Enjoy this collection of Film Reviews!

2021
“Cinderella”
SM Movie Guy - Cinderella 2021 Cover

Not your grandma’s “Cinderella.”

“Cinderella”

Amazon Pictures

Directed by Kay Cannon

Starring Camila Cabello, Billy Porter, Idina Menzel, Nicholas Galitzine, Pierce Brosnan and Minnie Driver

Rated

3 Stars

 

There have been a lot of movies based on the “Cinderella” fairy tale, ranging in quality from cinema classics to unwatchable pieces of dreck. It’s led some to ask why we keep making the same story over and over again.

Do we really need another “Cinderella?”

For my money, the answer is yes. New audiences deserve their own versions of the classic stories in our culture, complete with a new generation of actors and plot tweaks to bring the story into line with contemporary values. Those tweaks will prove controversial for some, but they keep the story in line with today’s values.

That latest version of “Cinderella” comes courtesy of Amazon movies, and stars pop star Camila Cabello in the title role, with Idina Menzel playing the wicked stepmother and Billy Porter playing the fairy Godmother.

The story begins with the traditional set up except that Ella wants to do more with her life than just marry a handsome prince (Nicholas Galitzine). She is focused of starting her own business, a dress shop, and only goes to the Prince’s ball so that she can network with potential clients. There will still be a romantic story, but the business subplot makes the theme of following your dreams more important than falling in love and having a happily ever after ending.

If you’re just expecting a magical-but-mindless love story, this “Cinderella” will leave you unfulfilled.

The other big change comes in the form of multiple musical numbers from a wide range of artists. As a Gen X guy, I’m on board with any movie that kicks off with Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation” before moving on to music from Madonna, Queen, Salt-n-Pepper, The White Stripes, Jennifer Lopez, Earth, Wind and Fire and more. By filling the cast with actual singers, the music is never cringe worthy except for those moments when the filmmakers comically point out that not everybody can sing—which is the case with Pierce Brosnan.

The music is frequently accompanied by impressive group dance numbers, but my favorite musical aspect comes from the town crier, who provides story exposition with a brass band backup in quick hip hop bites. It’s a nice touch.

The production values are top notch, except for the three animated mice who will eventually be transformed into the footman for the carriage ride to the ball. They are designed to be low comic relief, but they don’t look very believable, and I found their comic banter to frequently be more annoying than humorous.

 Fortunately, the magic wears off and the mice go back to being background players so the movie can get back to what makes it work. “Cinderella” succeeds the because of several fun performances, lots of toe-tapping music and dance numbers and those story tweaks that make the film feel like something designed for contemporary culture and not just a re-working of one of grandma’s old fairy tales.

“Cinderella” is streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

 

Movie reviews by Sean, “The Movie Guy,” are published each week in “The Port Arthur News” and seen weekly on KFDM and Fox4. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@sbgtv.com.

Reviews by Sean McBride, “The Movie Guy,” are published weekly in the Idaho Press and seen weekly on KFDM-TV. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@sbgtv.com.

 

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Opens Sept 3

“Annette”

Arty Rock Opera leaves Movie Guy Shaking His Head

 “Annette”

Amazon Prime Video

Directed by Leos Carax

Starring Adam Driver, Marion Cotillard, Simon Helberg and a creepy wooden puppet

Rated R

2 Stars

 

“Annette” was the opening night film at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. It would be an understatement to say that this expansive rock opera left audiences divided.

I’ve seen online comments that have called this the best film of the year and all but anointed Adam Driver with next year’s Oscar. Then again, I’ve also seen comments calling the film a self-indulgent mess and a total waste of two and a half hours.

For the record, I fall mostly into that later camp.

“Annette” is a rock opera written by Ron and Russell Mael of Sparks fame. It is the story of a stand-up comic with anger issues (Driver) who falls in love with a famous opera singer (Marion Cotillard). They have a child, Annette, who has somehow inherited her mother’s glorious voice. It’s not long before audiences around the world are massing to hear the child sing, treating her as a god among mortals.

Lest I forget, Annette is played by a wooden puppet.

I understand the rationale behind that decision, as a human child would never be able to do the things that this script demands of Annette. That being said, the filmmakers would have been wiser to build the child as a computer-generated character. The puppet looks rather creepy, giving the film an unintended ghost doll vibe at times.

The other big problem is with the music. I won’t claim to know much about Sparks, but their rock opera score is completely forgettable. Apart from an odd-but-fun opening number, there’s not much to please fans of movie musicals—there’s certainly no hummable tune on the soundtrack.

Exacerbating the mediocre music issue is that fact that Driver isn’t a trained singer. He’s not Pierce Brosnan in “Mama Mia” bad, but his singing seldom rises above the level of casual karaoke. Cotillard fares better, as she was smart enough to have an actual singer dub in her music. The problem here is that she isn’t given all that much to do in this film, so her efforts are overwhelmed by Driver’s larger role in the film.

To be fair, Driver does deserve credit for his fearless performance. It’s not often that a movie star of his caliber is willing to go all out for such an off-putting character. I certainly agree with those initial commenters who were impressed by the actor’s big swing.

But it’s a swing and a miss for me.

Finally, let’s chat about the hit-and-miss direction from Leos Carax. He’s known as a cinematic provocateur, and I did appreciate some of the film’s visual spectacle. Then again, he intercuts his main scenes with Newsreel snippets that are so ham-fisted that they seem like they were done by a high school media club.

 Of course, I have also seen comments from those who claim that the obviously bad parts of the film are done on purpose. I’m don’t really buy that, but if that’s the case, then I just didn’t get this film.

It reminds me of a self-indulgent student art film with giant movie stars giving the movie an artistic sheen that it simply doesn’t deserve.

“Annette” left me shaking my head wondering what the heck did I just see?

“Annette” is playing in select theaters and streaming on Amazon Prime.


Movie reviews by Sean, “The Movie Guy,” are published each week in “The Port Arthur News” and seen weekly on KFDM and Fox4. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@sbgtv.com.

 Reviews by Sean McBride, “The Movie Guy,” are published weekly in the Idaho Press and seen weekly on KFDM-TV. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@sbgtv.com.

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 Opens Aug 20

“Reminiscence”

“Reminiscence is a water-logged mess of a movie.

“Reminiscence”

Warner Brothers Films

Directed by Lisa Joy

Starring Hugh Jackman, Rebecca Ferguson, Thandiwe Newton and Cliff Curtis

Rated PG-13

2 1/2 Stars


“Reminiscence” is a swing and a miss of a movie. It’s a visually impressive dystopian mystery/film noir/love story that struggles to make the movie’s disparate elements mesh together.

Still, the filmmakers deserve credit for taking such a big swing. At least they are trying to make something original.

Hugh Jackman stars as a near-future detective working the wet streets of Miami because rising ocean levels have flooded the city. He runs a business where he uses a science fiction contraption that helps people relive lost or hidden memories. This is useful when law enforcement needs to compel a confession from a criminal, but also when a mysterious woman (Rebecca Ferguson) wanders in one evening and asks for help in finding her lost keys.

The detective falls in love with the woman at first sight, much to the dismay of his partner (Thandiwe Newton) who is obviously crushing on her boss. He almost seems happy, but then the lost-keys woman mysteriously vanishes, and the detective becomes obsessed with finding out what happened to her. As you might predict, he will uncover dangerous secrets during his investigation

It’s not the most complicated mystery, and writer/director Lisa Joy goes over each clue multiple times for those who are having trouble keeping up with the plot. For a film that seems to aspire to being a “Chinatown” meets “Blade Runner” type of a movie, the screenplay is far too simple for such lofty aspirations.

Jackman’s performance also seems a little off. The actor is usually a charismatic figure who can light up the screen. This time out, however, he is content playing a sad little man who keeps putting himself in danger while he searches for his lost love. It’s not hard to surmise that his missing girlfriend is a femme fatale who’s moved on. His desperate search comes across as a little sad, and since we didn’t spend enough time watching the romance blossom, it isn’t very convincing either.

Story issues aside, I do think that the visuals are quite impressive, creating this fully believable, water-logged world. The whole city seems to be on the verge of falling into the sea, giving the film a nice metaphor for its human characters as well.

Joy, who is a co-producer of HBO’s “Westworld,” deserves a lot of credit for her world building and production design skills. It’s easily the best part of the film.

The problem is that while “Reminiscence” has many good elements, they don’t mesh into one artistic whole. Pretty images can only take you so far when you’re stuck watching a character slog through his sad investigation. We will hope for better things from Joy in the future, but right now, “Reminiscence” is a water-logged mess of a movie.

“Reminiscence is playing in theaters and streaming on HBO Max.

 

Movie reviews by Sean, “The Movie Guy,” are published each week in “The Port Arthur News” and seen weekly on KFDM and Fox4. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@sbgtv.com.

Reviews by Sean McBride, “The Movie Guy,” are published weekly in the Idaho Press and seen weekly on KFDM-TV. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@sbgtv.com.

 

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“Free Guy”

Reynolds and Comer shine in “Free Guy”

“Free Guy”

20th Century Studios

Directed by Shawn Levy

Starring Ryan Reynolds, Jodie Comer, Joe Keery, Lil Rel Howery and Taika Waititi

Rated PG-13

3 Stars

 

Ryan Reynolds has made a lot of money by starring in action films where his character makes humorous quips in between being beaten to a pulp. From “Deadpool” to “The Hitman’s Bodyguard,” he seems to know that audiences enjoy watching this good-looking and funny guy being smacked around a bit in his movies.

Well, if it isn’t broken…

Reynolds’ latest film is “Free Guy,” a delightful action comedy where he plays Guy, a minor non-playable character in a Grand Theft Auto style video game. Despite all of the murder and mayhem that surrounds him in the game, Guy is a genuinely nice character who just wants you to “have a great day.”

Trouble comes in the form an unpredictable game character (Jodie Comer) who lets Guy in on the secret that he’s living in a video game. Most of us would fall apart at this existential crisis, but not Guy. He just smiles and decides to make some changes, hopefully saving his friends from being deleted along the way.

Guy suffers through a lot comedic action set pieces where he is usually the butt of the joke. You know, the kind of stuff that has Reynolds laughing all the way to the bank.

Reynolds is very good in these types of roles, but it’s Comer who really gets to shine here. She is playing two parts, a human coder out in the real world and her alluring video game avatar. She’s wonderful as each character.

The rest of the supporting cast is also quite fun, from Lil Rel Howery playing Guy’s best friend, another game character named Buddy, to Taika Waititi playing a human world game creator and going way over-the-top with his interpretation of a tyrannical software empresario. Plus, I will mention that there are a lot of cameo appearances that generate big laughs. I won’t spoil anything here, but it’s obvious that these famous faces jumped at the opportunity to join such a fun project.

While we’re on the subject of fun, the action is also thrilling. It’s set in a video game, so it’s purposefully outlandish, although the PG-13 rating keeps the blood down to a minimum. It’s too crazy to be taken seriously, so you can just sit back and enjoy the cartoonish mayhem.

Some might grouse that “Free Guy” steals plot points liberally from a host of other movies. That’s certainly a mark against the filmmaker’s creativity, but given its artificial world setting, it’s an easy fault to forgive.

The bottom line in “Free Guy” is that Reynolds is as charming as ever. He’s funny and game to take a self-deprecating punch or two. The rest of the cast is also in top form, as are the visual images and world building. It’s a film crammed with in jokes for gamers, yet plenty of appeal for those who don’t really play.

In short, “Free Guy” will please all audiences. Perhaps it might have been more accurate to call the movie, ‘Fun Guy.” Either way, it’s certainly worth taking a trip out to the theater for another dose of Ryan Reynolds’ charm.

Movie reviews by Sean, “The Movie Guy,” are published each week in “The Port Arthur News” and seen weekly on KFDM and Fox4. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@sbgtv.com.

Reviews by Sean McBride, “The Movie Guy,” are published weekly in the Idaho Press and seen weekly on KFDM-TV. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@sbgtv.com.

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Opens Aug 16

“The Suicide Squad”

Anarchic fun abounds in “The Suicide Squad”

“The Suicide Squad”

Warner Brothers Films

Directed by James Gunn

Starring Margot Robbie, Idris Elba, John Cena, Joel Kinnaman, Viola Davis, Daniela Melchior, David Dastmalchian, Sylvester Stallone and Peter Capaldi

Rated R

3 Stars

 

The latest “Suicide Squad” movie may not be a cinematic masterpiece, but when held up in comparison to the 2016 version of this material, it certainly feels like great filmmaking. Credit much of the reboot success to director James Gunn, who find the right mix of anarchy and fun to leave audiences wanting more.

For those of you who have tried to wipe the last film from your memories, the central conceit of “The Suicide Squad” is that comic book bad guys will be given the chance to knock some time of their prison sentences if they will agree to go on a seemingly-impossible mission for the government.

That how we get the chirpy-but-lethal villainess, Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) teaming up with the guy who put superman in the ICU (Idris Elba), and an anthropomorphic shark known as King Shark (Sylvester Stallone). Rounding out the team is a Captain America imitator (John Cena), a woman who can control rats (Daniela Melchior) and a man who grows killer polka dots (David Dastmalchian) and spends all of his time fretting about his mother.

Yes, this is an odd assortment of characters to be sure.

They are odd, but always fun to watch as they are sent out to invade a fictional South American country and stop a plot to bring down America via a giant intergalactic monster. I won’t spoil its full identity, but as is appropriate to this film, the big bad is also an odd choice.

 As you might expect from this very R rated blockbuster, this movie is very gory and filled with profanities. In lesser hands this might be a critique, but not so with a director who adds artistic flourishes to every bit of bloodletting. This makes “The Suicide Squad” into a surprisingly good-looking film, even while it occasionally shocks your senses.

The same holds true for the excessive profanity, which is delivered with gleeful relish by this odd assortment of antiheroes. These actors are having a blast playing these bad guys, and while I’d never want to go on a mission with them, I’d certainly love to watch future adventures from the safety of an air-conditioned movie theater or at home on HBO Max.

Kudos to the cast and crew for making “The Suicide Squad” into one of the most entertaining DC Comics movies since their “Batman” series, and this one is certainly a lot more fun to watch. It’s a silly comic book movie mixed up with a war flick, a workplace comedy, a dysfunctional comedy and a whole lot of anarchic fun.

Movie reviews by Sean, “The Movie Guy,” are published each week in “The Port Arthur News” and seen weekly on KFDM and Fox4. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@sbgtv.com.

Reviews by Sean McBride, “The Movie Guy,” are published weekly in the Idaho Press and seen weekly on KFDM-TV. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@sbgtv.com.

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Opens Aug 6

2020
“Mulan”

Is Disney’s “Mulan” worth the $30 cost?

“Mulan”

Disney+

Directed by Niki Caro

Starring Yifei Liu, Donnie Yeng, Jason Scott Lee, Yoson An and Jet Li

Rated PG-13

3 Stars

 

Back in the before times, otherwise known as February, most people were looking at “Mulan” as one of the spring’s most-anticipated movie releases. Disney has found great success with live action versions of their animated classics, and “Mulan” certainly looked like it was poised to be a big hit at the theaters

Fast forward five months and Disney has decided to release “Mulan” as an added purchase feature on their streaming service. There has been some mixed-messaging from the studio about whether this move was prompted entirely by the coronavirus shutdown or a need to prop up the streaming service with original content. Either way, Disney fans have reason to celebrate as they can finally watch this movie.

As has been the case with the other live action films, “Mulan” differs from the original animated movie in several notable ways. This is once again the story of a young woman (Yifei Liu) who disguises herself as a man so that she can fight in the emperor’s army, but Disney fans will immediately notice the exclusion this time around of Eddie Murphy’s dragon character, Mushu. By extension, this means that most of the comedy has also been removed from the new film.

The same holds true for the musical score. The characters don’t stop what they’re doing to put on a musical training montage. With apologies to Donny Osmond, it’s not really missed.

The other major difference is that the new film doubles down on the wire-fu fighting sequences. This is where the film really shines, with fight choreography that is quite impressive. I can imagine young children being thrilled while watching these characters leap and flip through the skies as they fight each other.

I also appreciate that the film tries to make the story a bit more plausible. I still don’t think that anybody would have been fooled by a young woman in army drag. Nor do I understand quite why she is able to accomplish physical feats that elude her male comrades, but suspension of disbelief is critical to the entire story. Just go with it and you’ll have a good time.

The acting, special effects, production design and cinematography are all top drawer, which is to be expected from all of Disney’s live action films. The studio is simply too professional to let a sub-par movie through their system.

So, the big question is whether “Mulan” is worth the $30 asking price? If you’ve got young kids at home, I think it’s absolutely worth shelling out a few extra dollars for this film. You’ll probably save enough money to cover the cost by making your own popcorn at home.

If you don’t have kids, or if you’re just a passing fan, perhaps wait until December when the movie will be available on Disney+ without the extra charge. Either way, the film is well-worth your time. It’s a thrilling adventure that will entertain the entire family, ardent Disney fan or not. 

 “Mulan” streams exclusively on Disney+ beginning September 4th

Movie reviews by Sean, “The Movie Guy,” are published each week in “The Port Arthur News” and seen weekly on KFDM and Fox4. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@sbgtv.com.

Reviews by Sean McBride, “The Movie Guy,” are published weekly in the Idaho Press and seen weekly on KFDM-TV. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@sbgtv.com.

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Sept 4

“The War with Grandpa”

DeNiro slums in okay pre-teen comedy.

“The War with Grandpa”

West Madison Entertainment

Directed by Tim Hill

Starring Robert DeNiro, Uma Thurman, Rob Riggle, Oakes Fegley, Christopher Walken, Cheech Marin, Laura Marano and Jane Seymour

Rated PG

2 ½ Stars

 

Robert DeNiro has long been lionized as one of America’s greatest actors, so critics started salivating when it was announced that he was teaming up with Uma Thurman, Christopher Walken, Cheech Marin and Jane Seymour for his new film. Surely this project would be a top contender for the Academy Award, whenever that happens next.

Well, maybe not.

The film turns out to be “The War with Grandpa,” a preteen comic fantasy that is as silly as it sounds. DeNiro plays grandpa, the old man who inadvertently starts a war when he moves in to his daughter’s house (Uma Thurman) and forces his grandson (Oakes Fegley) to give up his room. This is a comedy aimed at families, so the war will mostly consist of pratfalls and embarrassing moments, but some parents might take issue with the serious intent behind the skirmishes.

People do get hurt. Property is destroyed. Fires break out. It’s rated PG and done for comic effect, but you might want to preview the film before letting your preteen boy get any mischievous ideas.

For my part, I didn’t really have any issues with the violence here, as “The War with Grandpa” works nicely as a youth-empowered fantasy. I think there’s little harm in letting kids run wild in a world without any true consequences. I actually have a soft spot for the film because back when I was working in the film industry, this is precisely the type of movies we were churning out—although we never got an actor as notable as DeNiro.

The film has solid production values and mostly-professional acting, with lots of mild humor and a solid message of the importance of family at its center. DeNiro is obviously a much better actor that young Fegley, as is painfully apparent in a few of their scenes, but the disparity of talent mostly plays like a kindly grandfather stooping to help his beloved grandson.

It makes for a charming-but-slight family comedy. I’m not sure how director Tim Hill managed to assemble such a notable cast, but the end result is worth the overabundance of talent on set.

“The War with Grandpa” is playing in movie theaters. If “Tenet” couldn’t get Americans back into movie theaters, I doubt that this movie will draw in the crowds. Still, I appreciate the fact that Hollywood is trying to get first rate movies back up and running.

It’s not a Marvel superhero movie, but it’s a solid start—especially if you’re a preteen boy.

Movie reviews by Sean, “The Movie Guy,” are published each week in “The Port Arthur News” and seen weekly on KFDM and Fox4. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@sbgtv.com.

Reviews by Sean McBride, “The Movie Guy,” are published weekly in the Idaho Press and seen weekly on KFDM-TV. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@sbgtv.com.

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Opens Oct 9

“Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”

“Borat” sequel is still very nice.

“Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”

Amazon Films

Directed by Jason Woliner

Starring Sacha Baron Cohen, Maria Bakalova and Tom Hanks

Rated R

3 Stars

 

I’m not alone in proclaiming that the 2006 film “Borat” is a comic masterpiece, both because of the film’s outrageous characters and situations, but also because of its cutting social criticism of hypocritical American values. Unfortunately, the film was so popular that it was deemed impossible to do a sequel because the character of Borat became recognizable on any street in America.

Fast forward fourteen years and the general public is still very familiar with Borat (Sacha Baron Cohen), but perhaps not so much that the actor couldn’t take a shot at a sequel. Which is how Borat once again comes to America, in the humorously titled Amazon production of “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm.”

It turns out that Borat has been in prison for embarrassing his country in the original film, but he’s paroled just in time for the sequel. Government officials hope to curry favor with the US, so they task Borat with delivering a bribe to none other than Mike Pence. The gift is supposed to be a famous sex monkey, but after a shipping tragedy, Borat decides to gift the VP with his daughter, Tutar (Maria Bakalova) instead.

The bulk of the film deals with turning Tutar into an ideal American woman. Much of the humor comes at the expense of those who are complicit in degrading this young woman in order to make a buck. Of course, even more of the humor comes by being as crude as possible and watching the horrified reactions from bystanders.

As in the first film, much of this takes place in the real world, but I’m not entirely convinced that some of these scenes aren’t scripted with actors this time around. Not entirely believing that the events are real saps much of the fun out of the film. The been-there-done-that jokes also seem a bit stale at times, making “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” into a lesser comedy than the original.

For my part, the fresh new material comes from Bakalova, who is doing the clueless Borat schtick but in female form. She is every bit as fearless and as funny as Cohen in this film. These two inspired lunatics carry the movie.

There are some real-world figures that also figure prominently in the mayhem, including one big name whose shocking behavior should get people talking. There are a few local folk who should also be ashamed of their behavior.  

Ultimately, “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” is still a lot of fun. The awkward situations and the coarse humor still elicit plenty of laughs. The social criticism is also quite sharp, although blunted a bit because the concept isn’t as fresh this time around. If you were a fan of the original film, you’ll probably enjoy this lesser sequel.

But, as Borat might say, this film is still very nice.

Movie reviews by Sean, “The Movie Guy,” are published each week in “The Port Arthur News” and seen weekly on KFDM and Fox4. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@sbgtv.com.

Reviews by Sean McBride, “The Movie Guy,” are published weekly in the Idaho Press and seen weekly on KFDM-TV. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@sbgtv.com.

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Opens Oct 23

“Wolfwalkers”

Animated Irish fairy tale charms movie guy.

“Wolfwalkers”

Cartoon Saloon/Apple TV+

Directed by Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart

Starring Sean Bean, Honor Kneafsey, Eva Whitaker and Simon McBurney

Rated PG

3 ½ Stars

 

Since my full name is Michael Sean McBride, perhaps you shouldn’t be too surprised to find out that I got a big kick out of the animated Irish fairy tale, “Wolfwalkers.” This is a PG rated family film that looks unlike most of the animated fare out these days, and its story also has a slight subversive twist that I found to be absolutely refreshing.

Set in 17th century Ireland, “Wolfwalkers” is the story of a young girl, Robin (Honor Kneafsey) who longs to become a wolf hunter like her father (Sean Bean). Since girls weren’t allowed such aspirations at the time, she must sneak off into the forest to practice her archery. She meets a wolf cub and is accidently nipped, which begins the magical process of turning Robin into a wolfwalker.

Yes, I’m aware this is also how werewolf stories begin, but “Wolfwalker” is far more benign. In this fable, they are creatures who are human during the day, and wolves at night while they sleep. Instead of hungering for blood, they are instead magical creatures who protect their pack and the forest from humans who want to chop it all down.

Simon McBurney plays one such human, the Lord Protector determined to burn down the wilderness to make way for human civilizations. A few decades ago, he might have been the hero, but in this film, he represents an oppressive government that deserves to be overthrown—not a message typically seen in many Disney/Pixar films.

The other major character is Mebh (Eva Whitaker). She’s the wolfwalker who nipped Robin, and despite all of this, the two girls are destined to become close friends. I found their love/hate/love relationship to be rather realistic, and also quite moving.

