"Casino Royale" (PG-13)

Daniel Craig plays the budding 007 in this prequel to all the James Bond movies you’ve seen throughout your life. But before he can become the 007 we all know and love, he must first complete two kills, then learn how to decide on his favorite drink (this is even pre “shaken, not stirred”) and so forth. Daniel Craig does a good job and will no doubt continue the series.

The story is based on Ian Fleming's first 007 novel from 1952. There is no “Q” yet to arm 007 with all those cool gadgets. But “M” is here, still played by Judi Dench.

The title refers to a casino, where you’ll spend perhaps more movie time than you would prefer, unless you are one of those folks that watch the poker playoffs on ESPN. At 2.5 hours, this movie is fat, but not boring. Bond has to win this high stakes poker tournament in order to foil the funding of a huge terrorist network. With the Cold War over, terrorists are the politically correct enemies of choice for modern day movies.

Perhaps a few chapters of the novel were left out of the film (thank god, time wise!) because the speedy introduction of characters and chase scenes leaves one a bit puzzled. But ignoring the cloudy character connections will still give the viewer a good ride.

The first scene is by far the best, so savor it. I expect few people will watch this movie more than once, other than the spectacular first action scene.

There are two bond girls for the offering. Ivana Milicevic would have made a better Bond gal, but instead Bond is forced to switch midstream to Eva Green. Ms. Green could loose some of the mascara that makes her look like a raccoon. I doubt this movie will launch her into bigger roles.

After seeing the torture scene, I was surprised to find this movie received a PG-13 rating. Without the 007 franchise in the mix, I believe an “R” would have been branded on this pony.  

That being said, the lines are well written, the cast can all act, and the camera work is steady and professional. All fans of James Bond will be happy with this latest, fat prequel.  

- See it on "The Big Screen" (If 2.5 hours long works for you.)



“The Departed” (R)

With such a monster talent pool of cast members and Martin Scorsese directing, how could this movie miss?

It doesn't.

“The Departed,” or “Depaa-ted” as Bostonians say it, follows the brutal and tense story of the Mob VS. the Massachusetts State Police Depaa-tment.  The Mod thinks it has a cop rat in its organization, and the anti-Mob special task force unit thinks they have a Mob rat in their midst.

Matt Damon is from Cambridge Mass., so his natural ability to pull off the “Southy” accent was easy. But the whole veteran cast has the chops to persuade you they are all Irish and from Boston.

The cast includes, Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Martin Sheen, Mark Wahlberg and Alec Baldwin. The writing is top notch and the banter is sharp enough to keep you from complaining much about the 2 1/2 hour running time. Mark Wahlberg (originally from Dorchester Mass.) is on his game as well as a sharp tongued cop who knows when he’s standing in front of someone who’s not a cop. Great stuff.

This movie is smart and “in your face” brutally intense. How could it not be? It’s a Scorsese Mafia movie!

- See it on "The Big Screen" (If 2.5 hours long works for you.)



“The Protector” (R)

Tony Jaa, the Thai martial arts action hero who stared in the movie “ONG-BAK: THE THAI WARRIOR,” stars in another action flick called “The Protector.” Here, Tony goes to Australia to recover two stolen elephants and avenge the murder of his father.

No need to divulge any more storyline than that*. Either you like kung-fu movies or you don’t. The acting is on par with other movies of this genre. But no doubt about it, Tony Jaa is the Bruce Lee of today, and fans who show up for these movies love every bone snapping minute of his artful fighting scenes.

Half of the movie is in Thai with large, readable English subtitles. The other half is in English, some of which is poorly dubbed.

*This movie was shown full-length in Asia, edited for time before its European release, and then edited AGAIN to shorten it even further for the U.S. release. It’s now a 90 minute movie. With 1/3 of the movie missing, the storyline is nearly gone as well – a real mess. The full DVD release will be the best way to see this film.

- Wait For DVD


“Crank” (R)


That would be my one word review of, “Crank,” the latest offering from Jason Statham, the actor that gave us excitement with our popcorn in, “The Transporter” and “Transporter II.”

A three word review might be summed up as, “Waste of time.”

Not that wasting time in a movie theater is the worst time spent. I didn’t feel like walking out on the film, as it certainly offers non-stop action. See, Chev Chelios (played by Statham) is a pro hitman who wakes up feeling really sick. He staggers to the TV where he sees a bad DVD waiting for him to watch.

