Revenge: A Love Story

REVENGE

2014

Global View Productions

Written and Directed by Thor Moreno

Produced by Annette Duffy, Chris McAninch and Shawn McAninch

One of the fun things about reviewing movies is that every so often I’ll get a knock on my Internet door from a filmmaker who invites me to look at their work and maybe, if I like it, give a review. Sometimes I don’t like it. I wouldn’t care to tell you how many short films I’ve been invited to see the past couple of years where I simply couldn’t finish them. But thankfully I am invited by filmmakers such as Chris Regan and Parker Stanfield whose work I’ve enjoyed and that makes it all worth it for me. I’m happy to add Thor Moreno on that list.

REVENGE: A LOVE STORY is a short film, a crime thriller. It’s a tough, vicious little film about tough, vicious people. Undercover narcotics cop Brad Miller (Adam Meirick) is tired of the game. He wants out and he wants out now. He wants the promotion he was promised and he wants to enjoy life with his long suffering wife (Katie Goebel) who wants to start a family with a husband who keeps regular hours. Unfortunately Brad has a 48K gold-plated prick for a supervisor who tell him flat out the only way Brad is going to get out and get his promotion is if Brad brings him a conviction. Brad’s target is Willie Caesar (Zack Williams) the local crime kingpin.

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Brad maneuvers himself into an invitation with Willie Caesar and moves up in his organization fast. A little too fast if you ask me but considering the short running time of the movie, I’m willing to go with it. Brad’s rapid rise in Caesar’s trust earns him the suspicion of Caesar’s right hand man Nicky (Shawn McAninch) who makes it his business to find out who Brad really is. He does. And that’s when the mayhem begins.

We’re talking about a short film with a 45 minute running time so there’s absolutely no fat on this meat. But despite the short running time, there’s a surprising amount of plot twists and characterization that made me feel as if I’d gotten a full-length movie. Thor Moreno is my kind of filmmaker. He puts the camera in place, puts his actors in front of the camera and lets them do their job. I appreciate any filmmaker who can show me he knows how to use his camera and his actors to tell me a story and that’s exactly what Thor Moreno does here.

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He manages to get a lot of mileage out of a story that may not be wildly inventive or original by virtue of letting the plot take a couple of lefts turns I really didn’t see coming and it’s backed up by an able cast, led by Adam Meirick who is really good. He’s got a Jake Gyllenhaal-ish type of vibe going on here that I really liked. But Shawn McAninch comes awfully close to stealing a couple of scenes right out from under him. Zack Williams brings an old school, 1970’s blaxplotation gusto to his Willie Caesar that’s really fun to watch, especially in a confrontation scene he has with Meirick’s character near the end. Dave Dalton plays one of Nick’s henchmen and he stood out for me because of a scene where he’s creeping through his house with a Samurai sword, looking for an intruder. We see that his house is full of books so maybe he’s not a dumb as he makes out to be. And he pauses to fistbump a picture of Ralph Macchio as The Karate Kid. Don’t ask me why but it’s little touches like that that bring a minor character to life for me. I enjoyed the setting greatly as well. It’s not in an urban ghetto but set in Des Moines, Iowa in an almost rural location and for me that added greatly to the realism of the movie. Crime doesn’t only flourish in big cities but in small towns as well and sometimes it’s worse there is part of the theme of this movie, I think and it’s a theme that gets it’s point across well.

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As I said earlier on, this is a vicious and violent film with a torture scene that had me cringing and was well able to convey the horror of the situation with very little blood and I believe that was because the director and his cast did such a good job of investing me in these characters so that I truly was interested and cared about what happened to them by the time we got to that point. REVENGE: A LOVE STORY is going to premier is at the historic Varsity Theater in Des Moines, Iowa next week. It goes to DVD right after that. It will be on sale at http://www.globalviewproductions.com next month when the site relaunches. Enjoy.

