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Emotional and well made, and that's coming from a non-fan of the sport.
16 June 2017
Basketball superstar Kobe Bryant announced his 2015 retirement from the sport through a poem entitled "Dear Basketball". It's a sweet little poem, basically saying that the sport will always be in his heart. It's easy to imagine a short being made based on this, but harder to imagine being a legitimately emotionally affecting one.

This animated short jumps back and forth between a young and adult Kobe following his professional sport dreams, from shooting tube socks to his injuries on the court. The animation, by Disney Legend Glen Keane is done in a fluid, but delightfully sketchy style. The lovely musical score that really amps up the emotion is by the surprising, and always wonderful John Williams. Kobe serves as the narrator, reading his poem throughout. Obviously he wrote it, and it has the most meaning to him, so who else would read it. His voice is full of humility and humanity.

This is a beautifully animated, wonderfully scored short. Even for those not interested in the sport, you may find yourself invested in Kobe's emotion. This is about as good as it can get for a 6-minute long retirement announcement!

My rating: **** out of ****. 6 mins.
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A fun, but more aimless sister film to "Big Adventure"
18 March 2016
If you wondered what a Pee-Wee movie would be like 30 years after his heyday, the answer is pretty much exactly the same, which is perfect. Pee-Wee still exists in this surreal 1950s alternate reality that feels as fresh today as it did in the 80s.

Pee-Wee Herman has never left the small town of Fairville, but after meeting actor Joe Manganiello (playing himself in a hilarious self aware performance), he's convinced to head East on a journey to New York for Joe's birthday party. Along the way he meets an assortment of colorful characters that help break him out of his sheltered existence.

The makeup department deserves an Emmy or Oscar (or whatever awards Netflix movies qualify for) for the job they did to Paul Reubens. The man is 63, and in real life, looks about his age. But in this film he only looks slightly older than he did back in the 80s. His voice has gotten a little bit raspier, but that's to be expected. Reubens himself is back in character, fully committed (surprisingly he hasn't been yet), and giving it his all.

The supporting cast is also consistently wonderful. Similar to any other Pee-Wee Herman project, almost all the characters, whether they're harboring deep secrets or not, smile and wave, giving off that 50s Leave it to Beaver "everything is great" attitude. Every performance is over the top, but they're all perfect. Diane Salinger from Big Adventure returns, this time playing a kooky pilot, and she gives it her all in a manic and memorable cameo. Character actor Hal Landon Jr. is similarly insane as a farmer that is simultaneously sheltering his nine daughters and trying to marry them off to strangers.

The biggest fault in the film is that it feels somewhat disconnected. The locations Pee-Wee ends up in are all amusing, but at times it just seems like a series of scenes not really leading to Pee-Wee's final goal. On the plus side, at times when the plot seems to really be getting lost, Pee-Wee mentions again where he's going, and how far he has to go bringing it back on track. In general, the journey to Joe's party and to find himself, is not as compelling as Pee- Wee's journey to find his bike. It would be much easier not to compare Big Adventure and Big Holiday, if they hadn't clearly modeled the latter on the former.

Kids will enjoy it for it's over the top cartoonish qualities, and the adult Pee-Wee fans will enjoy the exact same thing, in addition to all the ironic winks at the audience that the kids don't notice. If you're a fan of Pee-Wee Herman at all, then this will be a treat for you. It looks to the first feature film for guidance, but Holiday is it's own unique movie, full of the typical quirky charms you would expect from Paul Reubens. The best moments here don't equal the fun climax of Big Adventure, but it's still consistently amusing, never boring, and at times laugh out loud funny. And it's a heck of a lot more charming than Big Top Pee-Wee.

My rating: *** out of ****. Contains mild language and some mild sexual innuendos.
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Zoolander 2 (2016)
Makes the first one look serious in comparison.
14 March 2016
Derek Zoolander and Hansel becomes involved in an international mystery after several slain pop stars display what appears to be Derek's "Blue Steel" face before they die. Both Derek and Hansel have been out of the public's eye do to a freak accident from years before, but are now back to show the world what a real model is and to show what a fit parent Derek is, to try to get his estranged son back.

There are four credited writers for the film, and that definitely makes sense. It feels like it was conceived in a writer's room on late nights in bouts of hysteria. Elements from the first film are cranked up to levels of silliness only seen on the Adult Swim block on Cartoon Network. Remember the orgy scene from the first film? Well in this one Hansel is married to an orgy led by Keifer Sutherland and an 150 year old elf, and they're all pregnant. Remember Billy Zane's cameo at the walk off? Now Billy Zane is some sort of all terrain traveling paladin parcel deliverer. Nothing makes sense, and it doesn't have to. This is written like a particularly silly cartoon.

The performances are fun. Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson play off each other well. Penelope Cruz plays the least exaggerated character as a special agent with the fashion division of Interpol. When Will Ferrell shows up things get really wacky, in part due to his even more insane than normal performance.

On the negative end, this movie will not be for everyone. It's very in your face for it's entire duration. The first film was set in an only somewhat exaggerated reality, so the bizarre character behaviors contrasted with the more sane one's. The two gas station attendant shaking their heads in disbelief during the gasoline fight from the first film are nowhere to be found here. Everyone and everything in this movie is nuts. There's no reality to contrast the goofiness with. The whole movie is this big surreal, nonsensical adventure. And it is definitely off-putting to many fans of the original film, as the reviews and lackluster box office returns have shown.

In humor, set design and characters, this movie is a nonstop barrage to the senses. It's hard to get bored mainly because there's just so much going on and to look at, in spite of an extremely convoluted plot. The entire film is nothing but nonsense, and it's not always laugh out loud funny, but it's never boring, and it has a weird ambition to be as over the top and ridiculous as possible. "Zoolander 2" might be forgotten immediately out of the theater, but during the movie you may find yourself smirking and saying "What?!!!" to yourself in the most endearing way.

My rating: *** out of ****. 102 mins. PG-13 (language, violence, sexual humor)
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The Visit (I) (2015)
One of the best films of the now ubiquitous faux-documentary horror genre
14 September 2015
What looked like yet another (terrible) found footage/faux-documentary turns out to be M. Night Shyamalan's best movie in over 10 years. "The Visit" manages to build dread throughout while also being thematically rich.

Becca and Tyler are visiting their estranged grandparents whom they have never met for week, while their mother (who hasn't spoken to her parents in years after an unidentified incident) goes on a cruise with a man she's dating. Becca is a 15-year old wannabe auteur filmmaker who documents the entire week long trip trying to make a film about the reconciliation of her grandparents and her mother, while Tyler is a 13-year old rapper who is skeptical from the get-go about his grandparents. Both children have insecurities brought on from their father leaving their mother five years prior. As the week goes on, their "Nana" and "Pop Pop" begin acting stranger and stranger, from attacking strangers to projectile vomiting, and the kids switch from making a heartwarming documentary to figuring out what's wrong with their insane, and often violent grandparents.

The performances are all top notch. Olivia DeJonge and Ed Oxenbould play Becca and Tyler, respectively, and both are distinct, well performed and well written characters. Often adults don't know how to write for children, but the writing here is smart, and feels natural. There weren't moments of "kiddy" dialogue that induced groaning or eye-rolling. Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie) also give excellent performances that progress from normalcy to sheer insanity as the film moves on.

Thematically there is more to the movie than just scary grandparents. The characters have depth. We learn about their insecurities, and why they have them, and there are actual resolutions and payoffs to the plot points. In comparison, the "Paranormal Activity" films are mostly just boring nonsense waiting for a few jump scares. Here, there is no boring nonsense. There might be occasional nonsense, but it's not boring, and it's mostly for comedic effect. Similar to many of Shyamalan's films of yesteryear, this does have some sort of twist to it, but it's one that feels natural and makes your heart sink into your stomach.

This is also M. Night Shyamalan's first film that could be labeled as a comedy. His previous films were often so serious that they bordered on over-self importance. Purposely or not, the pretentious filmmaker attitude of Becca actually seems to mirror the audience perception of how Shyamalan approaches his craft. Assuming it is purposeful, there are several laughs at the expense of the auteur filmmaker, and lots of laughs in general in this picture. But the humor and over the top horror are grounded by a nice level of drama that makes the picture rewarding.

Overall, this is a welcome treat for fans of Shyamalan's best films, and people who aren't yet tired of the faux-documentary approach that horror films have been taking recently. Great performances, surprisingly good comedy, and often edge of your seat, this is one of the better, if not the best of this genre which started with "Blair Witch" 16-years ago and sadly has only become more prevalent. Hopefully it's the start of an upturn for the career of M. Night Shyamalan who shows here that he still has the ability to effectively tap into our emotions.

My rating: *** 1/2 out of ****. PG-13 (contains violence, terror, rear nudity and language). 94 mins.
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Maybe the laziest feature film I've ever seen!
24 January 2013
Warning: Spoilers
If anyone knows how to cut corners in a film, it's Roger Corman. He reuses musical scores, special effects and establishing shots all in the sake of saving money. If one were to watch a movie of his with reused elements, unless they knew the other film elements being sampled, the recycling wouldn't be noticeable. Here is a movie that blatantly reuses scenes from older Roger Corman produced films, and is very noticeably almost completely made out of older (and sadly better) movies. When making a very low budget film, oftentimes creativity blossoms if not to just figure out how to cut corners and still make something believable. There is no creativity here. This movie is lazy, boring, poorly acted and written, and the special effects look like something you could make in Microsoft paint. Even for a Roger Corman produced film, this is extremely lazy.

