Tuesday, December 29, 2009


Written by Hombre Divertido

Like all boxing matches some solid shots are landed in Facing Ali, but more often than not, this documentary swings and misses.

The story of Muhammad Ali’s career has been told and documented many times in many forms, so finding a new slant was certainly a challenge. Nonetheless, producers Derik Murry and Paul Gertz, and director Pete McCormack found a way to tell Ali’s story and the stories of other legendary boxers that was unique and exciting. Unfortunately, somewhere in the process, it appears that they got a bit off track.

The packaging for the DVD states, “Ten of the sport's finest fighters tell what it is like to battle Muhammad Ali”. It also mentions, “This brutally honest documentary recounts Ali’s incomparable journey as seen through the eyes of those who stepped through the ropes and into history.” To some extent, the footage of Ali throughout his career both in the ring and out, and the interviews with George Chuvalo, Sir Henry Cooper, George Foreman, Joe Frazier, Larry Holmes, Ron Lyle, Ken Norton, Ernie Shavers, Leon Spinks, and Ernie Terrell does accomplish what the documentarians set out to do, but ultimately the goals touted were not achieved.

It is always good to leave an audience wanting more, but, it is not good for a documentary to leave so many unanswered questions. Whether it is poor interviewing or poor editing is not clear, but more insight into what it was like to be in the ring with Muhammad Ali certainly was available, and yet, not found in Facing Ali.

In the opening segment of the film, Ernie Terrell recounts a story from 1958 where he tells of Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali) walking into a room and saying “I want everybody who weighs 175 pounds to stand-up. I just want to let you know who is going to win this thing here tonight; it’s gonna be me.” What room? Where was this? What “thing” was he going to win? The questions remain, and this was just a glimpse of more incomplete interviews to follow.

The discussions with the fighters are candid and entertaining, but one could easily expect that a documentary titled Facing Ali would delve deeply into what it was like to prepare for and fight the legendary fighter. The actual accounts of what it was like to be in the ring with Ali are few and far between, and there is even less time dedicated to preparation. More frustrating is the obvious questions that are not answered. What would seem like a natural course to have taken would have been to discuss rematches with Ali. The rematches with Cooper (1), Chuvalo (1), and Norton (2), are not acknowledged, and only Ali vs. Frazier I and III are chronicled here. At only 100 minutes, time certainly could have and should have been spent on what it was like to go back into the ring and face Ali again.

The bonus material primarily focuses on the making of the documentary, and it is clear both from listening to the filmmakers and viewing the final product, that a great deal of time and energy was put into making the archival footage and the film as a whole look great. The final product does indeed look amazing; it is the content that is frustratingly lacking.

The “Animated Trivia Cards” of each of the ten fighters interviewed is a nice touch.

Recommendation: Though we are led to believe that we will see “ten of the sports finest fighters tell what it is like to battle Muhammad Ali” that is not actually what we get. Yes, the majority of the fighters interviewed are engaging and entertaining, and that does make the product enjoyable, but this film could have been and should have been better.

True fans of boxing are going to enjoy the time spent with the legendary fighters interviewed. Fans of Ali can find better accounts of the champ's career. Those looking for insight into what it was like Facing Ali will be frustrated with this incomplete product.

Sunday, December 27, 2009


Up in the Air with George Clooney is a thoroughly entertaining place to be.

Avatar may have state of the art special effects, and Sherlock Holmes may be action packed, but Up in the Air succeeds by keeping it simple, excellent storytelling through superb writing and solid performances.

In Up in the Air Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, a corporate-downsizing gun-for-hire who is on the road more than 300 days a year firing employees for corporations, and lecturing on simplifying one's life by eliminating attachments to things and relationships. Though a life upon the road may seem like a miserable existence to most, it is exactly the existence Ryan cherishes and yearns to excel at.

