All posts by Sheldon Wiebe

USA’s Newest Character Is Underfunded!

Underfunded - Daryl Freehorn [Mather Zockel]Daryl Freehorn is the best that the Canadian Secret Service [yes, they have one, too!] has to offer. Pity his agency is a shoestring operation. Underfunded [USA, Wed, 10/9 Central] introduces the resourceful Freehorn as he attempts to save the world – by preventing World War III!

Underfunded opens with what could be the conclusion of a cliffhanger – Canadian Secret Service Agent, Daryl Freehorn [Mather Zickel] saving the day [and a pulchritudinous young thing from certain death] and escaping with help from a U.S. helicopter. We know Freehorn is no James Bond, though – when he comes on to the young thing and she's not only married, but faithful to her husband.

Freehorn returns to base – hidden behind a dry cleaners, he reports to an office that would fit in the closet at U.N.C.L.E., OR Bond's MI-5. There we meet Naomi Lutz [Joanna Canton, who will remind of the younger Nicole de Boer], the boss' secretary [who has an overwhelming ambition to become a field agent. Owen Barnaby [Brian Howe] is the boss – a "hale, well met" kinda guy until the matter of money comes up.

When Freehorn's next assignment finds him, once again, trying to save the world – while CIA Agent Matt Sykes [Ryan McPartlin] takes the credit – Barnaby calls him in the middle of an urgent meeting to rake him over the calls for a difference of a few cents on his expense account! The assignment – find out who's behind a series of assassinations – would be a by-the-book espionage tale if it weren't for the wry humor that's built on the penny-pinching of the CSS.

Underfunded - Naomi Lutz [Joanna Canton]

We begin with an assassination that gets our hero involved; move to the beautiful woman [Monica Schnarre – a supermodel turned actress, who will never be as good as Tricia Helfer] whose husband is an influential senator; the agency mole who turns out to be fairly easy for Freehorn to spot; dance various shootings, explosions and chases, and, finally, come to the twist ending.

Zickel is suave enough to pull off the frustrated Freehorn – who has one other major problem: his father was the legendary CIA Agent, Jake Freehorn, who saved the world [single-handed] many, many, many times. So, not only does he operate on a shoestring, but Freehorn also has an inferiority complex. No wonder he's always on the verge of quitting!

Fortunately, he also has Naomi. In her zeal to become a field agent, she has mastered a number of disciplines, including: tracking, planning and tai kwon do. Unfortunately, the combination of ambition and a blind devotion to [and major league crush on] Freehorn frequently get in her way.

Underfunded is entertaining enough, but I have to say that I enjoyed it more when it was an eighties syndicated Canadian series called Adderly. From the penny-pinching boss, to the field-agent-wannabe secretary, to rarely getting credit for his achievements, Freehorn could be Adderly – only not quite as good looking [Matthew Zickel is no Winston Rekert]. If you're not into serialized programming, or game shows, it's still a more than adequate ninety-minutes of sly fun.

Grade: C+

Flushed Away: Not what You’re Expecting!

Flushed Away Poster ArtOne of the best ways to watch an animated movie is in a theater full of kids, at 10:30 in the morning. In those surroundings, Aardman's [creators of Wallace & Gromit and Chicken Run] Flushed Away comes across as a glorious success.

Roddy [voiced by Hugh Jackman] is a pampered pet, used to the comforts provided by wealthy owners – his cage is practically a castle. When a sewer rat named Sid [Shane Richie] arrives on the scene that all changes – in a doomed attempt to flush Sid away, Roddy finds the tables turned and winds up in a remarkable city in the sewer.

Before long, he finds himself in the middle of old enmities, a surrogate family and high [but damp] adventure – all because he meets Rita [Kate Winslet], a proud, independent scavenger who plies the sewers in her boat, the Jammy Dodger.

Rita, it seems, has a ruby that is wanted by the villainous Toad [Ian McKellen] – who sics his henchrats, Spike [Andy Serkis] and Whitey [Bill Nighy] on them. Alas, the ruby is only a minor deal to The Toad, who has another – far more nefarious – plot afoot. A plot that is inadvertently foiled by Rita when she shuts down Toad's headquarters…

If you're a fan of Wallace & Gromit, or Chicken Run, you will undoubtedly enjoy Flushed Away. The first Aardman feature by someone other than Nick Park – it's directed by Park's colleagues, David Bowers and Sam Fell – may have a few of the bodily function gags hinted at in the title and the trailer, but it is actually far more clever than that.

