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Enlightenment Guaranteed

ToniAnne's mother shared this lovely film with me this evening. Two German brothers, each in the midst of a different kind of life crisis, end up in Tokyo on a spiritual quest. Neither finds what they expect, but what they do find may just be what they needed in the first place. Not for those looking for brainless sword swinging and explosions (not that there's anything wrong with that), but a humorous and gently satirical look at the human condition. German with English subtitles.

Overall rating: 8 out of 10 Stars
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Executive Summary: Not flawless, but a fun ride.

I enjoyed this movie. I want more, and the door is wide open for the next installment. That's the good news. I'd certainly put in in the "fresh" column at Rotten Tomatoes, but there are a couple of blemishes on this fruit that make it less than a ten-star flick.

My first gripe: Why is Andy Serkis so far down on the credits list? For my money, his CG-modeling is one of the things that makes the show so enjoyable. Even though I was watching Caesar, it never left my mind that I was watching Mr. Serkis act out every aspect of Caesar's moves and facial expressions. He is a master at his craft.

Second: There are some pretty gaping plot holes and "Aw, c'mon, you're not really going to do that!" moments in the story. I'm perfectly happy to suspend disbelief if a film is plausible and internally consistent - there were too many spots in the build-up to the edge-of-your-seat last half hour to leave me feeling perfectly satisfied.

Tom Felton seems determined to typecast himself as an evil schmuck - that said, he does a very good job at it. I'm told he's a very nice fellow in person, and I'd enjoy seeing him in a non-Malfoy type of rôle.

James Franco, Frieda Pinto and John Lithgow seemed woefully understated and underused. The apes should have gotten first billing in my book, because nobody else had a screen presence that came anywhere close. I don't blame them - I'd say it was a lack of good direction. Lithgow was intense and sincere, but again the entire landscape seemed to lack sparkle, and I know that's not because of Lithgow's shortcomings as an actor - I just don't think they gave him enough to work with.

One or two hat-tips to the original film with Charlton Heston made me smile, but seemed so derivative that they lost some impact. The only thing that saved the reference in the 2001 remake was the fact that Heston himself spoke the line in question.

I really enjoyed watching the development of the apes - that was my favorite part of the film. The rest of it seemed rather flat by comparison. I suspect this film will do moderately well in the theatres, but not as well as it could have if there were better scriptwriting and direction. Hopefully, the producers will learn their lesson from this one and rectify the errors for the sequel - provided this one does well enough to justify a second attempt.

Overall Rating: Seven out of ten stars.
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Finally got to see Clash of the Titans last night, courtesy of a free code at Redbox, and found it a delightful popcorn flick.

Liam Neeson as Zeus? Well, it was more like Oscar Schindler as Zeus, but oh well. To the eternal credit of Worthington, it took me a third of the movie to see "JakeSully" in that face - and I only recognized Fiennes because of the voice; his Hades was very convincing and appropriately menacingly insane.

I had no problem with the violent raping of mythology, no problem with the mixing of metaphors, no problem with much of anything - it was a great way to relax for a while, and lovingly made. Since I enjoyed the ride, there's not much sense in picking at perceived weaknesses, but if you want some, just go read the reviews at Rotten Tomatoes, which only gave it a 28 or thereabouts.

On the other hand, every movie like this that I see makes me realize what an amazing piece of work "Jason and the Argonauts" was for its day. For me, dragon's teeth will always mean skeleton warriors jumping out of the ground! PS - have I told you that movie critics annoy me to death?

Overall Rating: 6 out of 10 stars.

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I don't think I'll ever sleep again. This film had more twists and turns than the world's largest corn maze, and raised some very interesting questions. Lots of action sequences, but instead of just sitting there enjoying the explosions, crashes, avalanches and phantasmagoria, I kept biting my nails wondering where they were going with the story. That's the hallmark of good writing.

Leo was good. Michael Caine is always good, but I wish they had used him more. Tom Hardy was excellent, and it wasn't until I came home and looked him up that I realized where I had seen him before, as Praetor Shinzon in ST:Nemesis. The voice just kept calling to me, and calling to me, and calling to me - but he was such a different character that it wouldn't come.

