Wednesday, October 12, 2011


“Abduction” is what you would expect from an action film starring a young heartthrob and his sexy female sidekick.  It’s heavy on explosions, big guns, intense fighting sequences, and light on a solid script and acting skills.  What saves it from being a dud is Taylor Lautner’s swift martial art and stunt skills and an oddball selection of supporting actors.

The necessary shirt-less scene comes about 15 minutes into the film.  After a night of partying, the camera opens on Nathan (Lautner) sprawled on the hostess’ front lawn, having conveniently lost his shirt.  Herein lies his biggest hurdle: to be taken seriously as an actor for his skills, not just his looks.  In “Abduction” Lautner has some versatility and proves he won’t be "Twilight's" Jacob Black in all of his roles.  Yet he tends to deadpan certain lines and his voice can come off a bit whiney.  Despite this, he has charisma and he’s young, so there’s room to grow.  With a little (ok, maybe a lot of) polishing, Lautner has the power to be more than just a pretty face.  His youthful, endearing demeanor gives way to the sort of innocence that is rarely found in young Hollywood.  He is the perfect action star though, flipping and whipping his body into high kicks, sliding down glass rooftops and nimbly jumping over obstacles in a chase scene. 

Lily Collins is his on-screen love interest (and until about a month ago, his real-life girlfriend) Karen.  The two have a sticky-sweet, awkward kind of chemistry.  The daughter of Phil Collins, she already has a background in modeling and acting (“The Blind Side”).  Both seem to earnestly want to make an impact in the acting world.  Lautner has producing credits for “Abduction” and Collins has several films hitting theatres in the next few months.  Unfortunately this probably isn’t the film that will set them on the map as serious actors.

The supporting cast includes Maria Bello, Sigourney Weaver, Jason Isaacs, Alfred Molina and a flash of Dermot Mulroney.  Most of these characters have such minor roles, but it’s enough to lay a solid foundation for the film.

“Abduction” closes with some loose ends, making room for a sequel (or two).  Let’s hope Lautner’s acting chops improve, because his time in the spotlight is far from being over!

Starring Taylor Lautner, Lily Collins, Sigourney Weaver, Maria Bello, Jason Isaacs, Alfred Molina, Michael Nyqvist

Rated PG-13 for "sequences of intense violence and action, brief language, some sexual content and teen partying"

Directed by John Singleton

Written by Shawn Christensen

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

"Ringer:" Hip Thriller or Mediocre Mystery?

Does "Ringer" Have What it Takes?

You could easily say that Sarah Michelle Gellar’s return to prime-time television is the most highly-anticipated of the season.  Although her film career has been lukewarm at best, her seven-season run as Buffy Summers in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” earned her a huge cult following. 

In “Ringer,” Gellar plays twins Bridget and Siobhan.  The sisters reunite when Bridget flees to New York to stay with Siobhan after witnessing a deadly crime.  Just when it seems like their relationship is back on track, Siobhan disappears, leaving Bridget the chance to hide her identity and pose as her Manhattan socialite doppelgänger.

The second episode of “Ringer” aired last night and it gave more clues, not only into the storyline of Siobhan and Bridget, but the staying power of the show.

Let’s break it down:

Bridget is the “black sheep” twin, unmarried, has worked as a stripper and struggles with drug and alcohol addiction.  Despite this, she seems more grounded and genuine than her sister.

Siobhan appears to have the ideal life: a beautiful apartment with her rich British husband, an even bigger loft that they just purchased and a baby on the way.  But things are never what they seem.  Her history might just be darker than her twin’s.

Andrew, played by Ioan Gruffudd (you may recognize him from the “Fantastic Four” movies), is Siobhan’s cold, detached husband.  Unaware that Siobhan even has a sister, he is intrigued by this kinder, more down-to-earth side his wife has suddenly revealed.  

