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Reviews of Five Big Movies Debuting This Christmas Week

By Cain Cawthon

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Even without a wide release of The Interview, the outlandish comedy about the assassination of North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, the Christmas movie schedule is still a cluster as studios try to deliver something for everyone. You can pick and choose between a big-budget musical (Into the Woods), a heady period piece (The Imitation Game), a kitschy family flick (Big Eyes) and a crime drama (The Gambler). Hell, there’s even a war drama about a man who was tortured and nearly died while in a prison camp during World War II (Unbroken). How’s that for a Christmas treat? Here are our reviews of the Christmas day releases.

Big Eyes

You could do far better, on your long Christmas weekend, than this kitschy ’50s-era art flick from Tim Burton. (And by “art flick,” I mean “movie about art,” not “artistic flick.”) The Beetlejuice and Batman whack job has abandoned his trademark color palette (a sort of soggy, but still psychedelic, gray) and his trademark duo (Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham-Carter) for Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz in a lipstick-and-margarine-tinged San Francisco. Adams is Margaret Keane, a meek housewife who breaks free from a troubled marriage to set out on her own as an artiste! Her unusual portraits, featuring impoverished children with enormous eyes, become national pop-art sensations, except her new husband, the distractingly homosexual — or at best asexual ­—Waltz is the better salesman of the two and claims the paintings as his own. Burton might be an optimal chief for depicting the throbbing, saturated art scene in the film’s background, but his penchant for flamboyance doesn’t compute with the miserable marriage and subsequent courtroom drama at the story’s heart.

The Gambler

If there were an Oscar for casting, The Gambler’s casting director would come nowhere near a nomination. Suiting up Mark Wahlberg, Boston’s finest blue-collar impresario, as a lit professor prone to existential rambling, makes for some extremely long and uncomfortable scenes. This is, without much contention, the least credible college English class you’ll ever see immortalized on the silver screen. The Gamblers is a remake and, as in the original, Wahlberg’s Jim Bennett moonlights as a high-stakes gambler, betting $10,000, then $20,000, then $40,000, and then $80,000 on single hands of blackjack, riding his winning streaks until he loses everything, which he does repeatedly. The debt collectors come knocking, and Bennett, who isn’t particularly affectionate toward (or desirous of) anything, must “risk everything” to pay the piper. The guy who directed Rise of the Planet of the Apes and the guy who wrote The Departed team up for this dud, which clearly aspires to importance, but adds nothing new or interesting to the rich cinematic history of debtors in dire straits. Thank god for the brief moments with John Goodman, who here resembles nothing so much as Jabba the Hutt.

The Imitation Game

Benedict Cumberbatch turns in an excellent performance as British mathematician, logician and cryptanalyst Alan Turing, famous as the guy who helped crack the Nazi Engima code, used to send secret messages during World War II. Incredibly intelligent, Alan is also a bit of a bastard who has no trouble telling others that they are stupid. Despite his lack of tact, he gets hired to join a team of code breakers who’re desperately trying to break the code so that the Allies can anticipate Germany’s next moves. He quickly becomes the head of the team and brings Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley), a bright young mathematician, into the fold. Given his abrasive personality, Alan has trouble keeping the team together; it doesn’t help that he starts spending excessively to build a machine he thinks will be the solution. Directed by Moten Tyldum (Headhunters), the film finds a way to make code cracking dramatic and doesn’t shy from the details of Alan’s personal life; the man was criminally prosecuted for his homosexuality.

Into the Woods

A musical mash-up that borrows from Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk and Rapunzel, Stephen Sondheim’s Tony Award-winning musical Into the Woods was a smash hit on Broadway and is bound to be a big success at the box office too. While this adaptation falters in its second half with its protracted ending, the ensemble cast sets it apart. Meryl Streep is terrific as a wicked witch and Emily Blunt and James Corden are terrific as the couple (the Baker and the Baker’s Wife, respectively) at the center of the storyline. While he’s relegated to a minor role, Chris Pine hams it up as Cinderella’s Prince, a guy who’ll do just about anything to track down the beautiful woman (Anna Kendrick) who showed up one night at his ball. The songs here aren’t terribly memorable but the cast does a credible job of singing them, and the set design is spectacular.


