If You Think You're a Ten...You Are??

Movie Title: She's Out of My League (2010)
Spoilers: No

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We've seen it before. Standing in line at a checkout counter or waiting to be seated at a fancy restaurant is a couple, a mismatched couple. They stick out like a broken broom handle in a maid's closet.

She is blond or brunette, with flowing hair, well accessorized, and obviously a head-turner. Next to her is a contrasted sight, a male, a stubby little man with glasses and a squished face, maybe even an outright ugly fella. The prevailing thought: what the heck does she see in him? Maybe he's got something below deck that really anchors the ship, but you have your doubts.

To most of us, this only becomes bothersome to behold in movies or on TV, or if you have an active social life, most of it spent in clubs or bars. The "rating system" with dates is encoded into your brain like a bar code on a box of cookies at Albertsons. So you notice when the system doesn't seem to work. You don't see it often, but when you do, you remember it.

Remember NYPD Blue? Sure you do. Detective Andy Sipowicz hooks up with Connie McDowell. That surprised a few of us as one of the more odd TV matches. The rest of us don't spend that much time thinking about it except to say that with real people, unequal matches are usually the result of the better-looking one's low self-esteem in thinking they couldn't do any better. Do I sound vain? Deal with it. That's reality.

There are levels of attraction. Usually, we stay within the boundaries of what we know we can achieve in "the hunt" for a mate. This is evolution at work. You desire hotness because hotness means good health, which translates to better offspring. You may be in want for something better, but you don't waste energy hunting for game that is too out of your league. It's a waste of energy, and that means less energy to do the deed with someone you actually have a chance of nabbing in the sack.

What is not a waste of energy is watching She's Out of My league, a funny and entertaining film about the unwritten rules of the often self-esteem-crushing game of finding companionship. What is dating if not a hands-on experiment, a lesson, a reminder of your desirability or lack thereof? It's cruel, I tell you...cruel.

Kirk (Jay Baruchel) is a guy of average looks who meets the girl of his dreams, a beautiful and successful professional party planner named Molly (Alice Eve). She's "a hard ten," and thanks to his loyal friends, he is given round-the-clock reminders of just how out-of-his-range Molly is.

Kirk works security at an airport, despite the fact that his life is ahead of him and he's college-bound with the potential to do more. Like his family, his friends are perpetual de-motivators. They do him a grave disservice in that they are forever subjected to a pedantic partygoer's wisdom about dating prospects.

So they may not be graced with balanced wisdom...but they are good friends and a finely blended selection of supporting characters, a sight to see on screen in this naturally spontaneous, fast-paced, and funny film where no one ever feels like they're being filmed.

The humor-inspiring cast is funny enough to make you want to laugh at them without making you sit quietly waiting for cheap laughs or a punchline. Only a select few times since 40-Year-Old Virgin has a movie about dating done as well. We won't do a roll call.

Regrettably, the script that knows no shame, with its sexual openness and overt obscenity, will prove to be too much for some viewers. I wasn't laughing every second of the way, but I was always amused. She's Out of My League dares to question what our culture and nature teaches us about selecting a mate.

Do we not often (wrongly) put on a pedestal the people we envy or admire? We do. In so doing, we build walls without warrant. Do not those closest to us give us the worst and most damaging advice? They do, hence that handy cliché about keeping your friends closer. 

It may come down to the (usually false) realization that if you think you're a ten, then maybe you are. Nature doesn't concur...but so what. Who is to say that there can't be plenty of self-made exceptions? It depends, in part, on your own level of self-confidence, as it does on your outlook. It depends on who you are and whether or not you will accept being classed as some mere number that reflects your worth.

(JH)

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Grade: B+ (3 ½ stars) Recommended!
Rated: R (for raunchy humor and sexual innuendos)
Director: Jim Field Smith
Summary: An average Joe meets the perfect woman, but his lack of confidence and the influence of his friends and family begin to pick away at the relationship.
Starring: Jay Baruchel "Kirk," Alice Eve "Molly," T.J. Miller "Stainer," Mike Vogel "Jack," Nate Torrence "Devon," Lindsay Sloane "Marnie," Kyle Bornheimer "Dylan," Jessica St. Clair "Debbie"
Genre: Comedy / Romance
Trailer

I Wanted More Handcuffs

Movie Title: The Bounty Hunter (2010)
Spoilers: No

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Gerard Butler and Jennifer Aniston star in The Bounty Hunter. Milo Boyd is a small-time bounty hunter and ex-cop with not much going for him. Nicole Hurley is an accomplished newspaper reporter who puts her career first. Everything is going well for her, right up until bad driving puts her in trouble with the law. Jumping bail, Boyd is selected to bring Nicole in when he accepts a by-chance assignment. None of this would be fascinating were it not for the fact that Nicole is Boyd's ex-wife! 

