REVIEWS OF RENTED DVDs I GET IN THE MAIL

Archive for January, 2010|Monthly archive page

THE WRESTLER (2008)

In Drama, Independent, Motion Pictures, Sports, W on January 31, 2010 at 1:23 am

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STUDIO — Fox Searchlight

CAST — Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood

DIRECTOR —  Darren Aronofsky

MPAA Rating: R

I entered this movie not as a wrestling fan (which I am not), but as a fan of movies about men struggling to find themselves. Also, I have been a longtime fan of Mickey Rourke (I first caught him in The Pope of Greenwich Village, back in the 1980s). During the 1990s, he more or less fell off the radar, only to return in 2005’s Sin City. From there, he reached a well-deserved, long-overdue critical (and popular) acclaim in The Wrestler. In this movie, Rourke plays Randy “The Ram” Robinson, professional wrestler and self-described “broken down piece of meat.”

Randy "The Ram" Robinson (Mickey Rourke) prepares to make his signature move.

In the credits, we view The Ram’s past glory, through ticket stubs, flyers, magazine covers and newspaper clippings, all from the 1980s. Then we lurch forward 20 years later to see him still stepping into the ring every week to do what he loves to do. Make no mistake, this is not the WWE we’re talking about; this is a small-time circuit, where the fights are uglier (even though still choreographed), the blood is real, and the pay is lousy. So, to make ends meet, he works for a local grocery store. Along the way, he befriends a local stripper (Marisa Tomei) and tries to reconnect with his estranged daughter (Evan Rachel Wood).

It is not often when I say this, but Mickey Rourke was born to make this movie. He plays Randy The Ram as an inwardly tortured soul who knows he has screwed up in his life, and the scars he wears from his years in the ring are symbolic of the pain within him. He loves what he does every weekend, but in the real world things just don’t go over well. The most noteworthy example is when he manages to reach out to his daughter, only to drop the ball later on.

The Wrestler was wonderfully-acted, the script was well-written, and director Darren Aronofsky made what I consider a must-see movie. I recommend it as a must-add to your Queue.

4 out of 5

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THE BROADWAY MELODY (1929)

In B, Best Picture Winners, Classic, Drama, Motion Pictures on January 29, 2010 at 3:22 am

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STUDIO — MGM

CAST — Charles King, Anita Page, Bessie Love, Kenneth Thomson

DIRECTOR —  Harry Beaumont

UNRATED (MPAA Equivalent: PG)

The Broadway Melody marked many firsts in the history of the Academy Awards, save one. It is not the first motion picture to receive the Best Picture award (That honor goes to 1927’s Wings). But it is the first “talkie” to win Best Picture, and it is the first Best Picture winner to spawn sequels (four, in all), and, though not technically a musical, it is the first to feature several musical numbers.

Let me make one thing clear: Lawrence of Arabia, this movie is not! Sound was still a novelty in the late 1920s, and all of the major studios (as well as most movie stars) made the switch to keep with the times. So, while The Broadway Melody is an entertaining spectacle, it suffers from substandard (even for the time) camera work, clunky acting from many members of the cast, and a script so cheesy, I could cut off a slice and put it on a burger.

The Mahoney Sisters (Anita Page, Bessie Love) perform on stage

Does this mean it’s a bad movie? Not necessarily. Anyone who has any interest in old movies will still enjoy it. The Broadway Melody was made for one reason: to entertain. And it does, thanks to serviceable performances by Bessie Love and Charles King. There are also a few running gags in the movie which will keep your attention, including Broadway producer Francis Zanfield’s gang of “yes men”, stuttering Uncle Jed, and a drunk lackey known in the film only as “Unconscious”.

If you know anything about show business history, you probably noticed the name Francis Zanfield (Eddie Kane). Yes, it is close to the name of legendary Vaudeville  showman Florence Ziegfeld. Another name that may catch your attention is that of the movie’s antagonist, Jaques “Jock” Warriner (Kenneth Thomson); it is very close to that of Jack Warner (as in Warner Bros.). Ironic that Warner Bros. would later acquire the rights to the MGM motion picture library when they purchased Ted Turner’s televesion empire, but I digress…

The Broadway Melody is the story of the Mahoney sisters, Hank (Bessie Love) and Queenie (Anita Page), and their quest to make their big break in show business. Hank’s fiancé, Eddie (Charles King), has assured them an “in” by getting them in Mr. Zanfield’s Vaudeville troupe, but like all well-laid plans, things don’t work out so well. Eddie becomes smitten with Queenie, Queenie falls for Jock, Eddie gets jealous, and Hank gets… Well, you didn’t expect me to spoil the whole thing for ya, now, didn’t you?

The Broadway Melody is an excellent study in early motion picture history, and it is mildly entertaining. For the truly bold and adventurous, you can check out the Special Features on the DVD, which include a short loosely based on the movie and with a canine cast, called (wait for it…) “The Dogway Melody”. Less cringe-worthy are a selection of five Metro Movietone Revues, featuring various musical and Vaudeville acts of the time. And there is a peek at the trailers to the other four movies in the franchise, as well.

