No Country

“No Country for Old Men” (R)

This movie stars the Coen brothers (Joel and Ethan Coen). Not in the sense that they appear in any of the scenes, but because they live in every word of dialogue and every inch of film stock. These guys breathe movies, in exactly the opposite that way Quentin Tarantino does. Where Tarantino uses the handheld camera to get you in close to amazing depravity, the brothers, using heavy tripods, shoot amazingly lit, magnificently laid out sweeping moments of greatness.

This outstanding movie has Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) accidentally walking upon a drug-deal-gone-massacre in the middle of nowhere out West, with two million dollars for the easy taking. He decides to take the bag of money which of course only motivates others to hunt him down. His wife (played by Kelly Macdonald) is about the sweetest person ever to be married. She just wants everything to be right with their world, but the money complicates that outcome.

Sheriff Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) is the unfortunate soul who has to deal with the situation in his immediate jurisdiction. Having practiced playing a lawman countless times in his career, Tommy Lee Jones nails this role perfectly.

Anton Chigurh (pronounced “Su-gar”) (Javier Bardem) is the murderous man who methodically kills basically anyone he wants using a pressurized device used to kill cattle. He’s hot on Llewelyn’s tail and he’s the last guy you would want to see checking into your motel.

Also hot on everyone's tail is Woody Harrelson, playing a big city cowboy who is hired to kill the killer before the killer can retrieve the money and kill Lleweyn.

There you have it. That’s all you need to know as the Coen brothers will swirl you into their blender and keep you guessing even after the credits roll.

Of the Coen brothers films below, this one would surely be compared to their first film, “Blood Simple,” with the slower paced shots and emphasis on lighting, shadows, and careful mannerisms. It’s certainly not far out like their “Barton Fink” period of experimentation.

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)

Whether or not you see it at the theater, “No Country for Old Men” is a necessary film to see. Put it on your list.

- See it on "The Big Screen"


 

Moon

“In the Shadow of the Moon” PG-13

Just when you think you’ve seen everything there is to see about the U.S. Apollo program, they raid the vaults of old stock footage never before seen by the public, collect the old astronauts of the past, and create a documentary that will hold the interest of most any American with a pulse.

The Good:
We got credit where credit was due. The United States was the first, and therefore the only people that ever walked on the moon. (The Soviets gave up immediately upon losing the “man on the moon” race and instead sent inexpensive moon probes to return lunar soil samples to Earth.)

Because of John F. Kennedy, the wheels were set in motion for a space race that was as brazen as the Manhattan Project before it. It was an at-all-cost push and ended in a bit of American luck, literally flying by the seat of our flight suit pants, in stick and rudder fashion, that we actually pulled it off at the last second to land without a major mishap.

Listening to the old astronauts like Jim Lovell and Buzz Aldrin as they reminisce about the glory days of the race to the moon is nothing short of fascinating. The only thing missing is the campfire burning in the middle of the group as you sit and drink in their unbelievable stories inter-spliced with NASA behind the scenes footage. It certainly makes you proud to be an American seeing what we (and NASA) were once able to accomplish back in our glory days.

The Bad (reality check):
I have to point out that we Americans are exposed to as much, if not more, propaganda than any other country this side of North Korea. One needs only to look at two quick blatant examples.

Niagara Falls.
The American space program.

Niagara Falls is a dinky little site compared to the Canadian side of the continuing crevice of falling water called the Horseshoe Falls. Few Americans seem to know anything about the bigger better falls a mile away across the Canadian border. We’re simply not told about it, much as North Koreans are simply not told about the rich, well fed South Koreans a few miles away. Hmmm. Getting the picture of how easily it works?

When it comes to Space Records, it’s a parallel with the U.S. VS. Soviet Olympic hockey record. We won only once. Yeah, both the hockey and moon victories were glorious, but let’s keep it in perspective. One win to many, many losses.

What few Americans know is that the Soviets hold the following space records:

First satellite in space - Sputnik - 1957

First human orbital flight - 1961

First space-flight of more than 24 hours - 1961

First woman in space - 1963 (took the U.S. until 1983 to do it)

First three person orbit sans space suits in a capsule - 1964

First “space walk” - lasted 10 minutes - 1965

First photos from moon’s surface. Luna 9 sent back pictures of the moon after landing in 1966

First impact on the surface of another planet - Venus - 1966

First successful soft landing on another planet - Venus. Pictures sent back to Earth in 1970 (14 Soviet probes to Venus’ surface VS. once for U.S. )

First space station - 1971

First successful probe to Mars - 1971

Mir (1986-2001) unquestionably the best and most successful space station ever built

The above information gives you the knowledge you need to understand why the U.S. simply HAD to win the race to put a man on the moon. It was all or nothing. We were getting thoroughly trounced by Russia.

