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2010

Chico & Rita (2010) – Review

4 Stars

Chico & Rita is a dazzling adult animated film; filled with such rich detail of character, time, place and music that it transcends the genre. This isn’t the twisted work of Ralph Bakshi or Anime pandering to fanboys, but a full-blooded love-story set inside the frame-work of a musical that transpires over the course of five harsh decades. This a fantastic film that deserves adulation for its endless visual creativity and intelligent writing, to the exceptional music performed by Cuban legend Bebo Valdés.

Chico is a womanizing piano player, looking for the right female vocalist to front a duo. One night in a club in Havana he meets Rita, a beautiful woman with the right look and sound. Chico is infatuated and relentlessly purses Rita, eventually romancing her and thus convincing the talented singer to partner up in the quest of getting from Cuba to New York, with the likes of Tito Puente and Chano Pozo. Before long the love affair goes south and threatens the newly formed union on a personal and professional level.

In a moment of weakness Rita is signed by a rival talent agency that sends her to America and leaves Chico without an act. In the States, Rita rises to the top of the musical world and is even headlining movies, something that is not lost on Chico, who catches a screening while touring with Dizzy Gillespie in Europe. The competing success of both parties and years of hardened emotions leads to a number of bitter and serendipitous encounters.

Would this story have the same impact if it had been filmed live-action? I don’t believe so. Firstly, the period production detail would have been far too costly to recreate, whereas the animation allows the artists to imagine virtually any environment or landscape to accommodate the evolving story. Chico & Rita is a nearly flawless movie with only a few lapses in narrative momentum, but the startling weight of the story and splendor of the visual style add aesthetic beauty to a heart-breaking show-biz love story.

Director:Fernando Trueba, Javier Mariscal

Max Schmeling: Fist of the Reich (2010) – Review

3 1/2 Stars

Max Schemling: Fist of the Reich is the astonishingly entertaining, surefooted and mature production from much maligned genre director Uwe Boll, who attempts to bring cinematic due to one of his country’s biggest sporting icons. Starring the immensely charismatic and likable Henry Maske, a former professional boxer who is ideally cast in the title role. Maske looks like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Richard Nixon’s imposing offspring. While Schmeling’s peers like James J. Braddock and Jake La Mota have been given the big-screen treatment from OSCAR winning filmmakers, Fist of the Reich is not in the same class but it does tell a memorable tale of a remarkable man living in turbulent times abroad.
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Tucker and Dale vs Evil (2010) – Review

3 1/2 Stars

Tucker and Dale are two rednecks on vacation at their remote cabin. They run into a group of college kids along the way. When Dale approaches the beautiful Allison the kids only see the backwoods stereotype and leave in a frightened huff. Soon the two arrive at their newly bought cabin though, and their spirits are lifted. They own their own vacation home, even if it is just a dilapidated old cabin that may have once been home to a voodoo priest. Not far off the college kids stop to camp. They decide to go skinny dipping in a nearby lake where Tucker and Dale happen to be fishing. Allison climbs up on a rock and notices Tucker and Dale out on the lake in their boat. It spooks her and she falls, cracking her head against the rock and knocking herself out. The duo race to Allison’s rescue, but once again accidentally scare off the rest of the kids. They now believe that Tucker and Dale are after them, and formulate a plan to save their friend and rid the world of the redneck evil that lurks in the cabin. Of course Tucker and Dale are anything but evil, and Allison soon realizes that. But the other kids won’t listen, and soon the cabin is surrounded in a bloodbath of comedy as the kids accidentally off themselves instead of their intended targets. Who will survive? Will Tucker and Dale be heroes? Can a city girl like Allison fall for a country bumpkin like Dale? All these questions and more are answered in Tucker and Dale vs Evil.
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The Striking Truth (2010) – Review

