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DVD Review: The Great Waldo Pepper


Great Waldo Pepper DVDDoes The Great Waldo Pepper deserve to be called a classic? Released in 1975, the saga of post-WWI barnstorming aviators has long polarized critics. Some have hailed the film as a great but often underrated character study and portrait of life in 1920s America, while others have dismissed it as one of Robert Redford's lesser efforts, a lightweight action film that offers little more than amazing aerial stunts.

With this week's re-release of The Great Waldo Pepper on DVD, the debate continues. Once again, critics and film fans can argue whether the film is a true classic or just another old movie about airplanes.

The Great Waldo Pepper opens in 1926 Kansas, where the titular character (played by Redford at the height of his career) earns a meager living as a barnstorming pilot. Waldo spends his days flying from one tiny Kansas town to the next, performing aerobatic stunts and offering rides to anyone brave enough to fly in his rickety surplus WWI biplane. Faced with dwindling crowds (airplanes no longer are novelties by this time), Waldo hopes to stay in business by teaming up with fellow barnstormer and occasional nemesis Axel Olsson (Bo Svenson). Along with Axel's girlfriend, Mary Beth (Susan Sarandon), the two join a flying circus owned by a gruff huckster named Dillhoefer (Philip Bruns).

While testing his own piloting skills in the flying circus, Waldo also seeks to top his barnstorming idol, German WWI ace Ernst Kessler (Bo Brundin), an elusive figure whose wartime exploits and aerobatic feats are the stuff of legend.

Of course, barnstorming is an exceedingly dangerous line of work, and Dillhoefer's pilots routinely cross the line between awe-inspiring bravery and complete foolishness. After two tragic events ground the aerial circus, Waldo and Axel head for Hollywood, hoping to find new careers that will satisfy their thrillseeking addictions and lust for stardom.

Review: Middle Men


Middle Men

I rarely think of myself as a techie geek -- I don't feel knowledgable enough about programming to quality. I'm not normally an early adopter. I don't have Linux installed on any of my computers ... okay, except for the household media computer and my husband did that. The point is, I'm as surprised as anyone that I felt Middle Men didn't deliver enough techie storyline, instead relying on mundane plot elements like kidnapping, wild Vegas escapades, drug-addled geniuses and Mob-owned strip clubs. Maybe the trailer was trying to invoke the same vibe as The Social Network to draw in the geeks, who might be fascinated by a story of bizarre Internet success based on real life ... but I felt misled and disappointed.

Middle Men is about a trio of gentlemen who more or less accidentally jump-start the online porn industry in the late 1990s by creating billing services for websites. Wayne (Giovanni Ribisi) and Buck (Gabriel Macht) stumble upon the idea late one night, Buck bangs out some code, and the money starts rolling in at a surprising rate. But they handle everything terribly, and eventually Jack Harris (Luke Wilson), a guy from Houston who helps people negotiate and fix things, straightens out their biggest difficulties and sees the potential for a multimillion dollar business. Unfortunately, Buck and Wayne still drag trouble behind them wherever they go, and in the meantime, Jack feels torn between his family living in Houston and his new Los Angeles lifestyle.

Review: Step Up 3D


Rotten Tomatoes. These kids are stepping it up.

If you've seen any of the Step Up movies, you might expect that Step Up 3D would showcase some great dancing (in 3D!) and also have some semblance of a plot. And it does! But it is carried out in a less than cohesive manner with some very lackluster acting.

The plot, as I understood it, is focused on two guys, "filmmaker" Luke (Rick Malambri) and NYU freshman Moose (Adam G. Sevani), as well as their respective love interests, Natalie (Sharni Vinson) and Camille (Alyson Stoner, also in the original Step Up). Luke owns a building, left to him by his parents, called The Vault. Here he fosters a dance group and runs a club on the floor below. He is having financial problems (of course) and is in danger of losing his building. He sees Moose dance in the park and invites him to join his dance crew, the Pirates. He tells Moose that he is BFAB: "born from a boombox" (more about this is in the documentary-style opening to the film). If Moose joins their dance team, they will surely win the World Jam dance contest and the $100,000 prize, which will save the farm -- err, I mean warehouse building.

Review: The Other Guys


Imagine some comedy geeks playing a drinking game while conjuring the most ridiculous cop movie ever. Then have one of them with no sense of subtlety whatsoever write it up with more expositive outbursts than any one film should ever have. And then have everyone in the film take every possible joke too far. The result is The Other Guys.

The movie's premise is that there are superstar cops, and then there are The Other Guys. You know, the ones who just can't make the grade. It's a promising premise until it gets overloaded with bad jokes and caricatures, and The Other Guys doesn't let up from scene one, with a preposterous chase and arrest worthy of a Die Hard spoof. Every joke is repeated ad nauseum, not once or twice, but over and over, each rendition more painful than the last, and very few of them were funny. In fact, this reviewer only laughed twice, and had more fun watching other reviewers mimic her flabbergasted expressions.

Review: The Disappearance of Alice Creed


For the first ten minutes or so of The Disappearance of Alice Creed sets an unsettling tone as two industrious men silently and meticulously complete increasingly unnerving DIY work on a van and an apartment.

Fraught with sinister possibilities, the twisty plot reveals itself in fits and starts in The Disappearance of Alice Creed. Two men (Eddie Marsan and Martin Compston) kidnap a young woman (Gemma Arterton) for ransom, and as in most thrillers, things are not as they initially appear. Very little is revealed before Alice's abduction, and very little exposition is used, allowing the story to reveal itself almost at the pace Alice learns about her captors and their intentions.

