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Red

Posted on January 25, 2011 at 8:00 am

Give me Dame Helen Mirren with a semi-automatic weapon and Morgan Freeman smiling, “We’re getting the band back together,” and I will happily settle back and enjoy the popcorn.

“RED” stands for “Retired Extremely Dangerous,” and this is the designation applied to a group of former CIA and other operatives. They find it difficult to adjust to a peaceful life and are as relieved as they are energized when it turns out that they have been targeted by the same kinds of hit squads they used to run. Game on.

The graphic novel by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner is a bit more grim than this high-spirited adaptation with Oscar-winners Mirren and Freeman having a literal and metaphoric blast doing just what their characters are doing — showing the young folks how it’s done.

Bruce Willis plays Frank Moses, who lives in a house with all of the personality of an airport motel and whose only pleasure is in talking to Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker) the woman at the call center about why he isn’t receiving his retirement checks — which he is receiving and tearing up to give him an excuse to talk to her. Masked assassins try to take him down. Not hard to find — his is the only house on the block with no Christmas decorations. But apparently they don’t realize he is Bruce Willis so they are quickly dispatched. He grabs his go bag and is off to pick up Sarah, for her own protection of course, and, well, get the band back together to figure out who’s after them this time and what they need to do about it. That includes former MI-5 agent Victoria (Mirren), nursing home resident Joe (Freeman), and Marvin (John Malcovich), a survivor of the CIA’s LSD experiments who exemplifies the truism that just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean that they’re not out to get you.

The sharp, witty script is expertly presented by top performers with great action scenes, a little romance, and surprise appearances by two more Oscar-winners, likely to mow down the competition at the cineplex with as much elan as they go after the bad guys.

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Action/Adventure Based on a book Comic book/Comic Strip/Graphic Novel Spies

Takers

Posted on January 24, 2011 at 3:59 pm

Why make a movie with so many first-rate performers and give central roles to people who cannot act and have no star power on screen? For the answer, read the credits. Rap star T.I. and R&B star Chris Brown are producers. And they have produced the movie they thought would be fun to star in rather than the movie that would be fun to watch. They were smart enough to surround themselves with top talent but not smart enough to learn from them.

This is the second low-grade armored car robbery film in months and every part of it feels overused, sketched in, or glossed over. The most important element of a heist film is to make it clear whose side we are supposed to be on. The second most important element is to make it clear what the challenge of the heist is and let us see as the problems are solved. This movie fails at both.

It opens with a bank robbery, expertly executed by a group of characters whose backgrounds, motives, and expertise are not considered worth exploring. “The degree of difficulty’s off the charts,” a detective says almost admiringly. We know they’re supposed to be cool because they move in slow motion with a bit of jazz in the score.

Matt Dillon is the cop who picks up on details everyone else ignores, but risks losing his family. There is a goofy scene that has him following a suspect with his little daughter in the car, as she gets sadder and sadder about his broken promise. He has a partner, played by the always-likable Jay Hernandez. We could easily be rooting for them, but the movie seems to want us to be on the side of the robbers without giving us any reason to do so. They seem to be doing it just for the high of getting away with something. “Ten percent to the usual charities,” they tell their money manager, followed by a brisk discussion of basis points and the relative benefits of the Cayman Islands versus the Dutch Antilles for offshore money storage.

They are a careful crew who insist on a year between jobs until something comes up that is so juicy they cannot resist. Or is it a trap?

There’s a showy chase scene that gives Chris Brown and director John Luessenhop a chance to demonstrate some panache, but it goes on too long. A big shoot-out scene in slow motion with mournful music on the soundtrack is copied from much better movies. And there are elements taken from bad movies as well, like the cop who for no reason at all fails to call for back-up.

T.I. is not up to the pivotal role of “Ghost,” the member of the group who has just been released from prison and feels twice-wronged. Every time he takes center stage, the movie sags and his brief attempt at flamboyance — a quote from Genghis Khan — is just silly. His flat affect is intended to be cool and mysterious, but next to arresting performers like Idris Elba (getting a chance to use his real accent for once) and Marianne Jean-Baptiste, he seems to fade away. The only thing these takers really steal is your time.

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Crime Drama

The Razzies!

