From the Editor

Movie Review Archive

Thank you for checking out my movie review archive. I'm in the process of transitioning to something else, so I will no longer post new reviews to this blog. In the meantime, I will keep these reviews archived; these are from the fall of 2008 to April 2011. Please watch this blog for more info and keep in touch (you can still find me on Facebook and Twitter). Here's to more great movies!

Wes Singleton

North Texas Film Critics Association

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Virginity Hit - D

Rated R for strong crude and sexual content, nudity, pervasive language, drug and alcohol use, 86 minutes

Don't bother with lame, excessively stupid "Virginity Hit"

Seeing "The Virginity Hit" is like having your first time with a hooker and then getting an STD afterward, which is absolutely no fun at all. Excessively annoying, stupid and pointless, "The Virginity Hit" is the worst combination of some coming-of-age-teenage films that you don't want to see again. Who's responsible for this low-budget mess? Give thanks to comedian Will Ferrell and his creative partner Adam McKay, who are quickly growing into the most overrated comic pairing since Dane Cook and just about anyone.

Matt Bennett and Zack Pearlman star as a couple of teens who take a video camera and chronicle their exploits of getting laid for the first time. Matt is the last one amongst their high school crew to lose his virginity, and the plan is to lose it with his girlfriend of two years, Nicole (Nicole Weaver), but things go quickly awry when they discover that Nicole may not be a virgin.

There's hardly anything funny or original about the low-budget "The Virginity Hit," except it's shot (mostly by the actors themselves) with a handheld camera and cell phones. There are a handful of mildly enjoyable moments (due to the parents, who are funnier than the kids), but not really funny and most of it isn't even watchable. It's like watching a super, super bad version of "Superbad," with Pearlman as an excessively over-the-top annoying Jonah Hill and Matt Bennett an even nerdier Michael Cera.

Kids have sex. They videotape it. That's about. Stay away from this lame, unfunny dreck.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps - B

Rated PG-13 for brief strong language and thematic elements, 133 minutes

Stone's flawed, hypnotic revisionist tale "Money Never Sleeps"

Gordon Gekko and Oliver Stone's Oscar-winning 1987 film "Wall Street" helped define an '80s generation with his iconic line "Greed is good." Gekko (again played by Michael Douglas, pre-cancer), along with greed in contemporary form, is back in Stone's sequel "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps." Gekko isn't the main character but he's the best one in the overlong, preachy but hypnotic tale that takes place around the time of the latest Wall Street collapse.

It's 2008 and the global economy is on the brink of disaster. A brash but sharp young Wall Street trader named Jake (Shia LaBeouf) partners with disgraced corporate tycoon and now ex-con Gordon Gekko (Douglas) in a mission with two equally important parts. One is financial, to help shed light on illegal activity by a ruthless financier (Josh Brolin) who was partly to blame for the death of Jake's mentor (Frank Langella). The other is personal, to help bring Gordon and his daughter Winnie (Carey Mulligan), who is also engaged to Jake, back together again.

Stone's "Wall Street" sequel is a mesmerizing, well-acted but flawed tale, made better only by Douglas, who's again terrific as a much older and wiser Gekko. Douglas/Gekko isn't in every scene, and his role is a notch above a supporting part, but his presence is felt in every scene. Just as good is recent Oscar-nominee Mulligan in a low-key but affecting performance as the daughter who he clearly wounded with his absence. LaBeouf gives his usual, engaging movie-star performance that shows qualities of a younger Douglas.

Stone lets the proceedings go on far too long and some will get lost in all the heavy financial talk. The dialogue as a whole suffers and Stone tends to paint in broad strokes taking it far too earnestly. He gathers an eclectic cast whose performances are a mixed bag. Brolin is a decent slimeball but Langella overacts in a small role, Susan Sarandon doesn't belong at all, and Eli Wallach shamelessly mugs for the camera. Watch for a cameo from Charlie Sheen as his character from the first film.

If the cast in "Money Never Sleeps" is interesting, the music that Stone chose for the film is just an intriguing: an alt-folksy-rock blend from Brian Eno and Talking Heads' David Byrne. It's an unusual choice that doesn't always work and sometimes intrudes into scenes that has you wishing for the music to go away all together. The script is uneven and often unrealistic, with portrayals that make it too easy to pinpoint the bad guys and their misdeeds, which isn't always the case in similar real-life situations.

Still, even flawed imperfect Oliver Stone (who also cameos) is better than most, and his mesmerizing revisionist tale bounces with energy, quick editing and bright colors. Entertaining, overlong and too earnest, Douglas' Gekko will still make it a good investment of your time.

Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole - B

Rated PG for some sequences of scary action, 90 minutes

Lush, breathtaking and entertaining "Owls of Ga'Hoole"

I was pleasantly surprised by what I've termed "that Owl movie." That movie, called "Legend of the Guardians" The Owls of Ga'Hoole" has some strikingly beautiful, breathtaking animation, some of the best seen this side of the latest Pixar flick. It helps that it has good source material, stellar production values and a talented voice cast; these "Owls" are suitable for the whole family, though keep in mind the plot is dense and there are some dark, intense scenes that may frighten very young children.

"Ga'Hoole" follows the story of Goren (Jim Sturgess), a young adventurous owl who enjoys hearing stories from his father Noctus (Hugo Weaving). Goren hears stories of the legend of the Guardians of Ga'Hoole, a legendary alliance of owls that are sworn to protect the Kingdom of Ga'Hoole. When Goren and his brother Kludd (Ryan Kwanten) are captured an evil group of owls called The Pure Ones led by Metalbeak (Joel Edgerton) and Nyra (Helen Mirren), they realize the Guardians are more than a legend when they discover that The Pure Ones are planning a battle to defeat the Guardians, a battle that will pit brother against brother when Kludd decides to stay and fight with The Pure Ones.

"Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole" is an entertaining action-adventure animated yarn set against the backdrop of an intense battle between the owls. Based on the best-selling children's action fantasy book series "Guardians of Ga'Hoole" by Kathryn Lasky, the movie is specifically based on the first three books in the Lasky's 15-book series. Thus, if this film is a hit,
certainly expect more installments to come.

The film, budgeted at $100 million, produced from the makers of "Happy Feet" and directed by Zack Snyder, the guy who directed "300" and last year's "Watchmen," has some genuinely breathtaking, awe-inspiring moments that you don't much in animation. The CG is lush, detailed and comes together quite well, especially in the aerial scenes. Some young ones may be frightened by some rather dark, intense moments that are peppered throughout the film, though the energetic climax is handled well by Snyder.

Outside of some instense scenes, the biggest distraction with "Owls" is the dense plot that's hard to keep track of and may lose some children along the way. It is voiced very believable by Sturgess, Weaving, Mirren and as the comic relief, Geoffrey Rush as a strange owl and Anthony LaPaglia (yes, of "Without a Trace") as an old codger.

"Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole" may be most appreciated in 3-D but it's really just fine in 2-D too and is one of the most entertaining, original animated films seen outside of Pixar or "Shrek" sequels.

You Again - C-

PG for brief mild language and rude behavior, 105 minutes

Blandly enjoyable, predictable "You Again"

“You Again” could might as well as have been called “This Again?” The rom com/coming-of-age-story about a girl forced to come to terms with her high school rival has been done so many times before, it isn’t funny anymore, which is where “You Again” lands. It’s not terrible, just terribly cute, predictable and woefully thin. The lovely and very game cast including Kristen Bell, Jamie Lee Curtis, Sigourney Weaver, Odette Yustman and of course the always venerable Betty White do their best to turn the stale script into something fresh, but it grows old quickly.

Bell is Marni Young, a successful PR executive in L.A. who was tormented by the popular girl, Joanna (Yustman) in high school. Now Joanna will marry her older brother Will (Jimmy Wolk) and while Marni has been away focusing on her career, Joanna has become the family’s new best pal, of Marni mom Gail (Curtis), her dad (Victor Garber) and even her Grandma Bunny (White). The only family Joanna has is her Aunt Ramona (Weaver), who as it turns out is Gail best friend-turned-rival in high school and now a successful jet-setting hotel magnate. Marni hopes to expose Joanna for her true colors as the rivalry between Gail and Ramona heats up.

The blandly enjoyable but forced “You Again” from director Andy Fickman (“Race to Witch Mountain”) lacks a sharp comic wit and relies too heavily on stale, predictable episodes strung together in sitcom-like format where everyone hugs it out. The far-fetched script that expects all you to believe this would happen in the first place is the biggest problem. Reality check would have you believe that Marni’s older brother wouldn’t have any knowledge of who Joanna was and then invite one of Marni’s other classmates to his wedding.

But movies don’t usually possess this sense of reality, especially when character actress Kristin Chenowith (Emmy winner for “Pushing Daisies” last year) comes barging in mid-way through to steal the movie as a flamboyant wedding planner, along with comedian Kyle Bornheimer (“Worst Week”) as a funny/creepy ex-boyfriend of Joanna’s (his creepily humorous speech at the wedding all but steals that whole episode).

