All posts by Sheldon Wiebe

MOVIE REVIEW: Murphy’s Newest Film Doesn’t Suck – Imagine That!

Imagine That is a better movie than either of Eddie Murphy’s last two live-action films [Meet Dave and Norbit]. That might seem like damning it with faint praise, but Imagine That is a relatively well written, decent little story that is not – as the trailer might have suggested – the Eddie Murphy version of Bedtime Stories. Instead, it’s a riff on the same tropes that gave Dwayne Johnson his first big hit in The Game Plan – in this case the workaholic father [Murphy] who only begins to bond with his daughter [Yara Shahidi] when her imaginary friends give him astoundingly accurate assessments of companies in which his clients might wish to invest.

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Evan Danielson [Murphy] is the investment executive dad and Olivia [Shahidi] is the imaginative daughter. To provide a little friction, Danielson has a competitor in the invest biz by the name of Johnny Whitefeather [a perfectly unctuous Thomas Hayden Church] who gussies up his investment strategies in quasi-Native American hoopla.

The script, by Ed Solomon and Chris Matheson, relies too heavily on the building animosity between Danielson and Whitefeather to be more than a pleasant diversion. Its saving grace is the chemistry between Murphy and Shahidi – and Murphy plays Danielson’s willingness to act silly to get investment advice from the imaginary friends with just enough looseness to suggest that, on some level, he really is beginning to bond with Olivia. The other performance worthy of note is Nicole Ari Parker, who plays Olivia’s mom, Trish, with the right amount of exasperation towards Danielson’s missteps and the right amount of protectiveness about her daughter’s feelings.

Imagine That is more than a little predictable, and it does stray too far from its emotional center on more than one occasion – but, unlike Norbit [which was just mean and ugly] and Meet Dave [which was just not funny], it does work when centered on father and daughter. Karey Kirkpatrick keeps things moving well enough that the Danielson/Whitefeather animosity zips by before it gets too far from the heart of the film – though a bit with Whitefeather’s son is pretty useless.

Overall, though, Imagine That is good enough to sit through once. Whether that one time is in a theater or at home when the DVD comes out is up to you.

Final Grade: C+

FIRST LOOK: Fierce Light – Spiritual Activism Behind Velcrow Ripper’s Thoughtful, Reflective Documentary

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Every now and then, I get to see unique films that may not reach all audiences at the same time. Usually, these are independent films – and occasionally, they are worthwhile, thought provoking documentaries like Velcrow Ripper’s Fierce Light: When Spirit Meets Action.

Continue reading FIRST LOOK: Fierce Light – Spiritual Activism Behind Velcrow Ripper’s Thoughtful, Reflective Documentary

TELEVISION: Oscar® & Golden Globe® Nominee Viola Davis to Recur on Showtime’s United States of Tara!

When Showtime’s controversial United States of Tara begins filming its second season, Viola Davis will come aboard in the recurring role of Lynda B. Dozier, “an unconventional artist who plays a significant role in Tara [Toni Collette] and her daughter Kate’s [Brie Larson] lives. Davis, who – with one scene – practically stole Doubt out from under Meryl Streep, will appear in seven of the second season’s twelve episodes, beginning with the season’s second ep.

Viola Davis  - Doubt

Davis received Oscar® and Golden Globe nominations for her performance in Doubt [pictured]. On Broadway, she received the Tony and Drama Desk awards for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play for her work in King Hedley II. On film, she has had featured roles in Nights in Rodanthe, Disturbia, Get Rich or Die Tryin’, Syriana, Far from Heaven, Solaris, Traffic, Out of Sight and Antwone Fisher, for which she was nominated for an Indie Spirit Award. On television, she is best known for roles in the Andromeda Strain mini-series, Law & Order: SVU and several of CBS’ series of Jesse Stone TV-movies.

United States of Tara is about Tara, a suburban housewife struggling with Dissociative Identity Disorder, who goes off her meds to see if she and her family can learn the root cause of her multiple personalities, thereby allowing them to be re-integrated into a permanent whole.

TELEVISION: Nurse Jackie Works a Double!

Nurse Jackie [Showtime, Mondays, 10:30/9:30C] has only just premiered and already the series, which stars Edie Falco, has been renewed for a second season!

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The darkly humorous series, which is centered around Falco’s “strong-willed and brilliant — but very flawed — emergency room nurse in a complicated New York City hospital,” has garnered almost universal acclaim [we gave it an A+ rating] — with USA Today proclaiming, “Here’s a cure for TV’s summer doldrums:  Take one great actress and one great role; repeat for 12 weeks,” and the Washington Post chiming in with, Nurse Jackie is one of the true choice cuts of the year.”

TELEVISION: Sci Fi Channel Casts Bates, Scorsone as ‘Alice’ Leads!

The Sci Fi Channel today announced the casting of the leads for its four-hour movie event that is scheduled for a December, 2009, premiere. This updating of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland will star Kathy Bates [Charlotte’s Web, Revolutionary road] as the Queen of Hearts and Caterina Scorsone [1-800-Missing, the upcoming Edge of Darkness – pictured] as Alice.

