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The Debt Movie Review

I love movies where Nazis are brought to justice.  In 1966, three Mossad secret agents, Rachel Singer (Jessica Chastain) Stephan Gold (Marton Csokas) and David Peretz (Sam Worthington) went undercover to East Berlin to hunt down & capture a Nazi war criminal, alive!  The target, Doktor Bernhardt, (Jesper Christensen).  During his tenure under the Third Reich, Bernhardt was a monster armed with a scalpel, an experimental butcher & the mission was to bring him back to stand trail in disgrace of his accusers.

That was the mission, but now it’s over 30 years later, Tel Aviv 1997.  The agents have long since retired, but are called together.  The veteran trio, Rachel (Helen Mirren), Stephan (Tom Wilkinson) & David (Ciarin Hinds) swore to a secret that’s been buried for three generations.  The mission had gone horribly wrong.

“The Debt,” is a very clever suspense thriller that jogs back and forth between 1960’s Germany & the late 90’s.  I like how the agents prepared & trained for their mission.  It gives you a real sense of danger & how these operatives might have actually carried out such a plan. Young Rachel’s (Chastain) role in the mission was by far the toughest & most horrific on her psyche.  You can see onscreen, whatever happened back in Berlin was carried on by Helen Mirren’s mannerisms in her performance. The emotional baggage is right there.  NO SPOILERS HERE. You’ll have to go see it for yourself.

“The Debt” is a solid movie with clever suspense.  Rated R

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Warrior Movie Review

Who’s the toughest guy on the planet?  If you really wanna know, get on a plane & head to Atlantic City.  Check out SPARTA, the world’s most intense Mixed Martial Arts competition between 16 fighters.  Last man standing takes home a staggering purse of $5 million dollars.  This Superbowl of the MMA sets in motion, “Warrior.”

Director, Gavin O’ Connor has created two vastly different worlds that reside in the same movie.   One world shows us Brendan Conlon, (Joel Edgerton) an amazing high school teacher who’s loved by his students.  He’s also going deeper & deeper in debt & mortgaged to the hilt.  He’s got a wife and two daughters & his version of the American Dream is in serious trouble.  So he does what he’s gotta do, make money any way he can. Even if that means booking back alley fights to make some bucks.

Tommy Conlon (Tom Hardy) spent fourteen years in another family, the United States Marine Corps.  He’s seen & done things only a seasoned war veteran could ever comprehend.  Tommy doesn’t talk much.  In fact, Tommy does his talking with his fists and wears his rage on his sleeve.

When Tommy returns to Pittsburgh after 14 years away, he reluctantly teams up with his estranged father, Paddy Conlon. (Nick Nolte)  It ain’t about hugs & love. This father-son reunion is laser focused and about one thing:  Training for SPARTA.   Nolte just shines as a father who’s trying to make up for lost time with his sons. What a performance.

While training for the movie both lead actors took a 10-week training regimen with a strict high protein diet of no less than six meals per day.   Tom Hardy’s routine was based around weightlifting. He actually put on 28-pounds of muscle for the role.  His trainer was quoted as calling his pupil, “carb-depleted, angry & moody.”  It’s that type of dedication that I love & look for in preparation.  When an actor goes through what I call, ‘Pain for Performance,’ it helps suspend disbelief.  I could name a 1/2 dozen so-called top billing actors who’d never ever put this type of effort into a role.

On screen, Hardy & Edgerton managed to perform 85% of their own stunts in an MMA film.  Kudos.  The fight scenes in ‘Warrior’ took six straight weeks of shooting.  O’ Connor ended up shooting over 200 hours of fight footage.  Wanna talk injuries? Tom Hardy racked up a torn ligament, a broken foot and a cracked rib.  Edgerton, against doctor’s orders continued filming with a serious tear to the ACL of his right knee.  Again, playing with pain makes the movie better!

The contrast in the brothers worlds is amazing to watch onscreen.  Brandan’s world, even though financially strapped, is very colorful.  Flowers, his daughters face painting, even Brendan’s schoolteacher wardrobe is somehow uplifting.  They live in a nice house with a very green front yard.  It’s what everyone wants & it’s slipping away.

Tommy’s world is dark.  All the colors are washed out into a gravely grey.  Rains, clouds, industrial settings.  Tommy’s wardrobe is so dark, it’s almost Grim Reaper-ish.  You’ll notice these two different worlds are always on a collision course. The sound design is incredible.  You will actually feel the severity of the punches.  The excitement is exhilarating.  When it comes down to two brothers, one fighting for his family & one fighting for his country, you’re right there with a ringside seat.  ‘Warrior’ is hands down the knockout punch I’ve been waiting for at the movies.

