appease the gorehounds in an audience. The extreme unbelievability of the work sees to it that no one takes it seriously. Everything is laughably done. This would make good SNL material, much of it. The contrived acting was vomitous. I didn’t believe anybody for a second. The “interviews” and “experts” interviewed were more scripted than WWE. I will never get these two hours of my life back!

Towards the beginning of the film, with the abduction of Cheryl, we have a well-acted segment of a terrified girl hogtied like a Thanksgiving turkey. Later, we find the same girl being made to slit another captive girl’s throat, which she does in a way that wouldn't work. Any farm boy knows that it takes some doing to slit the throat of a pig or to de-horn a bull. It’s the same with slitting a wrist, but not so in this excuse for a documentary where throats are slit as easily as the plastic packaging being cut off a CD bought at Walmart.

The only reason anyone would dare to keep watching TPTs after the first five minutes would be to determine why the interviewers keep exalting this killer’s amazing abilities to throw off the experts. Real police, FBI, and legal/forensics experts don’t talk like this, of course. You’ll notice this when you hear one investigator say: “My wife wouldn’t let me touch her for a year.” (Allegedly because he brought the tapes home and watched them to get a jump on his workload.) Yeah, right!

And then there’s this little bit from an “expert” at the end...

“I’ll tell you one place we’ll be watching. If this documentary thing you’re making ever gets to the theatres, he won’t be able to help himself. He’ll see this movie as many times as he can. We’ll keep an eye on as many screenings as we can because [long pause]...he'll be there!”

Sorry. No sale, my friend!

The biggest fault among the many glaring ones that make this an awful abomination of a flick is that it is unrelenting in its childlike praise for the infamous killer. Have you ever heard a child invent a superhero or a villain and then go into overkill describing how unbeatable he is? That’s what you have here done by grown-ups. It’s bad—really bad!

(JH)

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Director: John Erick Dowdle
Starring: Stacy Chbosky “Cheryl Dempsey,” Ben Messmer “Ed,” Samantha Robson “Samantha,” Ivar Brogger “Leonard Schway,” Lou George “Felton Lewis,” Amy Lyndon “Alice Endrisart,” Michael Lawson “Simon Alray,” Ron Harper “Mike Moakes,” Kim Kenny “Pam Frears”
Genre: Horror/Thriller

Without a Paddle: Nature's Calling

Movie title: Without a Paddle: Nature’s Calling (2009) ***
Grade: D- (1 star)
Rated: PG-13
Summation: Two former high school buddies go in search of an old beautiful schoolmate.
Spoilers ahead: No

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I have two good things to say about this film; it was clean viewing for young audiences, and the moral of the story at the end was good. But I have nothing else good to say about it.

Two friends, Ben (Oliver James) and Zach (Kristopher Turner), have not been as close since their high school days. Life managed to put some distance between them, but soon to come was a chance to relive some of those glory days. At his work at a nursing home, Zach meets an old lady who wants to hear from her granddaughter one last time before dying, so he convinces his busy attorney buddy Ben that the trip to Oregon to find her will be worth it because the girl they are seeking is his old dream girl from high school, Heather or “Earthchild” (Madison Riley).

The old lady sends along her grandson, a vanity-obsessed Englishman, Nigel (Rik Young) who only makes the two buddies’ journey more difficult. The three go on a trip in the woods of Oregon, her last known place, in search of Ben’s old crush and her nature-worshipping girlfriend, “Thunderstorm” (Amber McDonald). I guess the directors thought it would be flavorful to have the girls be nutty environmentalists.

While the whole movie is a joking juvenile escapade, made for “airheads” who play air guitars, asking out loud how two criminals find their way into the forest after the three guys is more than a valid question, but it is never answered. And as you might expect, the acting is way overdone, and midway through, it becomes so boring I thought I wasn't going to be able to sit through it. It wasn't funny, but it was stupid. You don’t have to take my word for it. There is a simple test to determine whether or not you will like it.

The squirrels in the Oregon forest are unlike any on earth we’re used to. They are freakishly intelligent and mean-spirited, and for some reason, are a match for humans many, many times their size. They chase the good guys and the bad guys, inducing great fear in so doing. And they laugh like humans.

If that type of terrible attempt at humor does you right, then you may be right for this movie. If that is the case, then your mind operates on a very juvenile level, so rest assured that this slow, whacky, unfunny adventure is delivered precisely for you in after school special style.

Not much else to say, really. I find guys stepping on loose boards and being wracked in the nards dumb and an insult to my intelligence, just as I do any film where squirrels chase three men back to their boat after having poked a hole in it to cause them to sink. And it doesn't score any points to have a black guy who claims to be Al Gore’s brother hiding out in the woods and theorizing that squirrel flatulence is causing a rise in global temps. Nope, this is stupid, and I'm out of here.

(JH)

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Director: Ellory Elkayem
Starring: Ellen Albertini Dow “Mrs. Bessler,” Robert Blanche “Massey,” Madison Bontempo “Young Heather,” Will Cuddy “Lyle,” Oliver James “Ben,” Amber McDonald “Thunderstorm,” Jerry Rice “Hal Gore,” Madison Riley “Earthchild/Heather,” Todd Robinson “Overton,” Kristopher Turner “Zach,” Rik Young “Nigel”
Genre: Adventure/Comedy

"Taken" as it is

Movie title: Taken (2008)
Grade: B- (3 stars)
Rated: PG-13
Summation: A government agent goes on a search for his kidnapped daughter.
Spoilers ahead: No

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Taken has its share of problems. Whoever wrote the dialogue should be shot by firing squad. The souls responsible for about one-third of the acting should be put in the stocks for the better part of a hot afternoon. There are enough scenes of guns getting knocked out of hands in door-jams to make you want to petition the president to reopen GITMO just for the director. The writing behind the story itself is less than stellar, but these are my only complaints. Everything else was a rollercoaster ride of violent action, a jaw-clenching fighting flick that pets the ego.