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In this take on Carroll’s classic, Alice is a fiercely independent twenty-something who finds herself on the wrong side of a mirror. As the press release pits it, “She is a stranger in an outlandish city of twisted towers and casinos built out of playing cards, all under the rule of a deliciously devilish Queen who’s not very happy about Alice’s arrival.”

Rounding out the cast of the mini-series, which has just begun shooting in Vancouver, B.C., are: Tim Curry [Rocky Horror Picture Show, The Colour of Magic] as Dodo, Colm Meany [The Commitments, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine] as the King of Hearts, Matt Frewer [Watchmen, Eureka] as the White Knight, Philip Winchester [Crusoe] as Jack of Hearts, Andrew Lee Potts [Primeval] as Hatter, Alessandro Juliani [Battlestar Galactica], as 9 of Clubs, Timothy Webber [Men in Trees, Taken] as Carpenter, Alex Diakun [Sanctuary, The X-Files: I Want to Believe], Zak Santiago [Driven to Kill, Young Blades], and Eugene Lipinski [Animorphs, Intelligence] as Doctors Dee and Dum.

The writer/director is Nick Willing, director of Sci Fi’s Emmy-winning Tin Man. Executive Producers for Alice are: Matthew O’Connor and Lisa Richardson from Reunion Pictures, Jamie Brown from Studio Eight and RHI Entertainment’s Robert Halmi, Sr. and Robert Halmi, Jr.

TELEVISION: Nurse Jackie Guarantees Your Recommended Daily Dose of Intelligence!

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Showtime’s new series, Nurse Jackie [Mondays, 10:30/9:30C], may be even darker in tone, and more grimly hilarious than Weeds, the show it follows on the network’s Monday night summer schedule. Jackie Peyton [Edie Falco] is a dedicated nurse who is not afraid to tear a strip off a young intern who thinks too highly of himself; mentor a new RN; lock horns with the bitchy ER administrator, or cheat on her husband. She loves her kids; needs pharmaceutical aid to get through her day [What do you call a nurse with a bad back? Unemployed.]; and somehow seems to be able to make all the various strands of her life wind together – or maybe not… From the six episodes that Showtime provided for review purposes, it’s clear that Jackie is simultaneously incredibly noble and horribly flawed.

Continue reading TELEVISION: Nurse Jackie Guarantees Your Recommended Daily Dose of Intelligence!

TELEVISION: Weeds – New Lows for Nancy and Celia; New Highs for Most Everyone Else!

After a lacklustre fourth season in which the world’s most selfish mother wound up pregnant by a Mexican drug lord to keep herself alive, Weeds’ [Showtime, Mondays, 10/9C] Nancy Botwin [Mary-Louise Parker] finds herself, once more, in potentially fatal circumstances – while her former best friend, Celia [Elizabeth Perkins], discovers that everyone hates her, a lot!

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Weeds’ fifth season premiere finds Nancy having to undergo another, witnessed, sonogram to convince Esteban [Demian Bichir] that she’s really pregnant – and getting a bodyguard to keep her company until he decides whether to kill her after the baby is born. Meanwhile, hijinx ensue when Andy [Justin Kirk], Silas [Hunter Parrish] and Doug [Kevin Nealon] decide to use San Diego County’s Cleveland National Forest as a place to set up a worry-free pot farm – and Quinn [Haley Hudson] has a conniption fit when she learns that no one wants to pay her mother’s ransom.

In Wonderful, Wonderful, series creator Jenji Kohan has crafted an episode that eclipses much of the fourth season in its wit and dark, twisted plotting. Scott Ellis brings out the best in his cast and returns the show to a deftness of performance and pacing that produce more genuine humor and drama than almost any part of last season.

There are many ironies that are almost playful in set up and yet, almost poignant in their unexpectedness. Celia is at the center of one of the best examples of this and Perkins is up to playing every note with an almost harrowing truthfulness. There are so many examples of why this one episode is so much better than anything in season four, but to say much of anything about them – beyond what I’ve already said – would be to ruin the surprises.

Weeds is back, baby! ‘bout time, too!

Final Grade: B+

Eclipse Review by Sheldon Wiebe

Posted June 7, 2009

TELEVISION: The Closer – Married… With a Sick Cat and a Multiple Murder!

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Los Angeles Deputy Brenda Johnson [Kyra Sedgwick] is facing a season of change as The Closer [TNT, Mondays, 9/8C] embarks on its fifth season. Now that she and Fritz [Jon Tenney] are married – and back at work – things haven’t quite smoothed themselves out. Not only is Brenda still adjusting to being married, her cat is sick [and we know how much she loves Kitty] and someone has just killed four of five members of a Hispanic family, execution style – a crime that is likely to cause serious repercussions in the community.

Continue reading TELEVISION: The Closer – Married… With a Sick Cat and a Multiple Murder!

