Friday, September 10, 2010

'Get Low' Movie Review

Title: Get Low

Starring: Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek, Bill Murray, Lucas Black, Gerald McRaney and Bill Cobbs.

Much like the true story it’s loosely based on, the new Sony Pictures Classic low budget movie ‘Get Low’ started off as a reclusive tale before building up momentum and attention. Quietly getting praised by some when it premiered last September at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), first time movie director Aaron Schneider’s extremely limited release was like main character Felix Bush (played by Robert Duvall)-a hermit, only playing in four theaters across America during the second half of the summer.

But as the first anniversary of its premiere at TIFF grew near, praise of Duvall’s performance in part garnered a deserved expansion of ‘Get Low’ into more theaters nationwide. Duvall seemed to understand the need for Felix to get away from the society that shunned him, therefore living deep in the woods of Roane County, Tennessee for forty years. The movie follows Felix’s life in 1938, when he shows up at Quinn Funeral Home and asks owner Frank Quinn (portrayed by Bill Murray) for a living funeral. Felix wants town members to come to the funeral and tell stories they’ve heard about him.

But once Felix gets reacquainted with former love Mattie Darrow (played by Sissy Spacek), and gets to know Frank’s salesman, Buddy Robinson (portrayed by Lucas Black), he changes his mind about the funeral. He instead considers setting the record about his life straight himself, so people understand him better.

‘Get Low’ deserves credit for wanting to touch on the unique subject of wanting to clear your name and make peace with yourself and your neighbors before you die. However, the script, co-written by first-time screenwriter Chris Provenzano and C. Gaby Mitchell, touches on several different subjects, but it still feels as though it lacks true resolution and substance in the end. Provenzano, who rose to fame writing episodes for such shows as ‘Mad Men’ and ‘Justified,’ didn’t seem to be able break away from the more simplified television structure.

For example, Frank and Buddy hold money in a casket for Felix he’s receiving in the mail for a raffle at his funeral party. One day when Buddy is adding more money to the casket, someone breaks into the funeral home and hits him over the head. No reason is really given why, and the subject is never brought up again.

Also, for the majority of the script, the town is constantly talking about the stories and rumors they heard about Felix, but they are never fully explained. While Schneider may have personally done this to get the audience to understand how Frank and Buddy are feeling towards Felix, questioning what exactly he’s done to the town, the exact rumors are never really addressed.

While Duvall indeed deserves credit for perfecting the life of a hermit, and Murray should get credit from switching from his usual genre of comedy to drama, Black was the stand-out star of ‘Get Low.’ Having previously risen to fame in the teen action movie ‘The Fast and The Furious: Tokyo Drift,’ Black switched gears to show he’s maturing as an actor. He shows Buddy wants to live morally and do right by his wife and child, while adequately serving the town during their times of need.

Schneider, who previously won an Academy Award in 2004 for Best Short Subject for his 40-minute movie ‘Two Soldiers,’ will undoubtedly receive recognition again for ‘Get Low.’ The Academy loves to honor films that showcase the dramatic transformation of a character and the resolution of internal conflict, which is what ‘Get Low’ is all about.

Written by: Karen Benardello

Thursday, September 9, 2010

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'The Yellow Handkerchief' Movie Review

'The Yellow Handkerchief' Movie Review

Will ‘The Yellow Handkerchief’ Receive Recognition it Deserves?

Kristen Stewart’s New Limited Release Excellent, But No Chance of Reaching ‘New Moon’ and ‘The Runaways’ Status

Written by: Karen Benardello

‘The Yellow Handkerchief,’ the romantic drama that features several big name actors, is the latest independent movie to be overlooked by both the American audience and big name studios. Since the underrated film is set against the backdrop of a ravaged Louisiana during the initial post-Hurricane Katrina period, it unfairly received a limited release by distributor Samuel Goldwyn Films. Having premiered at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival and financed by four European private investors, ‘The Yellow Handkerchief,’ which stars William Hurt, Maria Bello and Kristen Stewart, was released February 26, 2010, three years after filming took place.

The movie, which is loosely based on a short story by Pete Hamill, was directed by Udayan Prasad, and is one of his more famous works. The story follows ex-convict Brett Hanson, played by Hurt, after he is released from serving a six-year sentence. He meets teenagers Martine, played by Stewart, who has just runaway from her family, and Gordy, played by Eddie Redmayne, an outcast trying to gain acceptance. The two teens offer to give Brett a ride home to see his ex-wife May, played by Bello. Along the way, the audience discovers their relationships parallel the devastation left by the hurricane, as it’s their nature to destruct everything around them. Brett is left to wonder if he should reconcile with May, Martine struggles with her deteriorating relationship with her family and Gordy has to overcome Martine’s constant rejections.