Cillian Murphy did a very good job, but I kept seeing him as Dr. Crane from Batman Begins - that's a hard image to get past. Overall, I can't think of a weak performance in the entire film.

This is a movie you don't want to know the ending of before you go. Not that there are Shymalan-like twists, but you just keep wondering if everyone is going to come out of this amazing adventure alive...

Overall Rating: Nine Stars out of Ten.
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Based on a true account, this is a disturbing psychodrama, but a well-executed one that asks some good questions about the nature of relationships and how far we will go to create/preserve them. Williams is convincing in the role of a gay radio host who gets drawn into a relationship with a woman and her son. Williams' character is struggling with the breakup of his own relationship, and he forms a connection with Donna Logand, in order to help her adopted son Peter, an abused boy who is very ill from AIDS. As the story unfolds, Williams' character begins to have stronger and stronger doubts as to whether the boy exists at all. To say more would be to take some of the zing out of the viewing experience.

The most unusual thing about this film is that it doesn't begin to compare with the strangeness of the circumstances surrounding the actual events.

The subject material is gritty, and the language is free-flowing and coarse, but you couldn't tell this story honestly without it. Probably not for the faint of heart who like unicorns and flowers.

Overall Rating: Eight out of Ten Stars
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When you drive an hour to experience a drive-in, you might as well go all the way and watch two movies. We had planned on seeing Sorcerer's Apprentice and Toy Story 3 (which I had already seen) but ToniAnne's daughter had also seen the latter show twice before, so we moved to the second screen and watched "The Last Airbender" instead. Wife said after we came home, "Please warn me if you're planning to take me to another movie by Shymalan!" Heh - I had to chuckle about that - but here's where the expected flaying takes a slightly different turn.

I actually enjoyed it. As I think about the reasons why, I think it was because I had never seen the original cartoon series (and I knew in advance that the movie was trying to cram too much information into a single film) and the effects were good. Make no mistake - the acting was abominable, with all due respect to the players. That, at least, was apparent from the very first moment; and, it seemed more because the cast selected was unknown and untrained, rather than well-known or top-drawer actors being poorly directed. But as the film progressed, I found myself being drawn into the story, which is probably more of a credit to the source material than the live-action version.

At this point, I want to watch the animated series. I just looked at a preview on Amazon, and I'm saddened that Shymalan's version was so poor - because it could have been spectacular. [Small rant: Two of the most visually impactful scenes which were shown in the theatrical previews didn't even appear in the movie. Snarl! I hate it when they do that...]

On a more general note, I'm not sure what's up with Mr. Shymalan. Sixth Sense, of course, was perfectly executed. His reputation of being a one-hit wonder or a one-trick horse doesn't seem entirely deserved, because I've perceived that his films are not meant to be horror by nature, but rather excursions into the human mind. I enjoyed Unbreakable and Lady in the Water - and even The Village and Signs were entertaining enough - but he just hasn't been able to get things to click since his first major hit. I'm hoping he's got at least another blockbuster in there, because when he does it right, it's phenomenal.

Overall Rating: Six stars out of ten.
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These are older shows so I won't do full-blown reviews, but I really enjoyed watching Chocolat the other night. It was an intriguing look into the lives - fictional though they were - of the inhabitants of a small, über-Catholic French village, and what happens when a mysterious stranger, daughter in tow, shows up and opens a hedonistic chocolate shoppe... right in the middle of Lent. Not only that, she believes in a world that works for everyone, which mightily offends the de-facto ruler of the town, an anal-retentive pharisee masterfully played by Alfred Molina.

Oddly enough, the protagonist of the film (Juliette Binoche) doesn't even show up on the first page of the cast list at IMDB - her performance was delightful and powerful. In fact, everyone did a wonderful job. Leslie Caron was woefully underused as the love interest of an old widower, but brought dignity and class to her rôle nonetheless. I loved Judi Dench as Armande, Vianne's landlady and, ultimately, best customer and friend. Johnny Depp plays a river-faring Irish traveler who injects both romance and tension into the lives of the players;

I never got bored watching this film, which had the independent feel and almost reminded me of some of the earlier French existentialist films; it has a good message and left me feeling both fulfilled for the characters and hungry for chocolate... I recommend it highly.

