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It Chapter Two

Better than expected
Hiya Georgie

It Chapter 2 is the thrilling conclusion to Stephen King's classic clown novel which finds the losers club needing to go back to Derry after 27 years cause they did not kill Pennywise like they thought they did.

And first off let's just say that Pennywise has been a terrific villain through all this. Yes, clowns remind us all of serial killers anyway, there's not much Krusty can do about that, but if you also get one who knows your fears there really is no stoppage to the torments one could inflict.

Bill Skarsgard has really dug in here, he's having fun, and i'm loving how over the top he allows the voice and mannerisms to get.

The losers club comes back, this time as adults, in fine form.

Sure guys like James McAvoy, who carries Bill's guilt over the loss of his brother Georgie perfectly, and Bill Hader, whose the wise-ass Richie of the group, stand out but everyone here is allowed their moment.

And there are a lot of moments here. This is a lot of movie. Sometimes it's going for horror, sometimes it's comic, sometimes it's a coming of age drama, and in the case of the friend-zoned Ben and the only girl of the group, Beverly, there's a rootable romance here too.

One of the criticisms that has been labeled against this is that it's not a scare on top of scare style movie but I think that's cause this movie is smarter and way more ambitious than that.

This is a follow-up to the highest grossing horror flick of all time-why not going huge with it?

The losers club themselves are still a great bunch of guys and lady and it'a a huge laugh seeing them pick up right where they left off- ribbing each other, bringing up old memories, regretting the fact that as life often goes, we do lose contact with even close friends.

You also never see anyone of them with a cup of coffee- they're so high strung just by living in Derry that even tossing a red bull in the middle of them might result in explosion.

Director Andy Muschietti throws in even more creatures this time around- heads walking on spiders legs, decomposing bodies, statues, things just come alive with big booming voices.

Muscietti worked pretty well with these overgrown, gangly looking monsters in his first horror flick, Mama, but he has vastly improved the facial distortions, the creatures entrances, nearly every jump scare is part of a grander scene that just looks like nightmare fuel.

Like that scene with the old lady from the trailer is 10 times more creepy in this movie and is just a masterclass of suspense.

Yes at nearly 3 hours all of this can feel relentless but he moves these horrifying creatures around like a chessmaster and my heart pumped and my jaw dropped and that's no small feat.

I was also someaht worried about the ending here- mostly cause part 2 of the miniseries ends with kind of dud oh, they look like they're fighting something from Honey I Shrunk the Kids.

But Muscietti proves to completely understand psychological torment by movie's end and continuing to incorporate that in the final showdown is a smart move.

Story-wise this also does a hell of a lot- adding in a Native American subplot, telekinesis, tokens, and some really brutal acts of homophobia and spousal abuse that ties in later with a message about bullying.

I'm out of breath just trying to explain all this movie tries to do, so while it's not always scary and is definitely long winded,

It wants to be a lot of things, most surprising of all is it makes you want to call up a close friend you haven't spoken to in a while..if you have one. That shows this isn't just about the scares but about the characters too. On both counts I was more than satisfied.

If you liked this check out Craig James Review on Youtube for more

The Peanut Butter Falcon

As wonderful as you've heard
The Peanut Butter Falcon tells of the friendship between a mentally challenged man named Zack and a down on his luck fisherman named Tyler.

Both these guys bandits in their own way, they team up and head down river Mark Twain style, just here from North Carolina to Florida to help Zack get to meet his favorite wrestler and maybe be one himself.

And right off the bat this movie gets representation points.

You don't get many movies that really get what it's like to be mentally disabled but this brings that out super well.

Zack's predicament is one of many where the world really doesn't know what to do with people with down syndrome. Yes there are people who treat him cruelly but then there are also the ones who treat him in a workman-like way- who baby him and put him some place out of the way.

The world is trying to phase out the word retard but in one great scene here the movie shows that society still sees these people as less than and they need to reassess that.

One who deserves loads of credit here is Zack Gottsagen, who i'm not even overrating in saying I feel is a front runner for a best supporting actor oscar right now.

Zack's enthusiasm for wrestling is infectious, his personality is funny, his dreams and his goals become instantly rootable, his need for something more is universal and heartwarming. This is not just being, but also great acting.

His rapport with Shia LeBouf is terrific. LeBouf also has not been this good in a while. He takes on Tyler's feelings of isolation and regret.

This is a movie of two people, one feels he is not a good person because the world has made him feel less, the other because he has given up on himself because of past mistakes.

Another just beautiful scene between the two focuses on what makes a good and bad person.

Their time together definitely does bring to mind bayou movies like Mud, or classic characters of Mark Twain. They get into trouble, there are some really suspenseful close calls-one involving a sea boat is more suspenseful than most of the movies this summer.

But there is genuine affection there too. They both need each other, they both learn things from each other.

This is so lovably told that even the unbelievable logic, especially what happens in the last act of the movie, doesn't matter so much because you love them and love seeing them win.

Peanut Butter Falcon is as beautiful a movie as you've probably heard people say it is and if you haven't seen it yet, you're missing one of the top films of the year.

Ready or Not

Close to being one of the better movies this year
Let's put it this way- there are dissapointments and then there are Ready or Not Level disappointments.

Ready or Not is the new indie Hunger Games/Die Hard/You're Next-ish horror film from Fox Searchlight, I studio I constantly fear will suffer the same fate as the main character in this movie, just in this case, at the hands of a mouse.

The movie centers on a young bride named Grace, who gets caught up in a life or death hunting game with her very rich and eccentric new in-laws.

The game is hide and seek but once creepy Aunt Helene grabs a crossbow it's fair to say they don't play in the traditional way.

A lot of questions arise over the course of the evening. How does Grace win? How does this family justify murder? How bad is the honeymoon going to be if you don't support your wife through your family trying to kill her?

And what's surprising about it is that the movie makes a weird kind of satirical sense- that rich people so keen on getting away with things the rest of us can't will literally sink to any level to make sure they stay that way- even participate in something so supernaturally and superstitiously out there that you want to laugh at them.