The rest of the cast isn’t nearly as fun but serviceable as they go some standard comic paces. Bell is fun especially in her geeky teenage years, Yustman pretty but empty, Weaver luminous and Curtis her usual perky, slightly annoying self. The only mild surprise is that it doesn’t use comic veteran White more as she gets lost in the fray. She does have a nice scene at the end with fellow comic legend Cloris Leachman, too bad there couldn’t have been more of those type scenes in the film.

There’s not much to “You Again,” it could’ve been resolved easily in the first few minutes. It’s pleasant, cute comic puffery that will easily be forgotten after leaving the theater. At you’ll be humming when you leave: ‘80s band Hall & Oates plays over the credits, which is by far the best part of the movie.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Catfish - B

Rated PG-13 for some sexual references, 94 minutes

"Catfish:" a sad but intriguing documentary

"Catfish" is one of the most provocative but somber documentaries seen in recent memory. It's about a real-life relationship that starts on Facebook, slowly develops into a deeper relationship, then the painful realization that people aren't who they say they are. "Catfish" is an entertaining, thought-provoking film with the somber reminder of how relationships develop in the internet age.

Young New York photographer Nev Schulman lives with brother Ariel and friend Henry Joost in New York. Abby Pierce, an eight-year-old child prodigy artist in rural Michigan, sends him a painting of one of his photographs. They become Facebook friends in a network that broadens to Abby's family, including her mother, Angela; Angela's husband; and Abby's attractive older half-sister Megan, a songwriter.

Ariel and Henry documents Nev's long-distance relationship with Megan, conducted over the Internet and phone calls, and they discuss meeting in person. They realize the music that Megan has been sending them has been downloaded from You Tube along with some other troubling, false claims. The filmmakers travel to Michigan to confront Megan and discover she is Angela, a housewife and artist who has created an elaborate hoax.

"Catish" is an engrossing but painfully sad documentary that comes as a reminder of how careful we should be in the internet age. It turns out better than some relationships of this type do, and could've been far more dangerous. The documentary tracks some of the creepy elements that don't add up, and you may think initially that it's a horror film, but what is terrifying is how pitiful Angela, a real-life housewife and artist, really is; she doesn't have much of a life and cares for her children, including two disabled stepsons.

The title comes from a quote from Angela's husband who is speaking about fish and how things are added to our lives to make them more interesting. It's remarkable that he is supportive of Angela in her hoax, because she wants to be happy. Even more intriguing is the fact that Angela herself is the artist, and a gifted one at that. The filmmakers approach Angela with one of heartbreak rather than humiliation, and it seems that all of it is turning out very well for her even after she's exposed as a fraud.

"Catfish" isn't for everyone. This is a documentary that takes time to develop and you must give it time to let it sink in and realize what's happened. It also doesn't fully realize it's own messages: the dangers of internet relationships aren't nearly explored enough, and I would hope that people realize that relationships don't always turn out as well as it does here. Still, even with it's flaws, the themes are timely, thought-provoking and provocative.

Devil - D

Rated PG-13 for violence and disturbing images, thematic material and some language including sexual references, 80 minutes

Despite good premise, this "Devil" is still bad

Satan always stirs things up and makes for decent entertainment, after all it’s worked well over the years in such films as “Rosemary’s Baby and “The Exorcist.” The main difference between those films and the new M. Night Shyamalan-produced film is that those films were actually scary good. In spite of a creepy premise and a handful of decent jumps, the new supernatural thriller “Devil” is silly, cheap and contrived and is nothing more than a conventional mystery film wrapped about the Devil and human sins.

The set up is actually quite simple. Five people – a mechanic (Logan Marshall-Green), an Old Woman (Jenny O’Hara), a Young Woman (Bojana Novakovic), a security guard (Bokeem Woodbine) and a salesman (Geoffrey Arend) are trapped in a high-rise elevator. Weird things start to happen. A detective (Chris Messina) comes to check things out. One of them isn’t who they say are and is the human form of the devil to torment those with sins. The five people are brought together for a reason, one that will be revealed at the climax.

“Devil” has a chilling premise: the devil taking human form and tormenting someone until they own up to their sins. One of the 5 trapped in the elevator is Satan, and it’s up to the audience to sit through a contrived, laughable horror film to try to figure out who it is. The clues are spread throughout and won’t come as a big surprise even if you seen the trailers for the film several times, just know the filmmakers do so much to wrap the unexpected around the expected that it becomes rather silly and predictable.

Directors and co-writers John Erick Dowdle and Drew Dowdle, the filmmaking brothers behind such horror films as “Quarantine” and “The Poughkeepsie Tapes,” infuse the film with a few well-placed jumpy thrills here and there, but they don’t do much in developing Shyamalan’s story or creating any interesting characters or even empathy for the characters. The uneven story also falters when it attempts to add some cheesy humor in the mix, particularly with two guards (Jacob Vargas and Matt Craven) who watch everything on camera and make ridiculous comments about the situation.

