“Slumdog Millionaire” (R)

“Slumdog Millionaire” is the story of Jamal Malik, a young man from India who finds himself sitting on the Indian version of the game show “Who Wants to be a Millionaire.” He seems to be answering the questions very well indeed. But is he cheating? Is someone helping him? Is Jamal extremely smart or merely guessing his way through each multiple choice question? Will he really win the money - or will he lose all the money in the end and win his love interest instead? Or will he lose his love interest and only win the money, which is another lesson in itself?

Or, in a harsh Third World reality, will he tragically lose both?

This movie pulls no punches. In India, it’s usually one extreme or the other - with no middle possible. Hollywood happy endings are few and far between when watching foreign films.

This independent film (starring zero famous actors) is more complicated than you would think from the trailers and will surprise you with its powerful score and stunning visuals exposing the filthy underbelly of Third World India. We watch Jamal and his brother grow up as orphans in this unforgiving land, where one is either entrepreneuring and rich beyond their wildest dreams, or depressingly impoverished. The scenes of Indian slum life will depress you. It’s like viewing a live feed of a plane crash - fascinating stuff to watch from afar, and most folks will enjoy this fictional story as it unfolds. However, the film is not without its flaws.

I found the Taj Mahal scenes to be mighty far fetched. If India really does has zero control over this World Heritage site, as this story would have us believe, shame on everyone involved. Strange to have a crew from India even paint such a portrayal. In many overseas travels, I’ve never seen such loose controls on any historic site. Perhaps India is different. Let’s hope not.

Furthermore, the love story that drives the movie forward seems to be based more on puppy love than any solid love connection between Jamal and his supposed soul mate, Latika. But few films get everything 100% right. Even with its shortcomings, “Slumdog Millionaire” is a top notch foreign film.

(The film is in Indian-accented English with only three dozen or so subtitles when Hindi is spoken. For those that hate subtitles, don’t let the few subtitles dissuade you from seeing this film.)

- See it on "The Big Screen"


“Let the Right One In” (R)

From Sweden comes a vampire movie unlike any you have seen before. A twelve-year-old outcast is befriended by a twelve-year-old (maybe) neighbor girl, who the outcast immediately recognizes as “smelling funny” upon their first encounter. Much later he finds out she’s a vampire, but because of his initial kindness towards her, and because he’s the school nerd, both are drawn to each other.

The whole movie is not terrific, but there are a few terrific creepy scenes.

This is billed as a horror film, but it’s really just a dark character study without the horror you paid for. There’s plenty of blood here, but not horror. Foreign films are notoriously slower paced than Hollywood films, and this one plods along with a definite purpose, but at the speed of ice cubes melting. If you watch 20 minutes of this movie, you will be unable to turn it off without seeing how it turns out. The ending is a bit of a letdown, but overall, folks that consider themselves “people watchers” will enjoy seeing how Swedish folks and vampires tick.

(In Swedish with large, easy to read English subtitles.)

- Wait For DVD


“Burn After Reading” (R)

I’m a fan of Coen Brothers movies (Joel Coen & Ethan Coen). I enjoy most of their wacky scripts. For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, here’s the list again:

No Country for Old Men (2007)
Blood Simple (1984)
Raising Arizona (1987)
Miller's Crossing (1990)
Barton Fink (1991)
The Hudsucker Proxy (1994)
Fargo (1996)
The Big Lebowski (1998)
O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)
The Man Who Wasn't There (2001)

“Burn After Reading” would rate as my least favorite from the brothers. It stars George Clooney, John Malkovich, Frances McDormand, Brad Pitt and Tilda Swinton. Brad Pitt is horribly miscast as a clueless clown in this strange meandering dim view of the world we live in. If Pitt didn’t have a rash of fine films behind him, you’d think his acting skills were no better than your neighbor’s across the street.

It doesn’t matter what the film is about. It’s a Coen Brothers movie. It’s wacky, just like all their other films. Unfortunately this story won’t keep you engrossed like the other nine movies listed above.

- Wait For HBO


“The Dark Knight” (PG-13)

This two-and-a-half-hour movie is aptly named, as it’s even darker than the Spider-Man movies of late. Most of the lighter lines are delivered by The Joker (played by the late Heath Ledger), but those lines are delivered during tense mobster scenes, therefore, consider this one dark from start to finish.

The film stars Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman.

This time Batman takes a backseat to the Joker’s performance, which allows you to sit through the entire film. There’s never been a better Joker. Batman’s really quite a bore here, and when in the Batman gear, he could be anybody. I believe they could change out the lead role of Batman with each release and no one would really care. If Batman had been killed in the first scene, and Morgan Freeman pulled on the cape and drove the bat-toys, the film would not have suffered one bit.

