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TMNT (2007) (***)

Sometimes what you bring into a movie makes a big difference in how it will be viewed and ultimately enjoyed. If you're a history buff you may be irritated with period inaccuracies in a war movie. A fan of a certain comic might hate a feature version because it's not what they remembered or wanted. So going into TMNT it has a lot riding against it in terms of fans' expectations and how critics or even the general non-fan population view the Turtles either from the animated TV series or men-in-suits live-action films. It's tough to do anything right in some critics' minds when your franchise started with grown men playing teenage mutant ninja turtles.

I come to TMNT as a person who was a big fan of the TV series as a kid and vaguely remember liking the original live-action film when it first came out. Therefore, I have knowledge of the franchise and expectations of what would make a good or bad TURTLES movie. Thus my recommendation of the film comes from that point of view. If you were a fan of the series (but maybe not a hardcore one, I can't say how it stacks up to the comics) then you will not be disappointed by this film. All others should either go in with an open-mind or take their baggage and fly over to another theater that's not playing this movie. TMNT isn't a great film, but it brought back fond memories of the characters that I loved in my youth.



Oh the puns come flooding to mind when thinking about this film. Nothing but terrible. Nothing but disgusting. Nothing but stupid. I felt sorry for the talented performers as I watched this crud, thinking how did they get convinced to be in this thing. Then when I looked up the credits I found my answer… and the answer was shocking. Dan Aykroyd not only plays two roles, but he also wrote and directed the film too. Chevy Chase, Demi Moore, John Candy must have owed Aykroyd a favor. His screenplay is based on a story from his younger brother Peter. It's a pet project that caught rabies.

Chris Thorne (Chase, FUNNY FARM) meets Diane Lightson (Moore, ST, ELMO'S FIRE), who was recently dumped by her rich businessman boyfriend. Thorne is driving two clients to New York City and he offers to take Diane along with him. While driving through a small town, he tries to outrun the police and his eventually caught by the local police chief Dennis (Candy, PLANES, TRAINS & AUTOMOBILES), who takes them to an out-of-the-way mansion, where Judge Alvin "J.P." Valkenheiser will pass judgment on them.


mister bagley

[kml_flashembed movie="" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

This is a pencil test from mister bagley - a blog based series I am playing with….

The premise is always the same…mister bagley is walking along and then he stops and takes something out of his bag…it could be an everyday item
or it might be totally outrageous. We will see…


MARIE ANTOINETTE (2006) (***1/2)

Forget what you may have heard about this film. Roger Ebert said it best when he wrote, " Every criticism I have read of this film would alter its fragile magic and reduce its romantic and tragic poignancy to the level of an instructional film." I couldn't agree more.

At 14, Marie Antoinette (Kirsten Dunst, THE VIRGIN SUICIDES) is taken from Austria and virtually given to France as a payment for peace between the two countries. On the border, before she enters France, she is stripped bare, so that nothing Austrian (accept for her flesh I guess) is allowed to enter the French court. She meets her fiancée Louis XVI (Jason Schwartzman, SHOPGIRL) mere hours before their marriage. He can barely look at her, let alone drum up the nerve to play his part in Marie's purpose to bring an heir to the French court at Versailles. She is all but a prisoner in the huge royal estate, where her every action is criticized and every move is governed by excessive and demeaning ritual. Robbed of everything she knew as well as her childhood, she has no voice of her own, only duty. Trapped in a ridiculous world, she can only find release in partying, because it's all that is tolerated. Eventually, she loses herself in excess to ease her pain.


MY SUMMER OF LOVE (2005) (***)

Based on a novel by Helen Cross, the film takes the core conflict of the book, mainly just focusing on the teen romance story. It's more interested in capturing the rush and danger of teenage love than presenting a grander issue. This character study follows these particular characters over one unforgettable summer.