It would also help that the production quality on the film looks cheap (the photography and lighting are especially bad) and the largely unknown actors (O’Hara is a familiar character actress who’s been around for years, while some may remember Messina from “Julie & Julia”) don’t do much with the underwritten characters their given.

Many people I know don’t like to watch movies about Satan, it scares them too much. I would stay away from the forgettable horror film “Devil” not necessarily because it’s too scary, but not scary enough.

Easy A - B

Rated PG-13 for mature thematic elements involving teen sexuality, language and some drug material, 90 minutes

Lovely, sardonic Stone the best thing about the pleasant but uneven "Easy A"

It's hard to believe that actress Emma Stone made her feature film debut just three years ago in the comedy "Superbad" and now she's headlining her own teen rom-com. Her first-rate sardonic wit and comic timing are rare for an actress her age, but this all on full display in the witty "Easy A," an energetic, playful contemporary teen take on "The Scarlett Letter." A talented cast and some engaging moments lift it past its predictable, uneven storytelling and an affinity to overwhelm with unnecessary characters.

Clean-cut high-schooler Olive Penderghast (Emma Stone) is overheard insinuating that she lost her virginity over the weekend. A very strict Christian classmate, Marianne (Amanda Bynes) overhears and spreads the rumor. Olive later agrees to pretend that she lost her virginity to her gay friend, Brandon (Dan Byrd). Several boys learn what she has done and beg her to perform the same service for them, hoping to gain some of her newfound fame and popularity. Olive's life begins to resemble that of Hester Prynne in Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Scarlet Letter." Olive then decides to use the rumor mill to her own advantage, affixing a red A to her clothing to make some new friends and become the school's new heroine.

Part-teen comedy, part-social message and good tongue-in-cheek fun, the pleasant "Easy A" does plenty of extra credit to ensure you like it, and most of it you will. It starts out well with an engaging premise, sags a little in the later-going, to recover with a semi-cool ending that references some '80s teen comedies, namely John Hughes.

'Easy A" has way, way too many characters to keep track of, and some fall by the wayside or totally disappear all together by the end of the film. And the film's semi-annoying way of telling the story (really, are cue cards that necessary to the story?) might be a little off-putting. But the film is all but held together by the caustic but lovely Stone, who isn't afraid to slap on that red "A" and prance around showing her goods and demanding gift cards for her services.

"Easy A" also has a few good decent actors thrown in the mix, especially Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson, who make for the perfect set of offbeat parents for their offbeat daughter. Others are a mixed bag. You'd think that Thomas Haden Church and Lisa Kudrow would make for a good pairing as a couple with marital problems, but they don't fit into the story well, and Malcolm McDowell is wasted in a brief, one-note role as the school principal.

Amanda Bynes hams it up believably as a hellish, snotty Christian that may remind you of some people you know. "Gossip Girl's" Penn Badgely is suitably and blandly handsome as Stone's love interest, though this is clearly Stone's film, while Dan Byrd, as the resident gay student, starts out the movie front and center and literally disappears midway through the film. Ditto for the lovely Alyson Michalka as Stone's best friend in the film, who is hardly seen later in the film.

Even with it's flaws, there's more to like about the pleasantly, offbeat "Easy A" than not, and you'll clearly remember Stone, if nothing else. And it does have a nicely updated albeit grungier version of the '80s "Breakfast Club" theme from Simple Minds, "Don't You (Forget About Me)," which may certainly bring back memories for some the parents. "Easy A" will be most enjoyed by the young audience it's targeting and give them something worthwhile to do this weekend.

The Town - A-

Rated R for strong violence, pervasive language, some sexuality and drug use, 125 minutes

Affleck's a sublime force in this fervent, powerful "Town"

I never in my life thought I would give a great review to a film made by and starring Ben Affleck. The usually engaging but bland actor proved he can direct with the affecting “Gone Baby Gone” in 2007, and he again returns to his Bostonian roots in the powerful, fervent new crime thriller “The Town.” Affleck, who directs, stars and co-writes the script, provides a sublime dramatic effort in kicking off the fall movie season and it’s one of the year’s most layered but intense films. It’s also superbly acted by everyone in the cast, including Affleck himself, who gives his least self-aware performance in years, proving he may be his own best director.

