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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

IT'S COMPLICATED

By D.E.Levine

Director: Nancy Meyers
Writers: Nancy Meyers
Producers: Nancy Meyers and Scott Rudin
Executive Producers: Suzanne McNeill Farwell and Iione Herzberg
Cast: Meryl Streep, Steve Martin, Alec Baldwin, John Krasinski, Lake Bell, Mary Kay Place, Rita Wilson, Alexandra Wentworth, Hunter Parrish, Zoe Kazan, Caitlin Fitzgerald, Emjay Anthony, Nora Dunn, Bruce Altman, Robert Curtis Brown et al.
Original Music: Heitor Pereira and Hans Zimmer
Running Time: 118 Minutes
Country of Origin: United States
Languge: English
Genre: Comedy, Romance

A feel good film that probably won't take awards, this is a charming look at actors portraying characters who appear to be real people leading real (upper class) lives. Since it's primary cast is over 45 it's sure to attract a following in that age group.

The story of a divorced Santa Barbara couple Jake and Jane Adler(divorced 10 years) with three children who found a way to be friendly because of the kids, they share a dinner while attending their son's college graduation and wind up in bed together.

Once back in Santa Barbara Jake pursues Jane relentlessly, although she's attracted to and trying to develop a relationship with an uptight architect who's remodeling her home.

Since Jake had strayed during the original marriage and wound up marrying his younger girlfriend (with whom he's now trying to have a baby), Jane finds herself in the role of the other woman and she's thoroughly enjoying it.

Suddenly, after being involuntarily celibate for a long period of time, Jane has two men in her life. While she confines all to her girlfriends, she doesn't tell her son, two daughters and one daughter's fiancee.

When the fiancee finds out by seeing both Jake and Jane at a hotel while lunching with his intended, he keeps silent and does it best to cover for the couple.

While Streep and Baldwin have tremendous onscreen chemistry the film is cute but not great, amusing but not really funny, and falls short in the end.

Monday, December 21, 2009

THE LOVELY BONES

By D.E.Levine

Director: Peter Jackson
Writers: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Peter Jackson (screenplay); Alice Sebold (novel)
Producers: Carolynne Cunningham, Peter Jackson, Aimee Peyronnet and Fran Walsh
Executive Producers: Ken Kamins, Tessa Ross, Steven Spielberg and James Wilson
Co-producers: Marc Ashton and Philippa Boyens
Line Producer: Anne Bruning
Cast: Saoirse Ronan. Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz, Stanley Tucci, Susan Sarandon, Amand Michalka, Jake Abel, Roser McIver, Michael Imperioli, Nikki SooHoo, Reece Ritchie et al.
Original Music: Brian Eno
Running Time: 139 Minutes
Country of Origin: United States and New Zealand
Language: English
Genre: Mystery, Drama, Crime

The original book of "The Lovely Bones" was haunting and memorable. It focused on the aftermath of a terrible murder as told through the words and eyes of the murder victim, a young, pretty 14-year old girl. Besides the unspeakable tragedy, the book focused on the hard-earned healing that takes place.

To turn it into a film, even with a director like Peter Jackson, is difficult. Unfortunately,it's exactly Jackson's infatuation with visual effects that and celestial evocations that severely undermine the film. Additionally, his film is the story of a crime and punishment.

Artistically, the film is a disappointment. The story is still told by a 14-year old girl (Susie Salmon) who was raped and murdered in December 6, 1973 by a serial killer neighbor who has escaped attention and capture for many years.

But, instead of allowing Susie Salmon to inhabit an isolated perch in heaven from which she can view her family, Jackson has chosen to produce shifting and distracting backdrops depicting the afterlife surrounding Susie as she attempts to adjust to Heaven.

Set in a mid-sized Pennsylvania town where life is ordinary and unremarkable and as Susie intones the fact that her family weren't people to whom bad things happen, the viewer is introduced to her young, attractive parents, younger brother, sporty and competitive sister Lindsey, glamorous Grandma and a handsome first crush.

Stanley Tucci, adorned with a blond wig, glasses and a raspy voice that changes under pressure, is the creepy neighbor George Harvey who commits the crimes.

His character is developed as being totally ordinary and we know he kills Susie before the act takes place. It's his sheer ordinary persona that makes him even creepier, plus the shots used by Jackson to shoot his scenes.

Local cop Len Fenerman is repeatedly frustrated as his efforts to solve Susie's murder are thwarted. Susie's father Jack suspects the neighbor and is consumed by rage over his inability and lack of evidence to pin the crime on him.

While Susie was lively, vivacious and beautiful, her sister Lindsey is more solidly built. Lindsey was always in Susie's shadow until she grows to the point where her new-found maturity and resourcefulness lead her to spy on the neighbor and solve the mystery.

Throughout the film, Susie, from Heaven sees how slowly and painfully healing is achieved and what it costs. Some characters still sense her presence and even believe that she appears to them.

Since the film attempts to be a thriller, there is a focus on how the killer will be caught and punished. Indeed there is suspense, drama and thrills when Lindsey breaks into George's house to get evidence of his involvement in Susie's murder and George returns home.

But in the end, while the film is interesting and the performances strong, the joy and heartbreak of the book does not translate to the film.

Friday, December 18, 2009

THE YOUNG VICTORIA

By D.E.Levine

Director: Jean-Marc Vallee
Writer: Julian Fellowes
Producers: Sarah Ferguson, Tim Headington, Graham King and Martin Scorsese
Executive Producers: Colin Vaines
Co-producers: Denis O'Sullivan and Anita Overland
Line Producer: Elizabeth-Ann Gimber
Cast: Emily Blunt, Rupert Friend, Paul Bettany, Miranda Richardson, Jim Broadbent, Thomas Kretschmann, Mark Strong, Jasper Christensen, Harriet Walter, Jeanette Hain, Julian Glover, Michael Maloney, Michiel Huisman, Genevieve O'Reilly, Rachel Stirling, Morven Christie, Josef Altin et al.
Original Music: Iian Eshken
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Country of Origin: United Kingdom
Language: English and German
Genre: Romance, Drama, Biographical

Queen Victoria survives through photographs that basically show her as a dour, elderly monarch. When looking at those photographs most people do not think about Victoria's life as a young girl.

That's what makes this film's idea so interesting. Victoria, played by Emily Blunt is initially introduced as an under aged, only heir to the throne of England. With the king's brothers all dead (including her father), no surviving children of his own, and a need to pass the crown on to a blood relation, it's a given that Victoria will one day ascend to the throne.

Unfortunately, her mother wants to be Queen and control the kingdom while under the influence of a trusted adviser. The two of them try to browbeat a very ill Victoria into signing the regency papers so she can be Queen until Victoria comes of age. As sick as she is, Victoria refuses to sign the papers.

Victoria is portrayed as a well educated but not politically savvy young girl who sets out to learn the rules of politics so she can play the game.

When her uncle, King William III dies, Victoria is indeed crowned Queen and then becomes the subject of gossip regarding whom she'll marry.

Prince Albert of Belgium is deliberately sent to England by King Leopald (her maternal uncle) to report on the politics of the court and make himself indispensable to Victoria.

Over a period of time Victoria and Albert develop feelings for each other which continue via mail when Albert returns to Belgium.

According to the film, Victoria is under the influence of her unpopular prime minister. In general, the political turmoil and which we know had to exist during her reign, is portrayed rather as rather lackluster.

Her choice of Albert as a spouse seems to stem out of the feeling that he's the only person who listens to her, and after their marriage he stops supplying King Leopald with information and becomes a true partner in the marriage. According to the story, Albert shared Victoria's concerned for the common people and together they changed many of the regulations governing treatment and benefits for such.

Victoria and Albert had nine children (who survived) together, each of whom became a leading monarch of a European nation. This explains why all the major royal families are related.

They were married for 20 years before he died of typhoid and her devotion to his memory is well known. Victoria ruled longer than any other British monarch, even Elizabeth I so she must have learned how to protect herself in the political arena and survive all the mudslinging and underlying plots.

Despite her long reign, Victoria's life seems much more mundane than the colorful Elizabeth's. She and Albert appear faithful and devoted to one another, without the scandals that were associated with Elizabeth. As a result, Victoria's life doesn't really seem exciting.

However, what the film lacks in character development and scandal it makes up for in the visual beauty of the real palaces where it was filmed. Since Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York is one of the producers, we assume that access to many of these previously unfilmed locations were achieve through her influence.

"The Young Victoria" is an interesting and beautifully made film which may well raise interest in its subjects and induce audience members to do some research and reading on the real people.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

CORALINE

By D.E.Levine

Director: Henry Selick
Writers: Henry Selick (screenplay) and Neil Gaiman (book)
Producers: Claire Jennings and Mary Sandell
Executive Producers: Bill Mechanic, Henry Selick and Michael Zoumas
Line Producer: Harry Linden
Cast: Dakota Fanning, Terri Hatcher, Jennifer Saunders, Dawn French, Keith David, John Hodgman, Ribert Bailey Jr., Ian McShane, Aankha Neal, George Selick, Hannah Kaiser, Henry Selick, Marina Budovsky, Emerson Hatcher, Jerome Ranft, Christopher Murrie, Jeremy Ryder, Carolyn Crawford and Yona Prost
Original Music: 100 Minutes
Country of Origin: United States
Language: English
Genre: Animation

Coraline is already making history as the first stop-motion feature ever made in 3D, but additionally, it is delightful.

Based on a popular children's book, the story is based on the age old concept of "the grass is always greener." Moving into the "Pink Palace", a dilapidated old mansion with her busy parents, Coraline finds that no one seems to have time for her.

Although the other tenants are somewhat eccentric, none succeeds in elevating Coraline's spirits and she remains in the doldrums.

After discovering a secret door and climbing through a long passage, Coraline discovers an alternate reality Pink Palace with a warm and loving Mother and Father. The eccentric neighbors perform amazing vaudeville acts in this reality and Coraline feels accepted and loved.

Unsettling though is the idea that the Mother and Father's eyes have been replaced by black buttons, like dolls.

After making several visits to the alternate reality, Coraline becomes convinced that it's better than the life she's living. To remain, however, she must have her eyes removed and replaced by black buttons.

Before she can make her choice, the Other Mother shows herself to be evil and Coraline's real parents disappear.

At this point Coraline is faced with the task of saving herself and her family.

While intriguing and entertaining, for very young children the lost parents and three ghost children will prove disturbing and unsettling.

Except for that, for older children and adults, the film taps into dreams and nightmares involving Mothers, monsters and heroic children.

