Nick's Pics Nick
Nicholson Film & Home Entertainment Critic
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Welcome to the terrifying Melbourne crime underworld, where tensions are on the brink of exploding between felons and renegade cops - the Wild West played out on the city's streets in broad daylight. The Cody brothers, a gang of armed robbers, are in the process of initiating their teenage nephew Joshua 'J' (James Frecheville) into their frightening world after the death of his mother and under the watchful eye of his matriarchal grandmother, Smurf (Jacki Weaver), a modern-day Ma Barker.
Ben Mendelsohn plays Pope, the oldest brother of the Cody clan, who tries unsuccessfully to come to terms with the fact that his partner and best friend, Barry 'Baz' Brown (Joel Edgerton), wants out of the game. Craig (Sullivan Stapleton), the middle brother with a hair trigger, deals and does cocaine while the youngest brother Darren (Luke Ford) fights with his conscience as he participates in the family business. All of them are adored, sustained and supported by Smurf, who seems to be pulling the strings.
J quickly comes to believe that he is a player in this world, but soon discovers that the entire situation is far larger and more menacing than he could ever imagine. Guy Pearce plays senior police officer Nathan Leckie, who, recognizing that J's youth and inexperience might well prove to be the key to finally conquering the Codys, tries to lure him into the fold after the death of a close associate. In order to survive, J must determine how the game is played and choose his place in this cunning and brutal animal kingdom.
A brilliant directorial debut with all the dark and subversive crime you could want. The direction and cast are perfect for this welcome film that is so different from the rest of the usual Summer Hollywood fare. A week after the screening, my skin is still crawling from the incredible performance by Jacki Weaver. Talk about a modern day Charles Manson. She is still giving me the creeps! This is one of the best films of the year, by far!
Starring: James Frecheville,
Ben Mendelsohn & Jacki Weaver
Director: David Michod
Company: Sony Pictures Classics
Now Showing: in area theaters
MPAA Rating: R
MAO'S LAST DANCER
Mao's Last Dancer is the inspiring true story of Li Cunxin and his extraordinary journey from a poor upbringing in rural China to international stardom as a world-class ballet dancer. Based on the best selling autobiography of the same name, the film weaves a moving tale about the quest for freedom and the courage it takes to live your own life. The film compellingly captures the struggles, sacrifices and triumphs, as well as the intoxicating effects of first love and celebrity amid the pain of exile.
The story begins with Li as an eleven year old child in his classroom on the outskirts of his Chinese village. Representatives of the Army visit his classroom and hand select those that are deemed worthy of traveling to Beijing to audition for the people's school of the arts. Li is plucked away from the life he knew simply because of the size of his hamstrings. After his audition and selection to the academy, his story literally soars from there. The premise of the film seems predictable, however the emotional escalation of the film stems from the numerous obstacles Li overcomes and the manner in which he does so. The Chinese Communist Party reluctantly approves a cultural exchange program with Li (Chi Cao) traveling to Houston to study with renowned artistic director Ben Stevenson (Bruce Greenwood). After a few months in America, Li decides he wants to defect. Houstonian and International Law expert Charles Foster (Kyle MacLachlan) enters the picture and works to obtain freedom for Li. The political and personal turmoil add even more emotion to the story, which will no doubt leave you with tears in your eyes.
Director Bruce Beresford not only hits a sure fire home run with his depiction of the story, but his cast could not have been better selected. Bruce Greenwood is tremendous as Ben Stevenson, under whose tutelage Li is able to meet his talents head on and exceed all expectations. An Oscar nomination for Stevenson may not be out of the question as his performance keeps the film grounded, yet at the same time allows the picture to soar. Chi Cao's performance as the adult Li Cunxin is vibrant and touching. It also doesn't hurt that Cao's dancing ability is simply brilliant as well. Kyle MacLachlan is also wonderful as Charles Foster and has his mannerisms down pat. The rest of the supporting cast are just as delightful.
