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Nick's Pics
Nick Nicholson
Film & Home Entertainment Critic
 

This column expresses the personal opinions/views of the writer. If you would like to express your opinions/views regarding the column, write a SIGNED letter to the editor. Name can be withheld by request with a valid day time phone number.


 

DVD REVIEWS

We are doing a Free DVD Giveaway! If you are interested in a chance at winning a free copy of Moon, The Whitest Kids U Know, Little Ashes, Leonard Bernstein’s Omnibus or The Hurt Locker on DVD, it is really easy. All you have to do is send me an email at Filmlords@gmail.com. The subject line of the email should read DVD GIVEAWAY. In the body of the email, be sure to put your name, full mailing address and which DVD or Blu-ray you would like. Winners will be selected by random drawing. Best of luck!

Science fiction can encompass many genres--suspense, horror, action-adventure, romance, even comedy--but director Duncan Jones’s Moon doesn’t fit neatly into any of them. This smart, provocative film has no aliens or cool spaceships, and the effects (mostly consisting of model vehicles lumbering across the lunar surface) aren’t all that special; instead, the material is character- and story-driven, centering on an excellent, multi layered performance by Sam Rockwell. The scene is some undetermined point in the future. Rockwell plays Sam Bell, an employee of Lunar Industries, the company responsible for mining a fusion energy source called Helium-3, which is vital to Earth’s efforts to reverse a serious energy crisis and can only be found on the far side of the Moon. Sam is all by himself, and as he nears the end of his three-year contract, the solitude is starting to get to him. This is a brilliant program and should not be missed!

Many movies explore the difficulties of growing up, but few are as powerful and as moving as According to Greta. Hilary Duff is impressively strong as the title character, a 17-year-old who’s trying to figure out who she wants to be, or if she wants to be, while grappling with an overwhelming sense of inadequacy and a rocky family life. Her mother (Melissa Leo) has had multiple husbands, and her father, whom she doesn’t remember, committed suicide when she was very young. Greta’s mother doesn’t know what to do with her and wants to work on saving her third marriage, so she ships Greta off to stay with her Gram (Ellen Burstyn) and Gramps (Michael Murphy) in the sleepy retirement town of Ocean Grove, New Jersey, for the summer. Greta is angry, resentful, and spiteful, and she makes no secret of exactly how she’s feeling. She views her imprisonment in the town as a death sentence, and it may literally be.

This story centers around the love story of highborn Cecilia Tallis (Keira Knightley) and housekeeper’s son Robbie Turner (James McAvoy, in a star-making turn), in England shortly before World War II. Despite their class differences, they are powerfully attracted to each other, and just as their relationship begins Robbie is tragically forced away due to false accusations from Cecilia’s younger sister Briony (Saoirse Ronan). She has a crush on Robbie, too, and after reading a private letter he sent to Cecilia, and then witnessing the first expression of their mutual love but mistaking it for mistreatment, her resentment grows until it leads to her telling the lie that will send Robbie away. Soon World War II breaks out; Robbie enlists and is posted to France, Cecilia is a nurse in London, and Briony, now age 18 and aware of what she has done, tries to atone for her actions--but none of them will be able to get back what they have lost.

Who wants to live forever? One of the catchiest songs from the ‘80s lives on in spirit in the 2009 remake of Fame, based on the 1980 smash hit of the same name, which shot Irene Cara to stardom, and whose theme song launched a thousand aerobics classes. This Fame is in the same exuberant spirit, of talented young kids eager to burst into the spotlight, with great doses of the High School Musical franchise. The big stars are among the adult contingent, and include Kelsey Grammer, Debbie Allen, Charles S. Dutton, Megan Mullally, and the always amazing Bebe Neuwirth, leggy and an awesome singer. Among the talented younger cast, one of the breakout stars is Naturi Naughton, who plays aspiring pianist Denise, and seems to be channeling some of the exuberance of Cara’s performance in the original.

Intriguingly scaled more along the lines of a good sci-fi short story than a steroid-enhanced action picture, Surrogates proposes a variation on spectatorship-run-amok. In the near future, human beings need no longer leave their homes: mechanical surrogates, similar in appearance (but younger looking, fitter, with fewer wrinkles and more hair) can move about in the world on the user’s behalf, following commands and absorbing physical wear and tear. A cop (Bruce Willis) begins investigating a mystifying case of a user who died when his surrogate got blasted by a fancy ray-gun in the street--that’s a definite violation of the company guarantee. In the course of a trim, sub-90-minute running time, the Willis character himself is forced to enter the mean streets in his own flesh-and-blood version, not his surrogate, a move that puzzles both his wife (Rosamund Pike) and partner (Radha Mitchell). Brilliantly written and performed, Surrogates is a film that should be added to your collection.