While these faults without doubt mount a strong attack against the quality of the film, I am willing to forgive them. Yes, some movies do get a pass for their faults while others do not. Get over it! We critics do that! ☺

The plot, though obviously contrived, is decent. That is, this sort of thing can and does happen. But seeing it play out on screen speaks to the primal side of man, to the desire for vengeance, torture, and bloodlust. It doesn't put itself forward with a measure of great self-importance, nor is it merely an excuse to get to the action. Rather, the plot makes the action satisfying.

Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) spent a long and rich career as a CIA spy. He's well trained, but retired and taking local security work to stay close to his daughter in the U.S. He’s divorced from Lenore (Famke Janssen), who has a new and very wealthy husband, Stuart (Xander Berkeley). Trying to keep close ties on his daughter of 17, Kim (Maggie Grace), he stays in her life and watches out for her. Maybe he’s a little paranoid, but it’s about to come in handy. When she and girlfriend Amanda (Katie Cassidy) take a trip to Paris, the thing dad feared most happens.

The two beautiful young women are abducted by businessmen who don't look back. They've abducted who knows how many women and gotten away with it, but Bryan's daughter made one too many. Bryan lives for making these kinds of bastards pay. It's what he does! He keeps in shape for guys like this. He's right there, waiting in the shadows, with awesome technology at his aid and connections in high places. Maybe he's related to Jack Bauer somehow? You feel that on screen. You get into that mood.

The combat sequences are fast and boast some fundamental wrestling maneuvers—a very Navy Seal-ish thing to have. Other moves, like knee hits and elbow strikes, show advanced knowledge of real hand-to-hand fighting skill that is still humanly attainable. The know-how and the determination to win both come out and nothing done is impossible, though a few shoot-out scenes border on the improbable. It's an action flick, but it's not mindless. It entertains…and then some.

Despite notable flaws, in Taken, you get what you came to see. That’s the important thing. On that basis alone, I’ll “take” it just as it is.

(JH)

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Director: Pierre Morel
Starring: Liam Neeson “Bryan Mills,” Famke Janssen “Lenore,” Leland Orser “Sam,” Radivoje Bukvic “Anton (as Rasha Bukvic),” Mathieu Busson “Undercover agent,” Holly Valance “Sheerah,” Katie Cassidy “Amanda,” Xander Berkeley “Stuart,” Nicolas Giraud “Peter,” Maggie Grace “Kim”
Genre: Action / Crime / Drama / Thriller

Fantastic Floundering: The Rise of the Silver Slack-off

Movie title: Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2009)
Grade: D+ (1 ½ star)
Rated: PG
Summation: The Fantastic Four learn that they aren't the only super-powered beings in the universe when they square off against the powerful Silver Surfer and the planet-eating Galactus.
Spoilers ahead: No

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Somebody slacked off. This wasn’t done right. I’m not going to hide the fact that this movie pretty much sucked. Though not a total loss, it was mostly an embarrassment. The kiddish dialogue aimed primarily at ten-year-olds was insulting (as though only the immature enjoy and look forward to well made comic book movies). The meandering melodrama could be mistaken for Pine-Sol on a floor and mopped up. The only thing they got marginally right was the Surfer himself.

Created by Jack Kirby in 1966 as a mock character, the Silver Surfer was soon transformed into a megapower in the world of Marvel Comics. Before he was the Surfer, he was a promising young astronomer named Norrin Radd on the planet Zenn-La. Zenn-La was overtaken by Galactus, a fiendish cosmic entity. Galactus’ insatiable desire to consume planets as easily as we do a Beltbuster combo meal from Dairy Queen drove him to Zenn-La where Radd promised Galactus that if he would spare his world, he would serve him as his herald forever. Galactus took him, limited his recall of his home world and any abilities to feel remorse or regret, and endowed him with a portion of Galactus’ own power, “The Power Cosmic.” His board was the primary source of that power.

In time, the Surfer managed to resurrect a portion of his old nobility and began to feed his wicked master dead and lifeless planets in place of thriving ones. Then the Surfer came upon planet Earth. His confrontation on Earth with the Fantastic Four is where the movie takes off. The movie covers only a small part and parcel of the comic book series, and it is not near faithful in keeping with it. It does have some things going for it that some Silver Surfer fans may like (and no, not just Jessica Alba!)

One is obviously the special effects. It was nominated in the category of “Best Science Fiction Film” by the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Films. The movie brings a bold-faced-ness that the old comics and cartoons couldn’t match. The second thing is a serious (and I do mean “serious”) attitude adjustment. The Surfer of the film (impressively voiced by Lawrence Fishburne) was not the confused extrovert Surfer who arrived on Earth in the earlier cartoons. They did a good job with the Surfer in the movie. His distant, somber attitude befits the emotional distance you’d expect an empowered alien humanoid coming to earth to have.

Then there’s the power level of the Surfer. They might still have come up short, but they got close to portraying the power of a character that is not too far from omnipotent. Since he possesses the Power Cosmic, that puts him above Superman and on level with other cosmically endowed beings, some of them his bitter enemies, like Thanos and Morg. If those names don’t ring a bell, then nevermind. It just means you aren’t a comic book buff. Nobody’s perfect!

The abilities of Superman are amazing, the abilities of Silver Surfer more so. Superman can lift hundreds of millions of tons, use X-ray and heat vision, and fly above the speed of light. His only weakness is kryptonite. Surfer has about the same or greater strength, but can move at any possible speed and is immune to energy attacks of all kinds. He can manipulate space-time and matter, escape from a black hole or swim inside the heart of a star, survive a blast of 100,000,000 nuclear bombs, and has an ability to know all weaknesses of any enemy he faces at any given time. The only way to beat him is to get him off his board. He capably trumps Superman. The movie incorporates these powers fairly well, but that’s all it does. And as poor a job as was done on the rest of the movie, that’s not enough.