The Ten Commandments

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1956

Paramount Pictures

Directed by Cecil B. DeMille

Produced by Cecil B. DeMille and Henry Wilcoxon

Screenplay by Aeneas MacKenzie, Jesse L. Lasky, Jr., Jack Gariss and Fredric M. Frank

Based on “Prince of Egypt” by Dorothy Clarke Wilson “Pillar of Fire: by J.H. Ingraham

“On Eagle’s Wings” by A.E. Southon and The Holy Scriptures

One of the stories my parents like to tell about me is the one where they took me as a baby to a showing of THE TEN COMMANDMENTS. They say that there were a number of other babies who had to be taken out of the theater because of their crying but according to them, I uttered not so much as a burp throughout the entire three hours and thirty-nine minutes. In fact, my mother claims I simply and quietly stared at the screen with wide open eyes as if hypnotized. Maybe I was. Now, I dunno if this explains my lifelong movie addiction but I do know that if you ask me what my favorite movie is, my answer is THE TEN COMMANDMENTS. If there was only one movie that I could watch for the rest of my life, it would be that one.

I grew up watching THE TEN COMMANDMENTS on ABC here in New York as they would faithfully air the movie each and every Easter. They used to show it in two parts (On Sunday and Monday) and then switched to a single night showing (with commercials it ran from 7PM to 11:30PM) and for some inexplicable reason in recent years ABC has been airing it on the Saturday night before Easter. But it doesn’t matter to me. The first movie I bought on Blu-Ray was THE TEN COMMANDMENTS and I still watch it every Easter, starting it at 7PM on the dot. In fact, it’s playing in the background as I write up this review.

Why do I love THE TEN COMMANDMENTS so much? First of all, it’s quite simply a magnificent story. Moses (Charlton Heston) is born a Hebrew slave, spared from death by his mother Yochabel (Martha Scott) setting him adrift on the waters of The Nile River. The infant is raised by Bithiah (Nina Foch) the sister of The Pharaoh Sethi (Sir Cedric Hardwicke) She keeps his Hebrew heritage a secret, which is shared by her servant Memnet (Judith Anderson)

Moses is raised as a prince of Egypt and is looked upon as a son by the old Pharaoh. This earns Moses the jealousy of Prince Rameses II (Yul Brynner) who already sees himself as the next Pharaoh. It also doesn’t help that they both are in love with Nefretiri (Anne Baxter) the throne princess who must by law marry the man who will be Pharaoh.

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Eventually, Moses learns of his true heritage and the secret is also discovered by Rameses who has Moses banished. The life Moses once knew as a prince is over but he has a new destiny before him, one that is imparted to him by God Himself in the form of a burning bush. Moses is to return to Egypt and liberate the Hebrew people from their slavery.

That’s the barest outline of the story but it doesn’t begin to explore the complexities of the relationships between the characters and how their lives play out in such an epic, impressive movie. And make no mistake about it…THE TEN COMMANDMENTS is BIG. And that brings me to my second reason why I love the movie so much. They just simply just don’t make movies like this anymore. Everything from the costuming to the sets is larger than life. If Cecil B. DeMille needed a city in his movie then by God he went out and built a city. If he needed a crowd scene with hundreds of thousands of people he went out and hired and costumed hundreds of thousands of people and put them on the screen. In this day and age where all the special effects are done by CGI and filmed on virtual sets it gives a movie like this weight and life when you look at it and realize that these are actual people and actual sets. This is a movie that truly deserves to be called spectacular just on a technically physical level.

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The acting has been criticized as being “over the top” and “melodramatic” and my response is that of course it is. When you have a story and setting this enormous you’ve got to have actors and acting to match. If Charlton Heston had never made another movie after this his place in movie history would still be assured. Moses was the role he was born to play, plain and simple. He starred in another Biblical epic three years later “Ben-Hur” but this is the movie that everybody thinks of first when Charlton Heston’s movie career is talked about.

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Anne Baxter gleefully chews every piece of scenery in sight and has more fun with her dialog than anybody else in the cast. Her scenes with Sir Cedric Hardwicke have real humor and affection while her scenes with Yul Brynner are nothing less than white hot. In fact, I believe I enjoy her scenes with him more than her scenes with Charlton Heston, to be honest.  Yul Brynner comes close to stealing the movie more than a few times. One of the excellent aspects of the screenplay is that it takes time to examine and explore everybody’s point of view and motivations and the motivations of Rameses are clear and understandable, if misguided.

