X-MEN: FIRST CLASS certainly lives up to its title with first-rate performances by James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender but the character-driven film might disappoint some action fans.

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Beginners starring Ewan MGgregor and Christopher Plummer

Christopher Plummer and Ewan McGregor star in BEGINNERS, a beautifully structured and provocative story based on director Mike Mills personal experience.

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Kung Fu Panda 2 Movie PosterJack Black brings back the charm of Po to KUNG FU PANDA 2 but Gary Oldman steals the show (as always) as the new villain.

Po, the crime fighting Panda is back as the Dragon Warrior, in the sequel to Dreamworks
animated film. KUNG FU PANDA 2 tackles an issue unresolved from the first film. How did Mr. Ping the goose become a father to a panda? Po starts to doubt his origins with a recurring dream about his panda mother. The villaneous Lord Shen holds the key to his  past.  Lord Shen (Gary Oldman), a peacock with his own daddy issues, plans to conquer China with a secret, unstoppable weapon and destroy kung fu. Po, Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Viper (Lucy Liu), Monkey (Jackie Chan), and Crane (David Cross) travel far to stop Lord Shen.  

While saving the world from domination premise is not at all original, the more engaging story is Po's eventual discover of Lord Shen's involvement with his parent's disappearance. That emotional connection is what makes the two Kung Fu Panda movies work. Apart from being relatable, the animated sequel is much funnier than the first one with more adult humor.

The character of Po, voiced by the always entertaining Jack Black, continues to warm his way into our hearts with his many insecurities and love of food.  He may be the Dragon Warrior but he is still vulnerable and that is the charm of the character.

Voicing the character of Lord Shen is Gary Oldman who once again creates a unique villain. Oldman never repeats a performance especially as a viilain which he's played many times in memorable roles such as in The Professional and the Fifth Element.  He brings a sophistication to the animated comedy as the peacock.  Rather than going for the typical evil voice, The Dark Night actor brought a vulnerability to Lord Shen. The new addition to the cast definitely proved to be the best part of the movie.

The other Furious Five's roles are reduced this time except for Angelina Jolie's Tigress who hasn't quite gotten used to the bumbling Panda.  Also missing from the majority of the film is Dustin Hoffman's Shifu. Shifu's dynamic with Po was so entertaining the first time around that you miss it here.  Most of the new voices were unrecognizable such as Jean-Claude Van Damme, Michelle Yeoh and Dennis Haysbart. Michelle Yeoh as the Soothsayer was hilarious with some of the best dialogue from the film.

KUNG FU PANDA 2 has a lot more action and fight sequences the second time around.  One particularly hilarious action scene involves the Furious Five and Po taking cover under a paper mâché dragon but when they are discovered, they take on Lord Shen's henchmen by scooping them up in the dragon's  mouth.  It looked like a game of centipede and it had the audience  rolling in the aisles.  Definitely the best scene in the movie.

With a different director at the helm for KUNG FU PANDA 2, Jennifer Yuh Nelson brings a different look to the film with a red color scheme where as the predecessor used a lot more yellows in the photography. Jennifer Yuh Nelson served as the head of story for the previous film so it's no surprise the story flows between the two films.

KUNG FU PANDA 2 is a film that all ages can enjoy. And  the finale of KUNG FU PANDA 2 suggests there may be a third Po story in the works.  

KUNG FU PANDA 2 is now playing in movie theaters.


PHOTOS: Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Jack Black At 'Kung Fu Panda 2' Movie Premiere

VIDEO: Jack Black Meets Real Kung Fu Panda Named Po

PHOTOS & VIDEO: Angelina Jolie, Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman In Cannes For Kung Fu Panda 2

Kung Fu Panda Takes Flight

Exclusive Sneak Peek: Jack Black & Antonio Banderas Preview Dreamworks Film Add a comment

Johnny Depp returns as a much tamer (and cleaner) Captain Jack Sparrow in a fourth installment of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. Add a comment

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Earthwork movie posterThe real life story of Stan Herd comes to the big screen in EARTHWORK, an inspirational tale of an artist played by Academy Award nominee John Hawk (Winter's Bones).

Some say that artists have their head in the clouds but for Stan Herd that would be quite the advantage. A third generation Kansas farmer, Stan has pioneered a new art form known as representational crop art, or Earthwork.

Using the tools that he grew up with Stan began manipulating the earth to create pictures that can only be viewed from the air. Struggling for years to bring attention to his art Stan put in a bid to do an Earthwork project on a vacant lot in New York City owned by Donald Trump. Not wanting to lose the opportunity to another artist Stan Herd agreed to do the project for free using his own funds and putting his family in tremendous debt.

The film EARTHWORK chronicles this monumental undertaking and the emotional toll it took on his family. It also shows how the community was impacted by this ambitious project.