Based on Chuck Hogan’s best-selling novel “Prince of Thieves,” the film follows four bank robbers in the Boston suburb of Charlestown as they’re pursued by the FBI. Affleck is career criminal Doug MacRay, who is the mastermind behind the team. One of his partners and closest friends is Jem Coughlin (“The Hurt Locker’s” Jeremy Renner, pitch-perfect), an ex-con who’s served time for killing an officer in the past. After they rob a bank in the area and let go of one of their hostages, Claire (Rebecca Hall) unknowingly becomes involved with Doug as he initially follows her then falls in love with her. Meanwhile, special agent Adam Frawley (“Mad Men’s” Jon Hamm, excellent) is hotly pursuing the men and eager to put them away for all their crimes and misdeeds.

“The Town” is an engrossing, character-driven but cat-and-mouse crime thriller that will likely end up in the awards mix at the end of the year. An intense, pulpy blend of action and drama, Affleck is quickly establishing himself as a force behind the camera (this reminds of something Sidney Lumet would've done in the 1970's), and though he’s still a better director than actor, especially in handling both the action and the drama, he gives a strong, realistic turn as the leader of the pack. True, he gives himself the best lines, the best scenes and his character’s fate isn’t as ugly as the rest, even if the ending opts for a braver one than most would in this genre.

The main highlight of the film is a “French Connection”-style car chase through the streets of Boston that revs up the film’s midsection. Though that scene alone is worth the price of admission, you shouldn't miss the stellar performances director Affleck elicits from everyone in the large cast, including himself. Especially good is Renner in a squirrely performance as Affleck’s right-hand man but troublemaker, and Jon Hamm, in a strong turn as the FBI agent in pursuit.

British actress Hall will likely garner awards attention in an affecting turn as the one who Affleck’s character falls for. Her shattering, confrontational scene with Affleck after she learns his true identity is one of “The Town’s” best moments outside the action. Even Blake Lively, best known for the TV show “Gossip Girl,” is quite believable in a brief but key role that clearly plays against type for the young actress.

“The Town” is miles better than Affleck’s first feature, “Gone Baby Gone,” which itself was a serviceable film. The Hollywood-style ending is the film’s biggest flaw, leaving Affleck and his character relatively unscathed, a fact that's blatantly obvious given the rest of the cast gets so bloodied and bruised (literally, he leaves the climax without a single scratch). That notwithstanding, “The Town” is an worthwhile, satisfying crime saga, superbly drawn and sublimely executed. Definitely worth a view.

Alpha and Omega - C+

Rated PG for rude humor and some mild action, 88 minutes

Second-rate animated "Alpha and Omega" good for the kids

I have a bad habit of comparing all animated films to those done by the Disney/Pixar label, but it seems that most animated films strive for the same quality of those films, given how successful they've been. The new Lionsgate animated feature "Alpha and Omega" isn't terrible, but the characterization and the second-rate animation is strictly hit-or-miss and on the level of a straight-to-DVD movie. The only memorable thing about "Alpha and Omega" is that it contains one of the final performances of veteran actor Dennis Hopper.

Kate (Hayden Panettiere of "Heroes") is a dominant and driven female wolf, while hairy Humphrey (Justin Long, "Going the Distance") lives for the moment. They're on the opposite end of the social order of the wolf pace, with Kate the Alpha and Humphrey relegated to being Omega. But when the two young wolves are captured by park rangers and taken far away, their families, voiced by Danny Glover and Dennis Hopper, must work together to overcome their differences.

The kids will enjoy "Alpha and Omega," but a weak, uneven story, too many characters and the unoriginal animation make it a forgettable entry in this genre. There are a few lively moments and some bright colors along the way, but most of it you've seen done better many times before. And for the record, the 3D doesn't help it a single bit.

It's baffling that $87 million was budgeted for "Alpha and Omega," given the simplistic animation, lack of detail and the cardboard characters. Panettiere is woefully bland, Long is a little better, but both are upstaged by supporting characters. Comic actors Larry Miller (most recently seen in TV's v "10 Things I Hate About You") and Eric Price ("MADtv") have the best lines as a couple of birds, while Christina Ricci (yes, that Christina Ricci) gives a brief, wistful turn as one of the wolves.

The mid-section sags considerably and when the two lovebirds finally make it back it home to a supremely calculated finale, the audience may already lost interest in it. The film's attempts to provide some grand, Disney-esque like moments fail to generate any interest: there is not one, but two caribou stampedes, ala "Lion King." However, one bittersweet aspect of watching "Alpha and Omega" is that it's one of the final performances of Hopper, and the film is dedicated to his memory. It's unfortunate that a bland film called "Alpha and Omega" couldn't have been a better tribute to such an original actor.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Tillman Story - B+

Rated R for language, 94 minutes

"The Tillman Story" a provocative, stirring doc

It would be completely appropriate to post a review on September 11 of the affecting, powerful new documentary "The Tillman Story," about pro-football player-turned-soldier Pat Tillman, who was killed in friendly fire in Afghanistan in 2004, given that was his inspiration to enlist in the military. Compelling but disturbing, it gives some insight into the appalling U.S. government cover-up of Tillman's death and their subsequent use of him to promote the war, and his family's attempts to learn the truth.