The ace in the hole here is not so much how bloody, violent, or scary the movie gets, even though it does have a good share of those, but it's actually how funny it can be.

Members of the family are not just ridiculous but also downright lethally stupid- the cokehead sister may be my favorite comedic character this year.

There's also great scenes involving Justin the most unhelpful onstar employee ever and one involving an almost dead person that feels taken straight out of Austin Powers.

Other members of the family include a patriarch who feels like a evil cult leader, a matriarch who could either be friend or gravest enemy, a reluctant brother, and several murderous son and daughter in laws desperate not to return to the poverty they came from.

And we root for Grace. The movie does well to put her through every test it can think of, from a nail to the hand to bloody scraps to disturbing and disgusting torments.

It also does well to not revel in any kind of serious bloodlust, if she kills at all, it's usually for some kind of survival.

However the movie is being billed as a revenge flick and I guess that description is apt but also kind of an overstatement. I felt the movie could have let her loose a bit more in the later stages.

But the bigger dissapointment is that the movie could have ended on a great absurdist joke, that these people are in fact just psychotic from the disease called money.

Instead it does something that feels like it was focus-grouped in to leave people walking feeling blood-quenched.

It's a great satire and really funny comedy thriller up to this point but an ending that kinda robs it of the point it was trying to make about these people.


Better than The Meg
If they ever do a sequel to this they should call it walk, cause you gotta crawl before you can walk.

Crawl follows a young girl named Haley as she braves a Florida Hurricane to check on her father only to find themselves trapped in their basement with a lot of hungry gators.

Right off the bat i'll say this seems to understand it's creature feature-ness better than The Meg did last year.

That was supposed to be a hard R, Statham even said it was going to be one of the wildest gore fests ever, until some Warner Bros executive must have said "make it PG-13".

But the gore here works, especially in the last half hour with the hurricane bearing down and the action moved to the upper floors of the house.

The movie kinda does for Florida what Psycho did for Showers. Then again, Florida kinda does for Florida what Psycho did for showers.

The movie was directed by Alexandre Aja who made both the Hills Have Eyes and Piranha remakes- amazingly this is his most original movie- but he's very good at creating a foreboding atmosphere in the opening moments.

It's all concept- I doubt there was much of a script here- and the kills that come in the opening hour are all fairly predictable.

The gator looks as fake as the shark did but it jives with how stupid the rest of this is.

For example Haley's dad is actually a crazy sports parent, so much so he gives her crap for a swim meet while she's trying to concentrate on not getting eaten.

Their relationship is swimming metaphors and parental divorce soap opera, nothing terribly interesting.

But we get some quality blood and gore and the movie works in B-grade fashion.

If you liked this, check out Craig James Review on Youtube for more


Nanjiani sells it well enough
5 Stars. No, not really.

Stuber follows a cop played by Dave Bautista whose big moment in his pursuit of a big time drug dealer coincides with a recent eye surgery so he commandeers uber driver Kumail Nanjiani.

And Nanjiani is a genuinely funny comedic actor. He's great in Silicon Valley, The Big Sick, without him Men in Black International wouldn't even be able to claim its a comedy.

his nerdy-beta male charisma is often enough to get some laughs here, his reactions are without question funnier than most of what he's given to do.

The movie is going for an old fashioned 48 Hours kind of thing with Bautista playing the weathered cop and Nanjiani the motor mouth who gets under his skin.

Bautista plays Nick Nolte very well- he captures the dogged determination, the groggy delivery, the poor personal connections well.

He's the kind of guy who has a chip on his shoulder from losing multiple partners.

Nanjiani is the kind of guy who not only won't shut up but also he's consistently friend zoned by a best friend.

A lot of this is well worn and the actual plot is a real drag but it actually finds more random laughs than I expected- a scene where Nanjiani gets life coaching from a male stripper for one and a talk/fight between he and Bautista that's one of the funnier things i've seen this year.

Funniest is how Bautista said he would never do a Fast and Furious movie yet everything here from the car chases, shootouts, fights is sort of the same thing yet most of these things always look much smarter in FF movies.

But thanks to the two stars and a fast pace Stuber is more amusing than it has any right to be.

The Hustle

Dirty Rotten Movie
The Hustle is a remake of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. Nothing about it seemed to have been marketed very well.

And now we know why. It's only 90 minutes long, but it feels like just a fast paced brush through of scenes that worked better before.

it robs it of wit, of funny, and also of any real purpose or sensible plotting, and i'm confused as to who this is meant for other than the Rebel Wilson fan.

And speaking of Wilson, is her 15 minutes almost up yet? It's gotta be. She's fine in small doses in those Pitch Perfect movies but insufferable in any kind of leading role.

She plays the Steve Martin role here and where Martin was charming, Wilson is deeply, deeply unpleasant. She's gratingly loud, infantile, idiotic, and falls back on slapstick fat jokes way too often.

My one defense of her is that she seems to be taking the crap even Melissa McCarthy doesn't want but even still, there are solid comic performers who have shown something even with weak material but she's been terrible so far.

Anne Hathaway on the other hand should just know better not to go anywhere near this. Like in Oceans 8, she's a highlight, but she wrongly has to play second fiddle to Wilson.

And this is yet another female remake that sets itself up as "the femaing this to actresses?les are going to get back at the men." Did these people even know the ending of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels?

Even so, these characters here make all the wrong moves. Like the Wilson character even tells the Hathaway character that she's a con artist. Why would you do that?

Well the reason she does it here is because she mostly just cons men and she tells the Hathaway character this because of course another woman would sympathize with conning men.

This is a movie that also seems to think con artists also need to be knife throwing ninjas. What it never really does prove that either one of these two women are competent enough to string anyone along on a con.

And if you thought they wouldn't do a Ruprecht scene, well, they did. And it's not just a pale imitation, it's an embarassing failure in nearly every way.

They also do a Dr. Schaffhausen scene and I will say it's probably the one time here where the movie shows some of it's own ingenuity.