In the past year I’ve seen several movies that centered on non-traditional artists such as Wasteland and Exit Through The Gift Shop. But as great as these films are, by making Stan Herd’s story a dramatic film rather than a documentary you are able to experience his emotional journey as well as his artistic one. EARTHWORK not only documents John’s struggle, but it shows us the impact that his work had on the street people who squatted on the land and lived in the tunnels near-by. This is something that would not have been possible in a straightforward documentary. I believe that telling Stan’s story in this way was the best choice, and Oscar nominated actor John Hawkes is wonderful in the role.

When Stan produces his art he tills, rakes and plows the soil to create texture and then adds plants, rocks and other natural materials for color and shade. From the ground you cannot see the result, but from the air everything takes form. In the telling of this story we are right there with Stan in this vacant lot scratching and digging to achieve some distant goal. With every set back we feel his pain, and with every friend he makes we feel his humanity. But like the people of New York we have to wait until the end to see the final result. The reveal is breath taking and I am now very much a fan of his art. I hope one day to meet Stan Herd or better yet fly over his work.

What a phenomenal inspirational man he is and what a tremendous awe-inspiring concept. I highly recommend this film.

Melanie Wilson  
Vvisit her blog at LAMelbox.blogspot.com

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Bridesmaids movie posterDon't let the name fool you.  BRIDESMAIDS is not a chick flick about a wedding.  Instead it's a woman's version of a bromance and a counterpart to The Hangover.

BRIDESMAIDS stars "Saturday Night Live" alums Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph as Lillian and Annie,  best friends whose friendship begins to crumble over one of Lilian's bridesmaids vying for best friend status.  Helen, played by X-Mens: First Class' Rose Byrne, is a socialite outdoing Annie, the maid of honor, in planning the wedding and bachelorette party.  Annie has lost her bakery, and is living with two annoying roommates, scraping by with the little money she has while Helen flaunts her wealth and influence.  Melissa McCarthy ("Mike & Molly"), Ellie Kemper ("The Office"), and Wendi McLendon-Covey round out the bridesmaids watching the disaster unfold in front of their very eyes.

There have been plenty of romantic comedies or dramas about women's relationship but it's always centered on a man.  In BRIDESMAIDS, men do not figure into the picture which was refreshing.  The characters come off as very real and down to earth people which makes it all the more relatable. The relationships are real but the situations are outrageous, hilarious, and often raunchy much like The Hangover but that's where the similarities end.  The characters in Bridesmaids are much more developed and in real life dilemmas.

It's no surprise BRIDESMAIDS is a strong comedy about women since the two writers are women.  Written by Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo, and produced by bromance movie expert Judd Apatow (Superbad, The 40-Year Virgin, Knocked Up), BRIDESMAIDS works on all levels-- storywise and the humor aspect.  It's not a very girly film as most would expect, thanks to director Paul Fieg, and the raunchiness and gross-out humor is fitting with no over the top action.  

One film that comes to mind that failed terribly as a gross-out comedy for women was The Sweetest Thing (2002) starring Cameron Diaz and Christina Applegate. It didn't work because the female characters behaved like men and no one could relate to that.  In BRIDESMAIDS, the women come off as true to life characters  that happen to be in situations that leads to toilet humor.  

While the women in BRIDESMAIDS are front and center in BRIDESMAIDS, the men are relegated to the background. The normally sauve Jon Hamm is no gentleman in BRIDESMAIDS, as Annie's friend with benefits. He calls on her only for sex and she falls for it everytime. Kristen Wiig doesn't waste any time bedding Jon Hamm at the beginning of the movie in a hilarious wham bam thank you ma'am moment that sets up Jon's character as a total douche bag. Later in the film, Annie gets a love interest played by Chris O'Dowd but the story doesn't focus on that relationship as much as friendship that is falling apart.

Funny women Kristen doesn't disappoint in the film in her first leading role and surrounds herself with an array of strong women including Maya Rudolph and the hateable Helen (Byrne).  However, Melissa McCarthy steals every scene as the butchy pearl necklace wearing bridesmaid who is very confident and sexually aggressive. She is the Kramer (from Seinfeld) of this bunch.  It is so refreshing to see an actress given a plum role, and do something that is very original,  and not look like a Barbie Doll.  Kudos to Melissa for not being afraid to go without make-up and look the worst on film for the laughs.

BRIDESMAIDS is a fun time at the movies. This is one comedy everyone can enjoy and should be a sleeper hit this summer. 

BRIDESMAIDS would make a good double feature with another release later this month - The Hangover II.

BRIDESMAIDS is now playing in theaters. Add a comment

Thor Movie PosterChris Hemsworth, the God of Thunder from the land down under, proves himself a worthy Marvel comic book hero in THOR.