Yvonne DeCarlo is an actress whose popularity I’ve never been able to understand as she always acts as if she’s bored to death in every movie I’ve seen her in. Even here she comes off as if she’s barely interested in what she’s doing. Much better are dependable old friends such as Vincent Price and John Carradine who throw themselves gleefully into their roles. And then we’ve got Edward G. Robinson who effortlessly steps into the protagonist role in the second half of the movie and does so brilliantly (“Where’s yer Gawd now, Moses?”)

Blu-Ray has spoiled me watching THE TEN COMMANDMENTS as the detail, color and audio is absolutely extraordinary. There’s simply no other way to watch it as far as I’m concerned. The only problem is with some of the blue screen special effects not looking so special in such rich detail but if you love the movie as much as I do, no doubt you’ll overlook that. The sheer emotional power of such scenes as the parting of The Red Sea and the fiery finger of God writing The Ten Commandments overcome that for me.

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So should you see THE TEN COMMANDMENTS? No doubt you already have but just in case you haven’t, then by all means you should. If you’ve watched and enjoyed movies such as “Titanic” “Avatar” “Lord of The Rings” and “Star Wars” then this is their grandfather. It’s sheer visual grandeur that still has the power to blow audiences away. It’s the best example of captivating, enthralling movie making that succeeds in transporting us to another time and place. It’s a story of faith and destiny with romance, action, adventure, drama, humor and spectacle. You ask me what I think is the greatest motion picture ever made and I’ll say THE TEN COMMANDMENTS every time.

Rated G

220 minutes

 

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

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2014

Marvel Studios/Walt Disney Studios

Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo

Produced by Kevin Feige

Written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely

Based on “Captain America” created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby

I think that the thing I take away from seeing CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER besides my admiration for the excellent acting performances and the complicated yet meticulously laid out plot is that the talent involved in the crafting of the Marvel Cinematic Universe respect their characters. You can’t mistake an Iron Man movie for a Thor movie or a Captain America movie. Each of these characters have their own worlds inside of the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe and we should be rightly exploring each of those worlds in the solo movies featuring these characters. And so with CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER we get a story concerned the role of espionage organizations and what their ethics should be. Themes such as sacrificing personal freedoms so that we can be “safe.” National security and how far our government should go to pursue that security. The compromises made against the privacy of American citizens. Those are some heavy themes for what is supposed to be “just” a superhero movie. But then again, Captain America has never been “just” a superhero.

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Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) is settling into 21st Century life quite well after the events of “The Avengers.” He’s working as a card-carrying S.H.I.E.L.D. agent now and his latest mission finds him partnered with Natasha Romanoff aka The Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson)  They have to recover a S.H.I.E.L.D. freighter/spy ship that’s been hijacked by the bloodthirsty mercenary Batroc (Georges St. Pierre) a master of the French martial art of kickboxing known as Savate. The mission is success but Steve is naturally upset that The Black Widow’s mission on the ship was unrelated to his. A mission personally given her by the Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. Colonel Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson)

The mission she was on concerned retrieving encrypted data about Project: Insight, a preemptive strike program involving spy satellites and three Helicarriers (where do they keep getting the money for those things?) And the data is responsible for the very infrastructure of S.H.I.E.L.D. being put into serious jeopardy and it isn’t long before Captain America and The Black Widow find themselves declared traitors and on the run from S.H.I.E.L.D. with their only allies either dead or trying desperately to save their own asses. S.H.I.E.L.D.’s elite S.T.R.I.K.E. team leads the hunt for the fugitives along with the mysterious and deadly Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) whose combat skills, amplified with his cybernetic arm may make him the equal of and possibly superior to Captain America.

Now, even though The Winter Soldier is being held up for much of the movie’s running time as the movie’s villain, the real villain of the movie is the morals of politics and national security. As the characters battle each other physicals they’re also battling the lies that have been told to them and that they’ve told to the nation they’re protecting. But who are they really protecting? And why?

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Like I said earlier, the plot is pretty complicated. But because the movie takes the time to delve into these themes and a government conspiracy plot Tom Clancy would have loved, CAPTAIN AMERICA:THE WINTER SOLDIER is about much more than characters punching each other because since this is a superhero movie then somebody has to be getting punched every few minutes.