Overalll the few times where it does try to do it's own thing, it goes bust, and it's plot copies not just yield diminishing returns but make you think why does Hollywood keep do

They sell this is some sort of female empowerment but the movie is not just unfunny, it also doesn't even seem to understand the concepts that made the other movie great.

There are people who can write new, interesting, funny stuff for women. Proving you can do what a man can do is not the same as doing an exact retread of what men have done.

If you liked this, check out Craig James Review on Youtube for more

Pokémon Detective Pikachu

Fine for Avid fans
Detective Pikachu is a movie for Pokemon fans in the truest sense of the word. It's nice, but if you don't understand the appeal of a MewToo, don't expect many answers.

for the rest of us this is really another opportunity to see if Ryan Reynold's charisma and sarcasm can make anything watchable and no surprise, he is really one of the best parts of it.

Also Justice Smith, who plays Tim Goodman. He has to head to the Pokemon-human utopia of Rhyme city when his detective father is lost. It's there he meets dad's pokemon partner Pikachu and together they both have to figure out what happened.

Like I said, Smith is great here. You might know him from the Netflix show The Get Down, Jurassic World 2 was so bad I thought it was trying to derail the kid's movie career before it even started.

But here he plays a very lonely kid who doesn't really fit with anything or anyone.

Of course he fits perfectly with Pikachu Reynold's voices. He swerves perfectly between being sincere and offering up a funny line and whether or not they become fast friends in never in doubt.

This movie was directed by Rob Letterman, who also made the first Goosebumps movie, and he's pretty good with zany animation.

The pokemon monsters are sometimes cute, sometimes odd and make up most of the hit-or-miss gags in the movie.

Having some prior knowledge of the characters may determine your level of enjoyment with them. To me I laughed a couple times but also I have to say we're already 2 movies into this summer and so far both just seem heavily interested in providing fan service.

There's an endless supply of Pokemon characters in this movie, from Psyduck to MewToo, most come in for a quirky laugh, others so they can fight each other. I guess this is fun for avid game players. As filmmaking it's pretty one-dimensional.

This movie starts out as detective fiction. It even uses a clip from that movie Kevin watches in Home Alone to show you exactly what it's going for.

That's ironic considering that movie doesn't really exist and the detective yarn this movie tries to set up proves equally hollow come second half.

This movie is getting compared to Blade Runner but only in that it's just another movie to glom on to that movie's neon chinatown aesthetic.

Pikachu seems much more comfortable with underground pokemon battles, the big finale battle, and a fantastic effects-driven chase during an Earthquake and it's fans will probably appreciate both those things much more too.

Just that doesn't leave much room for plot which is pretty dull. The villains are easy to spot and i'm not exactly sure I even understood their entire plan.

Overall Smith and Reynold's work great together, the effects work are fun and sometimes even stunning, and this is definitely a movie for Pokemon fans.

Just I think it's a little too simplistic for anyone not already in love with the video game in the first place.

This Is Us: Career Days
Episode 6, Season 1

Follow your path
Randall comes to terms with what he should have been in life, Kevin comes to terms with his feelings over his dad, and Kate comes face to face with a teenage girl who shares a lot of characteristics with her. The follow the path that makes you happiest (but practice to be better) storyline with Randall was heartfelt perfection, from Jack imprinting his own feelings on his son's decision (but also in encouraging it to be the kid's decision in the end) to Randall wondering if maybe he has more of William in him than he really thought. The "Look away kid, look away" line was fantastic and Sterling K. Brown is continuing to be the star of this year. Also love the ending with him.

Kevin having to go to a stranger's memorial service to experience loss and grief (and reconnect with the feelings he felt during his dad's death) is good trickery on the part of Olivia (his co-star). If there is a relationship there, we'll have to see. There are depths to Kevin's talents that he seems to be waiting for someone to pay attention to and help grow, so maybe she is it.

And Kate's storyline of getting a new job as personal assistant and fat mentor to the very depressed teenage daughter of her employer seems like a work in progress. It gets one thing right so far. You can't expect a thin person to understand what you're going through as a fat person so Kate is really getting a chance to do what her mom, and her employer can't, and that's meet a younger person on their level. Expect life lessons.

Still a great show.

Jane the Virgin: Chapter Forty-Seven
Episode 3, Season 3

Breaking the Mold
It's been a TV season of big moments so far and "Jane the Virgin" promised us another this week. Jane and Michael could finally have sex. This was going to be one of those episodes where if it didn't do what was promised then I was going to be very mad at it and luckily, 10 minutes in we finally reach that big moment- represented in cartoon form? Not what I was expecting or would have chosen.

Another big twist- she accidentally made a sex tape and sent it to her adviser, thinking she was actually sending a thesis paper on Alma to her professor. It's one of those really bad- sitcom level mistakes a character makes but luckily it doesn't take up a major part of the episode and leads to a solid critique of Jane's "romance" writing lacking passion.

Also lacking passion-her sex life. She saw Michael finish and, panicking that it wouldn't be perfect, faked an orgasm to "perfectly" time with his. They try pleasure gels and all types of different things, but they are both still in their heads. They soon agree that until they work out the problem, don't share details with anyone.

Xo is auditioning for the voice and is thinking if she doesn't get it, she should move on. She actually made a list of different careers, which she has never done before. Jane asks Rogellio to help with her confidence. That leads to cameos from none other than the Estafans, which again shows just how committed Rogellio has become to Xo in this season.

However Jane has a total breakdown in front of the Estefans. But it masterfully sets up this whole discussion about having an identity so long that it defines you. Both Xo, but particularly Jane, have been living with labels for so long that they have never gotten the chance to explore new dimensions of themselves. Now they can. It also will allow Jane to explore new levels of her writing, as evidenced by her character breakdown of Alma's supposedly "only" slutty sister Cecilia.

Meanwhile Rogelio was going to use his Estefan favor in bringing Passions of Santos to America on…of course, The CW (Would totally watch that too). They like the show, but want Rob Lowe to star. He now has 6 months to get famous enough to start an American version.