Tillman was a tough, successful defensive back at Arizona State University before being drafted by the Arizona Cardinals in 1998. Four years into his pro career, shortly after the events of 9/11, he and his younger brother Kevin, also an athlete, enlist in the U.S. Army and sent to fight in the war with Iraq. He is killed in April 2004 in what the U.S. Government initially said was a firefight with enemy forces, but it later comes out that Tillman was actually killed by friendly fire in the mountains of Afghanistan by members of his own unit. Worst of all, the U.S. Government uses his death as a way to promote patriotism and the war, and keeps details of his death from his family.

Documentary filmmaker Amir Bar-Lev ("My Kid Could Paint That") provides a compelling, provocative and controversial look at someone committed to his country but is brought down by unfortunate events. The film is at its most fascinating when it examines the events surrounding his death, but it falters a bit when it tries to provide a full, balanced view of Tillman the man. Most controversial and most appalling are when "The Tillman Story" clearly shows the U.S. military and the government clearly knew of the actual facts of Tillman's death and kept them from his family to promote the war.

Most of Tillman's family and some of his Army colleagues are interviewed, giving insight into a sad story that could've likely been prevented. Both of his parents are entertaining interviews, as is his younger brother Richard. However, one chief flaw the film makes is not incorporating more footage and interviews from his brother Kevin who served with him, who could've provided essential insight into Pat's military service. We do see footage of him at the congressional inquiries of Pat's death, but no direct interviews are given. It seems Kevin limited his own involvement, but his silence dampens the story a bit.

Also, "The Tillman Story" overlooks some other facts in Tillman's death (there were possible Army snipers near by, his diary is never recovered and what became of those who actually killed Tillman?) and it doesn't examine Tillman's own anti-war or political views enough (which are in fact ironic given his story), though if he was anything like his family, that should probably be evident.

"The Tillman Story" will make you angry. Angry that he died. Angry of how he died. Angry that it was covered-up by the U.S. Government, and angry that it's now a closed case. "The Tillman Story" is a stirring, unforgettable look at a true hero who leaves an inspiring legacy behind, an honorable thing this September 11th.

I'm Still Here - C

Rated R for language, sexual situations and nudity, 108 minutes

Rambling, pointless Phoenix doc "I'm Still Here"

"I'm Still Here" is the new documentary that focuses on Oscar-nominated actor Joaquin Phoenix's strange transition from movie actor to aspiring rapper. Meandering and a bit absurd, it does have some entertaining moments as it blurs the line between documentary and mockumentary, but it's largely an afterthought since Phoenix's attempts to become a rapper were so public.

Phoenix abruptly announces his "retirement" from film acting to focus on a career in rap music. He self-produces a few tracks and attempts to get help from famous rapper and performer Sean "P. Diddy" Combs. All the while, his personal life seems a total meltdown as he seemingly lets go of himself to a pudgy, dishelved grump who screams and degrades his assistants. He's actually a decent musician who can't seem to get his personal life under control, which is spiraling out of control in the public eye.

Phoenix's best friend and brother-in-law Casey Affleck (the actor of "Gone Baby Gone" and Ben's younger bro) directs the pointless, often strange documentary that has a few entertaining moments, especially as Phoenix lets himself go, but it's also sad, self-absorbed and likely a big act. The now-parodied appearance on "David Letterman Show" is given ample time in the last act, not to mention all the jokes that it inspired.

Because "I'm Still Here" blurs the line between real and fake and because Phoenix's meltdowns were so well-chronicled, the audience may have a hard time showing any sympathy for Phoenix. It's "been there, done that" feel grows old and very repetitive by the end, even after an on-stage meltdown while attempting to perform. Given the fact that Phoenix hasn't released an album (or a movie for that matter) and he's already cleaned himself up speaks to the fact that this is indeed a big hoax or a diversion for the award-winning actor.

A scene of defecation on Phoenix's face and a couple of needless frontal male nudity don't really add to the film, either. Phoenix is a decent actor and from what we can tell, maybe a decent musician if he really decided to go that way, but joke or not, he comes across as a real ass and a mess personally. Maybe Phoenix and Affleck haven't really let us in on the joke yet, and one that requires explanation. And we all know when you have to explain a joke, it ceases to be funny.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Resident Evil: Afterlife - C

Rated R for sequences of strong violence and language, 97 minutes

Flashy, trashy "Resident Evil" installment for fans

If you're a fan of the "Resident Evil" video game series, you'll have the most fun seeing the cheesy new film "Resident Evil: Afterlife" inspired by the video game. While films such as this are hardly serious fare, this proves that in the world of cinema, there's something for everyone. The best thing about the energetic fourth installment of this franchise is its pure escapism entertainment for those seeking solace from a crummy world.