The sets and puppets are imaginative and the 3D effects make the world come brilliantly to life.

Monday, December 14, 2009

CRAZY HEART

By D.E.Levine

Director: Scott Cooper
Writer: Scott Cooper (screenplay); Thomas Cobo (novel)
Producers: T-Bone Burnett, Judy Cairo, Rob Carliner, Scott Cooper and Robert Duvall
Executive Producers: Eric Brenner, Jeff Bridges and Michael A. Simpson
Line Producer: Alton Walpole
Cast: Jeff Bridges, James Keane, Anna Felix, Paul Herman, Tom Bower, Ryan Bingham, Beth Grant, Rick Dial, Maggier Gyllenhaal, Debrianna Mansini, Jerry Handy, Jack Nation, Ryll Adamson, J.Michael Oliva, David Manzanares, Chad Brummett, Jose Marquez, LeAnne Lynch, William Marquez, Robert Duvall, Richard W. Gallegos, Brian Gleason, Harry Zinn, Josh Berry, William Sterchi, Colin Farrell, Chris Bentley, Chad DeGroot
Original Music: Stephen Bruton and T-Bone Pickett
Running Time: 112 Minutes
Country of Origin: United States
Language: English
Genre: Drama, Musical

Not originally scheduled for release until March 2010, Fox Searchlight's decision to release "Crazy Heart" in December 2009 makes it and its cast contenders in the awards race.

The tale of an aging alcoholic country musician (Bad Blake) on a downward spiral who manages to turn his life and career around after numerous failed attempts, the film gives Jeff Bridges the opportunity to turn in a stellar performance which stands out because the film is so unremarkable.

The cinematography of stunning New Mexico vistas is breathtaking. As a background setting for the film, it enhances the performance turned in by Bridges. As a musician he delivers a real performance of playing and singing himself and in duets with Colin Farrell.

His performance is sensitive and sincere, as is the chemistry in the relationship between his character and that of Maggie Gyllenhaal, a much younger love interest playing a wannabee reporter with a 4-year old child.

"Crazy Heart" is a story of redemption - redemption of both a man and a career. Already the trade papers are saying that Bridges deserves an Oscar. There were a lot of good performances this year, so we'll have to wait to see whether he'll get one.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG

By D.E.Levine

Director: Ron Clements and John Musker
Writers: Ron Clements, John Musker and Rob Edwards (screenplay); Ron Clements and Greg Erb, John Musker and Jason Oremland (original story); Don Hall (story supervisor)
Producer: Peter Del Vecho
Executive Producer: John Lasseter
Associate Producers: Paul D. Nanum and Craig Sost
Cast: voices of Anika Noni Rose, Bruno Campos, Keith David, Michael-Leon Wooley, Jim Cummings, Peter Bartlett, Jenifer Lewis, Oprah Winfrey, Terrence Howard, John Goodman, Elizabeth M. Dampier, Breanna Brooks, Ritchie Montgomery, Don Hall, Paul Briggs, Jerry Kernion, Corey Burton, Michael Colyar, Emeril Lagasse, Kevin Michael Richardson, Randy Newman, Terence Bianchard, Danielle Mone Truitt et al.
Original Music: Randy Newman
Running Time: 97 Minutes
Country if Origin:
Language: English
Genre: Animation, Musical, Romance

Disney is hyping this film as having the first black princess as a lead character, but the story is really a charming original tale about New Orleans and some memorable characters who live and work there.

Competing with high-tech CGI animation, Disney goes back to its roots and for the first time in five years produces a hand drawn animated film.

Tiana is Disney's first African-American heroine and her best friend, since childhood, is the wealthy, white Charlotte, spoiled daughter of Big Daddy and debutante once she hits her teens.

To the contrary, Tiana is a waitress with both day and evening jobs, who dreams of opening her own New Orleans luxury restaurant where she can introduce society to her late father's authentic recipes.

Randy Newman has written an upbeat, musical score to go with the brightly colored visuals. The music easily helps to develop the characters of both human and animal characters. The animation is inventive and pleasing to watch.

As Charlotte and her father dream of her marrying a prince, news comes that Charlotte will be presented to Naveen, a visiting prince. However, the local voodoo practitioner (the Shadow Man) turns Naveen into a frog, Naveen, mistaking Tiana for a princess, coaxes her into kissing him and then she too turns into a from.

In an effort to regain human form, the two frogs plunge into the Louisiana swamp, racing against time to find some means of accomplishing their task.

In the swamp they team up with a jazz-playing alligator, a Cajun lightening bug and a famed ju-ju woman.

A sub-plot involves the Shadow Man turning Naveen's servant Lawrence into a double for Naveen so that he can marry Charlotte and get access to her fortune. But the most interesting action takes part in the swamp where the two frogs have to avoid becoming food for other animals long enough to regain their juman form.

Throughout the film Newman's score, a blend of jazz, blues, ragtime, gospel, Dixieland and country, tells stories and jokes and moves the story along.

All the performances are strong, the characters delightful and certainly this film will be a hit with kids.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

SHERLOCK HOLMES

By D.E.Levine

Director: Guy Ritchie
Writers: Michael Robert Johnson, Anthony Peckham and Steven Kinberg (screenplay); Lionel Wigram and Michael Robert Johnson (screen story); Arthur Conan Doyle (characters of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson)
Producers: Susan Downey, Dan Lin, Joel Silver and Lionel Wigram
Executive Producers: Bruce Berman, Dana Goldberg and Michael Tadross
Co-producer: Steve Clark-Hall
Associate Producer: Peter Eskelsen
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Rachel McAdams, Mark Strong, Eddie Marsan, Robert Maillet, Kelly Reilly, William Houston, Hans Matheson, James Fox, William Hope, Clive Russell et al.
Original Music: Hans Zimmer
Running Time: 129 Minutes
Country of Origin: United Kingdom
Language: English
Genre: Mystery, Action, Adventure, Romance

Guy Ritchie has created a different Sherlocke Holmes from the beloved sleuth of Conan Doyle's books and previous movies.

Robert Downey Jr.'s Holmes is flamboyant, glib, smart and good looking. Partnered with a Dr. Watson who has the same characteristics, the two solve crimes in an outrageously attention-getting manner rather than in the quiet, cerebral, deductive manner audiences have grown accustomed to in the past.

While the plot is a bit confusing, the film should be a box office winner since it involves Holmes and Watson in black magic, ritual murders, an evil magician, a resurrection from the grave and a plot to annihilate British Parliament that bears a striking resemblance to The Gunpowder Plot of 1605.

Director Ritchie's signature style sets a fast pace for the movie and as it flys by it's difficult to assess and compile all of the information presented.

The wonders of CGI are abundant as a grimy, grey post-Industrial Revolution London and waterfront with a Tower Bridge still under construction. Superb cinematography combines the CGI and cinematic scenes into a brilliantly visual film.

Thoroughly enjoyable and undoubtedly the first in a series, the film unfortunately has not back story regarding how these new Holmes and Watson characters met and came to be partners. Character development is sparse because of the fast pace but may yet be accomplished in future films.

Downey plays Holmes as if he's under the influence of any number of substances. Readers know from the books that this is how Holmes was described by Doyle and enhances the attitude of Holmes that the reality of others is not his.

Jude Law as Watson is seeking a wife and domicile of his own - something Watson did indeed enjoy in other stories.

It will be interesting to see where the new Holmes and Watson go and whether Ritchie devotes himself to doing a series with his newly created characters.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The 44 INCH CHEST

By D.E.Levine

Director: Malcolm Venville
Writers: Louis Mellis and David Scinto
Producers: Richard Brown and Steve Golin
Executive Producers: Paul Green, Dave Morrison and Tim Smith
Co-producer: Peter Heslop
Cast: John Hurt, Ray Winstone, Ian McShane, Tom Wilkinson, JoAnne Whalley, Dave Legeno, Steven Dillane, Steven Beerkoff, Melvil Poupaud, Andy de la Tour, Edna Dore, Ramon Christian
Original Music: Angelo Badalamenti
Running Time: 95 Minutes
Country of Origin: United Kingdom
Language: English (Cockney)
Genre: Drama

When five British men kidnapping a French waiter from a restaurant where he's working, they're doing it for a friend.

Used car salesman Colin Diamond is distraught over his wife Liz's announcement that she's leaving him for a French waiter. He beats the name and location of her lover out of her.

Assembling a group of five callous friends who have tempers to match his, they kidnap the waiter and lock him in a closet of a disused flat. The friends want to kill the waiter, but Colin, downing more alcohol, thinks that the only way to get Liz back might be to spare the waiter's life.

While Colin is stalling, the five men chat about a variety of subjects that includes underworld associates, what they did the night before, and their joint hatred and fear of women.

The language makes frequent and blatant use of the C word, the dialogue is strong and delivered expertly in a Cockney dialect by the cast. Any viewer who doesn't understand the Cockney dialect will find it difficult to understand.

Unfortunately, the ending is weak instead of strong and diminishes the overall effect of the picture as does the numerous flashbacks with voice overs used by director Venville.

9

By D.E.Levine

Director: Shane Acker
Writers: Pamela Pettler (screenplay), Shane Acker (story)
Producers: Timur Bekmambetov, Tim Burton, Dana Ginsburg, Jink Gotosh and Jim Lemley
Consulting Producer: Mary Clayton
Co-producer: Marci Levine
Associate Producer: Graham Moloy
Cast: the voices of Christopher Plummer, Martin Landau, John C. Reilly, Cripin Glover, Jennifer Connelly, Fred Tatasciore, Elijah Wood, Alan Oppenheimer and Tom Kane
Original Music: Deborah Lurie
Running Time: 79 Minutes
Country of Origin:
Language: English
Genre: Animation, Sci-Fi, Action

First created as a short subject by UCLA student Shane Acker, and nominated for a 2006 Oscar, this expanded full feature film shows us a roughly humanoid rag doll with binocular eyes who meets eight of his predecessors. Together, the nine dolls battle a Transformer-like red-eyed monster they call The Beast.

The doll characters look similar but can be easily distinguished by the identifiable numbers on their backs. They have different visual characteristics and are voiced by well-known actors with distinctive voices.

There is a token female (#7) voiced by Jennifer Connolly and a fearful, dominating leader (#1) voiced by Christopher Plummer. The youngest and boldest (#9)voiced by Elijah Wood, leads the others to explore ruins left from the past.

In addition to finding a Library filled with books, they find a newsreel type film showing a Hitler-like leader who leads the human race into a global conflict that ends with the annihilation of mankind.