Posted on January 24, 2011 at 1:52 pm

The Razzies salute the worst movies of the year. A day before the Oscar nominations, they announce their candidates for the most excruciatingly painful cinematic experiences of the previous 12 months. The best thing about them — anyone can vote! If you suffered through something truly awful in the theater last year and want to get your revenge, now is your chance. Here is the Hall of Shame, I mean list of candidates:
Worst Picture
“The Bounty Hunter”
“The Last Airbender”
“Sex and the City 2”
“The Twilight Saga: Eclipse”
“Vampires Suck”
Worst Actor
Jack Black – “Gulliver’s Travels”
Gerard Butler – “The Bounty Hunter”
Ashton Kutcher – “Killers” and “Valentine’s Day”
Taylor Lautner – “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse” and “Valentine’s Day”
Robert Pattinson – “Remember Me” and “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse”
Worst Actress
Jennifer Aniston – “The Bounty Hunter” and “The Switch”
Miley Cyrus – “The Last Song”
Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall, Kristin Davis and Cynthia Nixon – “Sex and the City 2”
Megan Fox – “Jonah Hex”
Kristen Stewart – “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse”
Worst Supporting Actress
Jessica Alba – “The Killer Inside Me,” “Little Fockers,” “Machete” and “Valentine’s Day”
Cher – “Burlesque”
Liza Minnelli – “Sex and the City 2”
Nicola Peltz – “The Last Airbender”
Barbra Streisand – “Little Fockers”
Worst Supporting Actor
Billy Ray Cyrus – “The Spy Next Door”
George Lopez – “Marmaduke,” “The Spy Next Door” and “Valentine’s Day”
Dev Patel – “The Last Airbender”
Jackson Rathbone – “The Last Airbender” and “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse”
Rob Schneider – “Grown-Ups”
Worst Eye-Gouging Misuse of 3-D
“Cats and Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore”
“Clash of the Titans”
“The Last Airbender”
“The Nutcracker 3D”
“Saw 3D”
Worst Screen Couple/Ensemble
Jennifer Aniston & Gerard Butler – “The Bounty Hunter”
Josh Brolin’s Face & Megan Fox’s Accent – “Jonah Hex”
The Entire Cast of “The Last Airbender”
The Entire Cast of “Sex and the City 2”
The Entire Cast of “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse”
Worst Director
Jason Friedberg & Aaron Seltzer – “Vampires Suck”
Michael Patrick King – “Sex and the City 2”
M. Night Shyamalan – “The Last Airbender”
David Slade – “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse”
Sylvester Stallone – The Expendables
Worst Screenplay
“The Last Airbender”
“Little Fockers”
“Sex and the City 2”
“The Twilight Saga: Eclipse”
“Vampires Suck”
Worst Prequel, Remake, Rip-Off or Sequel
“Clash of the Titans”
“The Last Airbender”
“Sex and the City 2”
“The Twilight Saga: Eclipse”
“Vampires Suck”

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Awards

Secretariat

Posted on January 24, 2011 at 8:00 am

B+
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grades
MPAA Rating: PG for brief mild language
Profanity: Brief mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Social drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Tense scenes, family conflicts, sad death
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: October 8, 2010
Date Released to DVD: January 25, 2011
Amazon.com ASIN: B004DK5CW4

This is the story of two champions. One is the most celebrated horse of the 20th century, the only non-human athlete to be included on Sport’s Illustrated’s 1999 list of the top 100 athletes of the last hundred years for achieving one of the most sought-after titles in sports, the racing triple crown, with records unbroken decades later.

The other was the housewife who won him by being on the losing side of a coin toss.

Secretariat, called “Red” by everyone but the officials and record-keepers, was a winner from his very first moments, when he astonished the small group who observed his birth by standing up more quickly than any foal they had ever seen.

His owner was a bit more of a long shot. Penny Chenery Tweedy was a housewife and full-time mother when she took over what she and her family thought of as temporary management of her ailing father’s farm. The farm was in trouble. Its one asset was the upcoming coin toss to determine which of two foals about to be born would remain with the farm, and which would go to the owner of the stud horse. Penny (Diane Lane) lost the coin toss but won the horse she wanted, bred for both speed and stamina. She called him Red.

Director Randall Wallace knows how to make an audience cheer (he wrote “Braveheart” and wrote and directed “We Were Soldiers”). By focusing on the least likely character to succeed and the challenges she faced, he adds some tension to the story. We know Secretariat is going to win, but do not know whether Penny will be able to keep him, or how her decision to take over the farm will affect her family. And he introduces us to Secretariat’s team, played by a superb supporting cast. John Malkcovich adds flair as Quebecois trainer Lucien Laurin, who “dresses like Superfly and is trying to retire.” Senator/”Law & Order” star Fred Dalton Thompson plays mentor Bull Hancock with just the right avuncular rumble. Margo Martindale, one of those know-her-face-but-don’t-know-her-name character actors, delivers the perfect combination of asperity and loyalty as the devoted assistant who came up with the name Secretariat. Newcomer Otto Thorwarth shows us why the right jockey matters so much, and “True Blood’s” Nelsan Ellis is enormously moving as the man who spent more time with the triple-crown-winner than anyone else. And what a pleasure, as always, to see the exquisite Diane Lane, at last in a role worthy of her talent and beauty. In this movie, she is the champion who gets to run the race she was born for.

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Based on a true story Drama DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Sports

Smooch — on the Hallmark Channel

Posted on January 23, 2011 at 9:37 pm

There’s something just so likable about Kellie Martin, isn’t there?
I’ve been a fan since her “Life Goes On” days. She has such a sweetness about her, but strength, too. I really began to appreciate her as an actress in a TV movie called “About Sarah,” where she played the daughter of a developmentally disabled woman.
I’m looking forward to her new Hallmark Channel film, Smooch, a Valentine’s Day treat about a prince with amnesia who ends up working as a nanny for the daughter of a single mom. Hmmmm, I wonder what will happen?
Watch it Saturday Feb 5 at 9, 8 Central.

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