Based on an incredible but true story, Unbroken, the latest film from director Angelina Jolie, has plenty going for it. While many moviegoers will undoubtedly know the story of Louis “Louie” Zamperini, the Olympic runner who enlisted in the Air Force and became a B-24 bombardier, that won’t take away from the suspense at the film’s heart. When Louis (Jack O’Connell) and his crew crash in the middle of the ocean, they need to come up with creative ways to get food and water while floating on a makeshift raft. Eventually, a Japanese patrol picks them up and sends them to a war camp where Louis immediately becomes the target of Mutsuhiro “The Bird” Watanabe, the camp leader who picks up on the fact the Louis doesn’t respect him. He really lets Louis have it, brutally beating him with a cane and subjecting him to incredible abuse. Through it all, Louis never lets his spirit break. While the film doesn’t break any new ground here in terms of portraying the horrors of war, it still provides a nice tribute to a story of remarkable bravery.

Mockingjay Part 1

SEE ALSO: EOTM Movie Critics: “American Sniper” Gets It Right – Trailer

Review: The Expendables 2 (2012)

Review: The Expendables 2 (2012) (via

“The Expendables 2″ — starring action superstars Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Chuck Norris, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger, among others — took in $10.5 million Friday, putting it on track for about a $27 The Expendables 2 holds the top spot at the box…


Comic-Con Day Three Ground Report

Exhibit Hall is a microcosm of fandom and fun

By Greg Reifsteck

 Exclusive EOTM Comic-Con Coverage at twitter  @moviemaniaceotm & EOTMMovieManiac

(c) Greg Reifsteck

Today’s entry comes from the trenches.  Not the press trenches I have been in the last three days, insulated in press conferences from the rest of the convention.  Today I made a concerted effort to see the Exhibit Hall and only cover one press conference: The Marvel Panel with the cast of Iron Man 3. Watch for that coverage as it happens.

(c) 2012 Greg Reifsteck

As I said on last night’s E Buzz! Show with Carla B. everyone’s Comic-Con journey is different.  I really enjoyed walking around the crowd in the Hall with everyone dressed up and enjoying the spirit of the Con. I am including some pictures of my favorites.

I ran into Breckin Meyer from the USA show buying t-shirts with his girlfriend. Sean Astin signing autographs at a random exhibitor’s booth.

Tons of wonderful creative comic book artists, writers and illustrators were showing off their wares, and doing portfolio reviews to the bright-eyed future generation of the comic book artist’s world.

I was wowed by the booths put up by the major studios and their dog and pony shows and big star autograph lines stretching the length of the hall. RazorGator - Get TicketsThis place is an epicenter of comics, TV, movies and pop culture that grows and evolves and mutates.

(c) 2012 Greg Reifsteck

It was a great breath of fresh air.  Not that I am not excited to meet celebrities and record their thoughts to report to you, my Movie Maniac fans.  It was just good to be a civilian again.  The geek in me was doing the jig in side.  Enjoy these photos and let your own freak flag fly as you enjoy them.

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Dark Twilight Panel and Red Carpet bring reboot news and jeers

By Greg Reifsteck

Live 2012 San Diego Comic-Con coverage at twitter  @moviemaniaceotm & EOTMMovieManiac

The Twilight: Breaking Dawn 2 panel took the 2012 San Diego Comic-Con by storm Thursday morning 28 cast members strong.

(c) 2012 Getty Images

There was a cloud of sadness over the crowd, after the death of a Twilight fan Gisela Gagliardi on Tuesday that was hit by a car, crossing the street against the light, while waiting in line for the panel since Sunday. Many members wore black ribbons in her honor to the panel.  But after that the focus of the crowd in Hall H changed to the final film of the Twilight saga.