When Ryan’s company hires fresh-out-of-college hotshot Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick) who has plans to change the way the company operates by eliminating the need for travel, Ryan gets assigned to show her the ropes. While Ryan and Natalie are traveling throughout the U.S. firing people, Ryan is also trying to make time for a new interest in his life (Vera Farmiga) who describers herself as a female him and a pending family obligation.

Ryan’s cynical sense softens slightly throughout the film as he begins to see his life from the perspective of others, but the growth is stunted, and he is left to evaluate many choices he has made in life. Some of the plot turns are a bit obvious, but that is made up for by smart and witty dialog.

Based on the novel by Walter Kim, the screenplay by director Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner is paced perfectly, moving at a speed that is just quick enough to keep the dialogue-driven endeavor from bogging down without losing any of the subtle moments key to the success of the film as a whole.

The cinematography by Eric Steelberg is top notch as he truly manages to capture the U.S. locations in a rural and gray look that is engaging to the audience.

The performances in Up in the Air will warrant many award nominations. Unfortunately, Clooney makes this look too easy, and though that is a tribute to his skill and that of casting director Mindy Marin, it may hinder Clooney when the awards are distributed. It is the supporting players that make this film extremely fun. From the one-scene outings of J. K. Simmons and Sam Elliot, and those of even lesser-known actors playing the soon to be downsized, to the performance of Farmiga who manages to say so much without saying a word. Kendrick’s performance gets a bit too cartoony at times for this production, and Jason Bateman as Ryan and Natalie’s boss is too smug, but the impact is minor, and is made up for by those surrounding them.

Recommendation: Guaranteed to leave you wanting more. Skip the blockbusters and settle in for some old-school filmmaking.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Wizards of Waverly Place: The Movie - Extended Edition

Written by Pirata Hermosa

The first feature-length made-for-TV movie based on the popular Disney channel show has been released for the first time on DVD.

When the Russo family goes on vacation, it is never a dull moment. While most kids can go to the Caribbean with their parents and have a fairly normal family vacation, it’s not so easy when the kids are three wannabe wizards. Knowing their children’s tendencies to cause mischief and mayhem, their parents, Jerry (David DeLuise) and Theresa (Maria Canals-Barrera), forbid them to bring along their wands or to use any magic while on the trip.

That plan lasts almost as long as a short commercial break. Daughter Alex (Selena Gomez) has discovered the family’s spell book and brought it along, but she’s not the only one to blame. Justin (David Henrie) packed his wand and Max (Jake T. Austin) immediately starts using spells on a local street magician to spice up his act.

But this street magician is more than he appears to be. Sensing the Russos are doing real magic, Archie (Steve Valentine) asks for them to help his parrot return to her human self, as she has been turned into a bird. He says that he has a map to the Stone of Dreams, an extremely powerful item that is rumored to grant wishes.

After initially dismissing his request and acting like they don’t know what he is talking about, the kids return to ask him for help in saving their parents. During a normal teen moment while Alex is arguing with her mom, she mistakenly wishes that her parents had never met. A common wish that many teenagers have had throughout history, but not while they are holding the powerful family spell book and Justin’s borrowed wand. When Alex realizes that her parents have no memory of anything that has happened after their initial meeting, she rushes to her siblings for help.

Alex and Justin enlist help from Archie, while Max stays behind to not only watch his parents, but also to find some way to help them fall in love again. You’d think Max would have the easier job, but keeping his parents out of trouble while both are on the prowl and his father can use magic again is far from being an easy task. The other two teenagers head off on a magical journey through the jungle to face a myriad of obstacles in the search for the stone.

Eventually all of this climaxes into a final battle reminiscent of a Harry Potter film. Alex and Justin must fight one another in order to pass the final wizard task where one will become a full wizard and the other loses their abilities forever.

At first it’s a little strange seeing the show in a feature-length format. The sets look a little different and there is no laugh track. After you settle into the first 10 minutes of the show and the family arrives at their vacation spot, it really begins to take off and becomes an independent film of its own. It has nice pacing and a good storyline that keeps your attention. You don’t even need to be a fan of the show to understand what is going on.

