Paul Dano & Zoe Kazan Shine In Romantic Comedy Fantasy Ruby Sparks

DVD REVIEW
Title: Ruby Sparks
Studio/Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Directors: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris
Principle Cast: Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan, Chris Messina, Annette Bening, Steve Coogan, Elliot Gould, Antonio Banderas
Length: 104 minutes
Released: October 30, 2012
Stars: 3.5

Ruby Sparks is “the true and impossible story of my very great love.”  So says novelist Calvin Weir-Fields (Paul Dano), who wrote a bestselling novel which had everyone declaring him a genius when he was in his late teens, but has never been able to duplicate his success.  Calvin lives alone in a big, colourless, lofty man cave spending his days agonizing over not being able to write, working out with his brother Harry (Chris Messina of The Newsroom,  Julie & Julia), walking his unruly dog Scotty, and visiting his shrink.  The neurotic and somewhat dweeb-like Calvin is suffering from long term writer’s block, so his therapist Dr. Rosenthal (Elliott Gould) suggests that he write about someone who could love him completely.

Calvin starts dreaming about a pretty and quirky redhead named Ruby (Zoe Kazan) that he meets in a park.  She’s everything that he’s ever imagined he wants in a girlfriend.  He starts writing about her out of a need to spend time with her and quickly becomes concerned that he’s falling in love with a figment of his imagination.

Suddenly women’s clothes and personal effects start to mysteriously appear in Calvin’s apartment, much to the consternation of his brother Harry and his wife Susan (Toni Trucks).  Before Calvin can process what’s happening, Ruby appears in the flesh, believing that they’ve been in a relationship for a couple of months and that they’re in the honeymoon stage.  He thinks he’s going crazy.

Calvin brings Ruby out into the real world to prove that he’s not dreaming and finds out that other people can see her too.  Delirious with joy, he leaps into his role as Ruby’s boyfriend with the glee of a high school boy experiencing his first love.  Calvin and Harry discover that Calvin can write anything he wants to about Ruby (for instance, he makes her speak French) and it will become manifested, literally.  However, when Ruby starts to express her need for space in their relationship, a disturbed Calvin decides to write her exactly how he wants her to be.  This backfires on him as he realizes that he has to be very careful and specific about his choice of words.  If he doesn’t write about her, she’s not within his control but if he does write about her, she’s not herself.  Calvin has no idea how to be in a relationship with a woman which he discovers first hand as he makes mistake after mistake with Ruby.

Paul Dano (Looper, There Will Be Blood) is a brilliant young actor and the reason I wanted to watch Ruby Sparks, and he doesn’t disappoint.  He’s an expert at using his face to express a character’s emotions and was completely believable as the confused Calvin.  I was, however, disappointed that Steve Coogan (The Trip, 24 Hour Party People) wasn’t given more to do as pretentious author Langdon Tharp and basically phoned in a stereotypical Coogan performance.  Annette Bening and Antonio Banderas (sporting a grey beard that makes him look older than usual & stealing every scene he was in) appear briefly as Calvin’s hippy-dippy, new age mother Gertrude and her jovial furniture-building partner, Mort, in a fun scene in a beautiful home in Big Sur, highlighted with ravishing gardens and a gorgeous swimming pool.  True Blood’s Deborah Ann Woll has one scene as Calvin’s ex-girlfriend Lila and she also left me wishing she had more. However, the movie belongs to Zoe Kazan (It’s Complicated, Revolutionary Road), granddaughter of director/actor Elia Kazan, who not only wrote the screenplay for Ruby Sparks but also lives with Paul Dano.  Zoe is captivating and delightful as Ruby and you can’t take your eyes off her.

A couple being directed by a couple (Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris of Little Miss Sunshine) makes for an interesting experiment and the result is a sweet, whimsical but relatable tale that asks the questions “How do I not seek to control the person I’m with?” and “How do you accept a person for who they are, completely?”  This story defines what it’s like to be in a relationship and to be the partner that doesn’t hold all the cards.

There was no reason that this movie needed to be rated R.  Its language is quite tame and there was only one scene in which characters were smoking a joint.  You see worse behaviour than that on Family Guy.  The extras on the DVD included 3 vignettes about various aspects of the film and were worth watching.  Although the directors didn’t embarrass themselves, they didn’t take any risks either and the only thing that stood out for me aside from Dano & Kazan’s performances was the enchanting French music in the soundtrack.

“Falling in love is an act of magic.  And so is writing.”  It’s too bad that the screenplay for this bittersweet love story with the moral “be careful what you wish for” is not magical, but merely a slightly above average romantic comedy fantasy that will make you smile and agree with how complex relationships are without thinking about it again after the credits roll.

Sacred Journey of the Heart: A Documentary Film on the Science and Spirit of Our Connection

PRESS RELEASE

MEDIA CONTACT: Teri James
Cell 602-430-0374/office 602-258-5088
Email: terijamespublicrelations@msn.com

NEW DOCUMENTARY PROVES HEALING AND CONNECTEDNESS BEGINS WITH HEART

Scientists, Spiritual Leaders Confirm We Are All Connected Through Our Hearts

September 14, 2012 – Phoenix, AZLocal Valley writer, producer, filmmaker and visionary, Ronna Prince devoted three years of her life to make “Sacred Journey of the Heart,” a ground-breaking film documenting the science, spirit and healing capabilities of our heart, proving that we are all connected to each other and the earth around us. Featuring respected visionaries and spiritual leaders such as New York Times best selling author Gregg Braden (Deep Truth), Dr. Joe Dispenza (What the Bleep Do We Know?), tribal elders and more, Sacred Journey of the Heart premieres at Harkins Camelview Theater on Friday, October 19 at 7:00 p.m. Following the premiere, Prince, along with Braden, Havasupai tribal member, Uqalla, and other key speakers featured in the documentary, will host an in-depth, interactive Q&A discussion.