The acting in CAPTAIN AMERICA:THE WINTER SOLDIER is really good. Chris Evans gives a speech at one point that sells the soul of Captain America. He also gets some nice scenes where he gets to show that even though Steve Rogers has acclimated to the 21st Century, he’s still a man out of time. He and Scarlett Johansson have some really great chemistry together. And due to the contrast in the moral ideologies in the two characters it makes for some nice friction in how they go about working together to find out what’s broken in S.H.I.E.L.D. and how they’re going to fix it.

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It’s no surprise that Samuel L. Jackson is terrific because since when is Sam Jackson not terrific? Cobie Smulders provides more than able backup as Maria Hill and newcomer Anthony Mackie fits in with the established cast as if he had been a part of the MCU right from the start. Seeing Captain America and The Falcon in action together on the big screen made a ten year old kid outta me. Robert Redford knocks it out of the park as Alexander Pierce, an senior S.H.I.E.L.D. official. An actor of his stature and talent gives an added weight to every scene he’s in and since his name was one of those mentioned back in the 1970’s and ‘80’s as playing Captain America whenever a theatrical movie was rumored, I thought it was nice to find such a meaty role for him here.

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That’s not to say I loved every moment of it. I’ll never forgive this movie for what it does to Jasper Sitwell. There was one point I found myself scratching my head wondering why Steve and Natasha just didn’t call Tony Stark for help (I figured the events of “Iron Man 3” must have been happening at the same time as this movie and so Tony had his own problems to worry about) And for a covert espionage agency, S.H.I.E.L.D. sure seems to like operating out in the open a whole lot. Including waging war right in the streets of Washington, D.C. And the fight scenes at times got a little too fast and frenetic for me. I appreciate seeing who got hit and how they got hit. Still, the fight choreography did a fantastic job of displaying the speed, power and agility of Captain America in combat which is what I wanted to see.

So should you see CAPTAIN AMERICA:THE WINTER SOLDIER? Absolutely YES. This movie makes a daring move in changing the status quo of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in a major way, one that I didn’t see coming and establishes that this is going to be a universe that will change and grow with each new movie. It’s also a whole lotta fun. It’s such a kick for me to be able and go to the movies to see my favorite Marvel superheroes up on the big screen and presented in a way I could only dream of as a kid. It’s a good time for Marvel superhero fans. Enjoy.

PG-13

136 Minutes

Sabotage

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2014

Albert S. Ruddy Productions

Directed by David Ayer

Produced by Bill Block, David Ayer, Ethan Smith, Paul Hanson and Palek Patel

Written by Skip Woods and David Ayer

I’m going to put my neck out there and say that I truly and honestly admire Arnold Schwarzenegger for what he does in SABOTAGE. This is a Schwarzenegger who realizes that he would look downright silly trying to do the same kind of action movie he did back in the 1980’s. He can’t be the One Man Army Killing Machine anymore. Sure, he’s still in better shape than 90% of us but he’s no kid anymore. And he doesn’t try to hide it unlike the other two members of The Holy Trinity of Action Movie Heroes. Sylvester Stallone and Bruce Willis are still trying to convince us they’re still able to pull off stunts they did 30 years ago. But not Schwarzenegger.  He’s got respect for our intelligence. Oh, he still does physical stuff but nothing like the stunts he did in say, “Commando” or “Eraser” These days he’s relying a lot more on story, characterization and supporting casts to give his movies weight.

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SABOTAGE isn’t a movie he could have made back in the 1980’s. He had to wait until now to make a movie like this where he could make his age work for him and for the character he plays. Don’t get me wrong…this isn’t Schwarzenegger doing Hamlet (and I still say he should have done it. Who in their right mind wouldn’t pay to see that?) but he certainly doesn’t embarrass himself.

John “Breacher” Warthon (Arnold Schwarzenegger) ramrods an elite team of wildass DEA agents. These agents are just one notch above being full blown renegades. A couple of them (Sam Worthington and Max Martini) appear to have severe psychological issues while Lizzie (Mireille Enos) is the team’s loose cannon, brazenly flaunting her drug habit and sexual promiscuity in the faces of her boss, her teammates and her husband (Worthington)

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During a raid on a cartel safehouse, Breacher and his team help themselves to $10 million of the cartel’s money and blow up the rest to cover their theft. They hide the $10 million but when they go to recover it, they’re pissed off beyond words to find it’s gone. In the meantime, the DEA has somehow found out about the stolen money. Breacher is put on a desk job and his team suspended pending an investigation. Six months later and with no concrete evidence tying them to the money, Breacher and his team are reinstated.

