Emperor An Underrated WWII Drama

Courtesy:  Lionsgate

Courtesy: Lionsgate

Movies based on the events of World War II make up what could be argued to be the single largest genre in the history of movie making.  They have been churned out since the days of the war, many of them filled with some truth and an equal mixture of fiction.  While there is some fiction added to the stories, there is also enough fact to justify them being made.  The world needs to remember what happened during that horrific conflict.  And Lionsgate’s new WWII based drama, Emperor is one more welcome addition to that long line despite its overlying romance story line.  If viewers can allow themselves to get past that and the story’s slow start, they will find that it is a surprisingly interesting work.

Emperor is a surprisingly interesting film first and foremost for the fact that it isn’t just another of the standard flash-bang-boom movies that have become all too commonplace in the current era of moviemaking.  Rather, it takes place in the days following Japan’s surrender to the Allied Forces in WWII.  Some might ask why this is so important.  It’s important because being that it isn’t one of those films. It is forced to rely on story rather than on sex and violence.  It really forces viewers to stop and pay attention to everything going on throughout the story.  It’s just a nice change of pace for those that are truly interested in the history of World War II.

The fact that Emperor isn’t just another flash-bang-boom action based WWII movie is probably a big reason that it perhaps didn’t achieve the success in theaters of other WWII centered movies.  So be it.  Those that have a true appreciation for history will overlook that and look toward another of the movie’s positives.  That secondary positive is the movie’s casting.  Despite the inclusion of mega-star Tommy Lee Jones as General Douglas MacArthur, Jones is not the star.  Rather, he turns out to play more of a supporting role as General Douglas McArthur.  This is made even more interesting in watching the movie with bonus commentary.  Audiences will learn from director Peter Webber that apparently Jones didn’t immediately jump at the chance to play McArthur.  Rather, it took months of phone calls to get him to sign on to the films.  This is made even more believable in the bonus “Making of” featurette when Jones himself jokingly notes that he knew he looked nothing like McArthur.  So he beat the critics to the punch on that.  All of this aside, he still turned out to be the perfect fit for the role, especially considering his resume.

Jones was convincing as General McArthur, even being a supporting role.  Just as convincing was the movie’s real star, Matthew Fox.  Fox fills the role of General Bonner Fellers.  Getting back to the bonus commentary for a moment, audiences will laugh as Webber compares Fox to a Gary Cooper style actor in his role as Fellers.  Fellers is sent on a mission to find out if Japan’s Emperor did in fact order the attack on Pearl Harbor after Japan’s official surrender to the Allies.  His story starts rather slowly thanks to the time shifts that set up the movie’s underlying romantic subplot.  But thankfully, it does manage to catch itself somewhere along the line and speed up.  The underlying romantic drama plays a certain role in Fellers search for the truth of what happened on the day Pearl Harbor was attacked.  But again thankfully, writers Vera Blasi, David Klass, and Shiro Okamato on whose book His Majesty’s Salvation this story is based, don’t allow that aspect of the story to overpower the primary story.  Because of that balance, Fox actually becomes quite believable in his role.

Fox’s acting and the ability of the story’s writers to balance its serious war based drama with its underlying romantic subplot are both positive aspects of this story.  The story’s historical accuracy is just as important as anything in this story.  It has already been noted that throughout the history of WWII based movies, many of them have been very liberal with fictitious elements just as much as with factual elements.  This story includes a certain fictitious element in the inclusion of Fellers’ romance with Aya Shimada.  It’s even noted in the movie’s bonus “Making of” featurette that it’s not known if the pair actually had a romance.  That kept in mind, it makes it even better that their romantic drama didn’t overpower the primary story of this movie.  The potentially fictitious element noted, Emperor also boasts quite an amount of factual elements.  The most important of those elements is the note of America’s oil embargo on Japan.  Many people may not know this, but it was in fact an oil embargo on Japan that led to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.  It made the war in the Pacific a completely different war than the one fought in Europe.  In direct correlation, the flashback segments help to make the story even more believable.  That’s because of Aya’s mention that not every Japanese citizen was in favor of Japan attacking the United States.  Because of the way history has been taught, this is something else that is not largely known.  The story presented in Emperor contains much more that history buffs will appreciate.  And they will find those elements for themselves when they rent this movie or buy it for themselves.   The movie is available now in stores and online.  More information on this and other releases from Lionsgate is available online at http://www.lionsgate.com and http://www.facebook.com/lionsgate.  To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Stand Up Guys Is A Stand Out Story

Courtesy:  Lionsgate

Courtesy: Lionsgate

Lionsgate’s new star-driven drama Stand Up Guys was soundly panned by critics and viewers alike when it premiered in theaters early this year.  It was panned, citing poor writing, bad acting, and equally poor pacing.  It is quite obvious that in noting these slights, the individuals in question that made these comments couldn’t see the forest for the trees.  More than likely, these same individuals went into the movie with overblown expectations of it being just another generic gangster flick with lots of gunfights, drugs, and sex.  This critic is guilty of that, too.  But unlike those other critics, this critic was pleasantly surprised at how much Stand Up Guys stands out.