3 Stars

The Striking Truth is somewhere between HBO’s 24/7 series and MTV Cribs. It is a handsomely shot film with aspirations to showcase two of the most popular Canadian MMA fighters of all time, Ultimate Fighting Champion Georges St-Pierre and dynamic MMA fighter David “The Crow” Loiseau. Those unfamiliar with the background story of these two warriors will find a lot of insightful moments, mixed with footage of ST-Pierre’s early fights on the local circuit. The legions of rapid fans that support these fighters and the sport in general, may find themselves bored. Particularly because the documentary was not authorized to include footage of UFC bouts. Leaving the curious viewer wondering what exactly went wrong (in some cases) or yearning to see the moment of victory.
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Alien Opponent (2010) – Review

2 Stars

Alien Opponent‘s plot is basically summed up in its title. An alien crash-lands in a junkyard and the owners offer a cash reward to whoever can rid them of this pest. Unfortunately what should be an easy home run is overcomplicated by the human characters and story lines that have little to no payoff. Alien Opponent is a little too “indie”, with its odd character assortment and strange alien tech, when it should have been more action oriented and a tad more serious. The tone and look reminded me of a lesser Death Machine (Stephen Norrington’s 1994 directorial debut) minus the charm of those early low budget 90′s action flicks.
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Tomorrow, When the War Began (2010) – Review

3 1/2 Stars

Tomorrow, When the War Began is a taut, exciting thriller from director/writer Stuart Beattie, based on a novel of the same name. The movie was filmed back in 2010 and is just now receiving a direct-to-DVD release. Do not let that misnomer fool potential viewers, this is an above average production that deserves to be seen. The story takes place in a small Australian town, and centers on a group of seven teenagers. While the teens are away deep in the outback on a camping trip, they witness a horde of jet fighter planes roaring over-head. The kids take little notice and presume the armada is a military training exercise. When they return to desolate homes, it becomes apparent that a foreign army has occupied their country. This leads to a cat and mouse game between the witty teens and the soldiers patrolling for stragglers.
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The Killing Machine (2010) – Review

3 Stars

In The Killing Machine, Dolph Lundgren is an ex KGB agent, now living in the United States and working as a hit-man, for the Russian mafia. The veteran assassin is contemplating retirement, when he is forced into taking one last assignment. Things go awry and suddenly Lundgren finds himself the target for a group of skilled mercenaries. The Killing Machine (a.k.a. Icarus) is a stylish action thriller that attempts to add an element of film noir mixed in with its Bourne-like story. The result is a mixed bag, with a handful of good scenes but not much originality.
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Hunt to Kill (2010) – Review

2 1/2 Stars

Hunt to Kill begins like Cliffhanger and ends like First Blood, and in today’s B-movie offerings, that’s ingenuity. Typically these flicks only rip-off one blockbuster. Instead of Sly Stallone we have Steve Austin as a border patrol agent, a man still traumatized over of the death of his partner. He is also a loving father to a hormonal teenage daughter. She’s the kind of obnoxious (albeit beautiful) character that is perpetually snooty even while being pistol whipped by bad guys. Hunt to Kill is something of a novelty in that it features no less than three cast members from The Expendables. It comes as no surprise then that the highlight of the film is an extended hand-to-hand fight scene between Austin and Gary Daniels. For fans of either man, that sequence alone makes this required viewing.
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Operation: Endgame (2010) – Review

3 Stars

A man shows up for his first day on the job as a government spy and is taken into a deep underground bunker known as The Factory. Within its walls are housed government documents on everything the Bush administration has done that are guarded by two teams of operatives overseen by The Devil. During the Obama inauguration The Devil is assassinated, the fortress goes into lock-down and sets to self destruct. Now he must find the killer and stop the countdown, or die trying. Given the operative name The Fool (everyone’s named after Tarot cards) the teams begin picking each other off one by one as they search for a way out. Explosions, blood and laughs ensue.
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Abelar: Tales of an Ancient Empire (2010) – Review