And Luisa is still having sex with Sin Rostro, both hiding out in a submerged submarine, fulfilling her role as a total train wreck. Rose wants to be with her, even offering to change her face so that they can both be around Luisa's family. Luisa still fears her, particularly the fact Rose killed her father, and now wants to be around her family. In the end, Luisa inadvertently lets a murderer back into their lives like we knew she would.

Overall it was a solid episode for Jane, offering up enough life lesson, whimsy, and humor. Particularly it dealt with the big question of the title itself. Now it seems as though we are going to be watching a show about not just definition, but breaking out of molds.

The Flash: Monster
Episode 5, Season 3

The Flash Focuses on Caitlin
So the way we left things last week, Caitlin looked like she was turning into Earth 1's version of Killer Frost, who if you don't remember, was first seen on Earth 2 and was kinda like a Rhonda Rousey version of that chick from Frozen. There's going to be a lot more coming down the pike with her, but this week, some family back story.

She goes to see her mom, who is this expert in Cryo science. Right away we can tell these two have been estranged, and then Caitlin goes full histrionic mode, slams her fist on the desk, her eyes go all white, the fill force of her power is unleashed ("i'm the patient"). Now we're getting serious.

Now we find out that Caitlin got this whole thing when the particle accelerator exploded but we know that's not how it was before Barry tried to play Mr. Fix-It with his family so Barry, you're not off the hook dude.

Caitlin absorbed a hell of a a lot of energy and is told if you keep using them, it's going to be harder to reverse. That brings me back to week 1 when Barry had the same problem- faster use speed, faster forget.

There's also a lot of reasons for Caitlin and mom not talking. Caitlin went to work for Wells when mom wanted her to work for her, dad died and mom became distant. Mom didn't even know Caitlin's husband died in accelerator explosion. Really, how could you miss that. Number one, it's your daughter. Number 2, the guy died in the biggest catastrophe to ever hit Starling City.

Is Caitlin gonna go totally evil? Are her fears and her anger going to overcome her? Will she use her powers for good? Who knows but for right now we have a whole new dynamic being brought to the story with the family stuff. Then add in that bit in the end with Cisco and her where he remembers his dead bro and it's the way The Flash usually handles drama- short and sweet.

Barry and Cisco are also living together. This is where we find out Cisco doesn't like New Wells, who has a bunch of ulterior motives but really just seems like a gigantic fool so far. If he left I wouldn't miss him.

One I am starting to like is Julian, who at first seems like the Draco to Barry's CSI Harry Potter. But then we realize it's not coming from jealousy so much when he bares his soul come later on. His power was always science, now with the meta humans he is completely lost and I sympathize with that.

And lastly, let's all say what we were thinking at about the 10 minute mark of this episode. "Hey, it's Mothra." I liked it to start because there should be more Metas than just human but it ends kinda poorly, and Joe giving this stupid kid a father son

But i'm encouraged by a lot of the Caitlin stuff and I think Julian is really poised to finally take on a meatier role in the next couple episodes. Definitely was not the best episode for the Flash particularly though.

Thanks for reading guys.


Smith and Robbie are terrific in sexy romantic thriller
Those that had to get Fifty Shades of Grey out of their system did so on opening weekend. Those who were curious did so the following weekend. Those that are going this weekend are probably just going to be drunks and guys who wear trench coats a lot (even in summer). We need a new adult romance now and Focus fits the bill, and also puts way more of an emphasis on the word "adult". It's also a return to form for Will Smith, looking for a boost after that After Earth debacle in 2013. He's still every bit the playa we want him to be in a movie directed by Glenn Ficcara and John Requa (Crazy, Stupid, Love) that has a stylish sexiness in almost every scene.

Smith plays Nicky, the kind of confident, well dressed mystery man who doesn't seem to mind eating at a fancy restaurant alone. He's approached by Jess (Margot Robbie), they get to talking, and soon they're both going back to his hotel room. It's a con but Jess is an amateur, leading to a scene of sly humor that Smith plays to perfection. But Jess wants to learn how to "dance in the dark" as Nicky puts it and so after learning a few tricks from him, she follows him to New Orleans where she finds herself a member of his team of pickpockets. Through sleight of hands and various scams, Nicky has a whole network of people focusing on gambling, credit card fraud, tricking adulterous married dudes and more. They clean up, which is part of the fun.

This movie is all about being smooth and it revels in that almost as much as it does in the beauty of its two stars and the vibrancy of the place they're in. New Orleans, from Mardi Gras to a casino to the Superdome, supplies a perfect backdrop as these two get frisky and flirty with each other. They have great chemistry, it's sexy but shows just the right amount of restraint for two people who are into each other but can't risk distraction in their line of work. By far the best scene in the movie though comes when Nick bets with an Asian businessman (an excellent B.D. Wong) during a football game. It's crazy just how out of control it gets and it ends awesomely.

The movie can only go downhill from a scene as audacious as this and it does. Nicky and Jess suddenly go separate ways only to reunite three years later in Argentina where Nicky is helping out a grand prix owner (Rodrigo Santoro) that Jess just happens to be dating. Do these two share real feelings or is one or both just playing the other? Who knows, but we're pretty sure that Ficarra and Requa lose the playful spark between these two in Argentina and there's an ending plot twist that I'm not sure really works. Gerald McRaney has a few good scenes as a hard-ass, suspicious bodyguard here but it's Smith, playing a guy with a gift of gab, and Robbie, a beauty with not just a great smile but also poise, charm, and humor, who keep Focus afloat even when the movie doesn't seem quite sure of itself.

