Jack the Giant Slayer

Here's a new take on an old tale. Rated PG-13 and directed by Bryan Singer ("X-Men"), this "Jack and the Beanstalk" is well cast, visually exciting, and lots of fun. Computer Generated Imaging has made fantasy stories more and more fantastical; this one is mind-boggling.

We admire:
  • Nicholas Hoult ("Warm Bodies") is resourceful and resolute as Jack, the nice young man who drops a magic bean and... "Uh oh," gets it WET. Later, as he clambers up that amazing beanstalk, he admits he "doesn't much like heights."
  • Eleanor Tomlinson ("Alice in Wonderland") is Isabel, an adven- turous princess who finds waaaay more adventure than she bargained for.
  • Ian McShane ("Deadwood") is the king, ready to marry off his daughter to a much older man in order to achieve peace with a neighboring kingdom. But he pitches right in when his kingdom is under attack.
  • Stanley Tucci ("The Hunger Games") makes the perfect bride- groom/villain: ambitious, ruthless and cruel. Once he gets the magic crown, the wedding is off!
  • Ewan McGregor ("The Impossible") is our stalwart guardsman Elmont: organized, decisive and brave. It looks like McGregor enjoys being in a comedy for a change.
  • Bill Nighy ("About Time") is the lead Giant. He has a little spare head sitting on one shoulder, which offers another point of view.
If you take a 12-year-old boy (the perfect demographic) reassure him that there is less than a minute of "mush." Otherwise, it's slam-bang action, with lots of spears, arrows, horses, drawbridges, armor, swords, boiling oil, burning trees and other weapons of the middle ages.

I can't think of a thing I would change; 114 minutes flew by. The battle scenes aren't too long, the giants are appropriately icky, our hero is valiant and the heroine is plucky. We all ducked when a crown bounced into the audience, but beyond that, the story is engaging enough that there should be no need to spring for the extra 3D charge.
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Here is a link to a trailer:
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The Sweeney

Inspired by a successful TV series in the 1970s, we follow The Flying Squad, an elite group of officers in the London Metropolitan Police. This violent R-rated actioner will have you covering your eyes, stifling your giggles and checking your watch. The kindest thing I can say is that maybe this is a pilot for a re-launch of the series.

This is a formulaic bunch of nonsense suffering from an overdose of testosterone: brutal, bloody, and profane. It features the worst gunfight in the history of cinema. The squad itself is effective (even thought they can't hit the broad side of a barn), but its methods are so shocking we are left with no one to root for.

We see:
  • Damian Lewis ("Homeland") I knew things were bad when I couldn't even root for DCI Frank Haskins. Lewis is an actor who could even give Soames Forsyte a bit of humanity in "The Forsyte Saga." I rest my case.
  • Ray Winstone ("Hugo") is DI Jack Regan, brutal, vicious and, according to his mistress, pretty good in bed. I was surprised he put out his cigarette long enough to have sex.
  • Hayley Atwell ("The Duchess") is DC Nancy Lewis, married to Lewis and getting it on with DI Jack Regan.
  • Steven Mackintosh (Lots of TV) is tightly-wound DCI Ivan Lewis, married to the gal who...oh you know, boilerplate misbehavior and ersatz scandal...if only we cared...
  • Ben Drew ("Turnout") is DC George Carter, an Eminem look-alike, hoodie and all, a young copper who clearly admires his brutal, slightly bent boss.
We are treated to station-house humor: extremely vulgar and obviously relished by all the guys on screen. We in the audience didn't catch many of the jokes because we either couldn't hear or understand them. This is an English-speaking film that really needs Closed Captions for us folks here in The Colonies!
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Here is a link to a trailer:
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This Film is Not Yet Rated

Prompted by a tip from a JayFlix colleague, I checked this DVD out of the city library. What an enlightening documentary! Exceedingly forthright in some of the early film clips, with interesting graphics and funny illustrations, this is NOT for the faint of heart, but you won't regret having seen it when the final credits roll.