As if the cursed dialogue wasn’t bad enough, we have cheesy predicaments and a sappy, preachy plot about choices and love. One of these comes as a very minute allusion to Guantanamo Bay with condemnation of the alleged torture of inmates. Spare me! And then there’s the shot towards the end of an officer being frozen and crumbling while looking at one stub of an arm. Where have we seen that one before? Try here. Aside from the fact that Silver Surfer is a constant reminder of T2’s T1000, we get this silly tribute. What the hell were they thinking?

(JH)

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Director: Tim Story
Starring: Ioan Gruffudd “Mr. Fantastic / Reed Richards,” Jessica Alba “Invisible Woman / Susan Storm,” Chris Evans “Human Torch / Johnny Storm,” Michael Chiklis “The Thing / Ben Grimm,” Julian McMahon “Dr. Doom / Victor Von Doom,” Kerry Washington “Alicia Masters,” Andre Braugher “General Hager,” Laurence Fishburne “The Silver Surfer (voice),” Doug Jones “The Silver Surfer,” Beau Garrett “Captain Frankie Raye”
Genre: Action / Adventure / Fantasy / Sci-Fi

Behind Enemy Lines: Columbia

Movie title: Behind Enemy Lines: Columbia (2009) ***
Grade: D- (1 star)
Rated: R
Summation: Navy Seals mount an attack on Colombian Special Forces to clear their names and rescue a hostage.
Spoilers ahead: No

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In Behind Enemy Lines: Columbia, an insurgent group known as FARC finds an excuse to blacklist the United States when an intel operation on the part of five Navy Seals goes awry. And if perfectly suspense-less, B-movie-level action flicks float your boat, then this might. I say “might” because a weak-as-soup script isn't the only major setback in the development. It's little wonder it went from production straight to DVD.

The “tough guy” feel with dialogue that could only be appreciated by young audiences will get to you eventually, if not at first. Facial close-ups in moments of shock make for a cheesy viewing experience. It is an unabashed action movie with a purposely flimsy plot and all the emphasis on the action, and it does two things well; one, it moves on rather quickly, so that just when you think you are going to get bored out of your mind, it scoots along and changes the scenery to more pointlessness; two, it showcases the use of a few fancy and high-tech military devices.

Everything else is pathetic, like when TVs are cut on to display the brooding governmental state of crisis between the U.S. and Columbia, and the TVs start off at exactly the relevant spot that the audience needs to hear. This happens not once, not twice, but three times. Would you expect more?

What I don't understand is why well-trained Navy Seals don't understand what an untrained, lard-butt bum like myself does—that using bodies as shields in a shootout is a useless defense against bullets from automatic weapons, unless the person being used as a shield happens to have on a bulletproof vest. But that only hashes out the problem of how the person being used as a shield was wounded or killed by a bullet in the first place to enable his limp body to be manipulated as a shield against weapon fire. Oh, the humanity!

Military men being able to kick down metal prison bar doors is one problem. Being shot and captured and getting no medical treatment whatsoever, and then miraculously being able to fight for the last half of the movie is yet another. The acting was the worst – terrible – not one redeeming performance in the whole bit. It was like nearly every scene was a first shot take, the director saying, “That's good enough” after the filming of each segment.

To say that I've seen better action movies should be unnecessary, but I've seen worse. If you like a movie where the good guys are just hands-down better than the bad guys, this may do it for you. They manage to hit their targets – most of them moving targets – nearly 100% of the time. The bad guys miss 90% of the time, which tends to amaze crusty skeptics like myself.

What we have here is a semi-realistic action movie where buff, good-looking guys with IQs probably a little higher than houseplants and with the maturity level of a locker room full of seventh-grade football players show their enemies what's up. It's a ludicrous tough guy movie. What more can I say?

(JH)

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Director: Tim Matheson
Starring: Joe Manganiello “LT. Sean Macklin,” Ken Anderson “Chief Carter Holt,” Channon Roe “Petty Officer 2nd Class Kevin Derricks,” Yancey Arias “Alvaro Cardona,” Chris J. Johnson “Petty Officer 3rd Class Steve Gaines,” Antony Matos “Petty Officer 2nd Class Greg Armstrong,” Keith David “Commander Scott Boytano,” Jennice Fuentes “Nicole Jenkins,” Steven Bauer “General Manuel Valez”
Genre: Action/War

Fix

Movie title: Fix (2008)
Grade: B- (3 stars)
Rated: R
Summation: Two documentary-makers follow a convicted drug addict around for a story before his confinement to rehab.
Spoilers ahead: No

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I hate junkies. I hate substance abusers. I hate anyone who is given to escapism when confronted with the hardships of life. I hate them because I’ve had the displeasure of knowing and living with one such person. I have a heroine-addicted pill-head for a sister. The pain that this struggle has put our family through is difficult to put into words.

Junkies lie. Their mannerisms lie, their expressions lie, even their actions lie. Whatever they are saying, it's almost certainly a lie. And half the time, it's just the drugs talking anyway. It's not easy to struggle with drug addiction, not for the user and not for the families of the user. I've seen it all, staying out for days, coming home with nosebleeds and white powder on faces, making pathetic excuses and peddling pathetic lies about where they've been. Yes, I've seen it all.

It is with these bitter thoughts in mind that I watched the docudrama-style based-on-a-true-story film Fix. It's about one Leo (Shawn Andrews), a convicted junkie who needs $5,000 for a fee and must be admitted to rehab by 8 pm the same day to avoid a 3-year prison term. The problem is, he's short on cash! The movie is one day's efforts of the druggie and the two documentary-makers to secure the funds and get him checked in on time.

Like most junkies, Leo doesn't suffer alone. He too has family that cares. Watching him throw away his life, Leo's brother Milo (Tao Ruspoli) steps in to help. As a journalist, he gets involved, he and his attractive co-worker Bella (Olivia Wilde).

But Leo is hard to get along with. His personality is, to say the least, unlikable. I wanted to hit the guy in the mouth with a brick in nearly every scene. And family connections screw things up, always assuming that if they will just bear with their beloved for a little longer, then the hard times will pass, and that magic moment of redemption will come. It’s a pipedream and a futile hope.