‘The Yellow Handkerchief’ could have easily been released after its Sundance premiere to provide emotional support to the disaster-stricken state. Not only did it provide some much needed jobs to Louisiana residents when it was filmed there in early 2007 in a reported 43 locations, including Morgan City and New Orleans, it also shows how people are coping with the disaster. Even with several big name stars, the movie isn’t a big budget blockbuster fantasy movie; it shows how Louisianans are struggling with their lives, but are moving on after the hurricane.

Samuel Goldwyn Films also could have capitalized earlier on Stewart’s growing popularity and fame. After all, 2007 was her breakout year, having starred in the box office hits ‘The Messengers’ and ‘In the Land of Women,’ and the critically acclaimed ‘Into the Wild.’ But ‘The Yellow Handkerchief’ was brushed aside after the release of her most successful films, ‘Twilight’ and ‘The Twilight Saga: New Moon’ were released in 2008 and 2009, respectively.

Stewart showed her versatility by taking a step away from some of her previous films, including ‘In the Land of Women,’ ‘Into the Wild’ and ‘Twilight,’ where her characters became dependent on the men in her life in order to feel like she can survive. She proved that while Martine was looking for acceptance, she could survive on her own. Stewart also veered from injecting Martine with the self-righteousness seen in her ‘Twilight’ character Bella Swan.

The movie should also be recognized, as Prasad was able to beautifully translate writer Erin Dignam’s screenplay onto the screen. He successfully matched Hurt and Bello together, a match up that seemed unlikely to work at first because of their acting styles and previous choice of roles. But the two were effectively able to translate Brett and May’s love, tension and struggles onto the screen.

‘The Yellow Handkerchief’ should be seen by everyone who enjoys a realistic, inspirational, uplifting film. While it will garner attention for its PG-13 rating for sexual content, some violence, language and thematic elements, the movie had the ill-fated fortune to be released between the release of Stewart’s high profile movies ‘New Moon’ and the Joan Jett biopic ‘The Runaways.’

'Life Unexpected' TV Series Review

'Life Unexpected' TV Series Review

Is This the End of the Road For ‘Life Unexpected?’

The CW Should Expect Fans to Want the Drama to be Renewed For a Second Season

Written by: Karen Benardello

‘Life Unexpected,’ the CW’s mid-season drama that saw the return of former teen favorites Shiri Appleby (‘Roswell’) and Kerr Smith (‘Dawson’s Creek’) to the medium that made them famous, aired its season finale, titled Love Unexpected, on April 12. While the network has not yet confirmed whether the series, which averaged approximately 2 million viewers per episode, will be returning next season, the family show should definitely make a comeback.

The series originally premiered on January 18 and consisted of 13 episodes. The season chronicled the meeting of foster child Lux (played by Brittany Robertson) with her biological parents, radio personality Catherine “Cate” Cassidy (portrayed by Appleby) and bar owner Nathaniel “Baze” Bazile (played by Kristoffer Polaha). Since Lux is now 16-years-old, she hopes Cate and Baze will sign the papers to allow her to become emancipated. However, the judge rejects the notion, and commitment-phobic Cate decides to take her in.

Throughout the season, Cate, Baze and Lux try to work through their differences and make a life together. While Cate and Baze aren’t in a relationship, they have to figure out a way to share custody of a teenager who’s now the same age they were when she was conceived.

Appleby and Polaha gave the first season the right amount of tension and animosity, as they try to figure out if they love or hate each other. Their relationship is put on hold as Cate figures out her engagement to her radio co-host Ryan (portrayed by Smith). While Smith has more of a secondary role and only appeared on screen for a couple of scenes during each episode, he definitely showed his distain for Cate and Baze’s sordid relationship.

However, while Baze finally realizes he truly loves Cate during the season finale, and Lux tries to convince her of this, she decides to move ahead with her marriage with Ryan. While Lux wants to finally have a normal life with her parents together, she comes to terms with the marriage, as she truly does like Ryan. Baze, however, realizes he does want to be with Cate. He runs into the church just as Cate and Ryan kiss at the end of the ceremony. If the CW decides not to renew the series, there was at least some sort of closure for fans. However, if it is renewed, there’s definitely potential for some interesting storylines next season.