Flushed Away: Roddy's Unexpected Guest

The opening scenes, with Roddy partying after his owners leave for a long weekend, are given a later reprise that shows both the hollowness of what he thought he was missing, and a stark contrast to what he finds in Ratropolis. The city – a weird composite of London and Venice, Italy – is home to Rita and her family. They're an odd lot [naturally] but very loving, and they take Roddy to their hearts – though he's not so sure about that.

The misunderstanding that finally culminates in Roddy's return home is not the most original thing about the movie, but it's earned and nicely sets up Roddy's eventual epiphany. From that point, Flushed Away shifts into high gear and the film, which has been very to that point, soars.

The first Aardman production to be completely CG, Flushed Away is a triumph of spirit and story over dazzle. Instead of wowing us with meticulously detailed CG effects, Bowers and Fell use the computer to give the Aardman look to a film that would've been much smaller if it had been done in the traditional stop-action manner. The result is a world that is just real enough to be believed in, and yet fanciful enough to delight.

The plot is a fairly straightforward thing that is enlivened by solid characterizations and gags both subtle and gross [not too gross – this is Aardman, after all]. For the cinephile, there are clever homages; for the kids there are one or two bodily function gags and lots of slapstick; for the adults, visual puns and genuine emotional moments. If Flushed Away was to win the Oscar

Slither, Are You Scared? More Hallowe’en Chills!

Slither Box Art

One of the biggest mysteries of the year was how the smart, creepy, funny and scary Slither failed to become a big box office hit. The bigger mystery is this: why was Are You Scared even made?










Slther Box Art


When I first saw Slither, I thought it was refreshing to see an old-fashioned horror-comedy where a room of hardened critics laugh only in the right places! For that matter, it's refreshing to see a horror-comedy where all the laughs are intentional – and where there is more than just a series of jump moments. James Gunn's "Slither" is creepy, scary and hilarious – simultaneously…

In an opening that is an homage to the original "The Blob" [the 1958 creepiest that introduced Steve McQueen to movie stardom], we see a meteor rumble towards the Earth, before cutting to Police Chief Bill Pardy [Nathan Filion] and Constable Wally [Don Thompson] sitting in their squad car behind a sign welcoming us to Wheelsy, North Carolina.

Wally is timing a bird with his radar gun while Pardy appears to be napping. Clearly, Wheelsy is not a thriving metropolis. As Wally laments overestimating the bird's speed, Pardy tries to get back to sleep – as the meteor flashes to ground behind them. We see the meteor, in the forest, as it cracks open…

Between Gunn's intelligent, witty script and a terrifically atmospheric score by Tyler Bates, "Slither" mixes humor, creepiness and some genuine scares to give us one of the best horror movies – comedy or not – in recent years. There's enough gore to satisfy most splatter fans and more than enough terrific dialogue and visual gags to generate laughs.

The best humor comes in weird places – like Grant's explanations for the physical changes he's undergoing. "It's a bee sting," he intones as his wife flinches from his rapidly swelling, and lumpy head. Another character tries to explain his changes Sheriff Pardy with a hopeful, "Poison ivy, maybe?"

Something else that's refreshing about "Slither:" despite the zombification of the townspeople by the monstrous Grant, this is not "Dawn of the Dead." Gunn is not trying to camouflage socio-political commentary here. The movie is all about making people laugh, shiver and jump – and not necessarily in that order.

Besides the opening shout out to "The Blob," there are other homages, as well. My personal favorite is a double-barreled shout out to two movies: a bathtub scene that recalls both David Cronenberg's "Shivers" and the scene that, in turn, homaged – the bathtub scene in Wes Craven's "Deadly Blessing." In Gunn's hands, the scene is both scary and, due to some blatant sexual innuendo, hysterically funny.

Another great thing about the film is that Gunn's script features set-ups that don't pay off in the ways you expect. When Otis Shutmeyer [William MacDonald] heads off to help a posse track down the morphed Grant, he tells his family to stay inside – but the camera cuts to his teen-aged daughter, Kylie [Tania Saulnier], as if to suggest that she will be disobeying him later that evening. The payoff to that set-up is so different that it plays a pivotal role in the story.