The DVD shows a bad guy (who cares who he is) injecting a terrible Chinese drug into the back of Chev’s neck while Chevy was knocked out cold. This thug then explains to Chev that this drug will kill him in one hour.

So far so good. But it turns out that as long as Chev gets his endorphins running (through wild acts of violence) he’s able to stave off death. So just imagine all the ways he’s able to keep his blood pumping? Sounds like rich material for a movie, eh? All he needs is enough time to exact his revenge. Oh, and see his girlfriend – more on that loser later.

Here, the movie makers decided to go for it – as far as they could go - and still get an “R” rating. The politically correct folks will claim the makers of this film are the anti-Christ. In one scene, Chev tosses a cabbie out of a cab to commandeer it, and yells to the surrounding folks that, “He’s Al-Quada!” The crowd surrounds the cabbie and immediately starts to beat him, starting with a 70-year-old lady.

To keep his adrenaline up, he forces his girlfriend (a hopeless actress named Amy Smart) to have sex with him on a busy city sidewalk. This scene is so close to being public rape that it feels ugly. Even the crowd's reaction - the whole scene is awful. How this movie kept the “R” rating is anyone’s guess. And how anyone thought that, A) Amy Smart would be a good addition to this film, or B) She could act – are beyond me. She’s terrible. Even her nude scenes are terrible. I hope to never again endure another film where she’s even remotely in the credits. 3rd grade school play - painful to watch unless they are YOUR OWN children - pitiful.

The longer the film goes on, the more lame it gets. As far as film technique, it’s filmed in MTV breakneck flashes of scenes, as if the editor was either paid by the cut, or paid in cocaine.

The ridiculous last minute of the film will have you shaking your head – and not in a good way.




“Invincible” (PG)

Even if you think Mark Wahlberg can’t act AND you hate the Eagles football team and/or Philadelphia in general,  you still might enjoy this “Rocky meets the NFL” movie mix based on Vince Papale’s true story.

If you like football.

Women liked “Rocky.” Even if women don’t claim to enjoy boxing, they’ve all watched a bout or two, and they always ended up rooting for one of the two boxers in the ring. Same thing applies here.

If you have ever watched a football game and found yourself rooting for a certain team or player – then you like football enough to enjoy this film.

This is the story of a down and out guy, bartending at night – wife walking out on him – GE plants going on strike – town down on its luck – bad times – and everyone is looking for a bright spot. The Eagles have it even worse, which for Philly, that’s the exclamation point.

When a weekend “open tryouts for the Eagles” comes over the TV, Vince’s friends convince him he should go for it. He’s always been the best player on the South Philly pick-up games (a well shot part of the film that lets us inside the Philly most of us don’t know). In a once in a lifetime event, Vince actually makes the team.

Who doesn’t like a Cinderella story? It’s a story about an American city in the dumps, and how one guy brought a spark of joy to an otherwise unbearable time in Philadelphia’s history. And of course there is a love interest as well, with Elizabeth Banks perfectly cast for the role.

Even if you claim Mark Wahlberg can’t act – pretty tough to argue against that one, then this is the perfect vehicle for Mark as it’s based on a real, normal guy. So the poor acting actually makes this film more believable, in a documentary sort of way.

Don’t like Philly? They explain that too. They are their own kind of folks, sticking together through thick and mostly thin.

Like a football game, this is probably more exciting sitting with a large group of people. But, just like football, it would certainly be good view on your home TV set.

- See it on "The Big Screen"



“The Descent” (R)

It’s rare that a scary movie does the job it was intended to do. One way to judge the success or failure of film is to observe the collective reaction of the movie viewing audience around you.

“The Descent” delivers. See it in the theater and you’ll witness people clutching at the air, their seats, their partners, or simply jumping visibly in their seats. Many could not help but to involuntarily scream and mumble to themselves. Men included.

The movie starts out innocently enough. A group of women get together every year for adrenaline-junky fun. We first see them participating in white water rafting. A year later, six of them go caving (spelunking), descending deep (really deep) into a cave. After the ground rumbles and the cave caves in, they find themselves trapped inside with a bunch of blind, menacing, humanoid, flesh eating creatures!

The cave is realistic, the scenes are dark where necessary, it’s gory and it’s scary all rolled into one. It genuinely good stuff. It’s what horror movies were meant to be.