Only the dolls and the Beast are left and one has to wonder if the Beast's job is to erase any survivors or evidence of mankind's existence even without the presence of any victors.

While this film may not rival other action films like Transformers and Star Trek, the characters are entrancing, the Beast is scary, and the film's visuals are extremely creative.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

DAYBREAKERS

By D.E.Levine

Directors: Michael Spierig and Peter Spierig
Writers: Michael Spierig and Peter Spierig
Producers: Chris Brown, Byran Furst and Sean Furst
Co-producer: Todd Fellman
Cast: Willem Dafoe, Isabel Lucas, Ethan Hawke, Sam Neill, Claudia Karvan, Jay Laga'aia, Michael Dorman, Vince Colosimo, Christopher Kirby, Emma Randall, Michelle Atkinson, Robyn Moore, Mungo McKay, Mark Finden, Selina Kadell, Renai Caruso, Joel Amos Byrnes, David Knijnenburg, Jack Bradford, Paul Sonikkila, Gavin Coleman, Joel Spreadborough, Peter Welman, Eddie L. Fauria, Matthew Wollaston
Original Music: Christopher Gordon
Running Time: 98 Minutes
Country of Origin: United States-Australia
Language: English
Genre: Sci-Fi, Action

Daybreakers has a novel premise. A Sci-Fi thriller set in 2019 of the future, nearly all of humanity has turned vampire and the mortal population is nearing extinction, along with their valuable blood.

Ten years before a blood infection started turning most of the world into vampire bloodsuckers while those remaining mortal became fugitives.

The shortage of fresh blood is causing worldwide panic and those vampires who are suffering starvation from lack of blood mutate into batlike creatures, beginning with Spock-like ears.

Edward, chief hematologist at a firm headed by CEO Charles Bromsley, is working long hours on an artificial blood substitute.

Edward was turned vampire by his brother, but refuses to drink human blood and sympathizes with the mortals. Helping a small group of mortals avoid capture, Edward is introduced to Elvis, who has discovered a method to make vampires mortal again.

Most of the film shows Edward and his mortal friends trying to avoid capture by the Vampire Army to which Edward's brother Frankie is a member and loyalist. While avoiding capture they experiment with the method to turn vampires back into healthy mortals.

The corporate types that are becoming both rich and dictatorial, don't want Edward and his mortal friends to succeed. They stand to lose a fortune and their dominance if it happens.

I liked the film, although violence abounds. Besides, vampires are in vogue right now and Daybreakers will probably do quite well. However, since the vampires are so ordinary and lead such ordinary lives they've lost the mystique and magical powers that normally accompany their vampireness.

Will ordinary vampires be as fascinating to the viewer as mystical, superhuman vampires?

Sunday, December 6, 2009

THIS IS IT

By D.E.Levine

Director: Kenny Ortega
Producers: Paul Gongaware, Kenny Ortega and Randy Phillips
Producer (film and video content): Robin Wagner
Co-producer: Chantal Feghali
Associate Producer: Michael Beaarden
Cast: Michael Jackson, Alex Al, Nick Bass, Michael Bearden, Daniel Celebre, Mekia Cox, Misha Gabriel, Chris Grant, Judith Hill, Dorian Holley, Shannon Holtzapffel, Devin Jamieson, Bashiri Johnson, Charles Klapow, Jonathan Moffett, Tommy Organ, Orianthi, Darryl Phinnessee, Mo Pleasure, Dres Reid, Ken Stacey, Tyne Stecklein, Timor Steffens, Joe Giles and Grady Holder
Original Music: Michael Bearden
Editors: Don Brochu, Brandon Key, Tim Patterson and Kevin Stitt
Running Time: 112 Minutes
Country of Origin: United States
Language: English
Genre: Musical, Autobiographical

One has to wonder if this film, pieced together from rehearsal footage made during preparation for Michael Jackson's last planned tour, is so good, how good would the the actual show have been?

From this film, which follows Jackson and his team from the initial selection of backup dancers through rehearsals, until his death at the age of 50 in June 2009, it's possible to see that his planned London show would have been one of the greatest comebacks in pop music history.voc

There's some very excellent editing as seamlessly, pieces from the same numbers performed on different days and in different attire, are spliced together.

According to Director Kenny Ortega, Jackson wasn't performing at 100% during rehearsals, holding back to save his voice and energy. If that's so, since the rehearsals convey such energy, precision and professionalism, his actual performances would have been superb.

There's little documentation of Jackson's working procedures so this film provides an intense look at the breathtaking perfectionism that he applied to his work. Jackson is seen reviewing video footage, correcting his backup dancers while posing himself, giving his band instructions and working with a vocal coach.

There are fascinating verbal exchanges with musicians, dancers, and stagers which show how deeply aware Jackson was of everything that was happening and impacting his show and performance.

However, because of his obsession with perfection, we have to wonder if Jackson would have wanted his fans and audiences to see a rough, unfinished performance.

Regardless, his talent shines as he sings and dances. The fact that the editing of different days performances could have been combined so flawlessly speaks to this ability to repeat endlessly the same movements, dance steps, poses and vocals, without alteration.

Viewers are also given the treat of seeing the special video and CG effects (i.e. multiplying his 11 backup dancers into thousands performing) that were planned and incorporated into the show and which without the film would never be seen. The film runs almost two hours and still feels short.

Much credit has to be given to the excellent editors whose work made a coherent and entertaining film out of unedited rehearsal footage.

Friday, December 4, 2009

THE HURT LOCKER

By D.E.Levine

Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Writers: Mark Boal
Producers: Kathryn Bigelow, Mark Boal, Nicolas Chartier and Greg Shapiro
Executive Producers: Tony Mark
Co-Producer: Donall McCusker
Associate Producer: Jenn Lee and Jack Schuster
Cast: Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, Brian Geraghty, Guy Pearce, Ralph Fiennes, David Morse, Evangeline James, Christian Camargo et al.
Original Music: Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders
Running Time: 130 Minutes
Country of Origin:
Language: English
Genre: War, Action, Drama

While "The Hurt Locker" is mesmerizing to watch, the audience already knows the message that war is hell.

Although this is a drama film the drama isn't solely in the fact that it centers on an elite U.S. bomb squad centered in Bagdad.

The members of this squad survive by instinct as well as knowledge. It's not a thriller although there are thrilling moments in it.

They take reckless risks to get the job done when their robotics break down and suffer the loss of their Sargent, as a result.

When he's replaced by staff Sargent to take charge of the three-man unit, he proves to be as reckless, if not more so, than his predecessor. Immediately there's conflict between him and his deputy who is a strictly "do-it-by-the-book" kind of guy. The third member of the team is taking voluntary counseling from a Bravo Company psychiatrist who he accuses of not having field experience.

What is apparent from the start of the film is that unlike other war movies, this one concentrates on a small number of characters from the start. It's a tight film until about 45 minutes into it when it starts to develop other characters by focusing on the friendship between the staff Sargent and an English speaking Arab kid.

There is a feeling of ever-present menace although there is no commentary or questioning regarding the U.S. presence in Iraq. The men come across as real and believable. The camera work is halfway between documentary and regular drama and the there is continual tension giving the film a "real feel."

The film has proved popular after viewings but has had a problem gaining distribution. It's possible that it's so realistic viewers find it disturbing and very similar to the war broadcasts and videos being streamed into their homes.

AN EDUCATION

By D.E.Levine

Director: Lone Scherfig
Writers: Nick Hornby (screenplay) and Lynn Barber (memoir)
Producers: Finola Dwyer and Armanda Posey
Executive Producers: Douglas Hansen, Nick Hornby, Wendy Japhet, Jamie Laurenson, James D. Stern and David M. Thompson
Cast: Peter Sarsgaard, Olivia Williams, Alfred Molina, Carey Mulligan, Dominic Cooper, Rosamund Pike, Emma Thompson, Cara Seymour, Matthew Beard, Sally Hawkins et al.
Original Music: Paul Englishby
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Country of Origin: United Kingdom
Language: English
Genre: Romance, Autobiographical

Set in 1961, An Education centers around Jenny, a top English student who loves everything French. A schoolgirl who lives with her rather stuffy parents, Jenny meets and becomes involved with 35-year old David, a Jewish well-to-do man twice her age who drives into her life in a beautiful maroon Bristol.

A graduate of the "University of Life", David suavely wins Jenny's parents over with a false Oxbridge pedigree and convinces them to let David take the young Jenny away overnight by offering to introduce her to his old professor and personal friend C.S.Lewis.

What David really does is introduce Jenny to his glamorous partner and best friend Danny and Danny's girlfriend Helen The foursome then proceed to visit smart nightclubs, art auctions and classical music concerts.

Jenny's out of her league but neither she nor her parents recognize David for a con artist. Jenny is anxious for adulthood and the sophisticated lifestyle David offers, especially after he takes her to Paris for her 17th birthday. She's so eager that she leaves school and her dreams of Oxford because she sees in David a shortcut to what she envisioned the Oxford degree would allow her to obtain.

Her life is an education as Jenny finds out the truth about self-identity, glamor and how adults really think and live. An Education is a celebration of intellectual curiosity and personal adventure as seen through the eyes of an intelligent 16-year old. But Jenny's naivitie and blindness to what is really going on in the relationship falls heavily upon her.

However, as she reflects on the truth about her time with David, the good that comes out of the experience, the knowledge and maturity she obtains, far outweighs the bad.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

TIM BURTON AT MOMA

By D.E.Levine

We're breaking with tradition here at Cinefilms and covering an art show because it's such a rich and unusual show and ties in directly to film.

Most people identify Tim Burton with cinema where he has been an extremely creative and successful writer and director.

It's ironic that Burton himself didn't realize the wealth of ideas and materials that he created and accumulated until the Museum of Modern Art's assistant curator Ron Magliozzi, and the department of film's curatorial assistant Jenny He, searched through thousands of pieces of original work and chose the 700 pieces now on display in the museum's show.

There has never been a museum show on the art of Tim Burton before. This is a must see event if you're in New York City and well worth a special trip to the city if you're not already there. Many of these pieces have never been displayed anywhere before and remain in Burton's private collection.

It's safe to say there's never been a museum show quite like this and it's already so popular that getting tickets is extremely difficult.

Your admittance to the museum does not guarantee admittance to the Tim Burton exhibition. After entering the museum you must get a separate ticket for the show, and that should be the first task on your "To Do" list.

MOMA is also screening a retrospective of Burton's 14 films throughout the show which runs through April 26, 2010. Additionally, MOMA will present a series of films that influenced and/or inspired Burton.