Hopefully the CW will renew the drama, which is produced by Mojo Films, in association with CBS Television Studios and Warner Bros. Television. The show is a throwback to past CW and WB family fan favorites, including ‘Gilmore Girls,’ ‘Everwood’ and ‘7th Heaven,’ the longest-running family show in television history.

**Note: 'Life Unexpected' was renewed for a second season, which will premiere on Tuesday, Sept. 14, on the CW.**

Monday, September 6, 2010

'The Gates' TV Series Review

Why Were These Gates Opened?

New ABC Crime Drama ‘The Gates’ Fails to Live Up to Fellow Supernatural Shows

Written by: Karen Benardello

These gates should definitely be closed and locked at the end of this season. The new ABC supernatural crime drama, ‘The Gates,’ directed by Terry McDonough and starring Frank Grillo (previously seen on FOX’s ‘Prison Break’), Rhona Mitra (of ‘Underworld: Rise of the Lycans’ fame), Luke Mably (of the first two ‘The Prince and Me’ movies), Janina Gavankar (who appeared in ‘The L Word’) and Chandra West (from ‘90210’), has garnered decent ratings for a summer show, but doesn’t have enough of a cohesive and easy-to-follow plotline to stay on the air for much longer.

Since vampires and other supernatural have captured the attention of most of America over the past couple of years, i.e. ‘The Twilight Saga,’ ‘True Blood,’ ‘The Vampire Diaries’ and the aforementioned ‘Underworld’ trilogy, ABC seemed like it was hoping to cash in on the trend with ‘The Gates.’ The network began promoting the show, which is being produced by Fox TV Studios, since the beginning of this year. Various media outlets even hopped on the bandwagon, including The Hollywood Reporter, who officially announced on February 10 that Grillo was cast in one of the show’s main roles.

‘The Gates’ follows Nick Monohan, a former Chicago police officer, played by Grillo, who suddenly gets a job as the chief of police in a seemingly small, harmless community and moves his family there. However, he soon discovers there’s more to the residents than they reveal. Malby plays Dylan Radcliff, one of the community’s residents and a cardiologist who is a vampire-like creature. He is married to Claire (played by Mitra), who is also a vampire. West portrays Devon, the owner of the local tea shop, and Gavankar plays Leigh Turner, a fellow cop who has a dark secret.

The show, which is written by Richard Hatem and Grant Scharbo, was one of numerous pilots to be considered by ABC in the beginning of 2009 to be picked up for the 2009–2010 season. However, its premiere was pushed back to June 2010, and rightfully so. There are so many different characters, many of whom seem to pop up out of nowhere, it’s hard to keep track of who’s who and what supernatural affiliation they have.

While the show drew in 3.87 million viewers for its series premiere on June 20, it seems likely that the only reason for this number (high for the summer, as people tend to skip on watching television during the season) was because it had no direct competition. HBO’s hit ‘True Blood,’ a similarly-themed show about vampires and shape shifters, also airs on Sunday nights, but it acts as a lead-in for ‘The Gates’ at 9pm. While people are blood-thirsty for vampires right now, the lack of character development and good writing on ‘The Gates’ will prevent it from opening up for another season.

'Letters to Juliet' Movie Review

'Letters to Juliet' Movie Review

Written by: Karen Benardello

It started with a spontaneous kiss, but ended with a predictable one. The new romantic drama, ‘Letters to Juliet,’ starring Amanda Seyfried, Vanessa Redgrave and relative newcomer Chris Egan, hopes to prove that amidst a string of highly-budgeted and anticipated summer blockbusters, love can still cross international borders and conquer all.

The movie follows Sophie Hall (played by Seyfried), who works as a fact checker at The New Yorker magazine. Sophie embarks on a “pre-honeymoon” with her fiancĂ©e, Viktor (played by Gael Garcia Bernal), to Verona, Italy, as he’s busy opening an Italian restaurant and won’t have time to take a vacation after the wedding. While on their trip, Sophie finds the house that was the inspiration for Juliet’s home in ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ and sees people writing letters to her, asking for love advice.

Sophie sees a woman take the letters, and brings them back to a group of women, who call themselves ‘Juliet’s secretaries.’ Their job is to respond to the letters left at Juliet’s house, and since Viktor has left her alone to do his own work, Sophie offers to help the secretaries. She finds a 50-year-old letter from Claire (played by Redgrave), an English woman who asked for advice when she was visiting Verona as a teenager.

Not knowing if Claire would even receive her response, Sophie decides to write back anyway. A few days later, Claire’s grandson Charlie (played by Egan) shows up at the secretaries’ office, asking who wrote the letter. He gets mad at Sophie when she reveals it was her, as Claire is now adamant that she search for her long-lost love. Sophie decides to tag along with Claire and Charlie on their journey, as she not only wants to help, but also wants to chronicle Claire’s search for her love in a piece for The New Yorker.