Mona (Natalie Press, TV's BLEAK HOUSE) is a working class teen whose mother has died and her father was never been in the picture. She has inherited the family pub with her brother Phil (Paddy Considine, IN AMERICA), who has just recently been released from prison where he found Jesus. Mona thinks he's crazy when he pours all the booze down the drain and turns the bar into a Christian community center. With her married boyfriend discarding her and her brother transforming into someone she doesn't even know, Mona is lost in the world until she meets Tamsin (Emily Blunt, THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA).


300 (2007) (****)

If you go into this film wanting a history lesson on the Battle of Thermopylae then you will be disappointed. If you want a rousing, iconic and gorgeous looking entertainment then you will love 300.

Based on Frank Miller's graphic novel, the story follows King Leonidas (Gerard Butler, DEAR FRANKIE) of Sparta who defies the surrender demands of Persian king Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro, CHARLIE'S ANGELS: FULL THROTTLE) in order to keep all Spartans free citizens. Leonidas gathers an army of 300 of Sparta's best warriors to make a stand against the 20,000 plus Persian army at a narrow path along the sea.

But to do so he must break the superstitious and corrupt laws of his country. In going against the politicians he creates political strife at home, which his wife Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey, THE BROTHERS GRIMM) must deal with. She must try to persuade politician Theron (Dominic West, MONA LISA SMILE) to help Leonidas, but Theron has his own agenda. Fighting alongside Leonidas are his veteran captain Artemis (Vincent Regan, TROY), his chief spokesman Dilios (David Wenham, LORD OF THE RINGS), ardent follower of Spartan beliefs Stelios (Michael Fassbender, TV's BAND OF BROTHERS) and Captain Artemis' son Astinos (Tom Wisdom). Later the Thespians, lead by Daxos (Andrew Pleavin) and a deformed hunchback Ephialtes (Andrew Tiernan, THE PIANIST) will try to join the fight.


JESUS CAMP (2006) (****)

Depending on your political or religious persuasion this film is either a straight-forward portrait of the evangelical movement in America or really freakin' scary. I've never hid my political leanings in my reviews because that would be disingenuous. However, this film is such a lightning rod that I'm afraid that it's nearly impossible to review without injecting your point of view somewhat. So the most even-handed way I can think of to review it is to just describe some of its key characters and scenes and present the questions that it brought up in my mind. Even those questions will probably tell you my feelings, but at least it prevents this movie review from spiraling off into a political rant.


ZODIAC (2007) (***1/2)

David Fincher, director of SEVEN and PANIC ROOM, adapts Robert Graysmith's books on the notorious unsolved case of the Zodiac killer who plagued Northern California in the 1960s and 1970s. The straight-forward procedural focuses first on the police investigation into the crimes and then how Graysmith, a cartoonist at the SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE, took it upon himself to hunt down the killer when the case went cold.

The film begins with one of the Zodiac's killings and sets the unease tone of the entire film. Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal, BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN) is a young cartoonist at the time and floats around Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr., WONDER BOYS) as the lead reporter investigates the murders. Graysmith is very interested in the Zodiac's cryptic messages, which he helps give Avery some incite into. So as Avery pokes his nose into the case, detectives David Toschi (Mark Ruffalo, YOU CAN COUNT ON ME) and William Armstrong (Anthony Edwards, TV's E.R.) begin their investigation.


BLACK SNAKE MOAN (2007) (***1/2)

This might not be a film for everyone, but those who like challenging hyper-cool cinema will rejoice. When your plot deals with a black bluesman in the South chaining a nymphomaniac white girl to the radiator in his house, you're skirting the edge of good taste. But Craig Brewer, the director of the wonderful pimp to rapper flick HUSTLE & FLOW, knows that his exploitation premise is really just the framework to tell an iconic redemption story.

