Friday, April 29, 2011

"Clash of the Titans" (2010)

Starring Sam Worthington, Gemma Aterton and Liam Neeson
Written by Travis Beacham, Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi
Directed by Louis Leterrier
Rated PG-13 - Violence, monsters
Running Time: 106 minutes

Clash of the Titans [Blu-ray]Perseus (Sam Worthington), illegitimate son of Zeus (Liam Neeson) is found and raised by a kindly fisherman named Spyros (Pete Postlethwaite in one of his last roles).  Perseus, his mother, and Spyros are one day sailing toward the kingdom of Argos when they see a group of soldiers defiling a great statue along the shore.  No sooner do they topple it, but do they bring down the wrath of the gods upon them.  Hades (Ralph Fiennes) unleashes his creatures upon the soldiers, decimating them, and then destroys Spyros' boat, killing Spyros and Perseus' mother.

Perseus is rescued by the surviving soldiers and brought to Argos, where he witnesses the King declare war on the Gods.  The king compares his daughter Andromeda (Alexa Davalos) to the beauty of Aphrodite.  Meanwhile, Hades convinces Zeus to allow him to destroy Argos, which will reinvigorate the Gods' power over Man.  Hades kills the king and queen and says that if Andromeda is not sacrificed for her blasphemy, then the Kraken will be loosed upon Argos, destroying it entirely.  Perseus survives Hades' attack, and vows to kill him in revenge for the deaths of his parents.  He decides to lead Argos' remaining soldiers on a quest to find a weakness to defeat the Kraken, aided by an immortal named Io (Gemma Aterton) and a group of Argos' best warriors.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

"This Is Spinal Tap" (1984)

Starring Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Rob Reiner
Written by Rob Reiner, Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer
Directed by Rob Reiner
Rated R - Language
Running Time: 90 minutes

This Is Spinal Tap [Blu-ray]Is there a greater topic for a mockumentary than a has-been 80s rock'n'roll band?  Probably not.  1984's "This Is Spinal Tap" is pure gold, full of ludicrously subdued humor wrapped up in such an incredible sense of reality that it's hard to believe this movie isn't real.  

Spinal Tap, a British rock band consisting of frontman David St. Hubbins (Michael McKean), lead guitarist Nigel Tufnel (Christopher Guest) and bassist Derek Smalls (Harry Shearer), is documented on the 1982 United States promotional tour of their latest album, "Smell the Glove."  Documentary director and admitted Tap fan Marti DiBergi (Rob Reiner) and his crew discuss the origins of the band (they had to change their name from The Originals to The New Originals when they found out there was already a band called The Originals) and on through their super-stardom and do the waning celebrities they are now as "Smell the Glove" nears release.  The band has gone through a number of lineup changes ("37 people have been in this band!) including an endless series of drummers thanks to bizarre events like spontaneous human combustion, a gardening accident and even choking on an "unknown person's vomit." 

All is not well with Spinal Tap.  The cover artwork for "Smell the Glove" has been deemed too sexist and offensive, causing release issues.  Meanwhile, St. Hubbins' girlfriend Jeanine (June Chadwick) is exerting increasing control over St. Hubbins, and by extension the rest of the band, leading to friction with their manager, Ian (Tony Hendra).  When Jeanine becomes manager of the band after Ian quits, Tufnel begins to fray around the edges, and the band threatens to come apart as problems surrounding the tour and "Smell the Glove" continue to mount.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

"TMNT" (2007)

Starring Sarah Michelle Gellar, Patrick Stewart and Chris Evans
Written and directed by Kevin Munroe
Rated PG - Animated violence
Running time: 87 minutes

TMNT [Blu-ray]Set several years after the original live-action "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" films of the 1990s, "TMNT" finds the turtles growing up and growing apart from each other.  Donatello (Mitchell Whitfield) is an IT specialist who helps people over the phone, Michaelangelo (Mike Kelley) has started a party business as "Cowabunga Carl" and gets beat up on by small children all day, Raphael (Nolan North) sleeps all day and patrols the city as a masked vigilante by night, and Leonardo (James Arnold Taylor) has disappeared into the jungles of South America to find himself.

April O'Neil (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and her boyfriend Casey Jones (Chris Evans) have started an artifact shipping business, and are hired by the spectacularly rich Max Winters (Patrick Stewart) to locate a series of ancient statues.  Unbeknownst to April and Casey, the statues are actually a group of ancient generals who had been turned to stone by Winters in an attempt to become immortal. 