Song One

Song about as memorable as a Nickelback concert
"Song One" is the musical equivalent of dead air. I've had problems with movies like "Once" and "Begin Again" in the past, so interested in creating ach-y musicals about wounded characters, all to the tune of whiney songs, that they never rise above predictable and dull. And yet I'm tempted to praise those after watching "Song One", a film that seems to have even less conflict, even more sullen-faced characters, and almost no energy to its straight-forward story telling. It's the kind of romance that would make a Kathryn Heigl film look like it was made by Stanley Kubrick. Anne Hathaway produced this first feature from Kate Barker-Froyland and also stars in it as Franny, a humanitarian called back to New York when her subway-musician brother's accident leaves him in a coma. During her time back, she meets her brother's hero- James Forrester (Johnny Flynn), a musician who hasn't recorded in the five years since his girlfriend left him. He needs inspiration, she needs to forgive her brother for dropping out of college to become a musician. There ya go in a nut shell. It's a plot so simplistic that Hathaway couldn't even promote the thing on "The Daily Show" last week without giggling. Notice she didn't do that with Les Miserable's Fantine (although "hahaha she loses her job, sings a song with a bunch of tears and snot on her face, then dies hahahaha" would have been hilarious). Anyway, we know where this is all going, James and Franny are nothing more than lost, wandering bores whenever they're not together, a scene where James serenades her unconscious brother is meant to be beautiful but just looks clumsy, and there are no insights, from the creative process to the grieving process, other than both work better with a sex buddy. Franny is a role that gives Hathaway nothing to do other than practice crying and giving looks of concern. Johnny Flynn is a talented musical performer but that doesn't change the fact that you forget the music, which comes courtesy of Jenny Lewis (from the indie band Rilo Kiley) and her boyfriend Johnathan Rice, almost immediately after it ends. Otherwise he's kinda glum too, unless they're together, in which case sometimes they smile. It's a romance built on almost nothing other than needing whoever is in close proximity. Showcasing some really talented performers around the city, it's too bad "Song" has to keep its proximity closest to these two.

The Humbling

Pacino's career still struggles
Al Pacino's Simon Axler says that the hardest point for any great actor is when you can tell the talent is starting to recede. I'd say the hardest for any movie critic is having to watch a great actor do a movie like "88 Minutes." Thankfully HBO has been saving Pacino's cred over the past decade, which sadly still takes another wallop with another lousy theatrical film, this an adaptation of Philip Roth's novel scripted by "The Graduate" screenwriter and renowned comedy writer Buck Henry. The fact that Henry is even still alive comes as one of the few pieces of good news in director Barry Levinson's very sloppy, very irritating, and altogether labored look at something "Birdman" managed to do so easily.

Axler is first seen looking into a mirror, chastising himself for not sounding believable enough before the curtain call for his role in "As You Like It". He winds up having a nervous breakdown (Pacino never once looks like he's not in serious bender mode); exhausted and convinced his view of reality is falling apart, he keeps a shotgun in the house because he wants to be like Ernest Hemingway if that tells you anything. But before he can off himself, Pegeen (Greta Gerwig), the lesbian daughter of one of Simon's old actor friends, shows up at his door, wanting desperately to play out a long-standing crush she's always had. It's creepy and makes no sense, but nobody in this movie seems based in reality.

Least of which the constantly self-absorbed Simon, who has some confusing, depersonalized disorder, falling in line with being this "creepy old man" out of obligation to giving an audience (who i'm assuming is Pegeen) what it wants. Yet he seems to not be rehearsing when talking with a psychiatrist (Dylan Baker) and when another mental patient (Nina Arianda) wants him to help her kill her cheating husband (because she saw him do it in a movie once) he is very unwilling to "go along with the script." "Humbling's" look at mental illness is flimsy at best, but mostly just seems like bullshit altogether.

It also doesn't make much sense to keep adding all these unnecessary, secondary characters. The contrived and impulsive Pegeen. Her harassing, crazy ex-girlfriend (Kyra Sedgewick). Her other crazy ex-girlfriend turned transsexual man (Billy Porter), who now finds it interesting she likes men and won't leave until getting his shot too. And the Nina Arianda character. At times it's like this thing just exists to jam in as many delusional people as possible, it's hard to even remember that when we started, this movie was about achieving emotional honesty. By the time we get to the ending, honesty from any of these people just seems like an afterthought.

Outpost 37

Restrepo meets Starship Troopers
Alien invasion movies are going to keep coming; no matter how god awful the recent stock of them have been ("Battle LA", "Battleship") it seems like there is still money that financiers still think should be thrown at blowing E.T out of the water. But if we're going to keep going down this road, it's clear that we could do much worse than the kinda-different "Alien Outpost" from writer-director Jabar Raisani. Raisani, a visual effects supervisor on quite a few mainstream projects (most recently "Game of Thrones"), gives us his first feature here, a combination of "Starship Troopers" and Sebastian Junger's war documentary "Restrepo." So the Earth gets invaded in 2021, a year later the alien Heavies have almost all been extinguished except for some stragglers who are being taken care of by military outposts around the world. 10 years later those outposts have been defunded and the men fighting the war have been forgotten. As if the real-life comparison doesn't hit you over the head enough already, a film crew has been assigned to document the efforts of Outpost 37, situated between Pakistan and Afghanistan. (That's all that area needs- Jihadist Aliens).

"Outpost's" approach is kinda cynical. Remember all those foreign kids Michael Bay has running around, celebrating when the Americans stop the Earth from getting destroyed? Well, that only has a "few-year" shelf life. The soldiers are at risk not just from aliens but also the locals, both of which likely to pull an ambush on the rocky and rough terrain. There are moments when things get intense, and there are moments when the guys just sit around/contribute to film crew interviews- bullshitting with each other, cleaning weapons, practical jokes, telling war stories, trying to add some sense to the mayhem. Despite every character being given a "bare-bones" personality, it's surprising how much a lot of this comes off as genuine, especially like in a scene where a soldier honors a fallen friend.

It's a shame that Raisani doesn't have as much confidence in his alien creations. We're either given brief glimpses or shots from far away. I want to say they resemble the Orcs from "Lord of the Rings" but I just couldn't tell. They also don't really do much besides attack during gun battles (machine, electric, laser, lot of different types of guns here), any other reason for having them inhabit this region makes about as much sense as the Sunni-Shiite conflict does to most Americans. We get a few decent battles and ideas but Raisani, along with co-writer Blake Clifton, mostly just gives us an under-baked war-documentary where aliens are just there for target practice.

