April 2006

National Lamppon’s Vaca…,er, RV?

by Alan Rapp on April 28, 2006

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: We’re the Millers
  • IMDB: link

rv-posterBefore we start click and watch the trailer for this film.  Go ahead, I’ll wait….hmm…hmm…hmm…

Oh, you’re back?  Okay answer me this – Did you think that trailer was really funny or kinda’ lame?  Your answer to that question will tell you whether to go see the film as it’s just 98 minutes of the same dumb dad, hip-hop white son, bitchy teenage daughter, redneck RV campers, shit jokes, and yodelling.  Yeah…I’d pass too.  It’s not that it’s horrible, but seriously why waste an hour and a half of your life on something this dumb and pointless?

Disconnected from his family and in trouble at work Bob Munro (Robin Williams) decides to gather his family, his teenage daughter Cassie (JoJo) and son Carl (Josh Hutcherson) and wife Jamie (Cheryl Hines), together and take an family vacation to Colorado (while secretly working on his proposal).  Since his family was set on a trip to Hawaii they aren’t too happy with the change in plans.

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Stick It

by Alan Rapp on April 28, 2006

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: Stick It
  • IMDB: link

stick-it-posterOnce you realize the film isn’t going to be Bring It On and accept for being what it is (which is both more and less) you can really enjoy yourself.  The movie contains the same level of writing but as Jessica Bendinger takes the place behind the camera this time you get a more emotional, intelligent, and well-rounded film that if not quite as funny still provides some great one-liners and humorous moments without going for all the easy jokes.

Tough chick Haley Graham (Missy Peregrym) gets into the trouble with the law and is sent away to a gymastic camp run by Burt Vickerman (Jeff Bridges).  Haley isn’t exactly welcomed with open arms because of her past experience where she quit the gymnastic team during competition losing them all a shot at the gold.  Despite a mountain of talent her disrespect for how the sport is run and past experiences make it hard for her to get back on the horse and train with the other girls (Vanessa Lengies, Nikki SooHoo, Tarah Paige).

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Killer Diller

by Alan Rapp on April 28, 2006

in Movie Reviews 

Killer Diller was a labor of love for writer/director Tricia Brock (if you haven’t read our interview with her make sure you check it out) which finally will be released today.  The film is funny, charming, warm, quirky, with some great blues music that will leave your toes tappin’ after the credits role.  This one is worth checking out folks.

Killer Diller
4 Stars

Killer Diller, which opens today in a limited Midwest release (Kansas City, Columbia, St. Louis, Memphis and Nashville), is about a college half-way house, a guitar playing car thief, an autistic piano player, and some great blues music.  I would highly recommend seeing this film if it’s in your area, and if it’s not yet hopefully it will do well enough to earn a wider release over the next few weeks.

The story begins with Wesley (William Lee Scott), a career criminal (car jacking mostly) getting into a bar fight and thrown back in jail.  He is released into the custody of Ned (Fred Willard) who runs the B.O.T.A. house, a half-way house at a local college that helps reform convicts (Niki Crawford, Jared Tyler, RonReaco Lee, Ashley Johnson) by putting them in a band to perform religious hymns.  Wesley doesn’t make new friends in the house and when stranded one day he meets Vernon (Lucas Black) an autistic young man with an uncanny ability to play the piano.

To help save his own skin and the house, which the Dean (John Michael Higgins) wants to pull funding from thus sending everyone back to prison, Wesley brings Vernon into the band.  Vernon’s inclusion has immediate impact as the band shows signs of improvement.  As they play and talk Wesley and Vernon find common ground in a love of the blues and the band moves from Ned’s frightful religious tunes to playing the blues as “The Killer Diller Blues Band.”

The film was shot in Fayette, Missouri and because of that a remarkable thing happens.  We actually get a Midwestern film that looks like it was shot in the Midwest.  Writer/director Tricia Brock finds just the right local touches including the campus of Central Methodist University and the home of Vernon and his father (W. Earl Brown who gives a nice low-key perfomance here).