Andy Colby, has to babysit his younger sister, Bonnie. Things go wrong when Andy rents a videotape that sucks his sister into the TV, where she is kidnapped by Lord Chroma and taken to his spinning animated Umbrella castle. Andy meanwhile is stuck jumping from movie to movie, and meets "The Glitch" along the way, a giant furry monster thing that hangs out in the TV static, and in turn, has no point to anything that happens. It's up to Andy to eventually find out which channel his sister is stuck in and go save her.

The film starts off fine enough, with Andy being told to go to the video store, and then riding his bike off. The bicycle riding scene and music is clearly inspired by Pee-Wee's Big Adventure. The music is very similar to Danny Elfman's score from a few years back, and even the title of the film sounds like it was formulated to somehow capitalize on the completely unrelated Pee-Wee. The opening ten minutes is the best part of the film, in that it's the only part that feels like a real movie. It's poorly written and acted, but at least it feels like a movie.

Once Andy gets stuck in the TV, everything goes horribly wrong. A good 60% of the material here is old footage from movies, with nothing new in it. Occasional reaction shots of Andy on an obvious green screen are thrown in every minute or so, so we don't forget what it is we're watching. The scenes from the movies aren't bad, per se, but the fact that so much of the movie is just aimless scenes from movies makes this movie utterly pointless. Andy gets put in the TV, then the film meanders for 50 minutes before Andy heads to fight Lord Chroma and get back his sister.

The only thing worse than the old footage here are the special effects. I can't think of less convincing effects in any movie. Instead of using practical sets for the villain's lair, they create a wonderland of poorly rendered 2-D computer graphics on top of green screens. Using a four-year old's finger painting as a set would look more believable and visually appealing. Shooting in the director's basement would have looked less cheap and more interesting than the green screen that we get.

It's actually very strange how this movie devolves as it goes. It starts off looking like a real movie, then slowly turns into awful made for video schlock, and then the amateur looking end credits roll, which look like something made by a high school student. It's a movie that tries to trick the viewer. All the effort is put in the first few minutes, as a way to trick the viewer into thinking this is just another mediocre kiddie picture before showing it's true awful face. At least James Horner's recycled score here might lull you into a numb state before being shaken back into the reality that you are wasting your precious, precious time.

My rating: BOMB out of ****. 75 mins. PG for recycled violence from older films.
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The Master (2012)
There's a very fine line between terrible filmmaking and masterful filmmaking, and this film rides it.
25 November 2012
Paul Thomas Anderson has made quite a few offbeat critical darlings that succeeded because of their performances, visual look and dialogue, but also because of their unwillingness to stick to formula. "Magnolia" features a twist that no one could see coming, and some would consider it an unexplained "deus ex machina", others saw it is extremely original. Anderson's other films, like "Punch Drunk Love" and "There Will Be Blood" have endings that don't conform to the typical Hollywood style, and some dislike how unresolved, or under resolved some elements of his films are. But "The Master" is it's own beast in Anderson's filmography. Here's a film that has to be interpreted by the viewer, because the film does not interpret itself. If the audience member is not actively creating thematic arches in their head, this film will feel utterly pointless.

Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) is an impulsively violent WWII veteran that will find anyway to get drunk. After drunkenly coming onboard a boat one night, Freddie meets Lancaster Dodd (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), a man who has started a new religious movement called "The Cause". Freddie, who's life prior to this, had been meaningless, now has someone to follow, but what are Dodd's motives, and is Freddie actually buying into what is being said?

A lot of movies people can say "Oh, pay attention!", so that people don't miss any important plot points. This film has such a loosely formed plot, that paying very close attention to everything that is happening won't really matter. What's most important, it seems, is the thematic content. As an active viewer, you have to piece together the meaning of the film from what has been shown, and how the characters act. Paul Thomas Anderson has put the meaning completely in the spectator's hands, and as a result, made a film that will resonate differently among different people. Those watching intently, may have found some kind of wonderful meaning in the film, or maybe they found it to be lazily written and underdeveloped.

I personally didn't care about the characters. Freddie is insane, and his insanity starts off interestingly enough, but ends up kind of baffling. Same with Lancaster Dodd. The guy is nuts. Both of these characters make decisions that have you questioning why they did what they did. Freddie will randomly start attacking someone...but why? Is it because he is hugely attracted to "The Cause"? Is he just a violent sociopath? Does he even have a reason? With this film, it's like you're a complete outsider to everything. The characters aren't relatable, and their actions are never rationalized, and their inner thoughts never stated. It's all a guessing game, which can be both exciting and annoying. The film starts off marvelously, but because there's nothing to latch onto except a couple of great performances and some unlikable characters doing weird things, by the end, I felt I had become kind of numb to what was happening, and at times, kind of irritated.

Bad films often has unresolved plot points, and an unclear purpose, and characters that are hard to relate to. This movie has all three of these things, but Paul Thomas Anderson has proved before that he knows what he's doing, so these all must be intentional, right? I would imagine so. Nonetheless, the line between a terrible film and an original and great film is very thin. We have faith that Anderson didn't throw us into a story for no reason, just like we would have no faith if a director like Uwe Boll did the same thing. This film is completely about interpretation and finding your own themes, and everything I disliked about the movie was probably intentional. The characters are distant, the point unclear, and the ending so vague and inconsequential, it makes "No Country For Old Men"'s ending seem like an average Hollywood ending. Basically, the movie is frustrating. It's got a lot of stuff to like, including a very strange score from Radiohead member Johnny Greenwood, but as a whole, it adds up to nothing, or potentially a lot of things depending on what you personally drew from it. It's neat when writers and directors deviate from the norm, but in this case, it just makes the two hours plus invested in it feel somewhat wasted.

My rating: ** 1/2 out of ****. 142 mins. R for sexuality, language, alcohol abuse and some violence.
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Skyfall (2012)
More than anything else, this film is just pleasant to the senses!
25 November 2012
It's doesn't seem like the highest praise to say the best part of a movie is the music or the look over anything else, but here it works quite well. This is a great looking movie with good music, and a drive to all the scenes that make it exhilarating. The plot is what moves the film along, and a sub-plot about an attempted assassination of M (Judi Dench) adds what some consider an emotional depth to the film, but what this movie is really about is James Bond fighting villains and going through beautiful locations, and that's works perfectly fine here!

James Bond (Daniel Craig) is seemingly back from the dead after a misstep on M's part, and now has to stop a computer hacking madman (and former agent), Silva (Javier Bardem), from using his skills to wreak havoc and enact revenge on M.

There is a sweetness to the scenes between M and Bond, almost playing like a subdued mother/son relationship at times. It's nice that Bond is on a mission here that is somewhat personal to him, so that it feels like it's not just another job. But the character development and interplay isn't what this is's about the action.

The action here is great. The fight scenes are well filmed, and cinematographer Roger Deakin takes full advantage of all the locations and awesome sets. The movie from beginning to end looks great! Turn off the sound, ignore the plot, and still this would entertain and thrill on a purely visual level. Add the music, and it's even better. Thomas Newman provides a fun score, using the typical Bond motifs and themes, while also adding it's own unique character. The ladies are sexy (especially Berenice Marlohe), and James Bond is cool. The guy has very few lines relative to how much screen time he has, but instead opts out in huge amounts of dialogue in favor of walking around like he's the coolest guy on Earth. And this is what works best about the film. Bond is awesome, and the places he goes are awesome, and of course, he also has a nice strong villain here in Mr. Bardem. The guy just has a menacing look!

The cinematography, locations, music, action scenes and overall look of the film make this a very solid Bond film. It has a plot about a computer hacker, and M being threatened, and the plot is pretty good for a Bond film, but it's the whole visual experience that make this one to watch. There's never a dull moment, and even if there was, your eyes would be popping out of their head looking at the well filmed sets. It's thoroughly entertaining, and has enough pathos to make us care how the story turns out.

My rating: *** 1/2 out of ****. 145 mins. PG-13 for violence and brief sexuality.
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Emotionally satisfying, and a fun character piece to boot.
25 November 2012
Warning: Spoilers
After the special effects extravaganza that was "Star Trek: The Motion Picture", Paramount decided to make a smaller, less costly sequel, and this definitely works to the film's advantage. Unlike the first film, this one is not about the special effects. There's no five minute scenes of cool looking model ships moving through layer of matte paintings, but instead is some wonderful character scenes, and an ending that is surprisingly emotional.

The USS Enterprise has to rebound when formerly exiled villain Khan (Ricardo Montalban) attempts to get hold of a device that creates life, belonging to the Genesis Project. It's up to a depressed and aging Captain Kirk, and his crew to save the day.