The Marvel comic book comes to life on the big screen in THOR starring a relative newcomer  from Australia alongside Academy Award-winners Anthony Hopkins and Natalie Portman.   However, it isn't the Oscar winners who stand out in THOR.

Thor Movie Trailer

In the fantastical realm of Asgard, Thor, the soon to be king, wields his hammer with great arrogance. He is powerful but immature.  When he disobeys his father, King Odin  (Hopkins) and attacks their enemy, Odin casts out the God of Thunder to live among the humans on Earth, stripping him of his powers. When he lands on Earth, he doesn't realize  he is now like the humans - just an average Joe.

Meanwhile back on Asgard, his supportive brother Loki begs his father to bring back Thor, that is until he discovers a dark secret kept from him by his father. On Earth, Thor is helped by scientist Jane Foster (Natalie  Portman) and her mentor (Stellan Skarsgard), but one of them doesn't believe his story.  

Photo Gallery: THOR Movie Stills

Aussie Chris Hemsworth certainly looks the part of a Nordic god with his God-like stature and brawny physique. At first a bearded super hero seemed far-fetched but Chris Hemsworth  wears it well.  He plays the arrogance over the top, but it works well in the story especially when he arrives on Earth proclaiming his status as a god. Those are some of the  funniest moments on screen.  When Thor realizes his errors of his way, you sort of miss  that arrogance about him and he becomes in a way dull.  Imagine Tony Stark losing some of that selfishness - boring.

Chris Hemsworth and Natalie Portman lacked chemistry as a potential love interest. Neither actor really clicked with each other.  It may not have been helped by the weak women roles. Natalie Portman's dialogue often times seemed cheesy and too giddy for a character that's supposed  to be a scientist. She's no Scully.

Movie Clip: Thor Stripped of Powers

The stronger relationships in THOR are between father and his two sons. Tom Hiddleston as Loki is a welcome departure as the low-key villain of the film. While Chris Hemsworth  played the arrogance over the top, Tom was very subtle in his acting. And you believe  Anthony Hopkins is this all-powerful god.  

The father/son drama plays out throughout the film and eventually that is what holds the  film together. The dramatic porton of the film clearly has actor/director Kenneth Branaugh's stamp all over it. As a thespian, Branaugh brings that Greek tragedy feel to  the action movie. Once the story leaves Asgard, we lose some of that with the human  characters who aren't as interesting or dynamic.

Once the action takes place on Earth, the tone is more humorous with a handful of laugh  out loud one-liners.  Iron Man set that tone and it carries on in this Marvel adaptation which is appropriate given these superheroes will come together in The Avengers.

THOR looked great on the IMAX 3D screen but it didn't add too much more of a viewing  experience than watching it on a 2D screen.

THOR is no Iron Man but the film is quite entertaining although silly at times but a  little of both never hurt anyone.  

And as usual, stay until the end credits for a bonus scene.

THOR is in movie theaters May 6, 2011.

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Orlando Bloom, Juliette Lewis in Sympathy for Delicious movie

Orlando Bloom, Juliette Lewis, and Laura Linney come together in first-time director Mark Ruffalo's noteworthy debut -- "Sympathy for Delicious."

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The Conspirator Movie PosterEvery February, children all across the United States learn about Abraham Lincoln as a man who fought against slavery and kept the country together during the Civil War. But that is usually the extent of most people's knowledge and most are unaware of what he meant to the country at the time. That’s why Robert Redford's film The Conspirator is so important.

James McAvoy (X-Men: First Class), Robin Wright (Forrest Gump), Kevin Kline (Dave), and Tom Wilkinson (Michael Clayton) star in the historical period film.  When Abraham Lincoln was assassinated just before the conclusion of the Civil War, the country reeled. It was just as inconceivable and shocking to them as 9/11 was to us. The Secretary of War (Kevin Kline) was so intent on bringing swift justice that he vigorously pursued the collaborators and tried them in military court. One of these alleged collaborators was Mary Surratt (Robin Wright) a widow and mother.

Mary Surratt was a southerner who ran a boarding house. Her son John (Johnny Simmons) was a known confederate of John Wilkes Booth (Toby Kebbell) and based on proximity alone she was arrested. Like the Patriot Act is sometimes used today her rights were circumvented and she appealed to a well-known southern senator (Tom Wilkinson) for help. He in turned enlisted the assistance of a Union war hero (James McAvoy). This young officer was recently discharged for wounds received in action and was now returning to his law practice. He wanted nothing to do with this case, but after meeting the client and seeing how much her rights were being violated, his love of the law overcame his resentment and bitterness towards the south.

As directed by Robert Redford there are a lot of parallels between what happened then and what is happening now. Like Gautama Bay, anyone associated with the assassination attempt was thrown into prison without counsel until the military was ready to prosecute. According to the film, one detail that surprised and shocked me was that the actors in the play were arrested too. Just because they were there and some of them knew Booth as an actor they were suspected too. And another fact that was ignored during my grade school education was that Lincoln was not the only target. Three assignation attempts were made that night. This was a major plot.

