No Phone Sex Actress Can Top This

Movie Title: Easier With Practice (2009/2010, Limited Release)
Spoilers: No

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Easier with Practice stars Brian Geraghty in a sensational tale about loneliness, eroticism, and the search for companionship. Geraghty plays “Davy Mitchell,” a soon-to-be-published writer on a book tour with his brother, Sean (Kel O'Neill).

Davy and Sean are different people—the latter never wanting for confidence and the former always lacking it. Stopping at unfamiliar, out-of-the-way book clubs and eating at truck stop diners and run-down restaurants, the book tour seems to be living up to its unexciting expectations. Spending money staying at impersonal hotels, it seems to be just another semi-rewarding chapter in a word-artist's lonely life that never really changes for the better or the worse.

Then Davy receives a phone call. The mysterious woman on the other end of the line is named Nicole. All Davy knows is, she's a phone nympho. It's a private call. There is no callback number. What starts as a weird and passionate turn at telephone eroticism turns into an obsession, and then on into something much stronger.

Before the anonymity of the internet, there was the phone that swept away the late night hours, resulting in a self-made sticky mess and a need for more Kleenex. The 1-900 numbers used to do the best business. But even with the advent of the second life-starting, perv-inspiring, troll-attracting world wide web, the phone still plays a vital role. Ever since Tommy Tutone’s 1982 super-hit, 867-5309 is still the most famous phone number in America.

The internet may allow every balding, back-hairy, dishonest man without a smooth line to upload a fake pic and pretend to be some gal's “tall, dark, and handsome.” But the internet is cheap. The phone is a step up. There is a special power in hearing a human voice. Listening, you can pick up on the subtle nuances that are lost in reading dead words on a lifeless screen.

Up until the end, the character of Davy consumes the entire focus of the picture. From there, Nicole becomes the focus, alongside Davy, in an ending that will have you questioning how you should feel from a mixture of expectedly prevalent emotions. Not until the end is it clear what is meant by “easier with practice.”

It is the character of Davy that deserves the bulk of our attention. Davy is agoraphobic. Crowds of people intimidate him. When in public, he takes his drinks in quick shots to hide his way too noticeable nervous ticks...and to remind himself that “taking the edge off” with a few drinks is never a bad idea for him. Davy understands himself. He has a harder time understanding everyone else and why socializing is such an uphill battle.

Unlike his party-loving brother who just seems to be along for the ride of life as surely as he is along for a book tour that he cares nothing for, Davy hates unfaithfulness, sleaziness, and those “call of the wild” rendezvous without consequences or strings attached. He just wants to give his heart to that one woman who will treasure it above all else. Many a cyber-secluded man with a bad dating track record will understand Davy well.

But “too good to be true” is a phrase that is one and the same with the meaning of the word “fantasy.” There need be only one component of your fantasy accounted for in real life – a voice, an image, or a series of letters printed on a page or viewed on a screen – and your mind takes care of the rest. The world you will create from desire will transcend all that could ever have been had in reality. Soon, your heart will enter a realm from which only the pain of a broken heart will serve as the doorway back home.

To be spotted amidst breathtaking photography and relaxing scenery are ideal filming locations that, like the film's music picks, could not have been better selected. Riding on a crisp and clean choreography is a story that is as interesting as the next chapter in the lives of your roommate or some of your closest friends. The amiable Marguerite Moreau as “Samantha” and Jeanette Brox as “Sarah” are integral parts of a story that will have far more admirers than to be expected in any independent film.

Audiences will find very little graphic sexual content, despite the movie’s (arguably undeserved) NC-17 rating, a rating attained not from nudity, but from sexually explicit phone sex dialogue. Easier With Practice is a phenomenal film, holding its own against a gamut of big budget contenders.

(JH)

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Grade: A+ (4 stars) Recommended!
Rated: NC-17 (due to graphic phone sex dialogue)
Director: Kyle Patrick Alvarez
Summary: On a desperate road trip to promote his as yet unpublished novel, Davy Mitchell's life takes a surprising turn when he is seduced into a phone sex relationship with a mysterious woman named Nicole.
Starring: Brian Geraghty "Davy Mitchell," Kel O'Neill "Sean," Marguerite Moreau "Samantha," Jeanette Brox "Sarah," Kathryn Aselton "Nicole," Jenna Gavigan "Josia"
Genre: Drama

Whatever Happened to Stories with Substance?