Out of a tireless-but-vain love, his brother is there to help—even to the extent of breaking the law. That's what they do. If reporters helping to steal expresso machines and cars and watching while a druggie hits up buddies at chop shops for under-the-table money doesn't impress you, then maybe the ghetto feeling of the film will. It was too much for me.

I don't want to see drug-dealing and run-down areas of town, put to the melody-less tunes of rap music that has the effect of glorifying a lifestyle of depravity. I've seen enough of that. It turns my stomach just to think about it, and that is what made large portions of the movie boring and uninteresting to me. Though I must say, the acting was great.

From the outset, you'd suspect, as I did, that this is yet another work influenced by the growing number of reality show admirers who love to glorify lifestyles of drug dependency and unaccountability. Think again! Check out the ending and be dazzled (and angered) in a surprising-but-not-so-surprising twist.

I saw a lot of sis in Leo, with the ability to be charming and likable at times, but who, at their cores, are callously selfish and indifferent to the feelings of others, blind to the pain that their self-destructive lifestyle brings on. Junkies the world over can never seem to see how their wretched decisions affect everyone else around them. That is sad. You want to be angry, but it doesn't help.

(JH)

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Director: Tao Ruspoli
Starring: Shawn Andrews “Leo,” Olivia Wilde “Bella,” Megalyn Echikunwoke “Carmen”, Tao Ruspoli “Milo,” and Dedee Pfeiffer “Daphne”
Genre: Drama

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Movie title: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)
Grade: B- (3 stars)
Rated: PG-13
Summation: The story of a man’s life as he is born old and gets younger with age.
Spoilers ahead: No

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If my heart was set on conquering the world, it wouldn't be beyond me to unleash this movie on an unsuspecting populace. Entire nations may very well fall victim to my whims as they abide helpless, sobbing their eyes out. With well over two hours of tearjerking drama, the people will beg to serve me! Muhahahahaha!

This one is a love-it-or-hate-it film. You either thrive off of the sickly-sweet love story, swollen up for uncritical theatrical minds, or you find it to be overkill. It's a love story with a fantasy plot. You don't need to question it. Just suspend the disbelief and ride with the romantic flare if you can.

At first, I couldn't figure out what I had on my hands. Benjamin's birth and the care he required as an “old” youngster seemed to drag on forever. That's what the whole movie is about. Can you imagine the mechanics of being born old and growing young instead of the other way around like the way things normally are? Just take a few brief moments to think about the bizarreness of it, and then you've thought of it. You don't need over two hours of super-dramatization to hammer it home. The concept just isn't that marvelous.

We keep hearing about death, about what it is like to watch our loved ones grow old and die (like we don't think about that all the time). The death element was too strong. Ok, we get it; growing younger, Benjamin is forced to be ever-mindful of death while not being able to relate to it because his stages of life don't match ours. Gotcha. Okiedokie. Then it gets…old (pardon the pun)!

I was not sold on the acting. Pitt's character, an undereducated and rather withdrawn Cajun man by the name of Benjamin Button only needed an accent. Cate Blanchette as “Daisy” had a touch more depth, but everyone's part had relatively little to them. I liked Julia Ormond as “Caroline” as well as anybody.

The filming locations were sublime, the lighting as well. The time-warp storytelling method is always a recipe for success for dramas (who can keep a dry eye during a deathbed confession?)

Pitt and Blanchette did not have the finest chemistry I’ve ever seen, and that matters as this is a love story. Still, this is going to be an irresistible film for a great many viewers. So much in the movie happens due to the fact that it's so loooooong! And so much was done right. Had some 30 or 40 minutes been cut out and some much-needed scene-trimming been done, you would have had a talked-about box office smash. But as it is, it's B- material. I was no worse off for seeing it. Just remember to bring the Kleenex box, or maybe two.

(JH)

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Director: David Fincher
Starring: Brad Pitt “Benjamin Button,” Cate Blanchett “Daisy,” Julia Ormond “Caroline,” Faune A. Chambers “Dorothy Baker,” Elias Koteas “Monsieur Gateau,” Donna DuPlantier “Blanche Devereux,” Jacob Tolano “Martin Gateau (as Jacob Wood),” Ed Metzger “Teddy Roosevelt,” Jason Flemyng “Thomas Button”
Genre: Romance

Midnight Movie

Movie title: Midnight Movie (2008)
Grade: F (0 stars)
Rated: R
Summation: A madman lives and kills as an evil entity when his old film is replayed inside a movie theatre.
Spoilers ahead: No

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Just once in my life, I want to see a B-movie of camcorder-level quality or above that makes me forget that I am watching a mega-low-budget film. We're not talking immaculate, just something that will prove compelling and moving. Midnight Movie is not much above a camcorder-level quality film and what arguably should be classified as a “C-movie” out of respect for B-movies.

It starts off in a psych ward where an old man who used to make films is shown one of his old films in hopes of making him responsive and rehabilitate-able. Did you guess that the film he made and wants to watch is a horror film of himself killing? Well, it is.

The old fart was committed for going psycho on everyone years earlier. When shown the movie, for some ridiculous reason, he becomes enabled to exist in the film and outside of it as a devilish serial killer endowed with super powers, wearing half of a skull for a mask and overalls as he kills with an oversized, hand-turned drill bit.

He can only kill you if you fear him. He smells fear. He's invulnerable to bullets, and yet there is evidence that if you are holding a metal pipe, he might get hurt, so he will avoid you until you stupidly put the pipe down, like one dumb teen does before he bites the big one.

Why the demented old man is a wicked, insane killer we are not told, but he killed decades ago, and thanks to the doctors for showing him the film again, he's runamok for a second wave of death.

And he's not even an original killer. He's just made up from what is not far off from a modified “Jason” hockey mask, with Freddy Krueger's fear-sensing/killing ability, mixed with the overalls of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre murderer. And he has a mother who influences him like in Psycho. If your goal is to insult my intelligence, Mr. Director, you are doing a damn fine job!