Gellar is smothered in a high-fashion gleam when she plays Siobhan and (stay with me) plays Bridget playing Siobhan (pronounced “Sha-vahn”).   At times it’s fashion overkill: enormous oval sunglasses, shiny leather coats and a red evening dress accented with a huge bow.  There is a way to look like an upper-east side socialite wife without being over-the-top.  Or perhaps that’s the point? 

The character of Bridget looks washed out and five years younger than her twin when they are (eerily) standing side by side.  Her “Bridget” wardrobe consists of plaid button-down shirts and bomber jackets.

The crew and costume department are also trying to hide Gellar’s very pregnant frame. While her outfits and the camera shot angles attempt to divert attention from her middle, something about her silhouette just isn't right.  Frames are mostly shot from chest level and above.  The clothing she wears consists mostly of bulky coats and dresses with tons of extra material, giving her waist no definition and drowning Gellar’s tiny frame.

The New York City background is unoriginal, but it fits seamlessly in with the storyline and takes just that, a soundly background role.  This is not a show about New York City, but a show about two sisters and the secrets they are concealing.

Spooky.  Mysterious.  Just enough is left unexplained to leave you wanting more.

With endearing characters, a provocative plot and new twists revealed in each episode, “Ringer” seems to have the right ingredients to pull through the season.

Are you planning on giving "Ringer" a shot?
What did YOU think of the first two episodes? 

Monday, September 12, 2011

"Contagion" Review ****


The best horror films don’t need a ton of gore or a knife-wielding psychopath to invoke bone-chilling terror.  Case in point: “Contagion,” which was number one at the box office this weekend.  “Contagion” is unique in that, like the box-office juggernaut “Jaws,” it taps into our deepest fears in a subtle but highly effective way.   The plot is plausible, the storyline absolutely compelling and the actors are Academy Award winners and nominees.  It doesn’t get much better than that. 

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Music Review: Mat Kearney's "Young Love"

Get Swept Up in "Young Love"

Mat Kearney's fourth album debuted earlier this month as number one on iTunes, entitled "Young Love."  The mellow singer/songwriter from Oregon just got married (you can see their ethereal wedding photos here) and the first single on the album, "Hey Mama," tells the tale of how he met his wife Annie.  To get an idea of what Kearney sounds like, take a smidgen of the playful singsong lyrics of Jason Mraz and mix with a healthy dose of the resounding croon of Coldplay's Chris Martin.  Throw in that Kearney can softly rap like nobody's business and you have a soulful singer who can capture the ear (and hearts) of a wide variety of listeners.

Whether clap-happy or echoing of loss and loneliness, there is a common thread that carries his songs: hope.  This is very important.  It keeps the slower songs from becoming too heavy.  They have just the right amount of weight to take your breath away and leave you lost in thought.

On iTunes, Kearney's music is categorized as "pop" and "religious."  A sense of spirituality comes through in his music, but it's never overpowering.  He is a storyteller, and he uses his music to pass on messages of encouragement and love.

Kearney is wonderful live.  His voice is as full and sensational as it is on his albums.  He is detached a bit, deep in his performance on stage, but likely to suddenly throw himself into the crowd, singing his heart out at the end of his performance.

Want more? You can listen to his tunes and check out tour dates here. Let me know what you think of M.K.!

Songs Not to Miss:   
--Ships in the Night
--Learning to Love Again
--Count on Me

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Top Five Reasons to See "The Help"

The Jackson Five

“The Help” combines strong characters with warmth and hard edges and a story that makes you think. It is a special kind of a movie that is satisfying without needing to tie every loose end or close with a fairy-tale ending.  “The Help” is a wunderkind.  Below are the top five reasons why this film, based in Jackson, Mississippi, is a must-see.

 5. Bryce Dallas Howard (who happens to be Ron Howard’s daughter) plays the “villain” of the film, Hilly Holbrook.  Her portrayal of an uptight, unabashedly racist housewife of the 60s is one of her best roles to date.  Her antics drive everyone around her mad, but karma comes around to bite her in a most disgusting way.  Watch and you won’t be disappointed!

