Thursday, September 29, 2011

What's Your Number?

The premise of "What's Your Number?" is simple, yet insulting that a woman would be so shallow as to think that a number would define whether she can fall in love or not. The arbitrary number established by the book "20 Times a Lady" written by Karyn Bosnak (she of fame) is the basis for the jokes in the film that attempts to copy the success of "Bridesmaids" as the latest female lead R-rated comedy. The opening scene of the film even copies "Bridesmaids" as Anna Farris sneaks out of bed to primp herself before returning to her latest boyfriend before he wakes.

Anna Farris (Ally) plays the quirky cute girl as well as any actress right now. Her supporting cast of previous boyfriends, and one time mistakes, include Zachary Quinto (Margin Call), Chris Pratt (Moneyball), Andy Samberg (Friends with Benefits), Thomas Lennon (Cedar Rapids), Anthony Mackie (Adjustment Bureau) and many others that have a pretty face (or body) for the ladies to admire.

However, it is her neighbor Colin, played by Chris Evans (Captain America), who begins to help Ally in her mission to track down all of her previous lovers. Inevitably, the charm of Ally and the physical attraction of Colin, after she realizes he isn't entirely the pig she thought he was, brings them together in the culminating event where the two of them share that magical moment. Of course this is cliché, and I don't consider it to be a spoiler either.

Chris Evans is not a terrible actor, but he has no comedic timing and the decision to keep him nearly naked throughout the film was an interesting one that I am sure the ladies will enjoy. What saves this film is the funny writing and performances from the ensemble cast. Wait for the end to catch a great conversation from Aziz Ansari (30 Minutes or Less) explaining the extent of his relationship with Ally.

The question in the title might be a fun game to play during a night of drinking at a bar, but the real question that the movie asks is if it is possible that your ex gets better with time. While it may not be the intention of the film, I am sure many people will walk out of this film wondering what happened to this girl or that guy. My advice, since I am known for having such amazing dating experiences, there is a reason they are your ex. Leave them in the past and don't succumb to the ideal that romantic comedies tell us. They are entertainment and this is real life. So grab someone you like and take them to this movie for some laughs about how good you have it right now. You might even be surprised by the award considerations that this film might get.

3 Quacks

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Machine Gun Preacher

"Machine Gun Preacher" is based on the inspirational true story of Sam Childers, a former drug-dealing criminal who undergoes an astonishing transformation and finds an unexpected calling as the savior of hundreds of kidnapped and orphaned children. Sam Childers and his wife Lynn founded and operate Angels of East Africa, the Children's Village Orphanage in Nimule, Sudan. The film is directed by Marc Forster who combines action (Quantum of Solace) with inspirational drama (the Kite Runner) with a keen eye for cinematography to portray the difficult that Sam Childers is fighting for.

The cast includes Gerard Butler as Sam Childers, Michelle Monaghan as his wife Lynn, and Michael Shannon as his junky friend. Their performances are all very good with Gerard Butler showing the intensity and passion that Sam Childers has towards his cause. He separates his life in Sudan with his life at home with the family to the extreme of ignoring his family's needs. I think that this dynamic could have been better presented in the film as it only comes out a few times and deserved more attention. Bordering on blasphemy he struggles with the ideal that he is fighting for and loses sight of why he is there. In a touching scene with a young orphan he is reminded that the evil only wins if you let it overcome you. The performance from Michelle Monaghan and Madeline Carroll, as the daughter, don't stand out enough. I wanted to see how they coped with Sam being gone so much. It was an issue for his friend Donnie, Michael Shannon, so it must have been difficult for them as well. Having watch Michael Shannon in recent films and "Boardwalk Empire" I was hoping for a larger role, but in the short time that he was on the screen he did an excellent job.

The film has a specific religious theme, but doesn't become overly spiritual. This was a strong decision by Marc Forster as the spiritual message can alienate many viewers and the important message in this film is the work that Sam Childers is doing. The mission is simple, help when no-one else will. Sam Childers continues his efforts to save the children of Uganda, Sudan, Southern Sudan and East Africa. To learn more about Sam and his work visit

In a year of remakes, sequels, and comic book films, a Hollywood biopic is refreshing. A film that focuses on a living character and an ongoing political climate that hasn't been resolved makes for even more challenges. Staying true to the real life events is important to properly convey the message and I think this film has accomplished that. Some might find it difficult to watch due to the violent massacres but it is a movie that is worth viewing. I don't know how long of a run this will get in the theaters, but a DVD rental is certainly required.