This isn't just a film about ballet. This is story about life that happens to contain some wonderfully choreographed dance sequences. Sure to appeal to any fan of the ballet art form, the film will also tug at the heartstrings of any fan of cinema that wants a story that matters. This picture is full of unrefined raw emotion and trust me, that isn't a negative at all. It isn't often that a film comes along that can move you to tears and make you want to jump up and applaud a moment later. This is one of those films. From beginning to end, this film punches you square in the face and dares you not to like it. You won't just like it. You'll love it and like it, too.
Mao's Last Dancer
Starring: Bruce Greenwood,
Kyle MacLachlan & Amanda Schull
Director: Bruce Beresford
Samuel Goldwyn Films
Landmark River Oaks
MPAA Rating: PG
Every film is built upon stories of triumph over adversity. You would be hard pressed to find examples of films that lack that aspect. What is unique about Mao’s Last Dancer is that the primary character escapes the confines of a Communist government simply by utilizing the power of dance, or specifically in Li Cunxin’s case, ballet. The film Mao’s Last Dancer is a rather stirring adaptation of the main characters life. Li Cunxin was born in China and was hand picked by the government to attend Madam Mao’s Dance Academy. Not for just hobbyists, those selected dedicated their lives to perfecting their craft. Such is the life under those trying circumstances. The picture, as well as the book, chronicles Mao’s life from the point he was plucked from his village to the point he became an international ballet star.
The film previewed in Houston at the Museum of Fine Arts and I had the opportunity to interview some of the cast as well as the real life characters on which the film was based. Actor Bruce Greenwood had the daunting task of portraying the Artistic Director of the Houston Ballet, Mr. Ben Stevenson, who was responsible for Li obtaining permission from the Chinese government to study in Houston. It was Stevenson that essentially introduced the free world to Li Cunxin.
I inquired of Greenwood what attracted him to this particular film and mentioned the excitement of portraying such a legendary character such as Ben Stevenson. “So often, I have portrayed snippety jerks. The kind of folks you just want to beat the crap out of that are villainous. Ben Stevenson and Mao’s last dancer gave me the opportunity to showcase a man with a good heart that was also a great human being.” Greenwood went on to mention the writing, the semantics of the story as well as the fact that this film is different in all aspects than anything else he had done before. “The story is unbelievably moving. Stevenson isn’t a primary character, but he is integral in the telling of Li’s story. Without Ben Stevenson, Li would most likely have remained in China and the world wouldn’t have gotten to know such a brilliant dancer.”
Cast as the infamous Houstonian Charles Foster was the magnetic actor Kyle MacLachlan. The role of Foster in the film may be small, but it will definitely stick with you in terms of his performance. MacLachlan was very excited about portraying Foster because of what his dedication to the project and what the film portrayed. Kyle commented, “I was very impressed with my visit with Charles. We spent some time together and I asked him to describe the story and the impetus behind his thought processes. I found his perspective to be most helpful in preparing for the role.”
I inquired of both actors if they felt it created added pressures portraying cultural icons in a biographical sense, such as Ben Stevenson and Charles Foster. Both actors, under the direction of Bruce Beresford, strongly felt it necessary to serve the story and give the best performances possible for the audiences. In essence, more homework had to be done in order to prepare for the roles. This in turn added more excitement and anticipation to the roles throughout the film. MacLachlan added “in a film of this sort, with so many characters being real people, it was absolutely imperative to get the story and motivation behind the film correct.” There are moments in this film where you can actually see the tension, particularly in the Chinese embassy sequence. It was absolutely critical that Kyle successfully portray the character of Charles Foster without pretentiousness. It was the real Charles Foster’s work that obtained the release of Li Cunxin from the Chinese embassy. This was key for the success of the film. MacLachlan did his homework on Foster and it paid off in the film.
I asked Li Cunxin if there was one thing he wanted the audience to take away from the film, what would that one thing be? He replied, “Dare to dream big, follow with concrete plans and actions, when dealt with setbacks or faced with defeats, don't give up; persist, persevere, then work even smarter and harder. You will get there.” It’s no wonder Li Cunxin has been successful at everything he attempts. He practices what he preaches both in his profession and as a father. These are traits he learned at an early age from his parents and brothers.