Overall rating: Nine stars out of ten.

Night before last we watched Kate and Leopold. I never realized it had an (admittedly feeble) time-travel premise, and always thought it was just another chick flick. I was right about the second part; it was entertaining, but not stellar. In fact, while Hugh Jackman was wonderful as the temporally-displaced Duke, Meg Ryan's character was so annoying I found myself wanting to slap her every five minutes. Nice that they have the chance to live happily ever after in the 19th Century, but I can't see Ryan's character being happy serving high tea in the garden forever.

Overall rating: Five stars out of ten.

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I don't usually review movies that have been out on DVD for years, but I felt moved to do a little literary puking to get the bad vibes out of my system.

I'm glad to say that Ray Bradbury is still alive. If he were dead, you could hook his body up to an armature and power Las Vegas with the current generated from the rotation of his body caused by the awfulness of this film.

The makers had cast iron cojones, I can say that much. How can you make a film based on such an awesome short story and make nary a reference to the name, which was the whole point of the tale?

I watched this film to the end just yesterday, despite having heard how bad it was, because it cost me $2.00 at a Blockbuster closing sale and I wanted to get my money's worth. As it turned out, I didn't - and I'd like that two hours of my life back, please.

Oh, it was entertaining enough in a feeble way - but only if you ignore the worst CGI of the century, lackluster acting and plot holes large enough to drive an Antonov An-225 through. Oh, wait - that's wrong. The whole movie is a plot hole, with more irrationality than a closed-door meeting of the House Budget Subcommittee.

Everything about this film grated on me. Chicago of 2055 looked like a bad matte painting - oh, wait, it was. The cars all looked like 1/20 scale Ford Pintos rattling around on a Disney racetrack, and the poor T-Rex might just as well have been made of papier-maché. The Baboonosaurs were fairly well-animated, but watching a whole herd of them climbing up a building looked like a lot of cut-and-paste. The rest of the special effects were one technical disaster after another, and in fact almost every scene left me shaking my head and asking WTF? - nothing in this film made any *sense*. I could go on, but I think you get the picture.

Catherine McCormack was the only cast member who showed a hint of passion for her role - even the mighty Ben Kingsley seemed numbed by the phenomenal stupidity of the rôle which he had agreed to undertake. I'm sure he wakes up at 3 AM on some nights, drenched in cold sweat, screaming "What the hell was I thinking?"

This abortion should never have been made. As it was, on a scale from 0 to 10, it rates about a -5. I'm honestly surprised it wasn't directed by Alan Smithee.

Overall Rating: (With thanks to Mr. Cranky)
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A large complaint these days is that by the time you've seen the trailer, you don't need to bother seeing the film. Two films in recent days have broken that mold for me, one being "Shutter Island" and the other, "Despicable Me." I went to this most recent offering with a picture of your average non-Pixar kids' film in mind, sort of like "Monster House". What I got was a surprise, and a treat: ‎a charming and raucously funny romp through cartoon tropes and cultural gags that will delight and touch both young and old alike.

Almost anything else I could say would be a spoiler. This film borrows heavily from Pixar, Warner Brothers, modern-day cultural references and a tried-and-true heartwarming theme, and does it with panache. While "Up" made me cry in the first 10 minutes, this film waited a while to get the waterworks up and running, but it did so without fail. But then, I'm a softie.

Go see it. I don't think you'll regret your choice.

Overall Rating: 8.5 out of 10 stars
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There is little that I can say, because I'm still choked up - this is a beautiful show.

I had been anxious to see it, because Howard Tayler, whose reviews I always appreciate, was ample with his praise. RottenTomatoes gave it a 99, which means even the most jaded cynics had something good to say about the film (although Armond White, Cole Smithey and Jeremy Heilman must all be dreadfully depressing people in real life.)

One always goes into follow-up movies with a certain sense of trepidation. The dark era when "Fievel Goes Fishing Garbage Out of Subway Grates" and "Land Before Time 47: The Gerontosaurs" went straight to video just to milk a few more dollars out of a long-moribund franchise still leaves me a bit jittery when any movie company announces a sequel of a sequel, but in this case Pixar has scored the hat trick.

