Thursday, November 30, 2006


The Puffy ChairMark Duplass Directed by Jay Duplass
Starring Mark Duplass
Reviewed by Byron Merritt



When THE PUFFY CHAIR beckons, beware of its soft, colorful upholstery.

The movie starts out quite well. Josh (
Mark Duplass) and Emily (Kathryn Aselton) are a boyfriend-girlfriend couple having a bit of a tough time with their relationship. An argument occurs one night and in order to make up, Josh asks Emily to come along on a roadtrip to his father’s house where Josh plans to deliver a purplish LazyBoy recliner for his dad’s birthday. Emily accepts and along the way they pick up Josh’s flighty brother Rhett (Rhett Wilkins), an Amish-looking fellow more in touch with other peoples’ lives than his own.

The roadtrip quickly devolves into more squabbling between Josh and Emily, as well as a bitter feeling for The Puffy Chair (it is initially very grubby and falling apart until Josh "convinces" the original owner to refurbish it). Rhett quickly ascertains that the cause of all of Emily and Josh’s problems is the LazyBoy and sets it to the torch one night ...

And that’s the last we hear of the chair, even though there are many minutes left in the film.

The big issue is that the title of the film is The Puffy Chair, when it isn’t the chair at all that takes center-stage. It is Josh and Emily’s doomed relationship and how the roadtrip seals their feelings for one another. Once the chair is destroyed, there’s never another mention of it, even though they arrive at Josh’s parents place on his father’s birthday without a gift. Josh never mentions the chair, nor does his father. There’s no connection between it and the lives of these people. So why call the movie The Puffy Chair and why isn’t there a tie-in with it at the end? Bad script.

The other annoying thing is that Mark Duplass’ brother,
Jay Duplass, is not only the director but also the cameraman (and not a very good one). Nearly every scene has a rapid zoom-in on the characters that goes grainy and out of focus before the camera’s autofocus catches up and rights itself. Initially this took on a quaint and artistic feel, but rapidly became unbearable.

The acting in the film is accessible and entertaining. All of the actors/actresses did fine jobs. But the poor production quality, stilted ending, and lack of coherency to the title caused this flick too many problems.

Click here for The Puffy Chair movie trailer!


The SentinelMichael Douglas Directed by Clark Johnson
Starring Michael Douglas
Reviewed by Byron Merritt



Trying to conceive of something as insipid as THE SENTINEL would be pretty difficult. The problems are many. The result is terrible and loaded with plot holes.

Michael Douglas (BASIC INSTINCT) stars as Pete Garrison, a Secret Service agent who "took one" for Reagan during the attempt on his life. Years later we find Pete assigned to the Whitehouse Family, mainly as a guard for the First Lady (Kim Basinger, L.A. CONFIDENTIAL). Troubles arise as we see Pete’s close involvement with the First Lady, and a sudden threat against the President himself (David Rasche, UNITED 93). When Pete fails a polygraph test, he’s singled out as a disgruntled agent by investigator David Breckinridge (Kiefer Sutherland, 24 TV series).

As the presidential assassination plot unfolds, Pete finds himself on the run from his own people. His only confidant is the First Lady, and she’s reluctant to tell anyone about their affections for one another (which is why Pete failed the polygraph in the first place). But is Pete really innocent? Or is he simply trying to buy time until he can kill the President? If he is innocent, how can he help prevent the assassination attempt while running from the Secret Service?

The one, big, overwhelming problem with this film is that there’s no justification for the reason behind the presidential threat. Isn’t that what the movie’s supposed to be about? One would think so! But the audience is never let in on why the assassin(s) want to kill the Prez. Hmm. Someone forget to put that in the script somewhere?

And what’s with David Breckinridge’s (Kiefer’s) new partner, Jill Marin (
Eva Longoria, CARLITA’S SECRET)? Seems that she was put in the film strictly as a piece of ass-candy. What was her purpose again? Did she do anything other than look nice in tight pants and a low-cut blouse?

There are so many problems with the basic premise of The Sentinel as to be laughable. The action is too easily stymied by the "What the...?" responses sure to be uttered by those unfortunate enough to watch the movie.

Click here for The Sentinel movie trailer!

Wednesday, November 29, 2006


An Inconvenient TruthAl Gore Directed by Davis Guggenheim
Starring Al Gore
Reviewed by Byron Merritt



Most Americans have heard of "that Al Gore documentary." Well here it is, AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH.

If you’ve followed U.S. politics at all over the past 20 years, you know that Al Gore is the environmental poster-boy thanks to his take on global warming and other green issues. It wouldn’t be difficult to surmise that his presidential run may have been hamstrung by this very topic. Big Business doesn’t usually sit in the environmentally friendly arena, and Big Business most certainly contributes (via backdoors) to candidates financial checking accounts.

For better or worse, Al Gore lost his presidential bid. The "better" aspect is that Al was then free to do whatever he liked with his life. He wouldn’t be in the spotlight or battling legislators. So what did he do? He went back to his roots.