3-1/2 out of 5

THE DARK KNIGHT (2008)

In Action, D, Motion Pictures, Movies, Sci-Fi/Fantasy on January 23, 2010 at 1:31 am

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The Dark Knight (2008)

STUDIO — Warner Bros./DC Comics

CAST — Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckart, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman

DIRECTOR —  Christopher Nolan

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Where do I begin? As most people would say, “From the beginning, of course!” So, that is where I will start.

Our movie opens with a bank heist like no other: A carefully laid-out plan by a team of crooks in clown masks quickly turns ugly as, one by one, they systematically kill each other until one remains. And we all know who he is, don’t we?

At the end of Batman Begins, we are literally handed a hint of what is to come. There’s a new criminal on the streets of Gotham, and no one knows anything about him, except that he leaves a calling card: a joker from a deck of cards. So, we all knew The Joker would be in this movie. What we got was the creepiest, most psychotic, most manic Joker who ever put on a purple suit.

In the 1960s “Batman” movie and TV show, Cesar Romero played the Clown Prince of Crime with absolute glee; each time he appeared on the show, it was easy to see just how much fun he had in the part. In 1989, Jack Nicholson’s performance in Tim Burton’s Batman was so gloriously over-the-top, that it became a new standard in superhero movie villian performances.

Until now.

The Joker (Heath Ledger) crashes a fund-raiser

Enter Heath Ledger. His take on The Joker was so eerie, so chaotic, so fun to watch, that finding the actor behind the character was difficult, at best. When he (posthumously) won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor of 2008, I thought it was a sympathy vote more than anything else. After seeing this movie, I can say that my initial judgment was… premature.

(Is this a good time to say that I had made a promise to myself not to spend the entire review talking about Heath Ledger? Okay, then! On with the show!)

This movie needed to be at least as good as its predecessor in order to sustain the franchise, and The Dark Knight delivers. Oh, and I should note Aaron Eckart’s take on District Attorney Harvey Dent (aka Two-Face) was nearly equally as strong as that of Heath Ledger’s Joker. And, like Batman Begins, The Dark Knight was well-paced, beautifally shot, and held me from start to finish.

It is sad that Mr. Ledger passed away; he left big shoes to fill should the Powers That Be revisit The Joker in a future movie. But this “Batman” franchise still has teeth in it, and The Dark Knight has a large bite.

4 out of 5

BATMAN BEGINS (2005)

In Action, B, Motion Pictures, Movies, Sci-Fi/Fantasy on January 22, 2010 at 1:34 am

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 Batman Begins (2005) STUDIO — Warner Bros./DC Comics    

CAST — Christian Bale, Liam Neeson, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Katie Holmes    

DIRECTOR — Christopher Nolan    

MPAA Rating: PG-13    

For my first review, I thought I would start things off with a bang (and a POW!, a BIFF!, and an OOF!). Okay, all kidding aside, and with apologies to Adam West, let us begin our quest for the genesis of Batman, as seen through the vision of director christopher Nolan.    

This story centers around the beginnings of the crime-fighter known as the Batman, and how it nearly began with an act of revenge; a still-young Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) wanted to kill the man who shot his parents. When that didn’t work, he traveled abroad, ultimately winding up in prison for attempted theft in Asia. What follows is the now-famous training sequence, in which a man named Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson) introduces Bruce to the League of Shadows. Now with his training complete, Bruce returns to Gotham to find it worse than it was when he left. In fact, it seems the only five people in town who aren’t corrupt are Bruce, his butler Alfred (Michael Caine), his one-time girlfriend (and assistant DA) Rachel Dawes (Katie Holmes), Wayne Enterprises employee Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), and a police lieutenant named Gordon (Gary Oldman).     

Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) embraces his fear

I found this movie entertaining, with a flow to the plot that didn’t stop dead in its tracks, even though I found the Scarecrow subplot to be somewhat contrived.  Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne is a brooding badass billionaire, with a near-perfect characterization that (thankfully) doesn’t fall into the caricature of George Clooney. Michael Caine makes an excellent Alfred, who not only is Bruce Wayne’s caretaker, assistant, and confidant, but here we also see him as his center and surrogate parent. The chemistry between Christian Bale and Katie Holmes worked well. Also, Morgan Freeman is a welcome addition to nearly any movie. I think I will stop right here to say that both Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine are among my favorite actors of all time, so having both of them in this reboot of the Batman franchise was a stroke of genius. Finally, the custom-built Batmobile was the perfect cherry on top of this ice cream sundae of a movie. 

Overall, Batman Begins is well-paced, wonderfully shot, and a visual feast on the eyes. Though 1978’s Superman is still the standard of the modern superhero movie, this movie meets the challenge head-on without wavering. 

3-1/2 out of 5

REQUEST A MOVIE (Updated 4/5/10)

In Uncategorized on January 20, 2010 at 3:54 am

Hey there! If you made it this deep into my archives, then you found the original “Request Page” for this blog.

If you have a request, and to see the current request list, you are more than welcome to do so here (or by clicking the “REQUESTS” link above).

Thank you, and let’s enjoy some films!