Visually, the film uses Celtic images and music to transport us to a far way time and place. There aren’t any slick graphics or puns here, just lovingly hand-drawn images that feel like they were taken from a wood block carving. It’s distinctive, filled with creative touches, and utterly magical.

All of which means that this old fashioned, subversive, not-a-werewolf story of female empowerment and wilderness conservation is my favorite animated film of the year so far. I wonder if it has enough kinetic action to enthrall the youngest kids, but I suspect that middle-schoolers on up will be charmed by these “Wolfwalkers”

Especially if they happen to have some Celtic blood in them.

”Wolfwalkers” opens in theaters this weekend and will stream on Apple TV+ in the coming weeks.

Movie reviews by Sean, “The Movie Guy,” are published each week in “The Port Arthur News” and seen weekly on KFDM and Fox4. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@sbgtv.com.

Reviews by Sean McBride, “The Movie Guy,” are published weekly in the Idaho Press and seen weekly on KFDM-TV. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@sbgtv.com.

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Opens Nov 13

2019
“The Favourite”

“The Favourite”

Fox Searchlight Films

Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos

Starring Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz, Nicholas Hoult, Joe Alwyn, James Smith, Mark Gatiss and Jenny Rainsford

Rated R

3 ½ Stars

One of my favorite movies of the year is the juicy palace intrigue drama, “The Favourite.” This film has already cleaned up at the British Independent Film Awards, and it looks poised to make a big splash at the Oscars, thanks primarily to a trio of outstanding acting performances.

This is the story of Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) and the two women vying for her affections, and the power that comes with being the Queen’s favorite. Set in the early 1700s, it’s also an outstanding story of how women could wield great power in an era where they were supposed to be little more than subservient to the men at court.

“The Favourite” makes it quite clear that you do not want to cross these ladies. Rachel Weisz gets the meatiest role, as Lady Sarah Churchill. She is the Queen’s main confidant in public, and her lover behind doors. Weisz brings a rakish charm to her character, and there’s more than just a hint of masculine energy in the performance. It adds up to a woman who is confident that she is the absolute master of her domain.

Her mini-fiefdom is threatened by the arrival of a distant cousin, Abigail, played by Emma Stone. At first blush, there is nothing to fear from Abigail, as she is a woman who has lost all her titles and now looks destined to spend the rest of her days working as the scullery maid.

But the maid has a keen eye, and she is quick to jump in when Lady Sarah takes the Queen’s affections for granted. What’s more, Abigail will quickly prove to be a ruthless opponent.

These are the showiest roles, but also credit Olivia Colman for her subtle portrait of a Queen who is mourning lost children and is desperate to find genuine love, even while she is encircled by vipers at court. This is a truly outstanding acting performance.

These three actresses provide the main reason to fall in love with “The Favourite,” but I was also very impressed by the film’s wonderfully complicated screenplay and sumptuous production design which takes us up close and personal with this royal family. The cinematography is just a little off kilter, reminding us that this story is not quite your normal family drama.

Major Anglophiles may take issue with parts of the story that have been streamlined from its historical basis, but general audiences will appreciate the efforts as I don’t think a subplot involving the Whigs in the Tories is exactly the stuff of great drama. Director Yorgos Lanthimos keeps things moving quickly, and wisely never gets in the way of the great actors that he has at his disposal.

All of which makes “The Favourite” into one of my “favourite” films of the year as well.

Movie reviews by Sean, “The Movie Guy,” are each week in “The Port Arthur News” and seen weekly on KFDM and KBTV. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@sbgtv.com.  

Reviews by Sean McBride, “The Movie Guy,” are published weekly in the Idaho Press-Tribune and seen weekly on KFDM-TV. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@sbgtv.com.

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Opens Friday, Jan 4

“On the Basis of Sex”

The Notorious R.B. G’s early days.

“On the Basis of Sex”

Focus Features

Directed by Mimi Leder

Starring Felicity Jones, Armie Hammer, Justin Theroux, Kathy Bates and Sam Waterston

Rated PG-13

3 Stars


“R.B.G.” was one of my favorite documentaries of the past year, but while I found it to be a fascinating chronicle of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s life, I will admit that it was also a bit dry at times. Most documentaries don’t have the emotional opportunities that you find in a film that’s been crafted by a talented screenwriter.

Enter “On the Basis of Sex,” or perhaps, “The Notorious R.B.G.: The Early Days.”

This is the narrative version of Ginsburg’s early life and her first notable court case. It’s a fitting companion to the documentary as that film gives you the facts, while this new film provides the emotions that most audiences crave. For best effect, I’d suggest making it a double feature.

“On the Basis of Sex” introduces us to Ginsburg (Felicity Jones) when she is a freshman at Harvard Law in the late 50s. She is asked by the Dean (Sam Waterston) to justify her scholarship, especially when her presence meant that a male student would be denied admission. This is the first of many instances of sexism that Ginsburg would face during her early career.

The only person who doesn’t doubt her abilities is her saintly husband, Marty (Armie Hammer). He will turn out to be a brilliant tax attorney in his own right, but he’s also the guy who was willing to stay at home and raise the kids—something rather notable in the early 60s. Indeed, one of my main critiques of this film is that several characters are so simply drawn as to be rendered as unbelievable. I’ll buy that Marty Ginsburg was a great guy, but the perfect feminist man with no faults is a bit of a stretch.

Felicity Jones’ portrayal is also a bit simplistic. We do see some of her early struggles, but most of her obstacles are overcome by an inspirational moment or a sudden epiphany. Most accounts say that Ginsburg triumphed because of her brilliant mind and non-stop work ethic, but that’s replaced here with something more cinematic.

Still, while some of this rings false in my head because the documentary taught me the real story, it absolutely resonates in my heart. Who doesn’t love watching an underdog triumph against a system that barely tolerates her right to practice law. The fact that Ginsburg is so physically small only makes her triumph all the greater.

All of which makes “On the Basis of Sex” into a bit of a mixed bag. Justice Ginsburg deserves a better screenplay where everything isn’t reduced into a simple struggle between good and evil. The actors and production values are fine, but they are hamstrung by the simplistic screenplay. Still, there’s no denying the appeal of Ginsburg’s story. It triumphs over any movie shortcoming giving us an emotionally satisfying look into the early days of the Notorious R.B.G.


Movie reviews by Sean, “The Movie Guy,” are each week in “The Port Arthur News” and seen weekly on KFDM and KBTV. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@sbgtv.com.

Reviews by Sean McBride, “The Movie Guy,” are published weekly in the Idaho Press and seen weekly on KFDM-TV. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@sbgtv.com.


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Opens Friday, Jan 14

“Glass”

Superheroes go to therapy in “Glass.”

“Glass”

Universal Pictures

Directed by M. Night Shyamalan

Starring Bruce Willis, James McAvoy, Samuel L. Jackson, Sarah Paulson and Anya Taylor-Joy

Rated PG-13

2 Stars

In the new movie, “Glass,” director M. Night Shyamalan takes a second look at a few of the characters from his previous films. His stated purpose with this movie is to create a grand showdown between good and evil, but he ultimately ends up with a hit-and-miss affair that never quite gels. It certainly doesn’t achieve much in the way of effective commentary regarding comic book-inspired super heroes and their villainous counterparts.

Still, the nostalgia factor is turned up on high as we catch up with David (Bruce Willis) the hero from “Unbreakable.” He now spends his days roaming the streets as a sad-sack vigilante sometimes known as “The Overseer.” The proper story begins when he runs up against Kevin (James McAvoy), the schizophrenic villain from last year’s movie, “Split.”

Their fight lands them both in an insane asylum, where a psychiatrist (Sarah Paulson) is studying their delusions. It also puts them in contact with Elijah (Samuel L. Jackson), the brilliant-but-brittle man who has been locked up ever since the events of “Unbreakable.”

Shyamalan is adept at wringing tension out of the conflict between these characters. Elijah, aka “Mr., Glass” teams up with Kevin’s “Beast” personality to escape the asylum. It’s up to David to stop them before they spread mayhem to the streets of Philadelphia.

On the surface, it’s a simple matter of a good guy trying to stop the baddies. Shyamalan offers up some half-hearted themes about the interdependency of heroes and villains, but he’s not really breaking any new ground here. In fact, he’s already gone over much of this in his far-superior earlier film, “Unbreakable.” You’ll probably be better-served re-watching that old film at home, rather than coughing up the money to see “Glass.”

To be fair, it’s not a complete mess. I’m always down to watch Bruce Willis playing a reluctant hero, and Samuel L. Jackson continues to be one of the most charismatic actors working today. James McAvoy turns in another tour de force performance, playing the 24 different personalities trapped inside his head. He is very good at distinctly bringing each of these personalities to life.

Mix that in with Shyamalan’s considerable directorial abilities, and you have an okay film that will certainly appeal to some fans. The problem is that his dissection to the nature of comic book superheroes isn’t very compelling at the universal gut level. This is a cerebral exercise that seldom excites the blood, leaving us with an occasionally tedious two-hour drama that doesn’t go anywhere.

It turns out that superheroes and mega-villains in court-mandated therapy simply isn’t enough to make a compelling drama.

 

Movie reviews by Sean, “The Movie Guy,” are each week in “The Port Arthur News” and seen weekly on KFDM and Fox 4. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@sbgtv.com.

Reviews by Sean McBride, “The Movie Guy,” are published weekly in the Idaho Press and seen weekly on KFDM-TV. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@sbgtv.com.

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Opens Friday, Jan 18

2018
“12 Strong”

“12 Strong” gallops into Afghanistan

 “12 Strong”

Warner Brothers Pictures

Directed by Nicolai Fuglsig

Starring Chris Hemsworth, Michael Shannon, Michael Pena, William Fichtner and Travante Rhodes

Rated R

3 Stars

I frequently suffer from cinematic whiplash during the month of January. This is the period when I’ve just come off a two-month stint of watching hundreds of movies that are dreaming of Oscar glory. Suddenly I find myself thrust back into the world of cinema as commerce rather than high art. It’s too easy to dismiss these January films as being mediocre simply because they don’t have any highbrow expectations.

Case in point, the new war movie, “12 Strong.” This is one of those films with simplistic characters and a story that’s too good to be true. It has very little nuance, but boy is it easy to get sucked into cheering on our heroes as they ride into battle with the enemy.

“Ride” is the operative word here, because while this is a modern war-time adventure, the American soldiers find themselves forced to use horses in their battle with the Taliban. There is something quite appealing in watching a band of twelve men on horseback charging into the fray that will be decided by automatic weapons and aerial bombing. The juxtaposition of modern military hardware and horse-mounted soldiers make this story seem as if it were dreamed up by a Hollywood screenwriter trying to find a cool new twist on a familiar story.

The real twist is that the film is inspired by actual events. Chris Hemsworth stars as Mitch Nelson, a soldier who is so shaken by the attack on the World Trade Center that he volunteers to lead a team into Afghanistan. It is a suicide mission. His select group of US soldiers is tasked with teaming up with an Afghani warlord to take on 50,000, heavily-armed Taliban fighters.

The American soldiers are a macho bunch, but none of the characters really break out from the group. They are a bit naive about the war, but absolutely gung ho and surprisingly adept at whatever skill they need to survive the conflict. These may be cardboard heroes, but it’s easy to cheer them on to their improbably victory.

The only real problem is that the film’s running time of two hours and ten minutes means that the story tends to trot along at times when it should be galloping. Those slower moments aren’t very successful at building character relationships and are easily forgotten once the bullets start to fly.

The bottom line is that the action is quite thrilling, and while the story is perhaps too jingoistic to appeal to audiences outside of the United States, it’s impossible not to cheer for these underdog heroes.”12 Strong” won’t be remembered as one of the best films of the new year, but sometimes a simple patriotic adventure is the perfect antidote for all of those overly-serious Oscar bait movies currently clogging the cinemaplex.

 

Movie reviews by Sean, “The Movie Guy,” are each week in “The Port Arthur News” and seen weekly on KFDM and KBTV. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@sbgtv.com.

Reviews by Sean McBride, “The Movie Guy,” are published weekly in the Idaho Press-Tribune and seen weekly on KFDM-TV. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@sbgtv.com.

 

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Runs Friday, January 19

“Annihilation”

“Annihilation” brings smart scares and gorgeous images.

“Annihilation”

Paramount Pictures

Directed by Alex Garland

Starring Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny and Oscar Isaac

Rated R

 3 ½ Stars

There is an awe-inspiring beauty to be found in nature, but anybody who’s even traveled deep into the backcountry at night will tell you that dense forest can also carry a foreboding sense of danger. That duality is on full display in the new movie, “Annihilation,” a trippy mix of science fiction adventure and horror fright flick that offers plenty of gorgeous images as well as ominous terrors.

The story begins with a meteor crashing into the Florida marshlands. For some reason, the crash is causing big changes in the surrounding area, so a group of military scientists is sent to explore the area. They are not the first expedition to enter the crash site. Previous forces were sent in and never heard from again.

What’s behind the destruction of these expeditions? Is it space monsters? Did the teams just go crazy and destroy themselves? That’s the dangerous question behind this story.

It is notable that this expeditionary team is comprised of five females, which allows the story to dwell a bit more on the interpersonal relationships between the soldier/scientists. That will become very important as they deal with the forest monsters, but also the strange reactions growing inside their teammates. “Annihilation” is ostensibly a monster movie, but the changes to the women prove to be the scariest, and most interesting part of the story.

That being said, the monsters are pretty cool as well. They provide a muscular threat in a film that is more notable for its slowly-building sense of dread. The tension is strong enough that when I saw the movie, a phone going off in the audience elicited a squeal of fright, followed by a theater full of nervous laughter.

The film also deserves praise for its trippy cinematography and production design. Mother Nature obviously gets the lion’s share of the credit here, but the filmmakers add in enough strange shots and special effects overlays that the forest becomes the driving force behind the story.

More credit for a cerebral screenplay that slowly parses out the reveals. This is a story that takes some effort to understand, and while it doesn’t quite explain the final mystery, that should only whet the audience’s appetites for additional adventures. Since the story is based on novelist Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy, it shouldn’t be difficult to get sequels into theaters soon.

All of which adds up to make “Annihilation” into an unexpected surprise that should delight both science fiction fanboys and fright flick aficionados. The girl power protagonists and artful production design make it stand out from other monster movies. Most importantly, this is a film that will affect you on a visceral level and make you think twice before heading off on your next camping trip.

 

Movie reviews by Sean, “The Movie Guy,” are each week in “The Port Arthur News” and seen weekly on KFDM and KBTV. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@sbgtv.com.

Reviews by Sean McBride, “The Movie Guy,” are published weekly in the Idaho Press-Tribune and seen weekly on KFDM-TV. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@sbgtv.com.

 

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Runs Friday, February 23

“Ant-Man and the Wasp”

Tiny “Ant-Man” packs a comic punch.

“Ant-Man and the Wasp”

Walt Disney Pictures

Directed by Peyton Reed

Starring Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Pena, Michael Douglas, Laurence Fishurne and Michelle Pfeiffer

Rated PG-13

3 Stars

 If my twelve-year-old nephew has anything to say about it, “Ant-Man and the Wasp” is the most-anticipated movie of the year. He’s been talking about this sequel ever since he saw the original film back in 2015.

I’m thrilled to report that he’s very happy because the movie lives up to the hype. This is a funny and sweet flick, and a welcome change in the era of overly-serious superhero films.

Paul Rudd stars as Scott Lang, aka Ant-Man, an everyday guy who has the ability to shrink himself down to the size of an ant when needed. We last saw him getting into trouble with the Avengers, which is why he begins this movie on house arrest. He’s counting down the days until he’s paroled and free to leave the house to spend some quality time with his daughter.

Of course, nothing goes smoothly in a superhero flick, which is why Scott sneaks out to help his old pal, Hank (Michael Douglas) and his daughter, Hope (Evangeline Lilly) as they search for their long-lost mother (Michelle Pfeiffer). She has been stranded in the sub-atomic, quantum world for decades, but Ant-Man just might be the guy to save her. Just to complicate matters, he’s also being chased by FBI agents, an idiot arms dealer and a shape-shifting assassin known as the Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen).

Okay, the story is a bit silly, but the whole plot is something of a MacGuffin as it mostly serves to string together the special effects and comic moments. The action sequences are fun, although there aren’t many moments that rise above the level set by most Marvel superhero flicks. They are serviceable, but seldom awe-inspiring.

The comedy, on the other hand, is quite wonderful. Rudd is a naturally appealing performer, and he is given ample opportunity to make us laugh in a film that feels a bit like a series of good-natured dad jokes at times. He’s not alone, as the supporting cast is also very funny, especially Michael Pena who delivers some hilarious exposition when his character is injected with a truth serum.

Those comic moments, along with the film’s light and frothy tone, make “Ant-Man and the Wasp” into a crowd-pleasing adventure. The end-of-the-world theatrics of the last “Avengers” movie don’t appear until the final moments of the film here, which means that you can just sit back with a big bucket of popcorn and giggle your way through this delightful adventure.

I had a big grin plastered on my face throughout the entire film, and if you happen to be a twelve-year-old boy, you might like the film even more than I did.

 

Movie reviews by Sean, “The Movie Guy,” are each week in “The Port Arthur News” and seen weekly on KFDM and KBTV. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@sbgtv.com.

Reviews by Sean McBride, “The Movie Guy,” are published weekly in the Idaho Press-Tribune and seen weekly on KFDM-TV. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@sbgtv.com.

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Runs Friday, July 6

2017
“Hidden Figures”

“Hidden Figures” get time in the light

“Hidden Figures”

20th Century Fox

Directed by Ted Melfi

Starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe, Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst, Jim Parsons and Mahershala Ali

Rated PG

3 1/2 Stars

The new movie, “Hidden Figures” is an inspiring bit of history with a trio of superb performances at its core. This underdog story will certainly get audiences cheering, although it seems somewhat blunted by a curiously reserved manner of storytelling. Still, sometimes you just want an entertaining and uplifting movie, and “Hidden Figures” fits the bill splendidly.

Based on the book by Margot Lee Shetterly, “Hidden Figures” introduces us to Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), a math prodigy who is working for NASA in the 1960s, despite the fact that it was staffed at the time by engineers who were almost entirely white and male.

She is initially working as a computer, the human fact-checkers who did the calculations needed for the main engineers to put an astronaut into space, but she is promoted when it becomes apparent that she is the smartest person in the room. The head of the Space Task Group (Kevin Costner) reasons that it will take America’s best people to beat the Russians, so why let race or gender get in the way of the Friendship and Apollo missions?

This is also the story of a visionary supervisor, Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and a trailblazing engineer, Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) as they face similar obstacles at NASA, but “Hidden Figures” shines its brightest light on Katherine Johnson, and there’s something quietly noble about the way she strikes a blow for civil and gender rights by simply doing her job to the best of her abilities.

The tone of the movie is perhaps a bit softer than you might expect from a story that has race and gender discrimination at its core. There isn’t any profanity or shocking moments of violence, and there are times when the movie seems as if it was intended to be a mild comedy rather than a dramatic biography. That’s a bit of a problem, as the story comes across as a sanitized version of history aimed at audiences looking for a feel good drama rather than a challenging piece of genuine history.

Despite that tonal issue, the movie still soars thanks to the work of Henson, Spencer, Monáe and Costner. These are seasoned, highly competent actors who know how to wring the most out of their roles without resulting to melodramatics. Monáe, the only rookie in the group, isn’t quite up to dramatic par, but she has enough natural charisma to make me think that she has an impressive film career ahead.

Kudos also go to the filmmakers for ramping up the suspense surrounding John Glenn’s Friendship 7 mission. Even casual history buffs should know the outcome of that space flight, so it’s to the filmmakers’ credit that the movie makes it into an edge-of-your-seat adventure.

“Hidden Figures” ends up being one of those inspiring stories about heroes who rise when they are called to serve. I would be interested in seeing a Katherine Johnson biography that had a bit more bite, but as an inspirational bit of unknown American history, “Hidden Figures” soars. These “Hidden Figures” definitely deserve their time in the light.

 

Movie reviews by Sean, “The Movie Guy,” are published bi-weekly in “The Port Arthur News” and seen weekly on KFDM and KBTV. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@sbgtv.com.com.

Reviews by Sean McBride, “The Movie Guy,” are published weekly in the Idaho Press-Tribune and seen weekly on KFDM-TV. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@sbgtv.com.com.

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Runs Friday, Jan 6

“Patriots Day”

“Boston Strong” at the movies

“Patriots Day”

CBS Films

Directed by Peter Berg

Starring Mark Wahlberg, John Goodman, J.K. Simmons, Kevin Bacon, Michelle Monaghan, Alex Wolff and Themo Melikidze

Rated R

3 Stars        

As a portrait of American heroism and the values of law and order, the new movie “Patriots Day” is an edge-of-your-seat thriller that solidifies Mark Wahlberg’s status as Hollywood’s foremost, everyman hero.

This is his third collaboration with director Peter Berg, and the two have developed an effective chemistry that once again gives the actor some legitimate performance moments to keep the critics at bay. It also features several action sequences that will have audiences cheering on the Boston Strong good guys.

This is the story of the 2013 bombing of the Boston Marathon, and so there’s an uneasy tension as the film lays character groundwork before the bombs actually detonate. Berg introduces us to Sgt. Tommy Saunders (Wahlberg), an officer who’s in the doghouse with his superiors, which is why he’s been assigned to work security for the marathon. We also get to meet some of the runners and spectators, as well as Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (Alex Wolff and Themo Melikidze), the bombers behind the terrorist attack.

Once the bombs explode, the story follows several threads at a breakneck pace. Kevin Bacon plays the FBI Agent who coordinates the investigation with Boston Law enforcement officials (John Goodman). Wahlberg and J.K. Simmons lead the street level charge to catch the bombers, and the filmmakers give us glimpses into the personal lives of the terrorists behind the attacks. It’s interesting that the Tsarnaev brothers are frequently portrayed as squabbling and inept, instead of simply being cartoon villains.

I was most moved by the plight of the victims, including a young couple who lose track of their toddler son when they are rushed off to separate hospitals. It’s a minor part of the movie, but one that will certainly put a lump in the throats of any parents who might be in the audience.

I was on the edge of my seat as the law enforcement closes in on the two killers. The hijacking of a Chinese student’s car and a street shootout where the bad guys are tossing pipe bombs at the police are two particularly effective sequences. The secret to the success of this movie is that it is a crowd-pleasing action film at its heart, but one that recognizes the values of adding fleshed out characters and genuine emotional values to give the film some emotional heft.

Some people are complaining that this is simply Hollywood exploiting a national tragedy for financial gain. That may be true, but I suspect that most audiences won’t care. “Patriots Day” is a film that honors law enforcement heroes and holds American resilience up as a value that can’t be taken down by a few terrorist bombs. It’s a movie that reminds us that for a few days in 2013, all of America was “Boston Strong.”

Movie reviews by Sean, “The Movie Guy,” are published bi-weekly in “The Port Arthur News” and seen weekly on KFDM and KBTV. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@sbgtv.com.com.

Reviews by Sean McBride, “The Movie Guy,” are published weekly in the Idaho Press-Tribune and seen weekly on KFDM-TV. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@sbgtv.com.com.

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 Runs Friday, Jan 13

“Split”

Shyamalan returns to form with “Split”

“Split”

Universal Pictures

Directed by M. Night Shyamalan

Starring James McAvoy, Betty Buckley, Anya Taylor-Joy, Jessica Sula and Haley Lu Richardson

Rated PG-13

3 Stars        

M. Night Shyamalan burst onto the scene in 1999 with his buzz-worthy film, “The Sixth Sense.” He was Hollywood’s reining wonder boy for the next few years, but audiences eventually abandoned him, scoffing at his increasingly desperate need to put a plot twist into all of his films.

His latest film, “Split” also has a twist, but more importantly, it has an electric acting performance by James McAvoy that makes the film very watchable. I’ll stop short of saying that Shyamalan is back on top of the filmmaking world, but “Split” certainly proves that the he knows how to make very entertaining movies.

The story kicks off with a bang, when a strange man (McAvoy) kidnaps a trio of young women from the mall. When they wake up, the women (Anya Taylor-Joy, Jessica Sula and Haley Lu Richardson) find that they are locked in an underground room. If that’s not scary enough, every time their captor appears, he appears to be a different person.