Andy's all grown up, and the gang has to face their final challenge together. The villains were unexpected, the emotions powerful enough to bring out the hanky, and there were enough twists and delights to make me laugh through my tears; (I think my favorite review is by Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly - beware, it's got spoilers). I just wanted to kidnap Bonnie right off the screen and take her home to hug.

We saw it in 2D, and I'm not sure the added depth would have been worth the extra money in this case, but if you like 3D films, there are some scenes in this one that would probably make it worth the extra few dollars per seat.

Go see this one, it's worth your time.

Overall Rating: 9 out of 10 stars.
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RottenTomatoes gave it a 39%. One reviewer said it played like a video game.

Such games I should have.

I remember my kids playing PoP on our old Macintosh LC. It was a cute game. I liked Dark Castle better, but hey, there's no arguing taste. This film, loosely based on the PoP game world, was a tremendous ride with a lot of heart. Frankly, I don't know what all these snobby movie critics expect when they go to a movie like this.

The hero was handsome and vigorous and athletic and clever. The princess was appropriately beautiful and feisty and noble and smart. The supporting characters were excellent. The villains were villainous, the CG convincing, the effects impressive, the swashbuckling very swashbuckly, and the story entertaining. I didn't see a single instance of what I would call bad acting in the entire film. And there was a twist at the end that I didn't expect at all, which put a big grin on my face.

Bah. Some people are just as boring as lichen. This was a great film in my book.

Overall Rating: 8 out of 10 stars.

And now to bed!
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I laughed.
I cried.
I marveled.

A truly beautiful story, with first-class animation effects, breathtaking 3D sequences, friendship, love, trials, danger, challenges, coming of age, the whole works. And a cast of relative unknowns, at least to me. The soundtrack was effective and moving.

Will some people find things not to like about this film? Sure. It may not be for everyone. At the top of my list for this year, though.

Overall Rating: 9 stars out of 10.
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And here I thought I'd never enjoy another movie after having seen Avatar... It just goes to show that you can't compare apples and lychee nuts.

Context: Enough like the original story that it's recognizable. All the expected characters are there.

Acting: Stellar. Johnny Depp outdoes himself as the Hatter, the rest of the cast, for the most part, is not a whit behind him for convincing and spot-on performances. Alice is splendid. One or two characters didn't seem like they had been given enough to work with, which is my only justification for deducting a star.

CG: Deliberately less than realistic in some places - after all, they are in wonderland, and not on Pandora. The atmosphere works very well.

3D Usage: Effective. Nothing corny flying out of the screen at you. The added depth enhanced my viewing pleasure.

The fact that my daughter actually took me to the show, as a little thankyou for helping her get back from Costa Rica and squared away here, and being able to watch it with her after an absence of 7 months: Priceless.

Overall Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars
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So here I am sitting at home minding my own business when I get a txt from a girl I know. Hqiz, it's a darn shame I'm 37 yeas older than she is... she's the daughter of a good friend who was looking for an escape from a boring evening with old fogies, and I'm tickled that she thought to give me a buzz - I think she knows a case of puer æternum when she sees one.

She had seen Avatar, so our choices were Sherlock and the Frog Princess thingie. We chose Sherlock, and I'm glad we did.

I'm actually in a poor position to critically review this film, because I've never {to my eternal shame and discredit) read one of Doyle's stories in print. On the other hand, I have Basil Rathbone's portrayal to use as a standard. And on the gripping hand, I remain relatively unspoiled because I've heard no other opinions about the show.

This ain't your granddaddy's Baker Street - but what a romp: at first I almost felt as if I were watching "Wild Wild West". Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law are superb, and play against each other to delightful effect. The other performances were not as strong, in my opinion, but it may have been what they were given to work with - certainly nobody turned in a bad job in any sense of the word.

Parts of the plot seemed a bit contrived to me - all the emphasis on black magic seemed a bit out of phase with what I had come to expect from a Holmes plot. That said, it worked well, especially by the time the show was over and Holmes had deduced everything with his characteristic accuracy. On its own, the tale was riveting, and there were enough twists to keep it from being predictable. Good effects overall, with a couple of pretty tense moments, and more than a handful of really creepy ones.