Aside from a potentially workable plotline (more on that in a moment) and some sprightly music choices, The Bounty Hunter offers no one anything they really want to see, least of all passion or chemistry or romance...you know, the things that matter most in romance movies.

The divorced can appreciate the film's serrated quality of hostile small talk between Boyd and Hurley. This film has some mean put-downs and is relentless with enough inside verbal stabs to be respected by every bachelor who still has an apartment in his own name.

Aniston is cute (she looks even cuter in handcuffs). Sadly, a tanned and toned body will not be of help here, not when you consider how much (and how often) you are compelled to watch people who think they're slick on camera when they aren’t. 

An un-energized Butler looks like he has ever since the beginning of the post-Leonidas days—like an out-of-work contractor who's been asleep and just woke up before filming. Extra points for the bulging biceps, but like Who's Line is It Anyway?, the points don't matter. Neither Butler, nor Aniston can bail this one out.

How many bad Gerard Butler movies will we be subjected to? That nobody knows. What we do know is that we can only deal with one failed movie per year about a hot girl who works for a newspaper and is a hard sell on the man market. We had 2009's monstrosity All About Steve filling that spot. Now, the 2010 slot is taken. A few steps above All About Steve is The Bounty Hunter.

The plot doesn't take itself seriously enough for you to consider doing so. And you shouldn't have to look too hard to find a plot's respect for itself. Why would you when you are only watching for some expected romantic grind and make-up leading to a piquant exchange of passion? It has the grind. By itself, that works about as well as a one-handed clap.

Humor? Think again. The Bounty Hunter isn't funny. The doltish ending can only be appreciated by the cinematically brain-dead, and everything getting to it is an exercise in endurance with an unlikable and impoverished story.

I said earlier that the plotline is potentially workable. I stand behind that admission. There is sense in trying to throw some romantic glitter on the under-portrayed life of a rugged, ragged, sexy bounty hunter. I'm game, but not without the heavy use of handcuffs, duck tape, ball gags, and leg irons. Strip searches and cages are a must, as are full-body restraint tables, and at least one burly female jailer whose specialty is frisking. But I'm guessing Aniston won't be game for that. Our loss.

(JH)

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Grade: D+ (1 ½ stars)
Rated: PG-13 (suggestive language, sexual scenes, and light violence)
Director: Andy Tennant
Summary: A bounty hunter learns that his next assignment is to bring in his ex-wife.
Starring: Jennifer Aniston "Nicole Hurley," Gerard Butler "Milo Boyd," Gio Perez "Uncle Sam," Joel Garland "Dwight (as Joel Marsh Garland)," Jason Kolotouros "Gelman," Matt Malloy "Gary," Jason Sudeikis "Stewart"
Genre: Action / Comedy / Romance
Trailer

Seriously, Don't Drink the Kool-Aid!

Movie Title: The Final (2010)
Spoilers: No

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The aptly titled and suspenseful The Final is a film about peer payback. Bullies beware. What it lacks in directional fortitude it partially makes up for in its timeless, theme-based value, summed up in that always appetite-stimulating word: revenge.

Lucky for it, this budget-challenged lack of cinematic confidence can never be without an inherent and primal appeal. The dialogue may scream: "Isn't it obvious we're being filmed?", but every step of the way leading up to the middle, you know something's cooking for the jerky jocks and snooty drama-queens for whom revenge is a dish best served cold.

The entire movie is the relishing extension of juvenile payback on bullies like only the picked-on can fully appreciate. Of course, kids aren't this philosophic. They don't sit down and plan something like this, not unless they take or need some really strong medication. A cruel beating is payback enough in actuality, whereas this methodical mayhem is characteristic of a payback fantasy, if not a psychotic's snap.

We treat ourselves to these fulfilling fantasies occasionally, and understandably so. Who hasn't sometimes imagined seeing his boss or supervisor hanging from a tree with a stake driven through one eye, with maggots crawling out of that once fast-moving orifice under a now caved-in nose? You see what I mean.