Movie Title: From Paris With Love (2010)
Spoilers: No

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In From Paris with Love, John Travolta eats up his role as Charlie Wax, a loose canon U.S. operative looking to thwart an insurgent terrorist attack in Paris. Jonathan Rhys Meyers is James Reece, a low-ranking CIA agent who loves what he does as a personal assistant to the U.S. Ambassador to France, Ambassador Bennington (Richard Durden).

Reece has a beautiful, what-dreams-are-made-of French fiancĂ©, Caroline (Kasia Smutniak). To her goes the bulk of his passion. Second to his beloved is his job, which he does well. But things become trying when Reece finds himself in the middle of an assignment he is ill-prepared to handle—and with a new partner who is practically beyond handling.

Travolta's Charlie Wax, a bald-headed, bulky clothes-wearing, goatee-sporting, racially insensitive, trigger-happy troublemaker with a big mouth and sharp moves is the only attention-getting feature in this 92 minutes of a “let god sort 'em out” shoot 'em up with a paper-thin plot. The audience never quite knows what's going on. You have to put it together as you go along while you watch the body count keep rising with nearly every scene change. Neither the French, nor the Asians are safe.

This Charlie Wax is a messy dude. He's paired up with a socially graceful Reece, who, unlike his reckless partner, has no field combat training. Wax dodges and leaps, jumps and rolls, and does other Jack Bauer-ish things...assisted with hefty help from the computer-imaging department.

What does Reece do? He tags along with a vase of cocaine, like nothing more than an idiot second set of hands—that and he stands in disbelief of everything his nutto partner does. Watch Reece start “tripping” while cruising the city, listening to a blabbermouth that you nearly wish would shut up. Such does not make for the best of viewing. Wax is a little like James Belushi in Red Heat, always with a nearly funny remark that just barely keeps from landing smack-dab in the center of Annoying County.

The action is terribly segmented in short, abrupt scenes that become choppy and tiresome. One never gets used to the blue-ish hue and poor lighting that christens practically the whole flick.

There are no principled undertones, no meat-and-potatoes messages or meanings to be picked out, just a flood of violence and garrulousness that, despite the insistence of some, doesn't quite replace what used to be called stories with substance way back when.

(JH)

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Grade: C- (2 Stars)
Rated: R (for violence and language)
Director: Pierre Morel
Summary: In Paris, a young employee in the office of the US Ambassador hooks up with an American spy looking to stop a terrorist attack in the city.
Starring: John Travolta "Charlie Wax," Jonathan Rhys Meyers "James Reece," Kasia Smutniak "Caroline," Richard Durden "Ambassador Bennington," Yin Bing "M. Wong," Amber Rose Revah "Nichole," Eric Gordon "Foreign Minister"
Genre: Action / Crime / Thriller
Trailer

The Angels are Here. They Want to Exterminate Us.

Movie Title: Legion (2010)
Spoilers: Yes, and you'll be glad I did.

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If there is one thing the masses love, it is the careless tossing in of obscure bible references into movies about war and bloody conflicts. It makes them feel like they are taking part – or else learning about – some cryptic tidbit of truth from “God's Book.” Sure enough, the title of this film is found in the gospels.

There it is, in Mark 5:9: “And Jesus asked him (a possessed man), ‘What is thy name?’ And he answered, saying, ‘My name is Legion: for we are many.’” A man who gets possessed with “many devils” (Luke's account, Luke 8:30) is said to be possessed with a legion. But Jesus refers to angels the very same way in Matthew 26:53 when he refers to his being able to call “twelve legions of angels” to destroy the world.

There is little difference between the work of angels and the work of demons in scripture. An angel of God was said to have slain 185,000 Assyrian troops while they slept (2 Kings 19:32-37). The film Legion carries God’s dirty work to a whole new level.