An Inconvenient Truth, a lecture/slide-show Gore has probably given hundreds of times, would otherwise be pushed aside by politicians as an attack on industry if it were done by anyone else. But Gore’s been on the inside. His science is strong and his data backed by nearly every scientist on the planet (note the word "nearly", as some simply do not agree, but the overwhelming majority – 90% or higher – do). This is an important fact, as scientists follow data, not personal beliefs or the S&P 500.

The entire documentary is about global warming and how amazingly ignorant or apathetic the world has become because of our reliance on outdated technology, our increasing population, and our refusal to change. The outdated technology is mostly about automobiles, since they produce the most greenhouse gas emissions. The fact that the world’s population has gotten out of control can be seen simply by looking at various countries’ census reports and then comparing them to agricultural and water needs. Our refusal to change is focused on throughout the film thanks to our reliance on oil, coal, and other non-replenishables.

Al Gore has to be commended for doing such a great job on this documentary. He is the center of it, but he so effortlessly takes the focus off of himself and puts it on these hot-button topics that it’s easy to forget we’re learning material from a former vice-president. That was truly astonishing.

Gore’s passion for the global warming issues are admirable and most will probably be thankful that he’s out there pushing this topic, trying to bend the ear of every person he possibly can. Make no doubt about it, he’s making money off this project, too. But viewers would probably rather see someone as important as Gore making money this way rather than working for Enron or Exxon/Mobil.

Click here for An Inconvenient Truth movie trailer!


AquamarineEmma Roberts Directed by Elizabeth Allen
Starring Emma Roberts
Reviewed by Byron Merritt



AQUAMARINE certainly won’t help you sprout any new brain cells, but it will entertain and is very appropriate for tweens.

The story of friendship between young girls has been done ad nauseam. But this time a half-fish, half-human gets thrown into the mix. Aquamarine (
Sara Paxton, SUMMERLAND TV series), gets heaved from the ocean after an argument with her father (we can easily assume that her dad is Neptune or some such god). She lands one stormy night in the swimming pool near the beach. The following evening best friends Claire (Emma Roberts, SPYMATE) and Hailey (Joanna ‘Jo Jo’ Levesque, RV) discover Aquamarine and immediately befriend the mermaid. Crazy antics happen as Aqua learns to walk for the first time, tries to get Raymond (Jake McDorman, ECHOES OF INNOCENCE) — the local lifeguard stud — to fall in love with her in hopes that she won’t have to return to the ocean and marry some merman she doesn’t care for, and teaches the best friends what true friendship, and growing up, is all about.

The open-faced innocence of the movie is the biggest draw. Clair (Roberts) and Hailey (Levesque) know nothing of sex, drugs, alcohol, or other teenage hazards. They live in a safe bubble that is barely held together by the idyllic community in which we find them. And, strangely enough, that is a pretty big plus for the film. Its minimally challenging plot harkens back to times when kids didn’t have giant obstacles to overcome and just had to be

But the production still has some inventive and modern moments. "Shellphones" are pretty cool, as are the tiny starfish that can be worn as earrings (not to mention the fact that the starfish speak in your ears and compliment the wearer).

This is as safe a movie as parents will find out there in the ever increasing minefield of questionable teen films. It won’t push any boundaries for their kids, but aren’t they being pushed enough already?

Click here for the Aquamarine movie trailer!

Friday, November 24, 2006


Casino RoyaleDaniel Craig Directed by Martin Campbell
Starring Daniel Craig
Reviewed by Byron Merritt



How did James Bond become a "00" agent? What makes him so good at his job and so distant to the beautiful women he often encounters? Wrap your mind around those questions and then go and see director Martin Campbell’s latest Bond flick, CASINO ROYALE. That someone could pull off such a fantastic film whilst giving us the Bond-background is something of a marvel. Leave aside (for the moment) that Daniel Craig isn’t as debonair as previous Bonds, and you just may enjoy Casino Royale on a level never before seen.

It’s simply a fact that Craig isn’t the dashing, clean-cut, and uppity Bond audiences have come to expect. He’s rougher, tougher, and a bit naive. He loves instead of lusts. He learns to kill with a conscious (in the beginning), but still delivers pithy lines ("That last hand nearly killed me.")

The question of James Bond’s beginnings have always been in question and Casino Royale gives them to us while also delivering the action, a few gadgets, a kick-butt automobile, and the curvaceous women we expect.

Director Martin Campbell first cut his teeth on a Bond film with
GOLDEN EYE in 1995, so he knows the lay of the land. He also went on to direct the stylish THE MASK OF ZORRO in 1998. From there his repertoire stammers with several duds, but came back in fine fashion with this year’s Casino Royale.

From the opening credits with its flashy and somewhat retro poker card graphics, to the black-and-white film stock beginning, audiences immediately realize they’re in for something special. We quickly watch Bond make his first two kills, granting him access to his 007 status. Then we get to see him nearly ruin his career by causing an international crisis. From here he’s sent on hiatus by M (
Judi Dench, MRS. HENDERSON PRESENTS) to get his head together. But of course Bond never lets go of an assignment until it’s finished. Continuing his international crisis across borders, he travels to a tropical island where he meets up with terrorists who are trying to advance their causes by selling bomb-making material. He meets up with one of the racketeers’ wives in true Bond fashion. But the British Secret Service have their eyes on him and quickly find out what he’s up to. They are forced to go along with Bond’s plans to enter into a high-stakes poker game with the evil Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen, EXIT), a facially scarred and blood weeping villain who recently lost a ton of money because of Bond’s interference in his "business". If Le Chiffre wins the $120 million game, he’ll have enough money to get back into supporting bombers and bomb-makers.