There is no doubt that fans outside of Houston will love the film, but those in Houston will find it of particular interest for a number of reasons – not the least of which is that some of the film was actually filmed here in H-town. Those in Houston not living under a rock for the past decade and a half will surely be familiar with the work of Ben Stevenson, Charles Foster and the Houston Ballet. The primary character of the film, Li Cunxin, first came to Houston in 1981 as a cultural exchange student who knew very little English. Within a period of three months, he had won the hearts of the Houstonians who watched him become a star. Thanks to everyone involved, Li was able to share his talents with the entire world. His story is now a major motion picture so the entire world can relieve the telling of this brilliant man’s life and get to know him all over again.
We are doing a Free DVD Giveaway! If you are interested in a chance at winning a free copy of 21 Jumpstreet Season Two, Hunter Season Two, Silk Stalkings Season One, Hell on Earth, Wubbzy Goes to School, Wubb Idol, Wubbzy: Go For Gold, Wubbzy: Escape from Dino Island, Wubbzy: A Little Help From My Friends, Wubbzy: Pirate Treasure, Wubbzy: A Tale of Tails, The Joneses, The Original Roger Corman's Piranha, City Island, or the enigmatic Flight of the Conchords: Complete Collection, 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!
OSS 117: Lost in Rio - Music Box Films
Twelve years after his exploits in Cairo, OSS 117 is back on a new mission at the other end of the world. As he tracks down a microfilm that is compromising for the State, France s most famous secret agent will have to capture a Nazi blackmailer. From Rio´s sunny beaches to luxuriant Amazonian forests, from the depths of secret grottos to the top of Corcovado s Christ, a new adventure is about to begin. Whatever the danger, whatever the stakes, whatever the indelicate remark, you can always count on Hubert Bonisseur de la Bath to find a way out. This is a hilarious film!
THE SQUARE: Blu-ray - Sony
Few things are more satisfying than an effective crime thriller, and The Square is very, very effective. In this sinewy Australian flick, hapless construction overseer Raymond (David Roberts)--eager to hold on to his illicit lover Carla (Claire van der Boom)--starts with a little graft, which turns into a little arson and theft, which turns into murder, blackmail, and more murder. The plot rockets along, driven by the ruthless economy of director Nash Edgerton (a former stuntman who demonstrates a deep understanding of how to orchestrate danger) and screenwriter-actor Joel Edgerton (who plays a sympathetic firebug).
THE UNIVERSE: Our Solar System - History
The sky and outer space have fascinated man for centuries and the History Channel's series The Universe is the story of man's study of the cosmos from his earliest attempts to map and understand the heavens through modern-day scientific studies, advances, and theories. A mix of historical footage, modern space imaging, and conceptual computer graphics presented in high-definition, the visual component of this production is absolutely breathtaking. Each of the 44-minute episodes begins with a general introduction of subjects ranging from the sun to individual planets.
GANGLAND: Season Five - History
Gangland Season 5 seeks out new stories to tell within the confines of the series, at times faltering somewhat from a more intellectual, detached, news person feel to the stories, overwhelming viewers with facts and historical data while sparse on the visual impact. Or in other words, the overwhelming video support for the narrative is as simple as the graffiti on various buildings around the city. The lack of actual gangland violence completely transforms the series, the viewers not connecting the dots about various events. Gangland is not for everyone, as it is a niche show. However, if you are into the life and times of crime and mayhem, pick this up!
FLIGHT OF THE CONCHORDS: Complete Collection - HBO
Jermaine and Bret are a pair of New Zealand musicians, living in New York City and hoping to hit it big. Yeah, "Flight of the Conchords: The Complete Collection" sounds like a terrible generic sitcom, but instead this series is one of the most hilarious comedies of the last decade -- a quirky, weird, tongue-in-cheek little show with hilarious dialogue. Think a musical version of "The Office." Folk-pop group Flight of the Conchords is Jermaine Clement and Bret McKenzie (played by themselves), who came all the way from New Zealand to New York. They are being managed by the ineffectual New Zealand Consulate official Murray (Rhys Darby), and they have exactly one fan/stalker, Mel (Kristen Schaal). They don't have many gigs, and even fewer successful ones.