Stand Up Guys is not just another gangster flick flooded with drugs, sex, gunfights and foul language.  The reality of this story is that it is less a gangster flick and more a story about friendship that just happens to be centered on two geriatric gangsters played by veteran actors Christopher Walken (Catch Me if You Can, Batman Returns) and Al Pacino (The Godfather I – III, Dog Day Afternoon, Any Given Sunday) that are reunited when the latter is released from jail.  Val (Pacino) just wants to get his life on the right track after having been in prison for so many years, yet he is haunted by the ghost of a past crime, which leads his friend Doc (Walken) to face the issue of what is the right thing to do himself.  Throughout everything, the story does end up with a happy ending and even a big shootout to satiate all the viewers that had been chomping at the bit for a shootout scene throughout the story’s ninety-five minute run time.  Heck, there’s even a Steve McQueen style car chase thrown in about halfway through the movie for good measure.  So those wanting some action out of the movie do get that.

Given the opportunity, audiences will see just how much Stand Up Guys has to offer.  It can be said though that for all of its positives, the story does struggle at least slightly as a result of its pacing.  There is no denying this.  While the movie’s run time is just over an hour and a half, the pacing may in fact leave some viewers checking their watches and/or clocks sporadically throughout the story.  Luckily though, it makes up for the pacing with a story that will keep viewers engaged despite the pacing.  Audiences will want to see if Walken’s Doc can keep himself from making a bad choice and maintaining his friendship with Val.  Again, those themes of friendship and loyalty help to make this movie stand out.  They help to prove once again that while it isn’t another gangster flick, it is much more than that.  It is a drama that will entertain those whose minds are open enough and willing to see it for its true value.

The story behind Stand Up Guys is one that given the chance will entertain and engage audiences whose minds are open enough.  Without the right actors though, the story would not work.  Luckily this pair of veterans showed through its combined experience that even a script for a story such as this can work and that old dogs can in fact learn new tricks.  Despite the pacing issues, the two were able to work together and interpret each scene in a way that elicits the intended emotions from viewers, thus making the movie’s pacing more forgivable.  In turn, it makes the movie as a whole that much more watchable more than once.  In fact, this is a movie that given the chance will grow on viewers increasingly with each watch.  And this is definitely a good thing.  It is a surprising story that in the end proves to be a dark horse candidate to make this critic’s list of the year’s best new movies.  It is available now in stores and online and can be ordered direct from the Lionsgate store at http://www.lionsgateshop.com/search_results.asp?Search=Stand%20Up%20Guys.

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The Other Dream Team Scores Big Points Among Documentaries

Courtesy:  Lionsgate

Courtesy: Lionsgate

The Other Dream Team, the new basketball based documentary from Lionsgate, is a surprisingly interesting work.  It’s a story that will interest both basketball fans, history buffs, and even anyone who has any interest in political science.  While the story itself is based against a backdrop of basketball, it’s less about the sport in question and more about politics and a people’s struggle to escape the crushing hand of communism.  Together with its bonus Q&A session with Writer/Director Marius A. Markevicius and Writer/Producer Jon Weinbach, The Other Dream Team proves to be a surprise contender for one of the year’s best documentaries.

The Other Dream Team’s run time comes in at just over an hour and a half.  In that time, audiences are introduced to a work that’s not just another underdog story.  Rather, it’s a story of a group of men who represented an entire country in its struggle to break free from the bonds of communism.  It centers on a group of four Lithuanians who originally were forced to play for the Russian national basketball team, but then managed to break free and form a Lithuanian basketball team.  Even in their freedom from the Russian national team, the men still faced challenges, including one member of the team—Arvydas Sarbonis–being prevented from joining the NBA by the government of the then Communist Russia.  Even on this side of the Atlantic, Sarbonis was called Russian by NBA Commissioner David Stern when he was drafted by the NBA’s Portland Trailblazers, which he wasn’t.  And NBA fans here were none too pleased with the announcement, effectively making Sarbonis a man without a country so to speak.  Players on both sides of the ball explain in interviews how the game of basketball became less about playing a game and more of a political statement, and just how important that statement was.  Audiences who perhaps have never delved very deep into the political history of Communist and post Communist Russia will be amazed by just how important a single game could be to a whole nation.  That importance is highlighted even more through interviews with a number of people close to the game including former NBA great Bill Walton, ESPN’s Chad Ford, Fran Fraschilla and a host of others.  The program also features original footage of the conflict between Lithuania and Russia both on and off the court highlighting just how tense things were between the two nations in Lithuania’s struggle for independence.  It all comes together to make a documentary that anyone with a love of history, sports, or even politics will thoroughly enjoy.

