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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