Prince, the film’s writer and producer, was inspired to make the documentary through her need for healing and the hopes of healing others through the knowledge she learned. From studies conducted by scientists in conjunction with the esteemed Institute of HeartMath®, as well as tribal elders and great spiritual leaders of our time, she learned it has been proven that we are connected to the energy of the earth both in mind and body coherence; we are all one pulsating life force connected to by our energy and our emotions. By getting our minds and hearts in alignment with positive, healing thoughts, we affect others around us to be in a likened state.

“Through researching the tenants of this film and exploring the head/heart and emotional connection, I discovered that we are all connected both physically and mentally to each other and, quite literally, to the earth around us,” said Ronna Prince, writer and producer of Sacred Journey of the Heart. “By understanding the “oneness” of us all and understanding that we are not disparate beings, perhaps the world could become a more peaceful, more healing place.”

This enlightening documentary also provides a wealth of tools, techniques and information on how to heal, forgive and trust and, ultimately, inspire others to make their own sacred journey into their own hearts to become more connected and attune to the beautiful world that envelopes us all.

Tickets to see Sacred Journey of the Heart are just $9.50 at the Harkins box office. Additional screenings will be held from October 20 through October 26.

About Ronna Prince

Ronna Prince is a writer, filmmaker, producer and founder of Global Wholeness Corp, a 501(c)3 non-profit corporation whose mission is to educate people about our interconnection and to inspire people to come together to create innovative solutions to the challenges we face as families and communities. Global Wholeness supports projects that bring healing and wholeness to communities through charitable giving. She currently has two additional movies in pre-production.

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Film Synopsis

Sacred Journey of the Heart is a ground-breaking film documenting the science and spirit of our connection. It reveals how modern science is proving what ancient peoples have known all along: we are all connected – and that connection is the human heart. The heart is the single organ that not only creates a unified field among all people but also creates a harmonic field with the earth itself. Learn tools and techniques from leading spiritual teachers, scientific experts and indigenous elders that will assist you on your personal heart-centered journey. Discover how living in a specific state called “heart coherence” will create a better future for the planet.

Join filmmaker Ronna Prince on this sacred journey to the heart of transformation. Discover how lasting transformation begins with the personal journey to your own heart – the most powerful organ of your body. See how you can consciously create a harmonic resonance with all those around you as well as with earth itself!

Leading scientists and researchers present their knowledge which is converging with ancient wisdom traditions dating back millennia. NYT bestselling author Gregg Braden confirms that “the heart is where is the action is” – and he presents surprising data about how the human heart is connected to measurable events on earth. Dr. Joe Dispenza, author of Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself, explains his process of how to create change in your life, and Colin Tipping, of Radical Forgiveness, describes a simple step-by step process to transmute past hurts into gifts, clearing the way for lasting transformation. In addition, many indigenous elders and spiritual teachers share their profound insights and sacred practices.

These pearls of wisdom show us the transformative power of the heart to create a pathway of healing, forgiveness, connection and love.

Join us on this amazing journey to reclaim your heart, heal your past and create a new future!

Find Sacred Journey of the Heart on FacebookTwitter, and YouTube.

You can purchase the DVD of Sacred Journey of the Heart on November 12, 2012 here: http://www.sacredjourneyoftheheart.com/

Masterpiece Classic’s Great Expectations (2011) by Charles Dickens

DVD REVIEW
Title: Great Expectations
Studio/Distributor: PBS
Directors: Brian Kirk
Principle Cast: Douglas Booth, Gillian Anderson, Ray Winstone, David Suchet, Vanessa Kirby
Length: Approx. 3 hours
Released: 2012
Stars: 3.5

The classic coming-of-age novel Great Expectations by Charles Dickens has been interpreted on film at least a dozen times for both television and the cinema including director Stuart Walker’s adaptation in 1934, David Lean’s in 1946 and Alfonso Cuarón’s in 1998.  In the 2011 BBC Masterpiece Classic three part mini-series, the screenplay is written by Sarah Phelps and director Brian Kirk leads a top notch cast of thespians to once again tell the tale of an orphan boy named Pip who is bequeathed great expectations of wealth by a mysterious benefactor who changes his life forever.

I’ve never read the book so I can’t give an all-encompassing review, but I saw the 1998 version of Great Expectations starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Ethan Hawke and wasn’t impressed.

However, this Gothic version of Dickens’ story is an above-average rendition because of the stellar performances by Gillian Anderson (The X-Files, Bleak House) as Miss Havisham, Ray Winstone (Sexy Beast, London Boulevard) as Abel Magwitch, David Suchet (Hercule Poirot) as Jaggers and Jack Roth (son of Tim) as Dolge Orlick.  I wish I could honestly say that young Douglas Booth’s (LOL, The Pillars of the Earth) performance as lead character Pip moved me, but I was totally distracted by his looks.  He’s a very pretty, GQ-type, effeminate man…too pretty for the part, too pretty to believe that he’d fall for Vanessa Kirby’s Estella and too pretty to fit in with the rest of the cast.  This is one of those instances where a man’s good looks actually don’t work for him.  That being said, he gave a decent performance and I’d be interested to see him in another role.