This film plays better on a big screen with an audience full of fellow Americans - most of whom believe we’re #1 in everything.

- See it on "The Big Screen" (If you can find it playing in your area.)


 

Eastern

“Eastern Promises” (R)

Naomi Watts stars as Anna, a midwife working in a London hospital who becomes involved in something way over her head after she delivers a baby from an underaged girl, who dies minutes after giving birth. The girl leaves behind a diary written in Russian that exposes the local ruthless Eastern European crime boss as the vicious animal that he is.

The movie is dark and gritty in a way that leads you initially to believe it is set in Russia, not London. The acting is superb and leads us into a Russian style gangster world that few would ever see. It’s utterly fascinating. Instead of the wild posturing Italian gestures we’ve seen from countless other mob moves, we get threats of a much more subtle mannerism that sends chills down your spine, as if these brutes truly have liquid bronze running through their veins.

The son of the crime boss certainly has his short comings and issues to deal with, but it’s the chauffeur of the crime family who accidentally crosses paths with Anna, for better or for worse. This is what drives the movie forward.

Anyone familiar with director David Cronenberg knows this will not be a mainstream theater movie, and indeed it’s currently playing only in select art house theaters in major cities. It also has his trademark brutality in one fight scene where blood spills in the most harsh manner in the most unlikely of venues. This list of Cronenberg movies will let you know if this no nonsense filmmaking is for you or not.

"Rabid"
"Scanners"
"Videodrone"
"Naked Lunch"
"Crash" (1996 movie)
"ExistenZ"
“A History of Violence”

Be aware the “Crash” movie above is not the recent movie of the same title but the one staring James Spader and Holly Hunter as two car crash victims that form a twisted sexual bond minutes after their physical scars heal.

This movie is the opposite of the hundred or so movies currently churning out of Hollywood. It is paced for adults who want to be served a full first and second course, instead of simply racing headlong through 120 minutes of sugary dessert to the final credits.

- Wait For DVD


 

3:10

“3:10 To Yuma” (R)

The Western is back! And in a sea of excessively jerky, seasick motion films being released these days, it’s refreshing to finally see a movie that employs camera tripods and professionally filmed scenes with cuts lasting longer than 1.3 seconds.

“3:10 To Yuma” stars Russell Crowe, as the leader of a gang who robs the Pinkertons every time they try to race the railroad’s cash across the plains by armored stagecoach. Christian Bale is brilliantly cast as the gimpy rancher (part of his leg was lost in the Civil War) who happens onto the most recent robbery which then involves both he and his son in the later confrontations.

Eventually a group of bounty hunters are hired to bring the ruthless Crowe to the 3:10 train to Yuma, where he will no doubt be later hanged for his crimes. But the power of the film is not in the violence of the gun fights, but in the relationships that are set in motion by the opposing forces of good and bad people.

It’s interesting to see if a town full of good, god fearing folk would really take arms against good men for a buck from bad men. Interesting to believe for a fleeting moment that a top level rebel would really long for the slow pace, poor life of a good hard working man with a wife at home waiting for him.

It’s human nature to want what you don’t have, no matter what side of the fence you’re on. Here we get to see multiple players struggle with the thought of switching sides - even when their hearts are telling them not to do so.

Westerns are rare in today’s theaters. Support this film if you want to see more like it.

- See it on "The Big Screen"


 

Hatchet

“Hatchet” (R)

I’m a sucker for a horror movie. Unfortunately, too few of them actually deliver the frights.

This film stars no one you know, but my are these characters annoying! This is another movie where I was rooting for the killer to kill off select characters as quickly as possible to help the movie’s chances of being good.

Here a retarded, ugly child who lives with his father in a small house near the New Orleans swamps of the bayou, is tormented by the local children. To add insult to injury, the retard’s father accidentally puts a hatchet in his son’s head while trying to save him from a fire. It kills the retard - but you know those tormented spirits - they just refuse to die.

So now, anyone who ventures into those swamps around his house die in brutal, limb tearing manners at the hands of the huge savage beast with a split head. My kind of movie.

