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As most rabid fans of a comic book series can attest to, you really don’t want anyone screwing with your source material making it lose everything that made it special to being with. There’s a line that must never be crossed, yet is completely obliterated time and time again by greedy studios, hack directors, and ill-informed screenwriters. Watchmen was suppose to be the film that broke that trend, and for the most part, it is going against the most nihilistic expectations of fanboys, but after witnessing Zack Snyder’s ode to Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons perennial work, maybe things would have been better off without this adaptation.

There’s a lot to like about Watchmen, the film is oozing style reminiscent of the graphic novel using the carefully drawn frames of the twelve-issue series to frame cinematic exploits of not-quite-super heroes like Rorschach, Night Owl, and Dr. Manhattan, but there’s also a lot of disappointment surrounding the film as well.

As a stand alone film the cinematography is great, the direction is tight; the script is well done and involving. The audience is introduced to the characters and through carefully interwoven bits is introduced to their past as well. However as an adaptation of the graphic novel the film is a big disappointment. Everyone know concessions were going to have to be made to accommodate a movie’s runtime and the dialog heavy graphic novel may have worked better as a miniseries than an actual film. While every scene cut from the film isn’t pivotal, there are bits and pieces, secondary characters, plot points that all build up and give the ending much more impact when the reader realizes what has happened. Here those missing elements are filled in by the minds of those who have read the novelization, but novices will find themselves lost.

The ending itself deserves plenty of talk as it is completely changed as far as the events portrayed. While the basic principles of who lives, who dies, who is to blame, and why they did it are left intact, certain elements that are part of the harrowing climax of the source material are sadly missing or altered beyond recognition here. Those viewers who already had problems with how the comic ended will have even bigger problems now as the vilification of a beloved character just doesn’t fit.

This work was called unfilmable at one point in its decades stuck in development hell and Snyder’s release proves that to be false, there was a film made here, and a pretty good one at that, but all people are going to talk about is what is missing, what is present, and how much of the cut material we’re going to get back in the eventual director’s cut on DVD.

There were a lot of claps during our screening of the film, there were also some groans and giggles by those who can’t handle the sight of a blue ding-a-ling on a 70ft screen, but I didn’t really hear any indifference, people either loved it or hated it, there appears to be no middle ground.

Knowing the development hell this film has gone through, the scrutiny that would follow it up to and after its release this had to be expected, but after all those gushing early reviews from fanboys and comic books geeks you just had to expect and adaptation akin to The Dark Knight instead of the passable interpretation we received.

As the first ever direct sequel in the 22 film James Bond franchise, and the second film in the reboot series that started with Daniel Craig’s debut as 007 in Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace both impresses and disappoints. The impressive parts far outweigh the disappointments, however both sides of the coin need to be examined to fully see the film for what it is.

On the base level QoS is a direct sequel, heavy in the continuing story of Bond’s revenge crusade against the organization that plotted against him and turned his true love, Vesper Lynd, against him in the closing moments of Royale. The film picks up in a high chase sequence through the Italian countryside with Bond escorting Mr. White (whom he shot in the final moment of CR) to a meeting with M (Judi Dench) where things don’t go as planned. The organization’s reach is far beyond anything MI6 had envisioned and as the swift one hour-forty-five-minute film concludes the audience is left with a satisfied feeling.

Quantum is one long action sequence as director Marc Forster (Finding Neverland) never lets up from the gas peddle from the teaser sequence until the fiery ending in the Bolivian desert. They are chases on land, sea, and in the air, shoot outs, more free-style running with nary a moment for Bond to catch his breath before he’s on a plane to another country and involved in another shoot-out. The rapid pace of the film makes its already abbreviated running time feel even shorter. This could also be one of the film’s biggest weaknesses as the runtime doesn’t provide a lot of time for the character to be explored anymore than what we saw in Casino Royale. Here Bond is vengeful, hell-bent on destroying the organization that claimed his glimmer of happiness and in a borrowing of plot lines from both Die Another Day and License to Kill, he goes semi-rogue, even though M knows what he is doing at all times.

Still without anytime for Bond’s development, he falls into a 2D character that constantly milking the franchise over the past 40 years has produced on occasion. Even worse off is the film’s supposed big baddie in Mr. Greene (Mathieu Amalric) who is even less developed and never imposing enough to be seen as a threat. Greene plays the political game and is very hand’s off, much like CR‘s Le Chiffre, however where the dearly departed villain could stand toe to toe with Bond, even going so far as to torture him, Greene looks like a school boy and never oozes the confidence we’d like to see in a Bond villain.