A dramatic mystery with a romantic subplot, authentic sets, striking costumes and superb cinematography, Great Expectations begins eerily with a thick fog hanging over a marsh as a man slowly rises out of the water while a little boy tries to clear weeds and brush away from a gravestone in the English countryside.  We discover that the man is an escaped prisoner who threatens the boy within an inch of his life if he reveals his whereabouts and orders Philip “Pip” Pirrie to go back to his sister’s home at the forge where his brother-in-law Joe Gargery (Shaun Dooley) has a blacksmith shop, to retrieve a file, so that he can get out of his leg irons.  Pip’s sister “Mrs. Joe” (Claire Rushbrook) beats Pip and considers him a burden and a nuisance while her brother Pumblechook (Mark Addy), driven by greed, would gladly sell him to the highest bidder, but Joe loves him and wants to train him to become a blacksmith.  Not only does Pip help Abel Magwitch escape, but he brings him a piece of mutton pie.  Magwitch is soon apprehended by local policemen but he doesn’t reveal Pip’s actions and never forgets his kindness.  We haven’t seen the last of him and neither has Pip.

Not long after, Pip is sent to the ghoulish Satis House for weekly visits with the ghostly Miss Havisham’s adopted daughter Estella.  Satis House is a creepy, dusty old mansion that houses the mad mistress who seems to slowly be fading away, both mentally and figuratively.  A very thin Gillian Anderson gives one of the best performances of her career.  You can’t take your eyes off her whenever she’s on screen and Miss Havisham’s inevitable self-immolation will linger in your memory after the credits have rolled.

Pip quickly falls in love with Estella (which was hard for me to believe based on her character), and realizes that he must become more than a blacksmith’s apprentice if he ever hopes to win her heart.  However, Miss Havisham, “a bride-to-be who was jilted at the altar years before and still wears her wedding dress amidst the fossilized ruins of her wedding feast, goes to great lengths to ensure that Estella will never risk heartbreak, and raises her as a tool for vengeance.”  She decides to pay Joe Gargery for Pip’s apprenticeship as a blacksmith and tells Pip that he is no longer welcome at Satis House.

Seven years later, Pip is informed by London solicitor Jaggers that he has inherited a fortune but he must abandon his life at the forge and become a gentleman in London society.  Episode 1 ends with Pip making a visit to Miss Havisham to let her know that he’s going to do her proud and become the sort of man that Estella (who was sent to a finishing school in Paris and later to London) would want.  In the closing scene, we see Pip in a horse-drawn carriage on his way to the big city.

In episode 2, we find Pip under the guardianship of Jaggers as he learns the ways of a gentleman from his affable roommate, Herbert Pocket, who interestingly is played by Harry Lloyd (Game of Thrones, The Iron Lady), the great-great-great-grandson of Charles Dickens.  He is reunited with Estella for whom he declares his love, but she isn’t of the same mind.  Pip may have turned into a “gentleman” but in his desire to leave his past behind him, he has also become a bit of a jerk.  But by episode 3, we start to feel compassion for Pip as the ghosts from his past come back to haunt him and he finds the strength to exorcise them and become the man he was meant to be.

I watched this version of Great Expectations twice and enjoyed its twists and turns even more during the second viewing.  It’s a solid choice for undiscerning fans of Dickens, Victorian England, and historical period dramas and while it may not be the crown jewel in Masterpiece Classic’s treasure chest, its sparkle still merits appreciation.

Machine Gun Preacher: The Remarkable True Story of Sam Childers

DVD REVIEW
Title: Machine Gun Preacher
Studio/Distributor: Relativity Media
Director: Marc Forster
Principle Cast: Gerard Butler, Michelle Monaghan, Michael Shannon, Kathy Baker, Souleymane Sy Savane
Length: 129 minutes
Released: June 5, 2012
Stars: 3.5

I’m a big Gerard Butler fan and I must confess that when I first heard that he was doing a film called Machine Gun Preacher, I cringed and thought, oh no, another piece of crap like Law Abiding Citizen and Gamer!  When is he going to make a decent movie?!  However, after watching Machine Gun Preacher on DVD because I needed a Butler fix, I’m very pleased to report that I was dead wrong in assuming that it wouldn’t be any good because it is in fact, above average and compelling to watch.

Machine Gun Preacher, directed by Marc Forster (Monster’s Ball, The Kite Runner) is based on the true, inspirational story of Sam Childers, a former biker gang member and drug-dealing criminal, who hit rock bottom, found salvation in Jesus, and underwent an astounding metamorphosis through which he discovered an unanticipated calling to be the savior of hundreds of kidnapped and orphaned children in the Sudan.

The movie, which tanked at the box office when it opened, is violent, visceral and filled with coarse language, but the story is one that needs to be heard.  There are enough breaks in the brutality to make it bearable to watch, the African children will melt the hardest of hearts, and Gerard Butler as Sam Childers (he’s also one of the executive producers on the film) gives one of the best performances of his career as the small-town Pennsylvania hillbilly turned preacher seeking redemption for his sins.

This volatile film opens with drug-addicted gang biker Sam being released from prison in Pittsburgh only to find that his stripper wife Lynn (Michelle Monaghan) has quit her job and become a Christian.  Sam’s mother Daisy (Kathy Baker, in a very small role) and Lynn try to convince Sam that he needs to find a new path, but the angry Sam is not interested, shows little interest in his young daughter, Paige, and continues to drink heavily and do drugs.

Then one night, Sam and his best friend Donnie (Michael Shannon of Revolutionary Road and The Greatest, in another impressive performance), both high on heroin, pick up a hitchhiker who threatens to slash Donnie’s throat.  Sam freaks out, wrestles the knife away from him and stabs him repeatedly, throwing him out of the car and leaving him for dead.  Later that night we see Sam in his bathroom, frantically trying to wash the blood out of his t-shirt, when his wife walks in on him.  The look of agony and fear on Butler’s face is priceless as he pleads with Lynn to help him.  She ends up taking him to church where he’s soon baptized and later lands a construction job.  He’s so successful with his new trade that he starts his own business.