The entire cast puts on a good show both in front of the camera and on stage.  William Lee Scott and and Lucas Black carry the film as Wesley’s friendship with Vernon does what nothing else could do for him – make him reevaluate his life and think of others for a change.  Willard and Higgins are perfect as the bickering campus officials and their interplay provides constant enjoyment whenever they appear on screen together.  Add to that the sexy Niki Crawford singing out the blues with her sultry tones and you’ve got something quite original.

There are reasons to support independent films.  Many such films wouldn’t be possible under the constraints of the Hollywood system.  Killer Diller succeeds because it has a story to tell and knows how to present it to the audience without preaching (pretty good for a film that deals with religious themes), becoming too campy, or getting in its own way.  It’s a really fun time and a quite enjoyable film.  And no, I’m not going to tell you what B.O.T.A. stands for; go see the movie and find out!

G-O-O-D

by Alan Rapp on April 28, 2006

in Movie Reviews 

Okay you’ve probably seen this film before.  A child prodigy learns of his/her gift, finds a teacher, and in training learns about him/her self and valuable life lessons.  Akeelah and the Bee isn’t the most original film, and it is more than a little contrived, yet it somehow overcomes these limitations and presents a truly enjoyable film for the whole family with some of the best ensemble child acting I’ve seen in some time.

Akeelah and the Bee
4 Stars

How cool are spelling bees?  The film asks that question multiple times and the answer shifts from person to person over the course of the film including our title character.  Akeelah and the Bee actually makes the National Spelling Bee look pretty darn cool.  Now c’mon folks, that should pique your interest.

Akeelah (Keke Palmer) is an underachieving student in Crenshaw, California with an older sister (Erica Hubbard) who has a baby, a brother (Julito McCullum) who wants to become a gangbanger, and a mother (Angela Bassett) who works all the time and has little time or patience for her kids’ problems and screw-ups. 

Akeelah’s teacher (Dalia Philips) notices Akeelah’s talent in spelling words far beyond the normal vocabulary for a child her age and brings this to the attention of Principal Welch (Curtis Armstrong) and his friend, a former college professor, Dr. Joshua Larabee (Laurence Fishburne) who has been looking for a local child to train for the National Spelling Bee.

Akeelah is pushed into the spelling bee (which she would rather not take part for fear of looking uncool) but her early success makes her want to continue against her mother’s wishes who see such activities taking time away from her real schoolwork.  She starts to train with Larabee and a larger world begins to open up both mentally as she learns new words and where words come from and physically as she meets other children (J.R. Villarreal, Sean Michael, Sara Niemietz) from surrounding areas who also want to win the National Spelling Bee.

The film is as much about how Akeelah’s interest and participation changes her as it is about how it transforms those around her inluding her best friend (Sahara Garey), Dr. Larabee, her mother, and the entire community who with each of Akeelah’s successes become more invested in her journey.  Though when the film develops into the 80’s training montage with the entire community taking part (including the ganbangers) I did groan a little.

The performances are outstanding all around, and even though the adults are fine it is the children who own this film.  Keke Palmer owns the film and holds her own against Bassett and Fishburne in her scenes with them.  And J.R. Villarreal is a break-out star just waiting to be discovered who almost, almost, steals the film with his infectious good humor. 

If the film has any failures it’s how thinly written the adults are compared to the children.  There’s no reason for Akeelah’s mother to be so against an academic outlet her underachieving child is actually interested in, and making her the villain of the early half of the film is a disservice to both Bassett and the script.  And of course Fishburne’s character can’t just be a former teacher tying to help out a child from his community, but instead hides a secret pain tha will of course parallel events that occur during the film to help heal him and make him whole.  And the other parents present in the film are simple jokes from those willing to cheat to others pressuring their children to win unwilling to accept failure. 

Yes the film’s falls into contrived traps and simplistic story elements at times, but somehow these never drag it down.  Maybe it’s the spelling bee, maybe it’s the young cast, or just maybe it’s such a warm-hearted and likeable film it would take a robot not to melt at least a little.  It’s an enjoyable and even exciting film that audiences of all ages can enjoy.  This isn’t the first film of this type made (nor even the first with Fishburne – check out Searching for Bobby Fischer) but it’s heart is in the right place and is a good film that the entire family can enjoy together.

