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Movie Review: PAUL

Paul movie posterA little pot smoking alien voiced by Seth Rogen sounds like a silly concept for PAUL but the British comedians behind Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, once again provide a fun movie-going experience with a whole lot of laughs.

Simon Pegg and Nick Frost bring their brand of comedy to America with PAUL, a film written by the comedy duo.  This time around, the Brits pay homage to the science fiction genre with references from every possible movie made about aliens including classics such as Star Wars, Aliens, Close Encounters, and E.T.  The brains behind Shaun of the Dead take themselves out of jolly old England and take it to the western part of the United States for a hilarious send-up of an alien on the lamb.

Graeme (Pegg) and Clive (Frost) are two English science fiction fans visiting Comic Con in San Diego for the first time.  Once they make their nerd rounds at the comic book convention, Graeme and Clive are off in a RV adventure across Nevada to visit Area 51 and UFO sighting locations.  While on the road, they encounter Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen), a space alien who has escaped Area 51, who needs their help taking him to location where a space ship will return him home.  

Justin Bateman is the man in black chasing the fugitives across the desert with the help of the always hilarious Bill Hader from Saturday Night Live and character player Joe Lo Truglia (Superbad, Role Models).  Another SNL player Kristen Wiig comes along for the ride as a woman kidnapped by the alien and his human friends.  Blythe Danner (Meet The Parents), Jane Lynch (Glee), Sigourney Weaver (Aliens, Avatar), David Koechner (Anchorman, Get Smart), Jeffrey Tambor and even Steven Spielberg make brief but hilarious cameos in PAUL.

At first you would think Seth Rogen's voice of Paul might annoy your senses but Seth managed to hold back his usual tone to give Paul a unique voice.  However, the pot smoking, party animal mentality of Paul seemed to fit right in with Rogen's personality from Pineapple Express...without the whining.  

Simon Pegg and Nick Frost made a very smart choice with this project by changing the setting to America and surrounding themselves with American comedians.  The casting looks like they invaded SNL and a Will Farrell or Steve Carell comedy.

Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Seth Rogen in PAUL

As with Frost and Pegg's two previous films, PAUL pays homage to classic genre films with some great one-liners borrowed from other movies.  Even if you are not a science fiction movie buff, you'll enjoy the film but you will certainly feel left out when the audience go crazy over the references. 

The funniest and boldest part of the movie which might offend Sarah Palin and Christians is the banter over religion and science.  Frost and Pegg, obviously, have strong opinions over the subject matter as they dedicated some funny lines to discounting the Christian beliefs... all in good fun of course.  Another group which could find offense with the characterization is the Geeks themselves.  However, Pegg and Frost,  self-admitted nerds themselves, respectfully portrayed science fiction fans without being overly critical and joking at their expense...except for the running gag over being gay buddies.  Nerds will be proud.

Thankfully, the American setting In PAUL didn't take away from the British wit we enjoyed in Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz but they certainly injected it with humor Americans can appreciate. The story is simple and the laughs are plenty with a clever script and fantastic characters.  

The CGI work on Paul looked great and added to the illusion that he was real in that reality.  The end sequence, however, didn't impress with a certain object (won't give it away), looking rather low-budget but all was forgiven because of the final pay-off.

PAUL was so much fun watching, that a repeat viewing is in order.  A definite must see.

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Movie Review: The Music Never Stopped

The Music Never Stopped movie posterA young music-loving father is teaching his son all about his favorite music. With each melody comes the artist, composer, and where he was and what he was doing when he first heard the song. Like a game, young Gabriel knows all about his father’s passion, but when he grows up and develops a musical taste of his own, father and son no longer see eye to eye. One night, Gabriel (Lou Taylor Pucci) and his father (J.K. Simmons) have a terrible row and as Gabriel is storming out of the house his father yells after him, “And never come back again!” It is now twenty years later and Henry has yet to see his boy.

Flash forward to the 80’s and Henry is sitting in his living room listening to his precious music. His wife (Cara Seymour) is glaring at him for not answering the telephone. As Henry continues to be transfixed in song, we see Helen’s face change from frustration to grief. Her sorrow is so profound that it gets Henry’s attention. Gabriel has been found.