The main focus that distributor Summit Entertainment rightfully focused on during the promotion of ‘Letters to Juliet’ was the recent rise in popularity of Seyfried. Since she has starred in comedies, dramas and musicals, the studio seemed eager to prove she can be also be a romantic leading actress, much like Kristin Stewart in its most successful series, ‘The Twilight Saga.’ But since she’s more popular with the younger generations, having starred in ‘Dear John,’ ‘Jennifer’s Body’ and ‘Mean Girls,’ it seemed likely Redgrave was picked to draw in the older crowd.

While the screenplay for ‘Letters to Juliet,’ which was written by Jose Rivera and Tim Sullivan, aimed to have Seyfried and Egan complement each other in both the personality and romantic senses, their relationship on-screen seemed to fall short. While Seyfried was believable as the ambitious fact-checker for The New Yorker, one of the most desirable jobs in journalism, she seemed to have more of a friendship than a romantic relationship with Egan.

Seyfried also made it believable that Sophie wanted to help Claire find her one true love, but her relationship with Redgrave seemed forced; for example, in the scene where Claire is brushing Sophie’s hair, a common activity for a mother figure to do for a daughter figure, they both appeared to be somewhat uncomfortable onscreen.

The movie almost made back its entire $30 million budget within its first week and a half of release, and will surely be somewhat of a minor box office success at the end of its theatrical run. While ‘Letters to Juliet’ is Egan’s first romantic movie in America, after moving to L.A. from Australia in 2003, being cast alongside Seyfried will surely help his career, and will cement both of their places as leads in the future.

'Happy Town' TV Series Review

‘Happy Town:’ If It’s So Happy, Why Does Everyone Keep Leaving?
Viewers and Characters Alike Are Vanishing From ABC Summer Drama

Written by: Karen Benardello

‘Happy Town:’ don’t let the name fool you. Apparently, most of America hasn’t been fooled by the new ABC mystery drama, which stars Geoff Stults and Steven Weber, as well as several actors familiar to horror audiences, including Lauren German and Sam Neill. The show, which was created by Josh Appelbaum, Andre Nemec and Scott Rosenberg and was the first to premiere to promote the network’s new summer season, hasn’t been keeping audiences happy, and for good reason.

Set in the small Minnesota town of Haplin, named after a prominent family in the community, ‘Happy Town’ picks up after several years of peace after the Magic Man disappears. The Magic Man, as the unknown person was nicknamed for his ability to make people vanish without a trace and without leaving behind any evidence or witnesses, is suspected to have returned to Haplin.

Haplin Deputy Sheriff Tommy Conroy (played by Stults) has a seemingly happy life with his wife and daughter. That is, until his father Griffin (played by M.C. Gainey), the town’s Sheriff, snaps in his office in the police station and cuts off his left hand. Tommy takes over as acting sheriff at the instance of Peggy Haplin (played by Frances Conroy).

Henley Boone (played by German) is the newest resident in town, as she hopes to use the inheritance given to her by her recently deceased mother to open a candle shop. She rents a room at Dot Meadows’ boarding house, where she is joined by another new resident, Merritt Grieves (played by Neill). Henley constantly talks to an unknown person on the phone, saying she’ll leave Haplin once she reveals her true identity.

On May 17, while the show was on a two-week hiatus after airing just three episodes, ABC announced that it had cancelled ‘Happy Town.’ However, the network said it will run the remaining five episodes of the season, with the last one airing July 7. The news comes even though the show lost half of its viewers during the first half of its run. But the decision is understandable, considering the pilot only drew in 5.2 million viewers.

It’s no wonder that the show saw a drop in ratings with each episode, as it seems as though the writers haven’t carefully thought out the series before they started writing it. For example, it’s revealed in the second episode that Tommy’s friend Dave was the one who murdered Jerry Friddle, the man who was killed with a metal stake during the series’ opening sequence. Also, when Henley runs her car off the road because she hit a bird, she is rescued by a mysterious man in the third episode. In the next episode, the women at her boarding house reveal he’s the recently-paroled Greggy Stiviletto, who was in jail for manslaughter. It’s almost as though the writers knew the show wasn’t going to last, and they wanted to give the storylines resolutions.

