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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

WRECK-IT RALPH

By D.E,Levine

A 3D animated film from Disney that pays homage to the classic video game culture, Wreck-It Ralph is delightful.

With Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly) a so-called bad guy who wrecks buildings in an arcade game  called "Fix-It Felix Jr." a video game located in Mr. Litwak's  (Ed O'Neill) video arcade.

After 30 days, tired of always being the bad guy,  Ralph tells fellow attendees at a "Bad-Anon" meeting that he's a reluctant villain.  His job is to tear down apartment buildings inhabited by the Nicelanders who virtually worship Felix (Jack McBrayer) for his superior repair skills.

Peeping in the windows at the Nicelanders frequent cocktail parties, Ralph decides that if he can earn a medal he might also get some respect from the Nicelanders.  Ingeniously, using the power cords and surge protectors of the arcade to travel to Game Central Station, Ralph has now arrived at the gateway to all of the games in the store.

Once he learns that hi-def "Hero's Duty' awards a medal for bravery, Ralph decides that's the game for him and he joins Sergeant Calhoun's (Jane Lynch) platoon to battle the Cy-Bugs.  The Cy-Bugs are a nasty computer virus that take the form of cyber spiders.

Escaping "Hero's Duty" with his medal, Ralph is attacked on board one of Sergeant Calhoun's spaceships by an enormous Cy-Bug and crash lands the spaceship in "Sugar Rush", a race car game.

Ralph loses his medal to Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman), who refuses to return it , Sugar Rush, King Candy, Vanbecause she intends to use it to stake her entry into one of the Sugar Rush races.  She's a real brat but Ralph is helpless as far as getting her to return the medal.

After meeting Sugar Rush dictator King Candy, Ralph decides to join forces with Vanellope to recover his medal and get Vanellope a spot in one of the races.  Before they can do that they must break into King Candy's specialized factory, build a competitive race car and teach Vanellope to drive the car.

In a radical turn of events we find that Felix has left the Wreck-It Ralph game and the Nicelanders in order to find his friend and return him to the game, and also to save the Sugar Rush game from invasive Cy-Bugs before they cause the game to flatline.

This is an original and interesting film and visually provides great color and action.  It should appeal to all ages.



Friday, December 21, 2012

SKYFALL

By D.E.Levine

In his third James Bond film, Daniel Craig returns looking fit and polished.  With Sam Mendes directing and Roger Deakins doing the cinematography, Skyfall turns out to be one of the most exciting of the 23-film compilation.

Viewers see an opening 10-minute sequence that takes place in the bazaars, streets and over the roofs of Istanbul, and then see M (Judi Dench) writing Bond's obituary.

Having been shown his own mortality, Bond remains in seclusion on a remote beach and notifies no one about his survival.  It's only when the new MI6 London headquarters are blown up by terrorists that Bond returns to active duty and to the introduction of Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes) the intelligence and security committee chairman who is making M's life uncomfortable.

It turns out that all British agents embedded in terrorist organizations have been compromised and Bond himself looks somewhat antiquated.

With field agent Eve (Naomie Harris) in tow, Bond goes globetrotting to uncover the individual who can lead him to the man who's behind all of the trouble.  In Shanghai Bond meets Severine (Bernice Lim Marlohe) who does indeed lead him to a deliciously wicked villain, Silva (Javier Bardem) who is definitely half lunatic with delusions of self-grandeur.  He's a riveting and entertaining figure and a worthy opponent for Bond.

To tell more of the story is to ruin it.  You have to see this film to follow the story of James Bond and MI6 in the 21st century.  Be advised, this film is chock-full of action and surprises and if you like action films and James Bond thrillers, you'll love this one.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

TED

By D.E.Levine

Seth MacFarlane of Family Guy fame makes his directorial debut with Ted.  The central character Ted is a stuffed teddy bear who boozes, smokes pot, talks in foul language and may remind viewers of juvenile acting frat boys

Given to friendless John Bennett when he was a boy, Ted, the stuffed bear, fulfills John's wish of coming alive.