The show displays an amazing range of creative output. Displaying a selection of poems, sketches. drawings, storyboards, paintings, puppets, maquettes, photographs, amateur films, film artifacts and other work including a topiary, the show takes us through Burton's childhood, adolescent, art school days, years as an animator at the Walt Disney Company, and years as a film writer and director.

It's obvious that Burton was a gifted if alienated and lonely child. His sense of despair is apparent in his cartoons and drawings from a young age.

Raised in Burbank, California, Burton began channeling his grief into visual art, which his family has kept and preserved all of these years.

Burton's output is prolific and somewhat astounding. His family's acknowledgment that is was important enough to retain for 40+ years is amazing.

Running through his work is the motif of the gifted but wounded child and pathetic juveniles who just "don't fit" within the mores of society (autobiographical?).

There's also the recurring theme, mixing humor with scariness, of Burton created misfits either triumphing over or succumbing to their world - a world of mediocrity. The misfits are the underdogs of society and the viewer loves to cheer for and support the underdog.

Burton himself admits to thinking things through visually from an early age, so instead of keeping a handwritten diary, he kept an art account. This is the visual, autobiographical account of his life.

In his comments to the press Burton stated that to the present day, he still keeps a running visual account which he stores, resulting in a continually growing and expanding treasure trove of original art.

He claims that until MOMA people came to his homes in the US and the UK, he himself didn't realize the enormity and richness of his collection. He also lived with much of his art on a daily basis.

In fact, he kept the original topiary from Edward Scissorhands in his garden, exposed to the elements, for years before putting it in storage.

When MOMA curators found it is was so discolored and worse for wear that they had an identical copy made from the exact materials that were used on the original.

The copy looks identical to the original and now stands proudly in MOMA's beautiful sculpture garden.

Overall, this show is an amazing first taste and representation of Burton's broad talent. We can only hope that it is the beginning of a long pop art career for Tim Burton and that he will continue to create and display his art in all disciplines.

For more information see www.moma.org or call 212-708-9400.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

UP IN THE AIR

By D.E.Levine

Director: Jason Reitman
Writers: Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner (screenplay), Walter Krn (book)
Cast: George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick, Jason Bateman, Danny McBride, Melanie Lynskey, James Anthony, Steve Eastin, Dave Engfer et al.
Producers: Jeffrey Clifford, Daniel Dubiecki, Ivan Reitman and Jason Reitman
Executive Producers: Michael Beugg, Ted Griffith, Joe Medjuck and Tom Pollock
Associate Producers: Jason Blumenfeld and Helen Estabrook
Original Music:Rolfe Kent
Running Time: 109 Minutes
Country of Origin: United States
Language: English
Genre: Comedy, Drama

According to Jason Reitman, when he started writing Up In The Air over two years ago he had no idea how relevant it would be today. How could he possibly know that unemployment would rise to 17% (that we know about) and that massive layoffs would actually be done by "hired help".

Flash to 2009 and we're facing the worst unemployment statistics ever and Up In The Air strikes a chord in the heart of every viewer.

Rick Bingham is a self-centered "executive for hire" who flys around the country firing people from companies whose management doesn't want to do the dirty work themselves.

With a pat pre-rehearsed line of platitudes and a pile of severance packets, Rick flys American Airlines Business Class, stays in upscale Hilton Hotels with a food and drink allowance and has his eye on making the 10 Million Mile Club for frequent flyers' loyalty. He will be only the seventh person to achieve that status and he revels in the knowledge that he has set that as his goal.

He's extremely capable, travels 322 days a year and loves the lifestyle. He's among the elite, traveling with one small rolling carry on bag and receiving top-level members-only treatment wherever he goes. He's efficient in his packing, his traveling, his time and his emotions. Basically, he has very little emotional and human psychological interaction on a personal level.

One day he meets a like-minded executive woman, Alex, in a lounge and tells her his dream of the 10 Million Mile Club. Rick seduces a willing Alice and finds they are birds of a feather. They have an easy going relationship, planning their trips so they can meet at airport layovers and seem to be thoroughly enjoying each other and the sex that's included in the relationship.

When a hotshot twenty-something named Natalie convinces Bingham's boss to cut costs by video conferencing and doing all layoffs remotely, it looks like Rick is grounded.

Forced to take Natalie on the road with him and teach her the ropes of how to deliver the bad news of being fired, the film examines the difference in the way Rick and Alex see things as opposed to Natalie's perspective. It's darkly funny.

In a fascinating conversation with Natalie, Rick insists that he never wants marriage and children and is perfectly happy with life the way it is currently. He doesn't have and doesn't want much human connection. He savors his life and wants no hint of commitment.

However, feeling obligated to attend his younger sister's wedding, he takes Alex along for fun and takes her on a tour of his youthful haunts. Along the way he finds that sharing his days and his life with Alex is fun.

Although his older sister scorns him for escaping the ordinary lives the rest of the family live, she calls upon him to use his motivational skills to get the bridegroom over his cold feet and to the alter on his wedding day. While he grudgingly makes an offer to walk his younger sister down the aisle, the job has already been taken by the bridegroom's uncle, and Ryan remains only a guest at the family wedding.

Back in Omaha, Rick is told to train on the video layoff system as his firm goes ahead with plans to ground all the hired firing experts.

Motivated by her boyfriend dumping her, when a woman Natalie laid off commits suicide, Natalie quits the Omaha firm and heads to San Francisco to pursue a dream she gave up. With Rick's reference she lands a job and starts a new life which we suspect doesn't include firing people.

Meanwhile, Rick, now told that video layoffs are on hold while the company takes another look at the process and the after effect, is back traveling in his hired gun capacity.

The question is whether his former lifestyle will now satisfy him once his defenses have been broken down and he has acknowledged that personal relationships matter.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

THE ROAD

By D.E.Levine

Director: John Hillcoat
Writers: Joe Penhall (adaption and screenplay), Cormac McCarthy (book)
Cast: Viggo Mortensen, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Robefrt Duvall, Guy Pearce, Molly Parker, Michael K. Williams, Garret Dillahunt, Charlize Theron, Bob Jennings, Agnes Herrmann, Budy Sosthand, Kirk Brown, Jack Erdie, David August Lindauer, Gina Preciado, Mary Rawson
Producers: Paula Mae Schwartz, Steve Schwartz and Nick Wechsler
Executive Producers: Marc Butan, Mark Cuban, Rudd Simmons and Todd Wagner
Co-producer: Erik Hodge
Original Music: Nick Cave and Warren Ellis
Running Time: 112 Minues
Country of Origin: United States
Language: English
Genre: Drama

This is definitely the most depressing film I've seen this year. Taken from Cormac McCarthy's novel which is full physical descriptions of the United States after an unexplained catastrophe, the film is bleak and depressing. It focuses on the journey of a father and his son as they journey south towards the coast after his wife abandons them and chooses to die alone outside in the woods.

As the earth continues to erupt and the crust breaks, barren trees topple over, fires break out, extreme cold incapacitates them, and they are hunted by men and women who have turned to cannibalism because of the endless hunger due to lack of crops and food.

The father has a revolver with two bullets in it, one for himself and one for his son. He plans to end their suffering if the worst happens and they are unable to fight off predators or find food.

The film is filled with flashbacks to life with his wife before and after the birth of their baby. Memories are triggered by small and big things alike. Finding a piano that hasn't been destroyed triggers the memory of playing the piano with his wife and then chopping it up for fire wood.

McCarthy's novel was mesmerizing but Hillcoat's film is bleak, dull and lacking in suspense. There is nothing to propel the story forward, instead the episodic telling of the tale is carefully paced.

The film is basically the tale about the relationship of a dying father and his innocent son, who sees good in everyone and several times ventures into situations where they could get killed. As the father struggles to stay alive and care for the boy, he also struggles to give the boy some values but is unable to explain why he and the boy are "the good guys" while the others are "the bad buys."

It is only during the last few minutes of the film that the action and the actors give the viewer an emotional jolt that validates the film.

Monday, November 16, 2009

EVERYTHING STRANGE AND NEW

By D.E.Levine

Director: Frazer Bradshaw
Writer: Frazer Bradshaw
Cast: Rigo Chacon Jr., Beth Lisick, Jerry McDaniel, Luis Saguar, Diana Tenes
Producers: A.D.Liano and Laura Techera Francia
Executive Producer: Steve Bannatyne
Original Music: Dan Plonsey and Kent Sparling
Running Time: 84 Minutes
Country of Origin: United States
Lamguage: English
Genre: Romance

Shot in the East Bay Oakland area of San Francisco, this sweet film examines the monotony and stillness of Wayne's (the central character) life.

With a wife, two children and a home, Wayne is ostensibly living the American dream. But Wayne is preoccupied with the life he thinks he wants, frustrated by the life he actually has, and nothing that happens shakes him off the track of the life he doesn't remember choosing.

This is partially accomplished by the long shots and the successive shots of rooftops, buses and the kitchen table by first-time director Frazer Bradshaw. After seven years working as a DP, Bradshaw knows how to convey feelings through cinematography and paint a visual picture.

Clad in orange overalls and either walking or taking the bus, Wayne, a carpenter, sees himself as a clown, a character that he actually assumes at children's' parties.

Performances, deliberately flat, help to convey the frustration of the characters' lives. Laconic narration by Wayne and flashbacks let us know that before the kids were born Wayne and his wife Beth liked each other and had fun together. They had dreams about their life and the future. But youthful dreams have been deferred to adult reality.

Wayne comes to understand the difference between his needs and desires. He also realizes that his friends are equally bored and trapped - Leo separating from his wife and Manny, shooting crack in his car.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

2012

By D.E.Levine

Director: Roland Emmerich
Writers: Roland Emmerich and Harald Kloser
Cast: John Cusak, Armanda Peet, Chiewetel Ejiofor, Thandie Newton, Oliver Platt, Thamas McCarthy, Woody Harrelson, Danny Glover, Liam James, Morgan Lily, Zlatko Buric, Beatrice Rosen, Alexandre Haussmann, Philippe Hausmann, Johann Urb, John Billingsley,
Chin Han, Osric Chau, Chang Tseng, Lisa Lu, Blu Mankuma, George Segal, Stephen McHattie, Patrick Bauchau, Jimi Mistry, Ryan McDonald, Merrilyn Gann, Henry O et al.
Producers: Roland Emmerich, Larry J. Franco and Harald Kloser
Executive Producers: Ute Emmerich, Mark Gordon and Michael Wimer
Co-producers: Aaron Boyd, Volker Engel and Marc Weigert
Associate Producer: Kirstin Winkler
Original Music: Harald Kloser and Thomas Wanker
Running Time: 158 Minutes
Country of Origin: United States
Language: English
Genre: Disaster, Action, Adventure

The plot may not be different but the special effects are mind boggling. Even with all of the great digital, 3D and CGI technology being used in films today I've never seen anything like the special effects in 2012.