TOM & JERRY MEET SHERLOCK HOLMES - Warner
Tom and Jerry Meet Sherlock Holmes is an action-packed adventure that stars the popular cat and mouse duo as they attempt to nab a clever jewel thief with the help of legendary detective, Sherlock Holmes. Tom and Jerry set out on one of their biggest adventures yet when they visit London to help solve a series of jewelry heists that leave Scotland Yard completely befuddled and a beautiful singer named Red framed for the crimes. However, it’s going to take one of history’s greatest fictional detectives, Sherlock Holmes along with his loyal assistant Dr. Watson, to find the real thief.
GOSSIP GIRL: Season Three - Warner
Our beloved Upper East Siders are all grown up. Though high school may be behind most of them, you can be sure a future of love, scandal and, of course, secrets awaits. Based on the best-selling series of young-adult novels by Cecily von Ziegesar, this drama is told through the eyes of an all-knowing blogger -- Gossip Girl -- who, via constant, avidly read text messages, is determined to uncover and fuel every scandal possible on Manhattan's Upper East Side, where gossip rules, and affluent young people find themselves with the money, access and appetite to explore all the temptations New York City has to offer. Keeping track of the shifting friendships, jealousies and turmoil in this wealthy and complex world isn't easy; that's why there's Gossip Girl.
LES PAUL: Live in New York - Questar
For Les Paul's 90th birthday month in 2005, some big names were scheduled to appear with Paul and the 54-minute show that forms the core of this DVD captures some of those moments. Les Paul was a true renaissance man - a musician, an inventor, and a funny rascal too - during his 94 years, he made hit records, invented the solid body electric guitar and multi-track recording and spent every Monday night for 20 years playing on stage in the fairly intimate Iridium Jazz Club on Broadway in New York City. His audience on a Monday night consisted of tourists, longtime Paul fans and often a celebrity musician or two, who would often "sit in" with the master. If you are a music lover, this DVD is simply a must own!
BULL DURHAM - MGM
Bull Durham is about minor league baseball. It's also about romance, sex, poetry, metaphysics, and talent--though not necessarily in that order. Susan Sarandon plays a loopy lady who just loves America's national pastime--and the men who play it. At the opening of every season, she attaches herself to a promising rookie and guides him through the season. Unfortunately, the player she bestows her favors upon does not really deserve it. She knows it, and veteran Kevin Costner knows it. Her choice, a dim bulb played for laughs by Tim Robbins, is the only one who doesn't know it.
THE LAST SONG - Disney
This romantic tearjerker from writer Nicholas Sparks can be formulaic at times, but it stays interesting thanks to pacing and snappy dialogue. Miley Cyrus sulks through The Last Song as troubled teen Ronnie, who resents her father (Greg Kinnear) for divorcing Mom (Kelly Preston) and leaving the family. A piano prodigy, Ronnie refuses to play after her father leaves, and she snubs admission to Julliard. Ronnie and her wisecracking brother Jonah (Bobby Coleman) are sent to spend the summer with their father in a small Georgia beach town. Handsome townie Will (Liam Hemsworth) strikes up a tense relationship with Ronnie and, true to romance formula, they fall in love.
THE CITY: Season Two - CreateSpace
This season on The City, Whitney, Roxy, Olivia and Erin will learn that in New York City, climbing your way to the top means doing it alongside both friends and enemies. Whitney gets a last-minute chance of a lifetime -- a show at New York Fashion Week. After the chaos and fanfare subsides, Whitney has more than ever to do to prove herself as a designer. First up is creating a new line for the new season, and learning from Kelly Cutrone how to promote herself and her brand. She's still got Roxy in her corner, and Roxy owes her, both for a place to crash and the job at People's Revolution. But Roxy is learning that she's too strong-minded to live in Whitney's shadow. At ELLE Magazine, Olivia and Erin are tasked by Joe Zee to find some way to get along. However, their competition is far from over as Olivia is offered an on-camera job by Joe. But Erin is at the top of her game, and sees through Olivia now more than ever.