‘Warrior’ has everything. It’s a father-son story, it’s got redemption, forgiveness, perseverance, truth, honor, fallen heroes & new ones.  If you don’t get emotional watching ‘Warrior,’ you’re dead inside.  I wouldn’t be surprised if one or all three, Nick Nolte, Joel Edgerton & Tom Hardy receive nominations during award season.

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30 Minutes Or Less Movie Review

Jesse Eisenberg is Nick.   A guy who hates his job, his boss & probably his life.   What does he do for a living?  He delivers pizzas like a NASCAR Ninja in just 30 Minutes or Less.   Nick’s last delivery is gonna be a doozy.  Two second rate losers (Danny McBride & Nick Swardson) hatch a plan to make quick money.  Instead of robbing a bank themselves, they’ll strap a homemade bomb on a stranger & make him do it.

As you’ve seen in the trailer, once the bomb has been planted on Nick, he seeks help from his best friend Chet (Aziz Ansari).  Armed with only knowledge of 80’s action flicks, these two idiots rob the local bank to the tune of 100,00 bucks.

Two familiar faces are scene stealers with limited screen time. First, the hitman (Michael Peña). Very funny.  Also, from TV’s “Rules of Engagement,” is Bianca Kajlich who plays a local stripper. While dancing on Danny McBride, Bianca goes full blown topless. No special digital effects or enhancements. Man, the one time I want 3D & it’s not even there.

The idea of these two numb nuts getting away with this high profile robbery in Grand Rapids, Michigan is certainly a stretch. You’ll just have to go with it.  It’s a straight up rated R stoner comedy.  If you dug “Pineapple Express,” this is your movie.

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Super 8 Movie Review

“Super 8” is a simple love story.  There’s a 14 year old kid, Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) who’s head-over-heels for Alice. (Elle Fanning)  Their puppy love is just about ready to take flight.  Oh yeah,  there’s a snag.  There’s a sinister creature threatening the residents of the blue-collar town of Lillian, Ohio.

Set your WayBack Machine to 1976.  By now you’ve heard the film focuses on a group of kids making a movie with their Super 8 Camera.  The usual suspects are present & accounted for.  Government Cover Up?  Check.  70’s Soundtrack hits? Check.  Ford Pinto in the foreground? Check.  The look of the film is perfect, especially on a skimpy$50 million dollar budget.

The kid actors are the ones who should get all the credit.  Director J.J. Abrams & his Ment0r Steven Spielberg know how to get the best performance for their cast.  I also love the rudimentary film making jargin.  These kids are under intense pressure and are cranking out amazing performances.  The movie does build very well throughout.  There are twists that I can’t tell you about. NO SPOILERS HERE.  Super 8 is a really good popcorn movie, but does lack surprise.  I’ll give it 3 1/2 stars out of five.

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2:13 DVD Review

LAPD criminal profiler, Russell Spivey (Mark Thompson) has the toughest job imaginable.  All too often, his duty takes him to humanties’ darkest places.  Spivey’s uncanny talent:  Assessing physical evidence from brutal murder crime scenes & creating viable theories as to why the perpetrator commits to such evil.

In terms of tone, “2:13” reminds me of  “Se7en,” “Anamorph” & “Manhunter.”  The chase for the killer(s) is on & it’s a very clever ride. This isn’t your typical, throw-together, low budget horror flick.  2:13 has many layers, textures & nuances. Many of which are so subtle, you’ll need a second viewing.

Technically, the sound design is excruciatingly detailed.  Whether it’s a menacing, pulsating & accelerating bass line or the simple familiar sound of pencil writing on a notepad.  It’s there & sound adds yet another layer.  In the end, the villain in the piece isn’t a Body Snatcher, an alien, a Terminator or even a Great White Shark. It’s the most feared villain of all, is the one who walks right by us in a crowd.

If you’re looking for a suspense thriller peppered with horror, terror & darkness, look no further than 2:13. It’s a well made film.  The solid cast includes Kevin Pollack, Teri Polo, Dwight Yoakam & Mark Pellegrino.  2:13 arrives on DVD Tuesday June 28th.  For more insights, photos & webisodes check out the official website at http://www.213themovie.com/ SPOILER ALERT ON A FEW WEBISODES!