And no, the goal was not to parody horror films. It puts too much of itself into being horrifying, and it is horrifying—especially the lighting. In the film, a police officer, a young couple, and some teenagers are trapped and hunted by this thing inside a movie theatre. All I can say is, I'm glad as can be that the flick didn't make it to the theatres for the sake of audiences everywhere. It was “torture” to watch (if you know what I mean).

It's slow and boring to the point of making an audience practically beg for death. It's menacing enough to frighten the hell out of grade-schoolers, but only a grade-schooler would construct a film this way. Even by B-movie standards, this one is terrible. I doubt if the Sci-fi channel will lay a finger on it.

Please, haven't I suffered enough? What's the point in anyone else having to suffer in seeing this? Please, please, please, don't subject your loved ones to this...even if it is found only in the bargain basement section of Walmart.

(JH)

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Director: Jack Messitt
Starring: Rebekah Brandes “Bridget,” Daniel Bonjour “Josh,” Greg Cirulnick “Mario,” Stan Ellsworth “Harley,” Mandell Maughan “Samantha,” Melissa Steach “Babe,” Justin Baric “Timmy,” Jon Briddell “Detective Barrons,” Michael Swan “Dr. Wayne”
Genre: Horror

Hangin' With Nico

Several weeks after the beginning of my tenth grade school year (the year after last contact with Philip the psycho), I met this kid on the bus named Nico. Picture a guy with black hair and a slight muscular build, a guy who looked and carried himself like his idle Jean Claude Van Damme. Like me, Nico had serious trouble fitting in. We were like Dumb & Dumber, only “Socially Impaired & Socially Impaired-er.” Me, I was Socially Impaired. :-)

Yes, if you can believe it, Nico was even more of an oddball than I was. He would stand out at the bus stop, and just before the bus arrived, would do roundhouse kicks to show every less cool kid on our bus just how much more cool he was than they were (our bus was full of band nerds, so that pretty much put us losers at the top of the list).

Nico could dress up to look like Van Damme, but normally, he didn’t. When he didn’t, things got weird. Picture a guy with tan-ish/brown, hi-watering slack pants, flashy blue and white tennis shoes, and a white and yellow Camel's shirt with the sleeves cutting off at the forearms. That was Nico. If the shirt had sleeves, he would roll them up all the way to his shoulders. This made any shirt he was wearing look ridiculous, like some puffed sleeves dress from Amsterdam. See what I'm saying—an oddball of epic proportions.

But Nico was my best friend. We watched Bloodsport I don't know how many times and thought that maybe, just maybe, we too could one day be good enough to compete in the Kumitae. We had no plans to, but I wouldn't have put it past us to think that. We spent our time watching cable, training in the garage dojo, and going to malls and arcades looking for chicks.

We didn't know anything about Kung Fu other than what we picked up in movies, but we thought we were grade-A bad-asses. Nico was more muscularly developed than I was, and he looked older (because he failed several grades and actually was). I was just getting into weightlifting, but had nothing to show for it as of yet. I was always “the smart one.” After two years of training, I had him beat physically, but I'll save my gloating for another time.

Nico went around strutting his stuff by flexing and doing a full splits on a whim. He really and truly believed that people were as interested as he was in spin-kicks and pretending to be a great fighter. We were once walking down a hallway to third period class when he jumped into a split and nearly caused everyone walking behind us to trip. This was after walking along slowly and getting everyone else behind him steaming with anger.

I said, “Nico, you're really pissing these people off. They want you to speed up.” “Big deal. I want them to slow down.” he replied. We thought we were doing alright until Tray Van Pelt, the 400 pound-benching captain of the football team decided he'd tell us to move or else. Would it surprise you to hear that we moved like he told us to? We did.

Nico and I were “humble” enough to admit that there were a few guys around who could hand us our asses in fighting and athletics. By “few” we meant maybe two or three or perhaps five, but at the end of that school year, the list would be expanded to include at least twenty-five, and possibly up to fifty.

We found it fun and easy to lay into the old Emerson punching bag I had hanging in dad's garage. We were damn tough with each other. That estimation of toughness dropped several orders of magnitude when Nico got into a not-so-successful fight with a guy named Andy McGee in the weight room--so much for meditative training and focusing Chi to increase punching power! Nico got a Texas-sized boot to the head after doing well for the first minute of the match and then went down with accompanying “oohs” and “ahhhs” from onlookers.

My turn soon came. I was telling off a guy named Wesley, and he reciprocated. Things escalated (over nothing more than a glance from him I didn’t like), and we jumped up at the same time and left-handed each other really hard in the face. When neither of us decided we preferred the shock of being walloped in the jaw again, noticing that no one saw the encounter, we both sat back down like nothing had happened, and that was the end of it. I got more of the same in twelfth grade, but that's a story for another time.

So Nico meets a girl named Tammie. She's nice, but like us, she's whacky and with the social skills of an orangutan. She was sweet, but had the most protruding, triangular waste and thighs I’d ever seen. Despite her weight, he carries her around to show off the fact that he’s strong and that he loves her, and the two get into goofy Shakespearian routines and make even bigger scenes with their dynamic dorkdom—complete with fake Australian accents and all the melodrama that could be mustered.

And Nico never did learn his lesson—go around doing spin-kicks and air punches and Van Damme grunts and you're only going to get the attention of other guys looking to throw spin-kicks and punches and grunt of their own. So Nico takes his beloved around, sets her down, and starts sparring with her right near the school trophy cases of Douglas Macarthur High School. “heeyah,” “heeyah,” etc. On and on it went. Everyone just watched in unbelief. Followed by the shame of being colossal fools (I seemed to be the only one feeling it, but I felt enough of it for the three of us) was the fact that I was seen with them. I tried not to be seen with them, but they were my friends and we did hang out, and the crowd recognized me anyway. “Surely thou also art one of them.” (Matthew 26:73)

This happened many times. One notable time, Nico gets racked in the nuts so hard by Tammie that he just about cries. So hurt was he that when I went to initiate our secret handshake with a “laters, bro,” he said, “I'm hurt. Just go.” What he should have been hurt about was the fact that he was low enough to put himself on fighting level with a female – and then lose – not to mention his making a complete ass of himself and getting what he deserved for horseplay and putting on a most pitiable public scene.