The documentary itself is quite interesting to watch.  After watching it, viewers will also want to check out the feature’s bonus Q&A session with Writer/Director Marius A. Markevicius and Writer/Producer Jon Weinbach.  Viewers learn from the session’s opening moments that Markevicius’ interest in crafting this story came from his own Lithuanian roots.  He explains about growing up, watching the Lithuanian basketball team, trying to follow them, despite the general lack of information released about them when he was a child.  The session is highlighted by questions posted and followed by some very in depth answers from both men.  Sometimes those answers will move audiences.  Others, it will have them laughing.  It serves as a very good companion to the bonus audio commentary included with the film.  Along with the commentary in question, the vintage footage, interviews and every element that went into bringing this film to life, The Other Dream Team proves to be an unexpectedly impressive documentary, and one that proves to be one of the year’s best in the documentary category.  It’s available now in stores and online and can be ordered direct via the Lionsgate online store at http://www.lionsgateshop.com/product.asp?Id=27844&TitleParentId=8032

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Perry, Fox Carry Patterson’s Cross

Summit Entertainment/Lionsgate

Summit Entertainment/Lionsgate

Actor/producer/director Tyler Perry is known largely for his widely popular movies focusing on the over the top Madea.  So it goes without saying that when he was announced to take over the role of Alex Cross from veteran actor Morgan Freeman, audiences both of his work and that of author James Patterson were left quite in shock to say the least.  Any time that an actor or actress takes a leap outside of his or her comfort zone, it also pulls said actor/actress’ fans out of their comfort zones.  And that apparently is what happened in the case of his take in the new action flick bearing the character’s name.

Perry’s audiences and critics alike were pulled out of their comfort zone with Alex Cross because all involved became so accustomed to seeing Perry in dramadies, not action flicks.  So much so that they refused to see Perry’s potential in this movie.  Director Rob Cohen even discusses this in the Director’s Commentary of the movie’s new home release on DVD and Blu-ray.  It’s just one of many discussions that he raises which will make for more appreciation for this movie among audiences.  The reality of Alex Cross is that while the story may be somewhat outrageous, it’s no more outrageous than the criminal profilers in CBS’ Criminal Minds going out on “missions” to stop deranged killers, which is exactly what co-star Matthew Fox (ABC’s Lost) plays here.  Fox expertly plays the absolutely deranged sociopathic killer Picasso who is hell bent on taking down Cross for past events.  Much like Perry, his performance is a powerhouse.  He is one of those villains that is totally believable.  He is one of those rare villains that audiences love to hate, and by whom they are disturbed.  That means that Fox did his job and did it well.  So to that extent, Fox and Perry together really are what make the story work.

Keeping in mind why Picasso is after Cross, one can’t help but make at least a slight comparison to fellow actor Denzel Washington’s 1999 crime drama, The Bone Collector.  The difference between the two is that this crime drama is far better and moves much faster.  What Perry has done here for all intents and purposes is harnessed both Washington and fellow action star Will Smith and proven to be even better than both.  Audiences need only allow themselves to suspend their disbelief and they too will realize Perry’s talents as an action star.

It goes without saying that a number of factors were changed in this adaptation of its namesake book by author James Patterson.  But few movies ever adapted from books have ever stayed one hundred percent true to their origins.  Just look at the movies in the Die Hard franchise.  They are prime examples of that.   Audiences need to keep this in mind as well in order to maintain their suspension of disbelief.  Allowing that to happen allows audiences to simply enjoy the fast paced action that starts right off the bat and barely lets up right to the movie’s final confrontation.  And if doing that doesn’t work, then perhaps watching the bonus making of featurette in the brand new DVD and Blu-ray release of the movie will finally convince people to let go of their own expectations.  The feature, “The Psychologist and the Butcher: Adapting & Filming Alex Cross” features interviews with James Patterson himself in which he in no uncertain terms lets audiences know that he accepts the big screen adaptation of Cross.  It’s nice to see an author giving his personal stamp of approval on an adaptation of one of his books.  And hopefully both Patterson’s readers and Perry’s fans will come together after watching this new home release and give the movie the appreciation which it deserves.  It is available now on DVD and Blu-ray in stores and online and is worth at least one watch by any true action movie fan.