But when you try to bring to life a movie about kids getting revenge on other kids, things start going wrong. Plans get made and then abandoned. The shock of one crying out in pain becomes too much for some of those perpetrating it to handle. But tell that to a kid who's been picked on his whole life. He or she will revel in the satisfaction of seeing the enactment of it as it is done here. 

The Final is lazy, probably as lazy as most students taking finals. It is as lazily directed as it is acted, with ridiculously easy deaths and chains on victims that can apparently be unlocked by simply reaching over and undoing the buckles with the other hand. If only they would look down and see the shiny buckles!

So you see how little care was taken with the details. No cell phones are ringing, with frantic parents looking for their out-too-late kids. And socially active kids send more text messages to each other in two hours than adults do in 3 days. Where are the texts? And where are the kids coming and going from one party to another at all hours of the night?

And there's so little blood. Someone was saving money on production costs by using precious little fake blood, no doubt just as they were with those easily unbuckled, victim-friendly shackles. Why spring for more when you can ask your audience to use their imaginations?

But tell me why it's so easy to kill in movies? Death sentences are carried out without effort, when in reality, they're a lot harder to do. And I was expecting to hear some technical banter about getting the job done: "Careful to leave some diaphragmatic activity or he won't be able to breathe long enough to appreciate being paralyzed." Where's their spirit!?

Before and after the movie, it's back to reality. Real victims of bullies find ways to fight or prank back. Others endure a few punches to the shoulder and the wedgies and swallow their pride by enduing the cruel bathroom pranks, only to laugh at the events years later. That spells growing up for many of us. Very few go Columbine on our asses.

But a movie about school bully revenge has a classic appeal that will probably never die and goes to reinforce the karma-coined conviction that what goes around does indeed come around. The cruelty you inflict on others is being stored up in some far-away warehouse for revenge goods, just waiting to be shipped to you when you are least ready to receive the package. 

(JH)

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Grade: C- (2 stars)
Rated: R (for language, violence, torture)
Director: Joey Stewart
Summary: A group of high school outcasts get revenge on the students that torment them.
Starring: Marc Donato "Dane," Jascha Washington "Kurtis," Whitney Hoy "Bridget," Justin Arnold "Bradley," Travis Tedford "Andy," Julin "Heather," Lindsay Seidel "Emily," Mark Nutter "Deputy Henessey," Hunter Garner "Tommy," Eric Isenhower "Jack," Preston Flagg "Riggs," Matthew Posey "Parker," Laura Ashley Samuels "Kelly"
Genre: Drama / Horror / Thriller
Trailer

Jesus and Hotrods: My Early Years as a Believer

One Step and Then Another


It had been right at a year since converting to Christianity. I was 19 years old. Also approaching the one-year marker was my employment with Capitol Cement. This was the place where dad worked as chief accountant. He got me the job, coincidentally, right about the same time as my conversion to Christianity.

Now, almost a year had passed. I can remember thinking, “I've been here not even a year and they've already thrown me a small goodbye party. Things must be going well!” And things were going well. I was just out of high school with my first full-time job that paid enough to get a shabby efficiency apartment on the po' side of town. I was only a laborer who got to work shoveling gravel in the hot sun, but I didn't mind. I saw it as a new step until I decided the other foot was up next.

The Small Talk Will Kill You Quicker Than The Guns

Movie Title: Brooklyn's Finest (2010)
Spoilers: No

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The New York cop has by now become a clichéd item. New York cops get the short end of the stick in movies. They've been getting it for a while. The mostly cloudy weather, the wise Catholic priests who give hushed advice in confessionals, and the heavy New England accents that you can't miss, it’s what we’ve come to expect. Beyond that, they are portrayed as having dirty mouths and are labeled as racists, corrupted by greed.

The result is that it's hard to make a police drama based in New York and see it raise the bar. Brooklyn's Finest doesn't raise the bar. The improbable encounters and situations alone give cause for concern. The acting leaves no one impressed. Brooklyn's Finest has room for improvement. And why not start in the morality department.

If it's corrupt cops we want, why not stop having them take overt and undisguised bribes in meetings, or at least cut back on how often they do it. Talking about who in the locker room has whose playboy, now I say that can wait a bit. Cops threatening each other with pronounced stares and an evil eye, let's make that a priority to get rid of too.

You bet your last dollar that all but the most corrupt and racist cops in the city are not this forward in professing their corruption. Cops don't act or talk like they are seen to behave here, and they are far more competent down to the wettest rookie. Gang members and cocaine-slinging street hoodlums don't carry on conversations as they appear to in this flawed film. Both sides should sue for misrepresentation or else cash in on the potential satire value.

