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Marley and Me

Marley And Me DVD cover

Sometimes life has a better idea.
-Arnie Klein (Alan Arkin)

John and Jennifer Grogan (Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston) were a young couple of newlyweds with their whole lives in front of them, much of it planned out in advance by Jenny. The one thing neither of them had planned on was Marley. But life has a tendency to get in the way of one’s plans and with some love, laughter and yes, even heartache, sometimes the real thing is so much better.

Marley & Me is the heartwarming story of a dog and his family. While John and Jenny may think that they adopted a new “clearance puppy” for themselves in Marley, we learn pretty early on that it’s the other way around. Marley is more than a handful and at times more than they can handle but never any less than a member of their new family. As we watch their lives evolve into something entirely different from what they had intended or planned, Marley remains the one constant counterbalance: when they are at their happiest he’s at his worst and when they are at their lowest he’s right there to lay a warm, furry head on their lap.

Every year, Hollywood churns out a new batch of dog movies, but it’s rare that one has the heart of Marley & Me. The film gives us a believable look at the joys and pains of life through the eyes of the whole family, not just a family coping with a crazy dog throughout their lives. Poignant and at times provocative, Marley & Me gives one of truer accountings of a dog’s life and the family that took him in as a puppy, trained him (or tried to), and watched their children grow up with him and it does it with all of the bittersweetness of life. The fact that the film is based upon the real-life memoirs of columnist John Grogan definitely works well to flesh it out and make it “real”.

The movie does drag just a bit in the middle and might have benefitted from a firmer editing hand, but if the worst that one can say about a film is that we get too much of a look at the life of a real American family then that’s okay. The rest of the pacing and direction is fine: just as you’re starting to ask yourself why anybody would keep this out of control dog, Marley does something that melts your heart and reminds you all over again. Much like life, the highs in the film are always tempered with some sort of conflict (typically with Marley) and the lows are always accompanied by a knowing whimper or a much-needed hug.

Marley may be “the world’s worst dog”, but ultimately has a heart of gold – as does the film – take it from me…and Marley.

-Late

Marley And Me

Rating by Larry McCloskey: 4.0 stars
****

Quantum of Solace

Director: Marc Forster
Cast: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Olga Kurylenko, Mathieu Amalric
Runtime: 106 minutes
CARA Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and some sexual content

“I promised them Le Chiffre and they got him…if they wanted his soul, they should have made a deal with a priest.”
-James Bond (Daniel Craig)

 

After furor amongst James Bond fans over his selection in Casino Royale, Daniel Craig is back to reprise the role in the latest installment of the franchise, Quantum of Solace.

A direct sequel to Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace picks up right after the conclusion, with Bond driving the enigmatic Mr. White to an MI6 safehouse for interrogation regarding the shadowy organization that he works for. This continues a chain of events that leads Bond to track down the principles of the mysterious Quantum group, who has people “everywhere” yet is largely unknown to the international intelligence community. Bond works backward, eventually crossing paths with Quantum’s Dominic Greene, and begins to see just how powerful this foe is and how deeply its tendrils dig into the politics and economy of the world.

Quantum of Solace continues the darker version of Bond that the previous film introduced and is only darkened by Bond’s personal stake in bringing down Quantum. Craig continues to make the character his own and the new Bond plays more as the international man of mystery and danger than the playboy that previous Bonds, notably Sean Connery and Roger Moore, have portrayed him as. Bond enthusiasts are still split on whether or not that is a good thing, but for the action-junkie crowd it’s a boon. In fact, a lot of this film appeals more to the action film crowd than the true Bond fans. Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric) is atypical as a Bond villain in that he has no secret lair and operates entirely in front of the world, a corrupt businessman that deals with corrupt politicians to achieve his ends instead of a deranged madman out to destroy the world. Likewise, Elvis (Anatole Taubman) is by far the most lackluster evil henchman in a franchise that has produced the likes of Moonraker’s Jaws (Richard Kiel) and Goldfinger’s Oddjob (Harold Sakata). For the Bond-enthusiast, these are unforgiveable transgressions, but for the “crossover” crowd, this is probably a truer look at the world of today. Movies, James Bond films included, have evolved past such obvious antagonists and most people understand and accept that the world just isn’t that clear cut anymore. While Quantum of Solace stands well on its own as a film that the uninitiated can enjoy, without being versed in the lore of James Bond, it takes some work to get up to speed, particularly early on, as Casino Royale is heavily referenced. The bulk of the missing pieces can be pieced together from the dialogue, but seeing both will certainly help. That may be the one flaw with the film: it appeals to non-Bond fans very well, but makes rampant use of assumed knowledge.