Nathan Filion's Sheriff Pardy shares a number of idiomatic traits with "Serenity's" Mal Reynolds, but somehow, Filion spins these traits in such a way that instead of being anything resembling heroic and commanding, Pardy comes off as being clearly inept and completely unprepared for any emergency – let alone this one. It's a bravura performance that also sets off other characters extremely well.

Saulnier's Kylie doesn't enter the story until we're well into it, but instead of being the annoying kid that no one takes seriously, she winds up being pivotal to everyone's survival. The scene that puts her in the know is one of the film's more grotesque moments.

Some of the best pure scare moments come hard on the heels of humor [and vice-versa]. One of the best of these is the fate of Brenda – and the realization that – without her even knowing it – she is being used by Grant in two equally horrifying ways. An ambush, of sorts, is one – the other is much worse.

Banks' Starla does a great job of dealing with the hideous changes to her husband. She seems, at once, smarter and tougher than Pardy – and she's definitely smarter than Grant. She also makes it possible for us to understand why Pardy's been in love with her forever.

Another cool thing about "Slither" is that Gunn has cast a number of genre veterans in small, but key roles. You may not know where you've seen them before, but you will recognize William MacDonald, Ben Cotton and Lorena Gale, for example. Troma studio head Lloyd Kaufman, and Rob Zombie also make cameo appearances.

With a horror movie, naturally effects are key. Gunn has used a mix of CG and practical effects for "Slither." We can see the CG when Grant's arm is "all bendy," for example; and when we see the hordes of evil worm/slug thingies later. Virtually all the rest of the time, Grant and Brenda are in monster make-up – the prosthetics for the movie are very good.

James Gunn is a horror movie fanboy, and here, he's made exactly the kind of movie that he likes to watch himself. In doing so, he's made a movie that the rest of us will enjoy immensely. "Slither" is grand, unpretentious horror-comedy fun. If you're a fan of the genre, then slide on through the slime and viscera, and check out this movie.

Features include: Deleted Scenes; Extended Scenes; Gag Reel; Who Is Bill Pardy? [hilarious featurette]; Visual Effects Step By Step: VFX Progressions; The Slick Minds and Slimy Days of Slither ["Making Of" Featurette]; Bringing Slither's Creatures To Life [FX Featurette]; Slithery Set Tour With Nathan Filion; The Gorehound Grill: Brewin' The Blood [for the DIY home horror fiend – also a parody of Robert Rodriguez's Ten Minute Film School]; The King of Cult: Lloyd Kaufman's Video Diary. [Note that the director's commentary is only available on the HD-DVD and Blu-Ray DVD releases – a really rotten thing to do – and costs features a full letter grade…]

Slither – Grade: B+ Features
Features – Grade: B-

Final Grade: B


Are You Scared Box Art


Are You Scared?

A group of six young adults [early twenties] awaken to find themselves participants in a reality show called Are You Scared? The show's concept is that applicants reveal their greatest fears in their submission tapes and then are forced to face those fears on the show.

The basic problem with Are You Scared? is that it's not particularly scary. Sure the methods of the characters' deaths are clever [ingenious, even], but the script provides little in the way of character development, so it's very hard to relate to these kids. It doesn't help that actors aren't particularly good, or that the outside plot arc – involving a depressed cop and a pretty FBI profiler – is pretty hackneyed stuff.

Andy Hurst directs with all the subtlety of a blunt instrument, and we've seen all of his shots before. The cast lacks any kind of chemistry – the only positive thing that can be said about them is that they're good looking [though in a fairly generic kind of way…].

The DVD contains no special features – and that's definitely for the best!

Final Grade: D-



Masters of Horror, Season 2: More Adventurous – More Range, More Gore, More Chills!

Masters of Horror - The Damned ThingOne of the smartest things Showtime has done this season [besides giving us the diabolically delightful Dexter] is committing to airing the second thirteen-episode season of Masters of Horror [Fridays, 10 p.m. ET/PT]. The series, which gives thirteen talented directors a chance to make whatever sixty-minute movie they want, gets off to a gory start – but doesn't forget the suspense and humor that helped make season one so successful…

Mick Garris' Masters of Horror is, literally, a series of movies [season one eps have run theatrically in a number of foreign markets] wherein masters of the horror genre new and old have been given a fixed budget and shooting schedule, but are otherwise free to make the movies they want to make – no other restrictions are given.