This is NOT a Hollywood movie*. The characters here don’t shine their flashlights in ways only movie actors do, and they don’t drop their flashlights at all! These women also don’t run and fall down like a klutz when chased, like the other 352 scary movies you’ve seen. Refreshing. Great film direction.

And unlike other disappointing films (like the dismal "The Hills Have Eyes") where the victims roll over and die like little white furry baby seals, these gals realistically fight for their lives. Individually if necessary. Whatever it takes. The human will to live is stronger than most people think.

* This European film (fully financed and produced by Celador Films) was released to European audiences in 2005 and already has an outstanding track record. Now it’s time for Americans to jump.

- See it on "The Big Screen"



"Miami Vice" (R)

For those that remember the TV show from the 80’s, this is a perfect example of “loosely based on . . .”

The TV Crocket and Tubbs had fun with their job and their relationships with the people around them. The movie Michael Mann directs is much darker and lacks even a pinky’s worth of funny bones.

Here Colin Farrell plays Crocket, and Jamie Fox plays Tubbs. Gong Li, one of China’s top leading ladies, plays a mob accountant and within hours of meeting Crocket, becomes his love interest. The other players are murky underworld figures selling drugs or arms. These shadowy figures play this for that, and that for this until it’s impossible to really know who stands where and why. Perhaps this isn’t far from real life in the drug business where cops are bought and sold along with the goods.

While the movie’s not boring, I became antsy with the lack of chemistry on the screen (relationship wise, not chemically speaking). Again, perhaps in the underworld people are a bit shallow, but I would expect the cops to at least exchange more human dialog with one another. Farrell and Fox seem like they are just earning a paycheck, both on the screen and off. Even Gong Li seems to struggle in her role.

The movie certainly faced its share of hardships, with multiple hurricanes disrupting and prolonging filming etc, etc. No doubt the cast was stressed during the extended delayed shoot and multiple location changes. In my opinion, it shows.

The final 35 minutes might be worth a trip to the theater if you don’t have decent surround sound at home. Michael Mann does know how to deliver a shootout involving automatic weapon gunplay, similar to his hit “Heat.” But Mann also sold out and tossed his tripods away to shoot this film in MTV shaky cam mode, which seems all the rage these days. It won’t make you ill, but you’ll sometimes wonder if one of the cameramen came to work drunk on alternate days. And why Mann allowed it to continue.

- Wait For DVD



“Pirates of the Caribbean 2: Dead Man's Chest” (PG-13)

Part two of a three part “Pirates of the Caribbean” projects finally hits the theaters. They reassembled the same cast as the first installment but they didn’t spend much time with the script. They sure did shoot a lot of footage, though. I think we get to see all of it.

It’s much like a highly touted new Disney theme ride, where you wait in line for an hour in anticipation of a great time, only to be let down and disappointed at what the 40 second ride actually has to offer. But here it’s worse – this ride is 2:31 minutes, and you’re disappointed for a full 2 hours of the 2:31 total time.

They spent no time developing any sort of coherent plot, it’s simply a special effects ride with the characters in tow. But it’s so dull that even the special effects become tiresome.

They filmed part three simultaneously with part two, so don’t get your hopes up that the final film (set for summer 2007 release) will be any better. Part 3 was originally set up for release this Christmas. Hopefully they held off to spend needed quality re-shooting and editing time.

- Wait For DVD



"Superman Returns" (PG-13)

Note: Other reviews may well spill the beans on the surprise that is in store for viewers of this film. Be careful what you read and hear! And if you wait too long to see this film, someone will surely mention it. So if it matters to you, don’t wait to see this movie.

That’s not to say this film is great - it's not great. But it’s good in a big screen kind of way. They certainly spent the money. The scene with Superman and the out of control plane is worth the price of admission.

Brandon Routh stars as Superman. He’s no Christopher Reeves, but who can help that. Brandon has that wooden shell going on that hurts his performance.

And Kate Bosworth is no Margot Kidder or Teri Hatcher, as Lois Lane. Since this move shows Superman coming back after an extended absence, (with Lois a mother now) they really should have tried to get Terry Hatcher for the role. Even at her age, she could have pulled it off.

If someone believes it would be too creepy to have an older Hatcher with a young Routh, keep in mind it’s SuperMAN not SuperBOY, so there was no reason not to cast an older actor to play Superman. Since he comes from another planet, his age would not affect his abilities!

Star Trek certainly showed the power of having older, familiar actors on the screen. Audiences cheered the on-screen entrances.  