"Afterlife" picks up where the third film ended. Alice (Milla Jovovich) has been roaming the world searching for any remaining survivors. Alice also finally comes face to face with her arch-nemesis, Albert Wesker (Shawn Roberts), for the first time. As she enters the ruined Los Angeles, she stumbles onto a base of Umbrella, surrounded by zombies. She then teams up with a group of survivors who had been hiding in Los Angeles since the T-virus outbreak, including Claire (Ali Larter) and Claire's long-lost brother, Chris Redfield (Wentworth Miller) to stop Wesker from his experiments on uninfected humans, only making him more powerful and everyone else weaker.

The trashy, violent "Afterlife" continues the adventures of Alice in a not-so-wonderfland full of zombies. Paul W.S. Anderson, who wrote and directed the other "Resident Evil" films, also directs and writes this installment with the same unoriginality as the others. As with the rest of the films in this rather vapid franchise, the highlight of "Afterlife" is the special effects, the sets and a few decent action set pieces that give it the life it so desperately needs.

Anderson's real-life spouse, former model Jovovich, is back as Alice, the experiment gone awry, and while her acting skills remain as dull as ever, she continues to pack enough energy in the film to make a decent action hero. This one is a little better than the previous in that it brings more characters in from the video game series and packs a few more genuine scares than the others. On the downside, the convoluted, predictable story will be best understood by true fans of the video game and/or film series, as it's filled with details from the video game (including a big guy with even a bigger axe).

It's nice seeing "Heroes" Larter back again, "Prison Break's" Miller is cast as a...surprise here...prisoner, while British actor Roberts makes for a slimy, "Matrix"-like villain. The stale ending, quite unsurprisingly, leaves it open for even more sequels and those really interested should stay through the credits for more story. However, for the first time, the "Resident Evil" series is in 3D, with knives, blood and zombies coming at you full force, though as with most recent movies in 3D, it doesn't necessarily make it a better film.

"Resident Evil: Afterlife" is a forgettable, mid-grade sci-fi horror-zombie thriller that packs a few punches and will help you escape the real world for a few moments.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Machete - B

R for strong bloody violence throughout, language, some sexual content and nudity, 105 minutes

Lots of fun and gore in Rodriguez's campy "Machete"

If you're looking for loads of humorous violence and gore, then Robert Rodriguez's "Machete" is the perfect vehicle for you. Done in Tarantino-esque exploitative style, "Machete" is a spin-off of sorts from the 2007 Tarantino-Rodriguez double bill "Grindhouse" that featured a "Machete" fake movie trailer. Admittedly, the excessively violent "Machete" isn't a film for everyone, but then with a film named Machete, what else would you expect. Don't take it too seriously, and you'll have a grand time.

The story revolves around Machete (Danny Trejo), a former "Mexican Federale" turned renegade. After a shakedown with a druglord (Steven Seagal), Machete roams Texas as a day worker. Michael Booth (Jeff Fahey), a slimy local businessman, offers $150,000 to kill. Machete accepts the murder contract. But Machete is double-crossed so the Senator can get votes, and now Machete is on the run again

Agent Sartana (Jessica Alba), a persistent U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent, is sent by her superior, Lt. Von Jackson (Don Johnson), to go find and capture the injured Machete. Machete, with the help of Shé (Michelle Rodriguez) recruits an unconventional priest(Cheech Marin) to help him gather some of the immigrants to turn the tables and hunt down those who have wronged him.

"Machete" is one of low-brow films that's pure predictable trash, but enjoyable, fun trash that will keep you interested until the end. The cast and the violence make for a colorful, memorable film that seems like a male, Mexican version of Tarantino's "Kill Bill."

Only Rodriguez could assemble a cast that includes Oscar-winner DeNiro, former TV star Johnson (who for some reason is being "introduced" here as if it was his first film), washed-up action star Seagal, airhead Alba and resident whore Lohan. But the film is grounded by ex-con-turned-movie-star and familiar face Trejo (seen briefly in the recent Rodriguez-produced "Predators" remake), an unconventional character actor with a rough, hard look that fits the Machete role perfectly.

Even more fun about the entertaining "Machete" is the over-the-top violence and gore that fills the film, with some comic book-style (loads of blood and body parts) fight scenes that will make you first about eating those licorice sticks. The story is pure pulp and done in such a broad style you wonder if Rodriguez (who co-wrote the script along with just about everything else) has any other style but this. It grows a little tiresome after awhile and you have a sense of what will happen in the end.