THE MOST DANGEROUS MAN IN AMERICA - First Run Features
In 1971, Daniel Ellsberg managed to end the war in Vietnam, a war that was based upon years of lies and deceit. He leaked over 7000 pages of top-secret documents to "The New York Times" and this act of his own conscience helped bring about Watergate, the resignation of the President (Nixon) and the end of the most hated war in American history. Ellsberg has been one of the nation's leading war planners and he risked a life in prison by helping to end the war that he had a hand in the planning of. With the leak, the Nixon administration went after the media and the result was a battle over the First Amendment that found its way to the Supreme Court within two weeks time. Ellsberg, himself, went underground to avoid an FBI manhunt. When he finally appeared he was hailed as a hero and vilified as a traitor.
CEMETERY JUNCTION - Sony
Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, the duo behind the BBC's Office, travel back to 1973 for this serio-comic coming-of-age story. Inspired by Gervais's Reading hometown, Cemetery Junction is the type of small-minded burg Freddie Taylor (Christian Cooke) longs to escape. Fortunately, he receives a job offer from Mr. Kendrick (Ralph Fiennes), leading to a gig selling life insurance. His best mates, the goofy Snork (Jack Doolan) and rebellious Bruce (Tom Hughes), can't imagine anything more dull, but Freddie, who wants to travel the world, sees it as his way out.
PAWN STARS: Season Two - A&E
The setting is the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop in Las Vegas, where everything has a story and a price. The bustling establishment is run by Rick Harrison along with Old Man, his crusty 68-year-old father with 30 blankety-blank years in the business, and Rick's son, Corey, a.k.a. Big Hoss. They look like they could be extras from Sons of Anarchy, but Rick, especially, is a personable proprietor with a seemingly inexhaustible knowledge of everything from military memorabilia to vintage portable typewriters. In these inaugural episodes, the focus is more on items brought in for sale rather than to be pawned.
CITY ISLAND - Anchor Bay
City Island is chock-full of the simple pleasures to be gleaned from a warm, generous, and skillful script, performed with humor and charisma by a talented cast. Vince Rizzo (Andy Garcia) is a prison guard or corrections officer as he prefers, and has a family full of secrets: his son has some atypical desires and his daughter has been kicked out of school, while his wife Joyce (Julianna Margulies) is powerfully attracted to the hunky young ex-con on parole that Vince has brought to stay with them. But Vince has some potent secrets of his own, including taking acting classes. He tells Joyce he's playing poker, which leads her to believe he's having an affair--and when she meets his acting partner (Emily Mortimer), she thinks her fears are confirmed.
CLONE HUNTER - Life Size Entertainment
In a distant future full of intelligent machines, the wealthy and powerful live their lives to the fullest, without limits, without restraint, and seemingly without end. But what happens if the artificial intelligence that makes this “perfect” world possible wants to share in it? David is a former planetary cop who resigned in disgrace. He is a freelance clone hunter now, a glorified gun for hire. He and his junior partner, Rachel, are hired by Montserrat, a brutal Oligarch, to track down a murderous clone that threatens the stability of Montserrat’s private planet. The more David and Rachel delve into the case the more corruption and rot they discover, until they come face to face with their own darkest secrets and must decide which side they are on.
THE JONESES - Fox
Built around a brilliant idea, Derrick Borte's debut plays like The Truman Show in reverse. Whereas Jim Carrey's Truman had no idea his life provided fodder for a TV show, the upper-crust enclave that welcomes the Joneses has no idea they're a marketing unit in disguise. One day, Steve (David Duchovny) and Kate (Demi Moore) arrive with teenagers Jenn (Amber Heard) and Mick (Ben Hollingsworth) and a moving van full of luxury goods. Attractive and charismatic, they inspire everyone they meet to purchase the same sportswear, golf clubs, and gourmet foods. They make the biggest impression on Larry (Gary Cole) and Summer (Glenne Headly), whose marriage has hit a rough patch. Steve advises his new golf partner to buy his wife expensive presents. Larry takes his advice--and then some--in an attempt to keep up with the Joneses, who find it difficult to maintain the Stepford-like façade when Jenn gets involved with a married man and Steve falls for his make-believe wife.