First and foremost, this is an entertaining film. It still has all the nerdy, faux-scientific Trekkie talk, but it also has an easy to follow plot, and a good amount of action. At the same time, the film is told on a relatively small scale, focused mainly on the USS Enterprise, and on Khan's ship, showing that the giant scale and huge models aren't needed to make a film entertaining. Here, more than anything else, it's the little character moments that makes this such a fun watch. The interplay between Kirk, Spock, and McCoy shows why Star Trek became a popular series to begin with.

Get rid of the last twenty minutes or so, and this is still a good film. With the addition of Spock sacrificing himself to save everyone else, this becomes a near-great film. The ending is handled perfectly. William Shatner, who is known for hamming it up on screen, gives a subdued performance, and Spock's funeral scene is really quite beautiful. James Horner's score hits the right notes perfectly, and accentuates the bittersweet hopefulness that ends the film.

"Wrath of Khan" is an improvement over the first film, mainly because of the character work. While the spectacle may not be as grandiose, the entertainment level is higher, and the end of the film is wonderfully realized and executed. Despite being a space adventure film, it's the human elements that make this movie what it is.

My rating: *** 1/2 out of ****. 113 mins. PG for sci fi violence.
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Frankenweenie (2012)
Sweet, nostalgic and chalk full of old monster movie references.
8 October 2012
Tim Burton detractors and fans alike seem to agree that his recent offerings have not been up to par with his best, or even his middle works. One criticism is that he is just repeating himself visually, without anything to say or show. This film definitely is a repeat, being a remake of an earlier Burton short, and an homage to monster movies in general, but it's got a great heart, and unlike "Alice in Wonderland", this one is a Burton pet project (no pun intended). As a result, you can just feel that he wanted to make this, and for a black and white movie about death, this is really a lovely tale.

Young Victor's dog Sparky is run over by a car one day, leaving poor Victor depressed. After a lesson from his new science teacher Mr. Rzykruski (Martin Landau doing a cross between Vincent Price and Bela Lugosi), Victor realizes he can bring Sparky back from the dead. Soon, other students at the local elementary school bring their pets and various animals back from the dead also, to try and win the upcoming science fair. Things don't go quite as planned, when the animals turn into monstrous creatures and chaos ensues.

What drives this movie is it's heart. Victor's love towards Sparky is very apparent, and Sparky is such an innocent little thing, that it's hard not to like him. The characterization for Sparky is perfect, having him easily excitable and sweet, but not obnoxious, as dogs can be. This movie should especially hit home for those who've previously or currently have/had a dog. The scene where Sparky is hit by a car is heart breaking, and the ending (which I won't give away) will also stir a lot of emotions in you. Sparky is such a loyal, caring and innocent dog, where anything that happens to him, you immediately begin to empathize.

The visual style is what you'd expect from Mr. Burton. Either characters look emaciated with long bony arms and stretched out faces, or they're morbidly obese with fat sprouting from their back. It works well, and sometimes for comedic effect, like that of Weird Girl's cat Mr. Whiskers, which brings laughs to every scene it's in. Burton rides the line on character designs often between unique and slightly grotesque, but the line is never crossed here. These characters are unique, and they inhabit a visually appealing world. To give the characters life, are the voice actors, all of whom are superb. Especially good are Catherine O'Hara and Martin Short who provide three voices, all of them unique to their characters.

If there's something wrong with the picture, it might be that Victor and his family are the least interesting characters here. Victor is a fine lead, because he has these bizarre classmates and his dog to support him, but by himself, he would be a fairly flat character. Perhaps this is to make him and his family more of the typical townsfolk type (some alliteration there), while most of the other major characters are strange looking homages to movie monsters, and have a lot more personality in general. But, if Victor was more bubbly and bouncy, he wouldn't be the kind of quiet introvert that he is here, so it's a double edged sword. This is a small complaint really, and it's not something that will bother most people.

"Frankenweenie" has the ability to draw on the audience's own personal nostalgia for their own furry lost loved one's, but even those that aren't dog people should feel something here. This is a very sweet film, beneath it's monster movie exterior, and at the heart of the picture is a boy who loves his dog and doesn't want to lose him. Any fans of old monster movies should love the references, and any fan of Burton's past work should find some pleasure in the visual look here. Even Burton detractors may find this one hits pretty close to home for them.

My rating: *** 1/2 out of ****. 87 mins. PG for some violence and thematic elements.
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As a whole this is an effective conclusion to Nolan's Batman trilogy, but it's not without it's flaws
24 July 2012
Where the last two films in Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy played more or less like fairly intimate stories in the Batman universe, this one feels like it's going for the biggest scale it possibly could, with as much destruction and as many thugs as you can fit on screen. The problem here is the unrelentingness of everything that settles in at about the halfway mark. It grows tiring long before the climax kicks in because it's just too much of everything.

Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has become a recluse and "Batman" has gone into hiding for the past 8 years since Harvey Dent's death. After an encounter with a cat burglar, Selena Kyle (Anne Hathaway) and an inspiring speech from his butler Alfred (Michael Caine), Bruce decides he needs to go back out to social events, and begin fighting crime as Batman again. Meanwhile, masked terrorist Bane (Tom Hardy), and a large group of followers take over Gotham city, destroying all ways of leaving or coming in, with the threat of setting off a nuclear bomb located on the island. Meanwhile (yet again), Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) is severely injured by Bane and stuck in the hospital, a new hot head cop John Blake (Joseph Gordon Levitt) is trying to stop Bane through detective work, and Wayne board member Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard) is given control of Wayne Enterprises. Bane massacres Bruce Wayne and throws him into a prison located elsewhere, and it's up to Bruce to summon his strength to try and escape. Meanwhile the criminals take over Gotham and anarchy ensues.

There are a lot of characters here, but they are balanced in their sub-plots quite well. Anne Hathaway gives a really good performance as "Catwoman", both hamming it up at times, and also remaining quite subtle when appropriate. Levitt is also a good addition to the cast, as we have a character to care about that is fighting crime, but through detective work and not through being placed in the action like ol' Batman. Having so many main characters was nice to try and avoid repetition, though from the last hour plus, it doesn't work well enough.

The film grows somewhat boring by about the halfway mark. The pace becomes unrelenting, and it's just somewhat of a sensory overload. The editing is quick, the shots are quick, and while stuff is happening and Gotham is about to become a smoldering pit, too much is happening too quickly. And when the villains take over Gotham, you begin thinking of scenarios that would happen with the people of Gotham, and how they would react, but nothing does. They pretty much just go into hiding. Unrealistically, no vigilantes even try to take some of the villains out, but whatever, that's not what the movie is about.

This movie is not above running on many action movie clichés that feel like they belong in lesser pictures. People saving others at the last minute after seemingly coming out of nowhere, and the old everybody else gets killed but the main characters (for no real reason), and then of course many coincidences that happen to effect the outcome of the picture. The same clichés you'd see in a movie like "Sahara" from a few years back are prominently used here. Character motives also seem to be slightly off. Why does Batman turn to Catwoman for help exactly? No real logical reason except to pair the two up.

Hans Zimmer's score is effective in driving the action, in that his music here mainly consists of low strings acting almost as drums to move everything along. It drives the action, but at the same time is extremely generic and not very interesting, but it does keep a rhythm going in the action. And unlike Inception, the generic weepy Zimmer music doesn't intrude on scenes that are trying to be emotional. It's a step up from Inception's score in that regard, but is still quite mediocre.

The climax of the film is nice. After all the twists and turns are introduced, it gets down to the heart of the story, and the last ten minutes or so, minus some coincidental and corny moments, are really good and satisfying. For the most part, the conclusion to the film is satisfying and works on an emotional level.

This film concludes the Dark Knight trilogy quite well. It's an imperfect film, with a lot of drag time in the middle of the picture, and just a few too many clichés thrown in, but the ending is mostly very nice, and as a whole, the picture is entertaining, full of action, and enough happens to justify it's nearly three hour length.

My rating: *** out of ****. 165 mins. PG-13 for nonstop action violence.
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The Avengers (2012)
It's sort of entertaining, but dramatically uninteresting and shallow.
16 July 2012
These Marvel comics obviously have a lot of fans, and apparently whatever it was that fans (and many non-fans) were looking for in a Marvel film was fulfilled here, explaining the huge internet buzz, the vast amounts of money this has made, and it's current spot in the top 50 films of all time on the Internet Movie Database. This movie does have expensive looking action, and some comedic bits with lots of superheroes, but what it's missing is...pretty much everything else. The plot is uninteresting and quite honestly stupid, and nothing really is driving this story along. At times, to me, it grew boring, because there was nothing to get excited about besides action, big stars and comedy.

After Norse god Loki steals the powerful potential super weapon "Tesseract" from the peace keeping S.H.I.E.L.D. agency, and mind controls a few people, Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) puts together a team of superheroes known as the Avengers, made up of Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Captain America (Chris Evans), The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and eventually Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). Loki is in cahoots with a group of aliens called the Chitauri, and plans to help them take over Earth. The Avengers must stop fighting with each other in order to protect the Earth...can they do it, or will the Earth be destroyed? (Take a guess).