Soon after, Sam meets a preacher with a missionary in Africa and, intensely inspired by his work, he decides to visit Northern Uganda and South Sudan to see if he can be of any help.  In Sudan he discovers the young victims of Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), whose parents have been murdered and who have been kidnapped and forced to become child soldiers.  Sam is so devastated by what he witnesses that he makes it his mission to build an orphanage for the children and to protect them at all costs.  However, for Sam, it’s not enough to shelter the LRA’s intended victims.  Backed by freedom fighters of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), he leads armed missions into enemy territory to retrieve kidnapped children, constantly risking his own life.  And so he becomes a legend known as the machine gun preacher.

Apparently, according to imdb.com, the real Sam Childers shows screenings of a heavily-edited version of the film in churches around the world to raise proceeds which are used to support his ongoing work with the Angels of East Africa in South Sudan.  He’s reported as having said that the film is heavily “Hollywoodized” and if you read the bio on his website, the order of events in his life have been significantly changed for the film, but he says that more than 70% of it is true.  Childers recently authored a book called Another Man’s War about his experiences and you can read the truth about his story in it.

Civil war in Africa is usually a news story that I try to avoid reading about or watching on television because it’s a situation so horrifying, depressing and seemingly hopeless, that it’s heartbreaking.  Most of us aren’t thick-skinned enough to look at genocide straight on or to ask how we can help because we’re just too petrified of what might be asked of us.  Even if you don’t agree with his religion, his politics, or the fact that he kills in the name of the Lord, Sam Childers is a remarkably courageous man who continues to try his best to help those who much of the world would let burn, and for that he deserves to be recognized.  It’s for that reason, as well as Gerard Butler’s portrayal of him, that you should watch this movie.

The Ledge: A Suspense Thriller With A Riveting Narrative That Should Not Be Missed!

DVD REVIEW
Title: The Ledge
Studio/Distributor: eOne Films
Director: Matthew Chapman
Principle Cast: Charlie Hunnam, Patrick Wilson, Terrence Howard, Liv Tyler
Length: 101 minutes
Released: September 27, 2011
Stars: 4.5

I rented The Ledge based entirely on its cast, without ever reading the plot synopsis on the back cover of the DVD.  This is one of those magical times when the movie you pick without much thought turns out to be one that you can’t stop thinking about.

The Ledge is a truly compelling dramatic suspense thriller (filmed in Baton Rouge, LA) that explores love, pain, human relationships and the complexities of our religious and spiritual beliefs.  It’s not a popcorn movie.  It’s deep, provocative, and explores faith in a very original way by both attacking and condoning religious beliefs.

The movie opens with a man talking to a doctor about his state of fertility and then quickly cuts to a younger man (Charlie Hunnam of Queer As Folk & Sons of Anarchy) walking along the roof of a very tall building, out onto a ledge, and it appears that he is about to jump.  We soon realize that he doesn’t want to jump but is being forced to and over the course of the next 95 minutes (which unfolds in real time), we find out why.  How did he get there?  If he doesn’t jump, someone else is going to die.  Why?  Who is it?  An interesting premise…

At the same time, there’s a cop (Terrence Howard of The Brave One, Hustle & Flow and is also a musician) who is sent to the scene to negotiate and try to talk the guy out of jumping.  We discover that he’s dealing with his own extraordinary personal situation and that both of the men are struggling with faith.  In fact, all of the characters in this film are faced with circumstances that force them to look at faith; either their belief or disbelief.  But this is not a preachy movie and you care about every person in the story.

Written and directed by Matthew Chapman, The Ledge took quite a few years to get made, but Charlie Hunnam knew he had to play Gavin Nichols from the time he read the script, four years before he started filming.  After watching the performances given by Hunnam and Patrick Wilson, I have a renewed commitment to watch them in Sons of Anarchy and A Gifted Man.

The Ledge is a refreshing far cry from today’s Hollywood mainstream film fare.  This is exceptional storytelling with a brilliantly written script that was brought to life by a cast of passionate and seriously gifted actors.  The lead role of Gavin is flawlessly portrayed by the remarkably intelligent and charismatic Hunnam while his nemesis, Christian fundamentalist, Joe Harris, is also played to perfection by the astounding Patrick Wilson (Hard Candy, Little Children).  Their common love interest, Shana, is created with complete honesty and emotional depth by the exquisite Liv Tyler (The Incredible Hulk, The Lord of the Rings Trilogy) who can express more with just her face than most actresses of her generation.  Christopher Gorham (Harper’s Island, Ugly Betty) lends grace to the supporting role of Gavin’s HIV positive, gay roommate, Chris.  Finally, and no less important or impressive is the role of Detective Hollis Lucetti, played by the divine Terrence Howard (who co-executive produced the film), who so completely made me believe in his character’s emotions and predicament that I felt physically ill at the end of the movie.  I was so moved, I felt as if I’d had the wind knocked out of me while tears trickled down my face.

It isn’t often that I’m so surprised and motivated to write a review about a movie rental, but I could not let this one go back to Classic Video without telling my network about how excellent I think it is.  I watched Terrence Malick’s Oscar-nominated visual feast, The Tree of Life, the night before and although I admired the beauty of his filmmaking, I was left feeling somewhat confounded by the storyline.  That isn’t the case with The Ledge.  It’s a return to classic filmmaking in the sense that it doesn’t rely on any of the trappings of modern movies.  There are no special effects, explosions, or super heroes trying to save an unrealistic world.  The Ledge is simply a spellbinding story, impeccably conveyed by its director and actors.  After watching the film and some of the interviews featured in the extras on the DVD, I wanted to watch it all over again and that does not happen very often.

The Ledge is sexy, romantic, suspenseful, philosophical and terrifying, and all of those components are seamlessly woven to create a really riveting narrative that should not be missed.

Craig Ferguson, I Love You But This Needs To Be Said!

