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Movie Review: Water For Elephants

Water for Elephants movie posterWATER FOR ELEPHANTS may seem like a sappy love story but the adaptation based on Sara Gruen's novel, proves to be much more.

The film starts in modern times with Hal Holbrook recounting his days in the circus as a young man during the depression era. He flashes back to his young days as the young Jacob played by Robert Pattinson, a veterinarian student who loses his parents, and runs away joining the circus. 

Interview: Robert Pattinson Wins Over Female Co-Star With Candy

Inglourious Basterd's Christopher Waltz is August Benzini, the bipolar circus ringmaster in the Benzini Bros. Circus who hires Jacob as the circus veterinarian. Jacob becomes infatuated with August's wife Marlena, the beautiful circus star played by a platinum blonde Reese Witherspoon. When Marlena's horse, the main circus act, must be put out of its misery, August purchases Rosie, an elephant. Rosie bonds the Marlena and Jacob in their love for the animal.  After witnessing August's abusive behavior towards Marlena and the circus animals, Jacob wants to rescue Marlena from his clutches.

Movie Clip: An Elephant Flirts With Robert Pattinson In Water for Elephants

Initially, there is not much chemistry between Robert Pattinson and Reese Witherspoon but as the story progresses you start to believe the mutual attraction. While the love story binds the plot together, it's the circus elements and August's character that brings together the film. Oscar winner Christopher Waltz again takes on the role of the villain but in WATER FOR ELEPHANTS, his character has moments of sympathy.  His bipolar characteristics make his character the most interesting of the cast.

Movie Stills: Robert Pattinson, Reese Witherspoon in Water For Elephants

Robert Pattinson gives a different kind of performance in this dramatic period piece. The Twilight star rarely flashes a smile on screen, and in WATER FOR ELEPHANTS, we get to see a lighter side from Robert with the occasional laughter and his pearly whites. Oscar winner Reese Witherspoon gives another good performance as a flirty and sexy circus mistress. Rarely do we see her sexy side in her girl next door roles but here the circus outfits and beautiful dresses make Reese a goddess. Her circus act on the elephant was quite impressive, even more so when you find out she did all her stunts with her massive co-star.

The production quality is suberb and the depression era makes for an interesting backdrop for the love story. Director Frances Lawrence put together an entertaining and dramtic film that could've easily gone for a harlequin-style romance but it didn't.

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Movie Review: HANNA Delivers

Hanna movie posterHANNA is a return to good old-fashioned action movie with strong characters and an original storyline that entertains from start to finish.

In HANNA, Saoirse Ronan is Hanna, a biologically enhanced 16 year-old trained by her ex-CIA father (Eric Bana) to be the ultimate assassin and escape the clutches of ruthless CIA operative played by Cate Blanchett. Once Hanna's is ready, her father sends her on a mission, Hanna journeys stealthily across Europe while eluding agents dispatched after her by a ruthless intelligence operative with secrets of her own (Academy Award winner Cate Blanchett).  As she nears her ultimate target, Hanna faces startling revelations about her existence and unexpected questions about her humanity.

For Joe Wright's first action film, the Atonement (James McAvoy, Keira Knightly) and Pride & Prejudice (Keira Knightly) director brings his strong dramatic background to the action-thriller.  He keeps the drama going through the action scenes.  The action scenes are raw and powerful without all the fancy footwork and fast cuts.  Wright decided early on to break with Hollywood-style fight sequences and shot most of the fight sequences with his young star Saoirse Ronan and Eric Bana in one take instead of cheating it in the editing room. The decision paid off.

The 17-year-old Saoirse Ronan is believable as a groomed-assassin who takes on grown men and the hunky six-foot tall Eric Bana. The young actress and Academy Award nominee (Atonement) reunites with her Atonement director for a more grown up role three years later.  Saoirs is one to watch for as her talents get better with her young age. She has played very grown-up roles (Lovely Bones) unlike any other of her contemporaries or any adult actress, as a matter a fact. Eric Bana plays Hanna's father, an ex-CIA operative on a mission to exact revenge on his superior who killed Hanna's mother. Eric, as always, is a joy to watch on screen not only for his acting but his good looks which you can never get get tired of looking at. Cate Blanchett is a great villain as Marissa,the CIA operative behind Hanna's biological enhancements and the plot to capture Hanna through ruthless means. Marissa is void of any emotion especially any maternal feeling as we see during an interrogation with two children which made the character even more threatening. It's rare and refreshing to see two strong women characters in an action film.

The action is clean, the cinematography matches the mood with gray tones without the gloss and saturated colors.  The locations are remote -- set in snowy woods, Morocco, and Germany which gives it a European flavor and sensability.

The score by the Chemical Brothers enhances every scene and captures both Hanna's emotions and the frenzy nature of the action scenes.

HANNA is a quality film that some may not appreciate since it's not your typical Hollywood action film where action is the star but in HANNA, story takes precedence over action.  And that doesn't happen often in most films. Add a comment


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE COMPANY MEN is a must see and relevant to the times.
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Monogamy movie posterMonogamy, starring Parks & Recreation's Rashida Jones and Chris Messina, focuses on how our bodies always tell the truth. Our words may say one thing, while our faces, eyes and body language may say another. The problem is we don’t always know why, so reading into things may get us into trouble. This film is about truth, lies and photography. It is also about communication and what makes a couple work. It is a fascinating character study and brings up some interesting ideas. How much do we really know about each other?

A wedding photographer who makes just enough to get by, creates a second job in order to make more money. He has always been fascinated by the real stories that pictures tell by the studying the background, body language and expressions of the subjects in them. His new business, called Gumshoot, is a service where people contract him to photograph them in public places without his presence being known. The idea is to see what you look like in candid moments, to see yourself in your own environment and how others in that environment react to you.

Theo’s (Chris Messina) new business is picking up, and as he and his live-in girlfriend get ready for their own impending wedding, Theo begins to fixate over other people’s wedding photos and how they relate to each other. He is looking for that certain something that shows when a couple is truly in love. Meanwhile, Nat (Rashinda Jones) is having her own fixations. She begins reading into everything that Theo does.

In his Gumshoot business, clients contact Theo via the Internet with a time and place to meet and what they are wearing. Theo will then photograph them in secret and process a series of proof sheets. Next they will meet in person and Theo will help the subject pick their best photos and point out things that the background says about them. When a new client contacts him, Subgirl (Meital Dohan) shocks Theo by doing some very private things in very public places.

This bold, daring blonde mystifies Theo. While entranced in her photographic shots, Nat walks in behind him and he blushes. Nat knew about the shoot upfront, but neither she nor Theo knew that the subject would be so titillating. Both try to be cool, but seeds of doubt arise. Nat wonders why Theo is so obsessed with this woman and Theo wonders why Nat keeps pulling away.

Melanie Wilson
Visit her blog at

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Razzie Movie Awards Pick Worst List For 2010

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

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

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

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Movie Review: PAUL

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

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

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

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

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

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

Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Seth Rogen in PAUL

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

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

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

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

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

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MACHETE DVD and Blu-ray Review

Machete DVD and Blu-Ray

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

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Movie Review: The Music Never Stopped

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

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

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

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

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

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

Melanie Wilson  

Visit her blog at

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Movie Review: Battle: Los Angeles

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

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

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

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

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

BIUTIFUL Movie Review

Javier Bardem movie Biutiful

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

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