4 Quacks

(screening date 9/27/11, release date 11/18/11, location Mazza Galleria)

Monday, September 26, 2011

Thunder Soul

Jamie Foxx presents "Thunder Soul", a documentary film about alumni from Houston's legendary Kashmere High School Stage Band that return home in 2008 after 35 years to play a tribute concert for their mentor and band leader. The title for the film comes from a compilation album that was released in 2006 for the Kashmere Stage Band that covered the period of 1968-1974.

"If there is no drummer there is no timing" rings the voice of Conrad "Prof" Johnson. This documentary film has perfect timing from beginning to end that is so much more than the story about music. It is a film about the power of one man who changed the lives of his students and showed the community that it is okay to go against the norm. The film shows that music provides energy and power that is uplifting and inspiring. The members of the band were becoming young adults in a time where civil rights and empowerment was growing. They wanted to prove that the freedom that the generation before them fought for wasn't going to be wasted.

The film has a feel of being a class reunion year book, providing flashbacks of what the band members looked like in their teens and now today. Their individual lives are not the focus of the film, but their passion for music is. Some of the members are doctors, lawyers, teachers, preachers, and family men/women. What they have in common is their mutual admiration for Prof and the music that he instilled in them.

Jamie Foxx is a native of Texas and has a tremendous passion for history and music. He is the executive producer of the film that is possibly the best documentary of the year. The film has received praise from several festivals and will hopefully get some attention from the Academy. I don't see very many documentaries, but a film about music not only caught my attention, but I also found myself tapping my foot throughout and having watery eyes in the end. The film is a perfect example of what our education system should be and how powerful and influential music can be. "Thunder Soul" is absolutely a 5 Quack film and if you see this in the theater, HBO, or DVD you won't be upset.

Thursday, September 15, 2011


The neo-noir film "Drive" is receiving a lot of attention after a dominating debut at the Cannes Film Festival and winning the Best Director prize for Nicolas Winding Refn. It can be debated what film is the best for Nicolas Winding Refn, but for me it has to be "Bronson" (2008), which also put Tom Hardy in a better light for everyone and contributed to his casting in "Warrior". The main protagonist, an unnamed Driver, in the film is Ryan Gosling who has had amazing success with "Blue Valentine" and many other Oscar worthy performances that he has been snubbed for. The supporting cast includes the beautiful Carey Mulligan, Oscar Isaac, Christina Hendricks, Bryan Cranston, Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman.

The film is based on a novella of the same name written by James Sallis in 2005. The story is a throwback tale to the film noir late 1940s that has been spiked with a pop 1980s soundtrack and modern action sequences. The story follows Los Angeles based Drive (Ryan Gosling) who during the day works in films as a stunt driver while at night he is a wheelman for hire. The Driver, who doesn't go by any other name, has one simple philosophy to his profession. If he drives for you, you give him a time and a place. He gives you a five-minute window, anything happens in that five minutes and he is yours no matter what.  A minute on either side and you are on your own.  He doesn't sit in while you're running it down; He doesn't carry a gun... He drives.

The most glaring difference between the book and the film was the romantic inclusion of Irene, performed by Carey Mulligan, who complicated the original story from being a simplistic action noir to the farce of a romantic attempt.  The film really didn't need this, which resulted in Carey Mulligan and Ryan Gosling staring blankly into the camera without any character development to explain why the audience should care for their relationship.

This was a difficult movie for me to review, because my initial opinion was so negative even though so many people that I respect praised the film. The pacing was all over the place and the script was lacking; requiring Nicolas Winding Refn to fill the void with stylized shots of our actors and the city of Los Angeles. The schmucky gangsters and mob clichés provide some laughs, but the heart of the film is Gosling's portrayal.  I am not going to give this film the high regard others have, but I am not going to shun it either.  For me this film is the perfect example of what a 3 Quack film should be.  It is entertaining even though it has some negatives to it (mainly the script).

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Straw Dogs

The 1971 film that received controversial notoriety in the UK for being banned has been in the mix for remake for several years. The original film was banned by the British Board of Film Classification objecting to what it considered a clear indication that the victim comes to enjoy being raped. Not until 2002, was the film finally certified by the BBFC as it was the 2nd rape that is clearly demonstrated to be an act of violation. It was also in 2002 that Ed Norton began his courtship with the film. Norton was attached to the film as the producer and the lead role previously performed by Dustin Hoffman. The plan was to change the title to "Fear Itself", but after issues between the studio and the screenplay it sat idle. In 2009 the remake started filming in Shreveport, Louisiana with James Marsden (David Sumner), Kate Bosworth (Amy Sumner), Alexander Skarsgård (Charlie), and James Woods (Tom Heddon).