We explore the history of the Motion Picture Association of America, the MPAA which provides ratings for American moviegoers. You know: G, PG, PG-13, R, and PG-17 (the old X). This system was created in two steps by Hollywood as a preemptive strike against rumored censorship. In 1930 they appointed former Postmaster General Will Hays as the "Say-so of the Highest Magnitude." His ratings were used until 1968, when our more current ones were adopted under the watchful eye of Jack Valenti, president of the MPAA (now retired).

For some time, I have cast a jaundiced eye toward the MPAA ratings because they are inconsistent and seem inclined to favor big studio films. Imagine my surprise when it is explained that the MPAA is funded by six large organizations which own large movie studios! This is why a big- budget film can depict the slaughter of people by the score, bullets fly, knives slash and bombs explode, but it's still rated PG-13 for a broad audience.

Documentary filmmaker and director Kirby Dick ("The Invisible War") requests access to the MPAA ratings board, only to be refused entry. As he investigates he discovers the entire process to be cloaked in secrecy, with employees hidden behind an impenetrable security screen. He hires a private detective and we venture out with them to survey the fenced and guarded grounds, obtain license plate numbers, and painstakingly identify the people who decide for America what is wholesome and what is not.

Interviews with independent film makers illustrate their struggle against the highly biased Association. We see: John Waters ("A Dirty Shame"), Matt Stone ("South Park"), Kimberly Peirce ("Boys Don't Cry"), Kevin Smith ("Clerks") and others. They discuss the absurdities with which they must cope and the struggles they have as they attempt to launch their films.

The MPAA insists the secrecy is to eliminate "pressure" for the ratings board. Our filmmaker asks how other professions cope with pressure, e.g., surgeons, fire fighters, elected officials, and dozens of other professions. We draw our own conclusions.
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Even the trailer has wry humor:
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Drugs again. It seems that every action flick these days pivots around drugs: drug cartels, drug deals, drug deals gone bad, or drug addictions. To me, this is terra incognita, an unknown land, although I am certainly aware of the violence and devastation drugs have caused!

This time we have a father who volunteers to go undercover for the DEA as he desperately tries to rescue his son from prison where he landed after he was set up in a drug deal. (When Dwayne Johnson, formerly "The Rock," does a film, it usually promotes family values. One reviewer made the astute observation that while Johnson still isn't an actor, he IS a movie star.)

We see:
  • Dwayne Johnson ("Fast Five") is the father, completely out of his depth dealing with bad guys (he owns a construction company). The first thing that happens, he gets his behind whupped!
  • Rafi Gavron ("Celeste & Jesse Forever") is the son trying to be a loyal friend despite his chum's betrayal...but prison's no picnic!
  • Jon Bernthal ("Rampart") is an employee who has a prison record but is determined to go straight.
  • Melina Kanakaredes (lots of TV) is the distraught mother, frantic to get her son out of jail.
  • Barry Pepper ("Broken City") is a DEA agent, smart, experienced ...and worried about an innocent schmuck being used by special interest groups.
  • Susan Sarandon ("Cloud Atlas") is a District Attorney running for higher office. THAT is HER sole focus!
  • Michael Kenneth Williams (Omar in "The Wire") is once again, a thug, a ringleader, a killer and an all-around bad guy.
In a movie like this, directed by Ric Roman Waugh ("Felon") we can expect spectacular vehicular mayhem and brutal gunfights, but surprisingly clean language and unrealistically sparkling white teeth. When is Hollywood going to learn? It makes me smile to watch the rating wars: no cursing or sex, so it gets a PG-13, even though the bullets fly and the body count is significant! Ah well...
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Here is a link to a preview:
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Bless Me, Ultima

Based on the novel by Rudolfo Anaya, this PG-13 coming-of-age story is set in rural New Mexico late in WWII. When a Chicano boy starts the first grade in 1944, he carries a red Big Chief tablet identical to the one I carried to the first grade in 1945! When his much-loved grandmother arrives to spend her last days with his family, he can't help but notice that an owl also has taken up residence.

We see a culture clash that involves traditional Mexican ways, witchcraft, Catholicism, and just a bit of secular U.S. Army when his adult brothers return from the war.