This is a different Holmes than we're used to seeing, and yet - from what little I know - a more honestly portrayed one. I thoroughly enjoyed the film, and look forward to the sequel(s) for which they left wide a gaping doorway at the end.

Overall Rating: 8 out of 10 stars.
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Let's cut to the chase: . If my rating system had 11 stars, this film would get the extra one.

I read no reviews for this film, went not to RottenTomatoes, sought no input from friends, as I wanted to have the experience untainted. And now that I've seen it, I know a few things.

  1. I want to learn Na'avi. Dr. Paul Frommer, the creator of the language, has said he's finalizing the first Na'avi manual for submission to Fox. I want it. Now. He has also, said he hopes that there will be prequel and sequel movies, so that he'll have to develop more language. With all my heart, I pray that he's right.
  2. What's right about this movie: Everything
  3. What's wrong about this movie: Nothing
  4. See it in 3D? Yes, oh holy Mogg, yes... YES!

Now this is just one man's humble opinion. I know for a fact that there are going to be reviewers out there who don't like the film, notably my own hometown paper's Jeff Vice1, who pans just about everything I've ever enjoyed. At least he's a good bellwether for me... if he says turn right, I turn left. There will be people who find flaws in the film, on this or that creative or literary or artistic or technological merit. Screw'em.

Here there be spoilers. Go no farther if you want to remain untainted. )

Overall Rating: 10 out of 10 stars.

1When I wrote this review, I had a brainfreeze and mistakenly mentioned Chris Hicks, whose reviews I actually found balanced and accurate - huge apologies, Mr. Hicks!
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"A Christmas Carol", by Charles Dickens is one of the most-frequently cinematographized stories of all time; one count lists over 70 versions. The power of the story itself is hard to improve upon, but I would have to say that in the 2009 3-D version, Robert Zemeckis and his team have brought some 21st-century magic to the tale which thrilled my heart and put me in a most jolly yuletide mood.

Everyone has different tastes, and I know this movie won't appeal to all who see it. My own flesh and blood, my eldest offspring, didn't especially care for it. (You're cut out of my will, you untutored whelp ). But seriously, that's just fine - there's enough variety out there for everyone, and as mentioned before, I don't want to live in a world of blah unsalted Farina where everyone thinks alike, acts alike and enjoys the selfsame things.

The science of computer rendering has become breathtaking, and this movie is no exception. The scenery and effects are superb, and this is where the 3-D glasses paid the largest dividends. There were a couple of scenes that made me wish I had taken a Dramamine™ before getting on this ride.

Getting humans to look like humans seems to be the last massive challenge, witness the "almost-there" rendering of the characters in "Beowulf" (although they must have taken extra time on Grendel's mother ). While still yielding a slightly cartoony result, this film pays loving attention to detail - Scrooge and Marley, above all, are almost beyond belief. No expense was spared to get the facial details to match the intensity of the performances.

Carrey was in fine form - I wish I could have seen video of him performing at the microphone, that rubber face of his taking on the expressions of the many characters he played. I only have one nit to pick with this film in general, which is why I deducted 1/10 of a star - and that's the fact that Carrey, for all his fine acting skill, is not a dialectician. In fact, most of the accents in the film come across as "slightly off". But that's a very minor point, and would probably only bother someone who works with languages professionally (or who hails from the UK).

The movie added some bits and pieces which never show up in the original story, largely for the benefit of kids, but they were fun to watch and didn't detract from the plot. That said, there are some effects in this movie that little people might find downright terrifying, so be sure your kids can stand some fantasy horror before packing them all in the SUV.

As for filling my heart with the Spirit of Christmas, and embodying the message of Dickens' original story, this film stands in honored company with previous versions. I was particularly enamored of the performances by George C. Scott and Patrick Stewart, but Carrey's Christmas-day conversion was just as eye-misting and heart-warming as any I have seen before.

Glad I saw this at the beginning of the Christmas season - I'll be carrying the joy of tonight's experience with me for weeks to come.

Overall Rating: 9.9 out of 10
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I posted this over at the Pibgorn forum last night, but wanted to share it here as well.

