Fired Up

Fanboy Alert! Here is every horny young man's fantasy: Two straight guys attending a cheerleader camp! These lucky few are played by Nicholas D'Agosto ("Heroes" on TV) and Eric Christian Olsen ("Eagle Eye"). The tagline for this thing is "2 guys. 300 girls. You do the math."

Yup. It's just as flimsy and juvenile as that. Actually, it's relatively harmless, other than a generous supply of "s**t"s from their overzealous football coach, played by Philip Baker Hall ("You Kill Me"), and some off-color action from their cheerleading instructor, played by John Michael Higgins ("Best in Show"). Nor should we overlook the trash-talkin' younger sister who seems to be the smartest kid in the movie.

The females are mostly set decoration and the boys' change of heart is part of this predictable (but funny) little frolic. We are treated to some highly athletic demonstrations of today's cheerleading tournaments, although the dangers inherent are only mildly alluded to. Cheerleading is one of the major causes of athletic injuries these days. If that puzzles you, maybe you should take a look at this current crop of competitors.

One secondary character is worthy of note: A roommate, played by Adhir Kalyan (LOTS of TV work), is one of a kind. He is gay, verbal, timid and very funny. We'll see him again.

The good guys only BECOME good about halfway through the movie (I'm thinking aversion therapy); the bad guys are REALLY bad all the way through; the adults are caricatures and the parents are mostly absent.

Okay, I'll admit it. I had a good time...


Grave of the Fireflies

"Hotaru no haka" has been out on DVD for many years now, but it is still one of the most accessible examples of the exquisite beauty of Japanese Anime. Every frame is a work of art; every character is a fully drawn person; sadly, the story is an all-too common one throughout the world and the poignant ending is a wrenching reminder of the inhumanity of war.

We follow the trials and tribulations of two orphaned children as they desperately struggle to find food and shelter. The older child, a devoted brother, is doing his level best to protect and care for his helpless little sister. By the way, the animation and voice for that little girl is inspired!

This tragic masterpiece is from Studio Ghibli ("Spirited Away" and "Princess Mononoke"). It is based on the award-winning novel by Akiuki Nosaka. The film is in Japanese with English subtitles.

My thanks to a JayFlix participant in Nevada for this tip.
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One look at this trailer and you'll see what I mean:
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This movie will scare the bejabbers out of any child between the ages of 5 and 10. It really IS a spooky story for pre-teens: walls teeming with soon-to-be-squashed silverfish, skittering spiders, pretty vines that turn homicidal, and "nice" parents who want to replace a child's eyes by sewing on buttons with a long sharp needle... Yikes!

I think the message is: "Be careful what you wish for."

Coraline is a petulant little brat, maybe 8 or 9 years old; her family recently moved and she is in a snit because she doesn't like the rundown house, she doesn't like the healthy food they eat, she doesn't like the eccentric neighbors and she doesn't like the homely little boy who tries to be friends. As a side note, that little boy seems to suffer from "wry neck" or torticollis. It is never alluded to, but is painfully obvious in every scene where he appears. I'm still puzzled: Why give such a distinctive characteristic to a cartoon character?

Our dauntless little girl ventures through a small door that she discovers as she snoops around her new digs. She wants different parents, different food, different clothes and a different life. She finds herself in an alternate world where things resemble the ones she left but instantly she has indulgent parents, is offered delicious food, gets colorful new clothes, enjoys the beautiful landscape and is tempted to stay....but that button/eye/needle thing is looking like a deal breaker. And she HATES that mangy cat, which seems able to move between alternate realities with ease.

The characters are voiced by well-known performers but none have distinctive traits, so I won't list them. I found the animation to be particularly interesting. This stop-action movie is in 3D, so insects and birds fly out over the audience, the "rabbit hole"-type tunnel our heroine uses has real depth, and spiders abound!

The Writer/Director Henry Selick ("Nightmare Before Christmas" and "James and the Giant Peach") brings his distinctive style back to the screen. One of the characters is a buxom performer with pneumatic breasts, waaay over the top; while another has the ungainly build of an Ichabod Crane. On the other hand, some of the humans had highly nuanced expressions and reactions. There is some real talent working in animation these days.

This should keep a child entertained for a couple of creepy hours...



My first inclination was to skip any review of this thing, but one of my companions pointed out that it might be a favor to warn you. He has an excellent point! The name "Martin Scorsese" is associated with this travesty and it might mislead the unsuspecting, particularly when the critics are wetting themselves to get in line and praise it.

