Saturday, April 28, 2012

THINK LIKE A MAN (2012)

Written by Keith Merryman & David A. Newman


Directed by Tim Story


When & Where : Arclight Cinemas, Pasadena, CA.  April 20, 2012  9:00PM


Men and women have been struggling to understand each other since dinosaurs roamed the planet without a viable solution in sight. You would think they might stop agonizing over this hopeless inquiry but people (I believe mostly women) are determined to figure each other out.

There seem to be an endless glut of people who claim to have all the answers on how to solve this dilemma and all you have to do is buy their book. The latest entry is by comedian, Steve Harvey and his self-help tome, "Act Like A Lady, Think Like A Man" with some feeling that he has betrayed his gender by giving away the secret of our motivations and teaching women how to read between the lines of what men are actually telling them. This New York Times bestseller has been turned in to a serviceable romantic comedy under the shorter title, "Think Like A Man" which brings to life examples of  how this book could possibly work for you..

We first meet the men, a bunch of buddies who are broken down by some typical male types; Dominic (Michael Ealy) is "The Dreamer", a man who wants to open his own restaurant but isn't even close as he's still waiting tables. "The Non-Committer" (Jerry Ferrara) has been involved with his girlfriend (Gabrielle Union) for years but putting a ring on her finger is the furthest thing from his mind. Michael (Terrence J.) is the classic "Mama's Boy" who wants a girl just like his mama except the real deal (Jenifer Lewis) is never too far behind. There's always "The Player" in any group and that's Zeke (Romany Malco) whose ability with smooth pillow talk makes his quest to score with the ladies much easier. Rounding out this gang are the married guys; one happily (Gary Owen) and the other (Kevin Hart) who can't get divorced soon enough.

Their ladies, which include the sexy, Mya (Meagan Good) who wants to be more than a one-night stand for Zeke by holding out for ninety days before being intimate and Candance (Regina Hall), a single mother dating Michael but has no interest in competing with his mother for his affections, are frustrated by their prospective mates until they discover Mr. Harvey's book. They begin following his wisdom and start to have great success in handling the men.

However, Candance's good friend, Lauren (Taraji P. Henson) thinks the book is just nonsense. She's a successful businesswoman who is looking for a good man that is her equal and has no desire to settle for less. Due to a case of mistaken identity, Lauren accepts a date with the underemployed Dominic and the sparks fly. Dominic wants to confess his true profession to her but decides to listen to the guys and postpone the news. When the men later get wind of this advice book, they decide to use it to their advantage.

The plot predictably follows the standard rom-com guideline but with this rare occurrence of a Hollywood film focusing on a mostly African-American prospective on love and relationships, "Think" feels fresher than it would under different circumstances. Love is most certainly color-blind but I think we've already seen enough numerous cinematic variations of romance with Kate Hudson, Reese Witherspoon or Matthew McConaughey in the lead. The script is strictly rote that offers no subtly or shading to make any of these characters anything more than stereotypes but these terrific actors certainly help elevate this material

In fact, the best thing about "Think Like A Man" is that it's a great showcase to display the gifts of these African-American performers who don't get nearly enough opportunities to show what they are capable of delivering. Ms Hanson, in particular, is a crackerjack comedienne who can skillfully go from tough to tender and make it all very amusing. If there is any justice, the film will hopefully lead this actress to plenty of other big-screen roles. Mr. Hart, who appears to be a graduate of the Chris Tucker School of Comedic Performance, can be quite hilarious as he offers his own opinions about relationships (and may also explain why he's heading to Divorce Court) although his loud, motor-mouth routine can grow a little tiresome by the end.

Although there's way too much shameless plugging of Mr. Harvey's book for my taste which makes the film feel more like an infomercial but "Think Like A Man" is still an enjoyable little comedy. It offers what you would typically expect from a romantic-comedy with appealing performances and some solid laughs.










Friday, April 27, 2012

2012 SUMMER MOVIE PREVIEW

On the third anniversary of this blog, it is once again time to announce my picks of the films that I'm most looking forward in seeing this summer.