Tonight, season two gets under way with one of the goriest of the series to date, Tobe Hooper's [Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Poltergeist] The Damned Thing. The R.C. Matheson script [he also adapted last season's Dance of the Dead] tries – not entirely successfully – to adapt the almost stealthily sly and subtle Ambrose Bierce short story.

In 1981, young Kevin Reddle sees his father suddenly go berserk and kill his mother before he finds the strength to flee. Before his father can find and kill him, the man is torn apart by an unseen force.

In the present, we find that Reddle [Sean Patrick Flanery] has grown up to be the town sheriff, and is separated from his wife, Deena [Marisa Coughlin] though he tries to be a good father to his own young son. When certain conditions that presaged his father's madness begin to occur again, he is determined to prevent history from repeating itself.

Masters of Horror - The Damned Thing

The Damned Thing begins with gore and gore is sprinkled liberally throughout. It's perhaps too much for a story that originally relied on a steady build of dread, much in the mode of H.P. Lovecraft [and with a very Lovecraftian kind of climax]. Fortunately, between the spurts and gouts of blood and entrails, we get some good performances and Hooper keeps the ep moving along. Unfortunately, the ep lacks the touches of Hooper humor that make most of his movies so distinctive. Still, it gets season two off to a running start.

Masters of Horror - Family

Next week's ep [Nov. 3], Family, features George Wendt in a tale that could be a more intense Twilight Zone episode – which is to say that it's smart, funny, intense and quietly horrific – with an extremely cool twist. The plot revolves around Wendt's rather unsavory hobby, and the arrival of new neighbors – a couple named David [Mark Keesler] and Celia [Meredith Monroe].

To say anything about the plot would be to spoil the fun, but Brent Hanley's script plays directly to director John Landis' [An American Werewolf In London, last season's Deer Woman] strengths: humor and suspense. Wendt is delightfully macabre and both Munroe and Keesler have the kind of All-American presence that reminds of The Donna Reed Show, and the combination enables Landis to have as much fun as his audience.

Masters of Horror

On November 10, the series unveils The V Word – a genuinely unusual vampire tale that's built around the desire of two seventeen-year old boys to see a dead body. When they break into a mortuary to see the dead body of a kid who had bullied them, their prank takes a nasty turn – they encounter a vampire, Mr. Chaney [Michael Ironside].


There are three distinct parts to the story: the prank and the encounter with the vampire; the escape and a key dark turn, and a serious that the two must make. Written by series creator Mick Garris, The V Word is directed by Ernest Dickerson [Bones, Demon Knight] with great verve. The ep starts slowly and gradually picks up the pace until the encounter with Mr. Chaney, when things get wild, briefly – then a pause to create a subtly horrifying moment and a mad dash to the conclusion – which dials the pace down again to provide a few moments of quiet drama and humor.

The three eps that ring in season two of Masters of Horror are as different as one can imagine. It seems that the show's no restrictions mandate is leading, once again, to thirteen weeks of fresh, strange and varied excursions into the weird, strange and scary. These three eps manage, between them, a nice balance of old-fashioned suspense, humor and gore in a manner that bodes well for the rest of the season.

The Damned Thing – Grade: B-

Family – Grade: A

The V Word – Grade: B+

Average Grade: B+

TVonDVD: Masters of Horror: Pick Me Up & Jenifer, The Greatest American Hero – The Complete Series, The Addams Family, Vol. One

Masters of Horror: Pick Me Up box ArtIt's the time of year when you can expect monsters and superheroes plotting their raids on the candy supplies of the neighborhood. To get into the proper spirit, here are a few Hallowe'en TVonDVD selections to tickle your funny bone, or rip it right off…

Monsters of Horror: Pick Me Up Box Art

Masters of Horror: Pick Me Up

The latest release in Anchor Bay Entertainment's series of Masters of Horrors episodes is Pick Me Up – the first Larry Cohen film to be written by someone else [adapted, by David J. Schow, from his own short story]. It's a cat-and-mouse/chess game that features a hitchhiking serial killer [Walker, played by Warren Kole] who kills anyone unfortunate enough to give him a ride, and a serial killer truck driver [wheeler, portrayed by Michael Moriarty] who kills the hitchers he picks up. Complicating matters is a feisty divorcee [Stacia, played by Fairuza Balk] who inadvertently finds herself caught between them.;

While Pick Me Up has its fair share of suspense – and jump moments, for that matter – the episode feels a lot more contrived than most of the series' other eps. That's because the set-up is a little too obvious, and one character too many knows what's going on – and it's the one character who shouldn't… The cast gives terrific performances, and Cohen's direction is as fine as any entry in the series, to date – the problem lies with the script. It simply gives too much away, too soon.