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For Immediate Release


Movie’s Re-Release to Coincide With the Centennial of the Ship’s Sailing
HOLLYWOOD, CA (May 19, 2011) – Paramount Pictures, Twentieth Century Fox and Lightstorm Entertainment jointly announced today that James Cameron’s “TITANIC” will be re-released worldwide on April 6, 2012.

The release, which marks the 100th anniversary of the Titanic setting sail (April 10th), will present the film in 3D for the first time ever.

Written, directed and produced by Cameron, “TITANIC” is the second highest grossing movie of all time. It is one of only three films to have received a record 11 Academy AwardsÒ including Best Picture and Best Director; and launched the careers of stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet.

Called “A spectacular demonstration of what modern technology can contribute to dramatic storytelling” by Variety upon its release in 1997, the long in the works 3D conversion is being overseen by Cameron and his Lightstorm producing partner Jon Landau who produced the hit movie.

Said Cameron, “There’s a whole generation that’s never seen ‘TITANIC’ as it was meant to be seen, on the big screen.  And this will be ‘TITANIC’ as you’ve never seen it before, digitally re-mastered at 4K and painstakingly converted to 3D.  With the emotional power intact and the images more powerful than ever, this will be an epic experience for fans and newcomers alike.”

“This new presentation of Paramount’s top-grossing film is particularly special because 2012 is the 100th anniversary of our studio. Paramount has had the pleasure of introducing audiences to some of the all-time classics of cinema during that century of moviemaking and we cannot think of a better way to mark the occasion than with this re-release of ‘Titanic’,” said Brad Grey, Chairman and CEO of Paramount Pictures.

Commented Fox Filmed Entertainment Chairmen and CEOs, Jim Gianopulos and Tom Rothman: “Our 30-plus year relationship with Jim Cameron and Lightstorm has been enormously rewarding, from ‘Aliens’ to ‘Avatar’, and the global phenomenon of ‘Titanic’ remains one of the greatest sources of pride in our history.  We are pleased to allow a new generation of audiences to experience the film in its brilliant digital restoration in 3D.”

Prom Film Freak Movie Review

For me, the bar for high school movies has been set to a very high standard.  Cameron Crowe gave us “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” & then there’s the architect of 80’s teen angst on film, the late great John Hughes.  I’m so partial.  Many of Hughes’ films represent my own coming of age.  But what about today’s iPod  generation of young people?  “Prom” might very well resonate for them & I hope it does.

This is your basic good-girl-meets-bad-boy-from-the-wrong-side-of-the-tracks story.  Originating from a small town in Michigan, Aimee Teegarden is Nova, an overachiever hell bent on creating an unforgettable Starry Night Prom, for all the right reasons.  After an accident, the prom squad is forced to re-create ALL the decorations with a mere two weeks.

That’s when the school principal deals a fateful hand.  He cleverly creates a unique detention detail for slacker troublemaker, Jesse Richter (Thomas McDonell).   The detention?  Ah yes, to begrudgingly assist goody-goody Nova in recreating ALL the decorations.  Sparks fly, emotions run hot, ice thaws & allowe a forbidden love to blossum.

Sound corny enough for you? Well it is.  It’s so corny, but I think kids anywhere between the ages of 10-19 are going to enjoy this movie.   It’s for them.  I can see young moviegoers liking the characters & having a good time.  Critics will trounce.  But at the end of the day, who really cares about movie critics?  Disney’s “Prom” is for high schoolers.  Cynical chaperones types should probably sit this one out.  Rated PG, not PG-13.  Very safe stuff here.

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Water For Elephants Film Freak Movie Review

“Water For Elephants” is a period piece dating back to 1931.  Right off the bat, something good happens: Hal Holbrook. He provides the bookend intro/outro.  He’s always so believable.  So the story goes….The Benzini Brothers Traveling Circus Train is always chasing Ringling Brothers Circus.  This is the backdrop to a love triangle between veterinary student Jankowski (Rob Pattinson) star performer, Marlena (Reese Witherspoon) & husband Ringmaster, August (Christof Waltz ‘Inglourious Basterds’)

Jacob loves animals. August utilizes cruelty to get results training his animal performers.  This obvious rub is the friction that drives the story forward.   August recognizes Jacob could be his dedicated circus vet and soon begins inviting him into his premium boxcar for fine dining & booze (all happening during prohibition.)  Of course, Marlena is there dressed to the nines, flirting within every moment.