Unfortunately, the characters are too lame (live far too long) and the budget is about $500,000 short of anything more than a made for cable movie.

- Wait for HBO release


 

RAYD

“Right At Your Door” (R)

This movie - about philosophical questions when dirty bombs go off in Los Angeles - would make a much better play than a film.

Here we see a couple waking up after having an argument the night before. The husband tries to play nice to put the bad night behind them, but the wife, Lexi (well played by Mary McCormack) is still a bid tepid toward the whole make-up routine. So she drives off to work just in time to be involved in the fallout when a series of nasty biological dirty bombs explode in the city.

The husband hears the news reports on the scratchy sounding home stereo (as if this takes place in 1968, or on stage at your local dinner theater) and goes out:

A) Looking for Lexi on the Los Angeles side roads that are surprising void of any real traffic at rush hour.
B) Running into surprisingly empty convenience stores for supplies and miles of duct tape.

Once back home he gets a visit from a panicked hired handyman from next door who wants to stay and start “taping the house shut” from the falling ash of death. Problem is, Lexi has not yet returned, and he can’t reach her on her cell phone either. Unfortunately for us and the handyman, far too many other various phones ring and buzz throughout the film. After 15 minutes, I was ready to get the hell out of that house and walk out into the toxic ash.

Eventually Lexi turns up on the front porch, like an abandoned dog finding its way back home. Though he loves her, its apparent that she’s infected with the deadly fallout and there’s no way he’s letting her into the house to infect both men taped off inside.

This is the crux of the film. There’s much dialog and dry coughing from the dying wife. All the characters do things that I would hope “real” people wouldn’t do in the same situation, but there are some mighty strange folks out there.

If you get through ten minutes of this thing, you’ll want to see how it turns out. Afterward you’ll likely never think about the film much again.

One poignant moment occurs in the film when the authorities dressed in protective breathing apparatus show up outside the front door and ask the husband, “Do you own a gun?” This isn’t the only answer he gets wrong, but if you take anything with you from this movie, it’s this. Americans are one of the few people in the world who are allowed to own guns. Not owning one allows all others to take full advantage of you any time they want. Always answer, “Yes, I’m armed. Don't screw with me. I'm a hot-headed American and if you force your way in here I’ll likely blow your head off. ”

That will keep armed people from just casually walking into your house, anytime they want.

Although not as shaky as some of the recent releases, there is zero use of a camera tripod in this Shot On A Hand Held Camera film.

- Wait for HBO release


 

Stardust

“Stardust” (PG-13)

“Stardust,” Staring Charlie Cox (Huh? Who?), Michelle Pfeiffer, Claire Danes, and Robert De Niro, is a whimsical tale from the past about young man who sees a meteorite fall from the sky while trying to win the love of a woman, who doesn’t even like him, and he promises this woman that he’ll cross “the forbidden wall” in order to bring her a piece of that “star” that has fallen oh so many miles away to show her that he would do anything for her hand in marriage.

That sentence doesn’t even begin to explain the strange tale that unfolds in front of us as we journey with this young man into a world as strange as Saturn.

There are witches (one is well played by Michelle Pfeiffer) who have waited endless years for such a star to fall to Earth in order to win back their youth.

There are brothers of a dying king who need the necklace that hangs around the neck of the star (woman) who fell to Earth, so that they too can rule the kingdom after the death of their father. That is, unless they kill each other off first. To give you a feel for this movie, it’s the dying king himself who makes the necklace fly into space to bring a star down to Earth.

And then there is Robert De Niro, as a strange captain of a flying vessel straight out of a Leonardo da Vinci pencil (charcoal?) drawing, who is a lighting bolt collector. Sounds weird, but “that ain’t the half of it,” so to speak when you see the movie. Strange bit, but being the top notch actor he is, De Niro actually pulls off this peculiar role. On a side note, it’s impressive that De Niro got to capitalize his full last name when da Vinci was not allowed to.

Anyway, there is a lot going on here, and the story moves at a fairly good pace. I do have an issue with Claire Danes playing the main love interest and “falling star,” as she’s no doubt the least pretty of this cast (except for the old witches, who are made up to be ugly). She’s got the face of a man in drag, and in some scenes, here eyes focus in different directions, all splashed across a twenty-foot movie screen. There, I said it.

However, big fans of Michelle Pfeiffer and Robert De Niro will feel they got their money’s worth, especially if you think your friends will spill the beans about what De Niro is doing in this movie. These two deserve the Hollywood Star stamp of approval.