United 93

by Alan Rapp on April 28, 2006

in Movie Reviews 

As you look at reviews for this film I predict that you’ll find many that will fall into two categories.  The first will praise the film for tackling such a tragedy.  The second will dismiss the film out-of-hand for exploiting 9/11 for box office cash.  I’m going to try something a little different and try to review the film first and most importantly as a film and only then address the social/moral grounds.

United 93
3 & 1/2 Stars

United 93 is an interesting and captivating film without actually haviing much to say about the 9/11 terrorist attack.  In many ways it can be compared to your average action/thriller but because the events that it deals with are both factual and terrifying one would thing it would try a little harder to be more.

The film isn’t an analytical look examining the causes and effects of the event.  Nor is it a character study as it never stays with any character long enough for us to distinguish one from the other (we don’t even get their names).  Nor does the film try to put the events into a historical perspective.

So what does the film do?  The film’s main objective is to present writer/direct Paul Greengrass’s vision of what took place that fateful morning on one of the hijacked planes and on the ground as air traffic controllers, and the US military and government, unsure of what was happening, and unable to communicate effectively, failed to stop one tragedy from becoming four.

A group of Arab terrorists (Lewis Alsamari, Jamie Harding, Omar Berdouni, Khalid Abdalla) board Untied Arilines flight 93 on the morning of September 11.  Because of delays with take-off they wait on the runway while members of other terrorist cells hijack their planes and proceed and crash them into their targets.  Finally the terrorist on flight 93 seize control and as the frightened passengers learn from talking with their loved ones on airine and cell phones about other planes that have crashed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon they decide they have no choice but to fight back by trying to retake the plane.

The film tries very hard not to exploit the situation and for the most part does suceed.  It would have been extremely easy to make this either overtly sentimental, preachy, or in bad taste too action oriented.  Director Paul Greengrass provides an evenhand in showing the various reactions ane emotions of the terrorists, the flight personel on the ground, the military, and the passengers.

One choice the film makes is to keep each of the passengers nameless.  Though the actors are credited with playing the actual people aboard the plane the film doesn’t take time to look at who they are and how they came to be onboard.  This groups all of them, flight crew included, into a single group of victims and potential heroes.  However it doesn’t really let us get to know the actual people to any degree.  So the film fails in its attempt to make the people seem more real by not distinguishing them from each other; it only makes them into nameless stock film characters in a disaster film.  We learn more about the terrorists (though to be fair, not much more), who don’t even speak English and aren’t given subtitles.  The film is relying entirely on the viewer knowing that these events are real and offers no on-screen reason to invest in the characters or situation.

The visual style of the film really bothered me.  The film is shot almost entirely on small sets (the plane and cramped offices) with shaky hand-held crameras.  The motivation behind this choice seems to be the cramped sets and your face shooting style would give the film a more realisic look.  The result however is sketchy at best.  The style is annoying, often not capturing what we want to see, bobbing up and down and taking your focus off the action to wonder if the camera man has cerebral palsy, and in the end feels cheap rather than real.

Where the film succeeds is in keeping your interest and attention.  Despite it’s many faults (and the fact that you know how it will end) you still get caught up in the drama.  The reaction scenes to the planes hitting the World Trade Center and the Pentagon are well handled as is the sense of incomprehension by those not believing what is happening before their eyes.

Director Paul Greengrass makes an interesting decision in casting many of the flight controllers as themselves which adds a little to the realism and credibitiy of the film.  Actually all the best scenes of the film take place on the ground as the various workers try to understand what has happened and figure out a plan of action.  I wish the entire movie had been made from this perspective and we were never shown what happened on the plane.  I think it would have been much more meaningful and would have caught the feeling of helplessness and hoplelessness so many felt that day.

The cast and crew do a remarkable job making a film that it can be debated whether or not should be made and if it (and to what level it) exploits the tragedy of 9/11.  Despite the flaws of the film there is much of value here and it is definately worth seeing; though a film with this subject manner should have more to say rather than just put on a show.  Although Greengrass gives us a compelling look at the events of that morning by the end we don’t know anything more than we did when the film began about the people onbard flight 93.  It’s an ambitious attempt but the movie would have better served to try and do less and do it better.  If the film had just focused on the terrorists, or the ground, or a small section of the pasesngers it could have gone into more depth than the cursiorary glance we get at all these separate stories.