Ready? Okay, here goes:

"Gomorrah" is a modern-day look at modern-day Italy and its modern-day mob activities. We specifically look at the Neapolitan area and the powerful gang that calls itself "Camorra." Its activities in the drug trade and hazardous waste disposal make our own Mafia look like a troop of Girl Scouts. And their ludicrous rites of passage into "manhood" are absurd.

The acting is good, the photography is servicable and the locations are interesting. Other than that? This is a muddy, bloody tragedy-laced series of tiresome vignettes, loosely tied together but with no story, no one to root for and no happy ending.

Did I like it? Are you kidding?


The International

Ooohhh, that Clive Owen!

What is is about this guy? I find him appealing in pretty much anything he does ("Croupier," "Greenfingers," "Inside Man" and "Gosford Park"), even when he is in less than appealing movies ("Children of Men," "Closer" and "Derailed"). As an overly diligent Interpol agent working in concert with a Manhattan Assistant District Attorney, capably played by Australian Naomi Watts ("Eastern Promises" and "The Painted Veil"), he keeps forgetting that Interpol has become simply an investigative arm for local law enforcement agencies, all of whom seem to drop the ball every time he implicates a particular high-profile bank in international arms dealing.

Personally, I was fascinated by the discussions of how vast amounts of money are parlayed into political power; other audience members found that aspect of the film boring. Given today's international economic crisis, I suggest that maybe we should all pay closer attention to these matters. I also found the various methods of assassination interesting: DMSO anyone?

Director Tom Twyker ("Run, Lola, Run") takes us from one iconic location to another in this great travelogue of a movie. I loved the aerial shots of the intercontinental bridge in Istanbul, the views of various museums and government buildings in major world capitols, and I got a big kick out of the climactic (albeit unrealistic) shootout in New York's Guggenheim Museum.

By the way, despite the fairly intricate plot, I was able to make out every word. Let's hear it for a professionally produced sound track! Hip, Hip, Hurray!


Confessions of a Shopaholic

Ya know what? This movie actually has a worthwhile message! When we consider the way banks inundate college students with "free" charge cards and how little those kids know about the big bad world of credit, this little peek at one young woman's vicissitudes with money might be a good lesson. Mind you her problems ARE self-inflicted, but to watch her finally learn what a shallow and misguided sucker she has been, is not only predictable, it's also satisfying.

Of course any Chick Flick is always loaded with attractive stars, clothes to die for, and lots of silliness, particularly at the beginning, as we watch our heroine, played by Isla Fisher ("Wedding Crashers") go gaga over name brand bags, shoes, and dresses. Her waaaay too understanding (read "enabler") friend is played by an over-the-top Krysten Ritter ("27 Dresses"). And that perfectly dreadful bridesmaid's confection is every bridesmaid's nightmare.

Our shopaholic's almost TOO sensible parents, are Joan Cusack ("Martian Child") and John Goodman ("Gigantic"); while her love interest is played handsomely by Hugh Dancy ("The Jane Austen Book Club"). We chuckle at her Shopaholics Anonymous meetings and love to watch Kristin Scott Thomas ("The Valet") play the French doyenne of a high-fashion magazine. She and Meryl Streep ("The Devil Wears Prada") both seemed to use the same role model.

Nothing in this bit of fluff is realistic except the sickening feeling we experience as our heroine is compelled to make one unwise purchase after another. I have to confess, I felt a certain sympathy for that bill collector, even though he was considered the villain of the piece.

The REAL villain is a society where people feel validated by who they WEAR rather than who they ARE.


Under the Sea

Do you like the sea?
Do you like the critters who live in the sea?
Do you like to be informed about the sea?
Do you like to be dazzled by the sea?

If your answer to any of those questions is yes, I have just the film for you! Today I had the pleasure of watching "Under the Sea" in 3-D at the IMAX. It just doesn't get much better than that.

I have never done any diving, but I suspect this film comes pretty close to duplicating that experience, except I never got wet, I never got cold and my hair stayed dry. That's MY kind of underwater thrill! We go from the Great Barrier Reef to the South Coast of Australia, from mangrove swamps to river deltas. This movie is interesting, entertaining and educational. And the 3-D is exceptional. During the final credits there are bubbles that come off the screen and float toward you; they look so real it feels like you can reach out and pop them!

Grab a child and head out for an IMAX theatre; this movie is only 40 minutes long and you'll be sorry when it's over.