Turns out that isn’t a favor at all as a couple of team members are gruesomely killed and there’s only two possibilities: either the cartel is killing off Breacher’s team in revenge for stealing their money or it’s a team member who is killing his (or her) partners to keep all the money for themselves. Either way, Breacher’s stuck in the middle. Unable to trust his team or the DEA, he has to rely on the help of Investigator Caroline Brentwood (Olivia Williams) the homicide cop assigned to the case. But can Inspector Brentwood trust Breacher? Because during the course of her investigation she discovers that Breacher just may have more motivation than anybody else on his team to steal and kill for the money.

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By now you should have tumbled to the fact that Schwarzenegger isn’t playing his usual good guy. In fact, this may be the closest we’ll get to see him playing a bad guy as Breacher nor his team are likeable characters. In fact, they’re all really not much better than the criminals they go after. But that’s okay by me. I don’t need my characters to be likeable. As long as I understand their motivations for doing what they do, I’m cool.

The supporting cast in SABOTAGE is an unusually strong one for an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie and yet another sign that you’re not getting your usual Schwarzenegger Shoot-Em-Up. Terrence Howard and Josh Holloway are members of Breacher’s team while Harold Perrineau is a cop partnered with Brentwood and provides the movie with much needed comedy relief. Believe it or not, it’s Sam Worthington who walks off with the acting honors in this movie as well as Mireille Enos. Their characters are complicated enough to deserve a movie of their own. They’re married DEA agents who have long ago surrendered to corruption and spiritual degradation in the pursuit of justice. Mirelle Enos just about steals the movie from everybody in sight during the third act.

What else? Oh, the violence…seriously, this just may be the most violent movie Schwarzenegger has made and considering his track record, that’s really saying something. Director David Ayer is not interested in cartoon violence or the glorification of it. The violence in SABOTAGE is amazingly cruel, bloody and horrifically messy. And Schwarzenegger has got quite the potty mouth as well. I gave up counting after his twentieth F-bomb.

So should you see SABOTAGE? If you’re a longtime Arnold Schwarzenegger fan like me you probably already have. But if you haven’t, give it a chance. It’s not his usual action movie and has far more of a mystery thriller aspect than the trailers would lead you to think. I appreciate him always trying to expand the range of what he can do in films and I think that with movies like this and “Escape Plan” in which he also played a different kind of character than we’re used to seeing, he’s showing that Arnold Schwarzenegger still has a lot to offer us.

109 minutes

Rated R

 

The Grand Budapest Hotel

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2014

American Empirical Pictures/Fox Searchlight Studios

Directed by and Screenplay by Wes Anderson

Produced by Wes Anderson, Jeremy Dawson, Steve M. Rales and Scott Rudin

Story by Wes Anderson and Hugo Guiness

One of the main characters in THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL works in Mendl’s, a bakery that is renowned throughout the fictional European alpine country of Zubrowka. The confections that come out of Mendl’s are famous for not only tasting as if the angels themselves had baked them but they are also glorious works of art for the eye as well as for the tongue that one can spend hours just looking at, debating whether or not it’s too beautiful to be eaten.

That’s kind of an apt metaphor for this movie as well. Because THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL is like a very rich cake or dessert that looks absolutely amazing and goes down very sweetly. Like other Wes Anderson movies, this one is an ornate visual treat.  A Wes Anderson movie doesn’t look like anybody else’s movies and I am thankful for that. He uses practical effects in THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL such as miniatures, rear projection and matte painting. Right now some of you reading this are scratching your head and saying, “Why go through all that trouble? Why not just use CGI?” if so, then THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL in particular and Wes Anderson movies in general are not for you.

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The story of THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL is told in a flashback of a flashback and while that might sound confusing, it isn’t, trust me. We meet a Young Writer (Jude Law) in 1968 staying at the almost empty Grand Budapest Hotel. This once elegant establishment is slowly and stubbornly decaying beautifully. The Young Writer makes the acquaintance the hotel’s owner, Mr. Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham) who takes a liking to the Young Writer and over a long dinner tells him the story of how Mr. Moustafa came to own The Grand Budapest Hotel.