DVD REVIEW

Title: Craig Ferguson: Does This Need To Be Said?
Studio/Distributor: Comedy Central
Director: Keith Truesdell
Principle Cast: Craig Ferguson, Jeff Arnold, Chris Saladin
Length: 65 minutes
Released: 2010
Stars: 3.0

Well Craig, as a fan of over ten years, and someone who has watched The Late Late Show regularly for seven seasons since you’ve been the host, I’d say that most of what you deliver in Does This Need To Be Said?, (Comedy Central’s stand-up special featuring you) has already been said by you before.  I’ve seen your stand-up show twice and the material on this DVD is nothing new.  However, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t funny and entertaining.  Fresh, it isn’t.  Charming, you definitely are!

Being able to play your dancing & lip-synching performance of Oops! I Did It Again by Britney Spears over and over again at the end of your routine is worth the price of the DVD alone.  In fact, I wish you’d release a DVD collection of all your dancing & lip-synching performances with the puppets and staff that you’ve showcased on The Late Late Show because they’re awesome!  They make us grin from ear to ear, laugh out loud, and want to sing along all at the same time.  And while I have this opportunity, it’s time to get rid of that freakin’ robot already!!

Okay, now where was I?

Does This Need To Be Said? opens with Craig receiving a standing ovation from a packed Nashville theatre, while he prances around the stage to the song I’ve Got The Strangest Feeling and Chris Saladin (a.k.a. “Gunther”), in a white pseudo-bondage ensemble, fingers a flute as the classy Jeff Arnold swings his saxophone.  Ferguson’s first words to the audience are his signature, “It’s a great day for America everybody!”  After which he makes up for not being able to say f**k on his show by cussing incessantly in his charismatic way.  Sadly, it’s true that Ferguson is losing the edges of his celebrated burr and now sounds more American than Scottish, but that doesn’t detract from his delivery.  It’s just that if he’s not the Scottish comedian we’ve all come to know and love, who is he (an actor, a writer, a minion of CBS)?

Craig tells the audience that he’s there to tell them a dirty joke and he does, but not before taking 60 minutes to review his wayward youth, in which he was a member of a heavy metal band called Stag.  He riffs about the Pope; talks about talking to his 9½ year old son about sex (who carries a swear jar around after his father, in which he’s raising his college tuition); comments on Charlie Sheen; and describes how two toads taught him everything he knows about sex education.  He also offers a series of comedic vignettes on famous celebrity sex scandals including Tiger Woods, Kevin Costner and his boss, David Letterman.  Craig revisits the best day he ever had at work: when he heard that Dick Cheney had shot his lawyer in the face; the reason why Kate Winslet will never be on his show; the tale of Fabio getting hit in the head by a goose; proof of the existence of God (Siegfried & Roy – say no more!), why he loves Larry King; the horror of realizing that his balls are leaving him; the complexities of the Internet; what it’s like to be married to a woman from a posh Yankee family; and recounting his life as an alcoholic.  Did I laugh?  Hell, yeah!

The extras on this DVD – a short film of Craig arriving in Nashville and an unknown fan’s rap session about him – are boring and didn’t need to be included, but that’s not why you’d buy Does It Need To Be Said? The Full Concert Experience anyway.

As other people have said before, Craig is a positive comedian who doesn’t hurt or offend people with his humour (at least most of the time, but then there was that incident with Kevin Costner!) and yet still manages to come off as a boisterous, swearing, somewhat perverted middle-aged man.  But he pokes fun at himself more than anyone else and we can definitely see the humour in that.

What I know to be true about Craig Ferguson is that he is a wonderful, highly intelligent, multi-talented man who has the ability to move people in many different ways but for some reason he’s choosing to lean on what’s worked for laughs in the past and hasn’t created anything new and exciting in a while.  And I think it’s time for him to do that.  This man has so much heart, soul and brain power that he should have won every performance award out there by now.  Even with the same old lame gags on The Late Late Show, he’s still one of the most interesting people on television.  If you saw him interview Archbishop Desmond Tutu or Dr. Cornell West, you’ll know what I mean.  So imagine what he could do if he sat down and wrote some new material!

I’d like to see Craig take a risk and push the envelope more with his comedy.  I know he’s as much of a fan of Billy Connolly as I am, and I’d like to see him be as daring with his presentation.  His swearing doesn’t bother me, because as he said, he’s a friendly cusser and swears in good humour, but it’s the resting on his laurels that does bother me.  Craig, don’t be afraid to attract a wider audience.  While I love a double entendre as much as anyone, you’re not just a foul-mouthed Scotsman and I don’t want you to dumb down your act for the masses.  Be true to yourself and let your intellect shine!

Maybe you just need to have some new experiences to share…

The First Season of Hawaii Five-O

DVD REVIEW
Title: The First Season: Hawaii Five-0
Studio/Distributor: CBS Home Entertainment & Paramount Home Entertainment
Principle Cast: Alex O’Loughlin, Scott Caan, Daniel Dae Kim, Grace Park
Number of Discs: 6
Released: September 20, 2011
Stars: 4.0

When I was a kid in the 1970s, I was a huge fan of the original Hawaii Five-0 created by Leonard Freeman, starring Jack Lord and James MacArthur.  I used to beg my father to let me stay up and watch the show with him and most of the time he let me.  My crush on Jack Lord was a bit bizarre for a kid my age (10-16) but even then I knew he was the coolest guy on television, surpassing even Lee Majors’ Six Million Dollar Man.

The theme song for Hawaii Five-0 is undoubtedly the coolest ever in the history of television.  I was thrilled that the producers of the new Hawaii Five-0 decided to stay true to the original when they re-recorded it for the 2010 series as it’s so immediately identifiable and positively rockin’!