"Action Packed?" How about tedious? How about boring? How about a plot a 12-year-old boy would cobble together on his personal computer?

We are subjected to endless filthy Hong Kong streets jammed with evil humanity; we are supposed to admire characters with idiotic telekinetic and telepathic powers that usually work... but sometimes don't...; we stumble into a storyline full of plotholes; and suffer through an impossible sound track, everyone sounds as though he or she is whispering from the bottom of a barrel.

My companion and I actually laughed out loud when the Asian super-warriers unleashed their super-powers: super screams that broke all the glass within earshot, including dishware and fish tanks. I think the fanboys liked that part.

In my opinion, Chris Evans ("The Nanny Diaries") is mostly wasted, as is Dakota Fanning ("The Secret Life of Bees").

Someone should have warned them not to "Push" their luck.


He's Just Not That Into You

Chick Flick Alert! What a fun Romantic, Romantic, Romantic Comedy (I didn't keep track of all the romances this movie touches on, so I'll make do with three).

Based on the terrific best seller by the same name written by Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo, this wise, clever and insightful film runs a highly capable, star-studded cast through its considerable paces. We are tossed into Baltimore's young adult scene: single, married, living together, gay, straight, happy, sad, desperate. Every familiar come-on is used at least once and tonight's audience audibly recognized and howled at each and every one! We are treated to a hilarious montage that illustrates the universality of the battle of the sexes.

We start with some of the men who are exploiting some of the women, deceiving them for one-night stands with never a backward glance. The women are, by turns, bewildered, frustrated, confused and aggrieved. We see one couple, married but not happy, and another couple, happy but not married. We watch some couples uncouple and others drift in and out of each other's lives.

I refuse to tell you any of this witty story, so I'll just list some of the actors you will enjoy:
  • Ginnifer Goodwin ("Walk the Line") sweet, hopeful and ingenuous.
  • Scarlett Johansson ("Match Point") sexy, slutty and fun.
  • Bradley Cooper ("Yes Man") NEVER more appealing...YUM!
  • Drew Barrymore ("Lucky You") gets her dating advice from her gay co-workers.
  • Ben Affleck ("Hollywoodland") the exception that proves the rule.
  • Jennifer Aniston ("Marley and Me") thinks nothing but the ring will do.
  • Jennifer Connelly ("The Hulk") full of advice for everyone else.
  • Justin Long ("Just Add Water") the phone chum.

There are many more familiar faces throughout, and every performer is given his or her moment to shine. There are dramatic scenes, sexy scenes and funny scenes. We all cringed at some of the more blatant situations, knowing the outcome long before it came out, but there were poignant moments as well.

This thing is too rich for me to divulge any of the plot. Just go see it, okay?


The Pink Panther 2

This was waaaay better than I expected, mostly because of the stellar cast:
  • Steve Martin ("Parenthood" and "Bringing Down the House") reprises his role as the bumbling but clever Inspector Clouseau, who sports at least the worst fake French accent since Peter Sellers originated the role in the 70s.
  • Jean Reno ("The Professional" and "The Da Vinci Code") is back again as Ponton, the faithful assistant who never, ever loses faith in our Inspector.
  • Emily Mortimer ("Dear Frankie" and "Match Point") is trembling perfection as Clouseau's secret love, the sweet but timid Nicole.
  • John Cleese ("Harry Potter" and "The Day the Earth Stood Still") takes over for Kevin Kline as Chief Inspector Dreyfus (but I still miss Herbert Lom).
  • Aishwarya Rai ("Bride and Prejudice" and "The Mistress of Spices") is making a smooth transition from her position as a pre-eminent star in the Bollywood galaxy to one in Hollywood.
  • Jeremy Irons ("Appaloosa") is Clouseau's prime suspect.
  • Andy Garcia ("Ocean's 11, 12 and 13" and "Smokin' Aces") is part of an Interpol Dream Team brought in to solve a series of heinous cultural crimes.
  • Alfred Molina ("Spiderman" and "Undertaking Betty") is a second member of the Dream Team.
  • Yuki Matsuzaki ("Letters From Iwo Jima" and "Only the Brave") is a techie type who brings scientific expertise to the Dream Team.

What is amazing to me is that seven of these performers are established stars in their own right, the last three of whom have been talked into playing a glorified version of the Three Stooges for this puerile frolic. Is Steve Martin THAT powerful?

Oh well, this movie will make money. I don't mind; it was good clean fun and I had a nice time.