Nico wasn't all he claimed to be. I had accepted that. But Nico goes out and does something stupider than ever. When his spin-kicks and realistic-sounding “heeyahs” become too ordinary, he brings his nunchucks to school. He shows them off (and how he can't use them) and some kid squeals on him. He gets arrested for bringing a weapon on school property and is expelled from school, narrowly avoiding jail.

Nico could have reregistered at a new school and started over. He could have, but he didn't. So what did Nico do? He went fulltime with his job in construction. He never made more than $700 per month, but he got himself a cheap apartment and moved out for a life of his own.

Years down the road, he moved to Dallas and became a cashier for a Mexican restaurant, had three kids, and struggled to survive in a marriage that I thought was the one thing in his life that he had going for him. Last I heard from him was in 1998 when he stayed with my wife and I while I was minister for the Hubbard Church of Christ.

It was through hanging with Nico that I learned the value of following through. Life is all about learning how insufficient you are and how little you know. It's easy to spar-fight with someone and think you're a bad-ass. It's easy to feel confident and let it go to your head, but it's not easy to find out that you suck and then to keep going. It takes something to learn that you “ain't all that” and then to train with grim determination to make yourself into something good. When the heat is on, how tough are you? “If thou faint in the day of adversity, thy strength is small.” (Proverbs 24:10) Even the Bible can hit the nail on the head a time or two.

The idiot losers Nico and I admired and tried to identify with weren't accomplished at all. They weren't great fighters or heroes, and neither were we. If we found ourselves in a war-zone with bullets flying, we’d have screamed like spoiled rich girls who didn't get their way and would have hid our asses. It wouldn’t be some bum who can threaten to beat up other kids who would save the day, but a trained soldier with a buzz-cut who would be the one to step up and risk life and limb to take control of the situation. Realizing that real courage was something that took character-building and work and tenacity was a big step for me. It took me somewhere. This was a thing I developed, but I don’t think Nico did.

I was (and am) a million miles from perfect. I’m still not even decent and am barely above being a blight on society myself. I’m not singing my own praises, but I did finish high school (though I got into my fair share of trouble in the process). I went to college and seminary and graduated with honors from seminary. Nico bought a 1986 V6 Firebird and stuffed a wife into it and three kids in the back and drove them across the state of Texas living off of the good graces of others, having to rely almost totally on charity just to keep a roof over their heads. I bought them groceries and lent them money, as did my mother, and we put them up for a few days.

Nico gave up. He never had anything. He never did anything. He didn't because no one was there to make him. Those same parents who said, “Don't worry about school. Just get a job and start your life,” they washed their hands of him. Now he was society's problem. Maybe my old buddy is out there somewhere doing way better than I am (wouldn't require much), and I do hope so. But if he's still getting help, it wouldn't surprise me.

Doesn't it depress the hell out of you to think about how in a world of failure, so many of us are set up for failure?

(JH)

The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008)

Movie title: The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008)
Grade: C+ (2 ½ stars)
Rated: PG-13
Summation: A remake of the 1951 classic sci-fi film about an alien visitor and his giant robot counterpart as they visit Earth.
Spoilers ahead: No

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What does good sci-fi do for you? What does it mean to you? What do you look for when watching a sci-fi film? Answering these questions will determine in part whether or not you’d like the new The Day The Earth Stood Still, with Klaatu (Keanu Reeves), Jacob Benson (Jaden Smith), Dr. Helen Benson (Jennifer Connelly), and Regina Jackson (Kathy Bates).

It’s no match for its classic forerunner from 1951. Let’s get that straight right here and now. If you haven’t seen that one, by all means, go rent it. It’s a classic. That wayfaring work of genius was declared by the American Film Institute to be one of the ten best sci-fi films of all time, and it earned that designation fair and square.

The remake, like most sequels, is nowhere near such an accomplishment. It is, however, worthy of being defended against some of the charges of it being a plot-hole-ridden film. It wasn’t nearly as upscale or as refined as it could have been. The story progression was but fair. However, it wasn’t a total loss. Some entertainment value was there.

If you watch sci-fi for gadgetry out of a desire to see an authoritative civilization advanced beyond your own, you will see that here. The new movie at least has the special affects going for it. The 2008 Gort is a huge improvement over the 1951 Gort—and in ways the creators of the first film could never have imagined. And consider that if an alien race did want to destroy our species, they’d without a doubt use nanotechnology, and so credit must be given for that.

On that basis alone, you might enjoy this (I say that being a stickler for special affects myself). If, on the other hand, you are more of a plot-critical seeker of original ideas, you’ll find some issues here. The plot of the original dealt with the bias of the time—the fear of nuclear attack. This one deals with what most consider the looming issue of our day—environmental ruin brought on by humans, causing global warming and mass extinction.

Some have alleged to be plot-holes several big elements, the first being why these advanced aliens would choose to wipe out an intelligent civilization like humans to save squid and squirrels and lesser lifeforms. To some, it seems to make no sense to destroy the humans and save the animals. But think again; this makes perfect sense; a higher species won’t think like we do with our Homosapien biases. They wouldn’t value life on advancement, but on life having the potential for advancement.

Mammals – like whales, rodents, big cats, and elephants – among others, have great (which is to say, foreseeable) potential for evolutionary advancement, and at the same time, do not destroy other species. Klaatu’s people, realizing that Earth is a rare planet with many distinct types of life, cannot allow it to go to waste. So the loss of one species (the loss of the species causing the problems) doesn’t matter, but saving the other species does. If you don’t agree, well, most humans wouldn’t. We’re humans! Of course, we (well, most of us) think we’re great. But the idea that we humans are the “most valuable” form of life is a little misleading and a lot arrogant.