Becoming a celebrity in 1985, Ted appears on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, but a quarter of century later Ted is abusing drugs and alcohol and mooching off of others.

Ted's lifelong friend John (Mark Wahlberg) is his chief enabler, still hanging out with him and overindulging in partying, booze and drugs.  Lori (Mila Kunis), John's girlfriend, is pretty accepting of Ted, but by their fourth anniversary she's getting fed up.

Although this is a film that was originally conceived of as an automated series, it works well as a light-hearted comedy with a pretty traditional story  ---  guy has a relationship with a girl and his best friend keeps interfering.  In this case the best friend happens to be a stuffed teddy bear,

Through CGI, Ted is believable as a bear who comes to life.  MacFarlane voices him with a heavy Boston accent and after a while it doesn't seem at all strange that we're watching a bear.

Singer Norah Jones makes a nice cameo as a friend of Ted's.  1980 Flash Gordon film star Sam Jones, looking very fit, turns out to be another friend and takes Ted and John on a wild party night.

John has obviously postponed growing up for as long as he can, a situation not unlike many other guy in their thirties.  Ted's a lot of fun but obviously a bad influence and Lori is the believable and patient girlfriend who straightens everything out.

Monday, December 17, 2012

QUARTET

By D.E.Levine

Actor Dustin Hoffman is no stranger to film but after 50 years in front of the camera, this is his first directorial attempt and he has excelled in the final result.  What a treat to watch and hear Quartet!

Quartet is a beautiful story told honestly and directly.  With a stellar cast that includes Dame Maggie Smith, comedian Billy Connolly, Michael Gambon, Pauline Collins and Tom Courtenay, the cast, who may not be immediately recognizable to some audiences, delivers realistic and heartfelt performances.

Set in an assisted retirement living home for classical musicians, in the beautiful English countryside, the audience is treated not only to the character stories and intrigues, but also to performances by renown British musicians and vocalists, who, now actually retired, show their amazing talents are still very much alive.
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Of course, there is a class system in place at the retirement home.  An unwritten rule says that dining room tables with window views are reserved for vocalists.  Also, every year on October 10th, the residents put on a gala in honor of Giuseppe Verdi in order to raise money for the home.  When we join the story, the selection for the current year is Rigoletto.

The central story revolves around the arrival of a new resident at the home, a famed opera singer.  This arrival stirs up old memories and opens old wounds.  It also results in new friendships being formed and loyalties being established.  And in the end "the show must go on" proves to be very, very true and applicable to this story.

The film is based on the successful play Quartet by Ronald Harwood, who wrote the screenplay  and it doesn't rely on any special effects.    The key to Quartet is excellent acting and musical performances.

For those viewers in the habit of leaving before the screen credits roll  -- don't.  The credits for Quartet show pictures of the actors, musicians and vocalists in their younger days, with a summation of their background.

Friday, December 14, 2012

FRANKENWEENIE

Bu D.E,.Levine

Director Tim Burton has made a 3D black and white stop action film about a boy who brings his beloved deceased dog back to life.

An extended version of a 1984 short that he did for Disney in 1984, the film bears the signature creepiness that Burton is noted for in all his films.

After Victor Frankenstein loses his dog Sparky in an auto accident, Victor, after seeing a science class demonstration of how electricity makes a dead frog's legs kick, decides he will experiment with electricity and see whether he can bring Sparky back to life.

Working in the attic on a dark and stormy night, Victor does indeed restore Sparky to life.  However, when fellow students steal his secret and bring all their dead pets back to life, there is a real problem, especially when all the little monsters invade a festival on Main Street.

While this film is a bit scary for small children, it is a bit of a rehash of former Burton films and doesn't carry quite the same scare level as some of his others.



Monday, December 10, 2012

DJANGO UNCHAINED

By D.E.Levine

Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino, my first impulse is to say it's typical Tarantino.  However, actually, the writer/director has merged elements of traditional and spaghetti westerns to create a bloody feature which also has comedic elements and pushes the subject of slavery to the forefront.