1 Star

Albert Pyun’s Tales of an Ancient Empire is the biggest cinematic letdown of this young year and I fear it will end up on my worst of list next December. Not familiar with Pyun’s work? I’ll bet you’ve seen at least one of his movies on cable sometime during the last thirty years. Pyun’s biggest hits include Cyborg, Nemesis, and The Sword and the Sorcerer. If those titles don’t ring a bell than surely the names Charlie Sheen, Jean Claude Van Damme, Steven Seagal, Rutger Hauer and Christopher Lambert are recognizable. These are just a handful of big names Pyun has worked with in the course of a career spanning three decades. Seemingly every actor ever assembled for a Pyun film makes an appearance in Tales of an Ancient Empire, the reported semi-sequel to The Sword and the Sorcerer.
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Rage (2010) – Review

3 Stars

Rage opens in a nice quiet suburban neighborhood. Dennis Twist says goodbye to his wife as he heads into town. Aside from breaking up with his mistress the day is relatively normal and relaxed. That is until a motorcyclist targets Dennis for unknown reasons. The situation continues to escalate with each run in as Dennis’ very survival becomes questionable. Unable to go to the police, as it would out his affair to his wife, Dennis tries to lose the tail. Who is this helmeted pursuer? His ex-girlfriend’s boyfriend? How far will this concealed maniac’s rage drive him?
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Batman: Under the Red Hood (2010) – Review

3 1/2 Stars

Recently I reviewed the new release Batman: Year One and praised its handsome animation techniques and efficient adult level storytelling, in short I proclaimed it the best feature to ever come out of the DC Comics studio. My colleague Trevor Anderson urged me to take a look at Batman: Under the Red Hood before I made such a bold proclamation. So I did and he was correct in the recommendation. If Year One played in the similar territory established by the Nolan directed Batman films, than Under the Red Hood is inspired by the darkness of Burton’s take on the character and the wall to wall action and abundance of villains from the Schumacher chapters.
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Last Kung Fu Monk (2010) – Review

3 Stars

Movie over Jet Li, look out Steven Seagal, watch your back Van Damme there’s a new action hero in town and his name is Li Zhang. I love this guy. Zhang carries the physical build of a rollypolly bug, mixed with delicate features that give his face a constant sad frown. He slightly resembles a living Pixar creation, albeit one who is capable of double back-flips and helicopter kicks. I’ve seen the future of B grade Kung Fu films and its name is Li Zhang.
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Boy Wonder (2010) – Review

2 1/2 Stars

Boy Wonder is another film in the line of Kick-Ass and Super in which the lead character moonlights as a wanna-be super hero. Sean Donovan (Caleb Steinmeyer) witnessed the brutal murder of his mother at a very young age. He’s grown up obsessed with finding her killer. A straight A student by day, and a hooded crime fighter at night, Sean finds himself closing in on the murderer as his two worlds collapse around him. His once abusive alcoholic father (Bill Sage) is the only family Sean knows, and the memories of drunken fights and bruises continue to push Sean closer to the edge. As he blurs the lines between hero and vigilante taking out the city’s lowlives, a detective (Zulay Henao) begins to close in on him. Who decides what’s right and wrong in a world where evil goes unpunished?
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The River Why (2010) – Review

2 Stars

In The River Why, recent high school graduate Gus (Zach Gilford) decides that city life isn’t for him. He packs up and leaves his family, opting to live in the mountains near the streams that he’s fished in all his life. His parents (William Hurt and Kathleen Quinlan) swear by their fishing poles, and for Gus, it’s the only thing that makes sense. He survives by selling his catches and occupying a rundown cabin. One day he happens on Eddy (Amber Heard), a young beauty swimming nude and fishing in the river. A spark flies, but Eddy disappears into the wilderness without a trace. Gus is featured in a newspaper column about fly fishing after teaching the writer a thing or two about fishing. He becomes a small celebrity and starts selling his own flies and giving out lessons. He calls Eddy out in the column, and she comes back into his life. Will Gus find what he’s looking for in the wild?
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