A second-rate cage fighter on the mixed martial arts circuit, Luke Wright lives a numbing life of routine beatings and chump change...until the day he blows a rigged fight. Wanting to make an example of him, the Russian Mafia murders his family and banishes him from his life forever, leaving Luke to wander the streets of New York destitute, haunted by guilt, and tormented by the knowledge that he will always be watched, and anyone he develops a relationship with will also be killed.
But when he witnesses a frightened twelve-year-old Chinese girl, Mei, being pursued by the same gangsters who killed his wife, Luke impulsively jumps to action...and straight into the heart of a deadly high-stakes war. Mei, he discovers, is no ordinary girl, but an orphaned math prodigy forced to work for the Triads as a "counter." He discovers she holds in her memory a priceless numerical code that the Triads, the Russian mob and a corrupt faction of the NYPD will kill for.
Realizing he's the only person Mei can trust, Luke tears a swath through the city's brutal underworld to save an innocent girl's life...and perhaps even redeem his own.
THE TILLMAN STORY (The Weinstein Company – 94min) Rated R Now Playing at the Landmark in West L.A.
People react to crisis in all kinds of different ways, and back in 2002, amidst the fresh wounds and confusion post 9/11, the NFL’s Pat Tillman stunned everyone when he put his career aside to join the Army and become a Ranger. Now a new documentary examines the shady and controversial way he died and how the military tried to cover up the truth to make him an enlistment poster boy.
A definite hero, Tillman became a symbol of patriotism and when news of his death in April 2004 arose while he was serving in Afghanistan, the military first falsely reported he unselfishly risked his own life to save his fellow soldiers during an enemy ambush. It was only later that the truth was revealed, Tillman, in fact, was killed by “friendly fire.”
Awarding Tillman the Silver Star for valor, the Army was using Tillman as recruitment propaganda much to the dismay and distaste of his family as the facts just weren’t adding up to them. Staunch supporters of the truth, they were relentless to uncover what happened to Pat Tillman and that’s when documentary filmmaker Amir Bar-Lev and his camera stepped in.
“Pat’s heroic in all the ways except the way they say he was,” the filmmaker points out. “The Pat Tillman that’s out there is a very simplistic rendition of the reality of the guy. And the more you take away this Paul Bunyan version of Pat Tillman the more you like him.”
Although no one will ever question Tillman’s unwavering sense of duty, those around him admit that he did begin to question the “War on Terror” and the U.S. occupation in Afghanistan, yet another reason why it was so shameful how his death was initially covered up and spun to help the cause.
Although there are no clear-cut answers here, it’s a fascinating story nonetheless, as Tillman was gunned down by fellow U.S. soldiers, zealous for action, all the while frantically screaming: “Friendly!”
It would be great if there could be some accountability for Tillman’s death and for the way the military, including President Bush in a high-profile speech, spun the truth in attempt to cover the truth. That may never happen but it’s commendable that the questions have been raised.
PEEPLI LIVE (UTV – 106 min) Not Rated In Hindi and English with English Subtitles
The first Indian film ever shown in competition at the Sundance Film Festival, Peepli Liveis a funny and heartfelt portrait of today's rapidly modernizing India.
The story of two brothers on the verge of losing their family’s plot of land over an unpaid government loan, they decide one of them should commit suicide to take advantage of a government initiative that aids the families of indebted farmers who kill themselves. Budhia, the shrewder of the two, immediately encourages Natha, a simpleton by nature, to think of the greater good of their family and do the right thing. Immediately the story becomes fodder for the tabloids and hits the airwaves creating a celebrity in Natha.
Satirical in nature, the film is co-directed by a husband and wife team, and producer Aamir Khan says of the first time he read the material, “I found it to be outrageously funny, and at the same time very heartbreaking. It’s a script that was very unusual for mainstream Indian cinema, and probably very few producers would touch it. In other words it was right up my street!!!”
Sharp, biting and outrageous, this is a crowd-pleasing little film that’s a welcome relief from the mainstream Hollywood cookie cutter movies that so often monopolize our screens.
Peepli Live is now playing at the AMC Burbank 16, AMC Covina 30, AMC Santa Monica 7, Naz8 Cinemas Lakewood, Laemmle's Music Hall 3 in Beverly Hills, Laemmle's Fallbrook 7 in West Hills, and in Orange County at Regal's Westpark 8 in Irvine.