The tension-less, vulgarity-engorged “tough guy” scenes are an ever-present unwelcome guest in this house of horrendous street talk that is so ill-timed and confusing that you can't tell whether you're supposed to be shocked or just angered. You have problematic cops, plagued with personal demons, all of them proving distracting to watch by their own offsetting traits and arrogance.

Eddie (Richard Gere), Tango (Don Cheadle), and Sal (Ethan Hawke) are three cops who don't know each other, but work in the same city. In some unique way, their personal struggles put them at odds with what they do. With some similarities to the 2004 movie Crash, you follow these officers in their personal and professional lives until it comes to the conclusion at one dangerous final encounter.

Make nothing of it that I compare Brooklyn's Finest with Crash. In Crash, you got to see lives shuffled around until everyone understood a different aspect of the human experience. In Brooklyn's Finest, you see a scantily salvageable plot in a near-total loss of a delivery, but nothing more.

As with most police dramas, everything will come to center around race relations and corrupt departments. In Brooklyn's Finest, you get abundant cutaways to racial slurs and once good cops gone bad who meet to save face and deliberate to continue the perpetuation of a vicious cycle of oppression to save departmental face. Where drugs and thugs and huge wads of cash are found lying around like candy wrappers, there lies opportunities, so says the NYPD.

Gere's Eddie has an appreciable depth, but the character has no accented touches that hold you to him. Cheadle's Tango feels more like a borderline psycho with anger problems than a conflicted cop, but was an ideal selection to play the part. He struggles with the dilemma of being true to his oath as a police officer or loyal to his wrap-sheet-heavy friends from the hood. Snipes almost nails “Caz,” an ex-con street criminal dancing on the fringes of his barely-attained freedom.

But it's a long time before the movie makes any real or meaningful connections, and the ride to get there is a very bumpy one, with shotty performances on most everyone's part and bad dialogue that is arguably worse. Without question, Brooklyn's Finest just won't cut it.

(JH)

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Grade: D+ (1 ½ stars)
Rated: R (for violence, language, and nudity)
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Summary: Three unconnected Brooklyn cops wind up at the same deadly location, having come from vastly different career paths.
Starring: Richard Gere "Eddie," Don Cheadle "Tango," Ethan Hawke "Sal," Wesley Snipes "Caz," Vincent D'Onofrio "Carlo," Brian F. O'Byrne "Ronny Rosario," Will Patton "Lt. Bill Hobarts," Jesse Williams "E. Quinlan," Lili Taylor "Angela"
Genre: Crime / Drama
Trailer

This Time the Zombies are Crazy

Movie Title: The Crazies (2010)
Spoilers: No

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There are easily recognized marks of a good movie. One of them is that it has me thinking about it for a while after it is over. I may not have liked the ending. I may have gone a different route in the way the plot wrapped itself up had I directed it. I may have some lingering questions about the story, maybe even some troubling gaps that need to be filled in my head in order to feel confident recommending it. But I can't quit thinking about it. Good movies can eat at your mind.

The Crazies is one such film. Directed by Breck Eisner, it stars Timothy Olyphant as Sheriff David Dutton and Joe Anderson as Deputy Russell Clank, two men struggling to make sense of why their small and quaint Iowa town is suddenly plagued with unexplained cases of insane behavior. Mentally disconnected townspeople become heartless homicidal maniacs. The strange physiological changes are like nothing a doctor has seen. At least, not a civilian doctor, but the military knows what's up.

Before long, Sheriff Dutton and his pregnant wife Judy (Radha Mitchell) are on the run with Deputy Clank. Their goal: survive, and if possible, get past the quarantine zone in one piece. Trying to survive in a city fallen to chaos will prove to be no easy thing. Things were bad. Then the military showed up. Now the mess of mass hysteria is worse. No small town with softball game attending, baseball cap-wearing Baptists for citizens deserves this.

The Crazies is a to-the-bone-chilling, visually shocking “zombie” flick that isn't quite a zombie flick. Zombie flicks have notoriously weak plots built on the noticeably cracked foundations of unjustifiable premises and outrageous happenings created to showcase guts and gore. Guts and gore, nothing more. They toil not, neither do they spin. They don't make us think, but The Crazies doesn't fit the profile. It is garnished with a revitalized plot that right nearly makes you say: “Just what if something like this happened?”