Meanwhile, Leonardo returns to New York after a lengthy absence feeling that he's failed his mission from Splinter (Mako Iwamatsu / Greg Baldwin).  He immediately begins to butt heads with Raph, who resents Leo for abandoning the team.  In trying to get the group back on their game, the turtles soon encounter the Foot clan, who have also been hired by Winters, attempting to capture a large extra-dimensional creature that's wrecking  construction site.  The turtles are shocked to once again run afoul of the Foot, now led by Karai (Zhang Ziyi), but they're also shocked at their inability to work together as a team.  Leonardo blames Raphael's quick temper and impulsiveness, while Raph shoots back that Leo is nothing but Splinter's pet turtle.

Splinter warns the turtles that they cannot win the battles to come unless they can overcome their differences, work together as a unit, and once again be a family. 

"Four Lions" (2010)

Starring Riz Ahmed, Kayvan Novak and Nigel Lindsay
Written by Chris Morris, Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong
Directed by Chris Morris
Rated R - Violence, strong language
Running Time: 97 minutes

Four Lions [Blu-ray]After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, certain subjects became sort of... taboo.  Make a crack about falling buildings or Islam or what have you, and you'd get a dirty look followed by a chastising, "Too soon, man, too soon."  In 2010, some British filmmakers said, "Fuck it," and went and made an all-out jihad satire.

Omar (Riz Ahmed) and his dim-witted friend Waj (Kayvan Novak) are two British muslims who feel the call of duty to become suicide bombers.  The two team up with white convert Barry (Nigel Lindsay) and explosives "expert" Faisal (Adeel Akhtar) and begin to formulate plans.  Omar and Waj take a trip to Pakistan to join an al-Qaida training camp, but the experience is a disaster.  The two are kicked out of the terror organization after Waj is caught taking pictures of himself firing an AK-47 into the air on his cell phone... and for accidentally attacking their own camp with a missile launcher while trying to shoot down a U.S. spy drone.

Upon returning to Britain, Omar and the others manage to devise a plan to blow up a London mosque, but after an incident involving explosives and innocent sheep, the group splits up before reforming and deciding to blow themselves up during a marathon through London.  The group decides to disguise themselves in silly costumes to hide the explosives, and finally set on their way.  But unfortunately Omar begins to have doubts and second thoughts.  Unfortunately, the plan is already in motion, and he has to race to stop his friends from blowing themselves up and killing many innocent people and themselves.

"8 Mile" (2002)

Starring Eminem, Mekhi Phifer and Brittany Murphy
Written by Scott Silver
Directed by Curtis Hanson
Rated R - Language, sexuality, brief nudity, drug use
Running Time: 110 minutes

8 Mile [Blu-ray]Rapper Eminem stars as Jimmy "B-Rabbit" Smith, a young white rapper growing up in Detroit and dealing with the various stresses of holding down a job and taking care of his family.  The film opens as Rabbit is about to go on stage in a rap battle, but he chokes and is booed off.  Having broken up with his girlfriend, he's forced to move back in with his mother Stephanie (Kim Basinger) and young sister. 

Rabbit dreams of being a rapper, and has the talent to do it, but feels like he can't catch a break.  He works a crap job at factory, trying to scrape together the money to make sure his mother and sister don't get evicted from the trailer park.  He's constantly given scraps of hope by his old friend Wink (Eugene Byrd) who promises him studio time to record a demo.  On the opposite side is his friend Future (Mekhi Phifer), who hosts the rap battles, who insists that Wink is full of it.  Rabbit also meets Alex (Brittany Murphy) an attractive young woman who is drawn to his talents.

Being pushed, pulled and prodded in a million different directions for people who claim to know what's best for him, Rabbit must ultimately choose his own path for himself, and prove his talent to gain the respect of his peers.

"Going the Distance" (2010)

Starring Drew Barrymore, Justin Long and Christina Applegate
Written by Geoff LaTulippe
Directed by Nanette Burstein
Rated R - Language, nudity, sexuality
Running Time: 102 minutes

Going the Distance [Blu-ray]Erin (Drew Barrymore) is a woman who feels lost.  She knows what she wants to do with her life, but seems unable to make it happen.  She's 31, going back to college to realize her dream of writing for a newspaper and interning for the summer at a paper in New York City.  In her final weeks in New York, she meets and begins a relationship with Garrett (Justin Long).