4. The wardrobe of the housewives in “The Help” is absolutely delightful, except for that of Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan, Emma Stone’s character.  She is unlike her peers, who only focus on playing the part of the superficially perfect housewife.  Skeeter wants to be a serious journalist.   She could care less about acting like a floozy to draw in a suitable husband.  Therefore, her wardrobe is not eye-catching or well-tailored.  This is a mystery to me, since most of the other characters in the film, like Bryce Dallas Howard and Jessica Chastain (a fresh face, who acts wonderfully) playing Celia Foote, all sport the most beautifully fitted clothes and shoes.  Hilly wears cerulean blue high-waisted slacks with tiny oxford flats in one scene, a simple, elegant combination.  Celia, as the “white trash” of the era, wears what today is the norm: body-hugging skirts, a nipped in waist defined by a wide belt, and candy-colored, sky-high heels.

3. Emma Stone has proved her quirkiness and on-target comedic skills in past exploits like “Superbad,” “Easy A” and “Crazy Stupid Love.”  She takes the center stage in “The Help,” along with Viola Clark and Octavia Spencer.  She absolutely shines, in a most understated way that only Stone can.  There is something most intriguing about many of her expressions.  They often border on being funny.  Curiously, it doesn’t take away from her role, but rather adds a sort of authenticity to her character.

She has one scene in “The Help” that isn’t funny at all though.  I was floored, in fact, at the depth of sadness she portrays after hearing some news from her on-screen mother, played by Allison Janney.  What really got me was a tiny detail: her chin wobbles.  As far as I know, chin wobbling is no easy feat.  Stone must have reached deeply into her character, or perhaps her own life, to produce such a perfect display of sorrow.

2. Aibileen Clark, played by Viola Davis, is the hero of “The Help.”  While Skeeter is a hero for writing the story of the women who live behind the scenes, Aibileen is the first to take the terrifying leap, to defy the law, to tell her story.  She convinces her best friend Minny Jackson, played by Spencer, to join her.  Soon the tales come pouring out from women all over Jackson.  Davis holds the spotlight in her scenes.  She is a beautiful woman, but it is downplayed and subdued in her role as Aibileen.  Her character is easily the heart and soul of the film.  Aibileen may appear to lead a simple, solitary life, but she is not oblivious to the conversations of the white women she works for.  They speak about her like she is invisible.  She has no way out, no serious realization that things can change, until Skeeter asks to interview her. 

If Aibileen is the heart and soul, then Minny is easily the spirit of the film.  She takes some especially hard breaks, but her keen observations of the family she helps and her sense of humor will keep you in stitches.  She is Aibileen’s partner in crime, the one that keeps her going and makes sure she gets the credit she deserves within their community.  Spencer plays Minny with great skill.  She can be incredibly funny in one scene and broken down in another, both equally believable.

1. The relationship between Aibileen and the child that she cares for, Mae Mobley, is absolutely heartwarming.  Mae is the fourteenth child she has brought up.  Aibileen plays mother for each of these children, loving them as her own, doing all of the hard work behind the scenes, while their mothers flit around worrying about dresses and entertaining company.  

Aibileen impresses upon Mae one of the sweetest and most touching sentiments.  She tells Mae that she is kind, she is smart, and she is important.   Mae, with her blonde curls and chubby cheeks, recites it back to her with aplomb, “I am kind, I am smart and I am important.” It is so ironic and moving that a woman who struggles with invisibility and is rarely appreciated at her job, can still pass on such a wonderful notion to a child.  Mae is not necessarily made to feel smart, kind or important by her own mother, but more of a burden.  It is inspiring that Aibileen is able to hold onto these values herself, despite the oppression she deals with every day.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Battle of the Ryans

Comic Hits and Misses With Reynolds and Gosling

Many are stumped and befuddled as to the truth.  Who is the hotter, oops, I mean stronger actor, Ryan Gosling or Ryan Reynolds?  Just like it’s cats vs. dogs and Mets vs. Yankees, you are either Team Gosling or Team Reynolds.  There is no in-between!