The next scene takes place in a hospital. While Gabriel has been living on the streets, a slow growing tumor has been invading his brain. With its removal, Gabriel has lost a big portion of his memory and the ability to form new ones. Henry is devastated. He finally has his son back and he can’t even remember the last thing he said.

When Henry is forced into early retirement, Helen decides to get a job. This means that Henry can no longer avoid visiting his son at the hospital. One of them has to be there. Henry is in torment. He really wants to connect with his son but he can’t stand seeing him in his current state. So after he resigns himself to the painful duty of spending time with Gabriel, Henry begins to notice certain promising behaviors. These behaviors start Henry doing research on his own and this him to Diane Daley (Julia Ormond). Diane Daley is a musical therapist. In her research she is developing protocols to reach different parts of the brain through music. She agrees to meet Gabriel and with their meetings she discovers something wonderful, Gabriel has memories that have survived.

This sounds like a hokey premise for a movie, but The Music Never Stopped is based on a true story. When a song released between 1958 through 1970 was played, especially The Beatles, Dylan or the Grateful Dead, Gabriel would light up, become engaged, and recall memories from that period. In order to understand his son and his music more Henry trades in his beloved vinyl and exchanges them for albums from Gabriel’s era. As Gabriel becomes radiant and starts to share with his father what the music means and where he was when he heard it, Henry is now the pupil and Gabriel is the teacher. The scenes between J.K Simmons and Lou Taylor Pucci are magical.

Through Gabriel’s recollections, Henry is convicted and shamed by the mistakes that he made as a father. But now that he has a chance to know his son again he is pouring his entire self into the process. The psychological part of the story is interesting but it is the father-son dynamic that really makes this film. Their scenes are so moving that when you add in the music, they become unforgettable. And that is what makes this movie special, it speaks to the power of music and love.


Melanie Wilson  

Visit her blog at LAMelbox.blogspot.com

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I LOVE YOU PHILLIP MORRIS Movie Review

 

Funnyman i-love-you-phillip-morris-movie-posterJim Carrey and Ewan McGregor star as two gay men in love in the true story I LOVE YOU PHILLIP MORRIS.  I LOVE YOU PHILLIP MORRIS is an unconventional story of a love that knows no bounds. Jim Carrey is Steven Russell, a man who will cheat, lie and steal to be with the one he loves played by Ewan McGregor. It is a bizarre story, but true, and Jim Carrey plays Steven Russell with conviction (pun intended).

In the Texas State Penitentiary is a man named Steven Russell who is serving a life sentence. He’s never killed anyone, he’s never used a gun, what he did was much, much worse; he embarrassed the state of Texas. Jim Carrey (The Grinch) plays Steven Russell, a man who did everything by the book until one day when he nearly loses his life in a car accident. While being loaded into an ambulance he has an epiphany, life is not worth living unless you can be yourself. So he leaves his wife, announces that he is gay, and begins a life of crime to support his new homosexual lifestyle.

Russell moves to Miami Beach, gets a boyfriend and become a feature in the decadent nightclub scene. Soon he is racking up major debt and starts committing insurance fraud to pay for his extravagant lifestyle. When the lies finally catch up with him and he’s thrown into jail, he becomes an expert of the law and a wizard of prison bureaucracy.

After multiple escapes and recaptures Russell meets Phillip Morris, Ewan McGregor (The Ghost Writer). Philip is a shy, sweet reserved man and Steven is totally smitten with him. When Phillip is transferred to another cellblock they begin a romance of secret letters. Then Steven accomplishes the impossible, he falsifies documents and gets himself transferred into Phillip’s cell.

Together they live in bliss with Steven protecting and caring for his more demure lover. But when they get separated again, Steven moves heaven and earth to reunite himself with his one true love, even to the point of faking his death.

I LOVE YOU PHILLIP MORRIS is strange, but it is also very sweet. It is a love story with obstacles and one that you’ll never forget.

I LOVE YOU PHILLIP MORRIS is in select theaters and going wider January 7.


 

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Movie Review: Battle: Los Angeles

Battle: Los Angeles movie posterJudging by the trailer, BATTLE: LOS ANGELES looked to be just another Independence Day, but surprisingly its not.   While BATTLE: LOS ANGELES has its share of spectacle, the film spares us the pompous American patriotism and focuses on humanizing the characters and conflict.