On the brink of bankruptcy, needing to fill the seats, August acquires Rosie the Elephant.  This gamble turns to be a huge bust.  August unleashes pain upon Rosie beyond belief. Anyone who cares about animals in the slightest, would be unsettled.  Of course, this behavior catapults Jacob, who innately loves & cares for animals, into a vengeful rage.

Turns out Rosie is uber smart, for reasons I cannot give away.   If you listen closely to Hal Holbrook’s intro, you’ll already know what happens.  Water For Elephants is a popular book by Sara Gruen.  When I was leaving the theater, I couldn’t help but think there wasn’t a whole lot of sexual chemistry between Witherspoon & Pattinson.  That’s exactly what this type of fall-in-love story requires.  Since the Golden Age of cinema, all we really need are two stars who sizzle onscreen to make us swoon for romance & whirlwind love.  Without the spark, the end game falls flat.

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The Beaver Film Freak Movie Review

Let me throw you a warning. “The Beaver”  isn’t a comedy by any means.  If you’re lookin’ for laughs, this is not your movie.  Considering other May movie releases, “The Beaver” seems an out-of-place, Oscar-worthy, adult movie.  It’s a textbook example of  what the movie studios call, counter-programming.
Walter Black (Mel Gibson) is on a downward spiral.  He’s not getting better. In fact, he’s done.  Checked out.  Finished.  Then he finds a discarded beaver puppet in a trash bin.  A voice erupts from the flea-bitten furry toy with a heavy Aussie accent.  It’s probably the same accent Mel Gibson would have used if he’d never left Sydney Australia as a teenager.
The Beaver becomes the life coach.  Things turn around and Walter begins to thrive.  Meredith Black (Jodie Foster) is willing to humor Walter’s toothy pal.   She’s in to do whatever it takes to get her husband back into the game of life.  The fantasy therapy flat out mortifies the couple’s teenage son, Porter. (Anton Yelchin)
Success is a double-edged sword.  Action/reaction.  As Walter transforms his toy company & becomes an eclectic celebrity.  The charade grows darker & darker.  You’ll ask yourself, ‘how far is he gonna take this with the puppet.’
For that, you’ll have to wait & see for yourself.  “The Beaver” is the truest of dramas & Mel gave it his all.   Jodie Foster directed a fine film.  The question: Will Gibson’s brutal reality baggage result in tumbleweeds at the Box Office?
“The Beaver” opens in limited release May 6th, 2011.  Opening wide May 20th, 2011.s
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Hanna: Dead On Target! The Film Freak Movie Review

Saoirse Ronan is Hanna.  At 16 years old, this talented actress drives the film & it rests squarely on her shoulders.  Can you imagine how good she’ll be in another 16 years?  Easy prediction.  She’ll be the best 32-year old actress on the planet.   “Hanna” is a top-notch action film with layers of original spins.

Eric Bana is an ex CIA rogue operative who raises Hanna on a remote polar icecap teaching her techniques to be the world’s most efficient killing machine.  Snow scenes filmed in Finland ran anywhere from 29 to 35 degrees below zero.  So many films have taken the easy route & tried to fake snow scenes inside a warm fuzzy soundstage, ala “Red Riding Hood.”  I appreciate it when actors & film crews freeze their tushes off in the middle of nowhere to make a movie realistic.  Hats off to director Joe Wright & crew!

Saoirse Ronan also worked 6 hours a day for months on her martial arts moves.  It pays off with a swift economy of movement & a believable on-screen lethality.  As you can see in the trailer, Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett) is hunting down Hanna. Or is Hanna hunting down Marissa Wiegler?  CIA operatives are cold blooded killers & so are their buddies.

Enter Isaacs. (Tom Hollander) He’s further off the grid & will do the dirtiest of deeds for a hush-hush CIA payday.  Hollander goes with a dyed blond hair look with a seemingly summer country club attire.  This physical presence was premeditated by Joe Wright way back in the 1980’s. Growing up, Joe & other nice middle-class kids were flat out terrorized by a group of well-dressed jock type bullies they simply called, The Casuals.  As a filmmaker, Joe’s memories were summoned up & utilized in the film.

Ultimately, Hanna is a story of revenge & origin.  Who’s after her & why?  Who is she?  Why is she racing across three countries to find Marissa Wiegler?  The answers are all there.  Hanna is definitely worth checking out.

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