To cut to the chase, these two stars have very little chemistry. You WANT them to have it, but it just isn’t there.

Kevin Spacey (older actor) does a good job of “trying to conquer the world,” and his screen time allows the 2 1/2 hours to go by relatively quickly. But it’s the mega dollar special effects that make the movie worth seeing. That, and the surprise that you’ll soon hear about no matter where you try to hide.

Two gripes I've always had with this Superman thing:

First off, he doesn't wear a mask, like Batman or Spiderman (or any bank robber). How on earth is anyone fooled into not immediately seeing the Clark Kent/Superman resemblance. Makes no sense whatsoever.

But my biggest gripe with the Superman series was when Superman flew counter-clockwise around the world to make it spin backward, thus turning back time for a second chance to save Lois Lane. Once he proved he could do that, he could always do it again. And again.  

Makes the whole plot rather pointless, doesn’t it?

This move really just sets the stage for a whole line of Superman movies with the young, new stars of the day (just like the “Spider-Man” and “Batman” lineup that is cleaning up at the box office).

- See it on "The Big Screen"



“Fast And The Furious: Tokyo Drift” (PG-13)

Here we go again with another episode of “The Fast and The Furious,” and as the title gives away, we’re off to Tokyo for some drifing action.

For those that don’t have cable, drifting is the new thing in car racing, where you get your car sideways and move around the track with as much smooth, lateral, tire smoking motion as possible, thus racking up points for style. (The scoring is very subjective, similar to figure skating).

But in this movie, you drift around parking garages or wildly winding roads while being filmed by a sea of young Japanese spectators using cell phone cameras. The goal is still to win the race in the end, as simple drifting would not work in a film like this.

Of course there’s a bit more to the story (a bit) with two guys wooing the same girl, and one of them happens to be connected (mob style).

Three things I really like about this movie:

One: Everyone knows you can’t just pick up a guitar for the first time and play like a pro. You can’t pick up a bowling ball and throw strikes ten times in a row. And you can’t jump in a car and drift for the first time and not blow. Not unless you practice, practice, practice. Here (for once) Hollywood gets it right!

This film stars Lucas Black as the high school boy racer who has racing running through his young veins. When he gets shipped off to Tokyo (to keep from going to jail in the U.S.) he sees drifting for the first time. Though he thinks he can race anyone, anywhere, anytime and win – turns out he sucks when he drifts for the first time. And the second time. Etc. Realistic. Bravo.

Two: The film actually attempts to show the cultural side of Tokyo. Sure the lights of Tokyo at night make any film pop like the Vegas strip, but to take the time to show the endless Pachinko machines, the crowded streets and trains, the food. Kudos to the filmmakers for stopping to smell the roses.

Three: Bow Wow’s appearance was kept to a minimum. Good move.

In my opinion, drifting is not as exciting as straight street racing, but the change in venue pumps some needed life into this series. If you loved the thrill of the first two movies, see this one in a theater. For the rest of you . . .

- Wait For DVD




Imagine a movie that that stars and is totally driven by two professional stuntmen (Cyril Raffaelli, David Belle) with an eye for action movies.  They play the good guys. And further imagine that it comes from the makers of, “The Transporter,” “La Femme Nikita,” and “The Fifth Element.” The film pounces on the screen like the movie “ONG-BAK: THE THAI WARRIOR” which I’m sure few people saw when it came out. The music pulsates in a “Fast and Furious” style throughout.

You probably already know if this movie is you or not. It was me.

The plot is just like the movie “Escape From New York" (for the older folks out there). For those who don’t know what that means - this story is about a crime ridden Paris France in 2010 that is walled off by the government to keep the vermin in and the good people out. A new breed of neutron bomb (clean bomb) is stolen by the thugs and finds its way into the walled city, so a crazy tough guy (or two in this case) have to retrieve it.

That’s one plot thread. The other thread is that a sister of one of the good guys (she’s played by Dany Verissimo – more on her in a minute) is taken by the thugs and turned into a drugged-up sex slave on a dog's leash.

Now it’s up to the two good guys (stunt men on steroids) to run, jump, escape in manners that would make Jackie Chan envious, and generally rack up a body count that rivals the beach scene in “Saving Private Ryan.” Great stuff, if action is your game.

The movie is in French (English subtitles), but there are l-o-n-g stretches of action where there is little time for such a trivial thing as dialogue.