Regardless of whether you end up liking or loving this movie, it’s still too long.

Morgan Freeman is still the version of 007’s Cue, and gives Batman a few more toys, with the bat-cycle being by far the crowd favorite. The Bat-Toys, great steady cam filming, good scene locations, and the grand performance by Heath Ledger are the reasons this film is a winner.

- See it on "The Big Screen"



“Wanted” (R)

Here’s another example of a 2008 action movie that does NOT employ the use of the annoying “shaky cam” that has taken Hollywood by storm.

There is more action going on here than a human brain can keep up with, but that’s OK. Action is what the audience is looking for in “Wanted,” the Angelina Jolie movie where she kidnaps a wimpy “everyman” and turns him into a secret assassin with special talents. Morgan Freeman heads up the secret group in his usual cucumber cool style, but it’s Jolie who keeps the audience engaged.

James McAvoy stars as the recruit. He got the first half of the movie right (wimpy) but I never really bought into his transformation. He’s like a Tobey Maguire “lite,” and that’s no compliment. There are enough car chase scenes, fighting scenes, sex scenes, and blood and gore to satisfy a whole football team of adrenalin junkies, and the special effects look good. There is also some “Matrix” spice tossed into the mix, along with plot twists and turns that are better left quiet until you see it.

They could have gone for a PG-13 rating, and scored fifty million dollars more at the box office. Instead, they pulled few punches and went for the full “R” rating instead. You know if this is for you or not.

- See it on "The Big Screen"



“The Incredible Hulk” (PG-13)

Edward Norton takes over the role in a whole new Hulk series. The better comic book movie of 2008 is certainly “Iron Man,” but this Hulk will suffice if you’re in the mood for an action picture.

We all know the story - don’t make this guy mad, because you won’t like him when he’s mad. First his eyes turn green, then his skin, then he becomes a massively strong human monster who, conveniently, can still wear his pants. His gamma induced anger issues makes for both great TV shows and movies, but this one’s not without its hulk-like flaws. That’s mighty unfortunate, because when we start this film, set in Rio de Janeiro, the story is really quite strong.

The film’s shortcomings can be summed up in one sentence:
This movie doesn’t know if it wants to be “King Kong” (with Liv Tyler as the love interest), “Transformers” with big CG monsters fighting recklessly in our world, or WWF, with silly fake fighting moves, minus a ring with the trampoline floor and fake referee.

Whenever we see multiple giant, city smashing monsters fighting one another (this film has two), we think of old Japanese flicks. Hollywood should know better than to tread on that tired turf. Anything more than one green Hulk on the screen at any given time is overkill and unnecessary. And certainly after seeing this Hulk unscathed by grenades, large caliber machine gun fire, and fireballs of falling military hardware, why oh why would we need a silly scene of the Hulk standing up and bumping his head on the top of a cave, AND IT HURTS HIM! The director should be heavily fined for that boner.

Tim Roth, though scrawny, makes a decent bad guy, but William Hurt is nothing more than a cardboard cutout of a menacing man. Strange casting indeed.

- Wait For DVD

Iron Man

“Iron Man” (PG-13)

Robert Downey Jr. soars as “Iron Man,” the latest superhero to hit the silver screen.

Let’s get this out of the way early on - this is a summer blockbuster - before summer even begins. And strangely, the theater was less than half full.

Where is everybody?

The movie plays it straight, with Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) as a grown up M.I.T. wiz kid, who now runs (and obviously profits wildly) a military hardware company. The writing is top notch, and the lines delivered perfectly by the entire professional cast.

Tony’s version of “The Butler” (all superheroes need a butler) is an assistant named Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). I suppose they made Gwyneth dye her hair red to keep up the tested formula of the “Spider-Man” franchise. And in keeping with the “Spider-Man” route, Paltrow is the least hot woman in the film. But she can act, which is more than we can say for Kirsten Dunst.

Jeff Bridges plays the partner in the military firm. It takes you a while to recognize him, but he always nails his roles.

Terrence Howard plays the high ranking sidekick military officer. I’m afraid we’ll see more of him in the sequel, for a “Lethal Weapon” buddy style movie. That will surely suck, but might be a hit with the kids that don’t remember, or are not yet tired of the 14 “Lethal Weapon” movies.

But this one doesn’t suck. I’m not going to spoil the surprises here, but it’s one for young and old alike, with plenty of explosions, high tech realistic weaponry, and sharp lines throughout. You won’t want it to end, but as it does, there are a few bad lines (delivered by Paltrow) that don’t belong in this otherwise well written movie. The film ends rather abruptly, but this is definitely one to see in a half full theater.