Aside from the never ending comparisons to the franchise reboot predecessor, to which this film doesn’t quite approach in quality, Quantum is a great entry into the franchise and as an extension of Casino Royale rather than a separate film, its unparalleled in its quality with a satisfying ending and the door open to continue along the development of Quantum (the organization) and its dealings in the world as MI6 is no where closer to unraveling what makes them work at the conclusion of this film.

Quantum of Solace is a must for any Bond, Bourne, or action-movie fan, and while die hard franchise skeptics who won’t watch anything sans-Connery will be keen to spout off against the film and its declining quality in comparison to other films in the series, after the spectacular show that was Casino Royale, it was going to take a miracle to really top that masterpiece.

In the current landscape of the comedy world where it seems everything is made by a small group of actors and directors its nice to see a film with some new faces, even if one is a adolescent boy with a mouth like a sailor and an old friend we nearly forgot about. This friend would be Seann William Scott, long missing from the comedy world after the American PieRole Models trilogy, the actor can pull off sweet and charming while channeling smarmy and pretentious and does it with ease here in paired up with Apatow-alumni Paul Rudd.

Rudd has long been known in genre films as the go-to-guy for supporting roles focusing on disenfranchised, sarcastic spouses looking to reinvent themselves in a younger generation (see Knocked Up) but he’s never had the opportunity to carry a film, even if he steals every scene he’s in. Role Models is Rudd’s breakthrough leading-man role and, along with Scott, the banter between the two energy drink salesmen sentenced to community service is believable and, most importantly, funny.

After crashing a Minotaur-skinned truck into a statue Danny (Rudd) and Wheeler (Scott) are sentenced to community service as “Bigs” who befriend a couple “Littles” in the form of Ronnie (Bobb’e J. Thompson) and Augie (Christopher Mintz-Plasse). Ronnie constantly belittles and makes Wheeler’s life miserable as he trudges through 150 hours of service, but eventually the two bond as Wheeler passes on tips about how to stair at boobs without getting caught. Danny has a harder time connecting with Augie who constantly involves himself in LAIRE not to be confused with very similar LARP.

The script is by the numbers for the most part, each of the grown men come to realize the error of their ways after exiling themselves from each other and their Littles. Danny has a subplot about attempting to reconnect with his lawyer ex-girlfriend and Wheeler just has a love obsession with KISS which plays into the final act of the story.

The comedic timing of all those involved is excellent, which makes the, otherwise, average plot flow much more cohesively and stay interesting even after you can spot plot revelations a mile away. The jokes are fresh, for the most part, but its all about the delivery and Scott’s everyman, slacker attitude plays well with Rudd’s high-strung, sarcastic view on life.

While many will mistake and attribute the film to Judd Apatow due to his stable of capable actors being utilized here, the film never needs to devolve into gross out humor to get its point across, a rarity these days, but a welcomed change. Role Models won’t change the genre but it certainly doesn’t hurt it either.

What Max Payne does right via the video game source material, and there’s very little, it does great, but when it strays too far off course and tries to reinvent the decade old mythology of the acclaimed Rockstar Games series, it falls virtually flat.

Fans of the video games are not going to be happy with this movie in any capacity, there just isn’t enough left of the original story, which, itself was based on the detective noir classics of the 1940’s and 1950’s. Characters have been removed, plot points have been changed, and while Max Payne escapes the virtual disembowelment that was Hitman, it still is unfaithful to its core audience and mediocre to the general public, another missed opportunity in a long run of missed opportunities.

The film centers around Max Payne, a cold case desk jockey looking for the men who killed his wife and baby girl. While in the games Max goes to work for the DEA after immediately learning about the drug Valkyr, here it takes a better part of the movie for him to discover the circumstances behind his wife’s death and the connection to Aesir Pharmaceuticals. There’s a deeper conspiracy (of course) involving double crosses, a mercenary for hire in Mona Sax (Mila Kunis), and the discrediting of Payne himself. Gone missing are the entire “secret society” subplot with government’s involvement in bringing down Aesir and using Payne to do it for them. Sure there’s a tease at the end of the film for a sequel, but anything they include should have been included here in order to move on to the much superior story following Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne.

Generally Mark Walberg portrays the titular hero with ease and his general disdain for anyone and everyone comes across faithfully to the gruff graphic novel counterpart we see in the series. The dramatically underused Kunis in the role of Mona Sax is going to have the most fan uproar with the character being relegated to a backup character that is never put in the moral dilemma in which to kill Payne (in the game she refuses and is “killed” for her betrayal to her employers). Alex Balder (Donal Logue) survives the translation but is disposed of almost immediately (different from the game). The only character the really survives intact is B.B. Hensley (Beau Bridges) but by the time he appears on screen you’ve just stopped caring.