The Conspirator is an excellent film in and of itself. The acting is great and the subject matter is compelling. But what makes this film even greater is that is will enlighten you as well. After seeing this movie I have become intrigued and want to learn more about that night. That is the sign of a good movie. You carry it with you and think about it long after. There is so much more to Abraham Lincoln than what we learned in elementary school. This film just scratches the surface. What an exciting provocative story. And as far as its parallels as to what is happening today, I only hope that we have more people like Frederick Aiken. I challenge you to read his defense of Mary Surratt and not be moved.
(http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/lincolnconspiracy/defenseofsurratt.html) Add a comment

Water for Elephants movie posterWATER FOR ELEPHANTS may seem like a sappy love story but the adaptation based on Sara Gruen's novel, proves to be much more.

The film starts in modern times with Hal Holbrook recounting his days in the circus as a young man during the depression era. He flashes back to his young days as the young Jacob played by Robert Pattinson, a veterinarian student who loses his parents, and runs away joining the circus. 

Interview: Robert Pattinson Wins Over Female Co-Star With Candy

Inglourious Basterd's Christopher Waltz is August Benzini, the bipolar circus ringmaster in the Benzini Bros. Circus who hires Jacob as the circus veterinarian. Jacob becomes infatuated with August's wife Marlena, the beautiful circus star played by a platinum blonde Reese Witherspoon. When Marlena's horse, the main circus act, must be put out of its misery, August purchases Rosie, an elephant. Rosie bonds the Marlena and Jacob in their love for the animal.  After witnessing August's abusive behavior towards Marlena and the circus animals, Jacob wants to rescue Marlena from his clutches.

Movie Clip: An Elephant Flirts With Robert Pattinson In Water for Elephants

Initially, there is not much chemistry between Robert Pattinson and Reese Witherspoon but as the story progresses you start to believe the mutual attraction. While the love story binds the plot together, it's the circus elements and August's character that brings together the film. Oscar winner Christopher Waltz again takes on the role of the villain but in WATER FOR ELEPHANTS, his character has moments of sympathy.  His bipolar characteristics make his character the most interesting of the cast.

Movie Stills: Robert Pattinson, Reese Witherspoon in Water For Elephants

Robert Pattinson gives a different kind of performance in this dramatic period piece. The Twilight star rarely flashes a smile on screen, and in WATER FOR ELEPHANTS, we get to see a lighter side from Robert with the occasional laughter and his pearly whites. Oscar winner Reese Witherspoon gives another good performance as a flirty and sexy circus mistress. Rarely do we see her sexy side in her girl next door roles but here the circus outfits and beautiful dresses make Reese a goddess. Her circus act on the elephant was quite impressive, even more so when you find out she did all her stunts with her massive co-star.

The production quality is suberb and the depression era makes for an interesting backdrop for the love story. Director Frances Lawrence put together an entertaining and dramtic film that could've easily gone for a harlequin-style romance but it didn't.

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Hanna movie posterHANNA is a return to good old-fashioned action movie with strong characters and an original storyline that entertains from start to finish.

In HANNA, Saoirse Ronan is Hanna, a biologically enhanced 16 year-old trained by her ex-CIA father (Eric Bana) to be the ultimate assassin and escape the clutches of ruthless CIA operative played by Cate Blanchett. Once Hanna's is ready, her father sends her on a mission, Hanna journeys stealthily across Europe while eluding agents dispatched after her by a ruthless intelligence operative with secrets of her own (Academy Award winner Cate Blanchett).  As she nears her ultimate target, Hanna faces startling revelations about her existence and unexpected questions about her humanity.

For Joe Wright's first action film, the Atonement (James McAvoy, Keira Knightly) and Pride & Prejudice (Keira Knightly) director brings his strong dramatic background to the action-thriller.  He keeps the drama going through the action scenes.  The action scenes are raw and powerful without all the fancy footwork and fast cuts.  Wright decided early on to break with Hollywood-style fight sequences and shot most of the fight sequences with his young star Saoirse Ronan and Eric Bana in one take instead of cheating it in the editing room. The decision paid off.

The 17-year-old Saoirse Ronan is believable as a groomed-assassin who takes on grown men and the hunky six-foot tall Eric Bana. The young actress and Academy Award nominee (Atonement) reunites with her Atonement director for a more grown up role three years later.  Saoirs is one to watch for as her talents get better with her young age. She has played very grown-up roles (Lovely Bones) unlike any other of her contemporaries or any adult actress, as a matter a fact. Eric Bana plays Hanna's father, an ex-CIA operative on a mission to exact revenge on his superior who killed Hanna's mother. Eric, as always, is a joy to watch on screen not only for his acting but his good looks which you can never get get tired of looking at. Cate Blanchett is a great villain as Marissa,the CIA operative behind Hanna's biological enhancements and the plot to capture Hanna through ruthless means. Marissa is void of any emotion especially any maternal feeling as we see during an interrogation with two children which made the character even more threatening. It's rare and refreshing to see two strong women characters in an action film.