It turns out that the kidnapper is suffering from dissociative identity disorder, which means that there are 23 distinct personalities living in this one body. These various personalities aren’t exactly at peace with each other, and ominously, they are preparing for the arrival of another personality, known only as “The Beast.”

Credit McAvoy for completely committing to his role as the lunatic kidnapper, and his ability to believably show us so many of the character personas. These characters can be scary or comical, male or female, but no matter which persona shows up, McAvoy keeps the audience enthralled with his fascinating performance.

More credit to Shyamalan for delivering an edge of your seat thrill ride. The kidnapping sequence in particular shows that the filmmaker has a master’s touch when it comes to creating tension-fueled action sequences. I’m also quite impressed by his ability to keep things visually interesting, even though much of the story is locked into the underground room.

It’s not all perfect. Some of the flashback scenes seemed unnecessary and I wasn’t quite sold on the kidnapper’s interactions with his psychiatrist (Betty Buckley), but these are minor quibbles that don’t detract too much from the overall thrust of the movie.

Ultimately, “Split” turns out to be a pretty good return to form for Shyamalan. This is a harrowing little thriller with no pretensions of being high art. Sometimes all you need for a n enjoyable night at the movies is a big bucket of popcorn and a filmmaker who knows how to make a B movie thriller into an unapologetically fun, guilty pleasure of a movie.

Movie reviews by Sean, “The Movie Guy,” are published bi-weekly in “The Port Arthur News” and seen weekly on KFDM and KBTV. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@sbgtv.com.com.

Reviews by Sean McBride, “The Movie Guy,” are published weekly in the Idaho Press-Tribune and seen weekly on KFDM-TV. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@sbgtv.com.com.

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Runs Friday, Jan 20

2016
“The Revenant”

“Revenant” is impressive but cold

“The Revenant”

20th Century Fox Films

Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu

Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, Paul Anderson, Will Poulter and Lukas Haas

Rated R

3 ½ Stars        

Even as he was collecting last year’s Best Picture Oscar for “Birdman,” industry insiders were already talking about director Alejandro González Iñárritu’s next project; a historical tale of survival and revenge in the American West that looked great on paper, but was proving to be a nightmare to shoot. Fast forward one year and the troubled production finally arrives in theaters. “The Revenant” turns out to be a very good film, and one that has a very real shot of garnering some more Oscar love for its director.

This is the tale of a band of frontier trappers trying to get their pelts back home. They are being hunted by a band of angry Native Americans, so when their guide, Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) is mauled by a bear, the trappers decide to split up. A few of the men agree to stay back with Glass until he dies while the rest of the trappers move on.

One of the trappers, John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) doesn’t want to wait for Glass to finally give up the ghost. He murders Glass’ son, concocts a lie to fool his partner (Will Poulter) and then leaves Glass to die alone in the wilderness.

Glass doesn’t die.

He drags himself out of his grave and literally crawls across the American frontier, spurred on by thoughts of vengeance and a dogged refusal to quit, no matter what obstacles are placed in his way.

 “The Revenant” does a masterful job of making the audience feel just how difficult this revenge journey will be. Thanks to some superb cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki, the wilderness vistas loom impossibly large and hostile, making our hero’s journey all the more impressive. They are also quite beautiful; truly capturing the majesty of a landscape that was mostly untouched by human occupation.

The action sequences also generate lots of cinematic tension. The long tracking shots employed in the early battles between the trappers and the Native Americans are every bit as impressive as anything Iñárritu created during “Birdman.” The bear attack proves to be one of the most vicious fights ever committed to film, and the final showdown between Glass and Fitzgerald in is edge-of-your seat stuff—proof that this is a master filmmaker at work.

If the film has a fault, it’s found in the emotional connections between the characters. That’s somewhat understandable as Glass doesn’t say much and spends most of the film struggling without anybody else to help him. The winter cinematography also makes the film feel emotionally cold.

That issue could be a deal-breaker for some audiences, but for those who are interested in a compelling story, filled with great acting performances, breathtaking cinematography and a director who is certainly proving that is making Oscar-worthy film, “The Revenant” proves to be one of the best films of the year.

 

Movie reviews by Sean, “The Movie Guy,” are published bi-weekly in “The Port Arthur News” and seen weekly on KFDM and KBTV. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@sbgtv.com.com.

Reviews by Sean McBride, “The Movie Guy,” are published weekly in the Idaho Press-Tribune and seen weekly on KFDM-TV. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@sbgtv.com.com.

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Runs Friday, January 8

“Ride Along 2”

“Ride Along 2” not worth the trip.

“Ride Along 2”

Universal Pictures

Directed by Tim Story

Starring Ice Cube, Kevin Hart, Ken Jeong, Benjamin Bratt, Olivia Munn, Bruce McGill and Sherri Shepherd

Rated PG-13

1 ½ Stars        

The original “Ride Along” movie was a nice surprise of an action/comedy, notable for the oddball pairing of Kevin Hart and Ice Cube. The two men have polar opposite personalities, so forcing them to work together was bound to generate sparks—many of which were quite funny thanks to the undeniable talents of Kevin Hart.

The inevitable sequel doesn’t work nearly as well, mostly because the filmmakers aren’t trying to bring anything new to the franchise and the leading man pairing seems a bit stale this time around. Even the addition of some pretty funny supporting actors doesn’t generate much in the way of humor.

This is supposed to be a comedy.

If it doesn’t make the audience laugh, it’s a failure.

“Ride Along 2” isn’t a complete failure because Kevin Hart is still pretty funny, but he has to work much harder for the laughs this time around. In the original he was a guy desperate to prove his worth to his future brother in law. It was easy to empathize with his misguided quest for approval. This time out he is a fully-trained police officer. He’s still desperate for approval, but his antics frequently smack of incompetence, rather than the excusable actions of a nice guy trying to make good.

The story is basically a re-hash of the original film, with Payton (Cube) letting Barber (Hart) ride along on a drug case that takes him to Miami where they meet a computer hacker (Ken Jeong). This is technically a police procedural, so there will be some mediocre action sequences and one fun foot chase as constantly-bickering duo works to bring down the bad guy. It’s all inconsequential cinematic noise, but that’s okay because nobody comes in to “Ride Along 2” looking for an exciting action film.

The core appeal of the franchise is found in watching Ice Cube scowl and try to keep his macho cool while motor-mouthed Hart inundates him with a never-ending barrage of funny/annoying banter. As I mentioned, it’s not nearly as funny this second time around. The filmmakers wisely called for back up in the form of Jeong, Sherri Shepherd and Olivia Munn, but never found a way to effectively utilize their comedic talents.

It’s a major missed opportunity. Munn has rock-solid comedy chops, but she’s not asked to do anything other than be sexy. Even Benjamin Bratt, playing a caricatured villain fails to make an impact.

“Ride Along 2” proves to be a tired road trip that seldom generates action thrills, fails to introduce interesting new characters and falls back on a very lazy screenplay with the hope that Hart and Cube would generate comedic sparks during the filmmaking process. It should still make money, though, so let’s hope for a much better trip in “Ride Along 3.” This one just isn’t worth the ride.

Movie reviews by Sean, “The Movie Guy,” are published bi-weekly in “The Port Arthur News” and seen weekly on KFDM and KBTV. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@sbgtv.com.com.

Reviews by Sean McBride, “The Movie Guy,” are published weekly in the Idaho Press-Tribune and seen weekly on KFDM-TV. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@sbgtv.com.com.

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Runs Friday, January 15

“5th Wave”

“5th Wave” won’t sweep you away

“The 5th Wave”

Sony Pictures

Directed by J Blakeson

Starring Chloe Grace Moretz, Nick Robinson, Ben Parish, Zachary Arthur, Ron Livingston, Maggie Siff, Alex Roe, Maria Bello and Liev Schreiber

Rated PG-13

1 ½ Stars        

“The Hunger Games” movies have run their course, and the “Maze Runner,” “Divergent” and “Giver” film franchises haven’t lived up to their full potential. That’s horrible news if you’re a young teenage girl hoping to see another beloved YA book series up on the big screen.

Enter “The 5th Wave,” adapted from Rick Yancey’s best-selling novel and hoping to be the next big thing in movies. Unfortunately, teenagers are going to be disappointed once again, as the film that hits theaters this weekend struggles with uneven plotting, mediocre special effects and a surprisingly leaden screenplay.

The titular “Waves” refer to an alien invasion of Earth and the waves of destruction visited upon humanity. First the aliens knock out the power, then they let massive earthquakes and tsunamis destroy our cities. The third wave decimates the remaining population with a virus, and then the aliens, known as “Others” assume human form and begin picking off the last survivors.

It would be a spoiler to reveal the identity of the fifth wave, but it’s not too difficult to guess what’s about to happen while watching the film.

Director J Blakeson rushes through the first few waves of annihilation in order to get to the point where his teenage heroes have a chance to do something more than just run away from computer-generated disaster effects. Unfortunately, the film’s momentum screeches to a halt once we get into the meat of the story. Our young heroine, Cassie (Chloe Grace Moretz) gets bogged down in a charisma-free romantic subplot. That’s understandable given the horrific dialogue that the characters are forced to speak.

Things do pick up when Cassie resumes her quest to find her younger brother (Zachary Arthur), but not so much that anybody in the theater will be clamoring to see the rest of this trilogy.

To be fair, I saw this film with my fifteen year old niece who has been excited about “The 5th Wave” since last July. She enjoyed the film and was even okay with the romantic subplot, but was troubled by just how much of the book was cut from the film. The ride back home was a non-stop barrage of all the cool stuff that didn’t make it into the movie.

She is the litmus test for this movie. “The 5th Wave” isn’t meant to appeal to cranky old film critics, but rather to those young teenagers who devoured the first two novels. Using my highly-scientific survey of three teenage girls (I overheard another girl talking to her friend as they exited the theater), “The 5th Wave” has just enough familiar elements to make fans of the book into mild fans of the movie.

Non-fans and older audiences will be left scratching their heads and wondering what all the fuss is about.

Movie reviews by Sean, “The Movie Guy,” are published bi-weekly in “The Port Arthur News” and seen weekly on KFDM and KBTV. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@sbgtv.com.com.

Reviews by Sean McBride, “The Movie Guy,” are published weekly in the Idaho Press-Tribune and seen weekly on KFDM-TV. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@sbgtv.com.com.

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Runs Friday, January 22

2015
“Birdman”

“Birdman” soars to nine Oscar nominations

“Birdman”

Fox Searchlight Films

Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu.

Starring Michael Keaton, Emma Stone, Edward Norton, Zack Galifianakis, Andrea Riseborough, Naomi Watts.

Rated R

4 Stars        

My pick as the best film of 2014, “Birdman” finally expands into more theaters on the strength of its nine Academy Award nominations. I shouldn’t have to mention that I believe that each one of those nominations is thoroughly well deserved.

Writer/director Alejandro Iñárritu has created an audacious examination of what it takes to be a contemporary artist with this story of Riggan Thompson (Michael Keaton) a washed-up actor who once starred in the “Birdman” superhero movies. He now wants to reinvent himself as a serious actor. He hopes to accomplish this by writing, directing and starring in a pretentious Broadway play.

Riggan’s try for redemption isn’t going well.

One of his co-stars (Edward Norton) is such a method actor that he insists on drinking real booze on stage and refuses to read the script, preferring to ad lib his lines instead. Riggan’s assistant/daughter (Emma Stone) is fresh out of rehab and far from supportive of her father’s plan, and the influential theater critic (Lindsay Duncan) freely admits that she’s going to pan the play just because she doesn’t like Hollywood actors.

If that’s not enough to drive him to drink, Riggan also struggles with his alter ego, the movie character of Birdman, who lives in Riggan’s head and constantly berates our hero for his career choices. Riggan is certainly tempted, envisioning moments where he has superhero powers that mesh seamlessly with his more mundane, everyday life.

The brilliance of “Birdman” is that it shows us the artist’s struggle to balance flights of fantasy with the real life side of things. It makes for quite a ride, particularly as Iñárritu stages the entire movie as if it were one single camera shot. The end result is more choreography than cinematography, and one of the main reasons why “Birdman” is garnering so many year-end kudos.

Keaton is the other reason for the avalanche of awards. This is an actor who has lived out much of the plot in his personal career, but who also has the right mix of comedic chops and the ability to play his character’s inner struggle without stepping over a line in simple parody. He walks a fine line here, but ultimately makes “Birdman” into a very funny, very entertaining and quite moving portrait.

Thanks to Iñárritu, Keaton and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubuzki, I think that “Birdman” turns into one of the most intriguing portraits of an artist that I have ever seen. For my money, it’s simply the best film of 2014.

 Movie reviews by Sean, “The Movie Guy,” are published bi-weekly in “The Port Arthur News” and seen weekly on KFDM and KBTV. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@sbgtv.com.com.

Reviews by Sean McBride, “The Movie Guy,” are published weekly in the Idaho Press-Tribune and seen weekly on KFDM-TV. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@sbgtv.com.com.

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Runs Friday, Jan. 23

“Selma”

“Selma” takes us into the backrooms with MLK

“Selma”

Paramount Pictures

Directed by Ava DuVernay

Starring David Oyelowo, Tom Wilkinson, Carmen Ejogo, Alessandro Nivola, Giovanni Ribisi, Wendell Pierce, Tim Roth, Common and Oprah Winfrey

Rated PG-13

3 ½ Stars        

As is the case with many of the influential figures in American history, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. has become a larger than life figure. The new movie, “Selma,” humanizes the man somewhat in a masterful retelling of the events that led up to the Voting Rights Act in 1965.

British actor David Oyelowo plays Dr. King, and we’re given an insider’s peak at some of the backroom dealings that happened around the voting rights marches from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965. The bloody Sunday where 500 marchers were attacked by state police is certainly the horrifying sequence that will stick with audiences, but I was more impressed with the quieter moments where Dr. King and his fellows planned the marches, and dealt with the consequences of their decisions.

These backroom scenes take us into the mind of MLK, making him a full-fleshed human being instead of the lionized historical figure that we now learn about in school. This is what makes “Selma” so special, showing us a man agonizing with his decisions yet determined to stay the course for his cause.

Another British actor, Tom Wilkinson plays President Lyndon Johnson with a very good but somewhat controversial performance. Once again the backroom scenes humanize the former president, turning him into a calculating politician instead of a champion of the movement. LBJ supporters may call foul on the portrayal, but once again, it makes for far more interesting drama.

Indeed, the few characters that remain caricatures, such as British actor Tim Roth playing governor George Wallace, prove to be the film’s only missteps. He becomes a sniveling, one-dimensional figure instead of a truly menacing character. Great heroes are defined by the villains they defeat, and so “Selma” does Dr. King a disservice with this less than fleshed out opponent.

Still, credit director Ava DuVernay for a masterful job juggling so many characters and events. She keeps the audience enthralled with the behind-the-scenes work as well as the more shocking sequences of the brutal Selma marches. Also credit relative newcomer David Oyelowo for a powerfully nuanced performance that certainly deserves to be remembered at Oscar time.

Of course, that’s true of the entire film, as “Selma” is one of the most powerful, moving, and easily one of the best films of the year.

Movie reviews by Sean, “The Movie Guy,” are published bi-weekly in “The Port Arthur News” and seen weekly on KFDM-TV and KBOI 2-TV. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@sbgtv.com.com.

Reviews by Sean McBride, “The Movie Guy,” are published weekly in the Idaho Press-Tribune. He can also be seen locally on KBOI-TV. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@sbgtv.com.

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Runs Friday, January 9

“American Sniper”

 “American Sniper” makes for a good, not great biopic.

“American Sniper”

Warner Brothers Films

Directed by Clint Eastwood

Starring Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Ben Reed, Luke Grimes and Elise Robertson.

Rated R

3 Stars        

Chris Kyle was the most lethal sniper in U.S. military history. He is credited with over 160 kills during his four tours in Iraq. It’s easy to understand why American soldiers serving alongside Kyle thought of him as their guardian angel.

It’s also easy to see why those opposed to the war may have trouble with Clint Eastwood’s new movie about the man, “American Sniper.”

Bradley Cooper plays Kyle, whose father teaches him at an early age that there are three types of people in the world: wolves, sheep and sheepdogs. Kyle sees himself as a sheepdog, protecting the flock from the ravening wolves that threaten their lives. That mindset help explains why he quickly joined the military in the wake of 9-11.

Kyle becomes a legendary sniper during is tours in Iraq, and “American Sniper” does a superb job dropping the audience into the middle of several tense battle sequences where Kyle, perched atop a roof somewhere in the city, uses his rifle to keep his brothers in arms safe from those trying to kill them. It’s not an easy job, especially when Iraqi children are given arms and Kyle has to choose between saving soldiers and killing child combatants.

The film also does a nice job showing us the difficulty Kyle has of leaving the war behind when he returns home. Siena Miller plays his wife, and she is more than justified in complaining that even when he’s home, his heart is still off fighting in Iraq.

“American Sniper” is based on Kyle’s autobiography, and he has been accused of fabricating some of the events that flesh out his book, although the movie doesn’t include the most notable of these within its narrative. Director Clint Eastwood is smart enough to know that the emotional core of the story lies in watching this American hero struggle between his duties to his country versus that which he owes to his family back home.

The truth be told, I have mixed feelings about “American Sniper.” I do think that Eastwood does a great job dropping us right into the horrors of war, and Cooper continues to impress with another meaty performance. On the other hand, this is only a story about Chris Kyle, so no other characters are truly fleshed out. The Iraqis are just rifle fodder, the US soldiers become acolytes worshipping Kyle’s legendary marksmanship and even his wife turns into background noise in this story about personal duty and redemption.

There is no denying that “American Sniper” is a good film, as evidenced by multiple Academy Award nominations, but I’ll stop short of calling it great because the movie rushes through the redemption part of Kyle’s story and the story is so focused on the man that the rest of his world feels flat in contrast.

Movie reviews by Sean, “The Movie Guy,” are published bi-weekly in “The Port Arthur News” and seen weekly on KFDM and KBTV. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@sbgtv.com.com.

Reviews by Sean McBride, “The Movie Guy,” are published weekly in the Idaho Press-Tribune and seen weekly on KFDM-TV. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@sbgtv.com.com.

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Runs Friday, Jan. 16

2014
“Nut Job”

Don’t go “Nuts” over latest animated film

“The Nut Job”

Open Roads Films

Directed by Peter Lepeniotis

Starring Will Arnett, Brendan Fraser, Liam Neeson, Katherine Heigl, Stephen Lang, Maya Rudolph, Jeff Dunham, Gabriel Iglesias, Sarah Gadon and Psy

Rated PG

2 Stars        

“The Nut Job” is a mildly entertaining animated family film that will appeal primarily to younger children. I suppose that grown ups might get a slight chuckle now and then, but there’s nothing special going on here, unless you’re a huge fan of flatulence humor.

Even then, there’s very little reason to go nuts over “The Nut Job.”

This is the story of a Surly, the squirrel (Will Arnett) who is banished from his park after he accidentally destroys the park animal’s winter stockpile of nuts. Things look bleak for Surly and his friend, the rat named Buddy. They roam the city’s mean streets until they happen on a nut store. Could this be the answer to all of their troubles?

Surly makes elaborate plans to rob the nut store. The problem is that the store is actually a front for a group of criminals who are planning to rob the bank next door. We’re left with the chaos of two competing crime capers– the bank heist and the nut heist.

The two robberies provide some interesting story synergy, but this is a film that lives and dies with its characters. Unfortunately, the animals are a decidedly bland lot and the humans are simply stereotypical gangsters. With very few exceptions (Maya Rudolph plays an amusing pug), it’s difficult to muster much enthusiasm for “The Nut Job” because the characters aren’t interesting enough to keep an audience engaged in their adventures.

The humor is also rather mediocre. The puns and base slapstick humor will keep small children amused, but given the grown up crime story being played out, it’s a shame that the writers didn’t aim for something smarter.

The animation is pretty good, giving the animals plenty of funny visual moments. I’m not sure if your kids will come out of the movie wanting a stuffed squirrel doll, but I appreciate the computer-generated artistry that brings the park animals to life, although I’d recommend skipping the 3D version this time around.

The truth of the matter is that I don’t actively dislike “The Nut Job.” It simply doesn’t stay with me long enough to evoke any good or bad emotions. This is an average animated family film that is destined to be forgotten quickly after leaving the theater. Living in the age of Pixar and Dreamworks Animation, this film suffers in comparison.

Still, if you’re just looking for an excuse to go to the movies with your family, you could certainly do worse than “The Nut Job.” Just don’t go nuts, expecting an amazing family film.

Movie reviews by Sean, “The Movie Guy,” are published bi-weekly in “The Port Arthur News” and seen weekly on KFDM-TV and KBOI 2-TV. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@kboi2.com.

Reviews by Sean McBride, “The Movie Guy,” are published weekly in the Idaho Press-Tribune. He can also be seen locally on KBOI-TV. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@kboi2.com.

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Runs Friday, Jan 17

“August: Osage County”

Great acting can’t break past depressing story

“August: Osage County”

The Weinstein Company

Directed by John Wells

Starring Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Chris Cooper, Ewan McGregor, Julianne Nicholson, Juliette Lewis, Margo Martindale, Dermot Mulroney, Abigail Breslin, Benedict Cumberbatch and Sam Shepard

Rated R

3 Stars        

 “August: Osage County” gets my vote for the best ensemble acting film of the year. This cinematic master class in acting features the best work of Julia Roberts’ career, yet another superb performance by Meryl Streep and a screenplay that makes sure that the rest of the supporting cast gets an opportunity to shine.

Yet despite the talent on display, this is a film that didn’t really move me. With so many solid acting performances to choose from, I never truly committed to the struggle of any one character. Perhaps this is a rare case of too much of a good thing. Or perhaps, it’s simply too much of a bad thing, given the depressing subject matter that drives the story.

“August: Osage County” begins with a dysfunctional family gathering to mourn the passing of their patriarch (Sam Shepard), an alcoholic poet who chose suicide over dealing with his cancer-stricken and ever-bitter wife (Streep).

The family’s three daughters (Roberts, Julianne Nicholson and Juliette Lewis) arrive to the family home in Oklahoma with families in tow and secrets to hide. Marriages are failing, fiancés are philandering and there’s even a forbidden romance. None of this escapes the scrutiny of their sick mother, who is generally so high on medications that she has no inhibition against attacking anyone in her family.

If the film has anything close to an optimistic note, it’s found in watching one of the daughters rise up and defend herself against her mother’s abuse. There’s power in that stand, but it’s not enough to make you truly cheer for her, or any of the other characters.

I first came across “August: Osage County” on Broadway, where the Tony and Pulitzer Award winning cast put a more darkly humorous spin on the material. It’s easier to laugh when you’ve got some physical distance between the audience and the actors up on the stage. On film, the cameras take us right up close, so the ugliness becomes overwhelming.

The end result is a film where uniformly great acting can’t break through the off-putting subject matter. The moments of triumph and humor are curiously muted, making it tough to slog through the story. “August: Osage County” will still get its share of award-season love, given its all-star cast and notable story, but this is a case where superb individual parts never gel into a uniformly great movie.

Movie reviews by Sean, “The Movie Guy,” are published bi-weekly in “The Port Arthur News” and seen weekly on KFDM-TV and KBOI 2-TV. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@kboi2.com.

Reviews by Sean McBride, “The Movie Guy,” are published weekly in the Idaho Press-Tribune. He can also be seen locally on KBOI-TV. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@kboi2.com.

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Runs Friday, Jan 24

“Labor Day”

Melodramatic “Labor Day” arrives just in time for Valentine’s Day.

“Labor Day”

Paramount Pictures

Directed by Jason Reitman

Starring Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin, Gattlin Griffith, Tobey Maguire and Clark Gregg

Rated PG-13

 2 Stars        

With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, Hollywood has seen fit to release a romantic melodrama called “Labor Day.” My guess is that the film was originally slated to be released over said holiday, but when studio executives saw that the film was overly melodramatic and decidedly mediocre, they opted to bury it January instead.