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Action Flick Fans Will Be “Taken” With Taken 2 On Blu-Ray, DVD

Courtesy:  20th Century Fox/20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Courtesy: 20th Century Fox/20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Taken 2 is one of those movies for which there is no grey area.  It’s a fast moving, flash-boom-bang shoot-’em-up action flick that is very much in the vein of Lionsgate’s recently released The Expendables 2.  The only difference between that over the top sequel and this one is that more than likely 20th Century Fox will let this franchise end with the end of this movie.  Is it the best sequel ever made?  No.  But it is a great turn off your brain flick for anyone looking to escape from the constant barrage of negative news and every day stresses thrown at audiences every day on television and in the work-a-day world.  Right from the movie’s opening moments, it grabs viewers by the collar, making no bones about what to expect.  Once it takes off, there is no stopping the story’s action.  From gunfights to car chases and everything in between, this latest (and likely last) movie in the Taken franchise accomplishes the very goal which it set out to achieve in its short ninety-two minutes.  That goal is to entertain audiences and let them enter another world, if only for a short time.  For that, 20th Century Fox and all involved with this movie are to be commended.  That’s especially the case in a time when audiences need an escape more than ever.

As one can hopefully already tell, Taken 2 offers exactly what action movie buffs want out of said genre.  But there’s more to the movie than just the action that makes it worth at least one watch.  Much like The Expendables 2 and so many other action movies, this story offers audiences a hero for whom they can cheer in Liam Neeson’s Bryan Mills.  All Mills wants is to finish the job that he started in the franchise’s first movie.  But the thing is so do the men who took his daughter.  And both sides will go to whatever lengths necessary to accomplish their goal.  Being that Bryan Mills is a clearly defined archetypal hero, rooting for him is that much easier.  So many of today’s movies have fewer heroes and more anti-hero figures.  It’s nice to see that Bryan doesn’t fit into the latter mold.  It’s one more positive to a movie that any action movie lover will appreciate.

Audiences will appreciate this movie even more now that it is available on DVD and Blu-ray.  The Blu-ray/DVD/digital combo pack offers audiences the most in-depth experience.  It offers audiences both the theatrical and unrated version of the movie along with an interesting bonus “pop-up” feature in the unrated version called “Black Ops Field Manual.”  It offers extra little bits of information about plot elements of the movie.  It’s sort of a director’ commentary without the commentary.  There’s also a character profile of Liam Neeson’s Bryan Mills courtesy of FX network.  There is no bonus commentary included here.  But that’s not necessarily a loss as there’s nothing extra needed to understand.  This is an action movie with an easy to understand plot, period.

The movie’s bonus features add their own element of enjoyment to this fast paced action flick.  In an even deeper level, there’s one more factor that makes the movie even more interesting.  That factor is that while this movie is a sequel, it could just as easily succeed as a stand-alone movie.  Audiences don’t necessarily need to have seen the franchise’s first movie to enjoy this one.  All audiences need to know is the most basic elements of the first of the pair of movies to understand the plot for this one.  Keeping this in mind, and adding in the bonus features of the Blu-ray/DVD/combo pack, Taken 2 actually turns out to be one of those rare sequels that actually turn out to be as good as the original.  In the grand scheme of things, it turns out to be a sequel that’s worth at least one watch.

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New Clifford DVD A True Celebration For Every Fan

Courtesy:  Lionsgate/Scholastic/PBS Kids

Courtesy: Lionsgate/Scholastic/PBS Kids

Clifford the Big Red Dog is turning fifty years old.  Unbelievable!  Everyone’s favorite oversized furry friend is celebrating his birthday with a brand new DVD release next month.  Celebrate with Clifford is the first new Clifford release in two years.  It will be available in stores and online February 5th.  The new release is a special double disc release loaded with lots of fun, family friendly adventures from Clifford, his fellow canine friends, and his owner, Emily Elizabeth.  The two discs in this new release boast fifteen episodes from the hit series.  The set’s first disc, Celebrate with Clifford has seven of the show’s episodes included in the set.  All of the aforementioned episodes included in the first disc are full of family friendly fun and important life lessons that ring true for audiences of all ages.