While ‘Happy Town’ wasn’t as well planned and written as ‘Harper’s Island,’ the serial-killing mystery drama which was broadcast on CBS last summer, the ABC drama still has its merits. German and Neil both portray their roles rather well, not giving away the reasons why they’re in Haplin. Since neither was given away a lot of background information on their characters, they both leave audiences guessing.

While ‘Happy Town’ won’t be receiving any Emmy Awards this year, it does provide some shock entertainment value. Those who started watching the season when it first premiered may want to keep watching to find out what happens to the town of Haplin and to see if the Magic Man is caught, but most people will likely forget about it when they’re sitting on the beach.

'The Expendables' Movie Review

'The Expendables' Movie Review

Was this film more of a who’s who among action stars, or a true ensemble action movie focused more on plot than its actors? The new war film ‘The Expendables,’ co-written and directed by Sylvester Stallone, was designed by its studio Lionsgate to pay tribute to action movies of the 1980s and ’90s and the decades’ veteran actors. Featuring such popular actors as Stallone, Jet Li, Mickey Rourke, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis, as well as several newcomers, including Jason Statham and former WWE wrester Steve Austin, Lionsgate seemed to want to push one last action-packed, star-filled movie before the end of the summer season.

During the weeks leading up to its August 13 release, Lionsgate seemed like it lacked faith in Stallone’s writing and directing abilities, as it focused more on the star-filled cast than the plotline of ‘The Expendables.’ While many people do see movies based on the actors in them, the studio didn’t seem like it believed ‘The Expendables’ could appeal to a wide audience with its plot-line alone. But Stallone was actually able to successfully pay tribute to his ‘Rocky’ and ‘Rambo’ days by showing he could truly construct and carry-out a cohesive plotline.

The movie follows Barney Ross (played by Stallone), the leader of the Expendables, a team of highly-trained mercenaries. Accompanied by Lee Christmas (portrayed by Statham), a former Special Air Service-soldier; ‘Yin Yang’ (played by Li), a Chinese martial arts expert; Hale Caesar (portrayed by Terry Crews), a heavy weapons specialist; and Toll Road (played by Randy Couture), a demolitions expert, the team is sent to overthrow General Garza (played by David Zavas), a dictator in South America.

Once they accept the mission, The Expendables realize Garza is in business with a rogue CIA agent, James Monroe (portrayed by Eric Roberts). Not only must the team overthrow Garza, they must also defeat Monroe.

Unlike most action movies, Stallone and his co-writer Dave Callaham surprisingly gave ‘The Expandables’ a detailed plotline and truly developed its characters. While there was an assortment of different characters in the movie, each was given at least a little bit of a back-story. The actors therefore were able to connect to their characters.

Out of all the actors, Statham was the most memorable, however. With Christmas as Ross’ right-hand man, Statham seemed to be the right choice for the role. As with his character, Statham seemed ready and willing to take direction from Stallone. It seemed as though Stallone was handing Statham the ropes both on-screen and off. With his experience with other action movies, including the ‘Crank’ and ‘The Transporter’ series and ‘Death Race,’ Statham seems to be the logical choice to be the next big action star.

While the plot wasn’t as intriguing and carefully conceived as this summer’s earlier action hit ‘Inception,’ ‘The Expendables’ was more carefully planned than was expected. The movie certainly acts as the passing of the reigns of the action genre from the country’s favorite actors of the last generation to the upcoming, new actors of this generation. ‘The Expendables’ definitely gives the summer season one last blast. While the movie may not earn back its entire $80 million at the American box office during its theatrical run, audiences will definitely be on the edge of their seats, wanting more, given its R rating for strong action, bloody violence and language.

Written by: Karen Benardello

'Machete' Movie Review

'Machete' Movie Review

Starring: Danny Trejo (The Expendables, Predators), Michelle Rodriguez (Avatar, Fast & Furious), Jessica Alba (Little Fockers, The Eye), Robert De Niro (Stone, Meet the Parents), Lindsay Lohan (Ugly Betty) and Cheech Marin (The Perfect Game, Cheech & Chong)

What do you get when you mix a man bent on revenge, illegal immigrants, drugs and corrupt senators with several big celebrities? Not the latest Hollywood scandal, but the new Robert Rodriguez produced and written action movie, ‘Machete.’ Hoping to end the summer season with a bang, both literally and monetarily, and to rebound from his earlier forgotten summer film ‘Predators,’ Rodriguez again gets himself noticed by focusing on the story of main character Machete. Expanded from a fake trailer set between the two ‘Grindhouse’ movies, which were released in 2007 as a double feature and a tribute to the B movie and exploitation styles of the 1970s, Rodriguez once again brilliantly brings comedic undertones to an otherwise serious subject.