Movies as of late have gone overboard in throwing in “the F word” to express tension in the lack of it (think Pride and Glory, 2008). There is a good time for a person to use the F word, and this Resident Evil-style movie is packed full of such occasions when you know you'd use it (churchgoer or not).

Creeped out, you will be presented with three questions: a) What the fuck is going on? b) Is the outbreak to be feared the most, or c) Are the government's efforts to contain it worse than the threat itself? Who can't appreciate the human tendency to make bad things worse? We're pros at it.

Unassuming but sensibly competent, the characters fill their roles. As always with the films where the plots are most easily presented, they are the better ones to watch. It will explain itself effortlessly and prove to be worth the view, demanding your forgiveness for only a few clichéd and incogitable plot mechanics, and some heavy borrowing from 28 Days Later.

The Crazies nearly makes the cut as a must-see for anyone who can deal with the unapologetic gore and the needlessly added “zombie” makeup affects. The latter was a layer of phony and should have been left out. Is seeing ordinary gaunt people with nosebleeds with diverse symptoms and infection timetables who are willing to burn their children alive any less cool? The Crazies will stand to be counted with the 1973 original off which it is based.

And then there are those nagging questions that are left unanswered: Is “it” going to start again? How will the unjustifiable actions taken by the military be explained to the public? What happens goes way beyond a credible explanation and can't be covered up. Maybe these considerations are worthy of a grade-point deduction, but back to what we said earlier...the better movies tend to make us think.

(JH)

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Grade: B+ (3 ½ stars) Recommended!
Rated: R (for extreme gore, violence, and harsh language)
Director: Breck Eisner
Summary: The inhabitants of a small town in Iowa are suddenly plagued by insanity and mysterious deaths.
Starring: Timothy Olyphant "David Dutton," Radha Mitchell "Judy Dutton," Joe Anderson "Russell Clank," Danielle Panabaker "Becca Darling," Christie Lynn Smith "Deardra Farnum"
Genre: Horror / Sci-fi / Thriller
Trailer

A Wolf...Man?

Movie Title: The Wolfman (2010)
Spoilers: none

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I can remember being taken to the store with mom for Halloween shopping. Candy corns were the first things thrown into the basket. Next up were the candy pumpkins. Then, it was over to the toy isle to get a new set of what I bought the year before and always managed to lose—a set of wolf fingers with claws.

I would yank the bag off the shelf and quickly stash it underneath some other groceries mom got. She would always see them at the check-out counter before it came time to pay, but she never made me put them back...except once.

You play wolfman for a few years and then something happens. Time catches up with you and makes some adjustments to your mental hardware. Suddenly, playing wolfman is not only not fun anymore, but it starts to bother you the more you think about the concept. So, you quit thinking about it, unless you happen to be a hopeless analytic. If not, you just quit playing and that's the end of it. 

To every hopeless analytic, the concept of a “wolfman” shouldn't be scary, just a bit odd. A wolf is an effective hunting primate, but a man is a weak hunter without the aid of tools. Man's upright posture makes him slow, weak, and vulnerable to almost any attack from any beast in the wild. So what good is a wolfman?

Aside from the human brain, the human body only takes from the wolf advantage. The weaknesses of the human part would make it a trade-off that counts against any effectiveness the merger could have. And let's just ask: what good would a “wolfman” be over a stock bear or a lion? Physically speaking, nothing I can think of.

But start talking magic and that changes things. That's where 2010's The Wolfman comes through. Directed by Joe Johnston, The Wolfman features a tale of full moons, curses, biblical scriptural appeals, and a cast with much talent. Anthony Hopkins and (an arguably miscast) Benicio Deltoro are estranged father and son in 19th century London. The recreation is fabulous, down to the old wood and the dense fog.

Lawrence Talbot (Deltoro) gets word in America that his brother Ben (Simon Merrells) has been mysteriously slaughtered. No one has a clue who or what could have done it. He heads back home to London to assist his father Sir John Talbot (Hopkins). There, he discovers some unpleasant truths about the family and the place he once called home.

It is said that King Nebuchadnezzar was cursed to eat grass like an ox and dwelt outdoors, with long hair as a beast-like man (Daniel 4:24-37). Pious worship houses can be seen, led by preachers reading these verses from the Bible and preaching sermons from the glow of candle light with application made to the curse, “the mark of the beast” spoken of in Revelation 13 and 14, laid upon the condemned. When God's curse is upon you, the devil damns your soul and turns your body into that of a beast. Nice touch. Unwilling physical transformation instills the most disturbing kind of fright.