The nearly overwhelming ambition of writer/director J. Blakeson's script could easily have taken a darker, exploitive path with titillating abuse of the victim, but only toys with those conventions. Instead, the focus is on the relationships of the three characters and how they evolve over the course of the 100 minutes of the film. Unfortunately, Blakeson's direction lacks the subtlety necessary to build and deliver on the initial riveting attention. Over and over the audience ended up laughing at sudden reveals that belied the artistry of the opening sequence.

Review: Flipped


Flipped is Hollywood's latest attempt to mine the nostalgic gold found in coming-of-age stories set in the mythical golden age of the mid-20th century.

Adapted from Wendelin Van Draanen's "young readers" novel, Flipped is the story of Bryce, a boy who moves across the street from Juli, who seems to have an asphyxiating crush on the new kid in town. Over a five-year period the story flips between both points of view. A twist on "he said/she said" -- or in this case, "he thought/she thought" -- the plot unfolds as their relationship evolves and everything is seen from two skewed perspectives.

Flipped is as much a story of two very different families as it is about a boy and a girl. Despite living across the street from each other, the sensation of class divide is reinforced. Bryce's father clearly values appearances and the importance of reputation, while Juli's father is comfortably blue collar, with a hint of artist -- his landscapes sell well at the county fair according to rumor. As the two children reach pubescence the differences between their lifestyles comes to a head.

Review: Charlie St. Cloud


Charlie St. Cloud

I'll confess that I'm a sucker for sentimental supernatural film and television. Despite its cheesiness, I'll watch Ghost and Ghost Whisperer anytime I come across them while surfing the television channels. I loved the plot twists of What Dreams May Come, The Others and The Sixth Sense, but give me a hanky for the tearful moments. It's the more profound question of the afterlife and redemption that I find mystifying and often comforting in my morose moments of recognition of mortality. Charlie St. Cloud attempts to extract similar sentimentality from its viewers. Based on Ben Sherwood's 2004 novel The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud, this film directed by Burr Steers (17 Again) paints an ethereal portrait of loved ones amongst golden sunsets and raging storms.

Charlie (Zac Efron), is clearly a young man from the wrong side of the tracks. His mother (Kim Basinger) works double shifts to support him and his annoying and devoted brother Sam. Fortunately for Charlie, his good grades and sailing prowess have secured him a sailing scholarship at Stanford. On graduation day, the future couldn't be brighter for Charlie. He promises Sam that he'll play catch with him every day at sunset until Charlie leaves for school in the fall. However, a bad decision leaves both brothers dead in a car accident -- until Charlie is brought back to life by a dedicated paramedic (Ray Liotta).

Review: Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore


Cats and Dogs 2

Slackerwood editor Jette Kernion was very surprised when I offered to review Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore. While I'm an open-minded film fan whose cinematic tastes include everything from local mumblecore to classic exploitation to the occasional Hollywood blockbuster, I'm not really into kid-oriented talking animal movies. And I'm totally not into watching kid-oriented movies in theaters full of, uh, actual kids. (I like kids, except when they're being disruptive during movies. Okay -- disruptive anywhere.)

But as I told Jette, sometimes a critic needs a challenge. It's easy to review a hipster-darling indie in which Catherine Keener frets about her life choices; it's far more difficult, however, to write insightful commentary about a film in which anthropomorphic dogs discuss butt sniffing. So, to test my critical skills -- and my patience -- I braved a preview screening of Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore, a sequel to 2001's Cats & Dogs with a few carryover characters.

I could have done without the theater full of restless, yammering young'uns. But I must admit the movie (opening today in wide release) surprised me, in that it isn't bad. Really, it's mostly good. You and your young'uns could do a lot worse at your local multiplex.

Review: Salt


Angelina Jolie in Salt

I was expecting Salt to be like a female version of the Bourne films, and it is as engaging as the best of that series. But unlike Jason Bourne, with Evelyn Salt (Angelina Jolie), we're never quite sure what her agenda is -- although we're still quite eager to follow her on her escapades.

The movie starts off with our heroine/anti-heroine being traded for another spy (sounds familiar, right?) after she was captured in North Korea and her German arachnologist boyfriend Mike (August Diehl) worked for her release (unaware at this point that she works for the CIA). Two years later, Mike and Evelyn are living in Washington, DC, married, and about to celebrate their anniversary when Salt is asked to interview a Russian spy who has turned himself in to the CIA.

This spy, Orlov (Daniel Olbrychski), spins a tale about a Russian program in the 1970s that indoctrinated children and raised them to speak English as well as Russian ... and he tells of a certain double-agent brought up in the program who will soon kill the Russian president: Evelyn Salt. Salt starts fretting that her CIA partner Ted Winter (Liev Schreiber) and counter-intelligence agent Peabody (Chiwetel Ejiofor) will believe Orlov and so she escapes. Thus the action begins!

Review: The Kids Are All Right


The Kids Are All Right

Last Wednesday evening, I attended a packed screening of The Kids Are All Right at the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar; the theater was so full that even though I was there early my friend and I had to sit in folding chairs. I was hungry, but felt too unsettled to order anything (and since I wasn't near a table, I couldn't imagine how I would eat and take notes at the same time). Then the movie started, and I forgot my own problems and got caught up in the story of the family in the film.

Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore) are a married Californian couple with two teenage kids: recent high school graduate Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and 15-year-old Laser (Josh Hutcherson). The kids love their moms, but since Joni is 18, Laser asks her to find out about their sperm donor. Thus, Mark Ruffalo enters the picture as Paul, a organic/local restauranteur (his place is called WYSIWYG, get it?) in his early forties and their biological father.

Paul becomes involved with both the kids and their moms in varying ways. Jules and Joni bloom under his attentions, and even Laser takes his advice (finally) regarding his doofus friend Clay (Eddie Hassell), the kind of guy who would want to pee on a dog's head. Yes, this film goes there! Well, almost.

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