Audiences learn a number of important lessons throughout the first seven episodes included in the set.  In the episode, “Clifford on Parade”, Emily Elizabeth (Grey DeLisle—The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy) and Charley (Gary Leroi Grey—The Cosby Show) both learn about working together and about compromise when they have to decide on an idea for the float that they’ll enter in the town’s annual parade.  Thanks to Clifford, they end up with one interesting float that even incorporates Clifford himself.  In another episode, “Team Sprit”, young viewers are introduced to the lesson of good sportsmanship and being kind to others.  The story here centers on young Vaz.  Vaz is friends with Emily Elizabeth and the other kids.  But he’s not the best soccer player.  And Jetta doesn’t help as she openly tells Vaz he’s not that great of a soccer player.  Of course she learns her lesson in the episode’s end.  Audiences can find out how she learns her lesson when they check out this new DVD set for themselves.

All seven episodes included in the set’s main disc offer plenty of enjoyment and lessons for viewers.  Luckily for viewers, they’re not all that viewers get in this new set. The eight bonus episodes included in the bonus disc also offer their own enjoyment.  Just in time for Valentine’s Day, there’s even a Valentine’s Day themed episode in “Clifford’s Big Heart.”  In this episode, Clifford is trying to make a Valentine for Emily Elizabeth, but things don’t exactly go as planned.  That is until he finally realizes the best idea for a special Valentine just for her.  His special gift will warm the hearts of both kids and their parents.  Still not enough?  How about the birthday and party themed episodes included in the set?  “Clifford’s Big Surprise”  sees Clifford getting his very own birthday surprise from Emily Elizabeth, her parents and his canine friends.  At first it seems like everybody is avoiding Clifford.  It leaves Clifford bored since there’s no one to play with.  Luckily he finds a way to play by himself.  Ironically, it’s right about then that Emily Elizabeth comes looking for Clifford so she and the others can surprise him with his birthday party.  It’s just one of a handful of birthday themed episodes included in the set’s bonus second disc.  The complete double disc set will be available February 5th in stores and online.  It can be ordered online direct via the Lionsgate online store at http://www.lionsgateshop.com/product.asp?Id=28180&TitleParentId=8311.

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The Rangers Return With More Lessons, Adventures In New Set

Courtesy:  Lionsgate

Courtesy: Lionsgate

The Power Rangers are back once again.  Thanks to Lionsgate and Saban, fans of the latest team of Rangers get to experience four more action packed adventures from Power Rangers Samurai.  In the latest set of adventures, the Rangers face one of their most difficult challenges yet.  The whole thing starts when Kevin is put under a mind control spell by a new Nighlok monster.  It just so happens that the monster also has control of the Rangers’ Tigerzord.  Making things worse is that there’s already some tension among the team because of Master Ji’s evaluation of Kevin and Jayden.  While the Rangers are able to overcome this hurdle, things don’t get any easier as Mike has to face his own doubts after not being given the Beetle disc.  This causes problems when the team faces off against a new Nighlok monster.  It in turn leads to a conflict between Mike and the rest of the Rangers. But after a heart to heart between Mike and Master Ji, things turn around for Mike.  Having overcome so much adversity, the Rangers face one final challenge in a two-part episode that will test Jayden like never before.

It goes without saying that the Rangers come out on top in each of the four episodes in this new single-disc collection.  And just as with previous incarnations of the famed Power Rangers franchise, these new episodes teach the lessons of believing in oneself and of the value of teamwork.  These are lessons of which today’s younger viewers to be reminded. 

The continued lessons alone make the episodes in this new release valuable in their own right.  But anyone who has grown up with the Power Rangers franchise will see a number of similarities between this new team of Rangers and those having gone before.  Many of the zords are very similar in style to previous zords.  And even the Rangers’ own weapons are similar to those of previous teams.  They have simply been given a little bit of a twist to update them.  This will create in older audiences a sense of nostalgia.  And even for those who are new to the Power Rangers universe, these episodes make for a good starting point.  Older audiences can teach the younger audiences about the similarities to the older Rangers’ series, and in turn show where the show has come from.  Power Rangers Samurai: A Team Divided is available now in stores and online.  It can be ordered online via the Lionsgate store at http://www.lionsgateshop.com/product.asp?Id=27840&TitleParentId=8041.