"Machete" sequels will likely follow if this is a hit and it likely will find some resonance outside the comic-con audience this is geared for. This is a good, if not, forgettable, way to end the summer and pure escapist entertainment.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Going the Distance - B-

Rated R for sexual content including dialogue, language throughout, some drug use and brief nudity, 100 minutes

Cast the best thing about the witty "Going the Distance"

Sometimes long-distance romance works, sometimes it doesn't. The same could be said for the new Drew Barrymore-Justin Long romantic comedy, some it works, some it doesn't. Profane, witty and filled with some good one-liners and a decent cast, "Going the Distance" is an above-average rom com with an otherwise predictable script that nearly lets its overly-charming supporting cast take over.

Drew is Erin, a Southern Cali girl working as an intern at a New York City newspaper. She bumps into New Yorker Garrett (Long), a music promoter who hates his job, while playing the video game Centipede at a bar. They fall in love, but Erin has to go back to Stanford after the summer is up and the two forge a long-distance relationship. The two desperately want to be with each other but the jobs are scarce on both coasts, and they must ultimately make the tough decision of moving or breaking up.

Fun but slight, you'll be "Going the Distance" only because of the appeal of the handsome leads, who need more screen time together. The film takes too long decide who's doing what, but there are a handful of amusing moments along the way. Drew and Justin make for a cute pairing given their real-life relationship though you wish they had more interplay, and they're regularly upstaged by several strong supporting characters. The film's profane tone, along with plenty of sex and drugs, is a little different for the seemingly clean cut Drew and Justin, but that works to help the somewhat slack script.

As Garrett's somewhat dense but one-liner filled pals, "Saturday Night Live's" Jason Sudeikis and "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia's" Charlie Day have the most fun in the movie, the latter of whom has the breakout potential of the next Zach Galifianakis. The scruffy roommate regularly listens in to his buddy's amorous adventures, keeps the door open while pooping and inadverdantly shaves his moustache resembling an infamous German dictator. Just as good is Christina Applegate as Erin's protective, OCD sister who scrubs her house down after her sister's sexual adventures and gains pleasure from dry-humping.

"Going the Distance" goes back and forth too much and in the end there's not much there, but the charming appeal of the leads make something this predictable seem so effortless. This is one long-distance relationship, that in spite of its flaws, is worth it. Recommended mainly for Drew and rom com lovers.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The American - B

Rated R for violence, sexual content and nudity, 106 minutes

Clooney is "The American," a dark, subdued but stylish thriller

If you watched the Emmy Awards earlier this week, you got a chance to see an abundance of George Clooney. He was given a humanitarian award and also showed off his comic chops in a skit with TV's "Modern Family." The ever-versatile Clooney shows off his dark, serious side in the low-key new spy thriller "The American," which much like the actor himself is intelligent, suave and handsome. It's more of a moody, slow-moving character study than action-adventure, but the refined Clooney gives you something to watch.

As an assassin, Jack (Clooney) is constantly on the move and always alone. After a job in Sweden ends more harshly than expected for this American, Jack retreats to the Italian countryside. He relishes being away from death for a spell as he holes up in a small medieval town. While there, Jack takes an assignment to construct a weapon for a mysterious contact, Mathilde (Thekla Reuten).

Savoring the peace he finds in the mountains of Italy, Jack accepts the friendship of local priest Father Benedetto (Paolo Bonacelli) and pursues a torrid liaison with a beautiful woman, Clara (Violante Placido). Jack and Clara’s time together evolves into a romance, one seemingly free of danger. But by stepping out of the shadows, Jack may be tempting fate.

A subdued but dark Clooney turn makes the handsomely shot "The American" worthwhile. It's often very leisurely and understated, but then that is also part of the appeal. On one hand, you wish more would happen, but what does happen is usually satisfying enough. Music video director Anton Corbijn has the enviable task of directing Clooney this time out, and he handles the Italian scenery well along with eliciting an unusually low-key performance from the Oscar-winning actor. Corbijn lacks efficiency in moving the story along (the first hour seems much longer) and needs to tighten up the film's pacing a bit.

The glum screenplay by Rowan Joffe (son of acclaimed director Roland Joffe) is flawed: it's overly familiar and lacks depth, but Clooney, with his usual charm and skill, makes it more entertaining and interesting than it really is. There are some decent twists and turns along the way to get you to the haunting ending, yet it seems in no rush to get there.

"The American" may be too slow for some and true it isn't Clooney's best, but his low-key, earnest turn makes it worth seeing.