DVD REVIEW: Harlan Ellison: Dreams With Sharp Teeth – “Descartes Walks Into a Bar…”

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He is the most honored writer living today. He’s been a nitro truck driver, a tuna fisherman, short order cook and a door-to-door brush salesman, among other things. He’s changed the face of science/speculative fiction with his anthologies Dangerous Visions and Again Dangerous Visions. He’s written novels, short stories, comics, television criticism, television and movies. He is Harlan Ellison and he is a man to be reckoned with.

Continue reading DVD REVIEW: Harlan Ellison: Dreams With Sharp Teeth – “Descartes Walks Into a Bar…”

MOVIE REVIEW: Easy Virtue – Not Quite Vintage Coward But Entertaining Nonetheless!

Stephan Elliott’s adaptation of Noel Coward’s breezy comedy of manners, Easy Virtue [which he co-wrote with Sheridan Jobbins], is a bit of pleasant counter-programming to give anyone who is tired of explosions and rude comedies something smart and light in which to indulge themselves.

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The story is centered on a battle of wits, and quips, between two women – one a tightly wound Englishwoman of the gentry trying to preserve the family property as the family fortune has withered away; the other a brash young American who makes a living racing cars – when she can get past the prejudice against female drivers. Veronica Whittaker [Kristin Scott-Thomas] is the heroically stiff upper-lipped woman who has pinned all of her hopes for saving the family estate on her son’s marrying into a wealthy family. Jessica Biel, in her best work since The Illusionist, is Larita Huntington, the brash American woman who arrives as the new wife of John Whittaker [Ben Barnes] – and destroyer of Veronica’s hopes.

Colin Firth co-stars as Veronica’s burnt out husband, Colonel Jim Whittaker, who has not been the same since he led men to theirs deaths in World War One, and spends most of his time in the barn puttering about. Charlotte Riley has the thankless task of playing the Sarah Hurst, the woman Veronica expected John to marry. There are also a couple of conniving but not terribly bright Whittaker sisters [Kimberly Nixon and Katherine Parkinson] and a subversively perceptive [and funny] butler, Furber [Kris Marshall], who steals scenes in the manner of the best British butlers.

Being Coward, naturally there is a scandal and a turn in tone, but Elliott does a nice job of keeping everything flowing just smoothly enough to keep our attention and return us from the momentary emotional glitch to a spot on ending that works out for the best for everyone – even though they might not realize it at the time.

Because the soundtrack includes a number of beautifully placed songs –mostly by Coward, and Cole Porter – I was surprised to note, in the closing credits [you bet I watch them!], that there were a few contemporary tunes mixed in and given period arrangements. They work just fine, too. Another reason to stay for the credits is the introduction of the Easy Virtue Orchestra [an affectation that adds a Radio Age feel to the film in retrospect].

Easy Virtue is an adequate adaptation of Coward, which makes it an above average film filled with wit and humor and just the right tinge of appropriately placed melancholy.

Final Grade: B

Review by Sheldon Wiebe

Posted June 6, 2009

MOVIE REVIEW: The Hangover – The Perfect R-Rated Summer Comedy!

If you’ve seen the ubiquitous trailer and TV spots for The Hangover, you’ve seen several of the movie’s high spots – tiger in the bathroom; am I missing a tooth; is that a baby; Mike Tyson air-drumming to Phil Collins – but, and you can trust me on this, they comprise the tip of the iceberg that is one weird, twisted and even trippy comedy.

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We’ve seen all these characters before – the nerdy dentist with the shrewish girlfriend; the inappropriate fat guy; the schoolteacher who’s about as mature as his students and yet happily married; the slightly uptight groom-to-be – but we’ve never seen them from quite this angle before.

The set up is so simple – three guys take a groom-to-be to Vegas for his bachelor party… a night to remember. Then, the three wake up with no memory of the previous night; their hotel suite… sorry, villa… is a shambles, and the groom is missing!

Beyond the clips in the trailer, anything I might want to use as an example of the high FQ [Funny Quotient!!!] of this film might spoil whole chains of events, so I’ll simply tell you that Todd Phillips, director of Old School, has found a terrific script [by John Lucas and Scott Moore] and done right by it.

Bradley Cooper [Phil, the schoolteacher], Ed Helms [Stu, the dentist] and Zack Galifinakis [Alan, the brother-in-law to be – and a bit of a savant] are in the best form of their respective careers. Somehow, they make these stereotypes both sympathetic and hysterically funny. Justin Bartha [Doug, the groom-to-be] is both a solid straight man/victim of circumstance and funny when the script demands it of him.

The extremely good supporting cast includes, among others, Jeffrey Tambor [the very knowing father-in-law-to-be], Sasha Baresse [Tracy, the bride-to-be], Rachel Harris [Melissa, the shrew], Heather Graham [Jade], and Ken Jeong [Mr. Chow]. The gags range from polite to “OMIGAWD!!! Did you see/hear that???” – and the set up is as funny as the rest of the movie. Stay for the credits – there is a montage that tells us exactly what happened in those hours that have, mercifully it turns out, been erased from the guys’ memories…

Final Grade: A

Eclipse Review by Sheldon Wiebe

Posted June 5, 2009