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Gere Shines in Jarecki’s Latest Screenplay

Courtesy:  Lionsgate

Courtesy: Lionsgate

Richard Gere’s latest starring vehicle is not the first thriller ever centered on the business world.  But it is a well written and equally well acted performance.  Writer/director Nicholas Jarecki’s script moves at a pace that is just enough to keep the attention of his intended audiences throughout the near two hour course of the story.  Jarecki makes things even better both for himself and for audiences as his script doesn’t allow itself to get bogged down in a bunch of technical business jargon and unnecessary extraneous drama that would have otherwise caused audiences to want to fast forward through its near two-hour run time.  A look at any other movie based in the business world shows how far too many movies within this sub genre get too serious about themselves, and thus lose their audiences as a result.  Jarecki hasn’t done that here.  Rather he’s made a movie that’s both believable and accessible to audiences because he has managed to find the just right balance between story and acting.  Speaking of acting, veteran actor Richard Gere shines in the story’s lead role of high powered businessman, Robert Miller.    

Gere’s acting goes a long way toward making Arbitrage a success.  He shows his veteran chops yet again here, expertly interpreting the script as he worked with Jarecki.  The script’s strong writing and equally strong acting both on the part of Gere and his co-stars help the near two-hour movie proceed smoothly without slipping up save perhaps for the story’s final moments.  It is the final moments of the story that might leave some audiences scratching their heads as it ends somewhat abruptly.  That aside, the rest of the story keeps audiences fully engaged.  Getting back to the acting, in what seems like a career comprised mainly of rom-coms and romantic dramas, it’s nice to see Gere step up to the plate and take on a more serious role again.  He both has the look and the persona to have taken on Miller’s role.  His take on Miller really does its part to pull viewers in and make the story believable. This is especially the case as co-star Susan Sarandon does very little to help move the story, despite her star status.  In her defense though, she isn’t really utilized very much in the course of the story.     

The crux of Arbitrage rests in what happens to high powered businessman Robert Miller (Richard Gere) after a series of events is set in motion that nearly push him to the brink.  After accidentally causing the death of his mistress in a wreck, he is pursued by the police.  Given, this is a tried and true plot.  It’s been used in different fashions time and again.  But it still manages to work in this case.  To make matters worse for Miller, his unethical and somewhat illegal financial dealings lead to even more problems for him.  Though it seems like that element becomes secondary to the investigation surrounding the death of Miller’s mistress.  Miller’s story is not the first of its kind brought to the big screen.  But there’s no denying that despite the story’s abrupt ending and other minor issues, it makes for one of Gere’s best performances in ages next to perhaps that of his work in The Mothman Prophecies.  It’s no surprise that it has garnered Gere a Golden Globe nomination for his acting.  The only question left is will he take home the trophy.  And for that matter will it be enough to garner him an Oscar nod, too?  That’s all anyone’s guess.  Nonetheless, his acting alone is enough to make Arbitrage a movie worth at least one watch from 2012.

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Top 10 Major Motion Pictures Of 2012

Top 10 Movies of 2012

 

Courtesy:  Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Courtesy: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

1.  The Artist:  While it originally made its debut overseas in 2011, it wasn’t until January 20th of this year that The Artist actually made its nationwide debut in theaters across the U.S.  Before then, only the lucky few at the big festivals got to see it.  That being the case, it should be considered a 2012 release.  So what makes it 2012’s best?  So much could be said.  At a time when so much of what Hollywood churns out is prequels, sequels, and remakes, this story—distributed by Sony Pictures—went the total opposite.  How simple and ingenious is it to make a silent film in a movie of major flash-bang-boom films?  Because the movie’s only sound is its music, viewers are forced to watch.  And the cast was force to really put on its best possible performance, rather than rely on everything else that most movies use to distract audiences from poor performances.  The music is quite enjoyable, too.  And of course, the general cinematography is just as impressive.  It all combines to make for a movie that any movie lover should see at least once.

Mirror Mirror BD2.  Mirror, Mirror:  Some of you might shake your heads at this pick.  But the reality is that this is really a fun and family friendly movie.  Both boys and girls will enjoy it as will parents.  While young Lily Collins (the daughter of superstar Phil Collins) is billed as the lead star here, it’s the dwarves who are really the story’s stars.  Their antics make for more than their share of laughs.  Though watching Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer—The Lone Ranger) put under the evil queen’s puppy love spell is pretty funny, too.  It’s obvious that this spoof of the classic fairy tale was aimed both at boys and girls.  With its mix of wit and charm, it will always be one of the best takes on the old Snow White story.

Courtesy:  Disney Studios

Courtesy: Disney Studios

3.  The Odd Life of Timothy Green:  This is another truly enjoyable family movie.  The general story is one to which any parent can relate and will enjoy because of that.  Though the concept of what happens with Timothy might be a little bit tough to discuss with younger viewers.  The beautiful backdrop adds even more warmth to the story.  And the cast’s acting makes suspension of disbelief so easy.  Sure it’s sappy, emotional, and all that jazz.  But that can be forgiven as it’s such an original and heartwarming story.       