(c) 2012 Getty Images

Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner, as well as Mackenzie Foy, Elizabeth Reaser, Peter Facinelli, Kellan Lutz, Ashley Greene, Nikki Reed and Jackson Rathbone all were in attendance.

The 22-year-old actress Stewart first hit the red carpet in a BCBG skirt and Fluxus t-shirt, and was joined on the red carpet by her co-star and real life boyfriend Robert Pattison.

When asked by MTV journalist Josh Horowitz about the rumored reboot, co-star Jackson Rathbone joked that it would be called “The Amazing Twilight,” a reference to the Amazing Spider-Man film that arrived in theaters just five years after the last movie. Continued Rathbone, “Andrew Garfield is going to play all the roles. I can’t wait to see what he does with Bella.”

Co-star Ashley Greene told MTV she was hoping to have more time to bask in the glow of the franchise, a reference to the benefits of being known for the billion-dollar series of films.

Even star Pattinson reportedly made light of the possible reboot.

“I pity the person who would take over my part,” said Pattison at the press conference before the panel. “I would make a campaign against them!”

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The Movie Maniac San Diego Comic-Con Preview – DAY THREE

The Hobbit, Iron Man 3 and Tarantino!

By Greg Reifsteck

Follow on Twitter @moviemaniaceotm & EOTMMovieManiac

Your legs are gimpy from partying, standing in lines or walking the length of the Exhibit Hall. Or, your ass is asleep from sitting in panels all day.  Either way, you have lived on snack bar food, shared a room with three other people and have not gotten much sleep. You have also suffered the back and forth on the never-on-time Con shuttles.

Day Three – you have made it!  And your reward?  The full damned cast of The Hobbit!  That’s what.  Oh, and other things major things are happening, too.

(c) 2012 Warner Bros

Being the Movie Maniac, I will be bringing you up-to-the-minute online updates of the cinematic action going on at the Con on the EOTM Blog.

I will be giving a live Comic-Con update on Carla B’s E Buzz! Show on Friday night at 7 p.m.  Please tune in for all of the action.

I will also be doing a round-up, including interviews from the convention on my new internet radio show Greg Reifsteck Movie Maniac debuting Sunday July 22, 5 p.m. PST on EOTM Radio.

Click here to stream live and set a reminder.

Here is part two of a preview of what I feel will be the movie highlights of the Con.

DAY THREE – Saturday, July 13

The second day of the Con really fits its lucky number date. Ringworms get to hang out amongst the super hero diehards and the Tarantino snobs.  Yes, another melting pot of marvelous fandom.

11:30 a.m. – Django: Unchained Panel- Hall H

Tarantino’s ode to spaghetti westerns comes to the Con.  The remake/homage to 1966’s Django features Jamie Foxx, Leonardo DiCaprio and Christopher Waltz.  Who will show up from the cast is anyone’s guess.  Just get your damned cameras ready.

(c) 2012 The Weinstein Co.


12:45 p.m. – End of Watch and Silent Hill: Revelations 3D Panel – Hall H

Open Road films will have Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena on hand for their film about two young officers are marked for death after confiscating a small cache of money and firearms from the members of a notorious cartel.  They will also bring out the stars of the latest chapter in the popular horror series.


2:30 p.m.  – Warner Bros. Panel – Hall H

Yes most of the major cast should be in attendance from The Hobbit, Ringers Director Peter Jackson, Martin Freeman and even Ian McKellen in a very rare Con appearance should be there.  We also get Guillermo Del Toro, who almost directed The Hobbit, presenting his giant creatures and robots movie Pacific Rim, with Charlie Hunnam, Rinko Kikuchi and Ron Perlman. We also just might get to meet the new Man of Steel.