This is the story of Adele, a single mother (Kate Winslet) whose son (Gattlin Griffith) runs into a desperate man while on a shopping trip. The man (Josh Brolin) is a wounded, escaped convict who firmly demands that he be allowed to hide out at Adele’s house.

The film lays the groundwork to be a dark and menacing kidnapping drama, but surprisingly, things turn romantic when the convict ties the family up and then proceeds to cook for them and do various household chores. There’s an entire sequence devoted to baking a peach pie that is so reminiscent of the pottery sculpting scene in “Ghost” that I expected to hear “Unchained Melody” playing on the soundtrack.

Ultimately “Labor Day” is the story of a woman falling in love with a bad boy with a good heart. It’s something of a Harlequin Romance fantasy brought to life. By all rights, it should have been nothing better than a cheesy late night TV movie, but the A-list cast elevates the film into something better than that.

Kate Winslet plays yet another lonely woman who had given up on love. It’s a role she can play in her sleep, but there’s no denying that her acting gives the audience a reason to care about this otherwise unbelievable love story. Josh Brolin isn’t on the same level, acting-wise, but it’s easy to understand why a woman would fall for this sensitive bad boy. I overheard a woman in the audience tell her friend that she’d let Brolin bake pie for her any day, followed by murmurs of approval all around.

“Labor Day” is also a beautifully shot film, but acting and cinematography alone won’t fix the film. Director Jason Reitman has made a very serious movie, with very little humor or joy. Falling in love has never been so depressing. The film is also strangely devoid of any edgy elements. This is a film that I assumed would have been rated R, but it only merits a PG-13 because there’s very little here to rouse your emotions, other than that peach pie sequence. 

All things considered, “Labor Day” will come and go quickly from the cinemas. It’s a fantasy romance aimed squarely at women, and I suppose it can work as a guilty pleasure movie for a girls night out. Leave the boyfriend at home though, as “Labor Day” will be far too melodramatic for traditional male tastes.

And who knows, while the ladies are off at the movies, perhaps the boyfriend will do some household chores or even bake a pie….

 Movie reviews by Sean, “The Movie Guy,” are published bi-weekly in “The Port Arthur News” and seen weekly on KFDM-TV and KBOI 2-TV. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@kboi2.com.

Reviews by Sean McBride, “The Movie Guy,” are published weekly in the Idaho Press-Tribune. He can also be seen locally on KBOI-TV. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@kboi2.com.

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Runs Friday, Jan 31

2013
“Promised Land”

Damon’s latest doesn’t live up to its “Promise”

“Promised Land”

Focus Features

Directed by Gus Van Sant

Starring Matt Damon, John Krasinski, Frances McDormand, Rosemarie DeWitt and Hal Holbrook

Rated R

2 ½ Stars        

Matt Damon’s latest film, “Promised Land,” is a solid personal drama that should stir up some passion thanks to its environmental underpinnings. At first glance, the film seems like it’s gearing up to deliver a pro-farming, anti-energy drilling statement, but in something of a surprise, the story takes a neutral stance on the issue right up until the final moments. I suspect that neutrality will leave both the pro-business and the pro-environment audiences disappointed that the film didn’t focus more on its controversial subject matter.

Damon plays Steve, a down-home guy who works for Global Energy, a natural gas exploration company that sends him in to small communities to convince local farmers to allow them to drill on their land. Steve is very good at his job; he’s something of a farm boy himself, and he’s poised to sign up most of the farmers and move on to the next town.

Things take an unexpected turn when the high school science teacher (Hal Holbrook) doesn’t swallow the company line about the extraction method of fracking being safe for the land. Then an environmental activist (John Krasinski) rolls into town and immediately charms the locals, including the attractive school teacher (Rosemarie DeWitt) who had been flirting with Steve.

Suddenly Steve is asking himself how far he’ll go in order to win back the townsfolk. He keeps telling himself that he’s “not a bad man,” but his job is giving him doubts. He’s afraid that career success might actually doom the town, even though the town is on the verge of economic collapse anyway.

It’s interesting that “Promised Land” isn’t really about the practice of fracking, but it focuses instead on the personal and professional conflict of the main character. That makes for a pretty good drama, and Damon is as charismatic and as charming as always. The problem is that the film delivers a last second surprise announcement that makes you forget about all the previous good work. It’s as if the filmmakers tacked on the surprise ending so they could make a last second political statement, but it doesn’t feel germane to the rest of the plot.

“Promised Land” ends up being an okay drama with a nice performance by Damon. The supporting cast is generally good as well, but they do tend to disappear for long stretches of the movie. The film is engaging and even though-provoking, right up until the surprise ending, where unfortunately, everything falls apart. Ultimately, “Promised Land” is okay, but nothing special.

Movie reviews by Sean, “The Movie Guy,” are published bi-weekly in “The Port Arthur News” and seen weekly on KFDM-TV and KBOI 2-TV. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@kboi2.com.

Reviews by Sean McBride, “The Movie Guy,” are published weekly in “The Idaho Press Tribune.” He can also be seen locally on KBOI-TV. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@kboi2.com.

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Runs Friday, January 4

“Zero Dark Thirty”

“Zero Dark Thirty” is one of the year’s best.

“Zero Dark Thirty”

Columbia Pictures

Directed by Kathryn Bigelow.

Starring Jessica Chastain, Jason Clark, Joel Edgerton, Jennifer Ehle, Mark Strong, Chris Pratt, Kyle Chandler, Edgar Ramirez.

Rated R

4 Stars        

“Zero Dark Thirty” is director Katheryn Bigelow’s follow up to her Academy Award winning film, “The Hurt Locker.” Not only is it another military-based thriller, but it’s also one of the best films of the year. Indeed, I think that this latest endeavor is superior to the film that brought Bigelow Oscar gold two years ago.

The film does have its detractors, but the naysayers seem to be up in arms over Bigelow’s access to military secrets and the film’s portrayal of torture as an effective method of interrogation. These are certainly legitimate issues, but they don’t comment on the film itself. I repeat that “Zero Dark Thirty” is an intense military thriller that features a director at the top of her game and Jessica Chastain in a performance that’s generally thought to be the Oscar front-runner.

Chastain plays Maya, an amalgamation character of a CIA analyst sent to Pakistan in the days following the September 11th attacks. Everybody is searching for Osama bin Laden, and it’s difficult to sort through all the confusing names and information. The scent goes cold and priorities shift, but Maya stays hot on the trail. She doggedly pursues bin Laden’s couriers and associates. Even after her cover is blown and she’s forced to return to the United States, she is never far from the chase.  

It all leads up to a tense confrontation between this determined young woman and a group of top brass government officials who are worried about the fall out if they send a military force into Pakistan and then find out that her information was incorrect. Of course we know that she was right, and the film’s final half hour puts the audience into the thrilling night time raid on the bin Laden compound. It makes for a great, jingoistic finale, but it’s not really the point of the film. In fact, the filmmakers started writing the story before the Seal Team 6 raid, so the ending is more kismet than climax.

Chastain is amazing in the central role. She fills her character with steely resolve. Even in the face of those tough torture sequences, she doesn’t stray from her task of tracking down the Al Qaeda terrorists that threaten the country. It’s a performance made all the more effective by the fact that Chastain is so small in comparison to the Alpha male actors who frequently surround her in the film. I predict Oscar gold for the actress.

“Zero Dark Thirty” also boasts of a solid screenplay by Mark Boal that manages to both capture the confusion of the chase for bin Laden as well as clarify things enough for the audience to follow along. Mix that in with the strong acting, Bigelow’s assured direction and superb production design all around, and you’re left with one of the best films of the year, despite what the naysayers would have you believe.

Movie reviews by Sean, “The Movie Guy,” are published bi-weekly in “The Port Arthur News” and seen weekly on KFDM-TV and KBOI 2-TV. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@kboi2.com.

Reviews by Sean McBride, “The Movie Guy,” are published weekly in “The Idaho Press Tribune.” He can also be seen locally on KBOI-TV. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@kboi2.com.

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Runs Friday, January 11

“Silver Linings Playbook”

Dark Rom Com with its feet in real life problems.

“Silver Linings Playbook”

Weinstein Company Films

Directed by David O. Russell

Starring Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver and Chris Tucker

Rated R

3 ½ Stars        

“Silver Linings Playbook” is one of the darkest and most unpredictable romantic comedies that you’ll ever see. It’s a love story between two emotionally damaged individuals who are surrounded by family members who are also quite troubled. It’s tough to watch, but unlike most light-and-frothy rom coms, this one seems to have its feet planted in real world problems. That alone makes “Silver Linings Playbook” into one of the most notable romance movies that I’ve seen in years.

Bradley Cooper stars as Pat, a guy who had a nervous breakdown after he found his wife having an affair with another man. He’s just been released from a court-ordered treatment facility, but he’s obviously not ready to face his problems in the real world. Enter Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) a recent widow with plenty of problems of her own. There’s an obvious spark between the two, but Pat claims to only be interested in Tiffany for her ability to get him in contact with his estranged wife.

Tiffany agrees to help, but she wants something in return. She needs a partner for an upcoming ballroom dance competition. Pat reluctantly agrees, much to the chagrin of his father (Robert De Niro) who would rather have his son/good luck charm at home watching Philadelphia Eagles football than off practicing his dance moves with the strange widow he just met.

“Silver Linings Playbook” is a romantic comedy at its heart, so you know that we’re moving inexorably toward a big dance finale and a happy ending. That being said, the film is so messy that you’re never quite sure if things are going to work out or not. There’s an air of uncertainty that runs throughout the film that amplifies the emotional victories, making it all the sweeter for the audience whenever things do go right for the young lovers.

Acting wise, this is one of the best ensemble casts of the year. Cooper moves beyond the glib, movie star caricatures that we usually get from him. Lawrence is luminous, giving us the portrait of a woman who’s broken but determined to set thing right in her life. De Niro is De Niro, always in top form. The same holds true for Jacki Weaver, playing Pat’s long-suffering mom in perhaps the trickiest role in the film.

Great acting aside, “Silver Linings Playbook” is a film that lives and dies because of a superb screenplay by Matthew Quick and assured direction by David O. Russell. The film is dark and messy, but never so much so that the audience disconnects from the love story. That romance, coupled with moments of genuine humor and scenes that are emotionally astounding make “Silver Linings Playbook” into one of the best, and most memorable films of the year.

Movie reviews by Sean, “The Movie Guy,” are published bi-weekly in “The Port Arthur News” and seen weekly on KFDM-TV and KBOI 2-TV. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@kboi2.com.

Reviews by Sean McBride, “The Movie Guy,” are published weekly in “The Idaho Press Tribune.” He can also be seen locally on KBOI-TV. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@kboi2.com.

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Runs Friday, Jan 18

2012
“Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”

“Tinker” makes for an over-stuffed but satisfying spy story.

“Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”

Focus Features

Directed by Tomas Alfredson

Starring Gary Oldman, John Hurt, Toby Jones, Cirian Hinds, Mark Strong and Tom Hardy

Rated R

 3 Stars        

Most spy movies are adrenaline-fueled action thrill rides that are stuffed with car chases, gunfire and brutal fist fights. They make for great popcorn entertainment, but there’s another type of spy movie: one that’s more of a cerebral puzzle than a physical endeavor. “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” is one of these films; a superb espionage tale that will delight fans of great acting and complicated plotting. Then again, fans of “Mission Impossible” or James Bond style spy thrillers will probably be completely bored here.

Based on John Le Carré’s 1974 best-seller, “Tinker” delves into the murky waters of MI6, the British Intelligence Service, also known in the film as “The Circus.” The extremely complicated story involves the efforts of one retired agent (Gary Oldman) to uncover the identity of a Soviet spy who’s working as a high-level agent in MI6. Make sure that you go to the restroom before the movie starts, because the plot is so complex that if you have to leave the theater for any reason, you might not be able to catch up on what’s going on in the movie.

That complexity is both a pro and a con for the film. On the one hand, it’s wonderful to see a movie that demands that the audience pay attention to what’s going on in the film. Then again, there’s so much story that the film feels over-stuffed. Two hours is simply not enough time to get it all in. Indeed, many people prefer the six-hour mini-series from 1979 because it was able to parse out the information in a more controlled manner than this new film.

The mini-series is also notable for starring Alec Guinness, but the new “Tinker” certainly features a superb group as well. Oldman headlines the cast, but John Hurt, Cirian Hinds, Toby Jones and Tom Hardy round out one of the best ensemble casts of the year. There’s not a bad performance among the bunch, and “Tinker” doesn’t lower its standards by casting a hot young actor to draw in the teenagers. These are mostly old men, old lions of the British stage and screen, and their abilities are clearly evident in this film.

Ultimately it will be that distinction that should inform your decision about whether you want to see this film or not. “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” isn’t exciting or visually overwhelming, and it never tries to wow the audience with anything other than great acting and a thinking-person’s story. I think that makes for a great film, certainly one of the best of the year, but I understand why teenagers would look at me and think that this old man of a film critic has gone crazy.  

Movie reviews by Sean, “The Movie Guy,” are published bi-weekly in “The Port Arthur News” and seen weekly on KFDM-TV and KBOI 2-TV. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@kboi2.com.

Reviews by Sean McBride, “The Movie Guy,” are published weekly in “The Idaho Press Tribune.” He can also be seen locally on KBOI-TV. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@kboi2.com.

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Runs Friday, January 6

“The Devil Inside”

Not enough “Devil Inside” the year’s first horror flick

“The Devil Inside”

Insurge Pictures

Directed by William Brent Bell

Starring Fernanda Andrade, Suzan Crowley, Simon Quarterman, Evan Helmuth and Ionut Grama

Rated R

1 ½ Stars        

For several years now, Hollywood has decided that we should kick off each new year with a low-budget horror flick. This time around we get “The Devil Inside,” and while I’m certainly not going to tell you that this is a good film in any way, I will admit that it does offers up enough scary treats that fans of horror movies will be happy. Well, they’ll be happy to have a horror film in theaters, even if it’s not a very good one.

The story begins in 1989, when a woman in Connecticut calls 9-1-1 to report that she has just killed two priests and a nun. The twist is that the murders happened in the middle of the woman’s failed exorcism. Flash forward ten years and the woman (Suzan Crowley) is now locked up in the Centrino Hospital for the Criminally Insane in Rome. The woman’s daughter, Isabella (Fernanda Andrade) travels to Rome to find out the truth about what happened to her mother and whether insanity might run in the family.

Isabella teams up with two priests (Simon Quarterman and Evan Helmuth) who are investigating the shady area where they believe mental illness turns into actual demonic possession. They agree to help Isabella with her mother’s case, and as you have probably guessed by now, they run into demonic forces that are far beyond their abilities to control. Indeed, the film might more accurately be called, “The Devils Inside.”

There’s really nothing new to this story, other than the interesting kernel of an idea that the mentally ill might actually be possessed by the devil. I’m sure that social workers will be appalled by the premise, but horror fans should be happy that the film attempts to put a fresh spin on a very familiar storyline.

Unfortunately “The Devil Inside” doesn’t have anything new to add to the genre. Despite some okay performances by the unknown cast of actors, the film suffers from a lack of genuine scares and an over-reliance on that shaky camera, pseudo-documentary style of filmmaking that has long-past worn out its welcome in the cinema. Worst of all, the story ends so abruptly that you’ll wonder if the filmmakers simply ran out of money, leaving the audience mostly disappointed by this mediocre horror thriller.

Movie reviews by Sean, “The Movie Guy,” are published bi-weekly in “The Port Arthur News” and seen weekly on KFDM-TV and KBOI 2-TV. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@kboi2.com.

Reviews by Sean McBride, “The Movie Guy,” are published weekly in “The Idaho Press Tribune.” He can also be seen locally on KBOI-TV. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@kboi2.com.

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Runs Friday, Wednesday, January 11

“A Joyful Noise”

“Joyful Noise” makes for great music but mediocre movie.

“A Joyful Noise”

Warner Brothers

Directed by Todd Graff

Starring Queen Latifah, Dolly Parton, Keke Palmer, Jeremy Jordan, Dexter Darden, Courtney B. Vance and Kris Kristofferson

Rated PG-13

2 ½ Stars        

“A Joyful Noise” isn’t a very good movie, but it’s hard to be too disappointed by a film that piles on one gospel music sequence after another. I love contemporary gospel music, and so it’s an odd feeling, watching a film that is decidedly mediocre in acting and story construction, but also completely appealing whenever the music takes the screen. I was thoroughly entertained by this movie. I was also more than a little disappointed.

This is the story of two women struggling for control of the Divinity Church Choir. Opinionated firebrand, G.G. (Dolly Parton) is the widow of the choir’s former leader (Kris Kristofferson) and assumes that she will be the next director following his death. The church pastor chooses Vi Rose (Queen Latifah) instead, which causes the two women to clash over the type of music that the choir should be performing. G.G. wants up-tempo contemporary hits while Vi Rose favors traditional gospel numbers.

Things go from bad to worse between the two women when G.G.’s nephew, Randy (Jeremy Jordan) arrives and shakes things up. Randy has a beautiful voice and an ear for great music, but he’s also got an eye for the ladies, including Vi Rose’s young daughter, Olivia (Keke Palmer). Now the two women who already don’t like each other get to squabble over the budding romance between their teenage kin. It all starts to look like the Baptist version of “Romeo and Juliet,” although you can be assured that things won’t end with tragedy this time around.

It’s all squeaky-clean fun here, including the romance between the young performers, but that sanitizing also means that the film is without any serious conflict. It makes for a drama without much emotional appeal. Dolly and Latifah do their best to carry the film on their very charismatic backs, but they really aren’t given much to work with. Mild catfights can only go so far to entertain the audience.

The music is the obvious reason to buy a ticket to “A Joyful Noise,” especially if you’re a fan of contemporary gospel. If you like Kirk Franklin (he has a cameo in the film) then you’ll probably want to raise your arms in the air every time the music starts. My favorite number is a choir reworking of Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror” that left me truly moved by it’s emotional power.

With that in mind, I suggest that you think of “A Joyful Noise” as a great concert CD that also happens to have a mediocre story to connects all the music tracks. In the future, you may want to skip past all those acting moments and simply play the great musical numbers.

Movie reviews by Sean, “The Movie Guy,” are published bi-weekly in “The Port Arthur News” and seen weekly on KFDM-TV and KBOI 2-TV. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@kboi2.com.

Reviews by Sean McBride, “The Movie Guy,” are published weekly in “The Idaho Press Tribune.” He can also be seen locally on KBOI-TV. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@kboi2.com.

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Runs Friday, January 13

2011
“Country Strong”

Paltrow’s “Country” not quite strong enough to live up to its title.

“Country Strong”

Sony Pictures

Directed by Shana Feste

Starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Tim McGraw, Garrett Hedlund and Leighton Meester

Rated PG-13

2 ½ Stars       

You know the stereotype about country music; that it’s all about drinking and fighting and love affairs and watching your dog die. Now, that may not be quite accurate for all country music, but it does hold true for the new movie “Country Strong,” which features far too many of those melodramatic moments to really work as a quality piece of cinema.

Gwyneth Paltrow stars as Kelly Canter, a musical megastar who was pregnant but lost her baby when she got drunk and fell off a concert stage. One year later, she’s in rehab and having a fling with a hunky orderly, Beau (Garrett Hedlund) who just happens to be a promising musician as well.

Kelly is thrown back into the limelight when her manager/husband (Tim McGraw) pulls her out of rehab and books her into a comeback tour. He agrees to let Beau come on the road, where he’s also planning on breaking in a new singer, Chiles (Leighton Meester) a beguiling beauty queen who’s just waiting to burst out of her cocoon.

So it’s three gorgeous singers on the road together, all of them with some emotional issues that haven’t quite healed. It doesn’t take long for the fireworks to ignite. The problem is that most of the emotional stuff doesn’t seem to be grounded in anything real. It’s almost a procession of melodramatic clichés; with the film serving up conflict and histrionics for no reason other than the screenplay needed some conflict and histrionics.

That’s a huge problem as “Country Strong” avoids delving into anything other than the simplest of emotional issues. For example, Kelly and her husband never get into the pain of her miscarriage, although she does get to carry around a wounded baby bird as some sort of a metaphor for the loss in Kelly’s life. It’s a pretty blatant metaphor, the kind of thing a high school kid might write—certainly not nuanced enough to belong in a grown up movie like “Country Strong.”

So the screenplay is a mess, but the actors give it their best and mostly rise above the material. Hedlund, in particular, has a laid back charm that allows him to really shine. McGraw is once again great in another good ol’ boy role, and Paltrow makes a very convincing fallen country queen.

The music is also quite good. I wouldn’t call it great, although there is a memorable duet between Hedlund and Meester that should get some play on country music stations. Paltrow, who seems to be prepping for a real-life music career, takes a while to get going but does get a nice showstopping number as the film winds to a conclusion. The entire cast can sing, although, in something of a surprise, real-life country music superstar Tim McGraw never gets the chance to put his pipes on display.

All in all, I suspect that fans of country music will be happy enough with this simple story of loss and redemption. It features a winning cast and a nice musical soundtrack. Fans of great acting and artistic cinema probably won’t get past the minimal screenplay or the overt melodrama (or Paltrow’s excessive eyeliner).

In “Country Strong,” the word “Strong” is an overstatement, but the film is certainly not “Country Weak” either.

Call it just “Country Okay.”

Movie reviews by Sean, “The Movie Guy,” are published bi-weekly in “The Port Arthur News” and seen weekly on KFDM-TV and KBOI 2-TV. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@kboi2.com.

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Runs Friday, January 7

“Season of the Witch”

“Season of the Witch”

Relativity Media

Directed by Dominic Sena

Starring Nicolas Cage, Ron Perlman, Stephen Campbell Moore, Claire Foy, Stephen Graham, Ulrich Thomsen, Robert Sheehan and Christopher Lee

Rated PG-13

1 Star  

Nicolas Cage has always been a hit and miss actor at the movies, but lately he’s been all miss and no hit, having signed on for one ill conceived and poorly implemented project after another. That trend continues with “Season of the Witch,” a half-hearted tale of medieval witchcraft mixed with lame action and laughable special effects. Cage isn’t even his normal oddball self, so I can’t even recommend the film as a guilty pleasure for the actor’s fan base.

As I said, it’s another big miss.

Cage stars with Ron Pearlman (one of the film’s few bright spots) as two fourteenth century, AWOL Christian Crusaders who are caught and are given the redemptive assignment of escorting a young woman accused of witchcraft (Claire Foy) to a distant monastery where she will tried and punished. Joining them on their journey is a true-believer priest (Stephen Campbell Moore), a knight who recently lost his family, a young boy who want to be a knight, and a con man who’s supposed to guide the group to the monastery.

The group’s journey is quickly troubled, with creaky rope bridges and ravening wolves threatening at every turn. Actually, this part of the movie has a few workable thrills and some gorgeous scenery to check out. The acting still isn’t any good (everyone seems bored) but at least the film has some cinematic plausibility and general momentum. That all but disappears when the group arrives for the film’s climactic finale. The action and special effects go over to the laughably silly side—think zombie monks who crawl around on the ceiling like bats and you’ll get the picture. The special effects don’t even rise to the schlocky standards set my Syfi channel Monster of the Week Movies.

So, “Season the Witch” features a silly screenplay, a cast of actors who are obviously in this only for the paycheck, half-hearted action and really bad special effects. On the other hand, the European countryside is nice and Ron Pearlman has some droll asides that might make you smile, but for all but the most ardent Nicolas Cage fans, that’s not nearly enough to make “Season of the Witch” into a hit for Mr. Miss, aka Nic Cage.

Movie reviews by Sean, “The Movie Guy,” are published bi-weekly in “The Port Arthur News” and seen weekly on KFDM-TV and KBOI 2-TV. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@kboi2.com.

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Runs Wednesday, January 12

“The King’s Speech”

Best film of 2010 arrive in Golden Triangle Theaters.

“The King’s Speech”

Weinstein Films

Directed by Tom Hooper

Starring Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter, Michael Gambon and Guy Pearce.

Rated R

4 Stars       

All too infrequently, a film arrives in theaters having gotten everything right. The direction is inspired and the actors are superb. The screenplay is thought provoking and the subtle, background elements like editing, music and makeup all converge into cinematic perfection.