The Cabin in the Woods

How much of a surprise is "Cabin in the Woods"? Well even its fairly basic title masks a much more elaborate and smart horror film, one where writer-director Drew Goddard (writer of another awesome horror film "Cloverfield) and his writing partner Joss Whedon (one of the great geek kings, both for creating "Buffy" and currently directing "The Avengers") have tweaked and twisted the genre to do as they please.

It starts off predictably enough with college kids heading off to a relative's cabin for a weekend of fun. Smart-girl Dana (Kristen Connolly), her bland possible love-interest Holden (Jesse Williams), sex-pot friend Jules (Anne Hutchison), Jule's jock boyfriend Curt (Chris Hemsworth), and the lovable pothead friend Marty (Fran Kranz) all pile into the RV and on the way up meet the creepy old gas station attendant who warns them about the cabin. Fairly straight-forward horror so far, right? But why does there seem to be a force-field around the cabin? And who are these big brother scientists (played with both seriousness and harsh humor by Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford) who seem to be watching them, modifying the things around them, pushing them to make choices? The desensitization toward violence and bloodlust of the scientists will remind you a lot of "The Hunger Games" but "Woods" is actually laying in wait to unleash a wild and crazy mash-up of horror clichés that pull the audience one way then another and, by God, I sat there with a smile on my face the whole time, waiting to see where Whedon and Goddard were willing to take me next. Plus it's sexy, it establishes a terrifying mood, it's eccentrically funny (Kranz is right there with Jenkins and Whitford in the laughs department), and the blood is here and then some. It has all the horror movie conventions, yet does something unique by subverting where you think the plot, the characters, and basically Whedon and Goddard are choosing to go.

Dinner for Schmucks

Laughing at the mentally ill
So now we have a movie that wants us to laugh at the disabled. Can this year get more depressing? "Dinner for Schmucks" is a painful remake of French film "The Dinner Game". Steve Carell plays Barry, a taxidermist who likes to present dioramas of dead mice. Tim (Paul Rudd) needs to bring an idiot to his boss' dinner of laughing at idiots and Barry fits the bill. Before that even starts, Barry sets off a wave of destruction that is at best smirk-worthy, at worst just plain dumb. From Barry's doing, Tim's apartment and relationship with his girlfriend (Stephanie Szostack, playing an art dealer working with a guy who seems to be ripping off Russell Brand's Aldous Snow) are ruined, a crazy ex (Lucy Punch) is back on his tail, and the IRS wants to audit him. This was all done accidentally, of course, because Barry is really just a simple-minded guy. In all honesty though, the guy is mentally ill. He shouts when he talks, has no idea what to do with a woman (he even tried to find his ex-wife's clitoris under the sofa), he takes the phrase "stay in the chair" literally, and he lets himself be swayed by the "mind-control" of his equally-mentally ill boss (Zach Galifianakis). Tim meanwhile is made to look like a jerk even though the movie claims he's a nice guy, and yet, there is nothing likable about Tim, nor is Barry-the-manchild anything but a destructive force. Director Jay Roach has the unenviable task of turning this into a sweet buddy comedy but in the end, you just want Tim and Barry to get away from one another. And then comes the dinner, where the blind and other disabled people are ridiculed. That "Schmucks" claims to be a "good-natured" comedy is really the biggest laugh here.

Shrek Forever After

Shrek has lost a step
Another summer, another "Shrek." This time Shrek (Mike Myers) is unhappy with the monotony of marriage and fatherhood and goes to Rumpelstiltskin (Walt Dohrn), who promises to magically give Shrek a day in his old ogre lifestyle if Shrek willingly gives up a day in his childhood. What Shrek doesn't know is that Rumpel has been after the throne to Far Far Away ever since Fiona (Cameron Diaz) was locked in the tower and Shrek signing his life away is the perfect opportunity for the crazy little dwarf to take power. Not only that but since Shrek technically never existed, nobody remembers him, not even Donkey (Eddie Murphy) or Puss (Antonio Banderas), the kingdom has been ravaged by Rumpel, and Fiona has given up on finding a knight in shining armor and become one herself. This all amounts to some harmless stuff for the kids basically, which is kind of sad since the first two were such clever fairy-tale satires. This fourth and last installment in the series plays out predictably, relies on the same stale themes (love conquers all, life was never meant to be a fairy-tale), goes for the easy jokes (poop, pee, belch, and Puss has let himself go for the fat gags), and also relies way too much on characters with funny voices or who sing and dance to pop culture songs. This is also the first in the series to be presented in 3-D but the unremarkable action doesn't even come close to warranting a 3-D viewing. While not as bad as "Shrek the Third", "Shrek Forever After" nevertheless feels something like a direct-to-DVD knock-off that might excite kids looking for some mild entertainment, but I think even they'll notice that Shrek has lost a step.

How to Train Your Dragon

Sets the bar for animated 3-D
"How to Train Your Dragon", or as I like to call it "That Viking is out of my League", is the second film in as many weeks where Jay Baruchel plays a scrawny nerd looking to find himself. It also happens to be infinitely more entertaining. He voices Hiccup, a hapless young Viking living in a village overrun by flying dragons. He longs to be like his great dragon-killing father, Stoick (Gerard Butler), and charm the likes of the beautiful Astrid (America Ferrara), with whom he is enrolled in dragon-battle training. While dragon-killing isn't for him, he soon finds a particular knack for dragon-whispering, subduing the beasts with his wits and even making a friend in one that he names Toothless. He soon realizes the reason for why the dragons are attacking and tries to convince dad that the winged creatures really aren't so bad afterall. Directors Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois have created a tremendous 3-D experience, setting the bar for animated 3-D much like "Avatar" set it for live-action. The dragon battles are thrilling and the flying scenes between Hiccup and Toothless soar with joy and pulse-pounding danger, and are magnified perfectly by John Powell's fantastic musical score. And at its heart this is a movie of friendship and learning to follow your own path, both movingly portrayed by Sanders and DeBlois' screenplay. The animation looks great, from the large, bushy-haired Vikings to the comically goofy looking dragons. The voice cast is also well-matched. Baruchel has a wheezy comic charm, Craig Ferguson gets the best lines as the village blacksmith, and who better to voice a Viking than Gerard Butler. "Dragon" is as heartfelt as it is impressive to look at, a family film perfect for all ages.