Director Joss Wheddon, known for his work on television series, does a fine job with the direction when it comes to action. The big action scenes are appropriately frenetic, and they look big and shiny. I appreciated that the action scenes were spaced apart from each other also, as to not overkill the action like the Transformers films. The fighting scenes between the Avengers was a bit overkill however. Half the movie is them disagreeing with each other, or Tony Stark being snarky with everyone. These scenes don't really have anything to them either. They aren't exciting. They are meant to be funny, but oftentimes comes off as more infantile in the humor department than anything else. They further the plot along, only in that the plot cannot proceed until these guys stop fighting. These scenes are supposed to work as character development, but it's almost unbelievable how stupid these guys are, and how unwilling they are to put their differences aside.

The middle of the movie takes place on a ship, with the Avengers angry at each other, and this whole section of the movie just meanders. You could say that this part of the movie gives us the character conflicts and whatnot, which it does, but the Avengers' dislike of each other could have been introduced in something more important to the plot, instead of practically stopping the plot to have these guys get angry at each other. And that's really the movie's biggest problem is the plot. There's never really a feeling of dread, or that something bad could happen, and it's hard to care about anything that's happening. That's not to say watching Tony Stark bantering isn't amusing, or watching Bruce Banner go insane as the Hulk isn't interesting, but nothing ever truly feels at stake. When the film decides to kill off a character to add some level of emotion, and serve as a reason for these heroes to stop their childishness, it doesn't work on an emotional level. It comes off as a cheap way to further along the plot.

The Avengers has some good elements to it. It's got a lot of charisma in the cast, and each character is given enough screen time I suppose. The action scenes are satisfying mostly, and some of the comedy isn't bad (while some does come off as a bit corny and pandering to the audience). The problem is the plot, where the villains never really come off as menacing, despite possessing a super weapon, and a main villain is Loki who is about as threatening as a teddy bear. There's nothing to the film, and nothing to really love about it, unless you are a big fan of these actors, the comics, or explosions. There's very little below the surface of the film, and without a good plot to move this along, we've essentially got one long Avengers origin story. Apparently many have fallen in love with this though, so if you like your movies big, dumb and full of buff dudes, you'll probably like this one quite a bit.

My rating: ** 1/2 out of ****. 140 mins. PG-13 for action violence.
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Dark Shadows (2012)
A great looking, and often funny movie, in search of a plot and a point.
11 June 2012
A Gothic romance about a vampire...this sounds like primo Tim Burton material here. On a visual level, this world here is fully realized, but unfortunately, that's the only place it's realized. The plot is kind of a set piece to set piece episodic one, and the romance here is severely underplayed, making the ending kind of pointless. But what the trailer emphasized was the comedy, and a good chunk of this film features some well played fish out of water comedy. On some levels this film is a surprising success, and on others an complete failure. It's entertaining, but that's about it really.

It's the late 1700s, and Barnabas Collins' (Johnny Depp) family started a small fishing town called Collinsport, and together they live in Collinwood, a luxurious mansion. Barnabas breaks the heart of a spiteful witch Angelique (Eva Green), and she kills his parents, forces his lover Josette (Bella Heathcote) to commit suicide, turns Barnabas into a vampire, and imprisons him in a coffin underground. Two centuries later, a mysterious woman "Victoria Winters" is going to become the governess for David, a surviving member of the Collins family who is deeply disturbed. Barnabas is then freed from his coffin, and returns to find his living relatives in need of help, so he tries to bring life back into his town of Collinsport. Meanwhile, Angelique (who still appears to be the same age) has taken control of the fishing industry in Collinsport, and he must help his family bring their dying fishing industry back.

For those of you who didn't like the visual style of Tim Burton's last picture, "Alice in Wonderland", this one should be a refreshing return to form (visually that is). The sets are really neat, and Collinsport is quite a beautiful little fantasy town. The special effects are also really good when they are featured. On a visual level, this might be Burton's best looking film since "Sleepy Hollow" over a decade ago, and the score by Danny Elfman is also quite good. And what do people think of when they think of Tim Burton movies? Awesome visual style (check), bouncy score usually by Danny Elfman (check) and Johnny Depp (check). But what this movie is lacking is a plot. Something to drive the story other than jokes and neat sets is needed.

The layout of the story and overall tone is quite odd. The film starts off as a Gothic romantic fantasy telling the history of Barnabas Collins. By no means is this portion of the film meant to be humorous. Then we begin to follow a mysterious girl "Victoria Winters" (who becomes lovers with Depp), who has taken on the job of being little David's governess. This portion of the film isn't particularly funny either, but it adds an element of mystery so the movie becomes a bit more interesting. After about 15 minutes of this girl as our main character, the film becomes an unfocused fish out of water comedy for the remainder of the film (sans the last 25 or so minutes). This part of the film is actually quite funny. Then the climax and last portion of the film becomes like a horror action film of sorts.

There is a romance subplot, but it has no importance in the story until the very end. There is no chemistry between Depp and Heathcote, because they are only given like 4 scenes together, and none of them feel very organic. Also sadly underwritten are Victoria Winters, and David's relationship. Ar the beginning of the film seem like they could have an interesting dynamic, but instead they are given very little screen time. Every sub-plot is dropped in favor of Depp's fish-out-of-water routine, which is quite funny, but also makes this movie's plot slight and overall point even slighter.

Visually, this movie is a real treat bringing back memories of older Burton films like Beetlejuice. The performances are also very good, especially Johnny Depp who does some great deadpan comedy here, but what's missing is a point. While it may entertain, in the end, nothing really matters here.

My rating: ** 1/2 out of ****. 124 mins. PG-13 for sexual humor throughout, some language and violence.
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The Vow (2012)
Not nearly as bad as it could be, but it's still pretty mediocre.
19 February 2012
Here's a glossy, emotionally hollow romance film practically tailor made to be released right before Valentine's Day, and from the box office returns this is seeing, it definitely is having some effect on the movie going audience. And, to make the film even more "romantic", the "based on a true story" sticker is slapped on it, despite a credited three screenwriters, and one writer credited with story. It's a glossy movie, that could easily fall into unwatchable, but instead it rides the line and remains watchable, but also detached emotionally.

Paige (Rachel McAdams) and Leo (Channing Tatum) are a madly in love married couple that suffer a horrible car crash. Both of their lovely faces are left unharmed, but Paige has lost her memories of the last five years. Looks like it's up to Leo to win her back and prove love can happen a second time. But poor Leo has to put up with Paige's obnoxious parents who are both happy about her memory loss, and with Paige who seems perfectly content in having forgotten a chunk of her life, and who is now in her mind anyways, back with her boyfriend she had five years ago.

The writing here is generic bad romantic movie. Not much stands out as being just horrible, but nothing is particularly good either. There's an attempt to make Leo some sort of philosopher or something, so in his narration, and occasionally throughout the film, Tatum gives little "deep" lines, like one about a pie maker and his dreams. It comes off as a bit forced, but again, it could be worse. Other than Tatum's inability to give a dramatic monologue, the acting isn't too bad. Sam Neil gives his typical stern man routine as Paige's antagonistic dad, and it sort of works, despite that it makes him out to be a borderline sociopath. The movie isn't bad looking either. It looks sort of flashy, and at times of love making, it's almost filmed like a soap opera, but it's still sort of pretty to look at.

Channing Tatum is a likable lead here. He isn't a great actor, and scenes that force him to give teary speeches are almost cringe worthy, but he and McAdams do have a slight chemistry on screen, despite the so-so writing. The characters of Paige and Leo are in love. The only reason for this seems to be that they are attracted to one another. There's zero subtleties to this romance, where either the two of them are hysterically giggling at each other's lame lines, or they're making or about to make love. These two, before the accident, were meant for each other, despite the fact that we have no idea why they are, other than sexual attraction.

While Channing Tatum's character of Leo is likable, Rachel McAdam's character of Paige is quite unlikable. She is fully aware that she has gotten in an accident and that five years of her memories are just gone, but she doesn't really care. She doesn't care that she's hurting her husband (whom she doesn't remember, but still...). She doesn't care that she has no remembrance of why things have changed, and worst of all she seems to have become even more superficial and uncaring after her accident. Perhaps the brain damage also made her a dumb, shallow, and uncaring teenager,. Is this how she was shortly before she met Leo? If so, why did he fall for her? It's Paige's lack of any real ambition or care, that makes this chick flick less emotional, and even those going in expecting to cry might be surprised to find that the emotion isn't real enough to allow any shed tears.

Basically what we have here is a dumb Valentine's day movie. The story moves along quickly. It's hard to be invested in any of this, because it feels too Hollywood fake to believe it. And yet it's based on a true story. But then again so is the explosive Red Tails, so perhaps that is meaningless.

My rating: ** out of ****. 108 mins. PG-13 for sexuality, a car accident and some language.
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Kind of a decent by-the-numbers mystery caper
26 December 2011
David Fincher in recent years has grown to become one of America's best known directors working today. He has an interesting, oftentimes dark visual style that he features, and usually he has an interesting story to tell. Unfortunately, in this film, the story is just not interesting enough. It's kind of a typical murder mystery film, with some twists and turns, and an ending that really isn't too shocking. What raises this up from being completely mediocre is Rooney Mara's performance as the title character. Otherwise, this story here doesn't have enough weight or originality to stand out over other pretty good mystery films.

Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) is a journalist who's fallen out of favor after possible slanderous reporting. He is called upon by Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), the ex- CEO of a company, to solve the mystery of his missing and presumed dead niece who disappeared 40 years ago. He ends up being partnered with an anti-social computer hacker, Lisbeth (Rooney Mara), who uses her skill and research to help solve the case.

Mikael and Lisbeth ("The girl with the dragon tattoo") don't meet up until halfway through the film, and the first half features them each working separately. All the scenes in the first half of the film focusing on Lisbeth are very interesting. While Mikael gets immediately thrown into the main story, Lisbeth is given almost a character study (that furthers along the plot) for the first half of the film. Rooney Mara is really great here, giving the character layers, with such understated acting. The character is emotionally disturbed and apparently "crazy" but any trait is hidden beneath this straight and unflinching face. Daniel Craig's character, on the other hand, is not nearly as interesting, and for some reason, he mumbles here a lot, so he's also hard to understand at times. The mystery he's trying to solve is interesting conceptually, but visually it's often hard to convey excitement when he's sitting alone reading up on research.

When the characters finally meet, about 75 minutes into this 160 minute behemoth, the mystery story gels a bit more, mainly because Daniel Craig finally has someone interesting to interact with. Where the film is lacking is largely in the story. The revelation at the end as to the connections of murders, and potential villains aren't that interesting. The resolution of the film must take darned near 30 minutes, and the main thing I took away from the film, was what a great performance Ms. Mara gave, and what an interesting character she played. The plot is by-the-numbers mystery, and the film does at times drag. David Fincher's direction is alright, but he doesn't make researching the murder much more than mundane. He throws in a few disorienting movements of the camera's placement, but other than that, this doesn't feel like a really great David Fincher directed film. It feels more like an O.K. mystery thriller, that has a great performance, some tense moments, and overall just kind of slips out of one's memory after a while.

This film isn't bad by any means, it just doesn't have enough going for it to make it anything more than somewhat generic, other than the character of Lisbeth. It is overlong, though not bloated, and really not a lot could have been cut out without either cutting the story, or getting rid of good character scenes. The mystery is sort of interesting, but not nearly engaging enough. The final scene in the film was very good however, and mixed character development with a sort of sadness, giving the film a bittersweet feeling. The title character basically saves this film, and rises it above mediocrity, though not quite enough above.

My rating: ** 1/2 out of ****. 160 mins. R for violence, sexuality and brief nudity.
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Pleasantville (1998)
There is some truly horrible comedy here, but there are also some very beautiful moments.
24 November 2011
Here is a strange film. Not strange in it's intriguing plot, but strange in the way the film is set up. It starts off visually ugly and comically overstuffed with predictable and clichéd fish out of water humor, but by the 40-minute mark, it becomes more serious, and the last hour plus of the film have some really wonderful moments in it, taking an unexpected thematic turn.

A magical TV repair man (Don Knotts) places brother and sister David (Tobey Maguire) and Jennifer (Reese Witherspoon) into a 1950s sitcom called Pleasantville. The brother and sister are placed into the roles of the son and daughter on the sit-com, complete with their wholesome parents George (William H Macy), and Betty (Joan Allen) Parker. This black and white world soon turns to color as these innocent characters experience newfound passion towards aspects of life they weren't aware of before David and Jennifer arrived. Some members of the town are unhappy at the changes happening and try to stop it.

The first act of the film is pure comedy, and by far, the worst part of the film. Whether it's purposeful or not, the color opening before the teens get thrown into the show is just plain ugly. It looks like a "She's all That" corny comedy, and the lines in these scenes are just as bad. Then we get the fish out of water portion of the film once the siblings arrive in the show, and that is nearly just as bad. Predictable, corny humor everywhere, in addition to almost theatrical overacting. Characters having sex in cars over exaggeratedly, and Reese Witherspoon's horribly written oversexed teenager character mixed together is almost cringe worthy.

Then, oddly enough, once the movie settles into dramatic mode, it actually becomes really good. The subject matter becomes more interesting, as thematic connections to race relations in the 1950s show up, and the cinematography is at times really stunning. A scene where David sits with his television girlfriend by a lake in the rain is great looking, and sort of moving in a way. What this last 2/3rds of the movie has, that the first half doesn't is both a point, and a soul. Mr. Johnson (Jeff Daniels), the town soda shop owner, is really a large portion of the heart of the film. He begins to learn about paintings, and color, and begins wondering about what life truly is about, and his character has a completely natural, and unforced progression, with kind of an innocent wide eyed way about him. On the other side, we have Jennifer, who has a corny and stilted progression that doesn't really work, but luckily that's not a huge focus. The movie goes into "racism" territory, when the newly colored people are treated as second class citizens, by rule of the town council. And the movie goes into completely unpredictable territory, which makes this second half of the film all the more wonderful.

The acting is very good, and is only dis-serviced by the script (especially early on). Almost every character is relatable in some way, through their own problems with change and over reliance on nostalgia. Jeff Daniels and Joan Allen are especially good, and work well together in the scenes that feature the two of them. Reese Witherspoon gives as fine a performance as she can, but her dialogue and character arc is pretty lame a lot of the time. She's clearly trying though. The music by Randy Newman is very fitting, and especially fits in during the more dramatic and moving scenes in the picture. The black and white and color mixture is often wonderful to look at, especially in the scenes that are making a point.

Director/screenwriter Gary Ross has made a really bad late '90s comedy that turns into a pretty fantastic black and white (comedic) drama about the necessity of change and how people deal with it. After an ugly opening, the film looks great, and once it settles in, it becomes exciting, unpredictable and intelligent. If the first forty or so minutes were better, this would have been thoroughly wonderful. Alas that's not the case.

My rating: *** out of ****. 124 mins. PG-13 for sexual and thematic elements.
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Talk Radio (1988)
A highly captivating film!
1 November 2011
Oliver Stone is known for making somewhat controversial films that oftentimes shape history to his liking. This film is completely different than the normal Stone. It's a character piece studying the madness that a radio talk show host is thrown into, and 80% of the film takes place in one setting, which makes the film both perfectly uncomfortable and claustrophobic, and allows intimacy with the protagonist. In addition to that, this is shot so well, taking full use of the tiny little set used.

Barry Champlain (star and screen/playwriter Eric Bogosian) is a talk radio host out of Dallas that hosts a controversial show offending many of his listeners. Barry has a failed marriage that he would like to rekindle, and even his fans seem to hate him. After being told his local show is going national, Barry has to put on one final local show, and in doing it, gains an insight into his audience.

Eric Bogosian first wrote this film as a play, and it was fleshed out to make this movie, and really there could not have been a better actor to play Barry than Eric. In addition to his great voice, he brings the perfect level of arrogance to the role, which contrasts nicely against the moronic callers the voice their lack of opinion on his show. The whole movie has a lack of opinion, and becomes a movie about the lack of opinion in people, Barry's revelation about this is a great scene.

The blocking and camera angles in the small radio set are great. Stone and his cinematographer Robert Richardson play with shadowy close-ups, and shots through windows with reflections, and angles that give the film a kind of creepy feel. The intimacy of the set, along with the callers who threaten to kill Barry give a constant feeling that something bad is going to happen. The direction and the writing meld perfectly together to make this fairly straightforward character piece a thriller. You don't really know what's around the bend, but the feeling of dread is strong.

Overall, this film is a character study, and at the same time, a minimalist thriller, relying completely on the audience's imagination as to what is going to happen. The dialogue is sharp, the acting is great, and the cinematography is cramped in a good way, showing a certain madness. This is definitely right up there with Stone's very best work!

My rating: **** out of ****. 109 mins. Rated R for language.
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I hate films that try to be cute, but I don't hate this.
9 September 2011
Films and television shows that are trying to be cute to gain laughs can be quite irritating. They often rely on the audience gaining some sort of emotional investment out of seeing an adorable baby character, or young toddler, that says lines that no young kid would say, and the usual reaction is "Aaawwww!" (Full House did this for years). These types of cinema have no reason for existence, and usually try to serve as cheap entertainment that families can enjoy together. This movie is chalk full of little children doing things children would never do, no doubt with the director feeding them lines that they don't understand because they can't read yet. But, where this film is different is it's set up. The universe that these "little rascals" live in isn't the one we live in. It's some kind of parallel universe where children own their own cars and have very elaborate clubhouses, and where very young children go on romantic dates. And never once is this particularly corny. What could be a by the numbers movie turns out to be a sort of charming little movie that is fun and funny in a surreal way.

Little Alfalfa (Bug Hall) is in a group of girl-hating little boys, and they find out about his upcoming romantic date with Darla (Brittany Ashton Holmes), and they sabotage him. Meanwhile a new rich kid Waldo (Blake Ewing) has just moved in and Darla finds him quite appealing, so Alfalfa is down in the dumps. Hopefully the up-coming go-cart race is a chance for Alfalfa to get his lady back, in addition to beat Waldo, and bond with his child pal Spanky (Travis Tedford).