For fans of the show, I think they will be surprised at the changes. The special effects are far superior to what they do on the television show and there is a lot more character development. Alex finally shows a little emotion and becomes less of a brat and more of a responsible young woman. You can feel an actual relationship between Justin and Alex develop as the two join forces and find themselves struggling to save the family. Under normal circumstances they are rivals, but in the film you see that they do care for one another like most siblings do. Max isn’t just the stupid younger brother. He’s certainly not a genius, but he actually uses his brain a few times and is less of a one-dimensional character. Theresa actually shows some parenting skills and isn’t just part of the background like she normally is. And finally, Jerry isn’t just a foil for his kids to play off of, and shows how he wasn’t such a responsible person when he was a teenager either.

The DVD contains one making-of featurette where you go behind the scenes with the cast to see how the film was created, a digital copy, and a Wishing Stone key chain that changes color when you touch it.

Thursday, December 10, 2009


Written by Hombre Divertido

It is not unusual at this time of year for one's thoughts to turn to the upcoming holiday, the New Year, and of course the best and worst movies of the current year. The respective lists can be tough as they are usually limited to ten entrants. One can certainly thank the writers, director, producers, and actors of Brothers for supplying all with a surefire entrant on to everyone’s "worst of 2009" list.

This plodding 110-minute yawn fest featuring Jake Gyllenhaal, Natalie Portman, and Tobey Maguire drags along toward a conclusion that every audience member sees coming, and yet, still manages to be more disappointing than anticipated. The commercials for Brothers would certainly lead one to believe that this is an intense thriller. In actuality, there is little intensity until the second hour, and by then most of the audience has checked out.

Though Maguire manages to look eerily like Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver that is certainly where the similarities cease. Maguire is simply in over his head as Capt. Sam Cahill, the emotionally unstable soldier returning to his family after being thought killed in Afghanistan. Mare Winningham is distractingly miscast as the Cahill's stepmother, but Maguire is the big problem as he is too young looking for his part and many of the emotional scenes are beyond his range. Most notable is Maguire's performance in the scene in which his character finally blows and begins to destroy his newly refurbished kitchen. Said performance will rival that of Sylvester Stallone in the conclusion of First Blood for one of the worst of all time. The rest of the cast is adequate. Unfortunately they are given little to do, and thus provide one-dimensional performances. Though Bailee Madison provides an engaging performance as Cahill's eldest daughter, the motivation for the character, and most of the others in the movie, is inconsistent and subsequently distracting.

The screenplay by David Benioff based on the motion picture Brødre, written by Susanne Beir and Anders Thomas Jensen, manages to surprise as it fails to go many places one might suspect. It fails to go anywhere that would generate any energy, tension, or excitement. Director Jim Sheridan reigns in his talented cast and wastes the skills of Gyllenhaal, Portman, and Sam Shepard. What should be emotion filled climactic confrontation scenes border on comical as they are too contrived.

Recommendation: It is rare to find a film that warrants no positive factors in a review. Perhaps if someone was to see Brothers more than once, they may find some redeeming qualities, but that would not be a task wished upon anyone during this joyous holiday season. If it hits DVD shelves before Christmas, which would be appropriate, it will make the perfect white elephant gift.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Night at the Museum - Battle of the Smithsonian (Two-Disc Monkey Mischief Pack)

Written by Pirata Hermosa

It’s hard enough to believe that one film about a museum whose exhibits come to life during the night would be a fun exciting film, let alone two. But somehow director Shawn Levy managed to succeed.

The original film was about Larry (Ben Stiller), a guy down on his luck who gets a gig as the late night guard at the American Museum of Natural History. Unbeknownst to him, the exhibits actually come to life at night and there are a lot of tasks he has to do on a nightly basis just to keep them in line.