When I see a film like this, I’m apt to call it the year’s best film. You might just want to call it “The King’s Speech.”

This is the story of King George VI, who at the beginning of the film is still just a prince, attempting to address his nation via a disastrous 1939 radio address from Wembley Stadium. The problem is that the future king (Colin Firth) has a major stammering problem, leaving him unable to speak publically. His wife (Helena Bonham Carter) realizes that with the arrival of radio, and Hitler starting to stir in Germany, the stammer will have to go if the king hopes to lead his nation into war.

She hires an unorthodox speech therapist, an Australian ex-pat named Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush). Logue demands to be completely in charge of the therapy sessions, and insists on calling the king by his family nickname, Bertie, something that causes a great deal of initial conflict between the two men. A commoner has never treated the monarchy with such familiarity. It simply isn’t done.

But the therapy is working, and it’s not long before the two men strike up a genuine friendship. Ultimately, while “The King’s Speech” works as a fascinating history lesson, it’s really a story about how one man overcame his personal obstacles because of his inner strength and the support of one faithful friend.

That alone is enough to get me to like the film. But wait, there’s more. Throw in one of the best acting ensembles of the year (expect Firth, Rush and Carter to be Oscar-nominated) and a screenplay that should be boring and stuffy but instead turns out to be intriguing and even humorous at times. Don’t forget Tom Hooper’s assured direction, a wonderful musical score, impressive costume and set design—it all comes together into my pick as the best film of last year.

I don’t have any criticism of the movie, although I do have some harsh words for the MPAA, which gave the film an R rating because the king swears during one of his therapy sessions. This is a film without any sex, nudity, violence or anything even remotely objectionable other than a scene with profanity. Meanwhile James Bond and his action hero brethren continue to garner PG-13 ratings despite non-stop bloodletting and overt sexuality. There’s no better proof that the MPAA rating system is broken than an R rating for “The King’s Speech,” which despite the rating, is a film that everyone should see.

Movie reviews by Sean, “The Movie Guy,” are published bi-weekly in “The Port Arthur News” and seen weekly on KFDM-TV and KBOI 2-TV. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@kboi2.com.

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Runs Friday, January 14

2010
“Up in the Air”

Movie Guy says “Up in the Air” is year’s best.

“Up in the Air”

Paramount Pictures

Directed by Jason Reitman

Starring George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick and Jason Bates.

Rated R

4 Stars        

Heaven knows that I enjoy mindless Hollywood blockbusters, but every once and a while, it’s nice to see a smaller picture that’s aimed at adults. You know, one of those films that would bore the kiddies, but a film that provides plenty of mental fodder for grownups seeking shelter from the bombastic “Avatars” and “Sherlock Holmes” playing in the theater next door.

Perhaps that’s why I’m so taken with Jason Reitman’s “Up in the Air,” a thought-provoking drama that recently got my vote as the year’s best film. George Clooney stars as a “termination facilitor” named Ryan, a man whose job has him flying around the country to fire employees when their bosses are too frightened to deal with the confrontation. He’s on the road most of the year, living out of his suitcase and racking up the frequent flier miles.

Ryan loves his job.

His world is thrown into turmoil when his company hires a brash, young consultant named Natalie (Anna Kendrick) who suggests that it would be a lot cheaper to just fire people via Skype. Ryan is appalled at the idea, so he hits the road with Natalie in tow, intent on showing her the value of a face-to-face connection when firing employees. The irony is that Ryan doesn’t have many personal connections in his own life, and this one last road trip with Natalie will cause him to reevaluate the people that are important in his own life.

The most important of these personal connections seems to be a fellow road warrior named Alex (Vera Farmiga) that Ryan meets for a nomadic series of one night stands. Ryan and Alex are obviously kindred spirits, but Ryan’s not certain about what would happen to their relationship if he were to try and settle down with Alex. Perhaps it’s time for Ryan to finally try for a normal life.

While “Up in the Air” turns into an examination of life’s priorities, it never comes across as a heavy-handed lecture. Credit George Clooney for a wonderful performance as an urbane, world-savvy man about town with a very subtle hint of vulnerability lurking under the surface. His co-stars, Kendrick and Farmiga are just as good, and I wouldn’t be surprised to find all three of them nominated for Academy Awards.

But most the credit for “Up in the Air” goes to Jason Reitman, who wrote and directed this whip-smart and enjoyably comedic drama. This is only Reitman’s third film after “Thank You for Smoking” and “Juno,” but he’s quickly turned into one of the best directors working today. I expect Oscar nominations for his work here as well.

 “Up In the Air” has everything going for it, and for adults looking for an enjoyable but serious movie. Like I said, I think it’s the year’s best film.

Movie reviews by Sean, “The Movie Guy,” are published bi-weekly in “The Port Arthur News” and weekly on KFDM-TV. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@kbcitv.com.

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Runs Friday, January 8

“Youth in Revolt”

Cera good at playing bad.

“Youth in Revolt”

Dimension Films

Directed by Miguel Arteta

Starring Michael Cera. Portia Doubleday, Jean Smart, Zach Galifianakis, Steve Buscemi, Fred Willard, Ray Liotta, Justin Long and Mary Kay Place

Rated R

3 Stars       

Michael Cera has built his entire career by playing smart-but-shy nice guys who stutter and stammer though his movies, hoping that some girl will be impressed by his soft-spoken decency. From “Arrested Development” to “Juno” to “Nick and Nora” and even “Paper Hearts” (which was ostensibly a documentary) Cera always plays the same character. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s a lovable character, but the act is getting a little old, and so is Cera.

Perhaps that’s why “Youth in Revolt” is such a refreshing change of pace for Cera. Sure, he still plays the shy nice guy chasing after a girl, but this time around he also gets to play a world-weary bad guy—complete with a ridiculous Eurotrash pencil mustache and plenty of world-weary enoui. It turns out that the actor is good playing both ends of the spectrum, which portends good things for when Cera is too old to continue playing dorky teenagers.

Based on the book by C.D. Payne, Cera plays Nick, another lovable loser who falls for a girl he meets on a family getaway. Sheeni (Portia Doubleday) has everything that Nick wants in a girlfriend, and since she seems receptive to his advances, Nick decides to throw caution to the wind, literally changing his entire persona in an attempt to win her.

Nick develops an alter persona named François Dillinger, who is such a bad boy that he might get kicked out of his mom’s house and sent to live with his father, which would allow Nick the opportunity to chase after Sheeni. The problem is that François is getting Nick into real-world trouble, which leads up to an amusing teenage adventure that is a welcome January surprise.

“Youth in Revolt” works because of a smart screenplay filled with enough witty dialogue to please Cera’s “Juno” fans. It also features an amazing cast of supporting actors who aren’t given a whole lot to do, but they certainly know how to brighten the screen with their few scenes. And mostly, “Youth in Revolt” works because Cera is such an affable actor; he’s fun to watch whether playing good or bad versions of himself.

Why not? I know it’s very early, but let’s call “Youth in Revolt” the best film of the year (so far) and another winner for Michael Cera.

Movie reviews by Sean, “The Movie Guy,” are published bi-weekly in “The Port Arthur News” and seen weekly on KFDM-TV. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@kbcitv.com.

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 Runs Wednesday, January 13

“The Book of Eli”

Denzel Goes on an Action Quest

“The Book of Eli”

Warner Brothers Pictures

Directed by Albert and Allen Hughes

Starring Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman, Mila Kunis, Michael Gambon, Jennifer Beals and Tom Waits

Rated R

3 Stars        

I am always intrigued when actors who can actually act decide to take on a genre role. You never know if they’re just slumming for a quick paycheck or if they are truly trying to do something special. As a result, these films are always interesting to watch, if only to see if the actor will crash and burn or if they will be able to elevate the film above and beyond its genre roots.

Enter Denzel Washington in “The Book of Eli,” a post-apocalyptic western of sorts, where Denzel plays a man wandering through what’s left of America while fighting off the hoards of bad guys that seem to be lurking around every corner. It reminds me a bit of the old “Kung Fu” TV show, where a mystical warrior-monk goes on a spiritual quest, while the rest of the world tries to derail his journey with their petty problems.

In this instance, Denzel is protecting/transporting something (no spoilers here, folks) and a bad guy (Gary Oldman) wants this thing because he believes that it will give him the authority to take over the world, or at least, what’s left of the world.

Yeah, the story is kind of iffy, but it’s enough to get us going on a pretty good action adventure.

“The Book of Eli” is quite watchable, moving at a brisk pace and filled with memorable images and plenty of action sequences—including one fight scene done entirely in silhouette. The entire film has a desaturated quality that gives it an artistic air. Throw Denzel into the mix, a good actor even if he’s just going through the paces here, and “The Book of Eli” is a solid winner.

Okay, so there’s a surprise twist ending that’s a bit dumb and the film takes on a religious tone that seems a bit too serious at times. And don’t get me started on the logical inconsistencies in the plot, in particular regarding the survival of the thing our hero is protecting. But it’s a movie, a post-apocalyptic western no less, and so you can easily forgive these minor quibbles and just sit back and just enjoy Denzel having a lot of fun in “The Book of Eli.”

Movie reviews by Sean, “The Movie Guy,” are published bi-weekly in “The Port Arthur News” and weekly on KFDM-TV. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@kbcitv.com.

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Runs Wednesday, January 20

2009
“Gran Torino”

Muscle Car Movie Shows Eastwood’s Muscle as an Actor/Director.

“Gran Torino”

Warner Brothers Pictures

Directed by Clint Eastwood

Starring Clint Eastwood, Bee Vang, Ahney Her and Christopher Carley

Rated R

3 Stars        

From “Mystic River” to “Million Dollar Baby” to “Flags of Iwo Jima,” Clint Eastwood has developed a delightful habit of showing up at the end of the year with one unexpected cinematic gem after another. This year’s entry arrives in the form of “Gran Torino,” and while I don’t expect this particular film to generate much buzz at the various year end award shows, it’s still a mighty entertaining drama, anchored by a cantankerous-yet-appealing performance by Eastwood himself.

Eastwood plays Walt Kowalski, a widowed Korean War veteran living in a neighborhood that is rapidly filling up with South Asian immigrants. Walt sits on his porch, drinking beer and spewing racist slurs, but he proves to be a strong ally when the teenage kid living next door runs afoul of the local gang-bangers. Walt develops a paternal relationship with the Hmong boy, but by doing so, steps right into the gun sights of the thugs who have been terrorizing the neighborhood.

Oh yeah, Walt also has a cool car that the gang wants to steal, just in case you’re wondering about the title.

It turns into something of a Western, played out on the mean streets of Detroit. Slowly, our anti-social hero is drawn into a quarrel that he doesn’t care about, but one that his ethics about right and wrong make him powerless to resist. The film entertains some interesting musings on the subject of what violence can do to a man, but thematically, this isn’t one of Eastwood’s deeper endeavors. “Gran Torino” is basically a melancholy character drama with violent outbursts to keep the audience interested.

It’s also quite funny at time, as Walt insults everybody he meets, even the local priest who recognizes that Walt is heading for tragedy. The humor disappears entirely as “Gran Torino” heads to its violent conclusion, but Eastwood’s fans should find satisfaction by the way events play out at the end. If you think about these events, you may find that the story isn’t very believable, and I will point out that some of the acting is dubious, but all in all, “Gran Torino” proves that Eastwood is a master at making gritty dramas. General audiences will love it, especially as the film plays like Dirty Harry’s golden years.

Movie reviews by Sean, “The Movie Guy,” are published bi-weekly in “The Port Arthur News” and weekly on KFDM-TV. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@kavutv.com.

Movie reviews by Sean, “The Movie Guy,” are published Wednesdays and Fridays in “The Port Arthur News.” He can be found weekly on KFDM-TV and KOLE Fox 1340 Radio. Additional reviews can be found at www.rottentomatoes.com. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@kbcitv.com.

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Runs Friday, January 9

“Bride Wars”

“War” is hell.

“Bride Wars”

20th Century Fox Films

Directed by Gary Winick

Starring Kate Hudson, Anne Hathaway, Candace Bergen, Steve Howey and Chris Pratt

Rated PG

1 Star       

Producers know that guys will go see any movie, no matter how bad, provided that you fill it with fast cars, big explosions and beautiful women. I suppose that it’s only natural that the female equivalent, “Bride Wars,” rolls into theaters under the assumption that women will go see any movie, no matter how bad, if it focuses exclusively on two women who set out to plan the perfect wedding.

Kate Hudson and Anne Hathaway play the brides-to-be, two childhood friends who have been dreaming about their big day ever since they were little girls. They become engaged, but due to a scheduling mix up, they both book the New York Plaza Hotel on the same day. They can’t move the date, and neither woman wants to give up on her dream for a perfect wedding. By movie logic, the only possible solution is for the best friends to become bitter rivals and set out to sabotage the other’s ceremony.

Now I’m not the most strident feminist out there, but even I can see that this movie takes a pretty shallow view of feminine values. Even worse, “Bride Wars” isn’t funny; it’s little more than a base comedy that drags two otherwise appealing actresses through the mud of petty squabbles before a half-hearted attempt at a happy ending. “Bride Wars” might have struck a genuine comic nerve had the filmmakers really set out to skewer the excesses of the wedding industry, but by settling for a tepid PG rating, those humorous barbs never amount to anything of note.

The same holds true for the film’s leading ladies, who don’t provide any memorable moments other than the obvious visual gag of a catfight between two women in wedding dresses. The leading men fare even worse, and might as well have been played by tuxedo mannequins.

“Bride Wars” fails at almost every occasion. It’s not funny, the characters aren’t sympathetic and the plot is absurd—even the guys in the audience will know that these women could never pull of the wedding of their dreams even under the best of circumstances. This quest for a perfect wedding turns out to be a perfect disaster of a movie mistake.

Movie reviews by Sean, “The Movie Guy,” are published bi-weekly in “The Port Arthur News” and weekly on KFDM-TV. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@kavutv.com.

Movie reviews by Sean, “The Movie Guy,” are published Wednesdays and Fridays in “The Port Arthur News.” He can be found weekly on KFDM-TV and KOLE Fox 1340 Radio. Additional reviews can be found at www.rottentomatoes.com. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@kbcitv.com.

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Runs Wednesday, January 14

“Defiance”

“Defiance”

Paramount Vantage Pictures

Directed by Edward Zwick

Starring Daniel Craig, Live Schreiber, Jamie Bell and Alexa Davalos

Rated PG-13

 2 ½ Stars        

 From “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” to Valkyrie” to “The Reader,” there have been a lot of World War II-themed movies in theaters lately, most of them better-than-average but ultimately forgettable. The latest of the lot is “Defiance,” and while I don’t think that it’s any better or any worse than the other films, at least it stands out because the Jews aren’t just Holocaust victims here. “Defiance” is an atypical war film where a rag tag band of Jewish survivors are transformed into a lethal guerrilla military unit—every Nazi’s worst nightmare.

Well, at least that’s what the filmmakers would like you to believe. In reality, “Defiance” doesn’t have nearly enough gunplay to qualify as a full-fledged action extravaganza, but thanks to quality acting and an engaging life-or-death story, there’s plenty here to keep audiences satisfied.

Daniel Craig, Live Schreiber and Jamie Bell star as the three Bielski brothers who were forced to flee for their lives when the German war machine started its push into Belorussia in 1941. The Bielskis hide out in the forest. They only want to survive the Nazis and the harsh Russian winter, but as more Jewish refugees show up at their camp, the Bielskis split over their response to the Holocaust. Older brother Tuvia (Craig) wants to build a pacifist community in the forest, while Zus (Schreiber) wants to join up with the Russian partisans and fight.

That fighting is very well staged, with the final confrontation in particular being one of those edge-of-your-seat affairs that will give action fans a solid thrill. The dramatic moments are a bit more problematic, perhaps because the story has been idolized to the point that it strains credulity. I’m not disputing the film’s events, but Tuvia’s leadership is so high-minded that he might as well have been the reincarnation of Moses—he even leads his people across the water with the Pharaoh’s soldiers, er, the Nazi chasing them down. It may all be true, but it’s a bit hard to swallow. The same holds true for Zus, who becomes such a deadly soldier that his Russian commander calls him “The Hebrew Warrior.” Not bad for an otherwise unimpressive country boy.

Still, director Edward Zwick (“Glory,” “The Last Samurai”) has a knack for mixing drama and war, and “Defiance is another solid movie. The film could have used some stronger characters (it plays like a detached history lesson at times) but there’s no denying that the Bielski’s efforts to save 1200 Jews makes for an engaging story.

It certainly won’t be forgotten as just another holocaust drama.

Movie reviews by Sean, “The Movie Guy,” are published bi-weekly in “The Port Arthur News” and weekly on KFDM-TV. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@kavutv.com.

Movie reviews by Sean, “The Movie Guy,” are published Wednesdays and Fridays in “The Port Arthur News.” He can be found weekly on KFDM-TV and KOLE Fox 1340 Radio. Additional reviews can be found at www.rottentomatoes.com. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@kbcitv.com.

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Runs Friday, January 16

2008
“The Bucket List”

Movies to see before you die…

“The Bucket List”

Warner Brothers Films

Directed by Rob Reiner

Starring Jack Nicholson, Morgan Freeman, Sean Hayes and Beverly Todd

Rated PG-13

2 ½ Stars        

Based on the sentimental screenplay alone, “The Bucket List” should have been an overly melodramatic exercise in pure hokum. This is a movie that’s unapologetically schmaltzy—wallowing in sap and unconvincing platitudes. Still, while it will probably cause jaded filmgoers to roll their eyes at some of the more-saccharine moments, you’ve got to admit that the film does do two things right.

Their names are Jack and Morgan.

As in Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman, who may be slumming a bit here, but salvage the endeavor because of the basic fact that these are two actors who can light up and hold the screen. Even in a maudlin film about two men facing their impending deaths, Nicholson and Freeman bring enough charismatic life to the story that audiences will leave the theatre happy to have spent the final days with these two characters.

Okay, so jaded filmgoers may not be converted, but there are more than enough harrowing dramas currently playing to keep them happily depressed. This one is aimed at audiences who just want to enjoy an uplifting night at the movies.

Nicholson plays a hospital magnate. Freeman plays an auto mechanic. They have nothing in common until they are both diagnosed with cancer and given six months to live. They form a tenuous kinship and write out a “bucket list,” which is a catalogue of things that the two men would like to accomplish before they “kick the bucket.” The hospital magnate has plenty of money, so the two men set off to skydive, see the pyramids, drive fast racecars and kiss the most beautiful women in the world.

It’s not much of a spoiler to reveal that following their bucket list will help the two men realize what’s truly important in their lives, and guide them in their quest to live each day as if it were their last. You can see all of this coming from a mile away, but with Nicholson and Freeman up on the screen, who cares if the story is predictable?

I’ll draw the line at anybody who thinks that this film will garner any serious attention from Oscar, but the bottom line is that “The Bucket List” is feel good fun at the movies. It has some mild humor, a nice message and those two great actors in the leading roles. I hope that I get to see many more movies as enjoyable as “The Bucket List” before I kick my bucket and head for that great multiplex in the sky.

Movie reviews by Sean, “The Movie Guy,” are published bi-weekly in “The Port Arthur News” and weekly on KFDM-TV. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@kavutv.com.

Movie reviews by Sean, “The Movie Guy,” are published Wednesdays and Fridays in “The Port Arthur News.” He can be found weekly on KAVU-TV, KFDM-TV, and KVIC Radio. Additional reviews can be found at www.rottentomatoes.com, www.panews.com or at www.myvictoriaonline.com. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@kavutv.com.

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Runs Friday, January 11

“Atonement”

“Atonement” makes for truly great period melodrama.

“Atonement”

Focus Features

Directed by Joe Wright

Starring Keira Knightley, James McAvoy, Saoirse Ronan. Romola Garai, Vanessa Redgrave and Brenda Blethyn

Rated R

3 ½ Stars        

Fans of films like “The English Patient” will be thrilled with “Atonement,” a highbrow tale of doomed romance set against the backdrop of World War II. This is a superbly-made film that all but cries out for Oscar accolades– featuring a meaty story, solid performances by the British cast, amazing production design and a musical score that I think to be the best of the past year. These melodramatic period pieces may not be your cup of tea, but I’m hard pressed to say anything negative at all about the film. In a more traditional year, “Atonement” would be exactly the sort of film destined for Academy Award greatness. That being said, this is not a traditional year, and I’m not even sure that “Atonement” will get nominated. Still, Oscar politics aside, there’s no denying that “Atonement” is one of the truly great films of 2007.

“Atonement” tells the story of an upper-middleclass family sweltering through a lazy English summer in the days before the start of World War II. Keira Knightly plays Cecilia, and she has developed a passion for handsome Robbie (James McAvoy), a member of the serving staff who has dreams of becoming a country doctor. Cecilia’s younger sister, Briony (Saoirse Ronan) has also developed a crush on Robbie, and as a young teenager, she’s too inexperienced to keep her emotions in check when she catches the two making love one evening.

Events transpire that a young cousin goes missing, and Briony catches the girl in the bushes with an older man. Briony tells the police that Robbie was the attacker; a lie that she will spend the rest of her life regretting.

Robbie is arrested, but allowed to serve out his sentence by enlisting in the military four years later when the Great War heats up. Cecilia is devastated and enlists as a nurse in order to be closer to the man she loves. Briony, now grown (Romola Garai) is wracked with guilt. She too enlists as a nurse, hoping somehow to mend the romance that she tore asunder four summers ago.

Based on the acclaimed novel from Ian McEwan, “Atonement” has all the passion of pulp fiction, but the refined characters and setting of classic literature. Director Joe Wright is the perfect man to bring the book to life, bringing just the right touch to both the English country estate scenes as well as the later war sequences. One four-minute steadicam shot in particular, during the chaos of the evacuation of Dunkirk, is so magnificently staged that it may be worthy of Oscar Gold all by its self.

Couple all of this with a pitch perfect English cast and a score that uses typewriter keystrokes as memorable percussion and you’re left with a lush, epic story that is everything you might ever want from an arty melodrama. “Atonement” takes the number two spot on my list for best films from 2007.

Movie reviews by Sean, “The Movie Guy,” are published bi-weekly in “The Port Arthur News” and weekly on KFDM-TV. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@kavutv.com.

Movie reviews by Sean, “The Movie Guy,” are published Wednesdays and Fridays in “The Port Arthur News.” He can be found weekly on KAVU-TV, KFDM-TV, and KVIC Radio. Additional reviews can be found at www.rottentomatoes.com, www.panews.com or at www.myvictoriaonline.com. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@kavutv.com.

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Runs Wednesday, January 16

“One Missed Call”

And you though your cell phone was bad…

“One Missed Call”

Warner Brothers Films

Directed by Eric Valette

Starring Shannyn Sossamon, Ed Burns, Ana Claudia Talancón, Meagan Good, Azura Skye, Margaret Cho and Ray Wise

Rated PG-13

1 Star       

After sitting through “One Missed Call,” I have resolved to stop complaining about my cell phone. Sure, I may not get great service and the monthly bill is outrageous, but at least my mobile phone isn’t trying to kill me. Of course, I do pay extra for the “No Murder” option plan.

“One Missed Call” is yet another American remake of a Takashi Miike, Japanese horror film. If you’ve seen “The Ring,” “Pulse” or “The Grudge,” you’ll have a pretty good idea of the tone and visual images involved in this film. Throw in a bit of “Final Destination,” and you’ve got the idea behind this film. The story involves an attractive cast of young people who get an eerie voicemail, a message from the future in which they leave details about their imminent demise. Basically, you get a call from yourself, and then you die. 

Shannyn Sossamon plays Beth, and because she’s arguably the most famous cast member in the film, she decides to team up with a detective (Ed Burns) and figure out the case of the killer voicemail. Yes, it’s all quite silly to think about, but J-Horror flicks have always been more about style than substance.

“One Missed Call” doesn’t have much style or substance. The scares just aren’t that scary, the acting isn’t very good, the special effects don’t really pop and the screenplay features lines of dialogue that are so bad that they will make you laugh out loud. My favorite: “From now on, when dead people call, we’re not home.”

The poster is creepy-cool, so one star for that.