- See it on "The Big Screen"



“Forgetting Sarah Marshall” (R)

From the makers of “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and “Knocked Up” comes an adult comedy starring Jason Segel as a lazy studio musician guy who gets dumped by his famous actress girlfriend. Kristen Bell stars as the bitchy actress who does the dumping. Russell Brand (the British stand up comedian - see YouTube for performances) stars as the crazy live performing Brit musician who is now dating the bitchy actress in Hawaii. Mila Kunis (“That 70’s Show”) stars as the Hawaiian hotel hottie who tries to help out the heartbroken studio musician who arrives to find his ex-girlfriend at the very same hotel with her new wild musician boyfriend in tow.

Let the hijinks begin! There are plenty of other zany characters to fill out the scenes as well - kind of.

This is a very uneven “R” rated movie in the same way that a 90 minute SNL show has peaks and often very low valleys of humor and taste. It doesn’t flow evenly as movies should, which I found a bit off-putting. It certainly earns its “R” rating, so prepare for face cringing scenes, flagrant sex chat and visual sexual activity.

This is not to say the movie is not worth seeing, but certainly before you feel like turning it off due to the raunchy (and sometimes tough to sit through) first half, rest assured that the second half saves the movie. The film does have a heart, and it’s in the right place. The second half also has some very funny and frank scenes of people confronting their demons.

So if you start it, be sure to finish it - so you won’t be left with that awful first half taste in your mouth.

- Wait For DVD


Vantage Point

Vantage Point (PG-13)

If you ever wanted to see a sequel to the 1993 movie “Groundhog Day” starring Bill Murray, here it is. Unfortunately, that’s not what the makers of “Vantage Point” would like you to take away from this film.

Dennis Quaid stars as a Secret Service agent who only months before, took a bullet or two for the President of the United States during an assassination attempt. Fast forward to the present (more on fast forward/rewind later) and we see Mr. Quaid is again on detail as the President (played by William Hurt) travels in his motorcade through the streets of Spain in order to speak at an outdoor venue for the world conference on terrorism. Of course as he starts to speak at the podium, the President is shot.

If you’ve seen the trailer for this film, you already know too much. Hollywood manages to bungle the release of this film by ruining the secret, just as they did with “Terminator II,” where they showed Arnold as a good terminator long before we had the chance to view the movie and find that out for ourselves.

But it matters not. As soon as we watch the assassination, and the bomb blasts that follow, we are tortured into boredom by being forced to watch the same exact scenes over, and over, and over at different angles by different people. If it sounds interesting, believe me it’s not.

First of all, we start by watching Sigourney Weaver in a remote location TV station trailer directing the cameras covering the speech. Those of us who have been alive for more than a dozen years have seen professional news coverage of tragic events. Professional news people do not lose it when the poop hits the fan, they rise to the occasion. News folks wait their entire careers for the opportunity to cover hot events.

Here, everybody loses it. Only in Hollywood.

Forest Whitaker plays the “regular guy with a home HD video camera” that just happens to be in the crowd. So of course we have to literally rewind the movie to start it over again to see the issue from his prospective. Then again from that guy’s perspective. Then again from their perspective.

Since the director knows this will quickly become tiresome for the viewers, he fast forwards the movie to the present and tosses in a car chase scene. That always seems to rouse up the audience. But this scene is too absurd, with sub compact cars being t-boned by trucks, but the cars keep on going, apparently unscathed by the physics at hand. Volvo engineers would be impressed.

Then there is the perfect storm of:
A) The terrorists planning this miracle to the very second, along with numerous absurd coincidences, all without anything going wrong.

B) Dennis Quaid’s character being at the right place at the right time, all the time, and possessing the abilities of Superman to survive the laughable car chase.

C) Fat Forest Whitaker running like Forrest Gump, able to outwit and outlast his Survivor friends as they run, run, run through the streets of Spain after a suspect, or little girl, or whatever.

This movie will have you saying, “Stop this terrible carnival ride, I want to get off.”

- Wait For HBO



“U2 3D” (G)

As with all 3D movies, goofy glasses are necessary. They are no longer the red and blue lenses of yesteryear, but now complex polarized lenses encased in thick plastic, so they are not something you’d want to smuggle home to wear later. This may have been the only time that Bono wasn’t wearing the goofiest looking glasses in the room.

None of the U2 band members work up much of a sweat during a concert. I suppose their laundry roadie is appreciative. But the performance includes a good list of U2 favorites and will satisfy anyone who likes U2 radio hits.