Given the post 9/11 climate, films like Independence Day would probably not go over well today and the filmmakers behind BATTLE: LOS ANGELES probably had that in mind. In BATTLE: LOS ANGELES, alien forces invade the coast of every major country and a group of Marines (Aaron Eckhart, Ramon Rodriguez, Michelle Rodriguez) in Los Angeles are sent on a mission to evacuate civilians from an unknown enemy attacking Santa Monica.  
In most Hollywood action films, military characters are often portrayed as fearless and ready to fight alien enemies as Will Smith did with his “I’m gonna get you sucka’ attitude in Independence Day or Josh Duhamel in the Transformers movie.  In reality, if aliens did invade Earth, would soldiers maintain that attitude when confronted with an enemy they have not trained to battle?  BATTLE: LOS ANGELES addresses that reality.  At the start of the film, the soldiers go in with the typical conquering attitude, only to realize they will most likely not come out alive. Watching military character’s vulnerability within the story is not something viewers are used to seeing in a special effects-heavy action movie. It was rather refreshing to watch these characters exhibit true emotion.  You’re getting the eye candy, in addition, to giving the film heart.
While you can respect director Jonathan Liebesman for giving the film an emotional side to this popcorn spectacle, one scene drags on with Aaron Eckhart as Staff Sargeant Nantz cheering up a child, followed by a long monologue about losing his men on a previous mission.  The moment did generate some tears from this viewer but you could feel many in the audience couldn’t wait for the next action sequence.  
The film’s action sequences were shot documentary style with shaky cameras to give you the feeling you are on the battle field with them which enhanced the intensity of the scenes. At times it felt as if you were watching a war movie... but with aliens.  The Marines revert to their training and back each other up instead of going commando.  All the characters share heroic moments in BATTLE: LOS ANGELES.   Who knew you could actually gain more respect for our current troops fighting overseas while your watching this fictional action film.

The strong story helped bring out the best from the BATTLE: LOS ANGELES actors.  As usual, Aaron Eckhart is at his best as Staff Sargeant Nantz, a career Marine forced back into service for one last assignment under the command of a much younger  Second Lieutenant,William Martinez (Ramon Rodriguez).  Eckhart certainly grounded the film and helped the supporting characters shine.  

Newcomer Ramon Rodriguez, who charmed in Transformers 2, transforms into an entirely different character as the leader of the Marine battalion in BATTLE: LOS ANGELES.  Expect to hear more about this versatile star with his new role as Bosley in the TV revamp of Charlie’s Angels.  It’s no surprise Michelle Rodriguez again takes on the role of a soldier but the kick ass attitude is not part of her character this time.  Her usual toughness is gone and she finally shows some real vulnerability in her acting that we are not used to seeing from her.   Bridget Moynahan and Michael Peña also bring authenticity to the film as civilians trapped in the area.

BATTLE: LOS ANGELES was a nice surprise with likeable and humanized characters.  The special effects and aliens were low-key with the focus on the human characters but it still proved entertaining.  Think Black Hawk Down meets District 9. Add a comment

BIUTIFUL Movie Review

Javier Bardem movie Biutiful

Director Alejandro Gonzales Iñaritu crossed over to international fame with his gritty action thriller Amores Perros starring Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna. In his new film BIUTIFUL, the Mexican filmmaker returns to that formula with a Spanish language film set in the underbelly of a society with an Oscar worthy performance from Javier Bardem.

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THE COMPANY MEN Movie Review

The Company Men movie poster While most Americans have no love for corporate America during the recession, you will be feeling sorry for these company men played by Ben Affleck, Tommy Lee Jones, and Chris Cooper.

In THE COMPANY MEN, Bobby Walker (Ben Affleck) is living the American dream: great job, beautiful family, shiny Porsche in the garage. When corporate downsizing leaves him and co-workers Phil Woodward (Chris Cooper) and Gene McClary (Tommy Lee Jones) jobless, the three men are forced to re-define their lives as men, husbands, and fathers.