We see:
  • Luke Ganalon (television roles) as Antonio, the super-observant first grader who witnesses the fatal actions of an hysterical posse, the bullying of a lonely classmate, the damage wrought by a faithless priest, the inspiration of a wonderful school teacher, and the healing powers of his beloved abuela.
  • Miriam Colon ("The Southside") is Ultima, the healer who is immediately called on to save a young man dying as a result of witchcraft. This actress's career dates back to old Marlon Brando films; she's always been beautiful.
  • Castulo Guerra ("Undocumented") is Tenorio, the firebrand who wants to incite a witch burning. He blames her for his daughters' debauchery.
This story does not shrink away from fatalities, nor does it whitewash the prejudice found in small rural communities. Our little hero is in jeopardy for his life a couple of times and that owl can be pretty fearsome! Guns are fired and people die, but the central family unit survives intact. Whew!

As we left the theater, we discussed the phenomenon of watching an entire movie that has no television sets, refrigerators, telephones, cell phones, or GPS units. However did they survive in those "good old days?"
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Here's the preview:
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Ruby Sparks

Plagiarism? Maybe not intentionally, but as I watched my DVD from the library, I could almost match the plot point by point during the early scenes. It is entirely possible that screenwriter Zoe Kazan thought she was inspired by a dream or something, but in September 2006, I saw "The Love List," a delightful play by Canadian Norm Foster, which it unmistakably echoes. In fact, I could giggle in anticipation of bits of dialogue and certain twists and turns in the plot as I watched the DVD.

That being said: this charming (there is good reason why this story deserves to be revisited) comedy/fantasy/romance is well acted and nicely photographed. It is thought provoking (what would you get if you could create the lover of your dreams?), funny (be careful what you wish for) and satisfying (happy endings, anyone?).

We see:
  • Paul Dano ("There Will Be Blood") as Calvin, a writer who is single, lonely and very creative.
  • Zoe Kazan ("It's Complicated") as Ruby, the girl of his dreams ...literally!
  • Chris Messina ("Argo") is Calvin's skeptical brother Harry, who, like the sidekick in the play, would rather see more "physical" attributes than intellectual ones for his brother's dream girl.
  • Annette Bening ("The Kids Are All Right") is the boys' Earth Mother, anxious to see BOTH sons settled down and happy.
  • Antonio Banderas ("Haywire'') is Mom's lusty new husband. He makes stuff.
  • Steve Coogan ("Our Idiot Brother") is our hero's publisher. This actor always plays the same person...
  • Elliott Gould (the "Ocean's" franchise) is unrecognizable as our hero's therapist; I was surprised to see his name.
The quality of the acting is always notable when Paul Dano is involved and I was impressed by the multi-talented Zoe Kazan (writer AND actress) who is also Dano's significant other in real life. Another real-life couple, Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris ("Little Miss Sunshine") are the directors. This diverting little R-rated frolic will keep you occupied for 104 minutes. ...smile...
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Take a peek at a preview:
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Safe Haven

I guess I'd call this a PG-13 romance with an edge. We have attractive leads, mysterious pasts and dark secrets..... The book on which this is based is by Nicholas Sparks ("The Notebook") so it MUST be romantic, right? And there has to be an idyllic boat ride on a bayou...and two lovers caught in the rain. The movie is directed by Lasse Hallström ("Salmon Fishing in the Yemen") so it will feel like real people in a real situation, with humorous bits tossed in just for fun. As you can tell, this was actually pretty good because we had plenty of people to root for.

We watched:
  • Josh Duhamel ("Transformers," "New Year's Eve" and lots of TV) as Alex, a widower of two years, helping his two youngsters cope with their loss and helping his uncle run a little grocery store/gas station/tackle shop in a North Carolina fishing village. BTW, this actor is really good with children!
  • Noah Lomax (Lots of TV) is Josh, his older child who remembers, and still misses, his mom.
  • Mimi Kirkland in her first movie role, is Lexie, the younger child who only remembers the idea of her mother. She's a precocious, loyal little busybody.
  • Julianne Hough ("Rock of Ages" and "Footloose") is Katie, fleeing for her life from Boston and trying to find a safe haven beyond the reach of her pursuer.
  • Cobie Smulders ("The Avengers") is Jo, the lovely neighbor who befriends our heroine.
  • David Lyons (Lots of TV) is either a cop, an abandoned husband, or both.
There are plenty of other characters, but time does not permit... I could have done without some of the bucolic photography, but it was only 115 minutes. Suffice it to say, this had no profanity and some chaste love making, but had a real nail-biter of a climax and a totally unexpected twist...plus Duhamel is VERY easy on the eye!
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Here is a preview:
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A Good Day to Die Hard

Yippee-ki-yay! (If you know the rest, you may be part of the audience for whom this R-rated action-packed demolition derby was made...smile...)