Also, as usual, the release dates are subject to change:

"THE AVENGERS" 

Release date: May 4, 2012

We have already seen Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Captain America (Chris Evans) and the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo, new to the role) each battle against evil individually but now they have been assembled together by Nick Fury of S.H.I.E.L.D. (Samuel L. Jackson) to fight against a bigger enemy in "The Avengers". Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and a new hero to the scene, Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) are also brought on board and they'll need all of their combined strength to save the planet. This is probably the film I am most excited about seeing all summer since I was such a big comic-book geek as a kid.

 

"DARK SHADOWS" 

Release date: May 11, 2012

Director, Tim Burton has teamed up with Johnny Deep for the seventh time in this comedic remake of the gothic soap opera, "Dark Shadows" that ran on television from 1966 to 1971 which I watched and loved as a kid. Depp plays Barnabas Collins, an eighteenth century playboy who is turned in to a vampire by an jilted witch (Eva Green) and buried in a coffin before accidentally being released hundreds of years later in 1972. He discovers a world that is a bit different than the one he last remembered and meets his dysfunctional descendants living in his mansion. Chloe Grace Moretz, Jackie Earle Haley, Jonny Lee Miller, Helena Bonham Carter (what's with these three names?) and Michelle Pfeiffer round out the cast.

 

"HYSTERIA"

Release date: May 18, 2012

This British romantic-comedy is about a nineteenth century doctor (Hugh Dancy) trying to discover a cure for female hysteria, which was considered a medical condition that was helped by treatments that involved doctors performing a "pelvic massage". A device is invented to make the procedure more effective: the vibrator. Felicity Jones, Jonathan Pryce, Rupert Everett and Maggie Gyllenhaal also star in this film directed by Tanya Wexler.



"SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN"

Release date: June 1, 2012

This is the second film inspired by the classic fable released this year but unlike, "Mirror Mirror" (the lighthearted version that starred Julia Roberts as the evil queen) "Snow White and the Huntsman" is definitely not made with children in mind. This visually stunning take is a much darker spin with this Snow White being more than capable of taking care of herself and kicking some ass. Kirsten Stewart ("Twilight") plays the fairest of them all with Charlize Theron as the Queen who is not at all happy to hear that. It appears that the dwarfs and Prince Charming take a back seat to the brooding huntsman, played by Chris Hemsworth ("Thor").



"PROMETHEUS" 

Release date: June 8, 2012

Ridley Scott, the director of "Blade Runner" and "Alien", has returned to the world of science-fiction with "Prometheus", a film that is set before the first "Alien" film. Although the filmmaker insists that this is not exactly a prequel to that film but it's also clear that "Prometheus" is closely connected to what happened before the "Alien" series began. Does that clear things up? Noomi Rapace (the original Lisbeth in the Swedish version of "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo") leads a strong cast that includes Charlize Theron, Guy Pearce, Idris Elba and Michael Fassbender.

 

"TO ROME WITH LOVE"

Release date: June 22, 2012

After the surprising success of "Midnight In Paris", Woody Allen is hot once again with his forty-third film, "To Rome With Love" being highly anticipated. The film was first going to be called, "The Bop Decameron", then "Nero Fiddles" before settling on this fairly generic title but hopefully the film will be much more interesting than the title. The cast includes Penelope Cruz, Alec Baldwin, Jesse Eisenberg, Ellen Page, and Judy Davis, with the return to the screen of Roberto Benigni (Best Actor Oscar winner for the 1997 film, "Life Is Beautiful") and Mr. Allen himself , who was last seen in 2006 in his film, "Scoop".



"MAGIC MIKE"

Release date: June 29, 2012

A movie involving male strippers doesn't require much more than that to get me interested but Steven Soderbergh as the director involved makes this even more intriguing.  Loosely based on star, Channing Tatum's past as an exotic dancer, "Magic Mike" is about the veteran stripper, Mike (Tatum) teaching a newcomer (Alex Pettyfer) the ropes while trying to gracefully leave the profession. Television hunks, Matt Boner ("White Collar"), Adam Rodriguez ("CSI: Miami") and Joe Manganiello ("True Blood") fill in as other dancers with Matthew McConaughey as a former stripper who now owns the club.