In the latest incarnation, Larry has moved on to bigger and better things. He’s an infomercial sensation selling all kinds of gimmicks that he has invented. His latest invention is the glow-in-the-dark flashlight. With his new-found fame and fortune, Larry no longer needs to be a night watchman. It’s been two years since he left the museum and only shows up every few months to check on his old friends.

During his latest visit, he discovers that the museum is being modernized with interactive exhibits. This means that all of the old exhibits are being sent into deep storage in the Federal Archives at the Smithsonian. Not only are they going to be shipped away, but the golden tablet of Akmenrah that brings them to life every night is not being sent along.

At first, Larry is slightly bothered by this news and eventually accepts the fate of his friends. His son doesn’t understand his father’s reaction, but when Larry suddenly receives an emergency call from Jedediah (Owen Wilson) the miniature cowboy, the former night watchman decides that he has to do something.

Once he manages to sneak into the underground archives he finds that Dexter, the Capuchin Monkey has stolen the plaque and brought it with him. Now everything in the Smithsonian’s multiple museums has been brought to life and is running amok. While most of the exhibits are friendly, Kahmunrah (Hank Azaria), who is Akmenrah’s brother, has gathered some of the world’s most dangerous men to hunt down the life-giving tablet in order to bring his army back to life. It’s up to Larry to stop the pharaoh and save his friends.

The film is very entertaining, and it’s difficult not to be when you have such an all-star cast. Hank Azaria is a major reason for the success of this film. His portrayal of the Pharaoh and the bizarre voice he uses makes every minute he is on screen incredibly funny. The addition of Amy Adams as Amelia Earhart is also a brilliant casting decision. Not only is she stunning to look at, but her spirit and plucky attitude is what gives the film its heart.

This is a two-disc DVD set. Disc 1 contains the full-length feature, has a director’s commentary, a writer’s commentary, and the following special features:

“The Curators of Comedy: Behind the Scenes of Night at the Museum - Battle of the Smithsonian.”

Deleted Scenes: Mostly just a few extended scenes, but there are a couple with Al Capone (Jon Bemthal) that would have been a nice edition. Also, the alternate ending is interesting because the original villains from the first film show up. And those were played by Mickey Rooney, Dick Van Dyke and Bill Cobbs, but unfortunately, their scene would have detracted from the film and were better left out.

Gag Reel: A fairly typical gag reel, but with much better actors unable to get their lines right.

“Phinding Pharaoh”: Having cast Hank Azaria in the role as the pharaoh, Levy turned him loose and let him come up with the voice. This is the video of Azaria in full costume playing around with different accents, such as British, Southern, Cockney, and finally settling on Boris Karloff.

“The Jonas Brothers in Cherub Boot Camp”: It’s pretty funny to watch Levy torturing the brothers by having them training to be cherubs. They must prance around wearing wings, play harps, and practice archery.

Disc 2 is Monkey Mischief and it is filled with monkey-related activities and featurettes.

“Monkey Business” tells how Crystal, the monkey who plays Dexter, was trained and how the cast interacts with her. It deals only with the first film.

“Primate Prima Donnas” is based on the second film. While Crystal played both Dexter and Able, she has a stand-in named Squirt who isn’t as talented that helps during the shooting of the second film when both monkeys must appear together in a scene.

“The Secret Life of a Monkey Movie Star: Life Off Camera”: Home videos strung together to show what the two monkeys do at home. Basically it’s an excuse to put them in different costumes and give them props to show that they play music or spend time in the pool.

Monkey Slap: a video game for Mac or PC. Play as Dexter or a guard and slap one another until your power bar is completely filled. You can slap high or low, dodge backwards or block. It’s rather slow and awkward to play. You’d need to be a very young child to enjoy this game.

“Able & Dexter’s Flights of Fancy” is a trivia game that is run by the two monkeys in the film. They give you a history lesson and then you get a pop quiz in regards to what you just learned. If you succeed you build a flying machine. The game is really simple and made for little kids. The fact that the monkeys just chitter while you read the subtitles is just annoying.