As in the days just prior to Noah's flood, God gets really pissed at humanity...again (even though he knew beforehand that we were going to tick him off someday)...and he sends his angels to “possess” humans and tear things up while deciding whether or not to send humanity the way of the dinosaurs. Behold, Legion's plot.

But some seem to think that angels are nurturers. Isn't that why nearly every housewife you know reads books on angels? But this is the God of the Bible we're talking about. People have only made this God nice since becoming civilized themselves not very long ago. Read the scriptures. The God of the Bible is not nice, and that is the only thing the film gets right.

But we don't need biblical references to ask what we are to make of a film where granny drives her boat-shaped 1980s car into an out-of-the-way gas station/diner where nobody's happy, orders a fully rare steak (which is served to her without question or concern by the waitress), and proceeds to cuss up a storm before going on a wall-crawling killing spree. That's not ballsy or cool or creative writing. It's just insane!

So, back to the plot…God gets pissed. He wants to punish humanity. Instead of using natural disasters (like he did on the Haitians) or unleashing actual demons, the angels are sent to do what should have been the Devil’s work. But one angel rebells. He's here to help humanity, not destroy it. His name is Michael, the archangel. So God gets pissed at Michael and sends the angel Gabriel to show Michael how things are done.

While helping expendable humans kill angel-possessed humans, a de-winged Michael is trying to save an unborn child who is supposed to be humanity's redemption. The only hope for the future of the human race is a trailer park trash white woman's unborn baby. Didn't this sort of thing happen in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago if you accept the Christian mythology? The movie is senseless all the way, as if a Tennessee hillbilly read Daniel and Revelation and then decided to make a movie about it.

The acting is atrocious. Lucas “The Fast and The Furious” Black is Jeep Hanson, that man who never quite looks older than a high school kid. Black has that other quality of looking like a varsity football player who says to his girlfriend at an unwanted break-up: “NO, IT'S NOT OVER!” He looks too clueless to play a part with dignity like an angel. Thankfully, someone else realized this, and so Black plays the part of a decent young man who acts as a husband to “Charlie” (Adrianne Palicki), the woman pregnant with humanity's hope.

I never thought any role played by Dennis Quaid could be reduced to looking like a character from a ruined Saturday Night Live skit, but it happened here. Everybody in this supernatural suck-fest is as badly done as a dumbest criminals contest.

Taking the gold is the dialogue. If a Tennessee hillbilly wrote the script, a stoned seventh-grader was the brilliant editor who put the final touches on things, making sure that with Legion, the audience got possibly the worst dialogue of any major release film in the last several years.

Jumbled beneath “tough guy” stare-downs and gun-slinging shoot-outs is playful CGI work…humans sporting jagged carnivore teeth, boiling skin, elongating jaws, needless growls, and human beings “possessed” by angels who morph them into corny creepy-crawly attackers with disproportionately-sized limbs...who can still be repelled successfully by shotguns and AK-47s.

The sideline preachiness about having faith in God and the frequent use of religious clichĂ©s should by now come as a surprise to no one. Those are small things in light of the film’s many greater flaws. I'm an atheist and even I think more of the angels and the Bible than this.

(JH)

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Grade: F (0 Stars)
Rated: R (for violence and language)
Director: Scott Stewart
Summary: An out-of-the-way diner becomes the unlikely battleground for the survival of the human race when God loses faith in humankind.
Starring: Paul Bettany "Michael," Lucas Black "Jeep Hanson," Tyrese Gibson "Kyle Williams," Adrianne Palicki "Charlie," Charles S. Dutton "Percy Walker," Kevin Durand "Gabriel," Jon Tenney "Howard Anderson," Willa Holland "Audrey Anderson," Kate Walsh "Sandra Anderson," Dennis Quaid "Bob Hanson"
Genre: Action / Fantasy / Horror / Thriller
Trailer

Corrupt Arms Dealers…Darkness Everywhere

Movie Title: Edge of Darkness (2010)
Spoilers: No

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Sheets of rain come down. A father longs to see his grown daughter. He meets her at the airport. It's been too long. She's smart, beautiful, and gainfully employed. Mel Gibson is veteran Boston PD detective Thomas Craven. His daughter is Emma Craven (Bojana Novakovic). She works as a research assistant, but she never talks about her work. She's been away a while. The two reunite in a film's hurried beginning.