Lazarus (Samuel L. Jackson, PULP FICTION) is a former blues singer who farms to make a living. His wife has just run off with his brother. The local preacher R.L. (John Cothran Jr., THE CELL) is keeping an eye on him so that he doesn't stray too far of the path of righteousness due to his anger and bitterness over the break-up of his marriage. One morning, he finds the young white girl Rae (Christina Ricci, PUMPKIN) lying in the street by his mailbox, beaten severely and only wearing a short top and panties. He takes her back to his house and watches over her as she fights fever. When Lazarus learns that she is a nympho who has been sleeping with every Tom, Dick and Harry in town since her boyfriend Ronnie (Justin Timberlake, ALPHA DOG) went off to the army, Lazarus decides to chain her to his radiator and cure her of her sinful ways.


WILD HOGS (2007) (*1/2)

Skip this movie and just watch the trailer online for free. You'll get all the funny jokes, less of the homophobia and not waste your freakin' time. This tired, slapstick CITY SLICKERS wanna-be is a career low for William H. Macy, who I hope received a nice paycheck for his effort. Tim Allen, John Travolta and Martin Lawrence have all been in worse, but that's not saying much is it.

The set-up is simple. Four middle-aged men want to reclaim some of their youth and manliness so they set out on a motorcycle road trip. Doug Madsen (Allen, CHRISTMAS WITH THE KRANKS) is a dentist with high-cholesterol who finds rebellion against his family's wimpy opinion on him by eating a stick of butter. Woody Stevens (Travolta, BATTLEFIELD EARTH) is some kind of rich businessman who is married to a swimsuit model, who is actually in the process of losing it all. Bobby Davis (Lawrence, BIG MOMMA'S HOUSE 2) is a henpecked plumber who took the last year off to write a how to book. Dudley Frank (Macy, FARGO) is a clueless computer programmer who barely knows how to ride his bike, which is a fact that is reinforced over and over again.
So on the road, the foursome run into embarrassing moment after embarrassing moment until the plot final arrives in the form of Jack (Ray Liotta, GOODFELLAS) and his bar full of cliché, mean bikers, who are severely offended by the mere presence of these suburban biker posers. As the trailer informs us, Woody accidentally blows up the biker's bar and they hit the road after them. At their next stop, Dudley falls for a pretty diner owner named Maggie (Marisa Tomei, MY COUSIN VINNIE) and the foursome decides to stay in town for the chili fest. But Woody worries that the bikers will catch up with them and he hasn't been too honest with the others about what really happened when he went back to the bar.


HOLLYWOODLAND (2006) (***1/2)

This is an interesting crime drama in that it presents various scenarios for its main crime, doesn't confirm positively any one of them, yet still finds closure for its overall story. It does this by paralleling the tales of its lead character and its lead subject.

Louis Simo (Adrien Brody, THE PIANIST) is a two-bit private eye, who mainly works cheating spouse cases. He gets a tip that Helen Bessolo (Lois Smith, THE MINORITY REPORT) wants to hire someone to look deeper into the death of her son — SUPERMAN actor George Reeves (Ben Affleck, GOOD WILL HUNTING). The police are ruling it a suicide, but rumors point to foul play.

As Simo investigates the crime, we get flashbacks into Reeves life. Before he hit it big, he started an affair with Toni Mannix (Diane Lane, UNFAITHFUL), the wife of Eddie Mannix (Bob Hoskins, MONA LISA), the general manager of MGM. Because Eddie has his own flings, the affair is not an issue… or was it. When Reeves lands the role of Superman, his agent Art Weissman (Jeffrey DeMunn, THE GREEN MILE) tells him to just take the paycheck, because no one will ever see it. But that wasn't the case — Reeves became type cast as the superhero, which in those days was a joke. As Reeves struggles for legitimacy, he grows apart from Toni and falls for the sexy younger woman Leonore Lemmon (Robin Tunney, TV's PRISON BREAK). This devastates Toni.