In the 2010 version, ex Navy Seal, Steve McGarrett (Alex O’Loughlin of Moonlight & Three Rivers) returns home to Oahu to find his father’s killer.  The governor offers him an opportunity to lead his own task force and Steve chooses high school chum Chin Ho Kelly (Daniel Dae Kim of Lost), former New Jersey detective Danny “Danno” Williams (Scott Caan of Entourage) and new police academy graduate, Kono Kalakaua (Canadian girl Grace Park of The Border & The Cleaner) to work with him.

The show opens with Steve’s father, John McGarrett (William Sadler) held hostage at gun point by Victor Hesse (James Marsters), a man McGarrett has been tracking for five years and who is involved in all kinds of evil business including human trafficking, and we soon find out he’s connected to the sinister Wo Fat (Mark Dacascos).  Steve has Hesse’s brother in custody and is transporting him to prison when his military convoy is attacked by a helicopter bomber sent by Hesse.  During the chaos that ensues, Steve ends up shooting his brother in self defence.

The pilot episode is more like a movie than a television show – shot on a grand scale – it’s completely riveting to watch from the first scene to the end.  The look on Steve’s face when he calls Hesse and realizes that he’s going to kill his father is completely realistic and I can think of no one better to play McGarrett than Alex O’Loughlin.

Jean Smart (24 & Designing Women) plays Governor Jamieson and after John McGarrett’s death she asks a reluctant Steve to put together a task force to help him find Hesse as well as other major criminals in Honolulu, with full immunity and means, allowing his rules, her backing, and no red tape.

Daniel Dae Kim, who portrays a very hip & cool Chin Ho Kelly, is definitely the sexiest Asian man alive and he is as important a part of the cast as O’Loughlin and Caan.  Chin Ho has been fired from his job with the Honolulu Police Department after a gruelling Internal Affairs investigation for a crime he didn’t commit.

Scott Caan plays Detective Danny Williams, a displaced Jersey cop who is living in Hawaii to be close to his young daughter Grace (the weak link in the series as child actor Teilor Grubbs is not good at all), with whom he shares custody with his ex-wife Rachel (Claire van der Boom).  I’ve never been a fan of Caan’s but he has won me over completely with this role.

Williams and McGarrett first meet when Steve is searching through his father’s garage looking for clues as to what he was involved in at the time of his death and Danny is investigating John’s murder.  They pull their guns on each other and their uneasy alliance and quippy repartee begins as Steve accepts the Governor’s proposal over the phone and forces Danny into becoming his partner.  Danny gets shot in the arm on the first day he works with him.  They team up with Chin Ho and his cousin, former surfing champion and new cop, Kono Kalakaua, as well as a former confidential informant who now runs a shaved ice business: the Sumuesque but beatific Kamekona (Taylor Wily).

This brightly photographed show primarily proffers style over substance, sporting a myriad of shots of sunshine-lit landscapes, surfers, hula dancers, King Kamehameha, the city of Honolulu’s lights at night, fist fights, martial arts moves, car chases, gun fights and explosions, although the recurring theme of McGarrett’s quest to find his father’s killer is an interesting one that will keep you watching.  It’s the secondary storylines that involve kidnapping, drugs, illegal gambling, gang wars, murders, prison breaks, government conspiracies, prostitution, armoured car heists, etc. that don’t really offer the viewer anything new from what they’ve seen in a hundred dramatic television series that have come before.  What makes this series slightly above average is the chemistry of the principal cast.  There is very strong character development throughout Season One and we get to know the main characters very well.

Danny is still in love with Rachel (although she’s remarried), Steve has a lover named Catherine who is in the Navy that he sees infrequently, Kono can kick serious ass for a skinny surfer chick, and the magnanimous Chin’s covering up a family secret.  We’re also introduced to medical examiner Dr. Max Bergman (Masi Oka of Heroes fame) who is very eccentric and unique, but likeable, and CIA analyst Jenna Kaye (Larisa Oleynik).

Alex O’Loughlin is the finest piece of eye candy on Network television and when he smiles, which isn’t often enough, he lights up the screen.  However, the series doesn’t take itself as seriously as the original as it’s infinitely more humorous and not just in the scenes where Steve and Danny bicker back and forth more than an old married couple.  The show makes me laugh but usually not as much through the comic banter as during the farfetched stunts and “solutions” that are so highly unlikely, they’re laughable.

However, one of my favourite episodes is when Danny’s former partner is found murdered and he and the Five-0 team set out to exonerate him from the wrongful accusation made by Internal Affairs that he was crooked.  I love the way the team banded together to support Danny as it really shows the strength of their bond for the first time since Five-0 was formed.

Another excellent episode is “Hana ‘A ‘A Makehewa”, the Christmas episode in which Chin Ho is collared with a bomb by Victor Hesse (who 5-0 discovers is still alive although Steve had put two bullets in him and left him for dead) and Steve, Danny & Kono have to play beat the clock to get Hesse ten million dollars before he kills Chin.  They take the money from an HPD evidence locker, but later at the drop, Hesse throws it in a fire before Kono shoots him and Steve punches him out.  Hesse ends up in jail where he is visited by Wo Fat (the first time we meet him) who wants to know how close Steve is to finding out what his father was involved in at the time of his death.  Hesse answers, “too close”, and Wo Fat reiterates, “well we can’t have that.”  This episode sets up the second half of the season and the Wo Fat storyline is carried through to the cliffhanger ending of Season One.  While we don’t actually see a lot of Wo Fat, he is very significant to the main story arc, and the season finale is excellent and a shocker.