Features include the usual plethora of material: audio commentary with Larry Cohen [unlike most commentaries in the series, so far, this one is just Cohen talking about making the film – there is no interviewer asking questions. I prefer this format]; Death on the Highway – an interview with Larry Cohen; Working With a Master – Larry Cohen – interviews with actors who have worked with Cohen in the past [including Karen Black and David Carradine]; On Set: An Interview With Michael Moriarty; On Set: An Interview With Fairuza Balk; On Set: An Interview With Warren Kole; Script to Screen: Pick Me Up – showing how scenes from the script translate to the finished product; Behind The Scenes: The Making of Pick Me Up; Fantasy Film Fantasy – Mick Garris Interviews Larry Cohen; Trailers; Stills Gallery; Larry Cohen Bio; DVD-ROM Screenplay; DVD-ROM Screensaver; Insert, and Larry Cohen Trading Card.

Masters of Horror: Pick Me Up – Grade: C

Features – Grade: A+

Final Grade: B

Greatest American Hero Series Box

The Greatest American Hero – The Complete Series

When The Greatest American Hero debuted in March, 1981, it quickly garnered a rabid audience. The story of special ed teacher, Ralph Hinckley [William Katt] and his unfortunate pairing with by-the-book FBI hardcase, Bill Maxwell [Robert Culp] – planned by aliens, no less – took the superhero concept and planted in a more or less real world. The result was the smartest satire of the superhero comic ever broadcast.

The first season found the more liberal Ralph gifted with a set of superhero longjohns [complete with cape] and paired with ultra-conservative Bill with results that could only be called peculiar, and oddly hilarious. Part of the reason the conceit worked was that, before he could even read it, Ralph lost the suit's instruction book – thus, he had problem's learning to fly; found it hard to control the suit's invisibility function, and so on.

Fortunately, between Ralph and Bill, the two were able to get things together enough to deal with attempted coups, enemy agents and even the odd mundane killer/kidnapper/crook. While Ralph's attempts to figure out how to the use the suit [he learned to fly from a five-year old boy!] provided a certain amount of humor, the confrontations between Bill and Ralph's feminist girlfriend [and later wife] Pam [Connie Sellecca] dealt with the social upheaval that was a large part of the eighties – and Ralph's class of maladjusted high school students could be counted to add complications.

In its second [and only full] season,

Abominable, Monster Night, The Norliss Tapes, Superstition, Voodoo Moon

Abominable Box ArtFor Anchor Bay Entertainment, Hallowe'en is Christmas. The company specializes in horror and suspense – releasing hard to find titles and financing, or co-financing imaginative, low-budget genre titles – and October is their big release month. This year, Anchor Bay brings chills old and new: Abominable – the Rear Window of horror flicks; Monster Night – a horror comedy for kids that won't embarrass their parents [mostly]; The Norliss Tapes – a chilling TV-movie from the man who gave us the original Night Stalker; Superstition – a seldom-seen, sly number from 1982, and Voodoo Moon – the ultimate demon versus a group of talented, but very mortal humans…

Abominable Box Art


Preston Rogers [Matt McCoy] is returning home – much against his will – in the company of an obnoxious male nurse named Otis [Christian Tinsley] on orders from his therapist. The wheelchair-bound Rogers is not ready to face his demons – he lost his wife while mountain climbing, and the mountain can be seen from his livingroom window. What Rogers doesn't know is that he will soon have to face a demon of an entirely different sort…

Shortly after they arrive, Otis heads back into town to pick up a few things that they'd forgotten – leaving Rogers on his own. When five beautiful young women drive up and begin carrying stuff into the house next door, Rogers notices – despite his despondency. He also glimpses motion in the woods – which begin barely a stone's throw from the houses.

Long before Otis returns, Rogers is certain that someone – or something – is stalking the inhabitants of the two homes. One of the girls has vanished – leaving her cell phone in the middle of the road. Thus begins a night of terror – as Rogers, stuck in his wheelchair, is almost helpless to do anything…

Abominable is one of the best B-movies I've seen in recent years. Playing off the Rear Window-like situation, writer-director Ryan Schifrin weaves a suspenseful tale with a goodly number of jump moments that are enhanced by the careful building of suspense. The suspense comes from being able to use more than one mood, and to play each mood completely and with fidelity.