He's baaaack.... John McClane is our favorite Energizer Bunny. Bruce Willis's dependable "Die Hard" action franchise (1988, 1990, 1995, 2007) continues to print money, so why not?

This time Mr. McC. is off to Russia because his grown son seems to be off the grid, and his daughter asks him to find him and bring him home. This prompts an unending series of vehicular smashes, gunfire, rocket fire, helicopter crashes, fist fights, suicidal leaps off roofs and down fire escapes, plus other violent action that I have forgotten. I have NEVER seen so many thugs shot, vehicles smashed and interiors destroyed.

We see:
  • Bruce Willis ("Looper") is John, he tries in vain to speak Russian but the cabbie just laughs at him and treats him to a Frank Sinatra song.
  • Jai Courtney ("Jack Reacher") is Jack, who seems to be in a tight spot, but does NOT want Dad to get involved.
  • Mary Elizabeth Winstead ("Live Free or Die Hard") is Lucy, she doesn't know who she should worry about most, her dad or her brother.
  • Sebastian Koch ("The Lives of Others") is Komorov, a former gangster worth the price of your ticket.
  • Yuliya Snigir ("Kokoko") is Irina, the gangster's resourceful (and beautiful) daughter.
Blazing guns, fast cars, skidding semi trucks, non-stop action, blowie uppie stuff...you know the drill: Suspend disbelief, watch for five minutes, lather, rinse and repeat.
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Here is a sample:
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Beautiful Creatures

What a cast! We are in a small southern town which our young hero Ethan longs to escape; his long-dead mother told him that the secret was the town library. As a result of meeting the new girl in his high school class, he uncovers a dark history about his town, his family, and a whole bunch of hocus pocus that seemed to involve immortals. There were flashbacks to the Civil War and something about a medallion; I found that part confusing...

This PG-13 Fantasy/Drama stars:
  • Alden Ehrenreich ("Twixt") is Ethan, our young bookworm longing for better things, but he DOES understand the human condition. This actor has such an ingenuous manner, it makes him winning, witty and sweet.
  • Alice Englert ("Singularity") is Lena, the mysterious new girl. On her sixteenth birthday she may or may not join The Dark Side. She thinks being a mortal might be the answer to all her prob- lems. This actress has a charming toothy smile so we can see why Ethan finds her so appealing.
  • Emmy Rossum ("Phantom of the Opera") as Ridley, the siren calling our heroine to The Dark Side. I first saw this actress as a gawky, barefoot hillbilly in a charming 2000 movie called "Song- catcher." She's come a LONG way!
  • Jeremy Irons ("Margin Call") as Macon, who knows the only way to protect his niece from The Dark Side is to get that mortal teen- ager out of her life! Irons can certainly pull off a good Southern accent!
  • Emma Thompson ("Sense and Sensibility") is Mrs. Lincoln, always on guard against sinful books and unsavory people (gays, blacks, Democrats, the list goes on and on). This wonderful actress practically steals the show with her authentic accent, creepy attitude and convincing delivery.
  • Viola Davis ("The Help") is Amma, the local librarian who has helped raise our young hero ever since his mother died about 10 years ago. Davis raises the bar for any movie she is in.
  • Eileen Atkins ("Cranford") makes an elegant Gramma, who understands all about "The Spell," but hopes her granddaughter can break it. This wonderful British actress earned a BAFTA for her work in the miniseries "Cranford."
  • Margo Martindale ("Seabiscuit") is Aunt Del; her top-heavy wig never falls over, and that in itself is noteworthy. This is the actress who was so chilling in both "Justified" and "Million Dollar Baby."
The script by Richard LaGravenese ("Water For Elephants") offers wonderfully witty, characters; my main problem is that the direction by Richard LaGravenese ("Freedom Writers") leaves a lot of plot holes. ...smile...