Repo Men

Stripped of any ambition
Paris Hilton got there first but Jude Law proves this material is just as bad with an A-list actor. Based on Eric Garcia's novel "Repossession Mambo" (and Hilton's off-key musical "Repo: A Genetic Opera"), "Repo Men" (scripted by Garcia and Garrett Lerner) takes place in a not-to-distant future where bodily organs are scientifically created and sold for a hefty price. Law plays Remy, the man assigned to surgically take those organs from you if you miss payments. It's grisly work, but he and his partner Jake (Forest Whittaker) see it as any other job benefiting society. Only Remy has a change of heart (in mores ways than one) after a freak accident and he decides to help a cocktail singer named Beth (Alice Braga), whose parts are almost all synthetic. So is the movie. Any ethical issues are put on the back burner for a straight-forward and predictable chase where Remy butts heads with Jake and his boss (Liev Schreiber) and participates in a lot of generic gun and knife battles. The blood and gore is infinite and this is another crappy-looking future complete with grime and the heartlessness of science. Neither is surprising or fun to look at. And the direction from first-timer Miguel Sapochnik shows its cracks, from the poor shifts from vicious action to playful comedy, to dragging it out way too long; but I doubt even Kubrick could have handled one bizarre interlude between Law and Braga where both must stuff a scanner underneath each other's skin to process their organs (don't ask!). Law makes for a bland action hero and the only one who seems to be having any fun here is Whittaker. This all leads to a twist ending that only thinks it's being clever.

She's Out of My League

Surprisingly convincing
"She's out of My League" is a solid 7, a romantic comedy that scores a few good laughs and does a nice job of being convincing. Jay Baruchel (Tropic Thunder) stars as Kirk, a pathetic dork with the build of Woody Allen who works a menial job in airport security. Through a cell-phone mishap, he winds up at a party being thrown by Molly (Alice Eve), a 10 on the very attractive scale. He knows she's way more attractive than him and she knows he's normally not the guy she would usually date but Molly looks deep down and sees Kirk for the nice, unthreatening guy he is and they hit it off. There are some funny moments here. Kirk's family is especially demeaning to him (they even embrace his bitchy ex-girlfriend as one of their own) and his friends are clueless match-makers, which leads to a very funny man-scaping scene between Kirk and one of them. What works best in "League" is just listening to people talk though. Kirk's friends (played by Mike Vogel, Nate Torrance, and T.J Miller) are identifiable idiots, too wrapped up in over-thinking things like the rating scale (both their number and womens) and Disney fairy-tales to really understand women. Their scenes with Kirk are enjoyably like a crude, vulgar, sexual "Breakfast Club". The way the scrawny, nervous, and unconfident Baruchel interacts with the beautiful and engaging Eve is also very likable and they do a nice job of handling the ups and downs of forming an honest, meaningful relationship (an almost foreign concept in today's star-packaged romantic comedies). The way they finally handle the elephant in the room is also very effective. This is feel-good stuff, but it works.

Green Zone

In the zone
Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass re-team and they brought their shaky, hand-held camera with them. It's Jason Bourne in a non-Jason Bourne movie, but it stands right up there with those films. Based on Rajiv Chandrasekran's book, it takes place during the early days of the Iraq war. Damon is Army Chief Roy Miller, baffled by poor intelligence that has so far led to squat in the WMD department. He soon finds himself in the middle of two opposing agendas. Aided by CIA Chief to Baghdad Martin Brown (Brendan Gleeson) and hindered by Special Intelligence Coordinator, Clark Poundstone (Greg Kinnear), Miller soon must go off the grid in order to find "Magellan", an Iraqi official who may or may not be providing false intelligence. Amy Ryan also shows up as a journalist in Judith Miller clothing. Lensed by the always hyperactive Greengrasss, "Green Zone" is a raw and breathlessly plotted thriller that captures the chaos on the ground, the intensity of every mission, and the suspense waiting in every Baghdad back-alley, bunker, etc. The action is immensely entertaining, especially the final nail-biting fire-fight. Of course we know about the WMD's now but Brian Helgeland's screenplay is still loaded with intriguing Iraqi politics, and questions about responsible journalism and governmental deception that still resonate today. Matt Damon again proves himself a bourne action hero and he anchors the movie with a determined and intelligent performance. Kinnear, as the slick politician who won't let anything interfere with bringing change to Iraq, and Gleeson, as the gruff CIA chief who thinks this change stuff is a bunch of crap, are both terrific. Khallid Abdalla also turns in strong work as an Iraqi citizen eager to do what's right for his country. "Green Zone" is first a great action flick, but with a strong story to boot.