Otherwise, I’d wait for the rental.

- Wait For DVD


 

Bourne3

“The Bourne Ultimatum” (PG-13)

Matt Damon hooks up with director Paul Greengrass for the latest in the “Bourne” action thrillers. Hopefully, in the not too distant future, we will be able to reminisce un-fondly about a time in American history when Hollywood forced us to sit through hours of MTV shaky-cam movies.

Not so many years ago, it was considered amateur hour when someone put shaky movie camera footage on the home movie screen. All budding movie makers start out excitedly moving the camera from subject to subject causing a blur on the screen. Here, Greengrass goes back to his childhood roots where every movie shot is off target, and jiggles and swings back and forth and around each subject as if suspended by a wobbly outdoor tire on a rope. Yeah, we all get it when it's done in a public place, and gives the viewer a voyeuristic shot as if seen from the adjacent table. BUT NOT WHEN THERE ARE ONLY TWO PEOPLE IN THE ROOM! It's like Michael Myers is constantly in the room ready to kill someone.

If you are looking for an action adventure where Jason Bourne is still trying to find out his own identity, and he's going fight, drive and run for his life for nearly two hours - this film will certainly not disappoint you. It's action packed to the max. But if you expect to actually see how he fights, or see how he drives, forget it. The camera moves so wildly and amateurishly that it's quite possible Matt Damon wasn't really in most of the action footage.

This has to stop. American audiences do not have the attention span of small children. I hope we see the day where tripods and Steadicams® are again used in Hollywood.

But I'm not holding my breath.

- Wait For DVD (so you can stop and take a Dramamine® tablet)


 

Rescue Dawn

“Rescue Dawn” (PG-13)

This movie is about the true story of Dieter Dengler, a fighter pilot who was shot down in the early stages of the Vietnam war. This is NOT your typical prison camp movie, where we endure countless scenes of torture and mayhem. This film shows us a more realistic view of what a prison camp probably looked like in the 1960's, based on his account.

If Dieter seems overly cocky to you in his dire need to immediately plan his escape from the camp, just remember he's a hot-shot navy pilot. Their bulldog approach to life is what separates them from us. He's one of them.

The movie gives us all sides of a grand argument. Do you sit back and accept your predicament, which will give you better treatment from your captors, and wait for your eventual release? Do you risk everything for your freedom and plan a daring escape that could well end in your death? Do you worry that if only one of your comrades escapes, will this get everyone else's goose cooked once the guards discover it?

There were moments in this film where my heart was actually pounding along with the tension on the screen. This is a well done, even handed story of one POW's account of his time in Vietnam.

Playing in limited release at "art house" theaters, thus . . .

- Wait For DVD


 

Transformers

“Transformers” (PG-13)

This review is for the grownups out there . . .

Having grown up a full generation (or two) before the Hasbro Transformer toys were all the rage, perhaps I'm missing that mental adrenaline that so may fans show when these toy-like “bots” show up on the screen. But the biggest disappointment about this 2 hour 24 minute film is the fact that the makers couldn't decide whether it should be a “kiddie” movie, or for adults.

There are times where they could have stopped shooting the film and gone completely animated for use on Saturday morning cartoons. At one point these massive, destructive, U.S.-Military-eating-for-breakfast killer machines befriend a high school boy, and in a scene straight out of something from the “Banana Splits” (a kids show from 1968-1970 ) they trash the kids' back yard like a bunch of drunken teenagers, all the while hiding from his parents in a silly manner that only a youngster (or a HUGE Transformer bot fan) would find amusing.

Banana
           Banana Splits

This terribly written, flimsy as angel hair pasta plot has these red, yellow and blue bots, both good bots and bad bots, coming to Earth to recover a huge block of power. (Each bot has its own color and name, just like the toys!!! Oh Boy!) I'm sure fans of the Transformer storyline would gasp at my lack of knowledge about the “special block” or its significance. Guess what fans - I couldn't care less if that lame yellow Transformer lives or dies, so there. There's also a very annoying mini Transformer villain bot that I'd call "Jar Jar Binks Jr." And he's just as annoying as his daddy was.