By now everybody has heard the story that the Mayan calendar ends in December 2012 and forecasts the end of the world specifically on December 21, 2012.

While the entire world is destined to be destroyed, the filmmakers begin here at home in the United States. Beginning with Los Angeles going into the sea, the film follows Jackson Curtis and his family as they escape via plane to Yellowstone National Park where he seeks out a broadcaster/hippie who has a map of where safety ships are being built and maintained.

Since Yellowstone goes up in a blaze of widespread fire, erupting volcano-like explosions, and caving earth crust, the Curtis plane barely gets off the ground before Yellowstone is a thing of memory.

We are voyeurs of the destruction of Saint Peter's Cathedral in Rome and the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janiero. Has God forgotten man if he is letting this happen? Or is this the way God planned it all along?

Curtis takes his family to Las Vegas where they try to get a plane to China, because that's where safety is supposed to be found.

Curtis, a published author who has been driving as a chauffeur for a very rich Russian businessman manages to get his ex-wife, kids, and the wife's fiancee on the Russian's plane with his family only because the fiancee can act as a co-pilot on the flight.

Out of fuel they are forced to land on a Himalayan glacier where the wealthy Russian and his two sons are picked up by the Chinese military and abandon the Russian's girlfriend and the Curtis family.

The entire premise is ridiculous of course, but the special effects are so fantastic that the viewers are spellbound and never bored. As we see tsunami waves swallow entire ocean liners and naval military vessels, and as we watch the water level rise to the top of mountain ranges while totally flooding the landscape beneath, we can only stare in awe at the visual mastery.

Through the humane efforts of an elderly Chinese couple who convince their monk son to take pity on the stranded Americans, the American party reaches the safety of the ships that are moored, but have to sneak aboard since they don't have tickets or passes.

Trapped in a compartment that's filling with water and preventing the doors from closing, it's the illegal Curtis who risks his life to clear the gears and save the American ship.

The movie has no point of view and no actual message. Based on the premise that the world is coming to an end in 2012. There are no deep philosophical or intellectual messages or even a religious perspective.

2012 is a totally visual picture full of adventure and physical frenzy. It can't be taken seriously. It must simply be enjoyed for what it is - pure entertainment.

Friday, November 13, 2009

BROKEN EMBRACES (LOS ABRAZOS ROTOS)

By D.E.Levine

Director: Pedro Almodovar
Writer: Pedro Almodovar
Cast: Penelope Cruz, Lluis Homar, Blanca Portillo, Jose Luis Gomez, Ruben Ochandiano, Tamar Novas, Angela Molina, Chus Lasmpreave, Kiti Manver, Lola Duenas, Mariola Fuentes, et al.
Producer: Esther Garcia
Executive Producer: Agustin Almodovar
Running Time: 128 Minutes
Country of Origin: Spain
Language: Spanish with English subtitles
Genre: Drama, Romance

As usual, Pedro Almodovar has written and directed an extraordinary film. The difference is that this particular film lacks a certain fire and focus found in the others. On the other hand, the cinematography, whether in color or black and white is stunning and brilliantly done.

Basically Broken Embraces is a movie within a movie. At the beginning, as the credits roll, we see lighting doubles being replaced with Penelope Cruz and Lluis Homar. Since the actors have not yet stepped into their roles are we to assume that movies double life?

Blind Spanish screenwriter Harry Caine is informed of the death of Ernesto Martel, an industrialist who once produced a film of his. Caine, who used to be a director named Mateo Blanco, was blinded in an accident that took the life of Lena, his love and the star of his last movie (the one Martel produced). Lena was also Martel's mistress before she left him for Caine/Blanco.

The back story appears through flashbacks to 1992. Magdalena "Lena" Rivero was the secretary of a corrupt and wealthy Madrid industrialist Ernesto Martel, who fell for the wanne-be actress/call girl and made her his mistress.

While living with Martel, Lena auditions for a part in Blanco's film "Girls and Suitcases", which Martel agrees to produce. Blanco and Lena fall in love. Martel is a very jealous fellow who doesn't trust Lena so he gets his son to spy on the filmmaker and the actress by saying that he's making a documentary about the making of Blanco's film.

Running the daily footage the son provides without sound, and using a lip reader to decode the conversations between Blanco and Lena, Martel discovers the feelings the actress and director have for each other and the contempt they feel for him.

Lena and Martel break up after a stay on Ibiza when she discovers him sitting with the lip reader and reviewing the footage. Lena leaves Martel both on the screen and through the sitting room door

Enraged, Martel starts a sadistic revenge which is designed to destroy Blanco. His plan causes tremendous humiliation and suffering to Lena.

Finally, while staying on the island of Lanzarote at Famara, Lena and Blanco watch Rosselini's Viaggo in Italia on TV. There is a scene where archaeologists uncover the shape of a male and female body intertwined for thousands of years while their actual bodies were burnt to ash.

Almodovar picks up on this and uses the imagery of associating ash with love later when Mateo and Lena embrace above the black sand of Golfo Beach.

When a terrible car crash occurs, blinding Mateo and killing Lena, Mateo retreats into the identity of Harry Caine, which he previously used for screenwriting credits. Almovador is telling us that Blanco died in that car crash 14 years ago on Lanzarote.

The life he lives now is one of a man who has retreated from life and he is frequently assisted by Diego, the son of his friend and former assistant, Judit. Later in the film Judit confesses to Diego that he is the offspring of her affair with Caine/Blanco and that she never told Caine/Blanco that he has a son.

The film is complex, as are most of Almodovar's films. Once again, Cruz steals the film with both her beauty portrayal of Lena proves. The other actors are all believable and make the story believable but I imagine each time a viewer sees this film they will discover another facet that Almodovar has intentionally included.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

FANTASTIC MR. FOX

By D.E.Levine

Director: Wes Anderson
Writers: Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach (screenplay), Roald Dahl (novel)
Cast: George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Wallace Wolodarsky, Eric Chase Anderson, Michael Gambon, Willem Dafoe, Owen Wilson, Jarvis Cocker, Wes Anderson, Karen Duffy, Robin Huristone, Hugo Guinness, Helen McCrory, Roman Coppola, Juman Malouf, Jeremy Dawson, Garth Jennings, Brian Cox, Tristan Oliver, James Hamilton, Steven M. Rales, Rob Hersov, Jennifer Furches, Allison Abbate, Molly Cooper, Adrien Brody, Mario Batali, Martin Ballard
Producers: Allison Abbate, Wes Anderson, Jeremy Dawson and Scott Rudin
Executive Producers: Arnon Milchan and Steven M. Rales
Co-Producer: Molly Cooper
Running Time: 88 Minutes
Country of Origin: United States
Language: English
Genre: Animated, Comedy, Satire, Fantasy

Fantastic Mr. Fox is truly fantastic. True to the Roald Dahl's childrens' book of 1970, the film tells the story of a fox family and extended clan of animals who successfully elude capture and annihilation by human predators.

While this season is full of CGI-augmented animation, this film is pure animation without CGI and full of Wes Anderson trademarks. It should appeal to a gown up audience as well as children.

Another lure is the wonderful professional cast who voice the characters and a soundtrack of popular favorites from every genre of music.

Mr. Fox is a natty dresser and a rogue who poaches regularly from three nasty farmers named Boggis, Bunch and Bean. The farmers want his pelt very badly.

After a near disaster when they are captured outside of a chicken coop and his mate announces she's pregnant, they escape.

Anderson then jumps forward a couple of years where we find that Mrs. Fox, who is equally fastidiously attired as her husband, has made Mr. Fox give up poaching, settle down and support his family.

Bored with his job and feeling cramped in their underground quarters, Mr. Fox moves his family to a tree. He's haunted by feelings of wanting to steal chickens.

Obvious to viewers are the U.K. landscape and language of the humans which is in stark contrast to the American accented animals.

Although he's had his tale shot off by one of the farmers who's wearing it as a tie, things seem to be going smoothly until the farmers launch a combined assault on the Foxes and their friends because Mr. Fox, true to animal nature, has fallen off the wagon and gone back to poaching.

The idea here that animal nature cannot be avoided or escaped and animals will revert to it regardless of their thoughtful desires and efforts, makes a strong statement.

In order to escape, the Fox family and their friends dig rapidly and furiously through numerous layers of earth in order to stay ahead of their pursuing enemies.

While digging through these earthern layers scenes that are vividly represented on the screen) Mr. Fox burrows into each of the three farmers properties and steals enough for a major feast among the animals.

The Foxes have one son who is uncertain about living up to his father's high expectations. Other animals who flee with them have their own hangups and uncertainties.

As the animals flee the humans they are challenged to maintain their individual personalities and draw upon their character strengths, some of which they don't even realize they poss

The animals are poised and sophisticated, indeed more so than the human farmers. Appearing highly civilized and well attired, they fall back on their natural animal instincts and ways during arguments and when sitting down to their feast.

The running humor about the differences and similarities between the animals and the humans is always apparent.

Anderson admits that portions of his direction were done remotely while in other parts of the world than where actual filming was taking place. This was also true for some of the voice recordings. None of this seems to have adversely affected the film.

His style is deliberately jerky and he strives for a vintage look rather than the smooth, polished look in most current animated films. Yet his characters are believable and seem wonderfully imaginative and alive.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE

By D.E.Levine

Director: Spike Jonze
Writer: Spike Jonze and Dave Eggers (screenplay) Maurice Sendak (book)
Producers: Thomas Tull, Jon Jashni, Bruce Berman, Tom Hanks, Gary Goetzman, Maurice Sendak, John Carls and Vincent Landay
Cast (Voices): Max Records, Catherine Keener, Steve Mouzakis, Mark Ruffalo, James Gandofini, Paul Dano, Catherine O'Hara, Forest Whitaker, Michael Berry, Chris Cooper, Lauren Ambrose and Pepita Emmerichs
Music: Karen O and Carter Burwell
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Country of Origin: United States
Language: English
Genre: Fantasy, Adventure

Spike Jonze has done an amazing job of taking a 300-word children's book first published in 1963, and turning it into a haunting and original feature-length film .

The movie lives mainly in the mind of Max, a nine-year old who goes through feelings of isolation that drive him to where the wild things are found. Max learns that the world and the children in it can be cruel.