The rest of “One Missed Call” is a total miss. It’s only an hour and a half long and yet it feels like the filmmakers don’t have enough ideas to fill the already short running time. Throw in a bad ending and you have the first cinematic turkey of 2008.

Movie reviews by Sean, “The Movie Guy,” are published bi-weekly in “The Port Arthur News” and weekly on KFDM-TV. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@kavutv.com.

Movie reviews by Sean, “The Movie Guy,” are published Wednesdays and Fridays in “The Port Arthur News.” He can be found weekly on KAVU-TV, KFDM-TV, and KVIC Radio. Additional reviews can be found at www.rottentomatoes.com, www.panews.com or at www.myvictoriaonline.com. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@kavutv.com.

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Runs Wednesday, Friday, December 1

2007
“Children of Men”

Tagline

“Children of Men”

Universal Pictures

Directed by Alfonso Cuaron

Starring Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, Michael Caine, Clare-Hope Ashitey, Charlie Hunnam, Danny Huston and Chiwetel Ejiofor

Rated R

3 Stars           

I’ve always preferred my science fiction to be slightly dystopian, so I rather enjoyed Alfonso Cuaron’s “Children of Men,” a film that paints a rather bleak portrait of near-future humanity, yet manages to find an ambiguous ray of hope at the end so that you don’t leave the theater totally depressed. Just my cup of tea.

The year is 2027 and a plague of infertility has driven the world to the brink of destruction. After all, why strive for a better tomorrow when humans will be extinct is just a few decades? Clive Owen plays Theo, a depressed alcoholic wasting away his final days in London until he’s contacted by a former lover (Julianne Moore) who needs his help smuggling a young woman out of England.

It turns out that this lone woman is miraculously pregnant, and it becomes Theo’s vital mission to get this possible Eve out of England before the government or the rebel forces seize her and her baby for their own political purposes. The film doesn’t quite manage to explain how the woman’s exodus will save humanity, but given the anarchy at home, there’s little doubt that any place would be safer for the new mother of the human race.

 Based on the novel by P.D. James, “Children of Men” leaves a lot of plot questions unanswered, so it’s to director Alfonso Cuaron’s credit that he manages to transform the muddled story into a nail-biting action flick. Much of the film is shot in a hand-held, documentary style, which adds a patina of authenticity to the story and makes for two thrillingly realistic action sequences. Cuaron also bleaches most of the color out of the film, which creates a gritty overlay to a world going through its final death throes.

The bottom line is that “Children of Men” suffers the story problems that most novels face when they’re adapted for the cinema, but thanks to a solid cast and superb direction, the film emerges as one of the best science fiction films in the past few years.

Movie reviews by Sean, “The Movie Guy,” are published biweekly in “The Port Arthur News.” He can also be found on KAVU-TV, plus KVIC 95.1fm and KOLE Radio 1340am in Victoria and Beaumont, Texas. Additional reviews can be found at www.panews.com, www.myvictoriaonline.com/Entertainment or at www.rottentomatoes.com. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@kavutv.com.

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Runs Friday 1/5

“Happily N’ever After”

Tagline

“Happily N’ever After”

Lionsgate Films

Directed by Paul J. Bolger

Voiced by Sarah Michelle Gellar, Freddie Prinze, Hr, Sigourney Weaver, Patrick Warburton, George Carlin, Andy Dick and Wallace Shawn.

Rated PG

1 Star           

The 2007 movie year gets off to a sad start with the release of “Happily N’ever After,” a witless piece of family animation dumped into the marketplace with the sole intention of sucking up any holiday cash that you might have left over.

The television ads trumpet that “Happily N’ever After” was created by one of the producers behind “Shrek,” which might trick a few people into the theater, but the factoid only serves to illustrate just how bad the movie is when it’s placed in comparison with a truly creative and inspired film. Unlike “Shrek,” “Happily N’ever After” features a bad screenplay, bad vocal acting, plus bland animation and music.

Get the picture? “Happily N’ever After” is a bad movie. Even the kiddies won’t be entertained by this flick that should have gone straight to DVD.

The movie takes place in a modern-ish fairytale land where a wizard (George Carlin) goes on vacation and thus allows a wicked stepmother (Sigourney Weaver) to seize power and knock all of the classic fairy tales off track. She’s determined to let the bad guys win from now on, and it’s up to a plucky Cinderella (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and the royal dishwasher, Rick (Freddie Prinze, Jr.) to put things right again.

It’s not a bad premise, but the screenwriters don’t do anything special with their story setup. This is a screenplay that was probably knocked out over one weekend by a team more interested in making a quick buck than in making a film with any aspirations of quality. The same holds true for the cast. Even the usually–reliable Patrick Warburton and Andy Dick can’t find a way to bring any genuine humor into the film.

Thrown in Saturday Morning Cartoon-level animation and you end up with a complete mess of a movie—and don’t get me started on the character design for the wicked stepmother that is so over-sexualized that she comes across as a dominatrix at times. The bottom line is that “Happily N’ever After” lives up to the promise of it’s title.

Movie reviews by Sean, “The Movie Guy,” are published biweekly in “The Port Arthur News.” He can also be found on KAVU-TV, plus KVIC 95.1fm and KOLE Radio 1340am in Victoria and Beaumont, Texas. Additional reviews can be found at www.panews.com, www.myvictoriaonline.com/Entertainment or at www.rottentomatoes.com. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@kavutv.com.

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Runs Wednesday 1/10

“Freedom Writers”

Tagline 

“Freedom Writers”

Paramount Pictures

Directed by Richard LaGravenese

Starring Hillary Swank, Patrick Dempsey, Scott Glenn, Imelda Staunton, April Lee Hernandez, Mario and Jason Finn

Rated PG-13

3 Stars           

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. An idealistic but naïve teacher is assigned to a classroom of troubled students. The educational system has given up on these kids, but the young teacher nevertheless finds a way to motivate the students thanks to a combination of passion, respect and an unorthodox teaching style.

That’s the formulaic story behind “To Sir, With Love,” “Stand and Deliver,” “Dangerous Minds, “Lean on Me” and a host of other teacher-centric, feel-good dramas including Hillary Swank’s latest endeavor, “Freedom Writers.” Based on a true story, “Freedom Writers” follows a young teacher (Swank) who takes a job at an ethnically divided Long Beach high school in the days following the LA Riots. Following an ugly racial incident, the teacher decides to draw a parallel between contemporary gang culture and Nazi Germany. It’s a bit of a stretch, but it works.

 Using “The Diary of Anne Frank,” the teacher manages to get the class to examine their cultural attitudes. She encourages them to write about their own lives, and the resulting journal entries provide a glimpse into some of the reasons why the students are so troubled.

It’s all quite predictable and overly simplistic, which is why I’m surprised that “Freedom Writers” is such an engrossing film. Maybe I just have a thing for teacher flicks (both my parents are educators) but the bottom line is that the film emotionally swept me up, even while my critical side was left hoping for a more original story.

Credit Hillary Swank for yet another fine performance, The class of twenty-year-old actors masquerading as freshmen also does a good job of hitting their marks—April Lee Hernandez as the troubled Eva stands out in particular. Thrown in the de facto hip hop soundtrack and you’re left with yet another feel-good teacher flick that will leave most audiences satisfied, even though “Freedom Writers” isn’t exactly breaking any new ground story-wise.

Movie reviews by Sean, “The Movie Guy,” are published biweekly in “The Port Arthur News.” He can also be found on KAVU-TV, plus KVIC 95.1fm and KOLE Radio 1340am in Victoria and Beaumont, Texas. Additional reviews can be found at www.panews.com, www.myvictoriaonline.com/Entertainment or at www.rottentomatoes.com. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@kavutv.com.

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Runs Friday 1/12

2006
“Munich”

Spielberg’s controversial film is one of the best this year

“Munich”

Universal Pictures

Directed by Steven Spielberg

Starring Eric Bana, Geoffrey Rush, Daniel Craig, Ciaran Hinds, Mathieu Kassovitz and Hans Zischler

Rated R

3 ½ Stars       

“Munich” is easily the most controversial movie that Steven Spielberg has ever created. It’s also one of his best.

Based on the book “Vengeance,” this is the story of an unofficial Israeli response the murder of eleven Jewish athletes at the 1972 Olympics. Eric Bana stars as Avner, an unassuming Mossad agent who is asked to form a team of assassins and track down the men responsible for the massacre at Munich. It’s a ragtag team of unlikely soldiers who nevertheless prove effective at their task. The problem is that the Palestinians are just as effective at getting even for any Israeli reprisal killings.

The end result is a dangerous cycle, where each killing begets another killing with no end in sight. The Israelis and the Palestinian groups both feel justified in their murderous actions, but it’s not long before innocent people get caught up in the bloodshed. One of the best scenes shows Avner and his team racing to save a little girl who isn’t supposed to be in the house where they’ve set up their bombs. By the end of the film it’s difficult to tell if these are good guy heroes or simply politicized assassins.

By the end of the film, Avner isn’t so certain of his actions either. He may have started out as a reluctant patriot, but he ends up an amoral man consumed with fear and paranoia. He is praised for his service to the Jewish state, but the film condemns him for loosing his humanity through this service. It’s a moral quagmire, one that many contemporary audiences will find particularly troubling.  

Spielberg has always been good at making fast-paced and engaging films, and his fans should enjoy the edge-of-your-seat action sequences and well-drawn characters found in “Munich.” I particularly enjoyed the deft touches that he adds to scenes that should otherwise be rather run-of-the-mill. But the brilliance of “Munich” doesn’t lie in its plot, but rather in way that Spielberg sucks you in to this action flick and then leaves you feeling dirty for having enjoyed the visceral thrills of the film.  

“Munich” isn’t preachy, but it’s certainly a powerful sermon against violence, even when it’s righteous violence. You may not agree with his message, but “Munich” is one of the best films in Spielberg’s already-laudable career.

Sean, “The Movie Guy,” can be seen weekly on Newscenter 25 Sunrise. Reviews are published Wednesdays and Fridays in “The Port Arthur News” and he can be heard weekly on KOLE and KVIC Radio. For more reviews, log on to www.seanthemovieguy.com. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@kavutv.com.

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Runs Friday 1/6

“Hoodwinked”

No goodies in this basket

“Hoodwinked”

The Weinstein

Directed by Tony Leech

Voiced by Anne Hathaway, Glenn Close, Patrick Warburton, Andy Dick, David Ogden Stiers, James Belushi and Anthony Anderson

Rated PG

1 Stars     

The new animated movie “Hoodwinked” looks at the Little Red Riding Hood story as if it were a Gen X version of “Law and Order.” In an attempt to be memorable, all of the stock characters have been given hip new personas and character quirks. Which is why Granny is now an extreme sports maniac, the wolf is an undercover reporter and the woodsman is a struggling actor. As for “Red,” well she’s a boring teenage dreamer, the type of character that we’ve seen in a million other (and better) films.

Yawn.

I’m guessing that “Hoodwinked” was written with the intent of capturing the essence of the “Shrek” movies. It’s screenwriting via the checklist method. Pop culture references—check. Post modern take on a classic fairy tale—check. Magic of great voice actors meshing with smart, hear-felt script? Whoops, they forgot that one.

When you’re making family films, “heart” is the one intangible element that you absolutely cannot do without. Small children may not understand all the jokes, but they can feel the warmth and humor of the story. I’ve seen movies with four year olds who were grinning from ear to ear, caught up by the infectious spirit of a movie, even though they were a decade away from understanding many of the jokes. I saw “Hoodwinked” with five young kids. They were all bored.

“Hoodwinked” features flat animation, a mediocre voice cast, an uninspired screenplay and very little off that all-too-precious heart. It’s a sad case of Red opening up her goodie basket and finding that there’s nothing there.

Sean, “The Movie Guy,” can be seen weekly on Newscenter 25 Sunrise. Reviews are published Wednesdays and Fridays in “The Port Arthur News” and he can be heard weekly on KOLE and KVIC Radio. For more reviews, log on to www.seanthemovieguy.com. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@kavutv.com.

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Runs Wednesday 1/11

“Glory Road”

Good cause, but not much bounce

“Glory Road”

Buena Vista Pictures

Directed by James Gartner

Starring Josh Lucas, Derek Luke, Austin Nichols, Evan Jones and Jon Voight

Rated PG

2 1/2 Stars           

Not to be overly-simplistic, but perhaps the best thing about sports movies is that they’re almost always watchable, in an audience-engaging sort of way. Even if they’re mediocre endeavors, if the filmmaker assembles the right elements, most audiences will still enjoy cheering for the cinematic home team.

Case in point, the new basketball movie “Glory Road,” which has the distinction of being both an underdog sports flick and an inspiring drama about a group of athletes who confront and conquer the institutionalized racism plaguing college sports in 1965. This is the story of Don Haskins, the NCAA Hall of Fame coach who took the job at Texas Western University (now UTEP) and immediately began recruiting African American athletes to fill his roster. To make matters worse, he actually started a predominantly Black lineup, which made sponsors and fans uneasy back in 1965.

It all culminated in a championship game where five white players from the University of Kentucky faced off against the first all-Black team in NCAA history. Cultural anthropologists and sports fans will tell you that it was one of the most important games in American history. I won’t dispute the real-life importance of this story, but sadly the movie-version falls as flat as one of my free throws (anybody who’s ever seen me play knows that it’s pretty bad).

Part of the problem is that the film can’t decide if it’s the coach or his players who are the real crusading heroes here. In real life it might have been both, but in cinematic terms you need a strong central character to drive the film and keep it focused. “Glory Road” meanders all over the place. Historians will also take issue with the cinematic liberties taken with actual events in order to stuff six years of basketball into one memorable season.

Still, the performances are serviceable and the film does have all the right elements. I would have preferred a better screenplay and more exciting footage from the big game finale, but as I said, the film is still engaging, even if it is somewhat lackluster. Who could hate a movie about an underdog team with a noble crusade? Most audiences will cheer, but they won’t be inspired as they might have had the film been better.

Sean, “The Movie Guy,” can be seen weekly on Newscenter 25 Sunrise. Reviews are published Wednesdays and Fridays in “The Port Arthur News” and he can be heard weekly on KOLE and KVIC Radio. For more reviews, log on to www.seanthemovieguy.com. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@kavutv.com.

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Runs Wednesday 1/11

2005
“White Noise”

Silly Movie has a few cheap scares that work

“White Noise”

Universal Pictures

Directed by Geoffrey Sax

Starring Michael Keaton, Deborah Kara Unger and Chandra West

Rated PG-13

1 1/2 Stars

Electronic Voice Phenomenon is the dignified name given to those eerie voices and images that materialize in the static on our TVs, radios and cell phones. I’m not particularly sold on the idea that otherworldly entities might be trying to communicate with us over the broadcast spectrum, but I will admit that the idea of a dead relative peering out from my late-night TV is rather spooky.

“White Noise” is the new movie that turns the spooky science of EVP into a standard-issue ghost story; and while it has some big problems with the plot and the characters, I will admit that it also has some genuinely creepy moments as well. It’s stupid, but it’s scary-stupid, and that might be enough for some people looking to kick off 2005 with a frightful bang.

Michael Keaton stars as an architect mourning the mysterious death of his young wife. Just as he seems to be getting his life back together, a strange man appears with the news that the dead woman has been leaving messages for him on the white noise of his TV set. The architect investigates and quickly becomes obsessed with EVP, filling his home with all sorts of computers and electronic recording devices. At first he does seem to be communicating with his wife, but the architect also seems to have invited other, less-friendly entities into his home.

So be warned, all of you who fall asleep and leave the TV on, you’re just begging to be attacked by evil demons or malevolent ghosts. That, and you’ll have an expensive electric bill to pay, which might be worse.

“White Noise” just doesn’t make much sense. Character-wise, they never explain why an otherwise rational man would suddenly abandon his friends and family in favor of this fascination with an odd paranormal phenomenon. We get hints of the eerie stuff early on, but it’s certainly not enough to drive a man to obsession, even if he is in mourning. I’ve always thought that Michael Keaton was a decent actor, but he’s stranded without any real motivation here. It’s as if his character changes only because the screenplay says that he has to, and it reeks of casual artificiality.

Plot-wise, well let’s just say that the story is so preposterous that the audience was frequently laughing at the film. They never explain how the architect finds the people that the ghosts are trying to contact, and they certainly never explore the idea that the police might start to suspect that the architect is up to something funny when he keeps stumbling upon dead bodies. And finally, to take some sage advice from Eddie Murphy, when demons tear up your house and a ghost appears and tells you to go, don’t just stand there. Go! To do anything else is just silly.

“White Noise” is silly, but it does have some spooky moments that jump out at you. Throw in a disconcerting soundtrack, and you have a flick that will have you shaking your head in dismay, but also have you on the edge of your seat waiting for the next cheap scare.

Movie reviews by Sean McBride, “The Movie Guy,” are published Wednesdays and Fridays in the Port Arthur News. For more reviews, log on to HYPERLINK “http://www.seanthemovieguy.com/”www.seanthemovieguy.com.

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Runs Friday 1/7

“Kinsey”

TAG LINE

“Kinsey”

Pictures

Directed by Bill Condon

Starring Liam Neeson, Laura Linney, John Lithgow, Peter Sarsgaard, Chris O’Donnell and Timothy Hutton

Rated R

3 Stars

If you were to think of somebody who’s a “sexual revolutionary,” the odds are that you’re not picturing a mild-mannered university professor in a bow tie. Nevertheless, it’s just such an unlikely character who kicked down the doors of sexual repression in America in the late ‘40s. The man was Dr. Alfred C. Kinsey, and he would go on to international notoriety when he published his revelatory studies on the sexual behavior of the human male and female.

The new movie “Kinsey” is the fascinating biography of this oddball entomologist who decided to shift his attentions from gall wasps to the study of sex in America. Liam Neeson plays the crusading sexual scientist, but he does so in such a low-key manner that it’s hard to get too caught up in his quest. Perhaps the performance is true to Kinsey’s real-life Midwestern upbringing, but it makes for a curiously detached film, particularly given the subject matter. For example, at one point we are shown three pictures—close ups of genitalia engaged in sexual congress. In any other movie this would be immediate grounds for an NC-17 rating, but “Kinsey” views it all with such clinical detachment that the sex pictures are left without any prurient appeal whatsoever.

I’m certainly not advocating that “Kinsey” be turned into soft-core pornography; I’m simply pointing out that without any passion, scientific or otherwise, the film doesn’t make much of an impact.

The same cannot be said for the actors, who all turn in masterful performances. Liam Neeson, Laura Linney, Peter Sarsgaard and John Lithgow are all strong contenders for year-end acting awards. Production design and writing kudos are also strong possibilities. The bottom line is that “Kinsey” is a very well-made film, but by giving the film the same detached and slightly naïve style of it’s hero, we’re left with a movie that’s more interesting in concept than it is in execution.

Movie reviews by Sean McBride, “The Movie Guy,” are published Wednesdays and Fridays in the Port Arthur News. For more reviews, log on to HYPERLINK “http://www.seanthemovieguy.com/”www.seanthemovieguy.com.

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Runs Wednesday Friday 1/12

“In Good Company”

TAG LINE

“In Good Company”

Universal Pictures

Directed by Paul Weitz

Starring Dennis Quaid, Topher Grace, Scarlett Johansson, Marg Helgenberger, Selma Blair and Malcolm McDowell

Rated PG-13

3 1/2 Stars

“In Good Company” is the completely enjoyable comedy about a man whose life is turned upside down at the age of 52 and his love/hate relationship with the 26-year-old kid who suddenly becomes his boss. There’s a lot of very funny stuff here, but there’s also a surprising amount of heart to the film as well. I expected a predictable satire of corporate culture and was pleasantly surprised to find that the film was also a poignant look at two generally likeable men struggling to succeed, even as their definitions of success bring them into conflict with each other.

Writer/director Paul Weitz has made a habit out of making films that are so much more than what they seem to be on the surface. From “American Pie” to “About a Boy,” his movies have always been engaging examinations of male culture. “In Good Company” shows us both ends of the spectrum with Dennis Quaid playing Dan, the middle-aged man who loses his job just as his oldest daughter decides to enroll at NYU and his wife announces that she is pregnant. Topher Grace plays Carter, the up-and-coming young executive who takes Dan’s job but desperately needs him to stick around and show him how to run the office. It’s an awkward relationship that reaches a breaking point when Carter starts to date Dan’s daughter (Scarlett Johansson).

Well, how would you feel if your boss started dating your daughter?

Surprisingly, despite all of this, young Carter isn’t really the villain of the film. Indeed, part of the charm of “In Good Company” lies in the director’s ability to keep both men in the audience’s favor, even as they lock horns with each other. They fight each other, but it’s obvious that Carter admires Dan and Dan begrudgingly likes the new kid, even if he is dating his daughter.

The bottom line is that “In Good Company” is a very funny movie with a cast of eminently likeable characters. Kudos to that cast as well as writer/director Paul Weitz. I went in expecting a predictable comedy and came out having seen one of my favorite movies of 2004.

Movie reviews by Sean McBride, “The Movie Guy,” are published Wednesdays and Fridays in the Port Arthur News. For more reviews, log on to HYPERLINK “http://www.seanthemovieguy.com/”www.seanthemovieguy.com.

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Runs Wednesday 1/12

2004
“Big Fish”

TAG LINE

“Big Fish”

Columbia Pictures

Directed by Tim Burton

Starring Ewan McGregor, Albert Finney, Billy Crudup, Jessica Lange, Alison Lohman, Helena Bonham Carter, Steve Buscemi, Danny DeVito and Robert Guillaume

Rated PG-13

Director Tim Burton is known for his stylistically fanciful movies. From “Edward Scissorhands” to “Beetlejuice” and even the underwhelming “Planet of the Apes,” Tim Burton films have always been a triumph of quirky design, even if they sometimes slight character and story in favor of those memorable visuals.

Predictably, Burton’s latest endeavor also features plenty of eye candy for his fans to enjoy. However, it’s pleasantly surprising to find that “Big Fish” also features solid acting performances and a rather touching father and son love story. “Big Fish” turns out to be a good film and a good-looking film.

“Big Fish” is the tale of Edward Bloom, a man who was always known for his colorful anecdotes. He claims to have lived a life of adventure, running into giants and werewolves and witches and Siamese twins along the way. But now he lies on his deathbed, and his son wants to find out the truth about who his father really was before it’s too late.

We are treated to the retelling of Bloom’s famous stories, with Ewan McGregor playing the man in his youth. Sure enough, we see giants and werewolves and witches and Siamese twins and much, much more. But we also get to see behind the stories as the son (Billy Crudup) digs deeper into the mystery his father’s life.

“Big Fish” is the best film from Tim Burton since “Edward Scissorhands,” and it shows a refreshing new aptitude for the filmmaker to mix his trademark visual flair with more seasoned, storytelling abilities. This is a good story, well acted and well told that just happens to be a stylistic treat as well.

Movie reviews by Sean McBride, “The Movie Guy,” are published Wednesdays and Fridays in the Port Arthur News. Sean the Movie guy appears Fridays on KFDM, Channel 6 and Monday and Thursday evenings on KWBB, News at Nine.

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Runs Friday 1/9

“Along Came Polly”

Winning cast can’t save ‘Polly’

“Along Came Polly”

Universal Pictures

Directed by John Hamburg

Starring Ben Stiller, Jennifer Aniston, Debra Messing, Hank Azaria, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Alec Baldwin

Rated PG-13

2 Stars

A newlywed couple breaks up on their honeymoon when the bride has an affair with the resort’s SCUBA instructor. Now call me old fashioned, but I’ve always thought that scarring infidelities are supposed to be the stuff of tragedy. Nevertheless, the people behind the new film “Along Came Polly” seem to think that an affair makes a great beginning for a romantic comedy.

“Along Came Polly” features a talented cast, but the rather misguided screenplay generally hamstrings them. Ben Stiller stars as the cuckolded husband who returns to New York after his disastrous honeymoon and quickly begins a rebound relationship with a free-spirited girl he knew back in jr. high school. Jennifer Aniston plays the girl, and because Hollywood screenwriters believe that opposites attract, she finds herself falling in love with Stiller’s anal-retentive insurance analyst. There’s no obvious chemistry between the two, but more unbelievable pairings have succeeded in the movies.