The prospect of a movie about the friendship of future avant-garde legends Luis Buñuel, Federico García Lorca, and Salvador Dalí from their art-school days in 1920s Madrid so bristles with potential, it could hardly fail to be scintillating and provocative. Throw in Spain’s political and cultural climate at the time under conservative morality’s authoritarian hand, then bring on the youthful iconoclasm, intellectual rebellion, Surrealist impulses, and by all means a little sex: so much to work with--yet, Little Ashes is a juiceless, glumly silly movie.

Simply put, Leonard Bernstein was a musician genius. This series from the golden age of television is hosted by Alastair Cooke and includes a historic collection of lectures, performances, and master classes led by the brilliant conductor and composer, Leonard Bernstein. There are seven episodes included in the program.

This stunning collection of Doctor Who specials--The Next Doctor, Planet of the Dead, The Waters of Mars and The End of Time, Part One & Two--is a must own for all Doctor Who fans. The four imaginative, action-packed specials are the farewell to star David Tennant, and Russell T Davies, the mastermind behind the rebirth of the modern Doctor Who. The specials culminate in the dramatic regeneration of the Doctor, giving fans their first glimpse of the eleventh Doctor, played by Matt Smith. The specials are packed with a terrific lineup of guest stars including Michelle Ryan (Bionic Woman), David Morrissey (State of Play, Sense and Sensibility), Lindsay Duncan (Alice in Wonderland (2010), Rome, Under the Tuscan Sun) and many more that we can’t reveal just yet!

Michael Cudlitz plays John Cooper a seasoned Los Angeles cop, assigned to train young rookie Ben Sherman (Benjamin McKenzie). Cooper’s honest, no-nonsense approach to the job leaves Sherman questioning whether or not he has what it takes to become a police officer. Cudlitz and McKenzie are joined by cast members Regina King who plays Detective Lydia Adams. Adams lives with and is the primary caregiver of her mother. Her partner, Detective Russell Clarke (Tom Everett Scott) is an unhappily married father of three. Michael McGrady plays Detective Daniel “Sal” Salinger. Sal oversees fellow gang detectives Nate Moretta (Kevin Alejandro) and Sammy Bryant (Shawn Hatosy). Arija Bareikis plays patrol officer Chickie Brown, a single mom who dreams of being the first woman accepted into SWAT.

Superior acting, writing, and direction are on impressive display in the critically acclaimed Mystic River, Clint Eastwood’s 24th directorial outing and one of the finest films of 2003. Sharply adapted by Brian Helgeland from the novel by Dennis Lehane, this chilling mystery revolves around three boyhood friends in working-class Boston. They are played as adults by Tim Robbins, Sean Penn, and Kevin Bacon and are drawn together by a crime from the past and a murder in the present. These dual tragedies arouse a vicious cycle of suspicion, guilt, and repressed anxieties, primed to explode with devastating and unpredictable results.

The Music Man was one of the last great movie musicals from any studio, and it proved to be that rarest of events: a Broadway show that was measurably improved by its transition to the screen. Robert Preston made his musical debut, both live and on film, as Professor Harold Hill, the upbeat charlatan who promises to teach a small-town boys band by the think system. But it’s the part Preston was born to play and the one for which he will always be best remembered. Composer Meredith Willson based The Music Man on his own small-town Midwestern boyhood, circa 1912, a quasi-mythical place where the old-maid librarian looks and sings like Shirley Jones. The Music Man is perfection on every level!

The making of honest action movies has become so rare that Kathryn Bigelow’s magnificent The Hurt Locker was shown mostly in art cinemas rather than multiplexes. That’s fine; the picture is a work of art. But it also delivers more kinetic excitement, more breath-bating suspense, more putting-you-right-there in the danger zone than all the brain-dead, visually incoherent wrecking derbies hogging mall screens. Partly it’s a matter of subject. The movie focuses on an Explosive Ordnance Disposal team, the guys whose more or less daily job is to disarm the homemade bombs that have accounted for most U.S. casualties in Iraq. But even more, the film’s extraordinary tension derives from the precision and intelligence of Bigelow’s direction. She gets every sweaty detail and tactical nuance in the close-up confrontation of man and bomb, while keeping us alert to the volatile wraparound reality of an ineluctably foreign environment - hot streets and blank-walled buildings full of onlookers, some merely curious and some hostile, perhaps thumbing a cellphone that could become a trigger. This is exemplary movie making. You don’t need CGI, just a human eye, and the imagination to realize that, say, the sight of dust and scale popped off a derelict car by an explosion half a block away delivers more shock value than a pixelated fireball. Simply brilliant and without question one of the best films of the year.

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Contact Filmlords@gmail.com if you would like to express your opinions/views regarding the column. Write a SIGNED letter to the editor with valid day time phone number--name can be withheld by request.

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January 27, 2010