It is not the CGI or the would-be impressive special effects that enhance what previous generations could never give the Wolfman. The use of this technology in by-now cheapening quantities goes way beyond enhancing the action to actually shutting out the more mature members of the audience who want something more than seeing a tooth-and-claw hay-day of a ravaging man-beast. But there is more, if just a little.

It is the story's clever tie-in with biblical symbolism, with potential vigilante riots, fearful townspeople, inquisitive Scotland Yard detectives, and a medieval asylum for the insane, where the most grueling and sadistic levels of inhumane treatment are seen; these are the pluses in this minus of a fanged film of fury, with it's chilling howls that may have you experiencing a shiver or two.

This rebirth of Wolfman makes him much like the Hulk and is perhaps not above being called a rip-off of Hulkian CGI feats. There is the added dimension to Wolfman's capabilities. That gives more room for action, of which there is plenty. It's fun to watch, but you've seen it before if you've been watching action movies in the 2000s. What more is there?

Wolfman is an artful picture, but the fate of Lawrence’s mother is never sold to the audience. John Talbot’s conniving behavior is hard to accept with regard to the direction the character is taken. Dr. Hoenneger (Anthony Sher) is a one-sided doctor, a hollow intellectual intended to appear cruel, consumed in the pride of his 19th century psychiatric convictions. The audience never gets ready for the family drama or the indifferent shrink who will do nothing but provide Wolfman with a public forum from which to emerge and show off his full moon-supplied powers.

There's nothing really that impressive about seeing two “wolf-ified” men slashing up each other or a town. But we demand more, even from movies intended to showcase a monster with claws that can tear apart a man as quick as Predator. Don't compare Predator and Wolfman. Predator had a plot that left its mark of fascination on the audience. Wolfman is a brutish bitch-slap of special effects, cradled with artsy but mostly lifeless direction.

The Wolfman is not a bad re-creation in the old lycanthropic spirit that saturated Wolfman of generations gone by, but it will not sail into the harbor of history as an iconic film. It is, of a truth, mostly forgettable, as it will do nothing but occupy several open hours by providing entertainment for college freshmen and hopeless horror buffs. It begins just as it ends—with a muffled growl and those petrifying howls.

(JH)

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Grade: C- (2 stars)
Rated: R (for gore and violent death)
Director: Joe Johnston
Summary: A play actor returns to England to find the cause of his brother's death, only to walk into the deadly path of a wolfman.
Starring: Simon Merrells "Ben Talbot," Gemma Whelan "Gwen's Maid," Emily Blunt "Gwen Conliffe," Benicio Del Toro "Lawrence Talbot," Mario Marin-Borquez "Young Lawrence," Hugo Weaving "Inspector Abberline," Asa Butterfield "Young Ben," Dr. Hoenneger “Anthony Sher,” Cristina Contes "Solana Talbot," Anthony Hopkins "Sir John Talbot"
Genre: Fantasy / Thriller / Horror
Trailer

The Clear Alternative to Harry Potter

Movie Title: Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief (2010)
Spoilers: No

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Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief
comes from a novel by Rick Riordan. Chris Columbus, the director of several Harry Potters, directed the movie. While both series' are aimed at building stories about ancient times, magic, and myth for young audiences, the two are not in competition. The Potter audience wants to become more intimate with the characters and the story, but with Percy, it's about the action and pacing - and believe it or not - the educational value.

It's been ten years, and a generation has grown up with Potter and the gang. They love everything and everyone to do with Potter. They've come to idolize them (while jerks like me just make obscene remarks from the sidelines about Hermiones Granger).

The telltale difference with Percy Jackson fans is that they tend to favor lightheartedness and bookoos of action over a prolonged story with more sentimentally significant figures. And so it is that a fan not happy with the one will probably like the other (if they like either).

My higher marks go to Jackson. The characters are likable with just a few moments of a glance. You like everyone. No one was miscast and the frequent breaks into adolescent humor are not intolerable. That's a big plus! It's possible to be funny, or in the absence of being funny, just animated. That the bulk of us can live with.

Everyone here - and not just the star-loaded cast - works. Everyone on the set absolutely loves the parts they play, and it shows (it always shows). They are confident that they are the stars of the show or else needful helpers to let the stars shine. That is in order if a movie is to succeed.

Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman) thought he was an ordinary kid, with worsening ADHD and dyslexia. But then he discovers that his brain was meant to read ancient Greek, and his (capital F-ather) is Poseidon (Kevin McKidd), god of the seas. Poseidon, together with Zeus (Sean Bean) and Hades (Steve Coogan), were the "big time" gods. All the others were considered subordinate to them, shuffled around the pantheon with time and local conquerings.

It's a big revelation to learn that you are a demigod, like Hercules and Perseus, and that your professor of mythology doesn't believe in mythology. Jackson's professor (Pierce Brosnan) knows it to be real and is himself the centaur, Chiron.

But suddenly, Percy is swept into a world where sword fights and the coolest of epic old-time battles actually happen on the training grounds for the gods and their offspring. Percy comes to notice and take a liking to Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario), daughter of Athena, the goddess of war and strategy. But this training is for a reason. Percy finds himself to be of eminent importance.

A young Jackson learns that the gods he has been studying about in school and have been relegated to the realm of unimportance in everyday life are in fact real. That's a big revelation. And then he learns that Zeus thinks him to be the lightening thief. Yes, gods can be stolen from and often forget things because they leave them lying around just like humans do…even very important things, like freaking lightening bolts that are of indescribable power.

Percy finds himself on the receiving end of the wrath of the highest god, and a war is fixing to break out that would level civilization. And Uma Thurman plays a totally creepy but irresistible Medusa! Had to throw that last bit in there.

The plot exemplifies what is wrong with all religion—it has holes in whatever form it is found. But who the flip cares because you can't analyze religion anyway. It's not to be taken seriously, but is just serious enough to be soaked up by the young who are looking for adventure and/or need direction. Or, in the case of the gullible and weak-minded, religion is learned to give their lives meaning. Whether it's Zeus or Jesus, they serve the same purpose for humans by supplying the ingredients for fun or the means to build a working life philosophy.

As with most of the movie, the themes of death and hell are dealt with ever so flippantly. The pain and misery of seeing burning, hungry souls should be terrifying, but you're not supposed to think about it, not for long. Just see the grim elements as momentary justifications for everything that is going on.

The silliness of the plot has to be intentional. If you're a god, Mt. Olympus can be reached from the empire state building. Hollywood puts you literally right at death's (Hadeas') doorstep (not just metaphorically like your pastor says when he condemns Harry Potter and the like as satanic). Little shoes with wings half the size of a feather enable you to fly atop the highest clouds.

Precious stones for teleportation have been left in a Parthenon replica in Nashville, Tennessee for who knows how long, and no one has stolen them or knows of their power. Worse yet, Percy's mother lives with a smelly fat man to keep the smell of divinity of her demigod son away from the noses of the gods who might find him and harm him. Sounds too corny to dignify by watching, and maybe it is.

Religion, like all mythology, has holes. Religion is stupid and the holes can't be filled in. Why not suspend skepticism and find some humor in those ridiculous things if you're one to think about them? But that last bit about the smelly fat man IS grounds to decide not to watch the movie. I wouldn't blame you.

The gods are the gods...selfish and shot with human frailties (since we created them). They lose things and they knock up earth women and have offspring by them. They become family men for a while and then neglect their heavenly duties. So, the king of the gods makes a ruling that divides families—no gods can live with or interact with their demi-sons or daughters. Call it heavenly red tape. Gods have rules. Gods are dicks.

PJ is quite a show-off, a well-stirred mix of creativity, action, and low-grade humor for a youthful crowd. It boasts great special affects and extravagant action...and damnit, it's informative!

When things drift from being about alleged myths that are found to be facts based on Greek gods and their creepy hideouts, everything that is said is either shallow or a juvenile attempt at humor. The story and the execution of it may speak to the imagination, but the characters are never handled seriously enough to keep the adults occupied.

I'd still take this over Harry Potter any day.