A SCANNER DARKLY (2006) (**1/2)

Director Richard Linklater goes back to the animated rotoscope effect, where animated graphics are applied over live-action performances, which he used on his film, WAKING LIFE. The choice seems both stylistically geared toward the drug-fueled material and also practical in that it was a cheaper way to do the sci-fi tale rather than in live-action with visual effects. The result is a hit or miss affair, which is more a story problem than a stylistic one.

Bob Arctor (Keanu Reeves, THE MATRIX) is an undercover drug cop who is trying to find the top supplier of the deadly and highly addictive drug called Substance D. Two druggies named James Barris (Robert Downey Jr., CHAPLIN) and Ernie Luckman (Woody Harrelson, NATURAL BORN KILLERS) live with him and ramble on and on about their paranoid theories. Donna Hawthorne (Winona Ryder, DRACULA) is Arctor's supplier, but he has fallen for her, yet she refuses to sleep with him. Their friend Charles Freck (Rory Cochrane, DAZED AND CONFUSED) is completely gone on Substance D, suffering from delusions. When Arctor is at the police headquarters, he wears what is called a scramble suit, which covers this body with shifting images of various humans thus covering his identity. Outside of the police doctors, no one else on the force knows what he looks like. So when Barris turns Arctor in, how will they know that he's really a cop?


LAND GIRLS (1998) (**)

LAND GIRLS commits the greatest crime that any romance can commit — it makes us root against the intended lovers. The title is a reference to the British Land Army, which was comprised of women who went to work jobs that were vacated by the men when they went off to fight in WWII.

The story begins with Stella (Catherine McCormack, DANGEROUS BEAUTY), Ag (Rachel Weisz, THE CONSTANT GARDENER) and Prue (Anna Friel, GOAL!) arriving on a farm in Dorset, where the farmer John Lawrence (Tom Georgeson, NOTES ON A SCANDAL) believes it’s a lark to send women out to do men's work. Turns out the young women have been trained quite well and take to their work very quickly, leaving ample time for them to set eyes on the farmer's son Joe (Steven Mackintosh, UNDERWORLD: EVOLUTION), who dreams of being a pilot. Prue is the first to set out and shag Joe, followed by Ag, who doesn't want to be a virgin when she gets married. Stella, who is engaged to the rich sailor Philip (Paul Bettany, A BEAUTIFUL MIND), watches Joe from a distance, trying to hold back her feelings for him. I mean, he wants to fly and she wants to fly… so they must be destined to be together.


BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA (2007) (***1/2)

Do not go by the ads and trailer for this film; it's not a CHRONICLES OF NARNIA wanna-be. If you're familiar with Katherine Paterson's award-winning young adult book, then you know the story is a coming-of-age tale about friendship, which happens to include some fantasy elements. It's more akin to MY GIRL than NARNIA.

Jesse Aarons (Josh Hutcherson, ZATHURA) is a tween whose family is very poor. He's subjected to not only the ridicule of having to wear hand-me-down sneakers, but having to wear hand-me-down sneakers from his older sister. Jesse is a bit scared of his imposing and gruff father (Robert Patrick, TERMINATOR 2), who seems to treat Jesse's youngest sister May Belle (Bailee Madison) with more friendliness and kindness.



Another addition to the superior group of films about the plight of Africa, THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND is a social drama with the tension of a thriller and is capped with a tour de force performance from Forest Whitaker. This historical biopic puts a fictional protagonist in the center of real life dramas surrounding the rise and fall of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin.

Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy, CHRONICLES OF NARNIA) is a recent medical school grad who doesn't want to stay in Scotland and go into boring family practice like his father. So he heads off to Uganda to make a difference as well as have some fun. General Idi Amin (Whitaker, THE CRYING GAME) has just come to power and his pro-poor rhetoric is quickly making him a national hero. Nicholas couldn't imagine the poverty and need that he encounters when he comes to serve at the rural hospital with Dr. Merrit (Adam Kotz) and his wife Sarah (Gillian Anderson, TV's X-FILES).