6 p.m. – Marvel Iron Man 3 Panel- Hall H

With Shane Black taking over the helm of this super hero series’ third installment, we hope for more dark humor out of Tony Stark and less CGI mayhem.  Robert Downey, Jr. and some other surprise cast members will be around to please the crowd.  Don’t leave early.


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The Movie Maniac San Diego Comic-Con Preview – DAY ONE

Stay connected to EOTM! Online & EOTM Radio for live coverage of San Diego Comic-Con 2012.

By Greg Reifsteck – Follow on Twitter @moviemaniaceotm & Facebook @Movie Maniac

The Good, the Bad-Ass and the Undead.

Going to San Diego Comic-Con used to be a different experience.  It wasn’t about getting a big bag of swag and lining up at 4 a.m. to see some big name celebrities in Hall H. It used to be a social experience to meet up with the same comic book fans year after year back, and be with like-minded people.

(c) 2012 Lionsgate Films

Now with the overcrowding of 120,000 comic book, movie and TV buffs squeezing into the exhibit halls and corridors of the San Diego convention center, and all of the movie and TV studios plugging their latest projects, Comic-Con has become a sociological experiment unlike any other.

Being the Movie Maniac, I will be bringing you up-to-the-minute online updates of the cinematic action going on at the Con on the EOTM Blog.

I will also be doing a round-up, including interviews from the convention on my new internet radio show Greg Reifsteck Movie Maniac debuting Sunday July 22, 5 p.m. PST on EOTM Radio.

Click here to be redirected to Greg Reifsteck Movie Maniac

Here is part one of a preview of what I feel will be the movie highlights of the Con.

DAY ONE -Thursday, July 12

The first day of the Con looks to be a marathon that won’t let up.  Twihards will collide with Disney freaks and muscle head fans, all parking themselves in Hall H.

11:45 a.m. – Stan Lee’s World of Heroes Panel- Room 6BCF

What a fitting way to start the Con, by bowing down to one of the masters. Stan the Man will be joined by Luke Skywalker himself Mark Hamill and hottie Adrienne Curry to discuss his latest online venture.

12:45 p.m. – Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 2 – Hall H

Twihards will be camped out in the fitting darkness of the early morning to get into this one.  Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson and the rest of the blood suckers from the film series finale will be in attendance.

(c) 2012 Summit Entertainment

2:05 p.m.  - Walt Disney Studios Panel- Hall H

It’s a heavy hitter panel with the Mouse House trotting out the two mega directors that will revive the studio after last year’s John Carter from Mars debacle: Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie, Sam Raimi’s Oz: The Great and Powerful.  Also being featured will be the animated ode to 8-bit video games Wreck It Ralph, that my sore thumbs are going A,B,A,B, left, right, start over in excitement . Stars John C. Reilly and Sarah Silverman will be in attendance.

3:00 p.m. 1982- Greatest Geek Year Ever Panel – Room 5AB

If you cannot get into the Hall from Hell, this lively retro panel will be a highlight for anyone from the MTV generation.

The editors of Geek Magazine along with a panel of other writers will discuss the year that gave us Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Blade Runner, E.T., Tron, Poltergeist, Conan: The Barbarian, The Road Warrior, The Thing, Liquid Sky, The Sword and the Sorcerer, Diner and 48 Hours.

3:00 p.m.  Hotel Transylvania Panel- Indigo Ballroom, Hilton San Diego Bayfront

More alternative programming if you cannot get into the Disney panel. A must-check-out for horror and animation fans, this hilarious-looking film will be presented by its director Genndy Tartakovsky.

4:45 p.m. Expendables 2 Panel- Hall H.

All of the big guys are back in Lionsgate’s sequel to the Sylvester Stallone-directed mega action star mash up. Van Damme, Schwarzenegger, Lundgren, Randy Couture and Terry Crews all will be there in their HGH inflated glory.