As a general movie, forgetting the source material, Max Payne is hardly above average with a general revenge story focusing on one wronged man aiming to take on the world to get to the bottom and put his wife and children to rest. The Punisher did this much better and even that isn’t saying much.

Max Payne will go down as yet another video game property brought to the big screen in such a sloppy manner that no one is going to like the results. How long before Hollywood realizes that to capitalize on the popularity of these games, they need to actually hire someone who has played and loves them to write and direct?

To borrow a line from a very popular book, the Coen brother’s Burn After Reading is a mostly harmless affair with a brisk pace, sometimes lightening dialog, this dark comedy begins, does its thing, and leaves you to go on your merry way. The film, the first since the Oscar winning No Country for Old Men (a film not held in high regards among our staff), takes a collection of A-list celebrities, casts them in a movie with such obscene stupidity you can’t help but to laugh for 90 minutes before J.K. Simmons steals the entire film as he closes the book on the entire piece.

As with most Coen films Reading focuses on a collection of narratives that culminate together, with characters drifting between each of the stories bridging the gaps. Osborne Cox (John Malkovich) is fired from his CIA job because of a drinking problem, his wife, played by Tilda Swinton, is secretly having an affair with married Treasury drone Harry Pfarrer (George Cloony) who is also dating gym-worker Linda Litzke (Frances McDormand). Linda works with Chad (Brad Pitt) and the two of them come into possession of Cox’s financial statements which they believe are intelligence documents. The logical thing to do with any sensitive document is to blackmail the author, in this case the foul-mouthed Cox, or sell it to the Russians, both of which are attempted.

The plot whirls you around for about an hour and a half, cracking a few jokes along the way, makes you feel dirty for laughing, but producing some decent belly laughs and more than a few chuckles. The writing is done is such a way that not every joke known to man is thrown up against a wall to see which ones stick, each joke is carefully crafted and seem to hit their mark more often than not.

Being a Coen brothers film there is your fair share of outrageous, gratuitous violence including a point blank shot to the face and a hatchet to another supporting character’s head. Its so over the top and unexpected that you’re forced to just laugh and stare in disbelief for a second after it happens, reassuring yourself that you just witnessed what you think you did.

Bit-players David Rasche and J.K. Simmons steal the film however with their dry retelling of the climatic events as it closes and Simmons bewildered CIA director makes the film as funny as it aspires to be. This isn’t to say that the film is necessarily flat or insanely funny the apt principle of mostly harmless really sums it up, whether you watch it or not, enjoy it or not, laugh or not, its over in 90 minutes. For non-fans of the Coen brothers its out of sight, out of mind, for true fans it takes its rightful place in the land of Big Lebowski’s and snow covered Minnesota.

Mark Lewis’ Baystate Blues is subtitled “An Intimate Epic” and however you feel about the christening of an epic, or the definition of the word, unfortunately this full length debut for the director is a disappointment for a number of reasons.

Baystate Blues is the tale of one day in the life of a couple, Mike (Scott Lewis) and Devon (Allyson Sereboff), six months removed from a horrific accident that left Devon mentally and physically scared. Her struggle to regain composure in her relationship and everything else in her life is the primary focus of the film; however ample time is given to her two sisters, Virginia (Sharon Maguire) and Alex (Steffi Kammer) and how they intertwine with the plot. There’s a subplot about Virginia and her attempts to reconcile and rekindle a past relationship with Jason (Joe Tuttle), but at its core the movie is really about the struggles of Mike and Devon.

The main problem is that, with such a small cast of characters, it’s nearly impossible to find one to identify with or really find attractive as a person. Devon, even though suffering Post-Traumatic Stress, comes off as whiny and annoying throughout the entire feature, and while this may be intentional, the film’s ending with her regaining clarity on her life is both open-ended and too little, too late for the audience’s relationship with the character. Her sisters present themselves as the 2D caricatures of the tough-on-the-outside but emotional-on-the-inside female who goes from hating men to accepting marriage by the end of 89 minutes, and the flighty, quirky sibling is involved in one of the movie’s most oft-putting plot twists. It isn’t like you don’t see the adulterous revelations at the end of the film coming, but you almost hoped it didn’t happen as it does no real service to the characters or the film as a whole.

Lewis’ script just doesn’t paint anything new on this canvas as the plot is slow at times and awkward dialog and an extremely long shoot at a stone church during one of Mike’s normal working days just make the film drag on rather than build up the suspense or drama towards a suitable conclusion. As mentioned before, the climax itself is left so open ended that it almost does a disservice to the viewer not knowing how things turn out but by now you’ve lost all hope for the characters.