Absorbing that lesson through tears and hurt, Max is left with a wound that won't heal and Max erupts roaring at his Mother who roars back. Finally he sails into the world adrift and alone.

The world he finds himself in is an island that is simultaneously scary, wondrous, confusing, expansive and gorgeous. Perhaps only a 9-year old could dream such a wondrous place up. Lush woods abut endless desert sands and a roaring ocean.

The creatures are have wondrous, mostly furry, oversized costumes and CG-augmented faces. A few have horns, a few have tails that twitch and they all appear to have sharp claws and very vicious, sharp teeth. They waddle through the film and appear more cuddly than the creatures in the original book.

Max himself goes through the place where the wild things are dressed in a wolf suit with a bushy tail and a hood with ears and whiskers. He himself is a wild thing with many complex parts to his personality. And, he becomes King of the creatures.

Each creature that Max meets evokes a different part of his own personality. The first creature Max meets is Carol, who is busy crushing everything insight. Max becomes fast friends with Carol since he can relate to her need to be loved, her insecurity and her temper mixed with her sweetness.

Max interfaces with the different wild things in different ways, befriending Carol, ignoring the goat-beast who is timid, seeking to impress the big sister substitute wild thing KW and bullying the bird-man.

However, Jonze has not attempted to interpret the story through Freudian analysis. The story has been expanded but remains a story about a boy, his Mom, his sister, his room, his loneliness and his creative imagination.

The tears, frustration, temper tantrums and anger that appear in the first 20 minutes all resurface on the idyllic island. This could be indicative of how our waking hours invade our dreams.

Many things could be analyzed and reinterpreted, but with this film it's better to sit back and enjoy the fantasy that Spike Jonze weaves.

Monday, November 9, 2009

TO SAVE A LIFE

By D.E.Levine

Director: Brian Baugh
Writer: Jim Britts
Cast: Randy Wayne, Deja Kreutzberg, Joshua Weigel, Steven Crowder, D.David Morin, Sean Micahel, Bubba Lewis, Robert Baily Jr., Kim Hildago, Arjay Smith, Orin Mozon, Lamont Thompson, Trinity Scott, Janora McDuffie, Laura Black, David Starzyk, Monique Edwards, Joseph Narducci, Lori Rom, Dee Baldus, Nicole Franco, Lee Ann Kim, Christian Pike, Jason Evans, Andy Crisp and David Kasdan
Producers: Jim Britts, Steve Foster and Nicole Franco
Executive Producer: Scott Evans
Co-producer: ChristinaK.Y. Lee
Running Time: Not Available
Country of Origin: United States
Language: English
Genre: Drama, Inspirational, Religious

To Save A Life is an inspiring and uplifting film aimed at teenagers and examining a variety of issues facing teenagers today.

The joint effort of Jim Britts and New Song Community Church in Oceanside California, the film is a particularly high quality in appearance and is acted by experienced professional actors.

The writer, Jim Britts, is a youth pastor who has penned a script about challenges faced by youth today. The film centers around a popular teenage athlete, Jake Taylor, who rejects his childhood friend, Roger Dawson, in high school, and the consequences of that rejection.

Roger, who became permanently maimed in childhood by pushing Jake out of the path of a car and having his leg crushed, becomes so depressed that he commits suicide in school, in front of Jake. Jake, who has been living a life of popularity and prominence, is profoundly affected by Roger's death which causes him to examine his own actions and the guilt he feels because of them.

After finding Roger's blog has posts describing his feelings of unhappiness and hopelessness, Jake discovers that there are many other teenagers feeling alienated from family and society and they are calling out for help in their comments and blogs posted on the Internet.

Not a religious person, Jake begins attending youth services at the invitation of an offbeat youth pastor and to the astonishment of his parents and girlfriend.

Discovering things about himself and his world that motivate him to make changes in his life, he begins reaching out and befriending those teenagers who are less popular than himself.

While his discoveries propel him to take action, his acceptance with the popular crowd is diminished as as he begins to befriend and encourage members of the less popular and more alienated teenage group.

As Jake deals with his shift in popularity, accepts responsibility for the pregnancy of his girlfriend, and examines his life and actions, he has to make some very adult decisions such as sacrificing some very big dreams and expectations of his own in order to step up and take responsibility for his past and present actions.

His experiences cause him to realize that other teens, especially those who are ostracized by the popular teenagers, are yearning to be heard, and he reaches out to them offering help and empathy. Persisting, even when some of the depressed students reject his overtures, he literally prevents other suicides.

Throughout the film there are inherent questions put to characters and viewers such as "how important is saving the life of another human being to you" and "what would you be willing to risk to save a life?"

The film is being distributed by Samuel Goldwyn Films, a major independent film studio that has found surprising success with the distribution of religious motivational productions (i.e Saving Grace)

Goldwyn is partnering with Outreach Films division of Outreach Inc. in Vista, CA. Outreach Films concentrates on providing high quality inspiring entertainment and has been extremely successful in providing rewarding experiences to an expanding audience base. It has helped promote The Chronicles of Narnia and The Passion of the Christ, films that were extremely popular in mainstream America and which carried inspirational and religious messages.

Popular films carrying religious messages have been extremely profitable as well as popular worldwide, and have shown Hollywood the potential of tapping into the Christian audience. This audience is sophisticated and expects professional products on a par with other Hollywood productions and through the participation of major studios like Disney, they're getting it.

To Save a Life is a polished film that is the first written screenplay by Britts, who is a graduate of Biola University's film school. Biola is a university that focuses on Biblically centered education. To Save A Life is also the directorial debut for Brian Baugh, who has been Director of Photography on many other films.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

THE BATTLE FOR WHITECLAY

By D.E.Levine

Director: Mark Vasina
Cast: Frank LaMere, Duane Martin Sr., Russell Means, Lyle Jack, Rhonda R. Flowers, R.L.Coyne, and members of the Nebraska State Highway Patrol, members of the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission, members of the Nebraska legislature, members of the Oglala Sioux Tribal Council, members of the Oglala Sioux police
Running Time: 113 Minutes
Genre: Documentary

Heroes come in many forms and the hero in this film is a local Nebraska activist named Frank LaMere.

The documentary film deals with LaMere's effort to engage government officials in stopping the sale of liquor in Whiteclay Nebraska, a Nebraska border town within walking distance of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation of South Dakota.

This isn't a new project for LaMere, but rather it's his passion and he's been pursuing it for years. He has every intention of meeting with President Obama and bringing the issue to his attention.

LaMere and fellow American Indian activists Duane Martin Sr. and Russell Means, while conducting totally peaceful protests, have been handcuffed and jailed by both Nebraska and Oglala Sioux police.

They are filmed at protests and in board rooms, presenting their arguments and repeatedly getting turned down for help.

Watching this film it's amazing that the Nebraskans in political office can so calmly take the situation under advisement and then rule in favor of allowing the liquor stores to renew or get new licenses in Whiteclay.

Native Americans are not permitted alcohol on the reservation. They're also not allowed to drink alcohol on the local roads, while driving or walking, in stores, restaurants or motels and yet they buy it from the distributors in Whiteclay, get drunk and get into trouble.

When LaMere argues that shutting down the distributors or revoking their licenses will make it much more difficult for people from the reservation to purchase alcohol because they won't have the means or want to travel further, he is ignored by people in authority.

The rate of alcoholism among the Native American population in Pine Ridge is high and yet legislators insist during meetings that cutting off the alcohol will not help lower alcoholism.

Their argument seems almost ridiculous,since it's a fact that alcoholism is a medical disease and providing a close source of alcohol simply feeds the illness.

Watching this film is uncomfortable for the viewer. Some scenes are just difficult to watch while others are extremely frustrating.

It's clear to see that something has to be done and the Lincoln, Nebraska legislators have it within their means to do something positive by voting to cancel the licenses for the four distributors which would make obtaining liquor very difficult for residents of the Pine Ridge SD reservation.

I had the pleasure of hearing Frank LaMere speak following a screening of the film. He is as compelling a speaker in person as he is on screen. His arguments and suggestions make sense and one wonders how legislative committees can listen and then ignore his pleas.

Even worse, although always peaceful, an American, and a resident of Nebraska, he has been arrested for walking from the South Dakota reservation down the road across the state line, into Nebraska, where he is a registered resident and actually resides. What a terrible infringement of human rights.

Vasina's approach to making this documentary is brilliant because he focuses on the activists who are vocally but peacefully fighting for change in the border town.

He doesn't reiterate the stories about reservation families suffering because of alcoholism or follow those individuals who are wrecking their lives by buying alcohol and drinking in Whiteclay.

Instead Vasina mentions that the four stores in Whiteclay sell over 11,000 cans of beer daily, and it's to the Native Americans primarily, not to the tourists who come to visit where the 1890 Wounded Knee massacre historic site.

Vasina films the activists and their supporters making compelling and logical arguments. Among the best is LaMere's questiion "Would we allow these things that happen in Whiteclay to happen in western Omaha or southeast Lincoln?"

The answer is obvious. No. If the same type of drunken activity went on in western Omaha or southeast Lincoln, the residents, primarily white men, would vote to put an end to it.

It becomes obvious as we follow the trials and tribulations of the activists that the white legislators aren't concerned with helping the Native Americans, placing a lesser value on their lives and their problems.

Instead the legislators consistently vote to reissue licenses to the Whiteclay distributors, allowing them to continue making high profits by selling alcohol to people suffering from the illness of alcoholism.

Limiting alcohol in Whiteclay may not cure alcoholism but it will definitely have an positive effect in controlling a serious illness and contribute to a healthier way of life for all residents of the Pine Ridge S.D. reservation.

More information is available on the film's site http://battleofwhiteclay.org

Saturday, November 7, 2009

THE MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS

By D.E.Levine

Director: Grant Heslov
Writer: Peter Straughan (screenplay) and Jon Ronson (book)
Cast: George Clooney, Ewan McGregor, Jeff Bridges, Kevin Spacey, Stephen Lang, Robert Patrick, Waleed Zuaiter, Stephen Root, Glenn Morshower, Nick Offerman, Tim Griffin, Rebecca Madefr, Jacob Browne, Brad Grunberg et al.
Producers: George Clooney, Grant Heslov and Paul Lister
Executive Producers: Barbara A. Hall, James A. Holt, Alison Owen and David M. Thompson
Associate Producer: Luillo Ruiz
Original Music: Rolfe Kent
Running Time: 93 Minutes
Country of Origin:
Language: English
Genre: Comedy


This is a deadpan absurdist comedy inspired by a true story, where the usually cool George Clooney sheds his normal sophisticated character and embraces his inner clown.