5:00 p.m – The Most Dangerous Women at Comic-Con Panel – Room 7AB

It’s tough to be a woman in the testosterone-fueled action film industry.  Here will be some good estrogen-driven counter programming to the dudes in the Big Hall. Katrina Hill (GeekNation, MTV Geek) has assembled a team of women dangerous in their own right: Leah Cevoli (Robot Chicken), Holly Conrad (Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope), Adrianne Curry (Stan Lee’s World of Heroes), Clare Kramer (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Patricia Tallman (Night of the Living Dead) and many others with moderator Bonnie Burton.

8:30 p.m. – Comicon: Episode IV : A Fan’s Hope Screening and Panel- Ballroom 20

Documentarian Morgan Spurlock will put a capper on the day with his take on the Comic-Con phenomenon.

Petco Park Insanity

This year the Con has gotten so ginormous, it has spilled over into Petco Park next door.  From 6 to 9 p.m. on Thursday and in the daytime on Friday and Saturday, there will be the unbelievable Walking Dead Escape fan experience where you can hunt the undead or be a hunted zombie in a wicked looking 35 to 55 minute maze that overtakes parts of three levels of the baseball park. Price levels vary for the type of treachery you want to take in.

At night the first ever Dawn of the Con will take place at the park for Con badge holders only from 5:30 to 11 p.m…  Rob Zombie will be the master of ceremonies, presenting a concert of remixes of his classic songs. There will also be exclusive giveaways every hour, as well as a photo op experience with Zombie’s Dragula car.



The Movie Maniac Review: The Amazing Spider-Man is cover band of the franchise

By Greg Reifsteck


Dramatic director Webb cannot build suspense with the same old action hits

Every time I saw the trailer for the Marvel Studios reboot of The Amazing Spider-Man, I wondered: Why? Do we really need to go back to the beginning of this story we have seen time and time again.  Is Marvel really greedy enough to try and sell us the same car with just a new glossy paint job and tinted windows?

(c) 2012 Marvel Studios

Slapping the word “Amazing” on what was a pretty promising franchise is as bad as putting “New and Improved” on a box of detergent, or Taco Bell wrapping a taco in a Doritos shell.  But, after the studio forced the imaginative Sam Raimi into directing the lackluster Spider-Man 3, I guess they were just desperate enough to shove more of the same product down the moviegoers throats.

Enter Marc Webb, who directed one of my favorite movies of 2009, 500 Days of Summer, a sweet, quirky dramedy that was not only colorful cinematically.  It also proved this young filmmaker was able to develop rich and vibrant characters and mine their everyday emotions into a realistic story of infatuation and eventual heartbreak.

So I guess Marvel thought, hey, our last dramatic director pretending to be an action director experiment didn’t go quite horrible enough (Ang Lee directing 2003’s cerebral snoozefest  Hulk), let’s try it again with Webb and our Spidey franchise.

The Amazing Spider-Man is not a bad movie; it just feels like I am watching a concert of the new Journey.  Yes that Filipino dude sure sounds like Steve Perry. Hell yes I am going to pump my fist when I hear Wheel in the Sky, but in my heart I know that it isn’t Steve freaking Perry.

Webb throws The Social Network’s Andrew Garfield into the Peter Parker role for this version, with a shiny-looking unitard and some even slicker spider web shooting technology to boot. He puts the socially awkward character in high school and gives him the love interest of science major Gwen Stacy (played by one of my movie girlfriends, Emma Stone).

We go through the origin story motions, this time Peter’s father is experimenting on fusing animal and human DNA in an attempt to heal people, and give them better adaptability.  One day while playing hide and seek with a young Peter, Mr. Parker’s study is broken into.  Soon Peter’s father is dropping him off at Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May’s (Sally Field) for good.   Nothing creates a super hero more than parental abandonment.