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We now go to the 1930’s where Mr. Moustafa worked as a lobby boy at the hotel. Zero (Tony Revolori) is taken under the wing of the hotel’s concierge, M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) who acts like a benevolent monarch to the staff and an extraordinarily capable servant to the guests. Especially the ladies. And most especially the ones who are old and rich. M. Gustave reserves very special services for them (and a few men as well, it’s implied)

The plot (such as it is) gets going when one of M. Gustave’s conquests, Madame D. (Tilda Swinton) dies under mysterious circumstances. In her will she has left M. Gustave a priceless Renaissance Painting. Gustave’s claim on the painting is put in jeopardy by accusations from Madame D.’s son Dmitri (Adrian Brody) that Gustave himself murdered Madame D. Gustave takes the painting and goes on the run with the faithful Zero by his side, determined to clear himself and restore his good name.

And that’s really all you need to know about the plot because Wes Anderson doesn’t seem very interested in it himself. As usual, the strength of a Wes Anderson movie is the visuals and the characters. And Ralph Fiennes is indeed quite the character. Ralph Fiennes without a doubt delivers the best performance in the movie. On one level the character is totally ridiculous, delighting in his own pomposity, given to reciting or making up poetry on the spot. But on the other he’s supremely devoted to his position and his respect for the tradition of The Grand Budapest Hotel that is both endearing and in its own way, quite noble.

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His chemistry with Toney Revolori is delightful and one of the pleasures of the movie is to watch the wonderful friendship that develops between Gustave and Zero. The movie is chock full of interesting, quirky characters played by many familiar faces from Wes Anderson’s usual repertory of actors who appear in his movies such as Willem Dafoe, who is blackly hilarious as a hit man, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman and Bob Balaban. But there’s a whole host of other actors who pop up in cameos that will give you a nice thrill when you see them.

How does this stack up with the other Wes Anderson movies I’ve seen? I wouldn’t put it on the same shelf as “The Fantastic Mr. Fox” “Moonrise Kingdom” or “The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou” all of which are my favorite Wes Anderson movies. But I do rate it way higher than pretentious pap like “The Royal Tenenbaums” and “The Darjeeling Limited”

It’s a luxurious and downright opulent movie that presents us with an entire world that has weight and depth and texture. I truly appreciate movies that don’t look like other movies and present stories a little bit skewed and makes me cock my head a bit to the side while watching it. THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL is well worth your time if you’re the type who likes your desserts just a little bit richer than is good for you. Enjoy.

Rated R

100 Minutes

Mr. Peabody & Sherman

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2014

DreamWorks Animation/Pacific Data Images/Bullwinkle Studios/20th Century Fox

Directed by Rob Minkoff

Produced by Alex Schwartz and Denise Nolan Cascino

Screenplay by Craig Wright

Based on “Peabody’s Improbable History” by Ted Key

There have been many time travel movies and TV shows I’ve enjoyed. “Doctor Who” “The Time Tunnel” “Voyagers!” “Back To The Future” “The Time Machine” “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” “Seven Days” “Life On Mars” “Time After Time” “Time Bandits” But my favorite time travelers are without a doubt MR. PEABODY & SHERMAN. I loved the “Rocky & Bullwinkle” show as a kid and the “Mr. Peabody’s Improbable History” episodes were a particular favorite of mine. Highly entertaining and educational, each episode would see Mr. Peabody and Sherman going back to some pivotal moment in history via The Wayback Machine, a time travel machine invented by the hyper-intelligent Mr. Peabody. The Wayback would transport Mr. Peabody and Sherman to Washington’s crossing the Delaware or Benjamin Franklin flying a kite attempting to discover electricity or Alexander Graham Bell about to make his first phone call. Something would always go wrong and it was up to Mr. Peabody with the capable assistance of Sherman to make sure that history played out the way it was supposed to. Every episode would always end with Mr. Peabody making some kind horrible pun that always was rewarded with a groan and face palm from Sherman.