Much like ‘Planet Terror,’ Rodriguez’s accompaniment to Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Death Proof’ in ‘Grindhouse,’ the director proved he understood what it takes to perfectly replicate the experience of viewing exploitation films in a grindhouse theater. ‘Machete’ touches on the serious subject of illegal immigration in the United States, particularly those who sneak across the Mexican border. Machete (played by Danny Trejo), a former Mexican Federale who entered the U.S. illegally after his wife was killed by a druglord, Torrez (portrayed by Steven Seagal), is working as a day laborer in Texas. He’s offered $150,000 by businessman Michael Booth (played by Jeff Fahey) to kill Senator John McLaughlin (portrayed by Robert De Niro), who is up for re-election and is building his platform on tightening the border between the U.S. and Mexico.

But Booth is betrayed by Booth, as the assignation attempt was set up to garner more support for McLaughlin’s campaign. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent Sartana (played by Jessica Alba) is sent to capture Machete for the murder attempt, but as she gets to know him, Sartana takes an interest in Machete. Sartana eventually comes to like, and want to help, Machete.

Discussing such a serious subject as illegal immigration in America is rare in action movies, as they often instead more on stunts to carry the story. But ‘Machete’ flips people’s preconceived notions of the subject, as they start to feel Machete’s pain of losing his family. The movie also doesn’t preach one side or the other, and instead shows Machete’s need for revenge. The plot’s overall subtle humor will also tone down people’s anger over the issue.

While the movie is Trejo’s first major lead role, and deserves credit for affectingly portraying the need for revenge, De Niro was definitely the stand-out star of the film. While McLaughlin is more of a supporting character, and doesn’t have as much screen time as Trejo and lead actress Alba, ‘Machete’ is definitely a good change for De Niro. Remembered most for his roles in crime dramas, including ‘Goodfellas,’ ‘The Godfather Part II’ and ‘The Untouchables,’ as well as the comedy series ‘Meet the Parents,’ the cross between a B movie and exploitation film in ‘Machete’ finally allowed him to mix being in a position of power with being funny.

While Rodriguez deserves credit for writing a comprehensive, funny script, Mexicans may have an issue with the way they are portrayed in ‘Machete.’ They are all shown in the same stereotypical way of only being able to get into the U.S. illegally, and having to rely on day laboring to make money. But Rodriguez broke the Hollywood mold of featuring a mainly-white cast by including several actors of Hispanic descent, including Alba, Michelle Rodriguez and Cheech Marin. Anyone who likes a diversified cast and a unique genre and script will like ‘Machete.’

Written by: Karen Benardello

'Takers' Movie Review

'Takers' Movie Review

Starring: Chris Brown, Hayden Christensen, Matt Dillon, Michael Ealy, Idris ELba and T.I.

Passing itself off as ‘The Expendables’ for the younger generation, Screen Gems’ new crime thriller ‘Takers’ features a slew of younger action stars with non-stop explosions and stunts. While not receiving as much press coverage as other summer films, and only working on a budget of $20 million, a modest amount for an action movie, ‘Takers’ ultimately proves it can grab its audience’s attention and not let go.

‘Takers’ starts off with a bang, showing a group of professional robbers pull off a spectacular heist in a Los Angeles bank, led by Gordon Jennings (played by Idris Elba). His team includes his right-hand man, John Rahway (portrayed by Paul Walker); weapons builder A.J. (played by Hayden Christensen); gunman Jake Attica (portrayed by Michael Ealy); and his younger brother Jesse, the runner (played by Chris Brown). The group decides to relax and enjoy their cash, which totals more than $2 million. Unbeknownst to the group, they’re actively being searched for by determined detective Jack Welles (portrayed by Matt Dillon), and his partner and friend Eddie Hatcher (played by Jay Hernandez).

The robbers’ normal routine of waiting a year between heists, which they do to avoid capture and thoroughly plan their next robbery, is interrupted by their old cohort Ghost (portrayed by T.I.). After being released a year early from jail for good behavior on the day of the bank robbery, Ghost wants back in on the action. He convinces the team to help prepare for a job that he set up in jail, with the help of the Russian mob.

Director John Luessenhop, who helped co-write the movie, made the smart decision to show the sides of both the robbers and the detectives. The audience is always left one step ahead of both sides, as the script goes back and forth between the robbers and the police. But neither side’s long-term plans are ever revealed, leaving enough suspense to keep the viewers guessing on what everyone’s going to do next.