One day the basement floods and Peter finds some of his father’s old research, a mysterious equation, and a picture of Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans). Soon Peter is sneaking into an internship program at Oscorp, his father’s old company, and befriending Dr. Connors.  Of course, Peter gives his father’s equation to the doctor, to help him regenerate his missing arm.  But soon, like all science experiments in comic book movies, it goes awry, with Connors turning into a giant lizard and terrorizing the city.

Here is where Webb gets it right.  He knows characters, and the innocent love story between Peter and Gwen is the amazing part of this movie. He knows that silence speaks volumes, and the scene where they finally have their meet-cute Webb uses it very well.  They awkwardly stare and try to form words but cannot because they are both nervous. It’s really cute stuff.  Stone is a vision as always, with her quivering lip and tell-tale eyes.

Then the action cranks up after Uncle Ben is shot and Parker goes on a vigilante spree.  Those scenes are quite fun as well.  Even though Spidey soaring through the air over the city looks clunky compared to the Oscar-winning visual effects work Star War’s vet John Dykstra did for Raimi’s first two Spider-Man films.

Garfield really goes for it in the acting department and I actually liked him more than Tobey Maguire  Yes, he overdoes it in some scenes, but he really masters the spirit of the role.  Maguire always seemed too silent and brooding to me.  Garfield really goes balls-out with the emotion of the role.

The third act of the film is where things get moving too fast and the paint starts to chip off of this old jalopy of a comic book franchise.  We really get to see the surface paint and primer of lazy writing.  The Lizard is a horrible villain and adds no excitement with its fake CGI destruction.  The scenes in which he fights Spider-Man are very by-the-numbers and will have your mind wandering.  Nothing really dazzles in any of the effects scenes down the stretch, including a ridiculous and pointless King Kong-esque sequence involving a weak Spider-Man using cranes to make it to the top of Oscorp to save the city from the ugly fake-looking Lizard.

There is even an allegedly suspenseful bridge sequence in which Spider-Man attempts to save people from their Lizardly doom that falls flat on its face with the same-old, same-old.  Raimi showed wicked imagination in all of his Spider-Man films; even the last one that the studio got a hold of a ruined the third act.  Hey, what a coincidence.  Maybe Marvel needs to take an Artist’s Way course in how to keep people compelled until the final scene.

Webb doesn’t seem fully to blame for the flameout down the stretch.  He simply isn’t an action director.  He is a good storyteller and is magnificent with actors.  The scenes between Garfield and Stone are simple and poetic.  The interaction of Peter Parker and his Aunt and  Uncle are understated and honest.  His casting choices are spot on. But when it comes to making movie magic in the action sequences he just doesn’t have the chops. The result leaves a lot to be desired.

Marvel Studios needs to stop being a Jay Leno and let the Spider-Man franchise go.  Stop pulling the same old car out of the garage and try to make it flashy by parading it around countless times. They smartly did their Avengers assimilation earlier this year with breathtaking results.  They put some their prized characters in the hands of Joss Whedon, a man that was born with a comic book in his hand and the right mind to pull off action sequences that tell a story. The result was a $600 million dollar payday.  If that is the formula for success, Marvel, then I say stick with the veteran directors and simply introduce us to some new exciting characters from your arsenal.  Last I heard you have quite a few to choose from.

Movie Maniac Review: ‘People Like Us’

By Greg Reifsteck

Twitter: @MovieManiacEOTM

People Like Us is the heart and soul date movie of the Summer

Every summer people are looking for popcorn fare to escape their hectic lives.  I enjoy a good mindless action film as well, but for every super hero slugfest or cranked up action thriller I need a think piece as a palette cleanser.  I crave for a film that stretches my mind as well as satisfying my eyeballs.

This year’s surprise is People Like Us. It is one of those rare gems that studios for financial reasons shy away from making.  They would rather spend $150 million on special effects to make Megatron crap a CGI lightning bolt to make $300 million, instead of spending $20 million to possibly tell us a compelling or inspiring story.