Courtesy:  20th Century Fox

Courtesy: 20th Century Fox

4.  Skyfall:  This is where things begin to get a little bit touchy.  Skyfall is by far the best Bond flick to come along in a very long time.  That’s not to say that the previous two were bad.  But this one brought back memories of the old school James Bond that everybody knows.  It’s got the gadgets and the humor and none of the melodrama that weighed down the previous two Bond flicks.  The only downside to the movie is that it tends to drag in the final act.  Other than that, it is a nice return to form for the Bond franchise and gives hope for any future Bond films….that is at least if Christopher Nolan doesn’t get his hands on the franchise.

Courtesy:  Marvel Studios/Walt Disney Video

Courtesy: Marvel Studios/Walt Disney Video

5.  The Avengers:  The Avengers was a very nice way to cap off the build-up created by Marvel Studios with the recent bevy of comic book based movies.  It had great special effects.  Its story was simple and solid.  And the shooting was equally impressive.  Considering all the action going on, audiences weren’t left feeling dizzy to the point of wanting to walk out (or in the case of home release, just turn it off).  But like so many ensemble cast movies, it suffered from a common problem.  That problem was the movie’s run time.  Most of the characters in The Avengers had already been introduced through their own separate movies.  So there was no reason to re-introduce them all over again this time.  A lot of that extra time could have been spared.  Hopefully those involved have learned from that and will present viewers with a shorter movie in the second of the Avengers movies.

Courtesy:  Warner Brothers Home Video

Courtesy: Warner Brothers Home Video

6.  The Dark Knight Rises:  I am just as much a comic book fan as anyone else out there.  So it goes without saying that I was excited to see this movie.  It did a good job of wrapping up the trilogy.  The problem is that it did too much of a good job, as David Goyer and the Nolans tried too hard to cram everything into one movie.  Word is that this latest installment of the Batman franchise left many people checking their watches when it was in theaters.  It might have been better served to have been split up into at least one more movie because of everything added into the mix.  And having what seems to be a lack of commentary on the new home release, fans can only guess what the logic was in cramming so much into one story.  Much like The Avengers, the shooting and the special effects were great.  So it has that going for it.  But the writing was the story’s big problem.  Here’s to hoping that whoever takes over the Batman franchise next (whenever it’s re-launched) won’t make the same mistake as Christopher Nolan and company.

Courtesy:  20th Century Fox

Courtesy: 20th Century Fox

7.  Prometheus:  This semi-prequel to Ridley Scott’s hit Alien franchise was met with mixed reviews.  There seemed to be no gray area here.  Audiences either loved it or hated it.  Truth be told, it worked quite well as both a prequel and as its very own stand-alone movie.  Sure the special effects are different from those used in the original movies.  But times are different.  So viewers should take that into account.  And the shooting was just as impressive.  While it may not be as memorable as Scott’s previous works, at least audiences can agree that it’s better than the movies in the AvP franchise.

Courtesy:  Universal Pictures

Courtesy: Universal Pictures

8.  Les Miserables:  This latest reboot of Victor Hugo’s classic story of love and redemption in one of history’s darkest eras is not bad.  But it’s not great, either.  Audiences who know the stage play will thrill at how director Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech) and his staff of writers paid tribute to the stage play both in its writing and its shooting.  At the same time, Hooper tried so hard to pay tribute with his shooting style and the transitions that the whole movie felt dizzying to say the least.  The shooting and transitions felt like nothing more than a bunch of cuts from one shot to the next.  There was never a total sense of fluidity anywhere in the story.  It was almost as if despite staying true to the stage play, the script for this latest big screen adaptation was written by someone with ADHD.  Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway did a superior job with their performances.  But despite that, odds are that the movie will sadly be remembered more for its flawed shooting and transitions than for its award-worthy performances.  Nonetheless, it’s still a good movie for any fan of Les Miserables or for fans of musicals in general to see at least once.

Courtesy:  CBS Films/CBS Home Entertainment/UK Film Council/BBC Films/Lionsgate/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Courtesy: CBS Films/CBS Home Entertainment/UK Film Council/BBC Films/Lionsgate/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

9.  Salmon Fishing in the YemenSalmon Fishing in the Yemen is without a doubt an original story.  It’s next to impossible to find anything like it out there or present.  But it suffers greatly from an identity crisis.  It doesn’t know whether it wants to be a drama, a romance, or a little bit of both.  It’s nice to see the simple message of something as simple as fishing being able to bring the world’s people together peacefully.  But it really seemed to let the romance factor get too much involved.  As a result, it got bogged down in itself.  Had it not had the romance subplot, it might have been better.