From the first song, the Imax theater audience is brought so close to the stage and with such reality, everyone has the strong urge to applaud after a song finishes, as if it’s a real live show. Some folks did clap after most songs. True fans are like that.

I will say that seeing a rock concert at an Imax theater (before midnight) is a pretty sure way to assure you won’t be sitting next to a drunk or obnoxious pinhead. Nor will the couple in front of you stand up for the whole concert. This is a strong reason to recommend "U2 3D," perhaps because I’ve become too old to appreciate the madness that goes with attending a live rock show. But somehow I think a lot of folks, both young and old, have lost patience with pinheads.

The Technical Side:
Bright lights (spotlights hitting the camera lens) become distorted and annoying. It would seem the producers didn’t realize the 3D flaw as they filmed, as it happened quite a bit throughout the film. It’s also worth mentioning that (supposedly) hard cuts are not possible with current 3D technology, so some sort of dissolve needs to occur between camera shots. This goes a long way to explaining the amateurish sloppy transitions we see throughout the show. However, I do remember seeing some hard cuts as well, so I’m not sure how solid that 3D editing theory is.

Those with sharp eyes will also notice that the concert was filmed over multiple nights with the best shots used for the film. Although the band obviously wore the same clothes each night, mixing the multiple nights worth of shots leads to continuity errors. In one shot Bono is singing with the microphone sitting in the mic stand, but the next camera angle shows him holding the microphone, then a split second later the camera angle again changes and the microphone has magically jumped back into the stand again. This is inevitable when using footage of human beings from different nights but it still bothered me. There are also times when one camera angle reveals the previous camera is not really there to film the previous shot.

After I got home and investigated further, it turns out, “ . . . the band agreed to do 10 songs in [an arena] without an audience,” thus allowing the close up shots. This would keep the large 3D cameras from interfering with the live show, which would have blocked the sight of the audience. Such “trickery” is to be accepted as it kept the paying live audience from watching large cameras instead of the band.

The performances were from:
Mexico City - Medium length shots.
Sao Paula, Brazil’s Morumbi Stadium - More mid-distance shots.
Santiago, Chile’s Estadio Nacional - Single overhead cameras.
Buenos Aires, River Plate Stadium - Pre-show, no audience, close up footage.
Argentina - Long shots.

That’s what you’d call an “editor’s nightmare.”

Back to the Show:
Bono can’t help but to preach in his usual manner, three or four times during the concert. Although we’re all used to him using his stage time to try to save the world (see also “Rambo” for the futility in that), the overuse of 3D “in your face” snazzy bold text, literally floating in front of your nose as you attempt to watch one of the later encore songs, gets old quickly. Worse yet, the use of poor footage that most editors would have cut from the film was odd at best. It wasn’t the crazed footage of the 70’s where you saw every image except the band on stage, but they still don’t understand that showing us a shot for a full 10 seconds is not a bad thing. There is no reason to snap from one image to another every 3 seconds to make us enjoy a concert.

There are only a requisite handful of guitar and microphone shots where they poke at the camera toward your face, in the tired, “Look, it’s 3D!” effect. Although it’s the best technology yet for 3D, I still don’t believe 3D will ever be needed in home theaters any more than Smell-o-Vision will be necessary.

Still I’m recommending, “U2 3D.” To witness these Central, South American and Brazilian audiences moving as one as they jump by the thousands in time with the music, like hypnotic bees in a hive, and singing along with the U2 lyrics as if the tunes were national songs, it’s easy to see why Bono is moved into thinking we are all one under the Sun. It’s an experience worth witnessing if U2 is palatable to your ears.

It’s is also worth noting that the Baltimore Science Center has kept the sound level of this concert film at a family friendly volume. The concert effect would be better if the sound were cranked up, but that’s not the case here.

(Note - 85 minutes long.)

- See it on "The Big Screen" (Imax BIG!)



“Rambo” (R)

Let me just start by saying the critics are wrong about this latest in the “Rambo” series.

When thinking back to the first “Rambo” movie, and the follow up, “First Blood” etc. it wasn’t the first rate Academy Award winning acting that we were after when cueing up for these films. Those that dig the John Rambo genre of movies go for the raw revenge and bloodletting action. The latest 2008 version of “Rambo” delivers perhaps the most realistic depiction of warfare since the brutal beach landing scene in Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan.”

Rambo is now an older, though still introverted, snake catcher, now living in peaceful Northern Thailand. Burma (now calling itself Myanmar to throw people off track) is the truly hellish country that lies a few miles north by river. When a group of missionaries try to hire Rambo to take them on his boat to the poor brutalized Burmese people up river, so they can deliver much needed medical supplies and food, Rambo scoffs at their naive death wish. He also tells them they can change nothing by going there. Oh, how true that is.