Craven wants to know why Emma is acting so strangely. She appears to be sick. Time to make up for lost time, but then something happens. Daughter is suddenly killed. This marks the end of a hasty beginning that doesn't quite take off as gracefully as it could have.

Craven suspects that whoever killed Emma was trying to kill him and accidentally killed his daughter. But then we learn that Emma worked at a nuclear facility as a research assistant. Sick? Nuclear? Hmm. I'm no genius, but I think I see where this is going.

What transpires is a movie with a modicum of sturdy suspense and (at times) a touching story, but with a cast lacking spontaneity in the too tightly woven plot that becomes hard to follow, with its loose-end questions and eyebrow-raising moments.

Ever present throughout the film is slow soapishness that involves a mourning father reflecting back on the good years with his young daughter. They are not as moving as when Craven thinks he sees her as an adult, still walking around like she never passed. Touching at times, but tedious throughout, Edge of Darkness does not hide the hit-and-miss tug-attempts at your heartstrings.

Gibson is not that strung-out rich man from Ransom who hollered so awesomely: “Give me back my son!” Here, he speaks slowly, with a well-drawn Bostonian accent. He knows his way in and around the law. He's sharp and capable, but less interesting, lacking the visible physical or emotional characteristics that would make him more appealing.

Emma was fine china to him, but now she's gone. He should have used the time better when she was alive. What do you have to lose when your child dies? Now, he is a broken man who wants answers and will confront everyone, from senators to high-dollar lawyers to make them squirm in their seats.

Answers and justice, that's all he wants. Thomas Craven is a toned down version of The Punisher—bloodshed may or may not be necessary, but damnit, the system better work! Edge of Darkness’ Craven is a hair more believable version of Law-abiding Citizen's Clyde Shelton. Both movies contain story elements that foster a consummate defiance of belief.

Emma had a secret. Now that she's dead, dad's got to jump through hoops to find out what happened and why. It involves her being a working recluse, a suspected anti-government non-conformist, even...a terrorist? And what is it with this undying obsession in movies with nuclear arms dealers being dirty and “offing” people who blow the whistle on them? There's not a better way to spawn more investigation than to start taking people out!

Connected characters stroll in, say a few words, consent to frisks, smoke cigars, have brandy, and assure one another that they could have killed them had they wanted to. They meet with corrupt city officials in old school, posh neighborhoods and have none too few “bad guy” henchman who wear black suits and drive conspicuously black SUVs in which they travel to do their black bag business. *yawn*

Neither the story, nor a part of it is novel, but when not caught up in its congested plot, burdened down with details that drive a hard bargain for believability, it offers a mild to moderate payoff as a touching drama and entertaining picture.

(JH)

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Grade: C+ (2½ Stars)
Rated: R (for language and violence)
Director:
Summary: A Boston police detective seeks to find his daughter’s killer.
Starring: Mel Gibson “Thomas Craven,” Ray Winstone “Jedburgh,” Danny Huston “Jack Bennett,” Bojana Novakovic “Emma Craven,” Shawn Roberts “Burnham,” David Aaron Baker “Millroy,” Jay O. Sanders “Whitehouse,” Denis O'Hare “Moore”
Genre: Action / Drama / Crime / Thriller
Trailer

The Slip Doesn’t Fit and Neither Does the Script

Movie Title: Tooth Fairy (2010)
Spoilers: No

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The sight of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson wearing tights has, say, 3 seconds of comedic visual appeal. After those three seconds are up, seeing a 6’5 man dressed in a fairy outfit (as though to make third-graders laugh) is…well…not funny anymore.