"TAKE THIS WALTZ"

Release date: June 29, 2012

Following her terrific debut, the award-winning 2006 film, "Away From Her", actress, Sarah Polley made quite an name for herself as a writer/director and has finally returned with her latest, "Take This Waltz". Michelle Williams (recent Oscar nominee for "My Week With Marilyn") plays a happily married woman to her husband of five years (Seth Rogan) but finds herself being drawn to her attractive neighbor (Luke Kirby). The drama also features comedian, Sarah Silverman, being very serious.



"TED"

Release date : July 13, 2012

"Ted" is a raunchy new comedy written and directed by Seth MacFarlane, the creator of the raunchy animated television series, "Family Guy" and "American Dad". John (Mark Wahlberg), as a little boy, wished that his teddy bear would come to life and he does; Ted is a foul-mouthed, drug-taking bad influence on John and is standing in the way of him growing-up and finding happiness as an adult with a potential new love interest (Mila Kunis).



"THE DARK KNIGHT RISES" 

Release date: July 20, 2012

Although "The Dark Knight Rises" is being touted as the third and final chapter in the Christopher Nolan - Christian Bale collaboration but I think it's pretty safe to say that we have not seen the last of the caped crusader. This time Batman has to deal with not one but two dangerous foes in the form of The Catwoman with Anne Hathaway filling in as Selina Kyle and Bane (Tom Hardy), a masked, lethal brute with super-strength. Gary Oldman, Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman return in their previous roles along with Nolan's "Inception" stars, Joesph Gordon-Levitt as a Gotham City cop and Marion Cotillard as Bruce Wayne's potential new love interest.

 

"TOTAL RECALL"

Release date: August 3, 2012

I admit to having zero interest in seeing "Total Recall"(one of Arh-nuld's most popular films) which seemed like yet another pointless Hollywood remake that would pale in comparison to the original but then I actually saw the trailer. Now, I have to admit that the trailer alone makes this version look like a vast improvement over the 1990 film. I realize this doesn't mean this film will be any good but now I'm much more interested in seeing it. Set in the near future, Colin Farrell (improvement number one) takes over as Douglas Quaid, a factory worker who discovers that false memories have been implanted in him to cover that he is acually a rebel fighter trying to take down the government. This version (directed by Len Wiseman) also features Bryan Cranston, John Cho, Jessica Biel and Kate Beckinsale as Quaid's loving wife.




"SPARKLE"

Release date: August 17, 2012

In what is, sadly, Whitney Houston's final film is a remake of the 1976 musical, "Sparkle". Now set in the 60's, this story is still about three young sisters who dream of becoming singing stars but fail to see the price they might have to pay for this success. Their mother (played by Houston) tries to protect her girls as she knows firsthand about the hardship of the music biz. The cast includes Derek Luke, Mike Epps and "American Idol" winner, Jordin Sparks making her cinematic debut. "Sparkle" will feature some of the original music written by Curtis Mayfield as well as new material by R. Kelly.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

LE GAMIN AU VELO (THE KID WITH A BIKE) (2011)

Written & Directed by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne


Where & When: Laemmle's Playhouse 7, Pasadena, CA. April 3, 2012   1:00PM



"The Kid With A Bike" is the new film from the brothers from Belgium, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne who have been writing and directing together since the late 1970's but didn't come in to prominence until their 1996 film, "La Promesse". The brothers have become a fixture of the Cannes Film Festival ever since their film, "Rosetta" took the Palme d'Or in 1999 and all of their subsequent works have taken home a major prize at the gathering including "Bike" which won the Grand Prix in 2011. Their latest deals with a child abandoned by his still living, able-bodied parent as he struggles to make sense of his appalling circumstances as well as learning to understand what actually constitutes a family.