The DVD package for The First Season (also available on Blu-ray) is full of deleted scenes for each episode, cast interviews, commentary, and in-depth, behind-the-scenes features, including one about the legacy of Hawaii Five-0 that is particularly fun to watch.  Each episode has a Hawaiian name and after watching the special features I realized that I liked the show even more than when I watched it on television.  The primary writers, Alex Kurtzman, Peter M. Lenkov and Roberto Orci have done a fine job in paying homage to the original series (“Book him Danno”) while putting a fresh 21st century stamp on the new one.  Watching it however, has made me want to see the original series all over again and fortunately it is also available on DVD.

Hawaii 5-0 is plain, old-fashioned FUN television and I look forward to watching this exciting series for a very long time.  Aloha!

True Blood: The Complete Third Season

DVD REVIEW
Title: True Blood
Studio/Distributor: Warner Bros./HBO
Principle Cast: Anna Paquin, Stephen Moyer, Sam Trammell, Alexander Skarsgård, Ryan Kwanten, Rutina Wesley, Nelsan Ellis, Carrie Preston
Number of Discs: 5
Released: May 31, 2011
Stars: 4.0

I haven’t yet read the Sookie Stackhouse novels by Charlaine Harris upon which True Blood is based, but I just bought the first three in the series so will hopefully be enjoying them soon.  I started watching True Blood (rated R and definitely for adults) about a year ago because I’m a vampire fan and love Southern Gothic settings.  I also count Oscar & Emmy winning creator/producer Alan Ball’s previous series Six Feet Under among my all-time favourite shows, so I couldn’t wait to see what he was doing.  The glowing reviews for this HBO series had already made their way to my consciousness so when I finally watched Seasons 1 & 2 (I give them a 5 star review) I became addicted to this series for as long as it runs.

The characters in True Blood (a synthetic blood manufactured for vampires so that they can reveal themselves to the world and live among humans without necessarily feeding upon them) are so well-written, intriguing and phantasmagorical that you can’t help but be drawn in by them.  The interwoven storylines are complicated, outrageous and downright joyful in their debauchery.  The cinematography is superb, the music – especially the theme song “Bad Things” – is utterly captivating and most of all, the acting by this top-notch cast is quite simply out of this world.

Mixing romance, suspense, mystery and humor, True Blood tells the ongoing tale of Sookie (Anna Paquin, Golden Globe-winner for this role), a waitress with telepathic gifts -– and an irresistible attraction to now-174-year-old vampire Bill Compton (her real life husband Stephen Moyer), who went missing in the Season 2 finale.

I loved the bacchanalian evil of Marianne Forrester (Michelle Forbes) in Season 2 and was sad to see her staked, but in Season 3, Bon Temps, Louisiana is besieged by vicious werewolves and we find out that much to Sookie’s chagrin, she is in fact, a fairy!

Sookie desperately tries to find her fiancé Bill with the help of her werewolf bodyguard Alicide (the hunky Joe Manganiello); assigned by vampire sheriff Eric Northman (Alexander Skarsgård) to protect her.  Together they travel to Mississippi where they must out-manoeuvre the Vampire King, Russell Edgington (Denis O’Hare appears to have had an absolute blast with this character), who along with his disciples – a pack of sadistic werewolves who feed on vampire blood – plans to consolidate his power.

Sookie’s dim but loyal brother Jason (Ryan Kwanten) is working on his police exams and meets a mysterious girl named Crystal while his detective friend Andy Bellefleur (Chris Bauer) is on the wagon and making a name for himself as a local hero.  Bud and Arlene’s relationship is tested by Arlene’s unexpected news – Arlene’s a character I could do without as I find her annoying – and Sookie’s shape-shifting boss Sam Merlotte (Sam Trammell) is discovering that his real family are people he never would have chosen as friends.  Sookie’s best friend Tara Thornton (Rutina Wesley) is mourning the death of her lover Eggs but soon finds an ally in a creepy vampire named Franklin Mott (James Frain) and later, some solace in Sam’s bed.  Tara’s V-addicted cousin Lafayette (Nelsan Ellis plays my favourite supporting character to perfection) takes up with his crazy mother’s (Alfre Woodard) gay male nurse Jesus (Kevin Alejandro), and teen vamp Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll), after being briefly tempted by Sam’s brother pledges herself to Hoyt (Jim Parrack).

Haunted by visions of his past, Bill makes a surprising pledge of allegiance to Edgington and by the end of Season 3, Sookie, in a fit of fury, uninvites him from her home forever.

The reason I liked Season 3 a bit less than the first two was because I like Bill & Sookie as a couple and in this season they are not together very much.  As far as supernatural beings go, I’m less interested in werewolves than I am in vampires, shape-shifters and fairies but I must confess that werewolf Alcide was a tasty bit of eye candy who almost had me forgetting about Bill.

There is always a lot happening every season and it can be hard to remember everything, so HBO’s episode guide is a great way to refresh your memory.  Season 4 has already started but as I don’t have cable, I’ll have to wait until it’s available on DVD to find out what happens next.  I’ll be one of the first in line to rent it from Classic Video when it is!

The Lincoln Lawyer Will Keep You Guessing Until The End!

DVD REVIEW
Title: The Lincoln Lawyer
Studio/Distributor: eOne Films
Director: Brad Furman
Principle Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Ryan Phillippe, Marisa Tomei, William H. Macy, Josh Lucas, John Leguizamo, Frances Fisher
Length: 118 minutes
Released: 2011
Stars: 4.0

Adapted from the crime thriller by best-selling author Michael Connelly, The Lincoln Lawyer is a stylized, gritty and intelligent film from relatively new director Brad Furman (The Take) with an R-rated screenplay by John Romano.  It explores the corrupt justice system in Los Angeles from the perspective of a criminal defence attorney named Mick Haller, played by Matthew McConaughey, in what is his best performance since 2001’s Frailty.  I love McConaughey and am really pleased to see him step up his game and give those tedious and predictable rom-coms he’s been making a rest!