Seeing Tooth Fairy, featuring that most intellectual of wrestlers named Johnson is all about taking in the sight of a tall, muscular man with the curiously charismatic ability to raise an eyebrow a bit more than your average fellow. The camera hits him from every angle. Ordinarily, he’s something to see, but…not like this. None of his actions or words are spectacular enough to take the focus off of the fact that what you are watching is, as stated, a man in a fairy outfit that was funny seeing for the first three seconds only.

Johnson plays Derek Thompson, a.k.a. “The Tooth Fairy,” a smug, unsympathetic, unhappy, and imaginatively bankrupt pro hockey player who has seen better days. He’s still driving his ‘84 Vette, which he probably bought new. That year of Corvette was plagued with problems, more so than any other year, so it’s a good comparison to Thompson, a guy fraught with problems.

His nickname comes from his brutalizing players from the opposing teams on the ice, making them lose their teeth. He keeps a seat warm in every penalty box in America. It’s been years since he’s actually strategized to win a fair-on game. Accordingly, his team captain uses him to do just what he loves to do—the “dirty work” to give the good players the edge they need.

Thompson has another problem; he discourages the gleeful ambitions of his young fans, many of them little kids who dream of one day becoming great. He spares them not but points out how for every 13-year-old kid trying to be good at something, some 12-year-old is out there somewhere and is going to be trying even hard, or maybe that kid just has more raw talent and gets the edge. The message: Don’t dream. The bigger the dreamer you are, the bigger the disappointed loser you will become!

In some lofty meeting room in the supernatural realm, where the coffee is always fresh and the gods are busy letting Haitian-level disasters go on unabated, it is decided that Derek needs to be taught a lesson. As it happens, Thompson has a girlfriend, Carly (Ashley Judd). He tries to tell her little girl that the Tooth Fairy doesn’t exist. What better than to charge him with “a crime against fantasy,” give him wings, put him in a ridiculous tutu, and make him do two weeks of tooth fairy duty? Sounds like a plan. Heaven is concerned with giving American children dollar bills when they lose teeth. Forget the dying Ethiopians who need the real help.

The head fairy, well played by a fresh-looking Julie Andrews (who still looks enchanting after all these years), ushers a disappointed Thompson into her fairy office and sees to it that he does his job. When he’s hooked up with “fairy gear,” he’s ready. The audience isn’t.

It is from this point that you get to see Thompson shrink down and dodge cat claws, throw “forget dust” in people’s faces, and otherwise fumble around in strangers’ homes in a most embarrassing and dignity-lacking manner.

Thompson meets some good friends, one of them is Tracy (Stephen Merchant), a 6’7 fairy with “no wing complex,” who happens to be a spitting image of the cool euro-gay guy who works in accounts payable at your office. Family Guy/American Dad/The Cleveland Show creator Seth MacFarlane makes an appearance as Ziggy, a “junkie” fairy, selling the “smack” equivalent of tools for the job. A woefully curt appearance by Billy Crystal as fairy “Lawrence” doesn’t do much to advance the plot.

The only halfway redeeming quality in this unconvincing execution of a story is the relationship that develops between Thompson and Carly’s son, Randy (Chase Ellison), an aspiring guitar playing prodigy who, it could be argued, stole the show with awesome acting and a crying scene towards the end that is among the best I’ve ever seen.

Here we are at that point in the review where we are led to mention (in light of other lacking accomplishments) how the movie has such “a good message.” It may have, but it has nothing beyond an After School Special level of development that leaves those of us who are not still in grade school without much to work with. Schmaltzy and unsatisfying, there won’t be too many waiting in line for this meal.

(JH)

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Grade: C- (2 Stars)
Rated: PG (for mild language and sports action)
Director: Michael Lembeck
Summary: A bad deed on the part of a tough minor-league hockey player results in him having to serve as a real-life tooth fairy.
Starring: Dwayne Johnson “Derek Thompson / Tooth Fairy,” Ashley Judd “Carly,” Stephen Merchant “Tracy,” Ryan Sheckler “Mick Donnelly,” Seth MacFarlane “Ziggy,” Julie Andrews “Lily,” Chase Ellison “Randy,” Destiny Whitlock “Tess”
Genre: Comedy / Fantasy / Family
Trailer

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