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Review: The Crazies


The Crazies still photo

Based on the 1973 George Romero movie by the same name, the 2010 version of The Crazies, adapted by screenwriters Ray Wright and Scott Kosar, strips away the social and political aspects that were rampant in the original. Nowadays moviegoers don't need much convincing to believe that the military could seize a town and cover up bioweapons. Director Breck Eisner seems to pride himself on using as little exposition as possible to keep the plot cruising along. The result is a rollercoaster ride, as building tensions keep viewers on the edge of their seats and then out of them when the insanity and horror takes over.

The basic plot of The Crazies remains: Residents of the small Iowan town of Ogden Marsh are suddenly plagued by insanity and death after their water supply is contaminated. When the town drunk Rory Hamill (Mike Hickman) shows up to a high school baseball game with a rifle, he's shot dead by local sheriff David Dutton (Tim Olyphant) when he fails to respond and drop his weapon. It's assumed that Rory was heavily intoxicated -- only he's been on the wagon for two years and his blood alcohol content confirms it. While Sheriff Dutton along with Deputy Russell Clark (Joe Anderson) tries to find an explanation for Rory's strange behavior and also investigate reports of a plane crash in the local creek, his wife Dr. Judy Dutton (Radha Mitchell) attempts unsuccessfully to identify what's wrong with another resident. The man is almost catatonic, and later that night he sets fire to his house after locking his wife and son in a closet.

Review: Valentine's Day


Valentine's Day

Being a single twentysomething gal sucks on Valentine's Day. Right? Because you spend the day wailing and whining, planning anti-Valentine's Day parties that no one RSVPs to, and scarfing down candy, since that candy is the closest thing to a soulmate you will find for the day. Or so the Garry Marshall-helmed Valentine's Day would have us believe, by having Jessica Biel's character do just this. Despite the ginormous cast, don't look for self-confident women in this film ... unless you count the all-too-brief appearances by Queen Latifah as a sports agent.

The main story -- what there is of it -- tends to focus on the plight of a confident, happy-go-lucky flowershop owner, Reed (Ashton Kutcher). Reed's best friend is an elementary-school teacher, Julia (played by a chipper-despite-all-odds Jennifer Garner). Both of them are dealing with their own relationship issues; it's Valentine's Day, after all -- at least that's what somebody seems to say every five minutes throughout the film. There are also various subplots: a football player (Eric Dane) making a big life decision, an army captain (Julia Roberts) flying home to see a loved one after 11 months overseas, a little boy trying to express his love for his valentine, an office temp/phone sex worker (Anne Hathaway) dealing with the possibility of a new relationship, an older couple (Shirley MacLaine and Hector Elizondo) taking care of their grandson, and more!

Review: The Wolfman


The Wolfman

When I was a kid, every Saturday afternoon I loved watching classic horror films -- the Hammer Horror films of the late '50s and early '60s, including repertoire actors Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, and Roger Corman and American International Pictures pulp flicks with Vincent Price. The predecessors that paved the way were the Universal Pictures horror films of the 1940s, most memorably The Wolf Man featuring Bela Lugosi and Lon Chaney, Jr.  Dark and suspenseful, full of beasts and gypsies, the original Wolf Man identified many concepts about werewolves that extended beyond traditional folklore.

Directed by Joe Johnston (Jumanji, The Rocketeer), the 2010 version of The Wolfman embraces many of these concepts -- silver bullets, power of the full moon -- in what I'd hoped would be a true homage to the classic. The script written by Andrew Kevin Walker and David Self contains threads of the 1941 screenplay, but with a few added twists for this modern large-scale version.

Review: Dear John


Dear John

Dear John is a romantic drama directed by Oscar nominee Lasse Hallstrom (Cider House Rules, My Life as a Dog) and based on the bestseller by Nicholas Sparks, best known for The Notebook. Screenwriter Jamie Linden (We Are Marshall) collaborated with Hallstrom to adapt Sparks' story of a quiet young soldier who falls for an idealistic college girl.

The story begins during spring break in 2000, when Savannah Curtis (Amanda Seyfried) meets John Tyree (Channing Tatum) while staying at her parents' beach house. John is home on leave from Army duty with Special Ops to visit his coin-collecting obsessed father (Richard Jenkins). It's love at first sight for Savannah and John, who spend two weeks together before the lovers are parted as he returns to duty. They continue their romance through letters exchanged as she makes her way through college and he fulfills his tour of duty in Africa and the Middle East. Just as John prepares to return home 9/11 occurs, and he chooses to join his outfit in extending his enlistment. His choice of duty over love adversely impacts their relationship, and Savannah makes decisions that change the course of both their lives.

Review: When in Rome


When in Rome

Please welcome guest reviewer Elizabeth Stoddard to Slackerwood.

Sometimes trailers work as they should; they give you a taste of a film and leave you wanting more. Others give the movie away in a 60-second spot, usually inspiring the thought, "Why should I pay to see the film when I just saw the whole plot?" Then there's When in Rome, for which the trailer shows the weaker points of the film and makes the movie look awful. Please don't judge When in Rome by its lousy trailer!