I don’t think I’ve ever watched a film that is more difficult to review. The low-budget nature of the film hangs over it like the dark rags worn by its eponymous anti-hero, yet the film’s brilliance bursts out in the same kinds of flashes of luminescence that punctuate the story.

This movie is like fresh-squeezed apple cider - sweet and tart together. I’m going to let it ferment for a while, and then go back for another viewing - I have no doubt that I will enjoy the second go-round even more. (hic!) With one or two brief exceptions, the acting was good - not stellar, but appropriate to the film’s budget, and more than good enough to leave me mildly disturbed and strangely fulfilled, with a soupçon of residual confusion tossed in. (And let me add in all honesty that I couldn't act that well if I tried - but I know what I like.)

While one or two scenes - in my own mind - seemed to run longer than they needed to, there are places throughout the film where the cinematographers and the special-effects people absolutely nailed it; these alone made the film worth watching.

I would not recommend this film to people who like popcorn movies. I would definitely recommend it to someone who wants to watch a worthy effort which will leave them with more than one thing to think about.

Overall Rating: 7 out of 10 stars.

Hqiz, I wish this headache would go away.
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This film was like riding Top Thrill Dragster for three hours straight. The CG effects were as good as I had expected them to be, and there was a pretty good story behind all the disaster scenes. Pretty good acting, too, for the most part. Glad I went to see it on the big screen.

Overall Rating: 9 out of 10 stars.
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A few of my F-list have posted reviews on Spike Jonze's recreation of Maurice Sendak's timeless classic. I was going to write a review of my own, but I found one by Dana Stevens from Slate that's written far better than I could do, so I'll simply refer you to that one.

I got my money's worth and there was a lot to enjoy, but I was left feeling like there was no discrete take-away - yet that is what one ought to expect from a movie that was essentially told through the psyche of a child.
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My local newspaper offered a review of "Surrogates" that was so far off the mark that I thought I'd use it as my text for today's sermon.

If you didn't know any better, you'd swear that both the cast and crew of "Surrogates" were trying to make the worst movie possible.

If I didn't know any better, I'd swear that this movie had been reviewed by a brain-damaged wolverine.

This science-fiction thriller is inept in nearly every facet of filmmaking, from performances to direction to screenwriting to the stunt work.

I'm assuming that you were stoned out of your mind when you watched this film, or that perhaps you spent 3/4 of it in the bathroom with terminal diarrhea and missed every good sequence.

And if that wasn't bad enough already, the material borrows too heavily from the Terminator and Matrix movies, as well as several well-regarded Isaac Asimov novels. (As such, it's vastly different from its heady source material, the comic book miniseries by Robert Venditti and Brett Weldele.)

Funny. I didn't see a single connection to either franchise. The links to Asimov's "I, Robot" are thematic at best.

Worse yet, it's a complete snore — that is, except for a few unintentional hilarious moments. Most of those have to do with horrible hairpieces and appliances that are worn by two of the more prominent male stars. That includes Bruce Willis, who wears unconvincing hair in his role as an FBI agent named Greer.

By Mogg's silken sixpack, it's a movie about robots. Bruce Willis looks awesome as himself, and his surrogate is supposed to look artificial. And I've seen dudes with hair that looks twice as bad as the dreads you're referring to. For me, both worked the way they were supposed to.

<A lot of plot analysis snipped>

But Willis continues to be monotone and emotionless even when he's playing the human "operator." As Greer, he's uninteresting and pretty blase.

Totally false. I thought Willis actually did more acting in this one than he did in "Unbreakable" (which I also thought was a great movie.)

As for Rhames, he's wearing what appears to be one of the dreadlocked wigs used in the 2000 cinematic disaster "Battlefield Earth."

See above. I didn't see "Battlefield Earth", so I have no opinion.

This is a smart, fairly-intense action film with a good heart, that asks all the right questions about a future that is not so far from the realm of possibility. At the end of the show, I found myself wondering which route I would have taken. It was entertaining and thought-provoking; even though at 88 minutes it's a short film, I certainly got my money's worth.

Overall Rating: 8.5 out of 10 stars


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April 2017



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