The action in Quantum of Solace in breakneck and non-stop. At times, this can make the action sequences seem disjointed and the logic of some of the scenes breaks down, but dissecting this sort of adrenaline ride on that level is missing the point. The characters also have a tendency to break down and become window dressing, but looked at in the light of using this film to further develop the new, darker James Bond, that is forgivable as well. Bond’s evolution and his working relationship with M (Judi Dench) are the keys here and both work well.

Technically, Quantum of Solace is brilliant. The stuntwork and special effects are top notch, allowing for some incredible action sequences that despite their audacity never seem unbelievable. The cinematography and editing, too, are incredible and put the viewer right in the flow of the action. One cannot watch this movie without being swept away at times and you learn early on not to dare look away, even for a second.

Quantum of Solace may take the character of James Bond in a new direction, but it’s one that suits him. While there’s something to be said for escapism in movies, there’s also a case to be made for keeping them current and relevant. As enjoyable as the classic Bond films are, the new, darker, deeper films translate better into today’s world. The action itself provides plenty of escape for your movie-viewing pleasure. Strap yourself in for this ride, there’s no solace to be found here.

-Late

Quantum Of Solace

Rating by Larry McCloskey: 3.5 stars
***1/2

Vote For Black Tide’s “Shout” On MTVU’s “The Freshmen”

Starting January 26, BLACK TIDE will be featured on mtvU’s new artist show, The Freshman. The show spotlights emerging artists on air and online, with the chance for one of the videos to get an automatic add into rotation on the channel the following week. BLACK TIDE’s latest video, “Shout,” is up this week, so be sure to visit http://freshmen.mtvu.com and vote! Fans can vote as many times as they want.

On the strength of their electric debut album, Light From Above, BLACK TIDE has been voted “Best New Artist” from several media outlets including Guitar World, Kerrang!, and TheGauntlet.com.

BLACK TIDE is currently overseas in the UK touring with Bring Me The Horizon, Mindless Self Indulgence and others. The band will return home in February to kick off a US tour with Escape The Fate. BLACK TIDE will also be a main stage performer all summer long on Warped Tour 2009.

Black Tide w/ Escape the Fate:

2/5 – Pomona, CA – Glasshouse
2/6 – Phoenix, AZ – Marquee
2/7 – Albuquerque, NM – Sunshine
2/8 – El Paso, TX – Chic’s Billiards
2/10 – Dallas, TX – Granada Theater
2/11 – San Antonio, TX – White Rabbit
2/12 – Houston, TX – Meridian
2/13 – Metairie, LA – High Ground
2/15 – Ft. Lauderdale, FL – Culture Room
2/16 – Orlando, FL – Firestone
2/17 – Atlanta, GA – Masquerade
2/18 – Charlotte, NC – Amos’s Southend
2/19 – Towson, MD – Recher Theater
2/20 – Philadelphia, PA – First Unitarian Church
2/21 – New York, NY – Irving Plaza
2/22 – Boston, MA – Middle East
2/24 – Buffalo, NY – Town Ballroom
2/25 – Toronto, ON – Opera House
2/27 – Cleveland, OH – Beachland Ballroom
2/28 – Pontiac, MI – The Crofoot
3/1 – Chicago, IL – House of Blues
3/3 – Milwaukee, WI – Rave II
3/4 – Minneapolis, MN – Station 4
3/6 – Denver, CO – Cervantes
3/7 – Salt Lake City, UT – Murray Theatre
3/8 – Idaho Falls, ID – ICON
3/9 – Boise, ID – Knitting Factory
3/10 – Seattle, WA – El Corazon
3/11 – Portland, OR – Hawthorne Theater
3/13 – Orangevale, CA – Boardwalk
3/14 – San Francisco, CA – Slims
3/15 – Bakersfield, CA – The Dome
3/17 – San Diego, CA – House of Blues
3/18 – Los Angeles, CA – House of Blues

Swingtown – The First Season

Swingtown - The First Season DVD cover

“Open and honest doesn’t always mean easy.”
-Tom Decker (Grant Show) (‘Puzzlerama’)

1976, America celebrates its 200th anniversary as its people celebrate their own awakening via the sexual revolution. Swingtown explores the clash of 1950s innocence with the tumultuous 1960s as both eras struggle to shape the dawn of the country’s third century.