OPEN SEASON (2006) (***)

Overcoming some clunky moments, Sony's first foray into fully animated features is charming and fun due to its likeable central characters and beautiful visuals. Boog (Martin Lawrence, BAD BOYS) is a performing bear who was rescued as a cub by forest ranger Beth (Debra Messing, TV's WILL & GRACE). One day Boog helps free Elliot the deer (Ashton Kutcher, TV's THAT '70S SHOW) from hunter Shaw (Gary Sinise, FORREST GUMP), which sets in motion a series of incidents that ends in Beth deciding to return Boog to the woods. With little natural survival skills, Boog enlists Elliot to take him back to town before open hunting season begins. Along the way Boog and Elliot will have run-ins with Scottish warrior squirrel McSquizzy (Billy Connolly, MRS. BROWN) and alpha male buck Ian (Patrick Warburton, TV's SEINFELD) along with a host of other woodland creatures.


HALF NELSON (2006) (****)

Combining the inspirational inner city teacher tale with a drug abuse story, HALF NELSON bucks all the stereotypes of the similar tales that came before. The film is brought to life with complete dedication by the central performers Ryan Gosling and Shareeka Epps.

Gosling (THE NOTEBOOK) plays Dan Dunne, a middle school teacher in the inner city, who also happens to be a semi-functional drug addict. He coaches the girls' basketball team, which includes Drey (Epps). Dunne is an unconventional teacher, who strives to make his students think rather than sticking to the school board approved material. His passion for teaching is one of the traits that attracts fellow teacher Isabel (Monique Curnen, LADY IN THE WATER) to him. However, when his now clean ex Rachel (Tina Holmes, TV's SIX FEET UNDER) shows up, it's the start of Dunne's downward spiral, which begins with Drey discovering him smoking crack.


Winners of the 1st Annual RFP Overlooked Awards

Welcome to the 1st annual Overlooked Awards. This is a chance to recognize those films, performances, directors, screenplays and animated shorts, which are all worthy of award recognition, but didn't received nominations at the big awards. Even though its one of those categories that the typical fan dreads to pick for polls, I'm privileged to see many of the wonderful short animated films that are made each year. So I thought it was my duty to recognize the shorts that I felt deserved nods as well.

Only second to PAN'S LABYRINTH on my top 25 of 2006 list, LITTLE CHILDREN is a masterful step forward for Todd Field, who was earlier nominated for IN THE BEDROOM as a producer. Early buzz had this film in the running for the Oscars, but it just never gained traction. Its tongue-in-cheek voice-over is the best and most original use of voice-over I've seen in years. It's nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay was extremely well deserved. Field pulled career best performances from his entire cast, including Oscar nominees Kate Winslet and Jackie Earle Haley as well as Patrick Wilson, Jennifer Connelly, Noah Emmerich and Phyllis Somerville. Field poetically realizes his screenplay, which he adapted with the original book's author Tom Perrotta. It tackles delicate topics with intelligence and open-mindedness. This is one of the few masterpieces of the year and needs to be seen from everyone.


Oscar Tour Wraps Up at Sony and CAA

By Dan Sarto | Sunday, February 25, 2007 at 12:54pm

When it came time for the Q&A, many of the Sony artists had some of the same questions as the other studios like whether Geza Toth’s single camera move was intended from the start, which it was, and how Roger and Don Hahn convinced Disney to go with the sad ending on Little Matchgirl, which was by waiting until Michael Eisner had left the studio.


Ron’s Pics from DreamWorks, Fox, the Academy, Disney & ICM

By Dan Sarto | Friday, February 23, 2007 at 3:40pm

Here it is the long awaited gallery of select pics from Ron’s camera from the Oscar Showcase tour’s swing by DreamWorks, Fox, the Academy, Disney and ICM. There’s also a couple special pics at the end courtesy of No Time for Nuts director Mike Thurmeier.