Of course the wife is going to return, but not before the husband goes on a journey of self-discovery. Of course he will break up with the girl, then have a last-minute epiphany and rush off to stop her before she gets away. There’s absolutely nothing new or original in “Along Came Polly” other than the infidelity stuff. So the film is hackneyed and crass–but at least there are a few good individual performances to talk about.

Hank Azaria steals the show as the sleazy French SCUBA instructor with a penchant for nudity, and Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Alec Baldwin each have small but memorable moments. Aniston and Stiller have enough talent to hold your interest as they suffer through all sorts of misadventures.

The bottom line is that “Along Came Polly” is a rather mediocre romantic comedy. It suffers from a very bad screenplay, but the actors do their best to rise above the material, and at times they succeed.

But not very often.

Movie reviews by Sean McBride, “The Movie Guy,” are published Wednesdays and Fridays in the Port Arthur News. Sean the Movie guy appears Fridays on KFDM, Channel 6 and Monday and Thursday evenings on KWBB, News at Nine.

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Runs Friday 1/16

“Calendar Girls”

“Calendar Girls” provides a year’s worth of fun

“Calendar Girls”

Touchstone Pictures

Directed by Nigel Cole

Starring Helen Mirren, Julie Waters, Ciaran Hinds and John Alderton

Rated PG-13

3 Stars

“Calendar Girls” is the amusing tale of a group of aging women who embark upon an unorthodox charity project, and end up reclaiming a little bit of the self-worth they had in their younger days.

Based on a true story, “Calendar Girls” stars Helen Mirren and Julie Waters as Chris and Annie, two women who are bored to tears by their weekly meeting of the Women’s Institute. They would prefer to arrange vodka tasting nights, but settle for the more traditional talks about broccoli and the carpet industry.

The story kicks into high gear when Annie’s husband (John Alderton) dies of cancer. Shattered, the two best friends decide to use their Women’s Institute calendar sale to raise funds for the hospital. Inspired by one of John’s dying quips, they decide that the only way to raise enough money to achieve their modest goal of buying a couch for the waiting room is to do something scandalous.

And so, a group of respectable English women in their middle-fifties decided to make a nudie calendar.

“Calendar Girls” is a lot of fun, buoyed up by the veteran acting abilities of Helen Mirren and Julie Waters. They lead a very game cast in this light-hearted romp that will admittedly appeal primarily to older audiences, but has enough going for it to make it a winner for younger viewers as well.

The film is stretched a bit thin at points, with some unneeded melodramatics thrown in to plump up the film, but that’s not enough to scuttle the story. The bottom line is that if you’re looking for intelligent, adult-level fun, “Calendar Girls” is a real treat.

And for those of you worried about the nudity in the film– don’t fret. As was the case in the real calendar, the nudity is all handled quite tastefully and mostly hidden from view.

Movie reviews by Sean McBride, “The Movie Guy,” are published Wednesdays and Fridays in the Port Arthur News. Sean the Movie guy appears Fridays on KFDM, Channel 6 and Monday and Thursday evenings on KWBB, News at Nine.

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Runs Wednesday 1/14

2003
“Antwone Fisher”

“Antwone Fisher”

Fox Searchlight

Directed by Denzel Washington

Starring Derek Luke, Denzel Washington and Joy Bryant

Rated PG-13

3 Stars

Denzel Washington is one of the most respected actors working in mainstream cinema today. With the notable exception of “Training Day,” you can usually count on him to play a crowd-pleasing good guy in a film where everything turns out all right in the end.

So it’s entirely appropriate that his directorial debut should be with a film that is heart-warming and simple. Unlike most new directors who try and dazzle audiences with a never-ending barrage of stylish visuals, Washington knows that his fans want solid acting more than an edgy or hip story.

“Antwone Fisher” is the perfect film for Washington’s first time in the director’s seat. This is one of those “inspired by real life” stories that tells the tale of an angry young sailor (Derek Luke) who is sent to a Navy psychiatrist because he keeps getting into fistfights. Washington also plays the Navy shrink assigned to the case, and predictably, he soon takes on the role of surrogate father to the young sailor.

Through flashback therapy sessions, we learn that Antwone was abandoned as a child and sent to live in a rather vicious foster home where he suffered from emotional, physical and sexual abuse. No wonder the kid is so angry. Dr. Denzel just smiles and listens, offering up some sage advice from time to time. I suspect that real-life psychiatrists might take issue with the way their profession is portrayed in the film, but since this is a feel-good movie and not an analysis of psychiatry, the shallow movie doctoring works just fine.

But that’s illustrative of what’s good and bad with “Antwone Fisher.” This is a film that doesn’t aspire to be anything other than a feel-good drama, appropriate for the entire family, so there’s no need to actually show the work the young sailor does in order to get past his crippling anger. It’s narrative shorthand, and it keeps “Antwone Fisher” from being a truly great film.

There’s no denying that “Antwone Fisher” has some truly solid performances and packs an emotional wallop at the end, but it feels a bit manipulative for my tastes. It’s a solid drama, but not the great film that I had hoped for. Perhaps, now that Denzel Washington has his first stab at direction under his belt, he can a little more directorial finesse to his future projects.

Don’t miss “Sean the Movie Guy” each Friday morning on KFDM, Channel 6 and Monday and Thursday evenings on KWBB, News at Nine.

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Runs Wednesday 1/8

“Adaptation”

“Adaptation”

Columbia Pictures

Directed by Spike Jonze

Starring Nicholas Cage, Meryl Streep, Chris Cooper and Brian Cox

Rated R

3 1/2 Stars     

Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman made an indelible mark upon cinema history when they made a head-trip of a movie called “Being John Malkovich.” That film, one of the most original and surreal films in recent memory, left fans anxiously waiting for their next collaborative effort.

The wait is over. Kaufman and Jonze have teamed up again with “Adaptation,” a movie that blurs the line between reality and fiction so brilliantly that it would be a major surprise if the film didn’t get at least an Original Screenplay Academy Award nomination for their efforts.

Or should it get an Adapted Screenplay nomination?

“Adaptation” actually starts out on the set of “Being John Malkovich,” where the original cast is on hand, but this time its actor Nicholas Cage playing real-life screenwriter Charlie Kaufman. He’s just been given the assignment to adapt “The Orchid Thief,” the actual best-selling novel into a movie. But he can’t get a handle on the script, so instead he writes a screenplay about himself, trying to adapt “The Orchid Thief” into a movie.

All of the above really happened, but Kaufman doesn’t stop there. Cage also plays Donald Kaufman, Charlie’s twin brother (Charlie doesn’t have a twin brother in real-life, but that didn’t stop him from getting a screenwriting credit on “Adaptation.”) The two Kaufman brothers are night and day, one preferring crass commercialism in his writing while the other hopes to produce something that’s pure and original.

Oh yeah, while all of this is going on, the movie also shows us scenes from “The Orchid Thief,” where Meryl Streep plays award-winning author Susan Orlean as she researches the strange, true-life events and characters that will form the basis for her book.

It’s confusing and muddy and meant to be so. Part of the brilliance behind “Adaptation” is the way in which reality and fictional filmmaking blend into each other. “Malkovich” fans should be quite pleased because this too, is another head-trip of a movie.

But it’s the writers in the audience who should be really intrigued by “Adaptation.” This is an amazing portrait of how a creative process can tear its author apart. It’s the best on-screen depiction of writer’s block that I’ve ever seen. Indeed, some of the scenes in the movie seem to be ripped straight out of my own abortive writing attempts.

The bottom line is that “Adaptation” is more cerebral than surreal, but audiences looking for a challenging movie (although it’s still a lot of fun) should get a kick out of this highly original movie.

Don’t miss “Sean the Movie Guy” each Friday morning on KFDM, Channel 6 and Monday and Thursday evenings on KWBB, News at Nine.

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Runs Friday 1/10

“The Hours”

“The Hours”

Paramount Pictures

Directed by Stephen Daldry

Starring Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore, Ed Harris, John C. Reilly and Stephen Dillane.

Rated PG-13

4 Stars

Three women struggle with the meaninglessness of their lives in “The Hours,” a stunning adaptation of Michael Cunningham’s Pulitzer-winning novel that has already garnered seven Golden Globe nominations and several critics best nods. This is cinema at its finest, with a host of top-drawer acting performances (it could conceivably get three or four Oscar acting nominations) a hauntingly beautiful musical score, impressive cinematography and production design, and superbly confident direction.

Yet this is not a film for everybody, and even those who admire highbrow moviemaking may have a tough time swallowing this overly bleak tale. It is, after all, a film that moves slowly, dwells on suicide, features no real plot at all and introduces us to three women, all of whom find their lives pointless and empty.

The conceit of the movie/novel is that the women live in different time periods, and are all connected thematically to Virginia Woolf’s novel, “Mrs. Dalloway.” Nicole Kidman plays Woolf herself, in England in 1923, suffering from depression and struggling to find the right way to begin her new book.

In the middle story, Julianne Moore lives in suburban Los Angeles in 1951, and sees her inner turmoil played out in the pages of “Mrs. Dalloway.” She despairs of ever being able to live up to the image of the perfect housewife, and is contemplating suicide despite the fact that she is pregnant.

Finally, Meryl Streep lives in modern Manhattan, and is spending the day preparing a party for an ex-lover (Ed Harris) who has just won a prominent literary prize, but is also in the last stages of AIDS.

“The Hours” features three award-caliber acting performances by Kidman, Streep and Moore, not to mention an incredibly solid supporting cast. It is artistically and technically flawless, but it is also very depressing. This is a film that will tear you up inside, after all, this is the story of three women who think that there is no point to their lives and are tired of putting on a brave face for the world each day.

 “The Hours” is seen as something of a feminist movie, complete with requisite lesbian overtones. This is certainly appropriate, but the thematic material of the story is not the exclusive domain of women. Men too can be frustrated and depressed with their lives, and it would be premature to dismiss this film as nothing more than an arty chick flick.

The bottom line is that “The Hours” is a devastatingly powerful movie, one that will leave you examining your own life. Yet despite the depressing subject matter, I actually left the theater somewhat refreshed in the end. Behind all the melancholy, “The Hours” is about the ways we survive our lives. As Meryl Streep’s character says, “We stay alive for each other, that is what we do.”

I find that somehow inspiring.

Don’t miss “Sean the Movie Guy” each Friday morning on KFDM, Channel 6 and Monday and Thursday evenings on KWBB, News at Nine.

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Runs Wednesday 1/15

2002
“A Beautiful Mind”

“A Beautiful Mind”

Universal Pictures

Directed by Ron Howard

Starring Russell Crowe, Ed Harris, Jennifer Connelly and Paul Bettany

Rated PG-13

3 1/2 Stars     

Ron Howard doesn’t make bad movies.

Granted, not all of his films work as well as “Apollo 13” or “Ransom,” but during the course of his rather substantial career he has yet to make a bad or even mediocre film. And now he’s got another great film to add to his ever-growing list.

“A Beautiful Mind” tells the true-life story of John Nash Jr., a Nobel Prize winning mathematician who suffered from schizophrenia during the course of most of his life. A story about math and mental illness doesn’t usually make for great cinema, but when you pair up another Academy Award worthy acting performance by Russell Crowe alongside Howard’s confident direction, you end up with one of the best films of the year.

And I haven’t even mentioned the amazing cinematography or the haunting musical score by James Horner. It’s little surprise that “A Beautiful Mind” garnered six Golden Globe Nominations and is an early front runner in the upcoming Oscar race.

Credit Russell Crowe with a rock-solid performance in which he uses his considerable acting abilities to physically portray a man at war with his own mind. His performance is complemented by a magnificent visual style that literally draws you into the mind of John Nash, Jr. We see how a genius might work out problems in his head, and the results are quite memorable.

 “A Beautiful Mind” is simply a great film that showcases a top actor and director, both at the top of their games. AT this point, it’s the film to beat in the Best Picture race at both the Golden Globes and the Oscars.

Don’t miss “Sean the Movie Guy” each Friday morning on KFDM, Channel 6.

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Runs Friday, 1/4

“Ali”

“Ali”

Columbia Pictures

Directed by Michael Mann

Starring Will Smith, Jamie Foxx, Jon Voight and Jada Pinket-Smith

Rated PG-13

3 1/2 Stars     

It’s no small task to make a movie about a living legend, particularly one who is known all over the world as “the Greatest.”

Yet, that’s exactly what filmmaker Michael Mann sets out to do in “Ali,” a perhaps too brief, but always intriguing look at Muhammad Ali’s memorable rise to boxing stardom. Will Smith plays the champ, and his physical transformation in this role is simply amazing. Gone is the skinny young rapper from Philly; replaced by a man who’s obviously spent several months in the gym, bulking up for this performance of a lifetime.

Most of the world knows the story of Muhammad Ali. Yet for those of us too young to have any first-hand knowledge of the seminal events in his career, “Ali” makes for a pretty good refresher course. From his first championship to the Vietnam draft controversy to the “Rumble in the Jungle,” this is a very exciting whirlwind tour of Ali’s greatest hits.

Of course, if you’re old enough to actually remember watching Ali on TV, you will probably be left a little cold. Will Smith may be a very energetic and charismatic actor, but he’s a long way from being Muhammad Ali. Indeed, my only real problem with this film is that it frequently lacks the exciting spark that is found in Ali’s indomitable spirit.

Still, while this is a major problem, I can’t really think of any way that a filmmaker could have made a better movie about such a larger-than-life character. The direction, cinematography, editing and musical score are all top-drawer, and the entire cast is unusually solid, even for a Michael Mann film.

Once again, if you’re old enough to remember “the Greatest,” this film may only come across as a pale imitation. I’ve recently looked at enough of the old TV footage to know that to be true. But if you’re too young for that, I can’t think of a better way to get into the champ’s life than by watching “Ali.”

Don’t miss “Sean the Movie Guy” each Friday morning on KFDM, Channel 6.

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Runs Wednesday, 1/9

“The Royal Tenenbaums”

“The Royal Tenenbaums”

Touchstone Pictures

Directed by Wes Anderson

Starring Gene Hackman, Anjelica Huston, Gwyneth Paltrow, Luke Wilson,

Owen Wilson, Bill Murray and Ben Stiller.

Rated R

3 1/2 Stars     

And you thought that your family was dysfunctional!

Just wait ’til you get a look at “The Royal Tenenbaums,” a film that introduces us to one of the weirdest on-screen clans to ever darken a movie screen. Gene Hackman stars (if there is a star in this A-list ensemble cast) playing Royal Tenenbaum, the self-centered and exiled father of a family of geniuses. His children, played by Ben Stiller, Luke Wilson and Gwyneth Paltrow, were all child prodigies, even if the world has since forgotten their amazing achievements.

The family is in shambles until the Tenenbaum matriarch (Angelica Huston) unexpectedly finds herself with a suitor (Danny Glover). Royal may be a manipulative jerk who hasn’t thought about his family in years, but he’s not going to sit still while some timid little accountant steals his woman! Besides, he’s broke and homeless, which is why Pa Tenenbaum suddenly heads back home with a scheme to win back the love of his family.

If you think really hard about this, then you might realize that “The Royal Tenenbaums” is actually sort of a sweet, pro-family kind of movie. But you won’t notice any of that while you’re in the theater. Houston-born filmmaker Wes Anderson adopts such a dark and oddball tone for “Tenenbaums” that unless you’re a real fan of dark comedies, you’ll come out of this thinking that you’ve just watched a Monty Python performance of a Kaufka-penned soap opera.

It will also help matters immensely if you’re young enough to appreciate wry, detached humor. In my own impromptu exit polling, it turns out that the younger you are, the more likely you are to love “The Royal Tenenbaums.” Conversely, older audiences seem to be staggering out of the theater thinking that there’s certainly something wrong with that Wes Anderson fella.

As for me, I agree that there is something wrong with Anderson, and that’s precisely what makes his films such a joy to watch. He is stylistically and structurally so distinct from the rest of Hollywood, that his work always strikes me as a breath of fresh air. And when you marry that quirky filmmaking style with an amazing ensemble cast you get one of the best, and certainly most memorable films of 2001.

Don’t miss “Sean the Movie Guy” each Friday morning on KFDM, Channel 6.

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Runs Friday, 1/11

2001
“Thirteen Days”

“Thirteen Days”   

New Line Cinema

Directed by Roger Donaldson

Starring Kevin Costner, Bruce Greenwood, Steven Culp and Michael Fairman

Rated PG-13

4 Stars      

Perhaps the most telling comment I can make about Kevin Costner’s new movie “Thirteen Days” is to say that it is an edge-of-your seat thrill ride where you’re never quite sure how it will all turn out. That’s no small praise, given that the movie is a historical recreation of the Cuban missile crisis, and every school boy knows that World War III did not start in 1962.

Kevin Costner stars as Kenny O’Donnell, a White House insider who is so influential that you wonder why he wasn’t put on a coin alongside President Kennedy. It is through O’Donnell’s eyes that we are given access to the war rooms and late-night Oval Office arguments about how to respond to the crisis. It is through his eyes that we are shown in chilling detail just how close the world came to all-out nuclear war.

There are a few exterior “action” sequences in the film, but for the most part, “Thirteen Days” plays out within the halls of power in Washington. Once again, it is no small praise to say that this film where men in suits and ties sit around arguing for two and a half-hours is completely engrossing and as tense as any Hollywood action flick.

Credit an outstanding ensemble cast. Costner is the headliner of course, and his accent may be a bit jarring at time, but he nevertheless turns in a powerful, understated performance—his best work in years. Bruce Greenwood plays JFK, and he is the one to shine in the film. He captures just enough of Kennedy’s mannerisms to make the film feel authentic, and he certainly endows his role with a noble grace that JFK fans will approve of.

But it is an ensemble work, and it succeeds precisely because every member of the cast is up to the task and not willing to let Costner or Greenwood run away with the movie.  

Easily one of the best films of the year, don’t be surprised if “Thirteen Days” garners an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture.

Don’t miss “Sean the Movie Guy” each Friday morning on KFDM, Channel 6.

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Runs Friday, 1/19

“Traffic”

“Traffic”   

USA Pictures

Directed by Steven Soderbergh

Starring Michael Douglas, Benicio Del Toro, Catherine Zeta-Jones,

Erika Christensen, Dennis Quaid, Don Cheadle and Migel Ferrer

Rated R

4 Stars      

Steven Soderbergh’s new film “Traffic will be, I predict, this year’s Academy Award winner for Best Picture. This complex look at the problem of drug trafficking in America and Mexico is filled with rock-solid acting performances and a meaty screenplay that will certainly impress serious-minded audiences.

More importantly, it is a film that will engender a great deal of discussion at the water cooler. “Traffic” is a rare Hollywood film that you simply won’t be able to discard from your mind soon after leaving the theater.

“Traffic” follows three stories about people being forced to learn the hard realities about the drug business. Michael Douglas stars in the first tale as America’s newly appointed drug czar. This three scotch a day man thinks that he can make a difference in stemming the flow of drugs into our country, but he doesn’t realize that his own daughter is quickly spiraling down into a drug-induced nightmare right under his nose.

Equally naïve is Catherine Zeta-Jones, playing the perfect San Diego mom. Her world of minivans and lunches with friends is shattered when she arrives home one day and finds federal agents arresting her husband. She thought that he was a successful businessman– and he was, only his true business was in the importation of drugs from Mexico.

Finally, Benicio Del Toro plays a heroic Tijuana policeman who thinks he knows just how powerful and corrupt the Mexican drug cartels are. He only knows a tiny part of it, and he is forced to make some horrendous sacrifices in his feeble attempts to do his job.

Del Toro is the true standout in the film, although I wouldn’t be surprised to see Douglas and Zeta-Jones join him with Oscar nominations. Also destined for nominations are Soderbergh as director and Stephen Gaghan for an unusually lush screenplay.

But it’s unfair to single out performers or writers for this true ensemble piece. There are hundreds of actors on display here, and not one of them registers a sour note. Behind the camera too, from the music to the rather unusual cinematography, “Traffic” is simply as good a Hollywood movies get.

Don’t miss “Sean the Movie Guy” each Friday morning on KFDM, Channel 6.

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“Save the Last Dance”

“Save the Last Dance”   

Paramount Pictures

Directed by Thomas Carter

Starring Julia Stiles, Sean Patrick Thomas, Kerry Washington and Fredo Star

Rated PG-13

2 1/2 Stars   

Julia Stiles would like the world to think that she’s the Meryl Streep of teen actresses. She comes across as “the serious one;” the professional who would rather do Shakespeare than a fluffy teen comedy. Certainly I am always happy to watch a young thespian who actually has the ability to act, rather than just strike poses on film.

Which is why I found Stile’s latest movie to be somewhat inconsistent with her carefully cultivated image. In “Save The Last Dance,” Julia has to play a girl reawakening to the passion she once had for dancing. Covering the same themes as “Billy Elliot” or “Footloose,” this film was designed to be a joyous experience filled with energy and youthful vigor.

Julia Stiles doesn’t do joy very well.

Which is a shame because “Save The Last Dance” is an otherwise solid teen film that has all the ingredients for commercial success. It’s the story of Sarah, an aspiring ballet dancer whose life comes crashing down when her mother is killed in an auto accident. Forced to move to the gritty streets of Chicago and live with her father, Sarah shuts down and blames the world for her misfortunes.

Despite all this, she is befriended by Chenille (Kerry Washington) who coaxes Sarah out of her funk. They start attending a local hip hop club, and it is there that Sarah’s love for dance once again surfaces, this time in the guise of the more teen-friendly club dancing.

Throw in a rather well realized portrait of an inter-racial romance and you’ve got a solid MTV generation picture. There’s enough positive energy, boundless optimism and pounding dance tracks in this film that teenagers will surely claim it as one of their own. It’s not exactly Oscar-bait, there is certainly nothing to be ashamed of either. Both in front of and behind the camera, this is a very solid piece of work that is aimed squarely at the teen crowd.

But it just ends up being a little bland.

The bottom line is that Stiles simply doesn’t deliver the energy needed to make this film into something special. It’s a serviceable teen drama with a hip soundtrack, and young audiences will certainly flock to see it, but the bottom line is that it’s just not as moving and fun as it should have been.

Don’t miss “Sean the Movie Guy” each Friday morning on KFDM, Channel 6.

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2000
“Big Mama’s House”

“Big Mama’s House”  

20th Century Fox

Directed by Raja Gosnell 

Starring Martin Lawrence, Nia Long, Paul Giamatti,

Terrence Howard and Anthony Anderson

Rated PG-13

2 1/2 Stars   

The new Martin Lawrence comedy, “Big Mama’s House” is a high concept film that doesn’t feature a lot of that pesky plot or character development to drag it down. What it does have is Martin Lawrence in drag, playing a 300 lb. southern grandma.

That’s the whole show; and your enjoyment of “Big Mama’s House” will depend entirely upon whether or not you think that a series of sketches featuring Martin Lawrence in plus-sized drag is a funny idea or not.

Lawrence plays an FBI agent, staking out the real Big Mama’s house because he knows that an escaped bank robber is after Big Mama’s granddaughter (Nia Long). But Big Mama suddenly leaves town. Rather than loose the chance to trap the bad guy, Lawrence decides that with the help of his FBI makeup kit, he can play Big Mama until the bad guy shows up.

Okay, so it’s barely plausible in the movie–but once you get past the set up, “Big Mama’s House” starts to grow on you. It’s mostly due to Lawrence’s game performance. His manic energy, combined with some very realistic special effects makeup, allow Big Mama to find big laughs when dealing with playground bullies, an over-zealous karate instructor or even a libidinous octogenarian.

The humor is always physical, and there’s frequently a sexual nature underlying it, but it’s undeniably funny. As long as Lawrence is in drag, no matter how absurd the situation, there’s enough energetic humor to keep the film alive and popping.

The problem is that Lawrence really wants to be a romantic lead, so he takes off the makeup in order to woo the girl. Granted, Nia Long is certainly great eye-candy, but there is absolutely no chemistry between the two actors, so the film comes to a screeching halt every time Big Mama goes a courtin’.

But then I doubt if anybody is going into “Big Mama’s House” expecting to see a romance. You go in looking for a low comedy a la “Mrs. Doubtfire” or “The Nutty Professor” and Lawrence delivers the laughs.