People Like Us reminded me of last year’s hidden and underappreciated surprises Crazy Stupid Love and We Bought a Zoo in the way it also showed humanity for all of its brightness as well as its blemishes.  It is about real people dealing with real life problems, and taking them on with dignity and respect.  The characters in People Like Us don’t talk down to each other or at each other, as they do in many formulaic Hollywood dramas.  They aren’t preachy either.  They just have normal conversations that are food for thought.

Inspired by true events of its director Alex Kurtzman, the film stars Chris Pine as Sam, a twenty-something, slickster scam artist.  Sam’s latest “deal” collapses on the day he also learns that his father has passed away.   Sam lives a jet set lifestyle, and wants to run away from the reality of the situation.  But, he is called home against his wishes by his estranged mother Lillian (Michelle Pfeiffer).  We get a taste that his father lived the same wild lifestyle Sam has fallen into.  Fueled by drugs and alcohol, he was an old school music industry A & R guy that lived the Laurel Canyon life to its Wonderland fullest.

His father’s attorney Ike (Philip Baker Hall) meets with Sam to get the estate in order, and gives him a small bag of money. But the loot is not for him. The bag also contains a note saying he must deliver the money to a mystery address. Sam soon uncovers a startling secret that turns his entire world upside down: he has a 30-year-old sister Frankie whom he never knew about (Elizabeth Banks). As their relationship develops and deepens, Sam is forced to slow down and look life straight on instead of just the corner of his eye.  He also has a misunderstood nephew Josh (Michael Hall D’Addario) that does some early-teen acting out by placing a homemade bomb in his school pool.

This film is obviously a labor of love to first-time director (but veteran writer) Kurtzman, and thank goodness Spielberg saw the potential in the story to let him make it over at DreamWorks.  The budget of the whole film probably cost the same as 15 minutes of one of the Kurtzman usual special effects fests. It was brave of him to try and tread in unfamiliar waters, and he should be commended for succeeding with a movie that tugs at the heart and soul.

Pine shows real chops in drama, and should continue down that path.  We knew he had it in him playing a young James T. Kirk in the Kurtzman-penned Star Trek reboot.  He gives his character real depth and makes us believe in both sides of Sam; the one that can’t stop lying to sell anything to anyone and the one that realizes the truth will set him free.

I must digress, I have what I call my movie girlfriends; actresses I know I don’t have a chance with in reality, but will watch them in any film they star in because I have massive crushes on them.  Sandra Bullock is my ultimate movie girlfriend, such brains, beauty and balls.  I even suffered through Premonition and Miss Congeniality 2 to watch her at work for goodness sake. Emma Stone is another one thanks to Zombieland, Easy A and Crazy Stupid Love. You get the picture.

So my latest cinematic babe that can hold her own is Elizabeth Banks, who plays Frankie in People Like Us.  She first caught my eye as a football wife in Invincible, but really got me going in Zach and Miri Make a Porno. She gives it her all as Frankie in People Like Us.  She makes Frankie many dimensions of emotion, and a very old soul.  The chemistry between Pine and her is charming and palpable.

The other huge discovery in this film is D’Addario.  He has the same look in his eye Patrick Fugit had an impressionable young rock journalist in Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous. He spews his little philosophies on life with venom, but you know deep down inside he is going to be a heartbreaker.  D’Addario gives his character an innocence that you know won’t last very long once he puts all of the pieces together.  And you root for that day to come along with him, because in his small acting nuances D’Addario gives him potential.

Please give this film a chance this weekend if you are not in for the rude and crude Ted or the Chippendale’s kitsch of Magic Mike. If you want to impress your first date, or are trying to resuscitate a relationship, take them to see this movie. If the tenderheartedness of People Like Us doesn’t get things swooning then nothing will.