At first, their relationship is just casual, but by the end of six weeks when Erin is moving back to San Francisco, they discover that it's difficult to say goodbye.  The two then decide to carry on a long-distance relationship with the understanding that Erin will attempt to get a job and move back to New York when she finishes her studies.  In the meantime, the two text and talk on the phone or via the internet constantly, falling more and more in love with each other as time goes on. 

As the two visit back and forth, the strain of maintaining a long-distance relationship grows worse.  When it starts to look like Erin won't be getting a job in New York City after all, things between the two come to a head as neither is willing to make the sacrifices necessary to move toward the other. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

"The Fighter" (2010)

Starring Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale and Amy Adams
Written by Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson
Directed by David O. Russell
Rated R - Strong language, drug content, violence and sexuality
Running Time: 115 minutes

The Fighter (Blu-ray/DVD Combo + Digital Copy)Mark Wahlberg stars as Lowell boxer "Irish" Micky Ward, trained by his brother Dicky Ecklund (Christian Bale) and managed by his mother Alice (Melissa Leo).  Micky's problem isn't that he's a bad fighter, but that he's constantly put in bad situations and makes the wrong moves because of his devotion to his family.  He's got a daughter that he rarely sees, and pins all his hopes on a relationship with her on winning a fight in Atlantic City that will give him his biggest pay day yet.  Unfortunately, Micky's opponent in this fight weighs 20 pounds more than he does, and Micky is thoroughly trounced.

Micky begins to date a bartender named Charlene (Amy Adams) who convinces him that his problem is his mother and his brother.  Dicky is a drug user, spending most of his time in a crack house with a bunch of lowlifes and being followed around by an HBO documentary crew looking into his far-fallen hero.  Dicky seems to operate under some kind of delusion that the documentary is about his own comeback, but is instead a look at crack addicts.

'Flashpoint' Season Two (2009)

Starring Hugh Dillon, Enrico Colantoni and Amy Jo Johnson
Created by Mark Ellis and Stephanie Morgenstern

Flashpoint: The Second SeasonSergeant Greg Parker (Enrico Colantoni) and the Toronto Strategic Response Unit (SRU) are back for another batch of hostage situations, bomb threats and wild shooters in this second season of the Canadian police procedural "Flashpoint."

The team breaks in a new member, Donna Sabine (Jessica Steen), while Jules Callaghan (Amy Jo Johnson) recovers from her wounds sustained in the season one finale.  This season, team will encounter homeless men taking a CEO hostage, Russian thieves, baby-stealing teens, bullied students pushed too far, and a woman dying of a degenerative disease with nothing left to lose.  They'll use all their skills and equipment to make sure that everyone makes it out alive, but sometimes that just isn't possible; some people are just intent on violence... and not every member of the team will make it out alive.

The second season of "Flashpoint" trumps the first in almost every way, but not quite.  There are some format and cast changes that can make the season feel slightly inconsistent.  Johnson's absence, due to her pregnancy, makes for some decent changes in the cast chemistry, but it's too bad Steen doesn't stick around for the rest of the season.  A recurring character, Amanda Luria (Ruth Marshall), the team's forensic psychologist who helps develop profiles of the suspects, doesn't appear... her role is mostly split up amongst other characters, including an expanded role for the SRU's dispatcher.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

'Flashpoint' Season One (2008)

Starring Enrico Colantoni, Hugh Dillon and Amy Jo Johnson
Created by Mark Ellis and Stephanie Morgenstern

Flashpoint - The First Season"Flashpoint" is a Canadian TV series that has the honor of being one of the few Canadian series to air on American primetime.  It focuses on a fictional elite police unit known as the Strategic Response Unit (SRU).  The SRU is called in to deal with hostage situations, bomb scares and other situations which require special tactics or equipment beyond normal police.

Team leader Sergeant Greg Parker (Enrico Colantoni, late of the excellent "Veronica Mars") heads up the SRU, which also includes snipers Ed Lane (Hugh Dillon), Jules Callaghan (Amy Jo Johnson) and rookie Sam Braddock (David Paetkau), as well as demolitions expert 'Spike' Scarlatti (Sergio Di Zio), entry and less-lethal specialist 'Wordy' Wordsworth (Michael Cram).