On the technical side of things Lewis maintains a rather static camera on the action, even during a mid-film and ending musical montage to progress things along. The montages themselves are done well and the chosen scenery, like the aforementioned church, is beautiful to look at and shoot around.

While this “epic” does tighten things up towards the end of the film, with its driveway fight club and the needless will-they-won’t-they questions, the preceding hour just did so much to muddle and drag the audience along that they just might not care anymore. This all comes down to the characters and how hard they are to follow and identify with, with roughly half a dozen interacting there just needs to be something unique, different, and most importantly, likeable, about them for a viewer to show any attachment and emotion as they make some of the biggest choices in their lives.

Hungarian director Attila Szasz’s Now You See Me, Now You Don’t is a harrowing, supernaturally-infused short film that grasps you by the mind and never lets you go through its 30 minute runtime. All aspects of the film come together in such a coherent, cohesive, collective package that you almost need to take a step back and realize that this was a low-budget independent film, these types of films aren’t suppose to be this good, are they?

The most notable aspect of the entire product is Szasz’s flair for the cinematic. The cinematography is excellent throughout with an overhead rain scene rivaling the much-ballyhooed kin in The Matrix Revolutions. The camera work is smooth with lots of close up shots, slightly out of focus long shots, and effective use of lighting and blocking to create something so clean. The signature shot is that of silhouettes being used from a long shot.

The story itself features only three characters, a mother (Dora Letay), a father (Erno Fekete), and a son, Alex (Vitez Abraham), and through the running of the film it becomes more and more obvious that there is something else going on behind what the audience has been shown.

While keeping the review as spoiler free as possible, the final heart-wrenching and powerful revelation at the film’s climax will have you close to tears as you reexamine previous scenes for clues. Even relating it to other films will give away the more exciting portions of this revelation, so let’s leave it as a surprise.

Now You See Me, Now You Don’t is a powerful feature film fitted into the shoe of a low budget indie. While the story as a whole isn’t as developed as you would get from a full length project, it does everything right in getting its point across while simultaneously pulling in and pulling at the audience in its gripping finale.

If Paul W.S. Anderson’s Death Race 2000 remake has anything going for it, it’s the old adage; it knows what it is and doesn’t strive for anything more or anything less. Death Race, the remakes simplified name, is a blistering film drenched in pure octane and lacking much of anything else, but this isn’t award winning cinema here and at no point does the film strive to be, its simply there to entertain for nearly two hours and be done with and almost forgotten about on the ride home.

Death Race, sloshing around in development hell for the better part of the new millennium, even having Tom Cruise attached at one point, is now a budget release for Universal in the doldrums of August when the summer has passed us by, but we aren’t quite ready for award season yet. Jason Statham starts as Jensen Ames a man falsely accused of murdering his wife and thrown into Terminal Island prison. As the beginning of the film explains, the economic turmoil in the United States has lead to private corporations taking over detention duties and reality TV becoming slightly more obscene than Flava of Love.

Drivers are now forced to race for freedom, five wins gets you out, however no one has ever gotten five wins so who knows if the rules of a tyrannically warden (Joan Allen) will hold up when she’s faced with losing her biggest moneymaker. You already know Allen’s Hennessey has set up Ames to get him in her prison and star in her TV show. Coming along for the ride are notables like Tyrese Gibson (whose Transformer‘s check must not have cleared) and Ian McShane (who must be really heartbroken by the cancellation of Deadwood).

From the very onset Death Race grabs you by the groin and pulls you along with arresting shots of cars going fast, rockets exploding, and angry men ramming into each other. Its one testosterone drenched scene after another as Ames tries to find a way to escape and stay alive as Hennessey plots to destroy him after he’s served his purpose.

Statham is his everyday self, gruff, bald, quippy, and incredibly fun to watch in what ever he does. It seems as though writers always try to find a way for him to take his shirt off and work out, or work in a really good fight scene where he will take his short off and work out. Allen does a complete 180 from her turn in the Bourne franchise by hamming up a villain-role that is both unbelievable and utterly unbelievable.

That’s the problem with the movie in general; it sets rules and regulations for its universe and then completely negates them as time goes on including the ease of escape for the prisoners at the end of the film, you’ve probably been in Home Depots more heavily guarded than this maximum security prison.

Still, if you have the right mindset for entering, Death Race can have some amusing moments, usually provided by the interchange between Statham and Allen with McShane thrown in for good measure. Paul W.S. Anderson has never really shown himself to be very capable as a writer/director, usually excelling at the director part and failing miserably at the writing half, and that holds true here with horrible dialog and a story strung together for one explosion after another, but you do get fast cars, hot women, and a damn good, albeit forgettable, time.

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