Alice in Wonderland

It's a mad mad mad good world
Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland" is actually a sequel of sorts (think Steven Spielberg's "Hook", only much better) which again sees Alice go down the rabbit hole but imagines it in a completely different way. Linda Woolverton's script is like a blending of Lewis Carroll's books with "Lord of the Rings", which is actually a bit like "Chronicles of Narnia", only much darker and more eccentrically fun. Enough with the comparisons! What I'm trying to say is "Alice in Wonderland" brings an excitement to the fairytale that I've not seen in a long time. Mia Wasikowska does a superb job as Alice, now a teen being forced into marriage. She runs off and falls down the rabbit hole and into a strange world of talking rabbits, caterpillars, and Tweedle-dees and Tweedle-Dums. There are also dangerous creatures as well, like a humongous dragon that Alice is prophesized to fight in order to save wonderland. The evil Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) has taken over wonderland from her sister, the White Queen (Anne Hathaway), and plunged it into darkness. The Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) has taken this especially hard and gone a bit loco (more so I guess). Is this all a dream? Has Alice been here before? Alice eventually must learn to come into her own as a hero and help the white queen and the other creatures beat the Red Queen or all will be lost, starting with their heads. This is thrilling stuff made predictably better by Burton and his production team. This is a wonderland scorched black by evil that still manages to keep a Gothic beauty (the make-up and costume design is perfect), a disturbing darkness (the red queen's castle is surrounded by a lake filled with dead heads) and eccentricity (the red queen's abnormally huge head and little body was a favorite of the characters). The cast is also game. Depp gives a surprisingly sweet-natured performance that erratically shifts into a crazy little giggle or Scottish accent on occasion, but he is wisely made a supporting player here. Wasikowska is the real find, as the conflicted and spirited Alice, probably one of the best female heroines to come around in a while. Hathaway is pure elegance as the white queen and Bonham Carter seems to be having the most fun as the queen of mean. It's also nice to see Crispin Glover, doing what he does best as the red queen's sinister henchman. Burton again makes the fairy-tale his own. I loved it.

The Wolfman

Benicio and production design a winner
"The Wolfman" is a perfect choice for updating. So much of the 1941 flick rested on good production and make-up design and now we have this lush remake from director Joe Johnston and screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker. The plot comes up a little short but for the most part they've created an awesome-looking film that also comes in just right in the spooky/gory department.

Benicio Del Torro takes over for Lon Chaney jr. as Lawrence Talbot, returning to his London home many years after the suicide of his mother. He is reunited with his estranged father, Sir John (Anthony Hopkins), and with his brother's grieving fiancée, Gwen Conliffe (Emily Blunt). There have been many killings in the village and most of the mutterings among the villagers are of a lunatic let loose in the forest. Lawrence soon comes face to face with this evil as it attacks him one night, leaving bite marks before escaping. The attack leaves the villagers very wary of Talbot and even Scotland Yard Inspector Abberline (Hugo Weaving) takes a considerable interest in him as a suspect. Of course none manage to stop him before turning into a werewolf on the prowl. As Lawrence tries to control the beast within himself, he learns of a terrible secret about his family that could put Gwen in danger.

Even the original was meagerly plotted at only 70 minutes. This "Wolfman" hovers around 95, wisely excising more of the meaningless talk (about Lawrence possibly be deluded, and lycan mythology), changing some plot points around (I liked the family dynamic introduced at the mid-point), and still keeping most of the better drama in-tact. Essentially the movie is a creature-feature-actioner (there is even a final showdown between two werewolves) but when you have production values, scares, and excitement like this, that's hardly a bad thing. Johnston nails the atmosphere just right, dark, dreary and foggy and with very ominous shots of the moon. The film has a quick pace and is helped out mightily by Rick Baker's phenomenal make-up effects, Danny Elfman's haunting score, and a bloody good time where heads, arms, and so on are ripped from bodies. The creature effects, from the transformation to the carnage, is a lot of fun and exactly what people want to see from a flick like this. Benicio plays the tormented hero perfectly, wearing the emotional and psychological strain of being cursed all over his face. Blunt holds her own pretty well in an unfortunately underwritten love story and Hopkins is as sly as ever as Sir John Talbot. Flawed, but a howlingly good re-boot


Not very evolved
He brought us the theory of evolution but director Jon Amiel's take on Charles Darwin doesn't evolve into much. "Creation" stars Paul Bettany, complete with receding hairline, as the author of "Origin of a Species", a reclusive man struggling to write the book that so defines us all. He grapples with the ideas of "ridding the world of God" as one colleague puts it, as well as with the balance of nature and survival of the fittest. All this is given all the more relevance because at the time he was writing the book, he was also dealing with the death of his young daughter (Martha West), putting his faith in God into question. When the movie really takes on the Darwin theories, it has something that you wish Amiel and screenwriter John Collee (adapting from a biography by Randall Keynes) had stayed with. Instead it mostly centers on a glum and moody melodrama where Darwin is continually haunted by dreams of his daughter and begins to separate himself more and more from his other children and wife (Jennifer Connelly), who also happens to be his cousin. The drab set and costume design is very good, as is Bettany, who runs the gamut between fatherly love and tortured despair, but the movie is really just a slow slog through the author's guilt.

44 Inch Chest

Actors make-up the inches for stagey film
British tough guys unite, and for once Guy Ritchie has nothing to do with it. "44 Inch Chest", from "Sexy Beast" writers Louis Mellis and David Scinto, boasts one of the best casts of the new year, with Tom Wilkinson, John Hurt, Ian McShane, and a very impressive Ray Winstone. And for much of it, that's exactly the point.

Winstone plays Colin, a hopeless-romantic plunged into depression once learning that his wife (Joanne Whalley) is having an affair. He rounds up his friends, Archie (Wilkinson), Meredith (McShane), Peanut (Hurt), and Cal (Stephen Dillane) and kidnaps her lover boy.

What follows is talky and stagey, but works if you're into tough guys dealing with sensitive issues of marriage and love to name a few. The dialogue is hilarious, expletive-filled, and at times kinda moving (a long speech about love given by Colin especially). And the real joy is watching these actors work together. John Hurt viciously growls his dialogue as the group's meanest and oldest. McShane is polished and soft-spoken as a single-life-loving homosexual. And Wilkinson, Dillane, and Whalley have less showy roles, but play them well. Unfortunately the second half drifts into a confusing bit of madness from Colin that gives the supporting cast little to do. But Winstone, going mano-e-mano with the mostly-silent lover boy, finds the tortured-soul inside this domineering tough and keeps you guessing how this all will end. Director Malcolm Venville creates suspense but can't overcome the condensed setting, no matter how many flashbacks or clips of old movies ("Samson and Delilah" plays into the film) he uses, and he fumble's the end's emotional climax, but top-notch actors make "Chest" worth seeing.

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