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The full length movie MR. PEABODY & SHERMAN necessarily has to put a lot of meat on the bare bones of those short seven minute cartoons to fill out 90 minutes but thankfully it manages to stay true to the spirit of the characters and the premise. Mr. Peabody (Ty Burrell) is still a hyper-intelligent talking dog who wears glasses and a red bow tie. Mr. Peabody is a business tycoon, scientific genius, Presidential advisor, Nobel laureate, expert swordsdog, martial artist and gourmet chef. But he’s still lacking something in his life. Despite his accomplishments, he’s lonely. He finds an orphan baby named Sherman (Max Charles) and decided to adopt him, his argument being that if a boy can adopt a dog, why can’t a dog adopt a boy?

I though it charming that never once does MR. PEABODY & SHERMAN stop to explain why Mr. Peabody can talk, walk on his hind legs and is apparently the smartest being on the planet but it takes a considerable amount of time to clarify the relationship between him and Sherman and indeed, most of the movie explores their lives in a way that the animated episodes simply didn’t have time for. The plot kicks in when Sherman has to start attending public school. Naturally Sherman’s having been home schooled by Mr. Peabody for seven years and taking numerous trips into the past via The Wayback Machine has given him a distinct advantage over the other students and earns him the wrath of classmate Penny Peterson (Ariel Winter) Penny’s horrendous bullying of Sherman provokes him into biting her and calling into question Mr. Peabody’s fitness to parent a human boy.

Mr. Peabody invites the Petersons (Stephen Colbert and Leslie Mann) over for dinner along with Mrs. Grunion (Allison Janney) of the Children’s Services so that they can all resolve the situation amicably. Sherman is left to entertain Penny and once again he is provoked by her to the point where he takes her for a joyride in The Wayback Machine to impress her. This sets off a chain of increasingly wild and dangerous adventures in Ancient Egypt, The Trojan War and other periods of history that lead up to a disruption in the space time continuum and the possible destruction of time itself unless Mr. Peabody and Sherman can put time back the way it was.

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There are some minor changes to the original story of how Mr. Peabody and Sherman met but I didn’t mind as I understand where the screenplay was going with this and the movie emphasizes the relationship between dog and boy to go for an emotionally satisfying conclusion to compliment the last ditch effort to save the world ending and I didn’t mind because the final lines spoken by Mr. Peabody and Sherman to each other put a big grin on my face and any movie that does that is okay by me.

The characterization of Mr. Peabody is tweaked a bit here as he’s not as arrogant and condescending as he is in the cartoons. Sherman is still the same sweet kid he always was, totally devoted to his “dad” and living an incredibly extraordinary life with a level head and unshakable optimism. In fact, there’s only two times in the movie when he’s truly scared and worried and one of those times is when he thinks he’s going to be taken away from Mr. Peabody.

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But the character of Penny Peterson is highly distasteful. A sadistic, severely disturbed brat with a destructive streak as wide as the West Side Highway, she’s one of the creepiest characters I’ve ever seen in an animated movie. To give the screenplay credit, it doesn’t cop out by making Penny just another misunderstood kid who would change her ways if somebody just gave her a hug. Nah, this kid is The Bad Seed, trust me.

So should you see MR. PEABODY & SHERMAN? If you’re a fan of the original cartoons you should definitely enjoy it. And if you’ve never seen those cartoons, don’t let that stop you. The biggest change here is that The Wayback Machine is now an actual time machine Mr. Peabody & Sherman travel in instead of a doorway they simply step through but again, I understand why it was done and as I said earlier, as long as the spirit of the original is maintained, I’m along for the ride. And what a fun ride it is. Highly Recommended.

Rated PG

92 Minutes

300: Rise Of An Empire

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Warner Bros./Legendary Pictures

Directed by Noam Murro

Produced by Zack Snyder, Gianni Nunnari, Mark Canton, Deborah Snyder and Bernie Goldmann

Screenplay by Zack Snyder and Kurt Johnstad

Based on “Xerxes” an unpublished graphic novel by Frank Miller

The story goes that Warner Brothers executives, delighted with the open weekend box office numbers of “300” immediately wanted a sequel.  Apparently they hadn’t taken the time to watch their own movie. It’s taken them eight years to figure out how to do a sequel to that movie and to give the filmmakers credit, they haven’t simply reshuffled elements around from the first movie. There’s an honest effort here to give us new characters in a new situation but 300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE still didn’t give me that same feeling I had when I first saw “300”. I fell so much in love with that movie I wanted to marry it and take it home to meet my mother.