At first you dislike these men who flaunt their wealth with lavish homes and expensive toys but when they come to face to face with potentially losing the life they were comfortable with, the story becomes interesting. The ensemble cast does a great job of conveying the feelings of their characters and of most Americans. The story will hit home for everyone, even the working class.

After losing his job as a Sales Executive in a ship building corporation, Ben Affleck's Bobby character believes he will rebound with another job with equal pay and thus refuses to cut back on his lavish life when his wife (Rosemarie DeWitt) recommends it.  Reality soon hits Bobby when the jobs aren't coming his way and the bills have gone unpaid.  He eventually has to accept a blue-collar job with his brother-in-law's (Kevin Costner) carpenter business and endure the grueling physical work.

Bobby's older co-worker played by Chris Cooper is facing an even harsher reality.  Who is going to hire a 60 year-old man?  They recommend he clean up and dye his hair to look younger.  Tommy Lee Jones' Gene is one of the head honchos at the company fighting to keep his sales execs from being layed off but going head to head with the President of his corporation  (Craig T. Nelson), his best friend, lands him in the unemployment line.  However, he's not worrying about money since he owns stocks in the company, but his guilt over his rich lifestyle and watching the other's lives crumble leaves him feeling powerless.  He also soon butts heads with the head of Human Resources doing the firing who also happens to be his mistress (Maria Bello).

THE COMPANY MEN is a human story done well.  Thanks to Michael Moore and countless other films and documentaries chronicling the crumbling economy and the effects on the working class, THE COMPANY MEN offers a different perspective. Director John Wells, best known for his work as a television producer, writer, and director for ER, West Wing, and Southland, crafts the multiple storylines very well without losing focus and uses the veteran actors to their fullest potential.

Ben Affleck is proving himself a great actor in dramatic roles such as last year's The Town and now with THE COMPANY MEN. As the Bobby character, Affleck clearly transforms from a cocky sales executive loving the good life to a vulnerable husband and father feeling the pressures of reality. Chris Cooper, as always, gives a heartfelt performance exemplified through his expressive facial features which leaves you feeling the pain along with him. Tommy Lee Jones, Maria Bello, Kevin Costner and Affleck's on screen wife Rosemarie DeWitt give exceptional performances as well.

The one complaint about THE COMPANY MEN is it's lack of perspective from a female's point of view. While the film's title suggests it's a men's world, you can't help but need that side of the story.  In the background a female executive  in the company joins the rank of unemployed alongside Affleck but her story is not told. The woman's perspective are told from the wives of these company men, some understanding and others selfish.

For some, like Michael Moore, the film will definitely have you feeling angry towards capitalism. In THE COMPANY MEN, Tommy Lee Jones is appalled that the company is showing off their multi-million dollar skyscraper under going construction when they have just cut half their sales staff. His suggestion that they sell the building to guarantee jobs gets him fired. In another instance, the company honchos mention cutting back in other areas such as healthcare but they refuse because that is the one sector making profits. THE COMPANY MEN hits on a personal level.

The finale of the film is a bit romanticized but the message is clear. America has to start with a clean slate and working people must come before profit margins.

THE COMPANY MEN is a must see and relevant to the times.
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LITTLE FOCKERS Movie Review

Ben Stiller and Robert DeNiro in LITTLE FOCKERS

We have all grown to love the Focker-Byrnes clan with the patriarch Jack Byrnes scaring the the bejeezus out of us. But what happens when that dynamic changes? In Little Fockers Jack Byrnes, Robert de Niro, is disgusted that his favored son-in-law Dr. Bob, Thomas McCarthy, has been caught cheating on his daughter. While he has been watching his other son-in-law Greg, Ben Stiller, his chosen one, Dr. Bob, has let him down. Now Greg looks like the prize son-in-law and everything Jack knows is being tested and challenged. Jack is feeling vulnerable these days, age is catching up with him and his heart is giving him problems. He needs someone strong and reliable to head the family when he dies and now that Dr. Bob is out, that role falls to male nurse Gaylord Focker.