What better time to compare their abs, er, talents, then a time like this when both Canadian leading men star in comedies that came out this summer: “Crazy Stupid Love” for Gosling and “The Change Up” for Reynolds.  After the jump: a quick review and conclusion as to which Ryan truly rules.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

X-Men: First Class ***1/2

Starring James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Kevin Bacon, Rose Byrne, January Jones, Zoë Kravitz, Nicholas Hoult, Lucas Till, Edi Gathegi, Caleb Landry Jones

Rated PG-13 (for intense sequences of action and violence, some sexual content including brief partial nudity and language)

Directed by Matthew Vaughn

Written by Ashley Miller, Zack Stentz, Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn

* * * 1/2

A new layer of the X-men saga is revealed in “X-men: First Class” and with a host of fresh faces and familiar characters.  The story is set mainly in the 1960s, right in the midst of the reign of JFK and the Cuban Missile Crisis.  The evil plot of Sebastian Shaw, played by Kevin Bacon, sets the foundation for the first wave of X-men characters to come together.

The cast is lead by many talented actors; it is no mere action flick.  James McAvoy (think “Atonement” with Keira Knightley), playing Professor X, always brings a quiet dignity to his roles and 2010 Academy Award-nominee Jennifer Lawrence is a fierce Mystique with her real-girl figure and cherubic face.  Michael Fassbender (recognize him from this year’s “Jane Eyre” or 2009’s “Inglourious Basterds”?) is wonderful as Erik.  With his sculpted, moving performance, he practically dominates every scene he’s in.

The film stands out as one of the best in the X-Men series.  The script is solid and there are cameos from Hugh Jackman and Rebecca Romijn.  “X-Men: First Class” is a fun, entertaining and mildly provocative kickoff to the summer blockbuster season. 

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Bridesmaids * * * *

Starring Kristin Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Rose Byrne, Melissa McCarthy, Chris O'Dowd, Jon Hamm, Jill Clayburgh

Rated R (for some strong sexuality and language throughout)

Directed by Paul Feig

Written by Kristin Wiig and Annie Mumolo

                                    * * * *                                                                                             

The topic of weddings, bridezillas and bridesmaids is common fodder for reality tv, film and books today. “Bridesmaids” is one of the best things to hit the genre in a long time.  

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Mother's Day Mix ("Something Borrowed," "Water for Elephants," "African Cats")

Heading to the movies with Mom this weekend? Here are the top mom-friendly picks. (Psst! You don’t have to be a mother to enjoy them!)

Something Borrowed 
"The It’s More Than Just a Rom-Com Flick"

"Something Borrowed" is just the right recipe for a romantic comedy: a plotline that has fresh twists, some really funny scenes, and a relatable heroine.It’s based on the book written by Emily Giffin, an author who is ahead of the pack in women’s literature (chick lit if you must).  The movie does stray from the book in several parts, but overall it follows the plot of Rachel and the love triangle with her old law school crush Dex, who is now engaged to her best friend, Darcy.  

John Krasinski, as Ethan, brings the funny in every scene he’s in.  He has perfect comedic timing and a genuine acting style that makes him endearing and sexy all at the same time.  Ginnifer Goodwin is good-girl-gone-bad Rachel, a seemingly easy fit for Goodwin and Kate Hudson plays Darcy.  This may be the first (and only) time we see Hudson go beyond playing the silly/confident party girl character she usually plays in films.  Can she pull off the angry scene at the end? That’s for you to see and determine! 

Mom-worthy? Yep! It has a total mom stamp of approval, with a great mix of comedy and drama.

Water For Elephants 
“The Tragically Enchanting Circus Drama”

Another film adapted from a novel (they’re everywhere these days!), this time it’s the gritty, depression-era story by Sara Gruen, which unfolds the demise of a fictional circus, The Benzini Brothers.Money is scarce, workers are overworked and underpaid and animal abuse is rampant.  