Or at least Big Mama does.

Don’t miss “Sean the Movie Guy” each Friday morning on KFDM, Channel 6.

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“Bedazzled”

“Bedazzled”  

20th Century Fox

Directed by Harold Ramis

Starring Brendan Fraser, Elizabeth Hurley and Frances O’Connor

Rated PG-13

2 Stars

“Bedazzled” is a hit-and-miss comedy. I can’t really recommend it because, simply put, the film is never all that funny. But it’s not a complete dud by any means. “Bedazzled” is an amusing piece of feel-good fun thanks to its rapid-fire pace and the game performances by Brendan Fraser and Elizabeth Hurley.

It’s never laugh-out-loud funny, but it should keep you and your family mildly entertained for an hour and a half.

Based on Peter Cook and Dudley Moore’s 1967 film, “Bedazzled” tells the story of Elliott, a milquetoast of a man (Brendan Fraser) who is hopelessly in love with one of his co-workers (Frances O’Connor). Poor Elliott has absolutely no chance of ever winning the girl of his dreams until one day, he absentmindedly mutters that he would give anything to be with that girl.

Poof!

Elizabeth Hurley suddenly appears. She is the Devil, and even has a business card to prove it. She offers to give Elliott seven wishes in exchange for his soul. Elliot takes the bait, thinking that he can simply wish to be with his true love, and everything will turn out happily ever after.

But the Devil has other ideas, and one-by-one, Elliott’s wishes go painfully awry. Unfortunately, Elliott’s plans always seem to fall apart in a predictable and unfunny fashion. It’s like watching a series of mediocre “Saturday Night Live” sketches all strung out in a row. They’re just not very funny, but at least they’re short.

Faring better are the transitional moments between Elliott’s wishes. There’s a nice chemistry between Fraser and Hurley, and there’s no denying that Fraser has genuine comic talent and Hurley can play a sex bomb in her sleep. But there simply aren’t enough of these moments to make “Bedazzled” into a winner.

It’s too bad that “Bedazzled” couldn’t have been re-titled as “Elliott’s Adventures With the Devil.” That would have been a far more entertaining film to watch. As it stands, mainstream audiences will find “Bedazzled” to be amusing, but just barely.

Don’t miss “Sean the Movie Guy” each Friday morning on KFDM, Channel 6.

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“Battlefield Earth”

“Battlefield Earth”  

Warner Brothers Pictures

Directed by Roger Christian 

Starring John Travolta, Barry Pepper and Forest Whitaker. 

Rated PG-13

1/2 Star          

As a John Travolta fan, as well as a science fiction movie enthusiast, I’ve been racking my brain trying to think of something nice to say about “Battlefield Earth.” But it’s no use–from the bad acting to the unbelievable plot to the silly special effects, there just isn’t anything positive to say about “Battlefield Earth.”

 Travolta is just going to have to live with the fact that he not only produced a bad movie, but he enthusiastically made one of the worst films in recent memory. It’s like watching an overblown episode of “Star Trek,” but without the nuanced acting from William Shatner to anchor the movie.

If you must know, “Battlefield Earth” takes place in the year 3000. An evil alien race known as the Psychlos have conquered earth and enslaved the few humans who managed to survive the nine-minute apocalyptic battle. John Travolta plays Terl, the security chief who oversees the strip-mining of all of earth’s natural resources.

Barry Pepper plays Jonnie Goodboy, a resourceful human living in a cave in Colorado who decides to take his planet back from the evil Psychlo overlords. His is no small task, considering that the Psychlos are nine feet tall, have great weapons and a ruthless streak a mile long. But Jonnie has his indomitable human spirit, and some amazingly convenient plot holes at his disposal.

Hurray! Humanity is saved!

Or at least I think it was– I might have dozed off by the end. What can I say, it’s a bad film that’s boring to boot. I wouldn’t mind if there was some camp value that would redeem the film for a silly night of alcohol-enhanced entertainment, but even flat drunk, “Battlefield Earth” would still seem like a waste of time.

The special effects don’t look real. The actors all look like Klingon rejects from a Star Trek convention. John Travolta is a horribly unscary villain, and Barry Pepper is a milquetoast hero at best.

It’s a film where cavemen in animal pelts and “Braveheart” makeup somehow manage to teach themselves to fly Harrier jump jets in six days before defeating the Psychlo space fleet.

It’s easily the worst film of the year, and yes, I have seen “Supernova.”

Don’t miss “Sean the Movie Guy” each Friday morning on KFDM, Channel 6.

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1999
“Anna and the King”

“Anna and the King”  

20th Century Fox Films

Directed by Andy Tennant 

Starring Jodie Foster, Chow Yun-Fat

and Bai Ling

Rated PG-13

2 1/2 Stars     

 

“Anna and the King” is a self-fulfilling prophecy of a movie.

Audiences who attend looking for a lush, romantic epic will be swept away by an exotic tale of culture clashing lovers and political upheaval. Those expecting nothing more than a sappy love story will be severely taxed by a two-and-a-half hour movie that feels closer to three hours and frequently borders on shameless melodramatics.

Jodi Foster fans will find that she acquits herself well, corset, accent and all. Chow Yun-Fat’s legions of fans will be ecstatic as this famous Asian action hero proves that he is a commanding presence, even without the aide of his white-hot revolvers.

“Anna and the King” is the third cinematic version of the memorable tale that most people know from the Rogers and Hammerstein musical “The King and I.” For those living under a rock, it tells the supposedly true story of schoolteacher who travels to Siam in the 1860’s in order to teach the King’s many children and concubines the ways of the Western world. She causes quite an uproar in the palace when she refuses to bow down to the king, both figuratively and literally. As for the King, he is smitten by this strong willed woman who thinks herself to be his equal.

Of the three movies, “Anna and the King” is certainly the most beautiful version. It was shot in Malaysia because Thai officials justifiably find the story of Anna and the King of Siam to be racist and Eurocentric. Now I don’t know if the Malaysian locations do Thailand justice, but they certainly make for a grand looking movie. I would be very surprised if “Anna and the King” wasn’t nominated for an Academy Award in Cinematography.

The other major difference is the inclusion of Asian actors. What a concept! With all due respect to Rex Harrison and Yul Brenner, Chow Yun-Fat makes a far superior king simply because his heritage makes him ever so much more believable in the role. It doesn’t hurt that he’s a pretty good actor too.

The only real problem with the film is that director Andy Tennant tries too hard to recreate the sweeping epics of the 1950s and 60s. These movies were fine in their day, but now transposed onto a modern movie; it just feels bloated and overdone.

Those who are looking for a romantic melodrama will easily excuse Tennant’s romantic excesses. Certainly there is room for an epic film like “Anna and the King,” even if it is a little overdone and very leisurely paced.

The bottom line is that if you like bodice-rippers and travelogues, you’ll love “Anna and the King.” And your husbands will have plenty of time to take a nap.

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“Anywhere But Here”

“Anywhere But Here”  

20th Century Fox Pictures

Directed by Wayne Wang 

Starring Susan Sarandon and Natalie Portman

Rated PG

 3 Stars          

 

“Anywhere But Here” is a touching movie about a sensitive daughter growing up under the abrasive love of her outlandish mother.

In other words, it’s a chick flick.

At least it’s a very good chick flick. Indeed, “Anywhere But Here” is the best take on a twisted mother/daughter relationship to hit theaters since the Academy Award winning “Terms of Endearment.” And while female audiences will certainly relate to the film more than their male counterparts, “Anywhere But Here” definitely has enough going for it to be enjoyed by both males and females.

The movie begins when a mother packs her teenage daughter into a gold Mercedes and abruptly leaves husband and family in Bay City Wisconsin in search of the greener pastures of Beverly Hills. The daughter, Anne (Natalie Portman) doesn’t want to leave her friends, and can barely conceal her hatred for her mother (Susan Sarandon) during the long, cross-country trip.

Things don’t get much better once the duo reaches California. They bicker constantly, reaching an uneasy truce only when they learn to accept each other’s unique personalities. It’s a story about realizing how much you love your mother, even if she is a complete kook and hell-bent on ruining your life. In other words, it’s not really a plot driven movie, because nothing happens except that the daughter grows up. “Anywhere But Here” succeeds only on the strength of the characters and their odd way of dealing with each other.

Sarandon plays the Auntie Mame of a mother to perfection. She’s meddling and manic, but she never quite crosses the line to the point where the audience won’t forgive her for being a loving mother. Natalie Portman is even better. Her role as Queen Amadala may have been her big break, but “Anywhere But Here” proves that Portman has talent to burn.

“Anywhere But Here” is a film about growing up and learning to let go. It’s a film filled with humor, emotional ups and downs, and two very memorable characters. Sarandon and Portman both shine in this showcase that could very well net them some post-season honors.

-30-

“Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me”

“Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me”  

New Line Pictures

Directed by Jay Roach 

Starring Mike Meyers, Heather Graham,

Seth Green and Verne J. Troyer 

Rated PG-13              

3 Stars


“Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me” is not a funny movie. It just doesn’t have many genuinely funny jokes written into it.

But it’s still one of the better comedies playing today because it’s so obvious that the cast is having such a good time making this campy, way over-the-top farce, and their amusement is infectious. It’s impossible not to enjoy this silly little flick.

I just wish there were a few more actual jokes in the movie.

For those who haven’t seen the original movie, Austin Powers (Mike Meyers) is a British secret agent whose libido and mentality is still stuck in the groovy sixties. This time out, he looses his ’60s-style cool when his arch nemesis, Dr. Evil (also Mike Meyers) travels back and time a steals Austin’s “mojo,” the mysterious stuff that make Austin Powers the man that he is.

It’s also the stuff that allows Austin to get an erection, so it becomes very important that Austin also travel back in time and get his mojo back before his partner, CIA agent Felicity Shagwell (Heather Graham) decides to find somebody else.

It’s a ludicrous plot, as it should be, complete with every James Bond and “In Like Flint” joke you can imagine. It has everything, a doomsday laser base on the moon, killer fembots with machine guns in their breasts, a sexually charged chess game, an absurd rap performance, two appearances on “the Jerry Springer Show,” a rather disgusting sexual encounter with a grotesquely fat man, and even a dwarf-sized clone of Dr. Evil, who is affectionately dubbed “Mini Me.”

In short, it’s silly fun because you never know what’s going to happen next.

It’s also Mike Meyers’ show. He plays the three most dominant characters and gets all the best comic moments. Heather Graham is there for sex appeal (and she sizzles) but she wouldn’t know how to tell a joke if her life depended on it. And while Kristen Johnston, Mindy Serling, Seth Green and Rob Lowe all have their moments, the only one who gives Meyers a run for the comic crown is Verne J. Troyer playing Mini Me. But he’s only funny because it’s absurd to think of killer-bald midgets biting people in the crotch.

 It’s the triumph of silly images and concepts over well-planned actual humor. Well, who cares? “Austin Powers; The Spy Who Shagged Me” may not provoke big belly laughs, but it keeps the audience constantly amused, so I’m forced to admit that it’s one groovy movie, baby! 

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1998
“7 Years in Tibet”

“7 Years in Tibet”

Tristar Pictures

Directed by Jean-jaques Annaud

Starring Brad Pitt, David Thewlis,

B.D. Wong and Jamyang Wangchuk

Rated R

3 Stars

Irrespective of what you think of Brad Pitt as an actor, you’ve got to admire his hair.

Now I’m sure that there are legions of his fans out there who will disagree with me, claiming his eyes, his smile, or some other part of his anatomy to be his finest physical attribute. There might even be a few who will claim to be Brad Pitt fans because of his acting talent.

But deep down, fans and movie agents know that as Brad’s hair goes, so goes his career.

And for better or worse, his hair is in fine form in the new drama “7 Years in Tibet” in which Pitt plays the German mountaineer Heinrich Harrer who escapes a British Prisoner of War camp in the 1940s and sets out to escape through the Himalayan Mountains of Tibet. He, along with another climber, played superbly by David Thewlis, stumble upon the Dalai Lama’s Holy city of Lhasa and manage to sneak their way into a place that no foreigners had ever seen before.

They are soon befriended by some of the monks there, and more notably, the Dalai Lama himself, then a mere boy, is fascinated by “yellow hair” and soon strikes up a friendship with Harrer. This is the best point of the movie, when we meet an amazing young actor named Jamyang Wangchuk who steals every scene he’s in.

No easy task, since Pitt is once again proving to be a pretty fine actor, rising above his trademark yellow tresses. But this new kid actor, with his wide eyes and engaging smile, turns in a performance of the Dalai Lama that has both the requisite powerful religious presence one would expect from an icon as well as a simple humanity that allows us to identify with him as a naive child full of wonder and peace.

But it is Pitt’s character that has the more remarkable transformation. Identifying the young Dalai Lama with a young child he had abandoned earlier in his life, Harrer grows from a self absorbed narcissistic nazi into a compassionate father and friend. If there are any problems to be found in the film, they arise in the beginning when Pitt is playing the unlikeable stage of his character. It’s hard to like him then, and so it’s hard to get into the film at the start.

But then he meets the young boy leader, and everything gets all sunny and cheerful. Okay so it may gloss over some of Harrer’s more obvious character flaws (like being a Nazi) and the film cries out for a lot more magnificent mountain vistas, but all in all, “7 Years in Tibet” is a disarmingly engaging film that will warm your heart.

And Brad Pitt’s hair looks marvelous the whole way through.

“54”

“54”

Miramax Pictures

Directed by Mark Christopher

Starring Ryan Phillippe, Mike Meyers,

Neve Campbell & Salma Hayek.

Rated R

1  Star

 

After screening the new biopic “54,” I asked the theater manager if the sound system was working properly. Surely a film that is set in one of New York’s most famous nightclubs during the height of disco would feature a killer musical score that would have the movie audience dancing in the aisles.

To my disappointment, the speakers were working fine.  It was the movie that wasn’t turned on.

 “54” is the story of a New Jersey nobody (Ryan Phillippe) who manages to get hired at the famed nightclub as a busboy because he looks good without his shirt on. He’s an innocent boy who is overwhelmed by the glamour and glitz surrounding Studio 54, and he soon finds himself succumbing to the decadence that was offered up nightly at the club.

Casual sex, betrayal and drug and alcohol abuse dominate this movie. It almost destroys our young hero, who fortunately survives by returning to his innate goodness when the rest of the club was being sucked into a swirling hedonistic maelstrom.

That’s not a bad idea for a movie, the problem is that nobody cares about any of the characters in the film, so we don’t care if they survive or not. It’s the dreaded triple whammy– a bad script, bad actors and a director who doesn’t help them out.

All of this would have been fine had they simply turned up the music. Then we could have forgiven the shoddy performances and at least enjoyed a fun tribute to the music that we hate to admit that we used to dance to. But the musical sequences are uninspired and few and far between.

Hello? 

It’s a film about a nightclub? 

The music should be the most obvious thing.

Bottom line, there’s very little worth seeing in “54.” Neve Campbell and Salma Hayek are fine, but their roles are too small to salvage the film. Mike Meyers, playing the clubs owner Steve Rubell does have a major role, but he overacts in his serious role as if he were still doing “Saturday Night Live” skits. It’s pretty painful to watch.

And there’s not much worth listening to either.

-30-

“1000 Acres”

“1000 Acres”

Touchstone Pictures

Directed by Jocelyn Moorhouse

Starring Michelle Pfeiffer, Jessica Lang,

Jennifer Jason Leigh and Jason Robards

Rated R (sexual situations, profanity, nudity)

2 1/2 Stars


Here’s a sure fire recipe for movie success. Take a Pulitzer Prize winning novel, give it to a talented young director and mix in a handful of larger than life movie stars who have both box office drawing power and the ability to pull off tough, dramatic roles.

If you follow these directions, you should get a pretty good movie. You might even get an Academy Award winning movie.

You should; but not always.

“1000 Acres,” the long awaited adaptation of Jane Smiley’s award winning novel. It follows the troubled Cook clan, a family that has been farming their 1000 acres of land for three generations now. Larry Cook (Robards) is the father and the most respected farmer in Zebulon County. Jessica Lang, Michelle Pfeiffer and Jennifer Jason Leigh play his three daughters.

The troubles start up when Larry decides to split up his farm, ostensibly for tax purposes, and give each of his daughters a third of the land. The older two, along with their husbands, jump at the opportunity to start farming on their own. But no sooner is the elder Cook relegated to semi-retirement than he starts to regret his decision. And a traumatic legal battle ensues, dividing the family and dredging up painful memories.

Now there is plenty of meat in that plotline to keep a film going strong. But “1000 Acres” also throws in breast cancer, adultery, alcoholism, repressed childhood memories of incest and a little sibling rivalry to boot. Each of these issues could make a pretty good little movie. But throw them all into the mix, and “1000 Acres” simply collapses under its own weight.

It’s too bad that the screenplay wasn’t trimmed down, because Pfeiffer and Lang pull off their roles with a deft ease that keeps the film very watchable. And the supporting cast is generally up to par. Robards is the only actor who falls short, playing the Cook patriarch as a one-dimensioned, scowling old letch.

Unfortunately, the wealth of acting talent up on the screen is no match for a ponderous story that has a touch of every trouble imaginable. I know that the onslaught of maladies is probably what made the novel so intriguing, but in a two-hour movie, it’s just too much.

“1000 Acres” doesn’t really work dramatically because it feels like a compilation of 100 TV movies of the week. 

1997 & Prior
“Krippendorf’s Tribe”

“Krippendorf’s Tribe”

Directed by Todd Holland

Starring Richard Dreyfuss, Jenna Elfman

& Lilly Tomlin

Rated PG

2 1/2 Stars

 

A famous anthropologist is forced to create an elaborate ruse in order to avoid being sent to jail in the new comedy “Krippendorf’s Tribe.”

No less than Richard Dreyfus plays the title character, James Krippendorf, a college professor who had been searching for a mysterious lost tribe of indigenous people in New Guinea. But when his wife passed away, Krippendorf was left in a depressed daze, and he spent the rest of his grant money simply raising his three children.

Jenna Elfman, from TV’s “Dharma and Greg” arrives one day to inform Krippendorf that his long-anticipated lecture series begins tonight. And Krippendorf, with no finished work to lecture on, decides to create a mysterious tribe called the Shelmikedmu, taken from the names of his three children, Shelly, Mike and Edmund.

He bluffs his way through the lecture, but when he is asked to show his film footage, Krippendorf is left with no option other than dressing his family up as Shelmikedmu in their own back yard. Which of course leads to all sorts of wacky shenanigans.

“Krippendorf’s Tribe” finds its comedy in a bunch of gangly Caucasians jumping around in jungle-native costumes. There are a lot of physical pratfalls, probably too many “National Geographic” sex jokes, and a real reliance on penis humor to keep the film moving. So let’s not confuse this film with anything other than the basest type of comedy.

And more problematic, Krippendorf gets Elfman drunk so he can re-create the Shelmikedmu mating rituals for a local television show. In any other forum this would be date-rape and exploitative pornography. But in a film comedy it’s presented as just another zany prank. Not your typical Disney (Touchstone) wholesome family comedy.

“Krippendorf’s Tribe” may feature an ill conceived premise, but I’ll be the first to admit that the film is frequently funny. And even if it’s not very politically correct, it does make you laugh. The politically correct intellectual in me may be embarrassed to admit it, but I was pleasantly amused by “Krippendorf’s Tribe.”

Dreyfus is always great playing full out desperation. Elfman is so bubbly-sweet that even playing an obnoxious, power-hungry young woman, she still lights up the screen with every appearance. Lily Tomlin, as a jealous rival, is completely wasted in the film, but she is fun to watch in all four of her scenes.

“Krippendorf’s Tribe” may not be in the best of taste, and it’s humor is somewhat watered down, but it is still an enjoyable little romp that families will probably find to be amusing, even if they don’t realize what they’re laughing at.

-30-

“Knock Off”

“Knock Off”

New Line Pictures

Directed by Tsui Hark

Starring Jean Claude Van Damme,

Rob Schneider, Lela Rochon & Paul Sorvino

Rated R

1/2 Stars

 

Tsui Hark used to be one of my favorite directors, turning out such magical Hong Kong action fare as “Once Upon a Time in China” and “A Chinese Ghost Story.” But then he came to Hollywood and painfully subjected us to Jean Claude Van Damme and Dennis Rodman in last year’s “Double Team.”       

Proving that it wasn’t just a fluke, Hark has reunited with Van Damme in the mind-bogglingly bad “Knock Off.” I see plenty of bad films each year, but seldom does a film assault my senses to the point where my jaw drops open in disbelief.

The plot is somewhat absurd, but probably would have worked in a James Bond flick a decade ago. It seems the Russians have perfected micro-bombs, and are putting them in counterfeit American merchandise like sneakers, blue jeans and even the cute dolly your little sister sleeps with. Once the knock offs have been shipped, the Russians will start blackmailing the US. Pay up, or they’ll detonate a million tiny bombs via satellite.

Caught in the middle is Jean Claude Van Damme and Rob Schneider, two seedy businessmen who are unwittingly supplying the knock offs for shipment. Neither of these guys can act, but Van Damme can fight, and Schneider can make sarcastic comments. I know this to be true because I’ve seen them do it in other films and TV shows. Unfortunately, they don’t show any of their unique talents in “Knock Off.”

Van Damme sleepwalks through his fights, and Schneider is downright boring. Lela Rochon and Paul Sorvino, two people who can actually act, are also in “Knock Off,” but they are just as bad as Schneider and Van Damme.

So why the half star? Well, there are some cool camera transitions that pop up here and there. It only adds up to 30 seconds of actual screen time, but since I’m a fan of Hark’s Hong Kong work, I’ll be generous.

Other than that, “Knock Off” is a complete waste of film. The script is bad, the camera work is unpolished, the acting is wooden and the action sequences are uninspired. It’s easily the worst film I’ve seen this year. It’s the worst film I’ve seen in several years. 

It seems like only yesterday that I was ecstatic when I heard that Tsui Hark was coming to make pictures in America.

 Now I just want him to go back home.

-30-

“Kiss the Girls”

“Kiss the Girls”

Paramount Pictures

Directed by Gary Fleder

Starring Morgan Freeman, Asley Judd

& Cary Elwes

Rated R

2 1/2 Stars

 

In the new movie “Kiss the Girls,” Some sicko who calls himself Casanova has abducted eight young women from the University of North Carolina. The police have found a few of the bodies, but not many clues. Enter Dr. Alex Cross (Morgan Freeman), a police psychologist and best selling author who wants to solve the crime because one of the women who was abducted is his niece.

It’s a pretty standard set up to yet another story of yet another intelligent psycho who’s being chased by yet another policeman with a personal stake in the crime.

But “Kiss the Girls” twists the movie cliché by throwing Ashley Judd into the mix. She plays a medical intern named Kate who is abducted by Casanova. Fortunately, she’s a medical intern who also happens to be good at the sport of kickboxing. So when Casanova turns his back, WHAMO, Kate knocks Casanova down and escapes from his secret lair.

Back in civilization, Kate can’t remember the location of Casanova’s hideout, but she does remember hearing the voices of the other women. You see, Casanova isn’t really a killer; he’s a collector of young, beautiful women. Late at night he likes to tie them up and force them to listen to classical music.

That’s just too sick!

“Kiss the Girls” is an okay little police mystery. Certainly the mere presence of Morgan Freeman adds a certain air of credibility to the whole endeavor. Ashley Judd has the difficult task of playing a strong woman who has the ability to fight, but always seems disposed to flee in terror when given the chance. She’s not bad, but not nearly as good as her co-star.

If anything, “Kiss the Girls” suffers from a director who is more interested in making a stylized police thriller instead of just a good police thriller. He spends so much time throwing twists into the story, that he ends up short changing the film’s characters. The villain, in particular, is very loosely drawn, and quite easy to spot from the onset of the movie.

“Kiss the Girls” starts off well, building a nice air of mystery and voyeurism. But then it bogs down in a series of misleading plot points and slow patches of character development.

So 2 1/2 stars for “Kiss the Girls,” a somewhat stylish police thriller that try too hard to be cool, and ends up sacrificing effective terror in the process.