(JH)

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Grade: C+ (2 ½ stars)
Rated: PG (for scenes of peril and dangerous encounters)
Director: Chris Columbus
Summary: A teenager discovers he's the descendant of a Greek god and sets out on an adventure to settle an on-going battle between the gods.
Starring: Logan Lerman "Percy Jackson," Brandon T. Jackson "Grover," Alexandra Daddario "Annabeth," Jake Abel "Luke," Sean Bean "Zeus," Pierce Brosnan "Mr. Brunner / Chiron," Steve Coogan "Hades," Rosario Dawson "Persephone," Melina Kanakaredes "Athena," Catherine Keener "Sally Jackson," Kevin McKidd "Poseidon," Uma Thurman "Medusa"
Genre: Adventure / Action / Fantasy
Trailer

Medicine is Money

Movie Title: Extraordinary Measures (2010)
Spoilers: No

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Harrison Ford and Brendan Fraser play a biomedical researcher and a businessman in Extraordinary Measures. Based on the emotionally moving true story, a sharp Harvard Business School graduate (Fraser) finds two of his children on death's door due to a fatal genetic condition called Pompe disease. He travels to meet a brilliant scientist on the verge of a potential cure (Ford) in hopes of saving their lives against all odds.

The film is based on a true story, but for more than one reason. The Crowley family and those families that came together in struggle against the devastation of the disease are only half of the story. The other half is the monotonous meetings, the draining discussions, the tiring scientific minutia and finance details that had to be hashed out before a life-saving drug could ever have a chance at emerging.

The potential profitability for collecting on the sick and the dying who will pay to receive treatment to (hopefully) save their lives and the lives of their loved ones had to be in order before a drop of serum could exist. It costs a lot to live, and it costs a hell of a lot more to stay alive—more so for the unfortunate among us. Life is only good for you if YOU are good for IT...and if you have money. Hey, don’t hit me—I’m just the messenger!  

And that's what Extraordinary Measures is about. It's about one determined and talented businessman making sacrifices and dedicating a huge chunk of his life – not to mention risking the financial well-being of his family – to raising money so that teams of scientists could work to bring to clinical trial a drug that can save lives. It’s the money that determines who lives and who dies. Only strangers to the drug industry are unaware of that fact.

Ford is Dr. Robert Stonehill, an eccentric scientist, a genius way ahead of his colleagues in the field of Pompe disease research. He loves loud classic rock music, and he's hard to get along with, not by any stretch of thought a team player. He doesn't make friends easily and sees nearly everyone as a money-hungry competitor seeking to infringe on the freedoms of his research.

Ford’s is just distracted enough of a character to make an impression, but he missed the mark in owning his character, though not by much. The truth has already been fudged by making the real-life Asian doctor into the Caucasian Robert Stonehill, so why not “hippie-fy” Ford a little for the part? Maybe give him some distance between himself and the refined white man characters he so often plays? Put on some Danzig shirts when not in the lab and throw in some oddball non-conformist political views with even more social hang-ups, and this could have gone further.

As grumpy and as kickative as the Stonehill character is, he'll be a sight to see when in his twilight years at some place like Waterford Assisted Living Community. With always a preoccupied and distant stare, Stonehill will drive a wedge in any good conversation by saying at the drop of a hat: “Don’t interrupt me.” But I remember Hahn Solo having a disagreeable side to him in a similar way. It is not Ford, however, but Fraser who does the better job here.

Frasier, as John Crowley, with wife Aileen (Keri Russell), both fit the bill. You nearly forget those shameful days of “The Mummy” and that Frazier was probably the most annoying class clown ever. Frasier’s face says it all, except here where his acting gets a well deserved “thumbs up.”

His children, Megan and Patrick (Meredith Droeger, Diego Velazquez) are typical on-screen child presences, which is to say, they were made primarily with the intention of tugging at your heartstrings than they were to win over audiences on the merits of their acting or part contributions.

Based on the book “The Cure” by Geeta Anand, there is something to be said for Extraordinary Measures. It is not a scintilla less than a potent tearjerker, but it isn't much more than that either, and that happens to be the film's only besetting flaw; it is never distinguished from a Plain Jane, made-for-TV movie that would consume two hours out of a boring night at the conclusion of a humdrum weekend.

(JH)

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Grade: C+ (2 ½ stars) 
Rated: PG (for dramatic exchanges and situations)
Director: Tom Vaughan
Summary: John and Aileen Crowley work with a scientist to find a in efforts to find a cure for their two children's rare genetic disorder.
Starring: Brendan Fraser “John Crowley,” Harrison Ford “Dr. Robert Stonehill,” Keri Russell     “Aileen Crowley,” Meredith Droeger “Megan Crowley,” Diego Velazquez “Patrick Crowley,” Sam Hall “John Crowley, Jr.” Jared Harris “Dr. Kent Webber,” Patrick Bauchau “CEO Erich Loring”
Genre: Drama / Biography
Trailer

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