(This film is played straight. Rambo only has ten lines or so of dialogue in the entire movie, none of which are “Arnold” style zingers. Ten lines, if you don't count the line, "Go!" which he says half a dozen times.)

But the single attractive woman in the group (in one of the weakest written if not weakest acted scenes of the entire movie) tries to persuade Rambo to “do the right thing.” It’s here, in my opinion, where the critics suddenly came to the final conclusion that:
A) Stallone can’t write good movie dialogue other than, “Adrian!”
B) Stallone can’t act.
C) His supporting cast can’t act either.

I must admit I too was moaning at the start of this picture. It looked like something that should have gone straight to video. And let me reveal here that I was sitting in a sold out THX equipped theater in Annapolis, Maryland, with 50% of the seats taken up by Annapolis naval cadets in full uniform. 10-15 minutes after the pathetic scene of begging Rambo to take them into hell itself, Rambo savagely saves their collective skins in a horrific and awe inspiring way that not only kicked the THX theater speakers in the ass, but brought both soldier boy and high school teen to thunderous shouting and applauding as if their underdog team had just stolen the Super Bowl.

But this was just a warm up, to let both the wimpy missionaries as well as the theater audience know, if you want to continue this ride, you’d better buckle your f***i’n seat belts. This movie will end up playing monthly on the TV series, “Movies For Guys That Love Movies.” Alas, it will be cut to hell on TV.

Here, Sylvester Stallone (who also directed the picture) spares no expense to graphically show the damage inflicted by mines and mortar rounds, as well as people, both soldiers and civilians, being literally cut down or in half by modern machine gun fire. It’s ugly, and it’s the focus of many poor reviews by the stuffed shirts that reviewed the premiere of the film. Other countries show the graphic horrors of murderous crimes and war images to their civilian populations on TV newscasts. It’s high time for American audiences to be exposed to the same truths. War is ugly. See it for what it is. Only the U.S. sugar coats news images like the cereals our kids eat.

Face it, people go to a Streisand concert to feel chipper and perhaps have a good cry. Guys flip on a good Rambo movie to watch a good ass whoopin’ with no scenes cut for a wimpy audience.

The sole reason this move did not receive the dreaded NC-17 rating is because the ratings board was told to keep in mind that this latest “Rambo” movie (loosely) exposes the horrors of the Burmese government and the atrocities they commit. Any retaliation inflicted by Rambo and his band of do-gooders is for the good of the world. I'm frankly surprised this tactic worked, but it certainly green-lighted a very graphic R-rated war movie.

To give Stallone credit, had this been a Rob Zombie movie, it would have totally sucked AND been unwatchable. Kudos to Stallone for pulling off this film of horror.

This is certainly no “date movie,” but for the right crowd, it MUST be seen in a theater with the best sound system you can find. In real life, bombs, artillery and machine guns rattle your insides. At a professional theater, this movie does just that. It’s here I’d again like to mention it’s playing in THX at the Annapolis Mall theater.

Kudos go to Stallone for pulling no punches. No apology necessary.

- See it on "The Big Screen"



“The Mist” (R)

Stephen King spawns another horror film that again, only partially works.

The movie stars no one really famous, but it’s chock full of whiny, irritating people, most of whom are not very bright either. Hours after a terrible storm hits the small town in Maine, the residents notice a mist rolling into the neighborhood. Much like the movie “The Fog,” we’re pretty sure there’s something hidden within the sinister looking mist. What’s hidden in this mist is much more menacing than the ghostly captain hook killers of “The Fog.” The mist is indeed the real deal for a good monster movie. It’s the humans that bring the film down.

A cross section of residents group together in the supermarket and together squabble and sometimes work toward a solution to their problems. You’ve got your religious nuts ranting about the end of the world, and the outsiders who don’t trust any of the locals. And others who are just as stupid as the canned cling peaches sitting on the nearby shelves.

Luckily for us, quite a few dumb folks get horribly and rightfully killed one by one, so that, to me, would be the biggest payoff of watching this video quality release.

Note: Remember - for a better viewing experience, root for the mist to kill the jokers!

- Wait For DVD


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My Personal Rating System is as follows:

See it on "The Big Screen" .  .  .  . (Best of the bunch)
Wait for video/DVD 
.  .  .  .  .  .  .  . (Not a bad movie, but not worth $9)
Wait for HBO release  .  .  .  .  .  .  . (Not worth renting)
Avoid!  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  . 
(Not worth your time - period.)

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- Reviews by Jim Ramsey
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