The action is clean, the cinematography matches the mood with gray tones without the gloss and saturated colors.  The locations are remote -- set in snowy woods, Morocco, and Germany which gives it a European flavor and sensability.

The score by the Chemical Brothers enhances every scene and captures both Hanna's emotions and the frenzy nature of the action scenes.

HANNA is a quality film that some may not appreciate since it's not your typical Hollywood action film where action is the star but in HANNA, story takes precedence over action.  And that doesn't happen often in most films. Add a comment

Monogamy movie posterMonogamy, starring Parks & Recreation's Rashida Jones and Chris Messina, focuses on how our bodies always tell the truth. Our words may say one thing, while our faces, eyes and body language may say another. The problem is we don’t always know why, so reading into things may get us into trouble. This film is about truth, lies and photography. It is also about communication and what makes a couple work. It is a fascinating character study and brings up some interesting ideas. How much do we really know about each other?

A wedding photographer who makes just enough to get by, creates a second job in order to make more money. He has always been fascinated by the real stories that pictures tell by the studying the background, body language and expressions of the subjects in them. His new business, called Gumshoot, is a service where people contract him to photograph them in public places without his presence being known. The idea is to see what you look like in candid moments, to see yourself in your own environment and how others in that environment react to you.

Theo’s (Chris Messina) new business is picking up, and as he and his live-in girlfriend get ready for their own impending wedding, Theo begins to fixate over other people’s wedding photos and how they relate to each other. He is looking for that certain something that shows when a couple is truly in love. Meanwhile, Nat (Rashinda Jones) is having her own fixations. She begins reading into everything that Theo does.

In his Gumshoot business, clients contact Theo via the Internet with a time and place to meet and what they are wearing. Theo will then photograph them in secret and process a series of proof sheets. Next they will meet in person and Theo will help the subject pick their best photos and point out things that the background says about them. When a new client contacts him, Subgirl (Meital Dohan) shocks Theo by doing some very private things in very public places.

This bold, daring blonde mystifies Theo. While entranced in her photographic shots, Nat walks in behind him and he blushes. Nat knew about the shoot upfront, but neither she nor Theo knew that the subject would be so titillating. Both try to be cool, but seeds of doubt arise. Nat wonders why Theo is so obsessed with this woman and Theo wonders why Nat keeps pulling away.

Melanie Wilson
Visit her blog at LAMelbox.blogspot.com

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Paul movie posterA little pot smoking alien voiced by Seth Rogen sounds like a silly concept for PAUL but the British comedians behind Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, once again provide a fun movie-going experience with a whole lot of laughs.

Simon Pegg and Nick Frost bring their brand of comedy to America with PAUL, a film written by the comedy duo.  This time around, the Brits pay homage to the science fiction genre with references from every possible movie made about aliens including classics such as Star Wars, Aliens, Close Encounters, and E.T.  The brains behind Shaun of the Dead take themselves out of jolly old England and take it to the western part of the United States for a hilarious send-up of an alien on the lamb.

Graeme (Pegg) and Clive (Frost) are two English science fiction fans visiting Comic Con in San Diego for the first time.  Once they make their nerd rounds at the comic book convention, Graeme and Clive are off in a RV adventure across Nevada to visit Area 51 and UFO sighting locations.  While on the road, they encounter Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen), a space alien who has escaped Area 51, who needs their help taking him to location where a space ship will return him home.  

Justin Bateman is the man in black chasing the fugitives across the desert with the help of the always hilarious Bill Hader from Saturday Night Live and character player Joe Lo Truglia (Superbad, Role Models).  Another SNL player Kristen Wiig comes along for the ride as a woman kidnapped by the alien and his human friends.  Blythe Danner (Meet The Parents), Jane Lynch (Glee), Sigourney Weaver (Aliens, Avatar), David Koechner (Anchorman, Get Smart), Jeffrey Tambor and even Steven Spielberg make brief but hilarious cameos in PAUL.

At first you would think Seth Rogen's voice of Paul might annoy your senses but Seth managed to hold back his usual tone to give Paul a unique voice.  However, the pot smoking, party animal mentality of Paul seemed to fit right in with Rogen's personality from Pineapple Express...without the whining.  

Simon Pegg and Nick Frost made a very smart choice with this project by changing the setting to America and surrounding themselves with American comedians.  The casting looks like they invaded SNL and a Will Farrell or Steve Carell comedy.

Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Seth Rogen in PAUL

As with Frost and Pegg's two previous films, PAUL pays homage to classic genre films with some great one-liners borrowed from other movies.  Even if you are not a science fiction movie buff, you'll enjoy the film but you will certainly feel left out when the audience go crazy over the references. 

The funniest and boldest part of the movie which might offend Sarah Palin and Christians is the banter over religion and science.  Frost and Pegg, obviously, have strong opinions over the subject matter as they dedicated some funny lines to discounting the Christian beliefs... all in good fun of course.  Another group which could find offense with the characterization is the Geeks themselves.  However, Pegg and Frost,  self-admitted nerds themselves, respectfully portrayed science fiction fans without being overly critical and joking at their expense...except for the running gag over being gay buddies.  Nerds will be proud.

Thankfully, the American setting In PAUL didn't take away from the British wit we enjoyed in Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz but they certainly injected it with humor Americans can appreciate. The story is simple and the laughs are plenty with a clever script and fantastic characters.  

The CGI work on Paul looked great and added to the illusion that he was real in that reality.  The end sequence, however, didn't impress with a certain object (won't give it away), looking rather low-budget but all was forgiven because of the final pay-off.

PAUL was so much fun watching, that a repeat viewing is in order.  A definite must see.

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The Music Never Stopped movie posterA young music-loving father is teaching his son all about his favorite music. With each melody comes the artist, composer, and where he was and what he was doing when he first heard the song. Like a game, young Gabriel knows all about his father’s passion, but when he grows up and develops a musical taste of his own, father and son no longer see eye to eye. One night, Gabriel (Lou Taylor Pucci) and his father (J.K. Simmons) have a terrible row and as Gabriel is storming out of the house his father yells after him, “And never come back again!” It is now twenty years later and Henry has yet to see his boy.

Flash forward to the 80’s and Henry is sitting in his living room listening to his precious music. His wife (Cara Seymour) is glaring at him for not answering the telephone. As Henry continues to be transfixed in song, we see Helen’s face change from frustration to grief. Her sorrow is so profound that it gets Henry’s attention. Gabriel has been found.

The next scene takes place in a hospital. While Gabriel has been living on the streets, a slow growing tumor has been invading his brain. With its removal, Gabriel has lost a big portion of his memory and the ability to form new ones. Henry is devastated. He finally has his son back and he can’t even remember the last thing he said.

When Henry is forced into early retirement, Helen decides to get a job. This means that Henry can no longer avoid visiting his son at the hospital. One of them has to be there. Henry is in torment. He really wants to connect with his son but he can’t stand seeing him in his current state. So after he resigns himself to the painful duty of spending time with Gabriel, Henry begins to notice certain promising behaviors. These behaviors start Henry doing research on his own and this him to Diane Daley (Julia Ormond). Diane Daley is a musical therapist. In her research she is developing protocols to reach different parts of the brain through music. She agrees to meet Gabriel and with their meetings she discovers something wonderful, Gabriel has memories that have survived.

This sounds like a hokey premise for a movie, but The Music Never Stopped is based on a true story. When a song released between 1958 through 1970 was played, especially The Beatles, Dylan or the Grateful Dead, Gabriel would light up, become engaged, and recall memories from that period. In order to understand his son and his music more Henry trades in his beloved vinyl and exchanges them for albums from Gabriel’s era. As Gabriel becomes radiant and starts to share with his father what the music means and where he was when he heard it, Henry is now the pupil and Gabriel is the teacher. The scenes between J.K Simmons and Lou Taylor Pucci are magical.

Through Gabriel’s recollections, Henry is convicted and shamed by the mistakes that he made as a father. But now that he has a chance to know his son again he is pouring his entire self into the process. The psychological part of the story is interesting but it is the father-son dynamic that really makes this film. Their scenes are so moving that when you add in the music, they become unforgettable. And that is what makes this movie special, it speaks to the power of music and love.

Melanie Wilson  

Visit her blog at LAMelbox.blogspot.com

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Battle: Los Angeles movie posterJudging by the trailer, BATTLE: LOS ANGELES looked to be just another Independence Day, but surprisingly its not.   While BATTLE: LOS ANGELES has its share of spectacle, the film spares us the pompous American patriotism and focuses on humanizing the characters and conflict.