Along with fellow co-writers Peter Allen, Gabriel Casseus and Avery Duff, as director Luessenhop achieved their goal of not having the robbers taking themselves too seriously. While they don’t break the law outside of the heists and do the best they can to take care of their families, Gordon and the rest of the group know they’re not the most upstanding, law-abiding citizens in L.A.

Of the actors who play the robbers, Christensen stands out the most, however. He made the wise decision to move away from the sci-fi genre, notably his Razzie Award-winning role of Anakin Skywalker in the three Star Wars prequels. While his role of A.J. is more of a supporting one, Christensen brings comedic relief to the serious crime drama. Not as much of A.J.’s past is revealed as the other robbers, but he still brings an authenticity to the role, leaving the audience wanting to learn more about him.

Dillon, however, didn’t bring as much of a spark to his role of Detective Welles. Dillon seemed like a logical choice to cast in ‘Takers,’ since he starred in last year’s crime thriller ‘Armored,’ which was also focused on heisting money. He was also in 2005’s Academy Award winner for Best Movie, ‘Crash,’ for which he was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of L.A. Sgt. John Ryan.

But Dillon didn’t bring anything new to the role of Welles, even though he earned top billing for the movie and was therefore considered to be the “main actor.” He just played a stereotypical detective obsessed with cracking a big case, and neglecting his daughter during the few times he actually gets to spend time with her.

While there isn’t much character development in ‘Takers,’ as there are so many thrown in the script, there is enough of a plotline to keep audiences entertained. Fans of the numerous actors in ‘Takers’ will surely like the movie; however, it’s aimed at older fans, as it was rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, a sexual situation/partial nudity and some language. While the film most likely won’t take the top of the box office, it will take audiences on a joy ride.

Written by: Karen Benardello

'Lottery Ticket' Movie Review

'Lottery Ticket' Movie Review

Directed by: Erik White

Starring: Bow Wow, Brandon T. Jackson, Naturi Naughton, Mike Epps, Bill Bellamy and Loretta Devine

Hoping to cash in on the gold mine of Tyler Perry’s multiple hit movies over the past five years, including ‘Diary of a Mad Black Woman,’ ‘Why Did I Get Married?’ and ‘Madea Goes to Jail,’ Alcon Entertainment tried to mimic the actor-writer-director’s successful scripts with its new comedy ‘Lottery Ticket.’ Directed by Erik White and based on a screenplay by Abdul Williams, ‘Lottery Ticket’ features a predominately all-black, all-star cast, featuring a down-on-his-luck main character who fights his way to financial and romantic luck. ‘Lottery Ticket’ was also shot in Atlanta, the location where Perry films most of his movies, but the basic similarities unfortunately end there.

While Williams tried to write a funny movie that everyone could relate to, he didn’t succeed, as the characters and plot both lacked any depth. The basis of the entire plot of ‘Lottery Ticket’ was basically shown in the theatrical trailers Alcon put together. The film follows Kevin Carson (played by rapper Bow Wow), who lives an apartment in the projects with his grandmother (played by Loretta Devine). Kevin just graduated from high school, and dreams of going to design school so that one day he can start a shoe company. But not having much money, Kevin instead has to forgo his dream to work at a Foot Locker, where his highest aspiration is to become an assistant manager.

But Kevin’s luck changes over the Fourth of July weekend when he wins $370 million in the nationwide lottery. He tries to get his grandmother and his best friend Benny (portrayed by Brandon T. Jackson) to keep his win a secret until he can cash it on July 5, but the secret still gets out. While everyone in his apartment complex is suddenly nice to him so they can get a piece of his new-found wealth, thug Lorenzo (played by Gbenga Akinnagbe) is out to get Kevin for not giving him free sneakers at Foot Locker.

While Kevin eventually decides to donate some of his money to clean up his apartment complex and give back to his community, overall, the characters don’t have any real redeeming qualities. With not much information given about any of the characters, most of the actors fail to debunk the stereotypes given to blacks who live in run-down communities. Except for Kevin, who dreamt of starting his own company before and after he won the lottery, most of the characters in ‘Lottery Ticket’ seem to lack ambition. Many just seem to want to party, and don’t have any goals for themselves.

The only likeable character who undergoes any significant and noteworthy transformation throughout ‘Lottery Ticket’ is Mr. Washington (portrayed by Ice Cube), even though it was only a minor role. In the beginning of the movie, he asks Kevin to get him things he needs through his window, as he is afraid to leave his apartment. But by the end, as Kevin starts to get to know him better, Mr. Washington lets his guard down and enters the community again. While known for starring in comedic roles, Ice Cube was able to convincingly convey Mr. Washington’s more serious past.