This kids in this movie are actually all really good actors, and that's one thing that makes this movie work. Bug Hall is one of the better young actors out there, and all the ridiculous silly lines that the kids say (though kids clearly wouldn't say in real life) are said with enough conviction, yet with a clear wink from the director and writer(s). The kids say their lines well, but with a slightly over the top script, and the mixture comes off as pretty funny.

The film runs at a brisk pace, with enough jokes to make up for it's overall lack of plot. The sets would have to be pretty cool looking to a child (at least they were to me!). The clubhouse that the kids built is designed to look like it was built by kids, but at the same time, it's so surreally elaborate. And this movie has plenty of surrealism and absurdest humor. Things will happen that make very little sense, but come off as hilarious because of how ridiculous the situation is. In one scene during the big race at the end, giant daggers come out of a kid's car and start stabbing another car. It's so ridiculous, but in the context of the movie, it comes off as normal in this universe, and jokes like this that might normally seem very over the top, play off quite well. If anything was unnecessary here, it was the numerous cameos that usually show up for no reason at all. A few of them were funny, but most of them seemed somewhat forced. Kids probably won't know who most of these people are anyways, so they won't understand that these are cameos.

Overall, this is a very enjoyable family film, with good performances (from kids no less), and a lot of really silly jokes that hit the mark. In an average episode of Full House, I probably cringe about 10 times, but in this much longer film featuring even more kids including cameos by the Olsen Twins, there was not one moment of cringing. It's actually pretty fun.

My rating: *** out of ****. 82 mins. PG for some rude humor.
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Burlesque (I) (2010)
Obviously the director/writer wanted to homage Bob Fosse girls, but this movie is pointless.
18 July 2011
From the ads, this movie looked pretty fun. Christina Aguilera has a great voice, despite not always using it, and Cher is an American icon who has charmed us for over 2 centuries (close to it anyways), so mixing these two together in a "Chicago" inspired musical film seemed like it would be great fun. Unfortunately, in order to have a great film, you need great characters, an interesting plot, a clever script, and this movie has none of the above. It has a largely drama free plot, with boring one dimensional characters, and a script full of lame one liners. By the end, you just wonder, what was the point of all this?

Ali (Christina Aguilera) is a small town Iowa waitress who wants to become a star, so she moves out to L.A., without a place to stay or much money. She ends up finding this burlesque house full of saucy female dancers straight out of the 1920s, owned by Tess (Cher), a boss with a heart of gold. She pushes her way into becoming a waitress for the place, and eventually tries out for a role on stage, while meanwhile she's living with bartender Jack (Cam Gigandet). Then rich businessman Marcus (Eric Dane) tries to buy out the Burlesque house...GASP...will he be able to?

Writer/director Steve Antin's sole purpose for making this seems to be to homage Bob Fosse. Literally, there could be no other reason. Possibly as a way of meeting Christina Aguilera and Cher, but story wise, there is nothing here to tell. This movie has no point, and could have easily been condensed into a bland 30 minute short film. There's such little drama in the story, and nothing ever seems very serious. There's never a moment where you pity any characters, or feel bad for anyone, and there's never any moments where you feel particularly sad or happy for anyone. It's such a middling picture that it just moves along, doing nothing, and thus that's what you get from the picture...nothing.

The performances are okay. Christina Aguilera is...okay. She's not great, and not bad. Her character is kind of irritating, and hard to describe. She's kind of pushy, and assertive, but also bossy, lazy and obnoxious. Cher's character is even harder to describe because she is given so few traits. Tess just kind of goes with the flow, and tries to run things, but gets frustrated. That's about it. And sadly, these two are the most developed characters. The performances reflect the lack of depth in the script, and everyone is just kind of hollow. It's like a script full of extras. We never get to know or care about anyone.

Despite a not great script, and boring characters, at least we can get some great songs and stylistic direction, right? Well, inside the burlesque club, we get an atmospheric set with some alright songs and boringly shot dance numbers. But at least the club has it's own charm. But any set other than the club, is completely boring, and everything not featured there feels like a bad romantic comedy. And many scenes shot in there just waste time through songs that don't have any point. In "Chicago" or "All that Jazz" or "Cabaret", the songs in the film advance the plot, or tell us how a character feels, or set up some background information. Here, the songs do nothing but play as songs. They mean nothing to the film, and even less to the plot, and they are there to make this a "musical" and for padding. Like anything else, the songs have no purpose to the story.

In order to create a work that replicates the works of Bob Fosse and Kander/Ebbs, one must not scratch the surface and say "We need costumes, pretty girls, dance numbers and songs.", but instead one must listen to the lyrics and what they mean, and the wordplay, and watch how Fosse choreographed those routines, and in his films how he shot them. And of course, look at their plots, and how the songs have meaning to the plot, and how drama intensifies the film and makes the audience care. This movie is so bland, with boring characters and a plot that actually seems to give up on itself. You can't expect the musical numbers and costumes to run the show, but they do here. Quite a shame too. With all the talent involved this could have been great.

My rating: * 1/2 out of ****. 100 mins. PG-13 for sexy costumes (really a mild film).
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Mind numbing!!!!
10 July 2011
Transformers 2 was unbearably horrible, it was almost sure that part 3 would have to be better, as being worse would be nearly impossible. Unfortunately, Michael Bay has made a film about on par with his last trainwreck Transformers movie, and this, like this last movie is a thoroughly dumb and unenjoyable sensory overload full of poorly thought out plot points, dumb dialogue in this sort of surreal fantasy world where everyone is as goofy as can be.

Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) is living in a nice apartment with his new girlfriend Carly (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley), and needs some action in his life. He gets a new job, and is almost killed, and meanwhile Optimus Prime makes a trip to the moon to gain pillars and to bring back his old friend Sentinel Prime. Meanwhile again, Dylan (Patrick Dempsey) is Carly's boss, and Sam is jealous. And then Megatron and the Decepticons take over Chicago. And then there's action. And then it ends (thank God).

Transformers 2 must have been too serious for people, because Michael Bay just had the actors go all out slapstick performances. It was like an unfunny reproduction of the Three Stooges or something. Comedic scenes are comedic only because of these cartoon like performances where everyone is a comedian, and nobody seems to care about impending danger, but instead just want to lighten the mood with their nightclub routines. The first hour of the movie is so silly and lightweight, it literally serves no purpose whatsoever.

No scenes had any effect on the next scenes. Shia Labeouf is almost killed, and this scene is followed by a 5 minute speech about love with his parents. Chicago is destroyed by Decepticons, and immediately following we see people casually walking through destroyed Chicago like they're going for a stroll before work or something. An entire sub-plot about Sam getting a job is completely dropped, and serves no point in the movie except to introduce these bizarrely eccentric characters and give the audience some very dumb yuk- yuks. A bizarre scene has Russians pulling guns on Sam and John Turturro, and it literally is just there for laughs. It's so over the top, and cloying for cheap laughs, it's almost pathetic, and again, has no impact on anything. In fact, this entire movie could have been scrapped, and the big battle at the end could have basically been the film, because really that's all that mattered in the "plot".

Character motivations are way off too. Patrick Dempsey wants the Decepticons to win, because he was promised he will be saved, and not killed by them. He knows that their plot is to enslave humans, and he also admits a dislike for Megatron. When the Autobots come, Dempsey goes and tattles to the Decepticons. So...does he want to be a slave? Not tattling would have had no repercussion on him, and actually could cause him not to be a slave. Also making no sense is Patrick Dempsey's henchmen and workers who stay loyal to him in the face of total annihilation. As the robots destroy Chicago and kill people, they stay guarding Carly like this job is of some importance. Humans are being enslaved and they are taking some meaningless job when they should be running for their dear life. Again, it's like no characters think through anything that happens.

The Transformers are hard to watch. They walk around with English, New York, Italian and other accents and why? Are they from these places or just made to be exactly like Earth people? Megatron's henchmen robots are like Igor from Frankenstein, and one of them even has this giant rag on their head to make them seem like a lowly servant, but why? Why would a robot wear this? Did they see people doing this in clichéd sci fi movies? And to top that off, the robots know all the cool Earth slang and speak in it, and the little robots seem to have high libidos. The only purpose for them being so anthropomorphic is to get the audience to laugh at their lame one-liners, and they come off as horrible clichés.

This is a movie that is pandering to it's audience through bottom of the barrel dumb comedy, big loud action scenes and a nonexistent plot. But it's terribleness goes beyond that. It's a movie where even the most idiotic of individuals in the audience has more brains in their head than any of the characters, and nobody thinks through any situation, and no decisions make any sort of logical sense. It's a series of unnecessary events that leads to an overlong finale that is more headache inducing than fun. This might be a tiny bit better than Transformers 2, but the two movies are close to being on par. If you just think about any aspect of the film, you will realize nothing makes any sense. This was just awful!

My rating: 1/2 out of ****. 153 mins. PG-13 for violence and language.
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Perhaps this cartoon doesn't lend itself well to live action
9 July 2011
Warning: Spoilers
So why exactly was this live action? Really for gimmicks sake, but I imagine it was a successful gimmick, and one that peaked many viewers' interests (including myself). So basically what we have is a live action version of a cartoon show that doesn't particularly lend itself to live action, with a plot that zips along at about an hour, with no real time to build up anything that feels cinematic. Basically, this feels like a longer, live action episode of the show (though it would have to take place long after the series), that probably would have been better as a cartoon.