The first strike comes out of nowhere, as one of the girls chatters on her cell phone. The mood and the music are lighthearted, and then – she's gone! When three hunters stalk… something… the mood is, again, less than ominous – until the exact right moment…

Schifrin may be a freshman director, but he certainly knows precisely what he wants and how to get it. His use of certain angles shows us Rogers' growing sense of claustrophobia and futility as events escalate; his choice of shots make the girls' arrival and giddy chatter feel as real as gossip in a high school cafeteria. Even his choice of creature is exactly right for achieving the kind of chills – and laughs – the film provides.

It doesn't hurt that Schifrin's father, the great Lalo Schifrin [Mission: Impossible] provides the score – but even without that bit of family help, Abominable is a smart, suspenseful movie that works on all fronts: the characters are interesting enough to engage us; the situations are built to provide jump moments that have an emotional resonance; the comic relief is perfectly timed; the practical effects are far better than the budget should have allowed, and the CG are subtle and beautifully integrated.

Features include: audio commentary by Schifrin, Matt McCoy and Jeffrey Combs; Back to Genre – Making Abominable; deleted and extended scenes; outtakes and bloopers; Shadows – Schifrin's USC student film; Trailers; poster gallery; storyboard gallery, and, as a DVD=ROM feature, the film's screenplay.

Abominable – Grade: A-

Features – Grade: A

Final Grade: A-

Monster Night Box Art

Monster Night

Whilst the parental units are away…

The Ackerman family has just moved into their new home – a large, cheap, allegedly haunted house, and the children have begun school at Zombieski High [team name, The Zombies]. Isaac [Jake Thomas], who is a bit of a geek, finds himself hosting a Hallowe'en party while the aforementioned parental units [Robert Carradine, Vanessa Angel] head off to a faculty party.

Isaac, and his sister Dana [Taylor Dooley], try to balance the party with babysitting their younger brother, Vincent [Joss Saltzman], but things begin to go wrong when it seems tales of the house being haunted may just be true – and Vincent vanishes! How does this tie in the creepily named high school? Long story…

Monster Night is, by no means, a genre masterpiece – but it is entertaining in a lowest-common-denominator, with flashes of sly intelligence, kind of way. The movie combines many of the genre's best clich

Big Screen Fraggles!

Fraggle RockGobo, Wembley, Mokey, Boober and Red are leaving Fraggle rock to brave the realm of "outer space" [which is to say, the Human World] in the first Fraggle Rock movie!


The Jim Henson Company's C.E.O., Linda Henson, has confirmed that the company is developing a feature film built around the Fraggles – stars of the

The Prestige: Now You See It – Now You Don’t!

The Prestige - Algier's Greatest TrickThe Prestige is an entertaining film with some great performances and some equally impressive twists – though not necessarily the ones you might be expecting!

The Prestige is the tale of two young wannabe magicians who begin their careers as part of another magician's act. Alfred Borden [Christian Bale] is the technician of the pair; Robert Angier [Hugh Jackman] is the showman. While working for this other magician, Angier's wife, Julia [Piper Perabo], is killed when a trick goes wrong. Angier blames Borden – and thus begins a lifetime of bitter rivalry.

When Borden comes up with a magical masterpiece called The Transported Man, Angier becomes obsessed with figuring out how it works. His efforts take him to America, where he seeks audience with the radical scientist, Nikola Tesla [a subtle, and very effective David Bowie], to learn the secret of the apparatus Tesla is alleged to have built for Borden.

As we watch the film, we learn, courtesy of Angier's mentor, John Cutter [Michael Caine], the three stages of every successful magic trick: The Pledge [wherein we are shown something ordinary], The Turn [in which said something is made extraordinary], and The Prestige [wherein said something is returned to its original state]. The film follows these stages…

In The Pledge, we meet our two prestidigitators-to-be; stage two finds them becoming the best magicians in the world; stage three… Ah, but that would be telling…

Like all of Christopher Nolan's films, to date, The Prestige requires its audience to pay close attention. While some things may seem obvious, they may – or may not – be as them appear. When Cutter dissects one of Borden's tricks, can his simple explanation be right – or is there something otherworldly going on? When, thanks to Cutter, Angier is able to pull the same trick via Cutter's method, we begin to think that Borden may be doing the same – and yet, there remains that hint of doubt that makes a good magician's audience wonder…

The Prestige - Caine, Johannson & Jackman

The screenplay, by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan [adapted from the novel by Christopher Priest], weaves in and out of the ordinary and extraordinary and, ultimately, works because it treats both with the same respect. As Borden asks at one point, "Are you watching closely?" In truth, you will have to watch closely to discern the reality behind the illusions – and when the two appear to merge, we are reminded that misdirection is at the heart of all magic tricks.