Other voiced concerns have not been as big, like how does an alien happen to wear the same size suit as the guy giving him the lie detector test. That’s what’s called a plot move-along technique; give a little here and there to speed things up. It’s not really important, especially considering that most average-sized men can share suits.

If you want to take the movie to task on other issues, then fine. How did the nano-termites destroy a stadium in a second and not the large building that Klaatu, Ben, and Helen were using for shelter for over ten minutes? This was a mistake, plain and simple, just like Klaatu’s clothes only beginning to be consumed from off of his body as he approached the final sphere. It wouldn’t have happened that way. His clothes would have been gone in a second.

The movie contains a few ruminations back to the original, including the fact that Klaatu was shot, Gort is stopped from saving Klaatu and attacking the humans who shot him. There is also Klaatu reaching out to human leadership, a young boy being influenced by Klaatu, and some writing on the chalkboard of a genius with the accompanying phrase, “He won’t mind.” Having these things took me back a little. But mostly, the new movie covers new territory.

Klaatu having to be born into this world to fully develop, fit in, and survive in the atmosphere was out-of-the-box and exhibited a keen respect for realism. The transcendent technology of Klaatu’s race and Gort’s methods of attack were ingeniously done. Gort’s energy “eye” following people when they enter the room? Puh-lease! That’s a deduction right there!

The distant relationship between young Jacob and his stepmother was an unneeded fixture built into the plot. It was Klaatu’s becoming human and learning that humans come back when on the brink of disaster that reached across species lines and touched his heart. Do I think that could happen with an alien race resolved to destroy us? No, I don’t. It’s just more Homosapien bias we have to overlook—a glaring fault of the movie for sure.

Think what you want of Keanu Reeves’ acting, but his airy “far out” quality fit his role. Kathy Bates as Regina Jackson, the Secretary of Defense speaking in behalf of a removed and secured president, was fair, though the roll didn’t fit her personality. Jaden Smith’s performance was the best performance by far.

Was it as good as the first one? Heck no. But if we are going to proceed with remaking classic movies for modern times (which we shouldn’t), why not give this one some credit? Was it a decent science fiction film? I say it was okay.

(JH)

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Director: Scott Derrickson
Starring: Keanu Reeves “Klaatu,” Jennifer Connelly “Helen Benson,” Kathy Bates “Regina Jackson,” Jaden Smith “Jacob Benson,” John Cleese “Professor Barnhardt,” Jon Hamm “Michael Granier,” Kyle Chandler “John Driscoll,” Robert Knepper “Colonel,” James Hong “Mr. Wu”
Genre: Drama/Sci-fi/Thriller

Marley and Me

Movie title: Marley and Me (2008)
Grade: D- (1 star)
Rated: PG
Summation: The story of a man and his dog and family.
Spoilers ahead: No

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Marley and Me has too much of one thing and not enough of another. It has too much drama – artificially made drama – and in unnecessary quantities, and this works against it. And while it has a few funny remarks, their aren’t enough of them to come close to rising above a depressing, mundane plot. Trying to mix carefree comedy and serious drama is hard enough to do anyway. The only line in the whole movie that I found funny was from John Grogan’s first boss: “When I had my first child, I thought my wife was going to kill me with a meat-cleaver...and I still do.”

I didn’t like it. For a dog lover's film, it had very little dog in it. With the exception of the pup Marley in the first few scenes, the older dog Marley is not star dog material. And the Marley we are shown in character is a miserable, troublemaking, rambunctious runt with no personality whatsoever. The dog lovers will pick up on that.

Marley and Me began as a book by journalist John Grogan published in 2005. John Grogan, played by Owen Wilson, and Jennifer Grogan, played by Jennifer Aniston, are a couple who decide to up and move to a warmer climate. Both reporters with new jobs, Grogan uses the excuse to get a dog, a Labrador for his wife as a pet (really, he does it just to keep his wife from getting pregnant because he's still a kid at heart).

They get the pet, and despite the assistance of a dog trainer, Marley is unruly. And a family comes along anyway. Years roll by and old Marley isn't scoring any points with anyone (certainly not me!) The entire disappointing movie makes you feel defeated. Honestly, if I didn’t know any better, I’d say it was as though they wanted the audience to feel that way.

Not only was the selected dog not right for the part, but the directing didn’t allow for any k9 appreciation. And the family dynamics were off. This didn’t seem like a story about a real family. Lines like “Are we there yet?” and “Dinner’s almost ready” sound like canned lines, and until the last 30 minutes of the film where one decent child actor comes into play, a 10-year-old Patrick (Nathan Gamble), nothing feels right. And this wasn't Aniston’s best work either.

When we weren’t seeing an awful dog and a continual stream of family disappointments, we were struggling with a husband and father who hadn’t found himself career-wise. You can guess the lesson he learns: the dog they seemed to hate they realized they loved as the years got on (I sure wasn't feeling that!) And you can guess where things go from there.

Yep, the dog dies, accompanied by a mourning family and a father stuck in denial, followed by a prolonged burial scene. It will make you sad. You’ll easily cry, but then again, isn’t that why most people watch animal movies? We’ve come to expect it. We know what’s going to happen by now, especially with dog movies. It’s the same thing that happened in Turner and Hooch and Old Yeller. You’ve seen it coming in every dog film since. Sadly, this is no Turner and Hooch or Old Yeller.

That being the case, why does anyone who has gone through the terrible pain of losing one, if not many, animals go and watch a movie where you are forced to relive those terrible experiences? Having faced this pain many times myself, I’ve learned my lesson. No more animals. The pain is just too much. Animal drama is too easily had, and when they slip away, too hard to deal with. I don’t see the logic of setting one’s self up to experience more pain. I get quite enough of that from everyday life.

These problems should have been spotted. But it was as though the director just assumed that because an animal was toted around on camera that everyone would say, “aw, how cute” and find it to be a good movie. Not so.