Robert Pattinson (looking gloriously tanned and with a crew cut) plays Jacob Jankowski, the story’s narrator and star.  If there was any doubt that Pattinson could be believable as someone other than Edward Cullen, it’s been squashed.  He is Jacob, solidly hitting his highs and lows. He comes across as downright giddy at times, smiling (!) and laughing with almost child-like glee, especially when he’s around the true star of the film, Rosie the elephant. 

Reese Witherspoon is Marlena, the mesmerizing golden-haired beauty married to the cruel, emotionally unstable ringleader August, played by Christoph Waltz with effortless intensity.  At times, the chemistry between Witherspoon and Pattinson seems a bit off, but the characters do fit together in an offbeat way.

Mom-worthy? Please, it’s RPatz! In all seriousness, it’s a thrilling, at times disturbing story, infused with glamour (Witherspoon’s wardrobe is brilliant), humour and a delightful narrator.

African Cats 
"The Animal Lover’s Choice”

Here is the perfect mother’s day movie. It is based on the love two very different mothers, one a cheetah and the other a lion, have for their cubs.  Get lost in the amazing landscape of the African savanna and take in the up-close-and-personal view of these beautiful creatures in their natural habitat.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Soul Surfer * * * *

Starring AnnaSophia Robb, Helen Hunt, Dennis Quaid, Lorraine Nicholson, Carrie Underwood, Kevin Sorbo

Rated PG (for an intense accident sequence and some thematic material)

Written by Sean McNamara, Debra Schwartz (based on the book "Soul Surfer" by Bethany Hamilton, Sheryl Berk, and Rick Bundschuh)

Directed by Sean McNamara
* * * *
"Surfer Soul"

Picture this: You live in Hawaii with your hippie-cool surfer family.  At 13, you're already a surfing champion in your own right, on the way to becoming a professional surfer.  Then, on Halloween morning, as you lay on your surfboard, your hand dangling in the cool waters, a shark attacks...and your arm is gone.  What would you do?  This is Bethany Hamilton's story in "Soul Surfer."  Here's the real shocker: she was back on her board a month later.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

No Strings Attached **

Starring Natalie Portman, Ashton Kutcher, Kevin Kline, Greta Gerwig, Lake Bell, Olivia Thirlby, Cary Elwes, Ludacris and Jake M. Johnson

Rated R (for sexual content, language and some drug material)

Directed by Ivan Reitman

Screenplay/Story by Elizabeth Meriwether and Michael Samonek

* *

"No Strings Attached:" Dignity Hangs by a Thread

If you can’t get enough of Natalie Portman this season, then by all means, rush to see “No Strings Attached.” Soak up the gorgeous pint-sized actress’s offbeat, quirky humor. Otherwise, this film is one to Netflix.

It’s not that Kutcher and Portman don’t have chemistry, they surely do. Nor is it that they aren’t believable in their roles: Portman is Emma, a brilliant commitment-phobe doctor and Kutcher is Adam, a wannabe writer with a big heart. Even the script and storyline aren’t bad; it’s Hollywood’s effort to appeal to both sexes watching the film that baffles me.

Instead of smart humor that tickles the funnybone, there are endless penis and vagina jokes. The writers rely on a lot of raucous humor and drug references to draw laughs, which has become all too predictable in this new generation of rom-coms. While “No Strings Attached” isn’t as horribly off-target (and offensive to both sexes) as 2009’s “The Ugly Truth” with Katherine Heigl and Gerard Butler, it comes in as a distant second. Its saving grace is the quality of the acting and the story.

Despite all of this, there are several winning supporting actors that bring humor to the film on a much simpler level. Kevin Kline is Kutcher’s horrible father and young talent Olivia Thirlby plays Portman’s younger sister. Other appearances, unfortunately few and far between are from Cary Elwes and “The Office’s” Mindy Kaling.

Amusing throughout, with some sweetly romantic moments, “No Strings Attached” misses the mark on being truly entertaining to both men and women. Instead it relies on dumbing down its audience with base humor for a quick laugh. I have high hopes that audiences are looking for more than that.