With the coming 5-year-old birthday party of the Focker twins, Jack sees this as an opportunity to mentor his new favorite son. At first Greg is surprised and flattered by the attention but then he becomes suspicious. In trying to please his father-in-law Greg overextends himself financially and takes on a second position as a spokesperson for a new erectile dysfunction drug. The drug rep, Jessica Alba, is all flattery and praise and she even tries to seduce him. When Jack sees Greg in a compromising position he becomes irate at being fooled again. This leads to a confrontation and a comic meltdown which is the best part of the film.

LITTLE FOCKERS movie posterComically this movie felt like it had one bad spark plug. It would be chugging along firing on all cylinders and then bam, there would be a mis-fire. In the attempt to get all of the Focker-Byrnes in one film, some characters felt under-used and some felt out of place entirely. The Focker parents, Barbra Streisand and Dustin Hoffman were practically cameos and the best part of the under-appreciated Blythe Danner was seeing her in pearls trying to bring sexy back.

To crowd the cast even more, Laura Dern plays the director of an exclusive humanistic pre-school, and Harvey Keitel plays a strange ear-ring wearing contractor who tangles with Jack. Owen Wilson is brought back to test the Focker marriage and poor Teri Polo is pretty much relegated into the background and given little to do.

This film feels like it is trying too hard to please every one and therefore it becomes too much and overblown. The parts that really work are the scenes between Jack and Greg. It’s tough for an old lion to pass on the mantle to someone younger. Especially when you have never really appreciated him before. And for Greg, it’s terrifying when you wake up and realize that suddenly “you’re the man”. Our Greg is growing up and Jack is getting old. It’s funny, but sad too. Luckily we still have the original film to cherish. Like a photograph it’s good to remember our glory days.


 
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Razzie Movie Awards Pick Worst List For 2010

Angelina Jolie  in THE TOURIST Burlesque Movie Poster Twilight Eclipse movie poster Jessica Alba in Machete

Angelina Jolie, Jessica Alba, George Lopez, Twilight Saga: Eclipse and Burlesque are just a few possible candidates for the 31st Annual Razzie Movie Awards celebrating the worst films and performances of 2010.

2010 was a good year for really bad films and many have made the Razzie;s nominating ballots, according to The  Envelope. The event which takes place February 24th has sent out members a shortlist of possible nominees that include The Bounty Hunter (Jennifer Aniston, Gerard Butler), Clash of the Titans (Sam Worthington), Sylvestor Stallone's The Expendables, Jonah Hex (Josh Brolin, Megan Fox), Grown Ups, Vampires Suck, Yogi Bear, Little Fockers, Sex and the City 2, Killers (Ashton Kutcher, Katherine Heigl), and The Twilight Saga: Eclipse (Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson) as options for the Worst Picture of the Year.

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Fan Reviews: BLACK SWAN

AFox Searchlight Pictures release by visionary director Darren Aronofsky (THE WRESTLER), BLACK SWAN takes a thrilling and at times terrifying journey through the psyche of a young ballerina whose starring role as the Swan Queen turns out to be a part for which she becomes frighteningly perfect.

Genres:            Drama, Thriller
Starring:           Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Winona Ryder, Vincent Cassel, Janet Montgomery, Barbara Hershey
Directed By:    Darren Aronofsky

Black Swan
Fox Searchlight
Release: 12/03/2010

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MACHETE DVD and Blu-ray Review

Machete DVD and Blu-Ray

Robert Rodriguez's over the top action movie MACHETE comes to DVD and Blu-ray January 4.  Too bad the DVD extras and behind the scenes are not as equally over the top but the deleted scenes of Jessica Alba's slutty twin sister should make up for it.

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Movie Review: Natalie Portman Loses It in BLACK SWAN

Natalie Portman IN Black_Swan

CineMovie break downs  Darren Aronofsky's BLACK SWAN starring Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, and Winona Ryder in this  quick movie review.

One-Word Reaction:  Trippy

Plot: Natalie Portman is Nina Sayers, a mousy ballerina who wins the coveted lead role of the White and Black Swan in the production of Swan Lake.  Nina is perfect as the graceful White Swan but her innocence and naivity holds her back from becoming the possessed and sexually-charged Black Swan.  Vincent Cassel and Mila Kunis try to bring out nina's inner wild side and seductress nature. The pressure to become the Black Swan leads to dangerous consequences for Nina.  

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