Christopher Nolan has yet to make a film that is less than excellent, and The Prestige keeps his record intact – despite having two lead characters whose obsessions are so great that they only allow for glimmerings of the two men's actual personalities. What makes the film – you should forgive the expression – magical, is a combination of two factors: the intelligence and wit of the script, and the quality performances, especially from the supporting cast.

Michael Caine continues to create characters of surprising depth without seeming to do much at all; Piper Perabo makes Julia endearing despite her limited screen time and small number of lines; Rebecca Hall almost steals every scene she's in, as Borden's wife, Sarah. The aforementioned David Bowie, and Andy Serkis [as Tesla's assistant, Alley] make an intriguing pair – there could be an entire movie about the two of them…

Nolan's direction, as with his other films, allows the story to unfold in its own time [the film runs 130 minutes], but never drags. The cinematography, by Wally Pfister, is lush enough to evoke the period, and concise enough to allow the story to tell itself.

The Prestige may not be the Oscar

Flags of Our Fathers – Can One Photo Win A War?

Flags of Our Fathers - Raising The FlagFlags of Our Fathers may well be Clint Eastwood's finest film. It's a study in the horrors of war; the value of propaganda, and the effects of each on both the soldiers at the front and the folks back home. It's also a study in "the ends justifying the means" – and that makes it both doubly harrowing to watch, and doubly rewarding for its audience.

While being interviewed by the son of one of his men, Dave Severance [Harve Presnell] tells James Bradley [Tom McCarthy] that one photo – the right photo – can win a war. Specifically, of course, he's referring to the photo of the flag being raised at Iwo Jima, during World War II.

Flags of Our Fathers adapts the book by Bradley [with Ron Powers] in an unusual manner. It opens with the elderly John "Doc" Bradley [George Grizzard] calling for "Iggy" as he collapses on the stairs in his home; shifts to the events leading up to his unit's arrival on Iwo Jima – and the bloody battle that began there – and then shifts to the War Bonds drive in which the young Bradley [Ryan Phillippe], Rene Gagnon [Jesse Bradford] and Ira Hayes [Adam Beach] were drafted to play the part of "The Heroes of Iwo Jima."

As the drive progresses, the film flashes back to various events of their time on Iwo Jima – the feeling is that of battle fatigued soldiers having flashbacks, and it adds greater depth to their various reactions on the drive: Bradley's stoic determination to do the job; Gagnon's playing the publicity to make contacts for after the war; Hayes' retreat into the bottle. We learn that the flag-raising photo is not only an accident, but that it was the second such raising – and, more importantly, we learn why…

Falgs Of Our Fathers - Buy Bonds

Eastwood's direction is as sure-footed as a mountain goat and as subtle as a Gurkha guerilla. At no time do any of the film's events seem staged, or calculated [except where such calculation plays a part in the story – as when the decision is made to use the photo of the second flag-raising as a rallying point for the American public]. Several performances are of Academy Award-winning quality. It will be interesting to see which ones receive nominations [my bet is Adam Beach will be nominated for Supporting Actor – and could well win].

While Flags of Our Fathers provides a look at the nature of, and necessity for propaganda, it also makes it clear that it is a weapon – no less than a rifle, or a bomb – and is often used even more ruthlessly. On the other hand, the film also shows how properly used propaganda can inspire – and make mad.

The screenplay, co-written by William Broyles Jr. and Oscar

X-Men: The Last Stand – Too Much Action, Not Enough Character!

X-Men: The Last Stand Box ArtIt may have made more money than its predecessors, but X-Men – The Last Stand is the least of the three movies because writers Zak Penn and Simon Kinberg, and director Brett Ratner forgot one important thing: it doesn't matter if all the action set pieces are faithful to the comic when the underlying character moments are few and far between…CLICK THIS LINK TO SUBSCRIBE TO EMTV, OUR iTUNES VIDEO PODCAST!!