In the pilot episode, the team deals with a hostage situation in a crowded square which ends in the sudden death of the suspect.  The fallout of this incident will echo through the rest of the season for Lane, who fires the shot that kills a distraught immigrant.  Though most of the episodes stand alone, this incident comes up again and again as Lane deals with the emotional fallout, as well as the legal as the unit is later sued for wrongful death, and then comes face-to-face with the immigrant's son, who was an elite sniper in his home country.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

"Dr. No" (1962)

Starring Sean Connery, Joseph Wiseman and Ursula Andress
Written by Richard Maibaum, Johanna Harwood and Berkely Mather
Directed by Terence Young
Rated: PG - violence, sexual themes
Running Time: 110 minutes

Dr. No (James Bond) [Blu-ray]"Bond.  James Bond."  In 1962, EON Productions brought Ian Fleming's suave secret agent to the big screen, the start of a series of thrillers and action pictures that would dominate the box office for the next fifty years. 

After a British agent named Strangways is murdered in Jamaica, MI6 sends its best agent, James Bond (Sean Connery) to investigate.  He arrives in Jamaica and immediately finds himself in a place more dangerous than he first thought.  Bond is followed by a mysterious stranger in sunglasses, as well as a female photographer.  As he digs into the facts surrounding Strangways murder, attempts are made on his own life before he makes contact with CIA agent Felix Leiter (Jack Lord) and a local fisherman named Quarrel (John Kitzmiller) who tell him about a local island owned by a Chinese scientist called Doctor Julius No (Joseph Wiseman).

Bond travels to Dr. No's island with Quarrel, who warns him that the island is protected by an evil dragon.  There, the two find a young woman named Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress), before they are captured by No's security forces.  Bond discovers that No intends on sabotaging the American space program using an atomic-powered radio beam, and must find a way to stop him and escape the island with Honey.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

'Farscape' Season One (1999)

Starring Ben Browder, Claudia Black and Anthony Simcoe
Created by Rockne S. O'Bannon

Farscape: The Complete Season 1After being thoroughly disappointed by the godawful "Babylon 5," I knew there was another series I had been wanting to dive into and explore and that was the Australian sci-fi show "Farscape."  Like "Babylon 5," I have seen a handful of episodes and am generally aware of the characters and situations.

John Crichton (Ben Browder) is an astronaut flying an experimental shuttle named Farscape 1 when he's suddenly sucked into a wormhole and blown halfway across the universe.  He exits in the midst of a battle between a military force ironically called the Peacekeepers and a living starship called a leviathan.  The leviathan, named Moya, is a prison transport and the prisoners aboard are staging a daring escape attempt.  Crichton's ship collides with a Peacekeeper ship, killing the other pilot.  Crichton is brought aboard Moya and meets the strange beings that live there: Ka D'Argo (Anthony Simcoe), a perpetually angry Luxon warrior, Pa'u Zotoh Zhaan (Virginia Hey) a peaceful blue-skinned Dhelvian priestess with a dark past, and Dominar Rygel XVI (voiced by Jonathan Hardy) the diminutive and deposed ruler of the Hynerian Empire.  Moya is controlled symbiotically by Pilot (voiced by Lani Tupu), a multi-armed creature connected to Moya's nervous system.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

"Sucker Punch" (2011)

Starring Emily Browning, Abbie Cornish and Jena Malone
Written by Zack Snyder and Steve Shibuya
Directed by Zack Snyder
Rated PG-13 - Sexual themes, violence and language
Running Time: 110 minutes

Sucker Punch"Sucker Punch" is almost unreviewable.  On the one hand, it's a gorgeous bit of filmmaking from a director who is known for creating awesome, comic book-inspired imagery.  On the other, the story is so thin and one-note that it might have been better served being released as a series of bizarre, thematically-connected music videos - since that's essentially what each and every single one of the increasingly absurd action sequences play as.

The story begins as a young woman nicknamed "Baby Doll" (Emily Browning) discovers that her mother has just died.  Her stepfather, enraged that the will leaves everything to Baby Doll and her younger sister, attacks the two girls.  Baby Doll defends herself with a gun, but misses and accidentally kills the younger sister.  She's quickly arrested, and the stepfather pins the killing on Baby Doll and has her committed to a local mental hospital.  There, he bribes an orderly named Blue (Oscar Jones) to fake the signature of the hospital's leading doctor, Vera Gorski (Carla Gugino) to get Baby Doll lobotomized by the end of the week.