Anyway, it hardly matters, as really we just watch as a super nerdy boy (Shia LaBeouf) gets the high school class hottie (Megan Fox, who looks ten years older than any high school girl on this planet) into his car, (it's REALLY a Transformer! Cool!!) and then the new unlikely as hell couple enters the role of kids working hand in hand with the GOOD Transformers to save the world from the BAD Transformers! Yeaa!! Clap now, kiddies, clap! Are we clapping our hands now? Look, it's the BLUE transformer, yeaa!!

The film “Transformers” has its moments. Certainly when the bots are blasting Earth beings, military hardware and buildings, it's super cool. The film opens with a ominous wallop that lead me to believe we had ourselves a mega hit for people older than 13. But 15 minutes later it was if they suddenly changed gears and wished it to be a made-for-TV movie. And let me tell you, when bots fight bots, it looks a lot like toys fighting toys.

Then there's the dreaded shaky cam. I've mentioned this crazy phenomenon countless times, but here I'm not whistling Dixie. Every scene of robot mayhem is filmed in shaky cam. I'm warning you that the camera must have been mounted on a pAiNt ShAkEr mAcHiNe for these scenes. Never in all my years have I seen such loose canon use of the camera. The makers of “The Blair Witch Project” wouldn't dare go this far.

This film also stars Jon Voight, Bernie Mac and John Turturro. Do not go just to see these actors. It's NOT their best work.

This film is playing to sold out crowds.

You've been warned.

- Wait For DVD (on a weeknight when you have NOTHING else better to do)


 

Live Free

“Live Free or Die Hard (PG-13)

Yes, he's as indestructible as Gumby, but we've all come to expect and accept that from Detective John McClane (Bruce Willis) as he saves the world, one episode at a time. Bruce has attained that Rambo/Arnold aura that lets everyone in the theater suspend their beliefs for over two hours at a time.

In “Live Free or Die Hard,” the latest installment of the “Die Hard” movies, Detective McClane finds himself accidentally mixed up in the middle of a plot to bring America to its knees, with focused hackers throwing a wrench into every software system from traffic signals to Wall Street. Next the lights literally go out across America. With wall to wall action and CGI aplenty, there's hardly time to question the plausibility of any of it.

The supporting cast is excellent. Most movie fans know by now that Bruce's sidekick in this film is the Mac Nerd from the famous Mac VS. PC commercials. But this Apple kid (Justin Long) is no newbie to movies. You might remember him staring in two other excellent films, “Jeepers Creepers,” a great horror flick from 2001, and “Dodgeball,” the 2004 comedy that really was terrific - it just sounded like it would suck.

Here Justin plays . . . a super computer geek that knows a lot about hacking. So much for trying to shake his “Mac persona” typecasting! Perhaps he needs to lose his agent. They even show him hacking away using a Mac in his apartment in his first scene. But even with the Mac idea firmly planted in your head as you watch him (it never really goes away) he pulls off this sidekick role well as he and Bruce save the world as if they should be wearing capes.

The eye candy women of this action film (every successful movie's got to have eye candy - and Bette Midler ain't it) are exceptionally played by Maggie Q (“Mission: Impossible III”) who kicks butt as a menacing techie bad girl, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead (the girlfriend in “Sky High”) playing Detective McClane's feisty daughter. Everyone here is trying to do more than ride Bruce's coat tails. These folks are all trying to break open their acting careers. It's good stuff.

Don't wait for DVD on this one. Summer's here, and “Live Free or Die Hard” has arrived to entertain you for the full 128 minutes.

- See it on "The Big Screen"


 

1408

“1408” (PG-13)

Stephen King stories tend to loose their sting when moving from book to movie screen. But here, John Cusack really delivers as the just-getting-by writer of books about haunted hotels and the like. Cusack is like your neighbor next door. It's easy to just hang out with a low key guy like Cusack.

So when Mike Enslin (Cusack) purposely checks into the haunted room 1408 at the Dolphin Hotel in New York, it feels OK to just hang with him. He's like us. There's no such thing as ghosts and monsters. Even after “Snakes on a Plane” star Samuel L. Jackson (sorry, I couldn't resist the dig) tries to dissuade Mike with a barrage of stories and facts about those who didn't survive the room, Mike is still intent on spending the night.

We get to go along too.

Everyone gets scared to death, but we get less bloodied than Mike does. It's worth noting, this movie is not a gore-fest film like the other 20 that have hit the screens over the last year. This is typical Stephen King style horror, turned up a notch or two. This one is worth a trip to the theater.

- See it on "The Big Screen"

 

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MOVIE REVIEWS

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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