Given the post 9/11 climate, films like Independence Day would probably not go over well today and the filmmakers behind BATTLE: LOS ANGELES probably had that in mind. In BATTLE: LOS ANGELES, alien forces invade the coast of every major country and a group of Marines (Aaron Eckhart, Ramon Rodriguez, Michelle Rodriguez) in Los Angeles are sent on a mission to evacuate civilians from an unknown enemy attacking Santa Monica.  
In most Hollywood action films, military characters are often portrayed as fearless and ready to fight alien enemies as Will Smith did with his “I’m gonna get you sucka’ attitude in Independence Day or Josh Duhamel in the Transformers movie.  In reality, if aliens did invade Earth, would soldiers maintain that attitude when confronted with an enemy they have not trained to battle?  BATTLE: LOS ANGELES addresses that reality.  At the start of the film, the soldiers go in with the typical conquering attitude, only to realize they will most likely not come out alive. Watching military character’s vulnerability within the story is not something viewers are used to seeing in a special effects-heavy action movie. It was rather refreshing to watch these characters exhibit true emotion.  You’re getting the eye candy, in addition, to giving the film heart.
While you can respect director Jonathan Liebesman for giving the film an emotional side to this popcorn spectacle, one scene drags on with Aaron Eckhart as Staff Sargeant Nantz cheering up a child, followed by a long monologue about losing his men on a previous mission.  The moment did generate some tears from this viewer but you could feel many in the audience couldn’t wait for the next action sequence.  
The film’s action sequences were shot documentary style with shaky cameras to give you the feeling you are on the battle field with them which enhanced the intensity of the scenes. At times it felt as if you were watching a war movie... but with aliens.  The Marines revert to their training and back each other up instead of going commando.  All the characters share heroic moments in BATTLE: LOS ANGELES.   Who knew you could actually gain more respect for our current troops fighting overseas while your watching this fictional action film.

The strong story helped bring out the best from the BATTLE: LOS ANGELES actors.  As usual, Aaron Eckhart is at his best as Staff Sargeant Nantz, a career Marine forced back into service for one last assignment under the command of a much younger  Second Lieutenant,William Martinez (Ramon Rodriguez).  Eckhart certainly grounded the film and helped the supporting characters shine.  

Newcomer Ramon Rodriguez, who charmed in Transformers 2, transforms into an entirely different character as the leader of the Marine battalion in BATTLE: LOS ANGELES.  Expect to hear more about this versatile star with his new role as Bosley in the TV revamp of Charlie’s Angels.  It’s no surprise Michelle Rodriguez again takes on the role of a soldier but the kick ass attitude is not part of her character this time.  Her usual toughness is gone and she finally shows some real vulnerability in her acting that we are not used to seeing from her.   Bridget Moynahan and Michael Peña also bring authenticity to the film as civilians trapped in the area.

BATTLE: LOS ANGELES was a nice surprise with likeable and humanized characters.  The special effects and aliens were low-key with the focus on the human characters but it still proved entertaining.  Think Black Hawk Down meets District 9. Add a comment
The Company Men movie poster While most Americans have no love for corporate America during the recession, you will be feeling sorry for these company men played by Ben Affleck, Tommy Lee Jones, and Chris Cooper.

In THE COMPANY MEN, Bobby Walker (Ben Affleck) is living the American dream: great job, beautiful family, shiny Porsche in the garage. When corporate downsizing leaves him and co-workers Phil Woodward (Chris Cooper) and Gene McClary (Tommy Lee Jones) jobless, the three men are forced to re-define their lives as men, husbands, and fathers.

At first you dislike these men who flaunt their wealth with lavish homes and expensive toys but when they come to face to face with potentially losing the life they were comfortable with, the story becomes interesting. The ensemble cast does a great job of conveying the feelings of their characters and of most Americans. The story will hit home for everyone, even the working class.

After losing his job as a Sales Executive in a ship building corporation, Ben Affleck's Bobby character believes he will rebound with another job with equal pay and thus refuses to cut back on his lavish life when his wife (Rosemarie DeWitt) recommends it.  Reality soon hits Bobby when the jobs aren't coming his way and the bills have gone unpaid.  He eventually has to accept a blue-collar job with his brother-in-law's (Kevin Costner) carpenter business and endure the grueling physical work.

Bobby's older co-worker played by Chris Cooper is facing an even harsher reality.  Who is going to hire a 60 year-old man?  They recommend he clean up and dye his hair to look younger.  Tommy Lee Jones' Gene is one of the head honchos at the company fighting to keep his sales execs from being layed off but going head to head with the President of his corporation  (Craig T. Nelson), his best friend, lands him in the unemployment line.  However, he's not worrying about money since he owns stocks in the company, but his guilt over his rich lifestyle and watching the other's lives crumble leaves him feeling powerless.  He also soon butts heads with the head of Human Resources doing the firing who also happens to be his mistress (Maria Bello).

THE COMPANY MEN is a human story done well.  Thanks to Michael Moore and countless other films and documentaries chronicling the crumbling economy and the effects on the working class, THE COMPANY MEN offers a different perspective. Director John Wells, best known for his work as a television producer, writer, and director for ER, West Wing, and Southland, crafts the multiple storylines very well without losing focus and uses the veteran actors to their fullest potential.