Timmy Turner (Drake Bell) is 23, still in the fifth grade, and still living with his parents so he can keep his fairy godparents Cosmo and Wanda. At a public event to destroy the town park, he sees Tootie (Daniella Monet) who has now become an activist, and he begins to fall in love with her. Cosmo and Wanda can't let this happen, because he will lose them, while meanwhile an oil tycoon Hugh Magnate (Steven Weber) and Timmy's crazy teacher Mr. Crocker (David Lewis) hatch a scheme to steal Timmy's godparents.

The performances are fine, if not a little corny. Drake Bell is really hamming it up with his overly enthusiastic acting job, but for a 23 year old man-child this seems quite tame compared to Pee-Wee Herman or Madtv's Stewart, so it could be way goofier. Daniella Monet plays Tootie and she gives an okay performance, about what you'd expect from Nickelodeon. Mark Gibbon plays Jorgen von Strangle quite well, and sounds a lot like him from the animated show. Daran Norris who plays Cosmo and Mr. Turner on the cartoon show, also played both of them here, and was actually quite funny and sort of deranged looking as Timmy's dad. Everybody is over the top, as this is a live action cartoon, and there's no drama at all, but whatever, it's not really a movie, just a goofy extended finale (?) to the series.

Nothing really stands out as being particularly good here. The plot plods along very quickly, assuming we all know the characters already, as most watching should. The ending is forced, and corny, and kind of bizarre in how fast Timmy and Tootie's relationship has progressed so quickly, but whatever, it had a nice message. Jason Alexander and Cheryl Hines show up for some reason as Cosmo and Wanda when they take the form of human beings to destroy Timmy's date, and there's no reason whatsoever for them, except for some celebrity cameos, and again, they're fine in the roles, but pointless.

Everything here moves along as quick as it possibly can, and while it's pretty entertaining is a very stupid way, it's also not really cinematic, and many of the plot points are retread from other episodes, but it's basically what one would expect when they heard about a made for TV live action Fairly Oddparents movie. Not a lot of laughs, many of the jokes fall flat because these cartoony gags don't really work too well in live action, especially live action filmed as safe and sit-commy as this, but at the same time it's not boring, the colors are bright, and the story moves along thanks to silly (not a bad thing) performances and a short running time. And if you love the ending to Back to the Future parts 1 or 3, and have longed for the Fairly Oddparents to homage it, then your wait is over. Expect goofy entertaining mediocrity, and you will probably enjoy this to some degree.

My rating: ** out of ****. 60 mins. Not rated, contains some "poopy" humor.
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Grown Ups (I) (2010)
Five guys and their wives and kids crack unfunny jokes for an hour and a half.
24 April 2011
Adam Sandler rarely makes a good movie, and if you see the "Happy Madison" logo in front of one of his films, it's almost assured that it's going to be a ridiculous picture. This was no exception. "Grown Ups" is an example of much of the worst elements of Sandler's films, all thrown into one movie, without any plot to hold it together. It's a sloppy mess of a film, that relies completely on the charisma of it's leading five funny men to hold it up, and while they are sporadically funny, they miss more than they hit. It's not as bad as "Chuck and Larry", but this is still a very bad Sandler film, and one of the lesser pictures of his.

Normally I put the plot synopsis here, but this film has no plot. Five friends that all were in Jr. high together meet up again to attend their old coach's funeral. Then they all hang out in a cabin and make jokes. Then they spread the ashes and make jokes. Then they go to a restaurant and make jokes. Then they go to a water park and make jokes. They continue making jokes from set piece to set piece until the ending.

Making bad jokes and getting no reaction from the audience is one thing, but making the bad joke, and then having your characters laugh at them like they're hilarious is another. Half the time somebody says something that's meant to amuse the audience, the other character's causally laugh at it. Now there's nothing wrong with characters having a good time, but they just laugh too much here. It's like the five leads provide a laugh track for the movie, along with their wives, kids, and basically any extra who happens to be in the scene. These are five "funny" men, and seeing Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, David Spade, Rob Schneider and Kevin James star in a movie together might make a Happy Madison fan pee themselves in delight, but these guys are just not given much funny to say. And the constant laughing from everyone just makes you realize more how irritating this thing actually is.

Now onto what is particularly unfunny about this. Comparison and simile jokes are everywhere here. "(BLANK) is as (BLANK) as a (BLANK)." or "He/she looks like a (BLANK) with a (BLANK)." There must be at least 100 of these style of jokes in this thing. Maybe five were amusing...maybe. That's being somewhat generous. Going along with the comparisons are the puns. Chris Rock's mother-in-law has a huge swollen toe...Chris Rock refers to her as "Toe-bo cop." that's funny? Next up in the joke department are a lot of crotch hits, face slaps and falls and whatnot. Again not funny. Occasionally an amusing joke squeezes through the junk and might get a chuckle out of someone, but overall these jokes are pretty bad.

Conflict is needed to make a movie good even in comedies. The conflicts in this movie are 1)Sandler and Salma Hayek are angry at each other about a Milan fashion show, 2)The five guys have play a basketball game against some old rivals, 3)Sandler wants his kids to stop playing video games and to live. None of these have any large impact on the film, and they are usually resolved within ten minutes of being introduced. This thing has no large conflict, and is mainly just five people sitting around filmed in what looks like a beer commercial, cracking mean spirited jokes about one another.

This could be potentially a funny film with all the talent involved, but very little works. Instead what we have is five people amusing themselves and leaving the audience wishing they could be on the same wavelength as these guys so they too could find this amusing. If anything positive could be said, at least the actors aren't too bad, and seem to be having a good time. I know I wasn't.

My rating: * 1/2 out of ****. 102 mins. PG-13 for sexual and crude jokes, language and some violence.
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Dice Rules (1991)
The black leather jacket...the cigarettes...the hatred of women...let's name this guy our leader!!!
3 April 2011
This movie did not produce one laugh in me. Not one chuckle. Not even one smile. There were a few grimaces, not coming from being offended by the material, but instead embarrassed for this sad, sad man. Nothing remotely amusing happens in this entire picture. The first third of the movie is a poorly acted comedy film about Andrew before he became "The Dice Man", and the last 2/3rds are even worse as we get into his comedy show at Madison Square Garden. A half hour of pure idiocy, followed by an hour of misogyny...just awful!

The first portion of the film is called "A Day in the Life" and sees Clay walking around acting like a nerd and doing a bad Jerry Lewis impression. The voice he uses is ridiculous and annoying, and I couldn't wait for this portion of the film to end. The acting is bad, and the whole point of this seems to be to stretch out the later comedy routine into a feature length film. In between basically every scene of this, we get "The Dice Man" as he is today with a buddy of his giving commentary about how he used to be. These cut scenes are completely unnecessary, and give the audience no insight into anything, and again, just feel like more filler to stretch out the movie. The performances are too consistently over the top, and the material just isn't funny. It's dumb. The actual story of how he got his jacket is ridiculous, and apparently that leather jacket completely changed his personality in a matter of minutes...Wow! At least we don't have to hear his idiot nerd voice anymore right? Wrong! The nerd voice he uses throughout the first part of the movie is also the voice he uses to imitate ALL women, so get ready to hear it another 30 times...ugh!

The Madison Square Garden comedy section is the worst. His comedy covers the hilarious topics of poisoning birds, torturing flies, pointing out that Japanese people have "squinty" eyes, making fun of the handicapped, telling Mother Goose rhymes with a pornographic twist, and of course, talking about how stupid women are. Many male comedians talk about women, because women elude them, and the men are confused. Mr. Clay on the other hand, seems to see himself as knowing women pretty well, and he has an understanding that women are objects, and that's basically what his routine is based on. He talks about his sex life, and basically says that women are tools for sex. Any character trait women have he ridicules. He tells them to put makeup on because they're dogs this funny? It's stupid, closed minded and mean, but is it funny? Not to me. For the last fifteen or so minutes we get away from his women hating jokes to the equally unfunny, but not quite as mean, impressions of people (Which suck might I add), and then he sings a couple of songs. This guy's really cornering the market. Too bad everything he does elicits more shock value than laughs, and the shock value really dies down pretty quick.

Mr. Dice Clay gets up and everyone raises their arms in anticipation for the comedy. The cameras sweep over the audience and we see eager red-neck looking (mostly) men screaming and yelling out for the Dice Man. Understandable, as they're excited to hear his hilarious comedy and how else are they going to react. Then the comedy starts, and they react the same way. Very little laughter and a whole lot of "Yeah!"s and screaming, and fists in the air. And the audience continues this way for the entire duration of this thing. He's telling jokes and they're chanting his name. Shouldn't they be laughing?? I mean, sure it's not funny in the least, but isn't that why they're here? To see a funny comedy show?? Nope, it seems as though they're here because this is the only (somewhat) socially accepted place to come and listen to rants about how women are objects and how stupid they are, and how minorities are morons. They seem to be here because they agree with him and instead of laughing, as one would do when they hear something they find funny or silly, they are shouting for him almost as if to say "You tell it brother!" And we see the audience constantly in the movie. It's really amazing!