The film is based on the novel "The Siege of Trencher's Farm" written by Gordon Williams in 1969. There are many differences between the book and both films. The remake follows the original screenplay more than it does the book. The most glaring difference is that there is no rape in the book. The decision to include the rape scene was made by Sam Peckinpah in his attempt to push the limits accepted by the film society. An aspect of the book that does carry through into both of the films is the house as its own character. The opening pages of the book provide a blue print of the house helping to build a point of reference to each of the acts that occur. This is followed through in the film as you first drive up to the house you can see it as a strong, reliable, house that will protect you.

The remake of the film follows an L.A. screenwriter David Sumner and his wife to her hometown in the deep South. There, while tensions build between them, a brewing conflict with locals becomes a threat to them both. The performances from Kate Bosworth, Alexander Skarsgård and James Woods are powerful; however James Marsden falls flat in my opinion. There is a lot of eye candy provided by Kate Bosworth and Alexander Skarsgård has his shirt off for most of the film contributing to his five year run as sexiest man in Sweden. There are two quietly powerful performances from Dominic Purcell (Jeremy Niles) and Rhys Coiro (Norman) that with few lines provides more to their character than James Marsden is capable of doing. Dominic Purcell is a physical actor known from "Prison Break" that is emotionally stunted as the village idiot and implied pedophile Jeremy Niles who has a history of violence towards women and insanity. Rhys Coiro is an intellectual actor known from "Entourage" that is muted by Norman and provides the one of the most brutal attacks in the film.

One aspect of the 1971 original that I never agreed with is that during the attack on the house Amy calls out for Charlie to help her when Norman is attacking her. She also tries to warn Charlie just before David kills him. Both of these were corrected in the remake to prevent any illusion that Amy was accepting of the violent act against her.

I was a fan of the book, the original, and now the remake. I feel the changes made from the original to the remake were necessary and contribute to a better resolution. The overall acting was good with the exceptions noted above. Ultimately, this is a 5 Quack film even though I don't think it will receive any award recognition.

The original poster was copied

Thursday, September 8, 2011


The style of the film follows the template that was used by Aaron Sorkin in "the Social Network" (2010), which is necessary when creating a film based on a book like "Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game" that was written by Michael Lewis. It is a great book, but difficult to envision as a film at times as it is more of a documentary of actual events. Where Aaron Sorkin comes in is his ability to breathe life into the characters and with the assistance from Bennett Miller as the director this is accomplished very well. This isn't the first time that Bennett Miller has been tasked with such a difficult film as he also accomplished this well with "Capote" (2005).

The film provides a balance between Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) as the General Manager of the Oakland Athletics in 2002 and flashbacks to his being drafted by the New York Mets in 1980. The flashbacks depict the old way of scouting a professional baseball player and counter balanced with the difficulties in the business side of running a professional baseball team in a small market and forced to compete with the big market clubs like the New York Yankees. Coming off the 2001 season where the Oakland A's reached the ALDS losing to the New York Yankees the team lost major talent. In the off-season Billy and his scouts had to rebuild the team and after a meeting with the Cleveland Indians he met Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) who is based on Paul DePodesta from the book who is a Harvard graduate with a degree in Economics. Peter Brand introduces a new way of thinking about the game of baseball based on a philosophy that the goal shouldn't be to buy players, but rather to buy wins. In order to buy wins you need to buy runs, and to get those runs you need to get on-base.

The film has a mix of "Major League" (1989) as well as "the Natural" (1984) providing dramatic character development by introducing the personal life of Billy Beane and showing how his approach to the game changes from being hands-off to becoming more personable and responsive to the players on the team. This growth is very well accomplished by Brad Pitt as well as his comic timing with Jonah Hill. With a relatively small, but important, role is Philip Seymour Hoffman as the Oakland Athletics Manager Art Howe. He doesn't have a lot of lines in the film, but he carries himself in such a brilliant way that even how he walks through the office or pours himself a coffee demonstrates the disproval that Art Howe had for Billy Beane and the difficulties of putting together a competitive team on a small budget.

There was a lot of stock footage used that while it provided dramatic effect was somewhat distracting at times. However, the most distracting is something I noticed several years ago that Brad Pitt is constantly eating or doing something with his mouth in almost every movie now.

Like "the Social Network" I can see this film receiving numerous nominations; however in the same fashion it likely won't win all of them. Most likely nominations include Aaron Sorkin for Adapted Screenplay, Brad Pitt for Actor, Jonah Hill or Philip Seymour Hoffman for Supporting Actor, and some sound or editing nominations. This is another 4 Quack film that compliments the book from Michael Lewis rather well.

(screening date 8/7/11, release date 8/23/11, location AMC Loews Georgetown)

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