Bruce Miller (Jack Davenport) moves his family from their roots and their longtime friends, the Thompsons, to suburban Chicago. There, they move in across the street from Tom (Grant Show) and Trina (Lana Parrilla) Decker. They learn early on that Tom and Trina are into swinging and the Deckers, for their part, are interested in bringing the Millers into “the lifestyle”, which clashes early and violently with lilywhite Janet Thompson (Miriam Shor).

The show explores not only the swinging lifestyle, but the times that spawned it, the people that live it and both the good and bad that it can do to relationships. The Millers struggle not only to find themselves, but to keep the family together as their kids go through their own growing pains. The Thompsons, for their part, struggle with the loss of their friends and the changing times. The Deckers may be the most well-adjusted of the lot.

Swingtown does a fine job of tackling a racy topic in a network television format. Nothing gets more provocative than the average daytime soap opera, but the points are communicated nonetheless. Fans of shows like Desperate Housewives will find this show worthwhile, but Swingtown has a purer heart and tells better stories about its characters, who in only one season are all very well rounded. The show is also better done than a lot of the other “period piece” shows, like Mad Men, with a catchy 70’s soundtrack and a look and feel that remain impressively consistent throughout.

CBS, sadly, cancelled the show after its inaugural season, although a vocal fan base still pushes for its return. It would be a shame to lose a show like Swingtown from network television, but in the meantime you can pick up season 1 on DVD and get up to speed for a hopeful return.

-Late

Swingtown – The First Season

Rating by Larry McCloskey: 3.5 stars
***1/2

Shrek the Halls

Director: Gary Trousdale
Cast: Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz, Eddie Murphy
Runtime: 22 minutes
CARA Rating: NR

“My mama used to always say, ‘Christmas ain’t Christmas till somebody cries!’ Usually that someone’s me.”
-Donkey (Eddie Murphy)

 

So, the holiday season is here and Shrek just isn’t feeling it. Will you be in the holiday mood, like Donkey, after watching Shrek the Halls?

Shrek the Halls finds Shrek and Fiona with their first Christmas together with their little ones – their first holiday season as a family. It’s a change that our lovable ogre just doesn’t seem to be prepared for. Donkey has more than enough holiday cheer to go around, but Shrek just isn’t buying it. Until he sees how badly Fiona wants this to be a wonderful time for their new family, of course.

Shrek sets about all of the last minute preparations that we’re all so familiar with, with the added complication of being clueless as to just what it takes to make a good and joyous Christmas. With some help from Fiona and the kids, he’s able to put together a truly ogrish Christmas. Donkey, Pinocchio, Gingy and the rest of the gang show up to add their own brand of cheer which brings out the grinch in Shrek, but ultimately he sees the true meaning of the season and, as you’d expect, they all live happily ever after.

It’s strange that a movie franchise that’s so new can somewhat feel traditional, but that’s what Shrek the Halls does. The characters are as timeless as the story. The downside to this film is its length; the DVD chimes in at a sparse 22 minutes. So although the story certainly doesn’t feel rushed, you’re definitely left wanting more and feeling sort of cheated.

The DVD includes the usual special features to try to make up for the brevity, but these are lacking. The “jukebox” is basically commercials for other Dreamworks films, the “Gingy Dunking Game” is simply a dull matching game, the “Shrek Carnival Craze Video Game Demo & Cheat Code” is just that – a demo with a cheat code to convince your kids that they want you to get them the game and the “12 Days of Christmas” and “Deck the Halls” sing-a-longs are fun for the kids the first time around but won’t bring you back for more.

Shrek the Halls is a cute story and is as much fun for the family as the full-length films. The kids will enjoy the characters as well as the story and there are enough grown-up jokes in there to make it enjoyable for mom and dad as well, but this DVD is just too short for the money. Use a gift card for it or, better yet, record it when it’s on TV this season and pick up one of the full-length films if you haven’t already.

-Late

Shrek

Shrek the Halls

Rating by Larry McCloskey: 2.5 stars
**1/2

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