Christoph Waltz as Dr. King Schultz, a German bounty hunter posing as an dentist,  steals the movie, but there are strong performances by Jamie Foxx, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington and Samuel Jackson.  There are also some excellent  guest appearances by older actors like Don Johnson, Franco Nero (the original Django from Sergio Corbucci's European spaghetti western of 1966), Bruce Dern, Russ Tamblyn and other actors from the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s..

This is a revenge saga.set in the deep south just before the Civil War.  Tarantino's writing and direction manages to make  fools of the Klu Klux Klan and some other organizations while justifying the pure vengeance of Django, who happens to be black and a former slave.

Freed by Dr. Schultz, who takes on the owners of a chain gain of slaves, Django reveals that his black, German speaking wife Broomhilda,  was sold to another master.  Resolving to find and rescue Broomhilda, Django signs on as a bounty hunter with Schultz and after a successful winter of capturing men with bounties on their heads, they track Broomhilda to Candyland, the vast plantation owned by Calvin Cande, a smooth talking evil racist individual.

The soundtrack is eclectic and memorable, as it usually is with the soundtracks of Tarantino films.







ARGO

By D.E,.Levine

In his first directing effort, Ben Affleck has done an outstanding job.  Taken from a true incident that took place during the Iranian hostage drama of 1979 when fifty-two Americans were taken hostage in the American Embassy in Tehran,  six other Americans escaped and found refuge in the personal residence of the Canadian ambassador.

Since the Islamic revolutionaries were unaware of the six hiding with the Canadians, the CIA attempted to come up with a plan for rescuing them.

Unimpressed by the CIA plan, exfiltration specialist Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) devises a slightly unbelievable scheme where he'll pose as a Hollywood producer, go to Tehran under the guise of scouting locations, claim the six Americans are part of his crew, and fly them out of the country.

The scheme is so far-fetched that nobody would believe it's a rescue plan, so with the consent of the CIA, Mendez activates his plan.

Unlike the current selection of thrillers where there's lots of action and things frequently get blown up, this is a thriller where the suspense is in the quiet deception.  With the probability of being discovered and arrested at any time, and with lots of close calls, this is gripping entertainment.

Among the stellar cast are John Goodman as a makeup artist and Alan Arkin as a Hollywood producer who Mendez bring in to pad his cover story.  With these two adding comic relief and a secondary story line,  Arkin's Lester Siegel agrees to lend his name to a sci-fi script called "Argos" that is set in the Middle East.  Declaring that if he's going to make a fake film it must be a fake hit, these two are hilarious.

Since the outcome is part of history and could be easily Googled, there would seem to be no need for this film.  But, this is a film that's so well done and so entertaining that it's more fun to watch played out on the big screen.




Friday, December 7, 2012

BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD

By D.E.Levine

This film may well be a masterpiece.  It is certainly one of the most creative films to be done in which years.

Working with a tight budget and an even tighter shooting schedule, Director Benh Zeitlin used non-actors and made a totally believable story that borders on brilliant.  Along the way he discovered a talent that may well become a leading actress since Quvenzhane Wallis was only five when she auditioned for the part, seven when she actually made the movie, and at nine is the youngest Academy Award Best Actress Nominee ever.

The film is told from the point of view of six-year-old Huspuppy (Wallis) who lives with her father Wink (Dwight Henry) in an area of a Louisiana bayou known as The Bathtub.

Hushpuppy faces a number of threats in The Bathtub which is under threat of flooding from storms.  Missing her deceased mother, Hushpuppy lives near her father who is ill and and keeps disappearing, leaving the little girl to fend for herself.

With a vivid imagination Hushpuppy fantasizes that global warming has unleashed ancient aurochs who are coming to get her.  In this sense the story takes on the feeling of a fairytale.

We see The Bathtub through Hushpuppy's eyes and we hear about it through her narration.  It is a child's simplistic view and it is interwoven with fairytale aspects.

This is a film that cannot be compared to other films because there are no others like it.

The difference has been noticed because the film has been plucked from obscurity and nominated for numerous major category awards with different guilds..