PLEASE NOTE: with the exception of Mr. Ehrenreich, a personal friend of Steven Spielberg, and Miss Englert, a young Australian actress with whom I am unfamiliar, the movies I cite in bold print are ones I highly recommend. Just thought you should know.
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Here is a link to a preview:
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Identity Thief

Is Jason Bateman ever bad? Even when he's in a second-rate movie, HE is good! And with first-rate director Seth Gordon ("Horrible Bosses") at the helm, he's guaranteed to be good!

Is Melissa McCarthy ever bad? Even when she's in a second-rate movie, SHE is good! And with a script by Craig Mazin ("The Hangover") she's laugh-out-loud hilarious. Plus I love a good road picture, and believe it or not, this mismatched pair hits the road together.

This bawdy, rowdy, profane and very, very funny (R-rated) movie can't miss; we see:
  • Jason Bateman ("Arrested Development" yes, it's being filmed as I type!) is Sandy, the poor schmuck who has had his identity stolen, his credit cards maxed out and somehow got crosswise with a narcotics cartel. Bateman always plays such decent guys!
  • Melissa McCarthy ("Bridesmaids") is Sandy/Diana, our titular thief. She is a walking talking sociopath who is resourceful, creative and independent. McCarthy is so multi-talented I don't know where to begin.
  • John Cho ("Star Trek Into Darkness" yes, it is almost ready for release) is Daniel, who tries to believe in our hero even when the cops come to arrest him.
  • Jon Favreau ("Iron Man 3" yes, they are filming right now!) is Harold Cornish, Sandy's smarmy boss we love to hate.
  • Amanda Peet ("Gulliver's Travels") is Sandy's wife Trish, who really, really wants to trust her besieged husband.
  • Morris Chestnut ("Think Like a Man") brings a little sanity to the screen as Detective Reilly who is fair and logical, even though Sandy's story IS a bit outlandish; he's sorry his hands are tied by bureaucratic red tape.
  • Robert Patrick ("Gangster Squad") is Skiptracer, a tenacious, tough guy who just won't give up.
  • Genesis Rodriguez and T.I. (both lots of TV) are the assassins dispatched by the cartel to settle the score with Sandy.
I always like movies with a little redemption, so despite the profanity, fisticuffs, astonishing vehicular mayhem, off-color jokes and outrageous behavior, I was satisfied with the conclusion. I guess they saved the outtakes for the DVD....sigh...
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Side Effects

We always see the caveat about potential side effects on prescriptions and always ignore it, or at least I do. Here we see Big Pharma take on Chronic Depression. Guess who loses?

I was afraid this R-rated crime/thriller/drama was going to be a swamp of horrific side effects that lasted the full length of the movie, but I'm happy to report that is NOT true. This dreary movie starts to come alive about 20 minutes in. From then on, you absolutely MUST pay attention!

  • Jude Law ("Sherlock Holmes") is a psychiatrist who is treating our clinically depressed heroine, to his everlasting regret.
  • Rooney Mara ("The Social Network") is the patient, who surprises us all...more than once! This would have played by Winona Ryder 20 years ago.
  • Channing Tatum ("Magic Mike") is married to the patient. He is an understanding guy, after all, she waited faithfully while he served time for securities fraud.
  • Catherine Zeta-Jones ("Broken City") is the first psychiatrist who treated our patient.
  • Mamie Gummer (Lots of TV) is a party guest early in the film. I included her just to brag: I can spot Meryl Streep's daughter at 20 paces!
Maybe I shouldn't say this, but I'll admit it was actually fun to feel manipulated and confused. Who's the good guy and who's the bad guy? Be prepared for a bit of nudity, a smidgen of profanity, no blowie uppie stuff, car chases or gunshots but an unexpected knifing. That's all I'm gonna say...

By the way, this was originally called "The Bitter Pill."
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Here is a preview:
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