‘Brave’ Review – Movie Maniac

By Greg Reifsteck

Twitter:    @MovieManiacEOTM

Pixar isn’t Brave enough to get past a two-dimensional story with their ode to Scotland

Credit: Disney/Pixar

The first time I went to the Highland games just outside of San Diego, I remember getting wrapped up in the spirit of the event.  The marching of the clans, all donning their different shades of plaid and kilts that made you hope the men weren’t following tradition too strictly. There were the competitions of strength and skill usually involving hurtling a large telephone pole looking “cable,” or something else quite heavy for an unbelievable distance. Then of course was the general rough and tumble attitude of the event, complete with endless beer guzzling and song.

In their attempt to please every culture on the face of the Earth (they already took on France in Ratatouille and will be doing a Latin tinged Day of the Dead film in the next few years) , Pixar / Disney’s latest princess feature Brave, attempts to immerse us into the Scottish spirit.  They also were going to very Brave and have their first female animation director at the helm of one of their films, Brenda Chapman (who was at the reigns of rival studio DreamWorks’ so-so The Prince of Egypt). Well she was fired in October of last year, replaced by Mark Andrews that co-directed Pixar’s short One Man Band.

Who knows if it was the creative shake-up, or the push to make things more commercially viable, but result is Brave is not up the usual depth and snuff Pixar has offered in some of its emotionally richer fare like Up, Wall-E and the Toy Story trilogy.

The film cranks up the energy and the Highlands wildness rather quickly in the first half hour.  We are thrust into the lush green landscapes and the boisterous people of Scotland.  We are introduced to Merida, who is a young red-haired lass that has a love of archery and believes in magic.  When she wanders off to retrieve an arrow from the forest, she encounters a series of sprites that she realizes will determine her fate.  She also comes across a huge bear that terrorizes her family, and solidifies the fate of her father as the Bear King.

But ginger-haired Merida’s fate isn’t brought into question until she reaches her teens, and the day she is to be presented to the local clans to determine who will win her hand in marriage. When the clans show up we really get the sense that Pixar is only keen on immersing us in the stereotypes of the Scottish culture.  Rabble-rousing and fighting are apparently all Scottish males like to do, because we get scene after extended scene of it as comic relief from the serious story of Merida trying to find her fate.

We also get her three baby triplet brothers, whose mischief is played to its heights.  If it weren’t for some of their little plots of whimsy, this film would truly drag in parts.

But it is the mother daughter story that is supposed to melt our heart, and it tries really, really hard to. Merida decides to buck tradition, and as princess declares an archery competition to see who will win her hand in marriage.  Of course, she is the best archer in the land and after she splits the bulls eye-hitting arrow of the winner, she insults all of the clans and creates a huge rift with her mother.

After a huge argument, involving the symbolic tearing of a family heirloom, we are then back out to the forest where she encounters a hag witch plucked straight out of a Miyazaki movie. Merida obtains a spell that will change the fate of rift with her mother, which I will not expose the result of since it is the only original thing about this movie making it worth watching.   The witch is a nice homage, but it exposes Brave for what it truly is, a mash-up of too many things we have seen before.

Sure the animation is smooth and incredible. As usual we feel like we have been transported to a far away land we will never get to see in our lifetime.  That is one tradition of Disney in which Pixar never disappoints. One particular scene at some waterfalls will truly take your breath away.

But it’s the mother-daughter rift plotline makes all of the lush animation simply window dressing. We have seen it in every single princess movie, so I hoped Pixar would break that Disney tradition and take it to the next level like they do with everything else. However, my hopes for a reinvention by the usually inventive minds of Pixar are for naught.  I don’t need to spoil anything else in the film because halfway through it your mind will begin to wander like mine did. You will have the end of the film already predicted as well.

Brave is not a bad movie.  But it is just not A grade, this is a solid B. And if Pixar is going to keep the fate of its box office grosses above the competition from DreamWorks, Sony and its sister company Disney Animation Studios (whose last princess effort Tangled  was a reinvention of the genre I enjoyed much for than this) they are going to have to elevate themselves.