Cyril (played by Thomas Doret in a stellar performance) is a strong-willed, hard-headed twelve year old who his father has left in foster care for what was supposed to be on a temporary basis. However, Cyril has been told that his father has sold all of their belongings, including his beloved bike and taken off to parts unknown. Unwilling to accept this, Cyril runs off to the apartment to look for his father. The caretakers from the home track him down but Cyril resists being taken back and uses a young woman as an anchor. After they get him to calm down, he is taken in to the apartment to see for himself.

Heartbroken by this realization, Cyril becomes morose and unmanageable until Samantha (Cécile de France),the young woman he briefly held captive, was able to track down his bike and return it to him. Although she tells him that she bought it back, Cyril insists that the bike was stolen from his father. Before Samantha leaves, Cyril asks her if he could spend the weekends with her and, without hesitating, she agrees. At first, Cyril's plan is to use these visits as a way to simply search for his father but over time, he and Samantha grow close.

With Samantha's help, Cyril is able to finally track down his father (Jérémie Renier) however the reunion doesn't turn out as he hoped. Angry and disappointed, the boy begins acting out which attracts the attention of the local gang leader named Wes (Egon Di Mateo) who isn't much older than Cyril..Taking advantage of his desperate need to belong, Wes seduces Cyril in to believing he is his new best buddy. This makes it much easier for him to convince Cyril to rob a local vendor using a baseball bat. When this crime doesn't go down as planned, Wes reveals his true colors by threatening to kill Cyril if he breathes a word of his involvement.

The Dardenne brothers take a naturalistic approach to creating their films where they use available light, minimal music, hand-held cameras and feel no need of providing any back story to the characters as they expect the audience to fill in their own ideas. The first film I saw that they made was the 2005 film, "The Child (L'efant)" which starred Mr. Renier who plays a petty thief who sells his new baby to the black market for money without his girlfriend's knowledge, then struggles to get the child back after he realizes his grave error. Now, it is no underestimation that this was extremely disturbing plot but in these filmmakers' hands, it is definitely intense but powerfully touching and full of hope. "Bike" also deals with some dark and heavy subject matter but the film remains luminous and colorful with a dreamlike quality.

In order for this film to truly work, it required a young actor capable of holding your attention and delivering a true performance and the young Doret is up there with the best. He is in almost every scene and with his expressive face is able to convincingly show us his feelings through every moment of his story  Despite her character having to endure plenty of frustration and even physical pain while dealing with this rebellious boy but Ms de France, (who American audiences may recognize from the 2010 Clint Eastwood film, "Hereafter"), manages to convey her strong desire to help this child with a performance full of warmth, tenderness and good humor.

"The Kid With A Bike" is a substantial film filled with beautifully captured moments and deep emotions. Although the subject might seem difficult to deal with but the Dardenne Brothers know how to handle challenging material to create a work that is endlessly fascinating, thoroughly moving.and completely unforgettable.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

16TH ANNUAL CITY OF LIGHTS/CITY OF ANGELS FILM FESTIVAL



The annual City of Lights/City of Angels Film Festival brings the best in French cinema over the past year to these shores on April 16 through 23. This year's festival will feature thirty-four feature films and twenty-one shorts and will screen at the Director's Guild of America in West Hollywood.

The opening film will be "My Way"  by director Florent-Emillo Siri. It's a bio-pic about French pop singer, Claude Francois, played by Jeremie Renier, who sold over sixty-seven million albums before his shocking death at the age of thirty-nine.

Other highlights include "Americano",  the directorial debut of Mathieu Demy, the son of noted directors, Agnes Varda and Jacques Demy, "The Well Digger's Daughter", the directorial debut of actor, Daniel Auteuil in which he also stars and "Another Woman's Life", a romantic-comedy starring Juliette Binoche and Mathieu Kassovitz.