(Kino International – 87min) Unrated
Jack Rebney, a former RV salesman, became an Internet sensation when his legendary expletive-filed rants during an industrial video shoot in 1988 were posted online. A celebrity in our YouTube world, Rebney has become known as the “world’s angriest man” (this is of course before Mel Gibson’s recent hate-filled meltdown hit the Web) and filmmaker Ben Steinbauer decided to search for the man whose viral tirades have been seen by more than 20 million people worldwide.
Living alone on a mountaintop, Rebney was completely unaware of his cult status for quite some time. Winnebago Man, a film festival hit, is an endearing and funny look at our viral culture and an unexpectedly poignant tale of one man’s response to unintended celebrity.
“The Winnebago Man’s cursing and shouting – at the crew and at himself – was different from other meltdowns,” documentary director Ben Steinbauer points out. “He was at his breaking point, yet he still managed to maintain a level of self-awareness and humor. While I was doubling over with laughter, I also found myself empathizing with this man and his situation. He was tearing himself down, along with the artifice of film production and the posturing of sales and advertising. My roommate and I re-watched the clip every night for about a year. I memorized it, showed it to everyone I knew, and I tried to find out the story behind the video. Non one seemed to know anything about the clip, despite its widespread popularity, and this further fueled my curiosity.”
Along the way, Steinbauer finds other YouTube stars and looks at how their lives have been forever altered, as they quickly became fodder for public ridicule. The film eventually becomes a struggle as to how director and subject want to be presented and remembered, therein is the real drama.
Maybe it was time for a film about over taxation and the exploitation of the common man by the powers that be but maybe Russell Crowe’s Robin Hoodstealing from the rich to give to the poor just wasn’t the right film to tell the story.
Teaming up once again with filmmaker Ridley Scott, this version of Robin Hoodis nowhere in the league of their 2000 Oscar-winner Gladiator. While this film is beautiful to look at, it does fall short in the “epic film” category. It’s too long and not enough happens. This is no Braveheart either (but then again, what is?).
It’s been nearly 20 years since Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, another maligned film that missed the mark. Both films tell conflicting versions of the legend interestingly enough. This version supposedly tells the origins of Robin, before the hood as it were, and maybe that’s why the action is sparse.
One thing the two Robin Hood films have in common is controversy about the leading men being able to pull off the British accent. Russell Crowe recently stormed out of an interview when his accent came into question. Listen to the argument here.
Do we need to go back to the days of Douglas Fairbanks or Errol Flynn to find the real swashbuckling hero? I must admit I’m partial to Sean Connery who starred opposite Audrey Hepburn in Robin and Marian but that 1976 film told the story of the lovers later years.
While I like the timeliness of the film and the political connection to where we find ourselves now, with government out for themselves forcing the ‘little guy’ to go broke for the good of the power structure, as a film that’s supposed to be engaging and entertaining this Robin Hoodfalls flat.
I know we think of westerns being an American genre but this grand and sleek Korean western is a homage to masters Sergio Leone and Sam Peckinpah, with a little bit of Tarantino and John Woo thrown in for good measure.
Set in the 1930’s Manchurian desert, where lawlessness rules and ethnic gangs clash, three Korean gunfighters meet on a train and set the east ablaze. There’s the good guy, a bounty hunter who tracks down criminals with rewards on their heads, the bad guy, the leader of a group of bandits who can’t stand to be second best, and the weird one, a train robber with nine lives
The three strangers find themselves in a wild chase across Manchuria to take possession of a treasure map. What results is an intense adrenaline ride. Korean filmmaker Kim Jee-Woon, whose credits include the popular film noir A Bittersweet Life and the daring horror film A Tale Of Two Sisters, really showcases his knack for telling an inventive story with great panache.
While entertaining and a fun ride, my only problem with the film, besides it length which could have and should have been trimmed some, is the fact that the “bad” isn’t really portrayed as a villain, and since we meet him first, we tend to identify with him almost the most. But in a good western, as in life, there are no clear-cut good guys and bad guys, The Good, The Bad, The Weirdis about the middle ground where laws can be bent amidst wild and turbulent times.