Ben Affleck is proving himself a great actor in dramatic roles such as last year's The Town and now with THE COMPANY MEN. As the Bobby character, Affleck clearly transforms from a cocky sales executive loving the good life to a vulnerable husband and father feeling the pressures of reality. Chris Cooper, as always, gives a heartfelt performance exemplified through his expressive facial features which leaves you feeling the pain along with him. Tommy Lee Jones, Maria Bello, Kevin Costner and Affleck's on screen wife Rosemarie DeWitt give exceptional performances as well.

The one complaint about THE COMPANY MEN is it's lack of perspective from a female's point of view. While the film's title suggests it's a men's world, you can't help but need that side of the story.  In the background a female executive  in the company joins the rank of unemployed alongside Affleck but her story is not told. The woman's perspective are told from the wives of these company men, some understanding and others selfish.

For some, like Michael Moore, the film will definitely have you feeling angry towards capitalism. In THE COMPANY MEN, Tommy Lee Jones is appalled that the company is showing off their multi-million dollar skyscraper under going construction when they have just cut half their sales staff. His suggestion that they sell the building to guarantee jobs gets him fired. In another instance, the company honchos mention cutting back in other areas such as healthcare but they refuse because that is the one sector making profits. THE COMPANY MEN hits on a personal level.

The finale of the film is a bit romanticized but the message is clear. America has to start with a clean slate and working people must come before profit margins.

THE COMPANY MEN is a must see and relevant to the times.
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Angelina Jolie  in THE TOURIST Burlesque Movie Poster Twilight Eclipse movie poster Jessica Alba in Machete

Angelina Jolie, Jessica Alba, George Lopez, Twilight Saga: Eclipse and Burlesque are just a few possible candidates for the 31st Annual Razzie Movie Awards celebrating the worst films and performances of 2010.

2010 was a good year for really bad films and many have made the Razzie;s nominating ballots, according to The  Envelope. The event which takes place February 24th has sent out members a shortlist of possible nominees that include The Bounty Hunter (Jennifer Aniston, Gerard Butler), Clash of the Titans (Sam Worthington), Sylvestor Stallone's The Expendables, Jonah Hex (Josh Brolin, Megan Fox), Grown Ups, Vampires Suck, Yogi Bear, Little Fockers, Sex and the City 2, Killers (Ashton Kutcher, Katherine Heigl), and The Twilight Saga: Eclipse (Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson) as options for the Worst Picture of the Year.

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Machete DVD and Blu-Ray

Robert Rodriguez's over the top action movie MACHETE comes to DVD and Blu-ray January 4.  Too bad the DVD extras and behind the scenes are not as equally over the top but the deleted scenes of Jessica Alba's slutty twin sister should make up for it.

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Funnyman i-love-you-phillip-morris-movie-posterJim Carrey and Ewan McGregor star as two gay men in love in the true story I LOVE YOU PHILLIP MORRIS.  I LOVE YOU PHILLIP MORRIS is an unconventional story of a love that knows no bounds. Jim Carrey is Steven Russell, a man who will cheat, lie and steal to be with the one he loves played by Ewan McGregor. It is a bizarre story, but true, and Jim Carrey plays Steven Russell with conviction (pun intended).

In the Texas State Penitentiary is a man named Steven Russell who is serving a life sentence. He’s never killed anyone, he’s never used a gun, what he did was much, much worse; he embarrassed the state of Texas. Jim Carrey (The Grinch) plays Steven Russell, a man who did everything by the book until one day when he nearly loses his life in a car accident. While being loaded into an ambulance he has an epiphany, life is not worth living unless you can be yourself. So he leaves his wife, announces that he is gay, and begins a life of crime to support his new homosexual lifestyle.

Russell moves to Miami Beach, gets a boyfriend and become a feature in the decadent nightclub scene. Soon he is racking up major debt and starts committing insurance fraud to pay for his extravagant lifestyle. When the lies finally catch up with him and he’s thrown into jail, he becomes an expert of the law and a wizard of prison bureaucracy.

After multiple escapes and recaptures Russell meets Phillip Morris, Ewan McGregor (The Ghost Writer). Philip is a shy, sweet reserved man and Steven is totally smitten with him. When Phillip is transferred to another cellblock they begin a romance of secret letters. Then Steven accomplishes the impossible, he falsifies documents and gets himself transferred into Phillip’s cell.

Together they live in bliss with Steven protecting and caring for his more demure lover. But when they get separated again, Steven moves heaven and earth to reunite himself with his one true love, even to the point of faking his death.

I LOVE YOU PHILLIP MORRIS is strange, but it is also very sweet. It is a love story with obstacles and one that you’ll never forget.

I LOVE YOU PHILLIP MORRIS is in select theaters and going wider January 7.


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