But that rush of adrenaline I got when I saw “300” came mainly from the visuals which were unlike anything I had seen before in movies. That’s because back in 2007 when”300” was released, the digital backlot technology/method of filming movies was still fresh and eye-popping. The only other movies I had seen using that technology were “Sin City” and “Sky Captain and The World of Tomorrow”. Since then we’ve had  “Speed Racer” “The Spirit” “Avatar” “Immortals” and half a dozen other movies utilizing digital backlot techniques. So my eyes have become accustomed to the look over the years. That’s not to say there aren’t some incredible visuals in 300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE. There are. It’s the story that doesn’t match the visuals.

300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE did intrigue me at the start in that this isn’t your ordinary sequel or prequel. It tells a story that tells of events taking place before, during and after “300” It starts off with Gorgo, Queen of Sparta (Lena Headey) narrating to an army of Spartan warriors the story of how the war between Persia and Greece began, throwing in the origin of the Persian god king Xerxes I (Rodrigo Santoro) as a bonus. We’re also introduced to Artemisia (Eva Green) who is quite literally the woman that made Xerxes the god king he is now. She’s also the commander of his 1000 ship fleet and the best thing about the movie. More on that later.

300-A-Ascensao-de-Um-Imperio-24Nov2013-15Themistocles of Athens (Sullivan Stapleton) is attempting to unite Greece’s squabbling city states in order to present a unified nation to fight Persia but has no luck. The politics of all this is murky at best and really just gets in the way of what the movie wants to do: get to the numerous blood-saturated CGI sea battles that are the real heart of the movie. And when I say blood-saturated, I mean it. When somebody gets slashed with a sword, that worthy just doesn’t bleed. A geyser of blood throws a sheet of blood all over the screen. There’s a nice scene where Themistocles goes to ask Queen Gorgo for Sparta’s help which from the dialog I guess takes place right after Leonidas (Gerard Butler in footage from “300 is seen here and there during the movie) has gone with his 300 to hold the Persians at The Hot Gates. Rebuffed by Queen Gorgo (which is a pretty mild way of putting it.) Themistocles determines to take his 200 ships and handful of desperate warriors and go meet the Persians at sea.

300-Rise-of-an-Empire-03jan2013-03And that’s about all the set-up you need in order to watch the movie. Everything after that is bloody carnage. Halfway through the movie ti seems to have forgotten that Queen Gorgo is supposed to be telling the story as we’re seeing events and hearing dialog that she couldn’t possibly know about. And you should be warned that the violence in 300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE is not the stylized, balletic action of “300” In this one it’s much more brutal and savage and I can’t remember the last movie where I’ve seen so many heads and limbs chopped off. In one scene Artemisia is carrying bunches of severed heads by the hair as if they were Pathmark shopping bags.

And that brings me to the best thing about the movie: Eva Green. Whenever she’s not on screen you’ll be eagerly waiting for her to come back because Artemisia is the best character in the movie. She’s far more intelligent, formidable, skilled and ambitious than anybody else and I’m willing to bet that like me, by the time you get to the halfway point you’ll be wondering why the whole movie wasn’t about her. She’s the kind of bad guy you secretly root for; the one that you hope ends up winning in the end. In fact, if 300: RISE ON AN EMPIRE had Artemisia and Queen Gorgo going at it, it would have been an immensely more interesting clash of characters as Sullivan Stapleton’s Themistocles is such a block of wood it’s excruciating. He spends most of the movie making speeches about honor and loyalty and loving your family and land that sound uncomfortably similar to the ones Leonidas made but Stapleton doesn’t even come close to the white hot energy Gerard Butler had. In fact, the only scene where Stapleton’s character comes alive is in a sex scene with Artemisia that turns into an attempted rape but we’re not really sure who’s raping who here.

300: BATTLE OF ARTEMESIUMSo should you see 300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE? If you saw and liked “300” this is pretty much more of the same, only at sea and far bloodier and violent. I’d say try and catch a matinee if you can so this way you won’t feel robbed. It’s got spectacular visuals and that equally spectacular Eva Green performance going for it in its favor so enjoy.

Rated R

102 Minutes