Director Antoine Fuqua, best known for helming Training Day, is at it once again with the gritty cop dramaBrooklyn’s Finest. Starring Richard Gere, Don Cheadle, Ethan Hawke and Wesley Snipes, the film focuses onthree unconnected Brooklyn police officers who all eventually end up at the same bloody crime scene after enduring vastly different journeys.
But therein lies the film’s biggest problem; it basically plays out like three short stories without one big payoff. There’s the one burned out veteran cop, one week from retirement, who only ever coasted by; there’s the broke narcotics officer that will do anything, corrupt or not, in order to provide for his family, including his seven, count ‘em seven, kids; and the undercover cop in so deep he can’t seem to find his way home. The film takes place over a week’s time where each policeman will question his own character and badge as he’s hurtling towards the same fatal crime scene.
Each story is interesting onto itself but it leaves you wanting more as the vignettes, as they are, never fully develop. All three leading officers never really meet or interact; in fact, the build up to the bloody climax only has them casually coming into close contact for a second at a stop light. For the most part the performances are solid, Richard Gere is always reliable, and it’s interesting to see Ethan Hawke who was so naïve in Training Day practically become the Denzel Washington character he so loathed. Good effort but the delivery falls short.
Breathtaking in scope, the grandeur of The Ultimate Wave Tahitiis epic. Filmed in awe-inspiring 3D and currently playing exclusively in Southern California at the California Science Center IMAX Theater at USC through the end of summer, this documentary features nine-time world surfing champion Kelly Slater and friends on a quest to find the ultimate wave riding experience.
The film's action focuses on Tahiti and the volcanic islands of French Polynesia, home to some of the world's most challenging surfing and to astounding coral reef ecosystems at the turbulent interface between island and ocean. With their host, Tahitian surfing legend Raimana Van Bastolaer, Kelly Slater and his surfing cohorts seek out the best waves breaking on the reef at Tahiti's famed surf site Teahupo'o.
Where Avatar’s 3D effects were not impressive in the slightest, The Ultimate Wave Tahitiis 3D at its best. This is what the future of filmmaking should be. You practically feel that you’re surfing along with Kelly Slater and because of the awesome IMAX screen at the California Science Center (IMAX the way it should really be), you can actually appreciate the size of the waves and what an amazing feat it is to surf in these waters. Director Stephen Low (Titanica, Volcanoes of the Deep Sea) has crafted a film part educational, part action adventure and one amazing real-life thrill ride.
For anyone who reads their Bible it’s no secret that angels are more than just cherubic figures, they’re also fierce warriors being God’s army and all. That bit of info helps when considering Legion, the next Apocalypse themed movie to hit the big screen.
When God loses faith in humankind, he sends his legion of angels to bring on the Apocalypse. Humanity's only hope lies in a group of strangers trapped in a desert diner with the Archangel Michael (Paul Bettany), the field commander of the Army of God. Armed with an arsenal of stolen weapons, Michael’s sole job is to protect a pregnant woman’s unborn child who is humanity’s only hope after having so poorly squandered everything we have on Earth.
“The last time God lost faith in man, He sent the flood. This time, He sent angels,” the archangel Michael notes in the film.
“It’s part action movie, it’s part supernatural thriller, it’s part horror movie,” director Scott Stewart explained at Comic-Con last month in San Diego.“There’s some good character drama in it. It’s about some big ideas, about some scary stuff, but I hope that it’s just a fun roller coaster ride.”
Reminiscent of The Prophecyseries and last season’s Supernaturalwhere the dashing, demon-fighting Winchester Bros. were aided and besieged by rogue angels, Legion succeeds at pushing buttons and creating interesting drama among all too familiar Bible stories and characters we’re aware of. It seems, according to Hollywood, angels don’t like humans because we have God’s eye leaving them to be second best. And apparently that’s as good as any other reason to bring upon the end of the world.
Legionstarts off pretty strong and plays like a cool action flick where good and evil come to a head. There’s the gnarly flesh-eating granny who can crawl on the ceiling, and the funky, lanky ice-cream man who can let out a wicked scream as his entire jaw dislocates. And there’s gunfire aplenty keeping the action at a breakneck pace. But eventually the plot starts to lose steam and by the time Michael and the Angel Gabriel (Kevin Durand) go toe-to-toe interest begins to wane.
Not as provocative or grand as The Book of Elior as over-the-top as Zombielandyou’re best bet is to catch Eli but if you’ve already done so then Legion isn’t a bad second choice.