WUBBZY: Go for Gold - Anchor Bay
As always, Wubbzy has done it again! This DVD is adorable! The DVD's lesson is to make sure you are having fun when playing sports. It also shows how there is no substitution for practicing as of course there are some high-tech gadgets involved! I personally loved how the DVD used real-life celebrity Michelle Kwan in the episode. Our favorite bendy tail friend is perfect for kids of all ages!
WUBBZY: Pirate Treasure - Anchor Bay
Set sail for adventure as Wubbzy and his friends discover a whole new world of fun in this collection of wild escapades and silly songs from the Nick Jr/Noggin animated sensation. Tag along with Wubbzy, Widget and Walden as they search to find buried pirate treasure. Find out what happens when Wubbzy gets lost in the woods and why Walden is afraid of the beach. Take a trip with the gang to the nearby town of Plaidsville! Get ready for hours of singing, dancing, laughing and in this Emmy award winning series that puts the Wow! Wow! back into preschool entertainment.
WUBBZY: Wubb Idol - Anchor Bay
Wuzzleburg welcomes the Wubb Girlz! And when the most awesome girl group hosts the ‘Wuzzleburg Idol’ talent show, everybody in town wants to win the contest. If Wubbzy can wow the judges, he’ll get the chance to perform with Sparkle, Shimmer and Shine at their big concert in Wuzzlewood and maybe become a movie star. But will he remember the importance of just being himself? Join ‘Wubb-Z’, Walden, Widget and Daizy - and two special guest stars – on the coolest road trip ever! Filled with singing, dancing, best friends and more! Perfect for all the little music lovers in your entire family!
WUBBZY: A Little Help from My Friends - Anchor Bay
Join Wubbzy, Widget and Walden in Wuzzleburg in this fun, fun, fun collection of 8 episodes! Friendship takes center stage as Wubbzy and his pals search for a lost Wiggle Wrench, escape a runaway Doodleberry Cake, build a Super Robot, teach Walden to boogie and work hard for Wuzzleburg trophies. Together they discover the importance of positive values like confidence, cooperation, team work and above all , the meaning of friendship. There's hours of singing, dancing, laughing and learning in this Emmy award winning series that will have preschool kids and parents alike saying WOW!
WUBBZY: A Tale of Tails - Anchor Bay
Wubbzy is an infectiously lovable cartoon character with a kooky crooked tail that lives in a CGI world of unusual looking animal characters, pink and purple trees, and buildings with zig-zaggy walls. An impulsive young creature, Wubbzy greets each day with enthusiasm and a healthy dose of curiosity and is always on the lookout for a fun new experience. When trouble arises, Wubbzy counts on his good friends Widgit, a lover of machines and master inventor, and Walden, a science whiz, to help him creatively solve even the most difficult problem. In these eight humor-filled episodes, Wubbzy and his friends engage in everything from trying to straighten out Wubbzy's crooked tail to building the fastest road racer ever, stopping a volcano from erupting, and caring for a pet fleegle. While things rarely work out like the three friends plan, they always manage to have loads of fun while discovering the value of things like friendship, liking oneself, helping others, truthfulness, self-restraint, and taking responsibility for one's actions.
WUBBZY: Escape from Dino Island - Anchor Bay
Wubbzy and his friends are heading out on a mysterious adventure! Join the Wuzzleburg gang as they voyage to Dino Island in Widget's Wavy Wheeler 3000, explore Wazumboo Jungle and try to control a Doodleberry patch that has gone Wow! Wow! WILD! There is no telling who they will meet along the way! Sing and laugh along while learning life lessons about honesty, sharing, friendship and being prepared!
WUBBZY: Wubbzy Goes to School - Anchor Bay
Everybody's favorite yellow, bendy-tailed buddy loves to learn, learn, learn! Watch as Wubbzy faces his fear of going to school, Widget trains to be a ballerina and everybody tries to learn tricks from Moo Moo The Magician. Join the fun, as Wubbzy and his friends meet new kids and discover new experiences, with plenty of singing and dancing along the way! There are also lots of singing and dancing, as well as the typical bright graphics from Wubbzy! Very fun to watch no matter the time of year!