As Lyn Cassady, a fictional character who belongs to a weird army unit. With tics, eyeball bulges and explosive gestures, Lyn joins the very strange unit of Bill Django and becomes a star at staring at goats so hard that bad things happen. He also practices cloud bursting.

Django is a military hippie concentrating on creating a superpower army. He intends to create a unit of soldiers with psychic abilities who can walk through walls, stare animals to death and use subliminal messages in music, hugs and peace symbols to disarm and overcome the enemy.

It's based on the true story of Colonel Jim Channon who wrote about his ideas in a 125-page report entitled "The First Earth Battalion. He had a great deal of support both financially and through the ranks, for his supernatural notions. In 2004 Jon Roston explored Channon's ideas in his book "The Men Who Stare At Goats".

The film begins with a journalist named Wilton from the Ann Arbor newspaper (ironically Ann Arbor's newspaper has just folded). When the newspaperman meets a man who relates he was a member of the New Earth Army, a super secret unit of paranormals being trained to spy from afar, penetrate enemy lines in spirit instead of body, and kill just by staring, he becomes interested enough to follow the story.

Flying to Kuwait in 2002, Wilton hooks up with Cassady, who has the reputation of being the best of the paranormal unit, and crosses into the war zone.

By pumping Cassady for information, Wilton learns that 20 years earlier he was being trained to be a Jedi warrior. There are flashbacks between 20 years before and the training that went on in the unit, and the present with the two men in the war zone.

Kevin Spacey plays Hooker, who hates Cassady 20 years before, and manages to get Django dishonorably discharged.

Flash forward to the present and Wilton and Cassady wind up at the training ground for the paranormal unit which is now under Hooper's command and where Django has been hired as a consultant.

While not the best comedy, the film is funny and the actors are extremely good. Because the story is based on real events, the question is raised about whether a unit of this type exists today and whether there are men and women from our current military being trained as psychic soldiers.

Friday, November 6, 2009

A PROPHET (UN PROPHETE)

By D.E.Levine

Director: Jacques Audiard
Writers: Thomas Bidegain and Jacques Audiard (screenplay), Abdel Raouf Dafi and Nicholas Peufaillit (original script)
Producer: Martine Cassinelli
Cast: Tahar Rahim, Niels Arestrup, Adel Bencherif, Hichem Yacoiubi, Reda Kajeb, Jean-Philippe Ricci, Gilles Cohen, Antoine Basler, Leila Behti, Pierre Leccia, Fouad Nassah, Jean-Emmanuel Pagni, et. al.
Original Music: Alexandre Desplat
Running Time: 155 Minutes
Country of Origin: France
Language: French with English subtitles
Genre: Drama

A powerful prison drama from French director Jacques Audiard, Un Prophete won the Grand Prix prize at the Cannes Film Festival. It is mesmerizing despite its long running time. Audiard is an amazing storyteller who weaves his tale flawlessly so that you never lose interest.

The lead, a wayward Arab youth named Malik El Djebena is brilliantly played by a first time actor, Tahar Rahim.

Landing in prison at age 19, the youth cannot read or write. Innocent in prison ways he's at the mercy of older, more worldly thugs.

Struggling to survive within the violence of the prison, repeatedly humiliated, forced under threat of death by the Corsican gang that runs the prison to befriend and murder a fellow Arab, the young prisoner is aligned with the Corsicans despite his wishes.

He serves the Corsicans as a gofer/slave, doing menial tasks in exchange for protection within the prison. Over the years Malik learns to read and write and educates himself in the ways of the prison, although his path is partially paved by the Corsican leader.

It's amazing to see the amount of crime that goes on while the prisoners are incarcerated, both in and out of the prison. The convicts continue to run their crime operations outside of the prison.

In the end, Malik learns so much that he manages to challenge the prison's existing power structure and by playing groups outside the prison against each other, he manages to construct his own empire.

What stands out immediately in this film is the violence and brutality, the raw impact of the encounters, and the believable characters as portrayed by the actors.

What the viewer takes away is the understanding of how power is manifested within the prison and within life.

Even within prison hatred exists, as the Corsicans show disdain and fear towards the bearded Muslims and are willing to practice extreme violence in order to maintain control.

The tale this film tells is almost like a coming of age tale. This Arab youth who is essentially a nobody within the prison structure goes on to become the most respected mobster in the prison.

We see it happen before our eyes and we're never bored as the director rolls out the story with minute details that make it believable.

Un Prophete is a commentary on race relations in France, societies in prisons and achievement through determination.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

A SERIOUS MAN

By D.E.Levine

Directors: Ethan Coen and Joel Coen
Writers: Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
Cast: Micael Stuhlbarg, Richard Kind, Fred Melamed, Sari Lennick, Aaron Wolff, Jessica McManus, Peter Breitmayer, Brent Braunschweig, David Kang, Benjy Portnoe, Jack Swiler, Fyvush Finkel, Alan Mandell, Adam Arkin, Jon Kaminski Jr., Ari Hoptman. Simon Hellberg, George Wyner, Michael Tezia, Allen Lewis Rickman, Yelena Shmulenson, Claudia Wilkens, Simon Helberg et al.
Producers: Ethan Coen and Joel Coen
Executive Producers: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner and Robert Graf
Original Music: Carter Burwell
Running Time: 104 Minutes
Country of Origin: United States
Language: English with some Yiddish and Hebrew
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Autobiography

The Coen brothers are known for the diversity of their writing and the wit that they insert into their films. However, since their 13 other films have centered around subjects like Texas mass murders, North Dakota lawmen and lifestyle, Irish mafia, supposed government spies and stoned Los Angeles bowlers, we can never assume that they are writing autobiographical material.

In A Serious Man, their 14th film, the Coen brothers touch on their Midwestern Jewish roots for the first time, returning to their boyhood community in Minneapolis, Minnesota and filming a story about Jewish life.

The film begins with a darkly comic prologue that takes place in the Yiddish language in a 19th century Eastern European shtetl and frames the film for the story that follows.

What follows is the story of Larry Gopnik, a suburban Minneapolis physics professor in 1967, descended from the East European family, who's trials and tribulations (tsuris) can be attributed to the curse placed upon the family by a malevolent spirit (dybbuk).

It must be the curse. Why else would the mild mannered, devoted husband, father and teacher be told by his wife that she's leaving him for a neighbor and wants a Jewish divorce, a get?

Simultaneously, his potential tenure is being anonymously sabotaged by letters to his department head and colleagues, a failing Korean student attempts to bribe him for a grade change, his daughter steals from him, his son steals from his daughter, while instead of studying for his bar mitzvah, his son listens to rock and roll music in Hebrew school and gets stoned on pot, and Larry's slobby, unemployable brother is sleeping on the couch and writing in a book entitled Mentaculus.

Larry is thrown into a spiritual crisis by all of the negative things happening to him. He doesn't find any resolution from the three different rabbis he consults.

Although his own misfortunes seem random, he consuls a wayward student that "actions have consequences". Larry has faith but no understanding of what's happening. He longs to be the "serious man" of the title and yet his wife reserves the term for Sy, the neighbor and friend who steals her from him.

The Coen brothers paint an accurate picture of 1960s life in Jewish America. The spiritual crisis continues although Larry is almost Job-like in his persistence and perseverance.

All things appear to be converging on the day of Danny's (Larry's son) bar mitzvah. Is God going to reveal some important truth to Larry and to the viewers on that day?

Is the film a drama or a comedy? There are plenty of jokes in it although the viewer might need some understanding of Jewish culture to understand them.

The viewer must question whether the Coen brothers are suggesting that we live a nihilistic life. They present a Jewish view of cosmic injustice, where no one person sees the entire picture. In their Jewish American culture the rational is rendered irrelevant by the mystical and throughout it all, Larry Gopnik remains hopeful.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

THAT EVENNING SUN

By D.E.Levine

Director: Scott Teems
Writer: Scott Teems (screenplay), William Gay (short story "I Hate to See the Evening Sun Go Down")
Producers: Terence Berry, Walton Groggins, Ray McKinnon and Laura D. Smith
Executive Producers: Raul Celaya, Adrian Jay, Larsen Jay
Co-Produces: Jeanine Rohn
Associate Producer: Anthony Reynolds
Cast: Hal Holbrook, Ray McKinnon,Walton Groggins, Mia Wasikowska, Carrie Preston, Barry Corbin, Dixie Carter, Baarlow Jacobs, Anthony Reynolds, Brian Keith, Bruce McKinnon, William J. Mode and Jacob Parkhurst
Running Time: 110 Minutes
Country of Origin: United States
Language: English
Genre: Drama

Hal Holbrooke has long been known as a superb supporting character film actor. He was nominated for an Oscar as Best Supporting Actor for Into The Wild. In this film he definitely tops that performance.

On stage, for years he has mesmerized the audience in his one man performance as Mark Twain. However, memorable lead roles in films have long escaped him.

In That Evening Sun Holbrooke, at age 84, turns in a lead performance that is undoubtedly the best he's ever done. As good as the rest of the cast is, Holbrooke's character, Abner Meecham, totally controls the film.

An independent, rural set drama helmed by a first time director Scott Teems who also wrote the screenplay, the film depicts 80-year old Abner Meecham, an Tennessee farmer angry at his son for recently putting him in a nursing home, and angry at the impending sale of his beloved farm to a young man he never liked.

Both hateful and sympathetic, Meecham appears in every scene as a senior who is both dynamic and troubled. The intensity of Holbrooke's performance actually brings out better performances in his fellow actors and enhances Holbrooke's reputation as a consummate actor.

While the subject matter may not appeal to everyone, the film is so absorbing, the feeling of the southern rural community captured so well, and the performances so believable that once the film begins time passes without notice until suddenly the film is at an end.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

DISNEY'S A CHRISTMAS CAROL

By D.E.Levine

Director: Robert Zemeckis
Writers: Robert Zemeckis (screenplay) and Charles Dickens (novel)
Cast: Jim Carey, Steve Valentine, Daryl Sabara, Sage Ryan, Ryan Ochoa, Bobbi Page, Ron Bottitta, Sami Hanratty, Julian Holloway, Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Cary Elwes, Robin Wright Penn, Bob Hoskins, Jacquie Barnbrook, Leslie Manville, Molly C. Quinn, Fay Masterson, Leslie Zemeckis, Paul Blackthorne, Michael Hyland, Kerry Hoyt, Julene Renee, Fionnula Flanagan, Raymond Ochoa, Callum Blue, Matthew Henerson, Amber Gainey Meade, Aaron Rapke, Sonje Fortag
Producers: Jack Rapke, Steve Starkey and Robert Zemeckis
Associate Producers: Katherine C. Concepcion and Heather Smith
Original Music: Alan Silvestri
Running Time: 96 Minutes
Country of Origin: United States
Language: English
Genre: Fantasy, Capture Animation

This is a story that is visually stunning but in the translation to new technology loses the heart of the original novella.