Courtesy:  Lionsgate

Courtesy: Lionsgate

10. Arbitrage:  It was once noted that three factors more than any other are the causes of crime.  Those factors are:  money, power, and sex.  Arbitrage has all three of these.  It’s an interesting movie.  And it definitely wastes no time noting the latter of the trio of factors, as it lets audiences know that Robert Miller (Richard Gere) is having an affair with another woman.  And also, Miller’s boss has a very firm talk with him early on letting him know that he knows about the financial inaccuracies that he’s causing.  It doesn’t take long to know where this story goes.  It’s something of a tried and true story.  Add in this critic’s pet peeve of movies, the “whisper scenes” and it makes for a movie that as good as it is it could have been better.  For those wondering, the “whisper scene” is exactly as it sounds (bad pun there).  The “whisper scene” is one in which actors essentially whisper throughout the scene against overpowering music to make the scene more emotional and powerful.  But put against the sudden transition to normal volume scenes (and above normal volume scenes), it becomes rather annoying as one has to constantly change the volume on one’s TV as a result of that.  It’ll be interesting to see if it gets the Golden Globe for which it was nominated.

There you have it folks.  That is my personalist of the year’s ten best major motion pictures.  You are more than welcome to share whether you agree or disagree and what your top 10 list would look like.  2013′s already shaping up to be an interesting year.  As the movies start to come out, I’ll have reviews of them, too.  To keep up with the latest entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it or its companion page, http://www.facebook.com/pages/Reel-Reviews/381028148587141.  Fans can always keep up with the latest entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Everybody’s Fine One Of De Niro’s Finest Performances

Courtesy:  Lionsgate/Miramax

Courtesy: Lionsgate/Miramax

Everybody’s Fine is one of veteran actor Robert De Niro’s “finest” moments.  There are those who have already had their say of this atypical holiday family film. But odds are the people who have lambasted it have done so because it is indeed such a mirror image of reality that they don’t want to have to admit how real it is.  The story centers on widower Frank (De Niro) who recently lost his wife.  Having been married for over four decades, Frank is heartbroken after the loss of his wife.  How she died isn’t immediately revealed.  Nor is it important how she died.  It’s the psychological and emotional impact on Frank that makes this story so believable.

Frank’s emotional and psychological response to having lost his wife is so real in that as much as people may not want to admit it to themselves, his reaction is very much the same as any older person with adult children.  He reaches out for support from his now adult children.  Although in his mind, he’s just trying to get his kids together at least one more time.  As he sets off to surprise his kids, audiences learn that Frank spent most of his life helping to set up the telephone lines that criss-cross the country.  It’s these lines that eventually play a metaphorical role in that while he helped put up the lines, it’s those same lines that his own adult children use to keep a painful secret from him.  They’re keeping the secret not to be mean, but to protect their father purely out of love and respect for him.  That secret is the basis of the real story in Everybody’s Fine.

The real story of Everybody’s Fine is less about Frank’s relationship with Amy, Rosie and Robert and more about his strained relationship with his other son, David.  The relationship between David and Frank had been strained ever since David was a boy.  Writer/Director Kirk Jones hints at this through flashbacks that Frank has during the course of the movie’s roughly ninety-minute plus run time.  While Frank obviously loves his kids, it’s David that he’s really focused on.  He wants so badly to see David; so much so that as audiences hear the conversations between Frank’s other children over the telephone wires he helped put up through his career, it makes them feel that much more for Frank.  As much as his relationship with David was seemingly strained, Frank still loved David unconditionally, just as any parent would their own child.  Again, it’s that mirror image of real life that helps maintain the story’s relateability.

The story between Frank and David does have at least a somewhat happy ending.  Though perhaps bittersweet would be the better suited term to use here.  But there is closure for both figures nonetheless.  And it’s that closure that leads to an ending that wraps everything in its own deeply moving gift to audiences.  Everybody’s Fine is not the standard happy-go-lucky movie that audiences might think of when they think of holiday movies.  But its deeply emotional story about family makes it a holiday movie that stands out among the crowd even today as it has been re-issued on blu-ray.  It is available now in stores and online.  It can be ordered online direct via the Lionsgate online store at http://www.lionsgateshop.com.

To keep up with the latest entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it or its companion page, http://www.facebook.com/pages/Reel-Reviews/381028148587141.  Fans can always keep up with the latest entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.