In the film, Kristen Bell plays Beth, the youngest curator at the Guggenheim Museum (which means there are some great shots at the Guggenheim). Beth is super-dedicated to her work, we're told, but this movie isn't really about that. It's not about her younger sister's quick marriage to a man she's only known two weeks. It's also not really about her relationship with her mother (Peggy Lipton) or womanizing father (Don Johnson). The movie instead focuses on the very fantastical idea that Beth's picking up people's coins from a beloved (fictional) Roman fountain after her sister's wedding would make them fall in love with her.

Review: Edge of Darkness


Edge of Darkness

After a self-imposed seven-year hiatus, Mel Gibson returns to the screen as the lead in the thriller Edge of Darkness. The film's screenplay was written by William Monahan (Body of Lies, Kingdom of Heaven) and Andrew Bovell (Strictly Ballroom), but the real backbone of the plot comes from the BBC miniseries written by the late Troy Kennedy-Martin, who is best known for war classic Kelly's Heroes (1970) and The Italian Job (1969 and 2003 remake).

Boston homicide detective Thomas Craven (Gibson) should have seen enough violence and bloodshed to be desensitized after so many years on the force. When his 24-year-old daughter Emma (Bojana Novakovic) is gunned down on the front steps of his house, the impact is devastating -- not only because Craven has lost his only child, but apparently he was the intended target. However, while trying to identify who would have wanted him dead, he discovers that he knows very little about his daughter. Why was she violently ill before her death, and carrying a gun for protection? He begans to uncover evidence that his daughter was more than just a "glorified intern." As a nuclear research assistant for military contractor Northmoor, she'd stumbled onto something sensitive enough to national security to have her flagged as a potential terrorist.

DVD Review: Martial-Arts Double Feature with 'Wushu' and 'Fireball'


WushuCould I possibly have picked two martial arts films further apart on the ratings scale than Wushu and Fireball? On one end of the spectrum is the first "family" martial-arts film I've ever seen that wasn't American in origin, and on the other end is pure martial-arts porn, in which whatever plot is present serves to string hard-core brutal action sequences together. Both films are now available on DVD from Lionsgate Films.

Jackie Chan Presents Wushu

As executive producer of Wushu, martial-arts legend Jackie Chan introduces a new generation of talented martial artists in such a way that this film will please fans young and old. Antony Szeto -- known for his animated fantasy film Dragonblade -- directed Wushu and also choreographed all the stunts.

Talented and seasoned actor Sammo Hung Kam-Bo (Kung Fu Hustle, The Medallion) supports the young cast as Li Hui, father to brothers Li Yi (Wenjie Wang) and Li Er (Fei Wang). Szeto discovered Wenjie Wang at Sonjiang Wushu College, which is where Wushu was later filmed.

Review: The Book of Eli


The Book of Eli

My favorite subgenre of science fiction is dystopian tales, including Children of Men, Fahrenheit 451, and Mad Max. Therefore I was intrigued by The Book of Eli, a post-apocalyptic tale of a lone traveler making his way across the wasteland of America. This man carries with him a sacred book that has the power to change the world -- but will that power be used for good or not?

The future painted in The Book of Eli by the Hughes brothers is a sepia-toned brutal one, hot and dusty with little protection from the elements and murderous hijackers and marauders. Eli (Denzel Washington) has been traveling for 30 years, and remembers the time before "The Big Flash" and the war, when people threw away items that are now killed for. He can't remember how old he is but can read, while younger generations are illiterate and desperate. Food and water are scarce, and many survivors have resorted to cannibalism. Eli is well-armed and extremely skilled with his weapons, but his senses are his real survival tools.

Review: Broken Embraces


A famous director known by his alias. A strange stranger. A mystery from the past. An Almodóvar film. Things are going to get complicated.

Broken Embraces (Los abrazos rotos) is Spanish auteur Pedro Almodóvar's latest romantic thriller, starring his muse Penelope Cruz as the beauty cast in a film and a victim of circumstance. A famous director going by the name Harry Caine, now blind and in seclusion, is approached by an unnerving stranger shortly after a man of some importance passes away. When Harry realizes who the stranger is, secrets start to unravel.

Review: Crazy Heart


Jeff Bridges and Maggie Gyllenhaal

Writer/director Scott Cooper brings Thomas Cobb's minimalistic novel about an alcoholic country singer to the screen in Crazy Heart. Jeff Bridges unabashedly takes on the role of Bad Blake, a washed-up, hard-living country musician who's had more wives than he can remember ... plus even more one-night stands and an endless amount of whiskey and cigarettes to punish his body.

To make matters worse, his protege Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrell) is at the top of his career, playing tunes written for him by Blake. It isn't until Bad meets journalist Jean Craddock (Maggie Gyllenhaal) that he begins to turn his life around. Unfortunately it's too little too late, after his hard boozin' wreaks havoc on his relationship with Jean and her four-year-old son. Is there redemption for Bad?

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