There will be tributes to actors, Yves Montand and Julie Delpy and a screening of "Le Sauvage", a restored 1975 film by director Jean-Paul Rappeneau that stars Mr. Montand as a married man who leaves his life behind to live on an island but he is disrupted by the arrival of a runaway bride (Catherine Deneuve).

To see the complete line-up and additional information, please go to:

COL/COA 2012

Sunday, April 8, 2012

BULLY (2012)


Directed by Lee Hirsch


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA.  April 3, 2012  6:00PM



The subject of bullying is something most people have had some form of personal experience with during their adolescence as they either have been the victim of the act, been the actual culprit or have simply witnessed the bullying. The documentary, "Bully" addresses this serious problem and explores how students and parents have come up with a plan to try and combat the issue.

I have to admit that while watching the film, memories came flooding back of moments when I had been bullied and I found myself actually getting anxious which surprised me as I am very far removed from my childhood. It shows me how deeply these acts can effect people.

The film opens with the tragic consequences of relentless bullying with the family of  Tyler Long, a teen from Georgia who took his own life in 2009, as they try to cope with the loss and to make some kind of sense of how these actions could push him to want to end his young life.

"Bully" tries to answer these questions as it explores the effects of the mental and physical abuse these children have to endure as they are simply trying to get an education in the public school system. We follow a few teenagers from rural areas across the country who tell their stories; We first meet Tyler, a sweet-natured twelve year old who keeps to himself and has difficulty making friends. He is teased and punched daily while his parents are becoming concerned as Tyler is more withdrawn and appearing desensitized to what is happening to him.

Kelby came out as a lesbian at sixteen in her small town in Oklahoma and she and her family were immediately shunned by the community. She received verbal abuse not only from her fellow students but also from her teachers who seemed to encourage the taunts. Kelby tries to remain at her school in the hope of being able to enlighten people but as time goes by, there seems little hope of that occurring.

Fourteen year old, Ja'Meya, a mild-mannered girl from Mississippi was mercilessly picked on every day until she finally snapped. While riding home on the school bus, she brandished her mother's gun on her tormentors. Ja'Meya is arrested, placed in juvenile detention and put under psychiatric observation. Her helpless mother tries to console her daughter as she struggles to keep the faith that Ja'Meya will be able to return home soon.

The parents of these students have all gone for help from the school system on numerous occasions but they are met with either indifference or seem to want to blame the behavior of the abused. After the suicide of another teenager, Ty Smalley in Oklahoma, his parents started an organization, I Stand For The Silent whose mission is to end bullying and to save lives.

The director, Lee Hirsch, whose first documentary feature, "Amandla! A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony" about the history of the South African anti-apartheid movement told through music, won an Audience award at the Sundance Film Festival, was personally effected by bullying as he was a victim himself and became the inspiration to make this film. "Bully" is fairly straight-forward in it's approach and because of the subject matter, there's no need for a lot of razzle-dazzle but I had a couple of issues. The use of the Internet as a weapon to further humiliate was briefly touched on by a parent but I wish this had been further explored in the film as many parents have no real clue on how technology has made it even easier to torture their children and the camerawork (which was done by Hirsch) was frustrating as there were way too many shots that started off out of focus. These are minor complaints as the message of the film to end the abuse and empower people to take a stand is far too important.

As for the MPAA's decision to give "Bully" an "R" rating strictly because of language is outrageous and completely undeserved. The use of these words is not gratuitous but simply presented to show how kids today actually communicate with each other. If this group (which is made up largely of a collection of very concerned parents) thought they were protecting their young innocents from dangerous curse words, then they are sadly out of touch as the few F-bombs uttered is mild compared to what I have overheard come out of the mouths of today's average teenager. I just wish the MPAA would be just as concerned about the amount of violence that is allowed to be casually shown in a "PG-13" film.

"Bully" helps shed much needed light to this important issue and while it's far from a new problem but many just are not aware how much more dangerous and traumatizing it has become for young people. Despite the unnecessarily strong rating, I would strongly urge parents to take their children to see this powerful film and discuss it with them.