(JH)

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Director: David Frankel
Starring: Owen Wilson “John Grogan,” Jennifer Aniston “Jennifer Grogan,” Eric Dane “Sebastian,” Kathleen Turner “Ms. Kornblut,” Alan Arkin “Arnie Klein,” Nathan Gamble “Patrick” (Age 10), Haley Bennett “Lisa,” Clarke Peters “Editor,” Finley Jacobsen “Conor” (Age 8), Lucy Merriam “Colleen” (Age 5), Bryce Robinson “Patrick” (Age 7), Benjamin Hyland “Conor” (Age 5)
Genre: Comedy/Drama

Make It Happen

Movie title: Make it Happen (2008)
Grade: C- (2 stars)
Rated: PG-13
Summation: A small-town girl heads for the big city to fulfill her dreams of becoming a dancer.
Spoilers ahead: No

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In Make It Happen, a small-town girl pursues her dreams to become a dancer in the big city. In a very youth-oriented and girly fashion, we have an off-the-mark melodrama that falls short of “making it happen” in the drama competition. It's forgettable through-and-through. Lauryn (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is the star. She wants to make it big, but mom and dad died and left the body shop to be taken care of. In Lauren’s eyes, it’s the only link to mom and dad.

Lauryn is sharp. She’s a bookkeeper and good at her job, but she’s conflicted about moving to the city to get into a prestigious dance school. But the way is going to be littered with defeat. Can Lauryn succeed? I really don’t care!

A fascination with dance requires a low-output middle-aged sack of potatoes like myself to look back a long way to be able to relate to it. My days of having abundant energy waved “bye, bye” some time ago. When they were around, they were spent in me trying to kick like Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris. I thought I was something, throwing around kicks, flurries of fast punches, and following through with smooth-but-useless martial arts maneuvers that did nothing but get my rear-end a good pounding at school. But thankfully, I grew up. It took me a while, but I made it.

Today, dance is the amped-up way to expend the bundled-up energy of youth. Ever since the martial arts/cheesy ninja obsessions of the 1980s died off, looking cool on stage has become the new thing. But I'll be honest; seeing girls be girls and groups of teens gyrating to beat-y music at clubs is repulsive to me. And the teen obsession to look “hot” with the best dance moves is a thing only a modern kid can really relate to. So if “dance-appeal” doesn't relate to you, then this movie won't (though I can't say I was impressed with the dancing either.)

Make It Happen captures very little genuine drama from the disappointments faced in chasing a dream. Flipping back between Lauryn’s more-than-friends relationship with a club's DJ and success dancing at the club while contending with a jealous dancer rival on stage – in addition to the internal struggle of pursuing her dancing career while the family shop back home goes under – Make it Happen doesn't do well when it comes to creating the tension of a struggle.

It's predictable and lacking in feeling. The acting is as shallow as everything else. Missing are real life details that go with life challenges. Only a little seems real, and I think many of the younger audiences will spot it too. But a lot of junior high girls will be watching this at slumber parties. The message is good. Try to pursue your dreams before life crushes them and you no longer want to do anything!

(JH)

---

Director: Darren Grant
Starring: Mary Elizabeth Winstead “Lauryn,” Tessa Thompson “Dana,” Riley Smith “Russ,” John Reardon “Joel,” Julissa Bermudez “Carmen,” Ashley Roberts “Brooke,” Karen LeBlanc “Brenda,” Matt Kippen “Wayne”
Genre: Drama

Make It Happen

Movie title: Make it Happen (2008)
Grade: C- (2 stars)
Rated: PG-13
Summation: A small-town girl heads for the big city to fulfill her dreams of becoming a dancer.
Spoilers ahead: No

---

In Make It Happen, a small-town girl pursues her dreams to become a dancer in the big city. In a very youth-oriented and girly fashion, we have an off-the-mark melodrama that falls short of “making it happen” in the drama competition. It's forgettable through-and-through. Lauryn (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is the star. She wants to make it big, but mom and dad died and left the body shop to be taken care of. In Lauren’s eyes, it’s the only link to mom and dad.

Lauryn is sharp. She’s a bookkeeper and good at her job, but she’s conflicted about moving to the city to get into a prestigious dance school. But the way is going to be littered with defeat. Can Lauryn succeed? I really don’t care!

A fascination with dance requires a low-output middle-aged sack of potatoes like myself to look back a long way to be able to relate to it. My days of having abundant energy waved “bye, bye” some time ago. When they were around, they were spent in me trying to kick like Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris. I thought I was something, throwing around kicks, flurries of fast punches, and following through with smooth-but-useless martial arts maneuvers that did nothing but get my rear-end a good pounding at school. But thankfully, I grew up. It took me a while, but I made it.

Today, dance is the amped-up way to expend the bundled-up energy of youth. Ever since the martial arts/cheesy ninja obsessions of the 1980s died off, looking cool on stage has become the new thing. But I'll be honest; seeing girls be girls and groups of teens gyrating to beat-y music at clubs is repulsive to me. And the teen obsession to look “hot” with the best dance moves is a thing only a modern kid can really relate to. So if “dance-appeal” doesn't relate to you, then this movie won't (though I can't say I was impressed with the dancing either.)

Make It Happen captures very little genuine drama from the disappointments faced in chasing a dream. Flipping back between Lauryn’s more-than-friends relationship with a club's DJ and success dancing at the club while contending with a jealous dancer rival on stage – in addition to the internal struggle of pursuing her dancing career while the family shop back home goes under – Make it Happen doesn't do well when it comes to creating the tension of a struggle.

It's predictable and lacking in feeling. The acting is as shallow as everything else. Missing are real life details that go with life challenges. Only a little seems real, and I think many of the younger audiences will spot it too. But a lot of junior high girls will be watching this at slumber parties. The message is good. Try to pursue your dreams before life crushes them and you no longer want to do anything!

(JH)

---

Director: Darren Grant
Starring: Mary Elizabeth Winstead “Lauryn,” Tessa Thompson “Dana,” Riley Smith “Russ,” John Reardon “Joel,” Julissa Bermudez “Carmen,” Ashley Roberts “Brooke,” Karen LeBlanc “Brenda,” Matt Kippen “Wayne”
Genre: Drama

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