Haller is a wheeler dealer and bottom feeder who “feels the most resonance and the most humane” dealing with the dregs of society.  In his world, “There’s no client as scary as an innocent man.”  He works mainly in the non-glamorous parts of Los Angeles, from his 1987 Lincoln Town Car, in which he is chauffeured between client meetings, prisons and courthouses by his trusted employee, Earl.  Earl (Laurence Mason) is über cool and has one of the best lines with the zinger, “You’re nobody ‘til somebody shoots you.”

Haller abides by his own set of rules, buying favours from bailiffs, prostitutes and bike gangs (Country music star Trace Adkins plays imposing biker leader Eddie Vogel) to secure what he needs to get the job done.  As the story unfolds we discover that Haller’s former client Jesus Martinez (Michael Peña) is in San Quentin for a murder he insists he didn’t commit and Haller’s doubt about his guilt is significant.  His GQ-immaculate image slowly starts to deteriorate as he realizes that the pressures of his job cause him to drink more and a haggard look of grief appears on his handsome face.

Available in both English and French on DVD, The Lincoln Lawyer sports an A-1 cast of accomplished actors including, most notably, a better than usual performance by Ryan Phillippe as the ultra creepy, 32 year old wealthy realtor, Louis Roulet, whom after being accused of raping a prostitute seeks out Mick Haller to defend him.  We learn later in the story that he had a good reason for choosing Haller and there are more twists and turns in this plot than a New York pretzel.  Frances Fisher is equally sinister as Roulet’s mother, Mary Windsor, and a long-haired William H. Macy portrays Mick’s investigator, Frank Levin.  Although Macy’s part is relatively small, it’s integral to the story arc as is John Leguizamo’s as bail bondsman Val Valenzuela.

Marisa Tomei plays Maggie McPherson, Haller’s ex and the mother of his daughter Hayley.  She’s a prosecutor who obviously found it hard to be married to a public defender, but the lines defining her relationship with Mick are blurry, and the two still love each other even if they couldn’t live together.  One of their key scenes was deleted and I really think that it should have been left in.

Rounding out the cast is Josh Lucas as attorney Ted Minton who represents Reggie Campo, the prostitute that Roulet is accused of raping.

Cliff Martinez orchestrates the music for the score and he’s done a superb job of finding some very appropriate and above average rap and bluesy hip hop for the soundtrack.  I’m not a fan of those musical genres but in this film, they are perfect.

Special features on the DVD are above average and include some interesting documentaries: Michael Connelly: At Home On The Road, Making The Case: The Lincoln Lawyer, One On One with Matthew McConaughey and Michael Connelly (during which they interview each other), as well as Deleted Scenes and the original trailer.

The Lincoln Lawyer is a great, satisfying film that will keep you on the edge of your seat, even if the ending is a bit soft.  One of the minor characters in the film asks, “I don’t get you Haller.  Whose side are you on anyway?”  You will wonder about that yourself until the very end!

DVD Review: Triage

DVD REVIEW
Title: Triage
Studio/Distributor: E1 Entertainment
Director: Danis Tanovic
Principle Cast: Colin Farrell, Paz Vega, Christopher Lee, Jamie Sives, Kelly Reilly
Length: 99 minutes
Released: 2009
Stars: 4.0

Described inadequately on imdb.com with “The wife of a photojournalist sets out to discover why he came home from a recent assignment without his colleague,” Triage is an incredibly provocative and emotional film about the scars of war, survivor’s guilt, and the human ego’s judgment of others’ behaviour in unimaginable situations.

Deftly executed by the Oscar Award winning Bosnian director of No Man’s Land, Danis Tanovic (who also wrote the screenplay for Triage), this challenging and graphic film leaves you thinking about it long after it ends while the actors’ performances in it simply blow you away.

Colin Farrell (who lost a significant amount of weight for this role) gives an Oscar worthy performance as Mark Walsh, a photojournalist who travels to war torn Kurdistan in 1988 (Did Kurdistan actually exist in 1988?) with his best friend David, (Jamie Sives) whom he has convinced to accompany him against David’s better judgment. They endure the horrific circumstances following an Iraqi offensive (possibly based on the Anfal Campaign) after which Mark returns to Dublin, injured and suffering from PTSD, but no one has seen or heard from David, who had been more than eager to get home to his nine months pregnant wife. Mark’s Spanish wife Elena is understandably worried about him and calls on her estranged, retired psychologist grandfather, Joaquin Morales, to counsel her husband, and together they slowly unravel the truth behind Mark’s trauma.

While the ending of this realistic R-rated film (that opened at the 2009 Toronto Film Festival) isn’t a surprise, I can forgive the director because the acting in this film is so damn good. Both Paz Vega and Kelly Reilly give convincing performances as the photojournalists’ strong and independent wives and Branko Djuric is superb as a Kurd doctor of war who is forced to play God. However, it is Christopher Lee as Morales who really illuminates the screen and every scene that he is in with Colin Farrell is so compelling to watch that you can’t take your eyes off either of them. Their chemistry is palpable and 88-year-old Lee, who speaks Spanish and carries off a pitch perfect accent, is absolutely seamless in this role.

I found most of the special features on the DVD (except for pointless, boring B-roll footage), including the well-edited but slightly long trailer, a making of the film featurette, and SoundBytes from the principal cast to be quite enthralling.

Although I’ve been a fan of Colin Farrell’s since I saw him in Tigerland over 10 years ago, I am now officially madly in love with him (purely for his exquisite acting talent and black Irish good looks!) and am convinced that if he continues making films of the caliber of In Bruges, Crazy Heart, Ondine and Triage, that he will one day win the Academy Award that he so truly deserves.