Fans of the numerous well-known stars in ‘Lottery Ticket,’ including Bill Bellamy and Mike Epps in cameo appearances, may like the movie for last minute summer laughs. But the film, which was rated PG-13 for sexual content, language including a drug reference, some violence and brief underage drinking, only proves that as long as a studio throws in a couple of well-liked actors in a movie, it thinks it can get away with an underdeveloped plot line and shallow, stereotypical characters.

Like many other movies that have been released around Labor Day weekend in the past, ‘Lottery Ticket’s number will surely be up soon. The movie seems destined to make only a minimal amount of money during an almost guaranteed limited theatrical release, before kids forget about it and head back to school.

Written by: Karen Benardello

My 'Vampires Suck' Movie Review

'Vampires Suck' Movie Review

Directed by: Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer

Starring: Matt Lanter (Tinker Bell: A Winter Story, 90210), Ken Jeong (The Hangover 2, Transformers 3), Anneliese van der Pol, Jenn Proske and Chris Riggi

What do you get when you mix comedian Ken Jeong with a vampire-werewolf-human girl love triangle? Not another vampire thrown in the mix with the countless covens in the enormously popular ‘Twilight Saga’ franchise, but instead a surprisingly, truly funny parody movie titled ‘Vampires Suck,’ from two of the writers of the original ‘Scary Movie.’

Leading up to the release of ‘Vampires Suck,’ written and directed by spoof filmmaking duo Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer, the new 20th Century Fox satire seemed as though it would easily follow in the lead of its parody predecessors. The two have made a name for themselves by releasing several negatively received satires throughout the first decade of the 2000s, including ‘Date Movie,’ ‘Epic Movie,’ ‘Meet the Spartans’ and ‘Disaster Movie.’

But ‘Vampires Suck’ was surprisingly different from the duo’s previous efforts, which were deservingly named some of the worst movies of the decade. Previously, Friedberg and Seltzer mainly hired little-known actors who didn’t convey much emotion, and they wrote scripts that focused more so on making fun of the hottest movies of the moment than telling an actual story.

While ‘Vampires Suck’ certainly won’t be winning any awards this year for best script, it does have a slightly more cohesive plot-line than Friedberg and Seltzer’s previous films. The two made the right decision to cut down the number of movies it would spoof to mainly focus on ‘Twilight’ and ‘The Twilight Saga: New Moon.’ Instead of creating a multitude of characters and taking plot-lines from several different movies to piece their lives together, ‘Vampires Suck’ actually had somewhat of an in-depth back-story.

The movie follows Becca Crane (portrayed by Jenn Proske), who moves to Sporks, Washington to live with her father, Frank (played by Diedrich Bader), the sheriff of the city. At her new school, Becca meets Edward Sullen (portrayed by Matt Lanter) and the rest of his vampire family.

Edward first wants to stay away from Becca to protect her, since his family wants to drink her blood. She starts hanging out with her werewolf friend Jacob White (played by Christopher N. Riggi), who wants to date her. But Becca goes after Edward when he wants to reveal himself in the sunlight and die, thinking she died in a motorcycle accident.

Despite being her first leading movie role since graduating from Boston University last year with a BFA in Acting/Theatre Arts, Proske actually shone in every scene, rivaling her more experienced lead actor, Lanter. She nailed all of Kristen Stewart’s mannerisms from ‘Twilight’ and ‘New Moon,’ without portraying the character as completely helpless or lost without Edward. But Lanter was still a great choice for Edward, as he was made up to look exactly like Robert Pattinson. Plus, after starring as the lead, Will, in ‘Disaster Movie,’ he had experience bringing laughs and spoofs to more serious movies.

Jeong, whose most remembered for playing the villain Leslie Chow in the Golden Globe-winning Best Comedy Movie ‘The Hangover,’ also brought his infamous humor to the otherwise serious genre of vampirism. Jeong played Dario, the leader of the Zoltouri, the royalty family in the vampire world. Instead of dramatically playing the part, he showed vampires can have fun.

While people who haven’t seen or read ‘Twilight’ or ‘New Moon’ may not fully understand all of the jokes in ‘Vampires Suck,’ it’s definitely one of Friedberg and Seltzer’s better efforts. While twi-hards who saw the latest edition of the Twilight Saga, ‘Eclipse,’ one of the biggest movies of the summer, several times may not enjoy the jokes made at the franchise’s expense, people who want some mindless laughs will enjoy ‘Vampires Suck.’

Written by: Karen Benardello