It isn't "A Christmas Carol". Now it's "Disney's A Christmas Carol" and it has been subjected to the latest and greatest in digital technology.

While making the film breathtaking with special effects, the transition changes the essence of the underlying message since the emotional meaning of the film is subjugated to technological sleights of hand.

We must remember that Dickens wrote an unforgettable horror tale about miserly Ebernezer Scrooge's night of being assaulted in his own bedroom by the menancing spirits of his long-dead business partner Marley and three others.

With clanking chains they take him through his past, present and future life, exposing his misanthropic nature and his miserly manner.

When asked for a donation for the poor and the orphaned he asks "Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?" That stinginess and prevailing social atitutude is as frightening as the visions he sees and the voices he hears during his night of terror.

Dicken's tale is a dark and forboding look at Scrooge's soul. It is an examination of how emotions can get trampled and stunted but it is also a story of redemption when Scrooge learns that life is richer and better when with empathy and affection he opens his life to others and is rewarded with joy beyond anything he's previously known.

The Disney version is true to the original story with text being identical to the novella, but using the latest in 3D digital technology, motion picture capture and computer animation Zemeckis has made the film his own and in some ways changed the story's impact.

The use of animation and advanced technology allows the star-filled cast to play multiple parts since only their characters, not the actors themselves, are seen on screen.

However, the use of motion capture, distorted faces and figures, plus exaggerated body language, make the characters into caricatures.

Because Dickens created prototypical or classic characters, turning them into caricatures detracts from them and from the overall tale.

In the original novella, Tiny Tim is an important character representing the true spirit and true message of the book. In Disney's film Tiny Tim seems like a relatively unimportant character because his character never embraces the far flung exploits made possible by technology.

The third of Zemeckis's motion capture animated films, it is better than either Polar Express or Beowulf. The voice work is excellent, Victorian London has been designed remarkably well and the animated figures look very much like the actors who do their voices.

However, the heart and emotion that I still feel when watching the 1951 Alistair Sim version is missing when I watch this latest effort. At some points it's almost like watching a video game rather than a film.

The viewer is never as emotionally involved with Scrooge and the other characters as with the characters in the preceding films.

Still, this is a not to be missed film that will keep children enchanted and a bit scared, while offering adults a look at the latest advances in digital technology, motion capture and animation.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

DISTRICT 9

By D.E.Levine

Director: Neill Blomkamp
Writers: Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell (screenplay)
Producers: Carolynne Cunningham and Peter Jackson
Executive Producers: Bill Brock and Ken Kamins
Co-executive Producers: Elliot Ferwerda and Paul Hanson
Co-producer: Philippa Boyens
Cast: Sharito Copley, Jason Cope, Nathalie Boltt, Sylvaine Strike, Elizabeth Mkandawie, John Sumner, William Allen Young, Greg Melvil-Smith, Nick Blake, Morena Busa Sesatsa, Themba Nkosi, et al.
Original Music: Clinton Shorter
Running Time: 112 Minutes
Country of Origin: New Zealand, South Africa
Language: English, Afrikanas
Genre: Sci-Fi, Action, Thriller

This is a truly original science fiction film which combines political themes with state-of-the-art movie technology.

Filmed in director Neill Blomkamp's city of his youth, Johannesburg, the story is situated in a very real place and one unlikely to be found in science fiction.

We're so used to alien space ships landing in the U.S. that it's hard to believe a director would actually have one land in another country, much less South Africa.

But in this case, more than 20 years before the start of the movie, the alien ship simply ran out of gas and her exhausted passengers were put in internment camps that are separated from the normal human population. The stalled mother ship still hovers overhead.

The aliens are repulsive to look at, with hard crustacean shells, a close resemblance to insects and great strength. Labeled "pawns" by humans, because they root around for food and scavenge what they can, especially cat food,

In a country and city where memories of apartheid are still vivid and old biases still exist, the political suggestions evoked by the film per segregation between humans and pawns, is not lost on the audience.

The humans want to control the sophisticated weapons that the aliens brought with them. The humans however, lack the dark viscous fluid necessary to power both the weapons and the mother ship.

When Multinational United (MNU) decides to move the aliens from their internment camp to a rural concentration camp in order to control the burgeoning population, the eviction task is given to Wilkus, MNU Chairman's son-in-law.

While attempting to clear an illegal lab run by alien Christopher Johnson, Wilkus gets infected with an alien virus that rapidly changes his DNA. During a violent bout of illness, Wilkus grows and alien claw which can operate the alien weaponry.

Now labeled the "most valuable business artifact on Earth" and pursued by MNU scientists who want to harvest his organs, Wilkus escapes to District 9 with MNU's chief enforcer Koobus on his heels.

While hiding, Wilkus forms an uneasy alliance with Christopher and his young son. It turns out that the virus that infected Wilkus is the same liquid that Johnson has been distilling and collecting for 20 years to power the mother ship.

There is some disparity in the story, since viewers will undoubtedly wonder why Wilkus, the only human who can operate alien weaponry would be hunted rather than utilized for his unique skill, but the story is told in a tight and exciting manner and should be a crowd pleaser.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS

By D.E.Levine

Director: Terry Gilliam
Writers: Terry Gilliam and Charles McKeown
Cast: Johnny Depp, Heath Ledger, Jude Law, Colin Farrell, Christopher Plummer, Lily Cole, Tom Waits, Andrew Garfield, Quinn Lord, Verne Troyer, Paloma Faith, Cassandra Sawtell, Carrie Genzel, Michael Eklund, Brad Dryborough, Ryan Grantham, Johnny Harris, Mark Benton et al.
Producers: Terry Gilliam, William Vince, Amy Gilliam and Samuel Hadida
Executive Producers: Dave Valleau and Victor Hadida
Music: Michael Danna and Jeff Danna
Running Time: 122 Minutes
Country of Origin: United States
Language: English
Genre: Fantasy

The last film that Heath Ledger worked on, Terry Gilliam was left with an unfinished film and a need to find a way to complete it when Ledger died. It tugs at the heart when Ledger's character talks about those who die young saying "They are forever young, they won't grow old". That's exactly how we will always remember Ledger.

There's a great deal of star power in the film and a mirror to the imagination in a carnival show allows Gilliam to use considerable imagery, but the film lacks the qualities found in his earlier films Time Bandits and Brazil. It's definitely more of an art house film than a popular commercial cinema venture.

However, Gilliam successfully weaves the contemporary and the fantastical into a dark yet whimsical package. Brimming with stunning digital visual effects, the basic story involves the classic duel between the forces of imagination led by Dr. Parnassus and Mr. Nick, the devil, who is the architect of fear and ignorance.

With a setting of a horse drawn carnival sideshow in modern London, Dr. Parnassus invites ticket holders to enter a world of their own imagination by stepping through a large mirror. Once on the other side fates vary and faces change.

It's this assumption that permitted Gilliam to fill Ledger's vacated role with Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell. Ledger only appears in about a third of the film and without the participation of the other actors (all friends of his) the film could not have been completed.

Ledger initially appears as a man hanged from Blackfriar's Bridge with his hands tied behind his back. Claiming to remember nothing, he is renamed George by the carnival troupe and joins them. Dr. Parnassus believes the devil placed George with his troupe to make trouble because he and Mr. Nick have a lifelong wager with Dr. Parnassuss' daughter's soul as the prize.

The good doctor and Mr. Nick have a deal where they bet on people's souls in the world behind the mirror. One of the conditions is the doctor's immortality. Another involves the doctor's daughter on her sixteenth birthday. It is George who becomes the lynch-pin in the wager between the doctor and the Devil as the birthday countdown proceeds.

Friday, October 23, 2009

CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS

By D.E.Levine

Directors: Phil Lord and Chris Miller
Writers: Phil Lord and Cris Miller (screenplay) and Judi Barrett and Ron Barret (book)
Producer: Pam Marsden
Executive Producer: Yair Landau
Co-producers: Lydia Bottegoni and Chris Juen
Animation Executive Producer: Andrea Miloro
Cast (voices): Bill Hader, Anna Faris, James Caan, Andy Samberg, Bruce Campbell, Mr. T, Bobbie J. Thompson, Benjamin Bratt, Neil Patrick Harris, Al Roker, Lauren Graham, Will Forte, Max Neuwirth, Peter Siragusa, Angela Shelton, Neil Flynn, Liz Cackowski, Isabella Acres, Lori Alan, Shane Baumel, Bob Bergan, Cody Cameron, Marsha Clark, John Cygan, Ann Domric, Paul Eiding, Jess Harnell, Gary A. Hecker, Phil Lord, Sherry Lynn, Danny Mann, Mona Marshall, Mickie McGowan, Chris Miller, Laraine Newman, Jan Rabson, Grace Rolek, Jeremy Shada, Will Shadley, Melissa Surm and Ariel Winter
Original Music: Mark Mothersbaugh
Running Time: 81 Minutes
Country of Origin: United States
Language: English
Genre: Animation/Adaption, Kids/Family

This is a 3-D animated comedy based on a popular children's' book. The central character is Flint Lockwood, a boy who is an amateur inventor and lives on an island in the Atlantic where the central industry is catching and canning sardines.

With the collapse of the sardine market, and the disillusionment of island inhabitants with eating their own sardines, Flint creates food-flavored weather when his latest invention which converts water into food, launches itself into the sky and starts producing all types of edible food that falls to earth.

Hailed as a hero, Flint basks in the celebrity status until weather-girl Sam Sparks questions how much of a good thing is too much.


Between candy, ice cream, pancakes and hamburgers, with plenty of pizza and other child desired edibles, the island is pummeled with a down pouring of food until the machine goes out of control and the island is deluged with edibles.

With a tornado cloud made of spaghetti and meatballs, meatballs fall out of the sky and rain down upon the town. There is also the possibility that the town will be swept up in the spaghetti and meatball tornado.

Flint is torn between the adoration and the real threat of imminent demise, and it's up to him and Sam Sparks, with a little help from their friends, to rescue the island and the town.

Overall, the film is a wonderful, funny, straight-forward telling of a tale that has at it's core the story of an "oddball" who finds acceptance at the sacrifice of his core values.