The question that this film really raises, as does Mr. Clay's entire career, is "Is he joking?". Is this all a ruse and an extreme parody of the cockiness of men? If it is, nobody would ever know, as he seems completely serious, without any sort of sarcastic wink to the audience letting us know the guy's joking around. Hopefully he is, perhaps he's not, either way this material is based entirely in shock value, isn't funny in the least, and drags on and on. But hey, he's the self proclaimed "King of Cool", so maybe I'm just too square to get this guy. Probably not.

My rating: A Day in the Life segment: * 1/2. Madison Square Garden segment: BOMB. 88 mins. NC-17 for language and sexual jokes.
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Insidious (I) (2010)
One of the best horror films I've seen in years!
2 April 2011
I rarely go to see horror films in the theaters anymore, mainly because 90% or more are complete garbage. They are only there to give a cheap scare, and feature bad acting, and awful scripts. This movie gives some cheap scares, but it also gives more than that. It features images that have been stuck in my brain. It's not all quick jump scenes, but instead, it also has scenes that scare without having a blast of music or a quick run across the screen. This is a film that wants to, and almost transcends the genre of typical horror fare, but kind of falls into a middle ground between trashy horror films and well thought out horror films. Either way, it is still one of the best horror films to come out in the last few years.

After their son falls into a mysterious coma, Josh and Renai Lambert begin seeing and hearing frightening things in their new house. They decide to move, and still, mysterious creatures inhabit the house. After calling in a psychic, they learn that their boy is a skilled astroprojector, and in his sleep, his soul traveled too far from his body, and was trapped by malevolent spirits. It's up to Josh to think back to his repressed childhood and astroproject himself to find his son in a horrifying place called "The Further".

This horror movie has something that most recent one's haven't, and that's likable lead characters that the audience actually cares about. Unlike typical "kill 'em off" horror flicks, this film develops it's leads enough for the audience to root for them, instead of rooting for their death. The writing wasn't too bad, and the decisions the characters make don't usually come off as completely idiotic. Often in horror films, the characters never seem to remember the scene before and stay in the house for another night, and while there is a little bit of idiocy going on here, the characters seem real for the most part and don't forget previous scenes of terror just to keep them conveniently in harm's way.

Horror is the genre here, so the question is, "Is this movie scary?" I would say it definitely is. The atmosphere is tense, and even when nothing is happening, and we aren't waiting for something to happen, things can be really creepy. A scene where Patrick Wilson is looking at drawings is enormously creepy, and never does a jump happen, or does the film make you believe one is coming. A few images here have stuck with me, and when they appeared in the film, they were both genuinely startling, and disturbing, where they stay with you much after the movie is over. And this film is consistently scary. Even the chaotic musical score was scary, and fairly memorable, and I haven't had the music in a horror film stick with me since maybe "The Sixth Sense".

Rottentomatoes has started writing sillier and less reflective summaries of their movies since they hooked up with Flixter, and this one is a great example of how much I disagree with them. They refer to the third act as shaky...I would actually say that was the most original and interesting part of the entire movie. The astroprojected world is an example of how this film transcends the typical horror movie. It's so creative, and understated at the same time. It's dark, and creepy, but also surreal and artistic, and the creativity of the third act makes this movie feel more like the original "Nightmare on Elm Street" or "Poltergeist" than say "One Missed Call". The dream world is dark and hard to see, but that only makes it all the more fascinating, and the whole trip to "The Further" is worth admission price alone. It's an original aspect of a not-so original, but nonetheless effective movie.

It was thrilling to see such a competently made and genuinely scary movie in this ever dwindling genre. I highly recommend this one, for a good and scary time at the movies, with a film that surely won't be soon forgotten like so many others of the genre.

My rating: *** out of ****. 100 mins. PG-13 for terror and violence, and language.
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Toy Story (1995)
PIXAR set the very high bar here for CGI films, and have been hovering around or above it since.
11 March 2011
Warning: Spoilers
PIXAR is a brand that is now synonymous with quality, and it's not hard to see why this is. They have consistently made wonderful animated pictures that are very funny and heartwarming, and all have memorable and soon to be iconic scenes. They never pander to children, nor do they rely on cheap gags or melodrama. This film is the epitome of what PIXAR is about. "Toy Story" is one of the greatest animated films, that in recent years has only been topped by a few other PIXAR films.

In the world this film sets up, toys are all alive, though they don't let that known to people. They play their roles are toys and when the people are not in sight, they talk about their job of being played with, and their personal lives. It's Andy's birthday, and all the toys in his room are worried about this fate with new toys coming in. Woody the cowboy doll is the leader of the group and is Andy's favorite toy, but Andy just received a new space toy, Buzz Lightyear, and now Woody is playing second fiddle and he doesn't like that. After mistakenly knocking Buzz out the window, the toys turn on Woody and he and Buzz end up on an adventure trying to find Andy and make it back to his house before he and his family move.

The characters are always walking a fine line here, and never once do they fall off into one side. Woody could be very unlikable. He's always complaining, shouting all the time and he does some pretty mean things. Woody may be occasionally ill intentioned, but he is never malicious, and instead of being a complete jerk, he is often fighting between what is right and wrong and picks the former. The characters can be mean, but they're well intentioned in the end, and it's what shows in them.

This film is of course a technical achievement, boasting that it's the first feature length fully computer animated movie. The animation looks great still today, but in a film world dominated by special effects and computer animation, it's very difficult to impress, but what still stands out about this film's look is it's visual style. From strange mid 50s interior designs to the atmospheric and beautiful golden hour look of certain scenes, this movie has such unique sets and shadows and just the atmosphere overall is very involving. The exciting chase and action sequences are also remembered and still today look dazzling. But what makes those scenes, namely the whole moving van sequence at the end, is the emotion. You feel for these characters, and the "Falling with style" callback that could feel contrived and corny, comes off as heartwarming. All the great scenes in the film have a level of humanity underneath all the negativity and cynicism of Woody that makes this animated toy feel very human.

Randy Newman can be a little samey in some of his musical work, but his songs and score work very well here. The songs give us insight into what the character is feeling, and raise the emotion. His score plays off really well, and is catchy and bouncy without being cheesy. You'll find yourself singing these songs and humming the music after watching this.

Toy Story is animated masterpiece. Unlike many of Disney animation's masterpieces, like the wonderful "Beauty and the Beast" or "The Little Mermaid", this plays as a film instead of a great animated movie. It's a timeless film that will surely entertain many generations to come. It's a true classic!

My rating: **** out of ****. 81 mins. Rated G.
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A Close Shave (1995)
Thrilling, exciting, hilarious, touching...plasticine
6 March 2011
Just thinking about stop motion animation makes one think of a slow and tedious process of moving everything in the frame scene by scene. It takes forever (seemingly), and just two years after Wallace and Gromit's last adventure, we get this superbly animated, well thought out short film, that is actually as exciting as many live action adventure pictures. Proof that Nick Park and crew are about quality, because after the success of "the Wrong Trousers" it would be easy to cash in on a less than great installment, but thankfully for us, that's not the case.

A mysterious wool shortage has plagued the town where Wallace and Gromit, who are now cleaning windows, live. What lies before this man and dog duo is a love interest, a sheep rustling murderous dog, and a lot of sheep.

When thinking of the original three Wallace and Gromit shorts, I've always put this one and the Wrong Trousers nearly on par as perfect shorts, and while I still feel that way, this one falls a little short of their second adventure, and yet this has nothing really wrong with it to make it worse. When you have two perfect shorts, one is going to probably be favored over the other, and the lack of talking and pure clay animated suspense that "Wrong Trousers" produced stands above this equally wonderful, but more grandiose outing. Either way, this is seriously great, and one of the greatest short films out there.

The animation has improved greatly since "The Wrong Trousers". The animation is smoother, the sets are more three dimensional and the town in which they live in is given more of a personality, and fingerprints aren't as prominent on the figures. And the animation on the action sequences is superb. The last film gave us the hilarious train sequence, and this one gives us many action sequences, most notably being the motorcycle chase and the oatmeal machine gun shootout which are both spectacular and hilariously implausible. The whole five (or so) minute chase scene in the film is seriously as interesting, well thought out, and action packed as most regular action flicks, and it manages to be so without any violence or explosions. Truly a testament to the writing and animation of this thing.

Composer Julian Nott is also a huge part of this film. His music sounds like a mix of suspenseful thriller music, and a German unlikely combination, but one that fits so perfectly, giving the scenes a playful bounce, along with a "something bad is going to happen" feel. A new addition to the score for this film that wasn't in the previous two was the love theme which is almost a parody of love themes, but one that stands on it's own and also works perfectly in the scenes.

Wallace and Gromit represent not just quality animation, but also top notch writing, well thought out jokes and gags, fantastic direction from Nick Park, and proof that animation is not just for kids. Nick Park and the team at Aardman animation can easily be thought of as the Pixar team of England.

My rating: **** out of ****. 31 mins. Not rated, but good for the whole family.
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