Oh, yeah – the spunky (to put it mildly) gal that plays the kidnapped sister (Dany Verissimo)? She’s caused quite a stir. In real life she’s the daughter of the financial director of Air France. She was kicked out of the house at 17 (bad girl), wanted to become an actress but instead wound up in the French porn industry (oh no!), and did a number of (too raunchy by U.S. porn standards) hard core films using the name Ally Mac Tyana. Now she’s finally an actress on the silver screen in the good old USA.  

Never give up on your dreams, folks!

This film is in limited release, but worth a trip to the theater to get the vibe from the young audience that will be in attendance.

- See it on "The Big (silver) Screen"



“The Da Vinci Code” (PG-13)

Unless you’ve been in solitary confinement for the last 12 months, you know all too well about the buzz of the long anticipated movie version of the book titled, “The Da Vinci Code.”

Tom Hanks plays the lead role as a man out to find the infamous “Holly Grail.” He’s quickly teamed up with Audrey Tautou, an actress with an accent too thick for a mainstream American film.

The movie runs at a pretty good pace, but you won’t loose your breath when the secrets of the story are revealed.

This would make a wonderful DVD rental. And then you could use the DVD subtitle feature to understand what the hell the French chick is saying.

- Wait For DVD



“Mission Impossible III” (PG-13)

Tom Cruise, Maggie Q. and Ving Rhames (pictured above) team up as a group of IMF agents to save the world – or at least save Tom Cruise's wife (played by Michelle Monaghan). IMF stands for Impossible Mission Force. Yeah, someone on the movie screen chuckles at that too. Who wouldn’t?

But make no mistake, the cast is full of top notch actors and the two hour and twenty minute movie is well over two hours of solid action. It’s a serious, complicated thriller, and sit toward the rear of the theater so you don’t get motion sickness.

Philip Seymour Hoffman masterfully plays the bad guy who kidnaps Cruise’s wife in order to control the situation. But like all movies of this genre, make the awful mistake of making the lead star mad and next thing you know your future in MI IV looks mighty bleak!

There's more to the story than just a good kidnapping. But this is a movie about secret missions. When you need to know more, they'll reveal it!

Good story. Plenty of good stunts. This is the summer movie of 2006. (OK, so maybe "Pirates of the Caribbean, Dead Man's Chest" holds that fate). But this one is certainly worth a trip to the theater until Pirates comes out in July.

- See it on "The Big Screen"

United 93

"United 93" (R)

Feeling that pit in your stomach again . . .

We’ve all seen documentaries and intense dramas before, but this film hits closer to home than any others you’ve seen. Everyone remembers where they were when the planes struck the twin towers, and watching this intense film brings that feeling back in waves.

With no “stars” to hold your attention on the screen, the director (Paul Greengrass) painstakingly uses real timelines and factual data to recreate the chaos of the day. Armed with that rich material, there’s no need for a Hollywood star.

United 93 was the last of the four (known*) hijacked planes to attempt a suicide mission, and was the only one that failed the mission due to the U.S. citizens onboard who were warned by loved ones on the ground (by telephone) that the planes were being used as missiles.

The drama is made even more intense because we know the final outcome of the flight. As people rush through the airport to make the plane (we’ve all done that) and the jet door is closed behind those who “just made it,” we all feel in our stomachs that it’s really the closing of a tomb for those aboard. It's a strange sensation to be as omniscient as a god who knows what’s in store for the souls onboard.

The all too often used handheld camera effect is supposed to give this movie a documentary "you are there" feel, but I long for the bygone days where directors used stationary tripods to shoot scenes. This is yet another movie where sitting further away from the screen will help.

We had long since dismissed hijackers as a real threat in 2001, and no one was caught more flat-footed than the military. The old adage that the White House was protected by missiles, antiaircraft batteries or quick scrambling jets was rendered a hoax on 9/11.

*Were it not for the intelligent, quick decisions by Ben Sliney (the National Operations Manager for the FAA on 9/11/2001) to immediately land the nearly 4,500 planes over American airspace, who knows what might have happened. Ben Sliney plays himself in the role onscreen.    

In the end we learn this from 30 years of recent U.S. history; Regardless of the party in charge, the inept U.S. Government will continue to make the same mistakes over and over again. But in the case of hijackings, “we the people” will unlikely allow a hijacking to succeed again. The U.S. Government is depending on us.

This film will be more intense in a theater full of your peers.

- See it on "The Big Screen"



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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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