Bond also happens to be The Service’s best card player, but he has to convince the penny pinchers of the British government that he’s got a good chance of winning or they’ll refuse to back him (if Bond loses the British will, in effect, be sponsoring terrorism). Enter Vesper Lynd (
Eva Green, KINGDOM OF HEAVEN), a government finance agent who agrees to give James Bond the money to enter the tournament. As the cards fall, so does Bond’s chances. As all appears hopeless, Bond wins the tournament, thus crushing Le Chiffre’s chances at re-entering terrorist haven, and threatening his very existence because he’s lost all of his financing given to him by the dark forces of the world (they’ll obviously want their money back at some point and now Le Chiffre is broke). Obviously Le Chiffre is none to happy about Bond winning and kidnaps him and Vesper.

By now Bond has grown very fond of Vesper and they form a relationship unheard of in terms of Bondom. He confesses his love for her and eventually (after a dizzying and testicularly funny escape from the clutches of death), agrees to leave the Queen’s Service in order to live a life of love and happiness with her. But all Bond fans know this cannot be. A sense of terrible foreboding grips the film as Bond learns the true nature of Vesper.

It’s wonderful to see how all of this effects James Bond and how it coalesces to help form the Ian Fleming character we’ve all grown up with. Vesper, through Bond’s love of her and her betrayal of him, helps turn James into the tough-loving, womanizer we all know. This betrayal also lets us see why James Bond doesn’t trust anyone and prefers to work solo.

So Daniel Craig being a bit rougher around the edges in appearance actually fit the script nicely. He is rougher. He is tougher. And he is the precursor to the Bond we’ve come to enjoy.

(Note: Caution to all those who get this when it comes out on DVD. There is another comedy film entitled
CASINO ROYALE starring David Niven, so make sure you’re aware of which is which.)

Click here for the Casino Royale movie trailer!


BubbleDebbie Doebereiner Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Starring Debbie Doebereiner
Reviewed by Byron Merritt



Director/Producer Steven Soderbergh has given us some great cinema. From ERIN BROCKOVICH to A SCANNER DARKLY, he’s been involved in some of the best productions to come out of Hollywood for a little over a decade.

Having heard a few upbeat comments about BUBBLE, one might be tempted to check out Soderbergh’s attempt at low-budget filming using no-name actors, a HD camera (not 35mm), and a very short run-time (73 minutes).

Many struggling directors/producers first got into film making via the independent market. Now there seems to be a reversal in where successful directors/producers are looking toward independent cinema to get movies out that are otherwise overlooked by MGM, Paramount, and the other big boys in the industry. There must be a lot of films that never get greenlighted for production. Surely some of them would make excellent movies. And some of them are bypassed for very good reasons. Bubble falls into the latter category.

Grass growing. Tepid. Slow. Bland. We’ve all heard these cliches applied to films and they apply in full measure to Bubble.

One of the biggest problem is that the film is poorly acted. In fact, Debbie Doebereiner, Dustin Ashley, and Misty Wilkins — the three main actors — have never taken an acting lesson in their lives. Debbie (who plays Martha) was a regional manager for Kentucky Fried Chicken for 24 years, Dustin (Kyle) was a high school dropout with psychological issues, and Misty (Rose) was a hairstylist. One might think that by hiring no-names the film would take on a sense of authenticity, especially since it was shot in a small mid-western community. Not so. Line delivery is unemotional and flat, as are the scripted characters and the incredibly boring town. This isn’t a bashing of the people chosen to "act" in this film, as they were obviously ill-prepared for their movie debut. Blame can be squarely placed on the shoulders of whoever cast the film.

The story is supposed to be aptly pulled from the title, Bubble. A bubble is an enclosure surrounded by a tenuous membrane that can easily be popped. Martha (Doebereiner) and Kyle (Dustin) work in a doll making factory and are "best friends" according to Martha. Kyle doesn’t seem to hold the same attitude but tolerates Martha because she gives him rides to and from work. As a big order for the doll factory comes in, the company hires an attractive new employee named Rose (Misty). A spark of a relationship is seen between Kyle and Rose. Martha is obviously not pleased. This twisted love triangle quickly goes awry as Rose’s strangled body is found in her home (Pop! goes the bubble). But did Martha do it?

This is all pretty common ground that’s been covered in films for decades. In order to pull off something this well-used one would think that the script might throw us a curve, or perhaps play the characters off one another in a stranger fashion. Again, not so. You’ve got a scoop of vanilla with no sprinkles on top.

Bad script, bad acting, bad location. Just ...bad.

Click here for the Bubble movie trailer!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006


Martin SheenWho Killed the Electric Car? Directed by Chris Paine
Starring Martin Sheen (narrator)
Reviewed by Byron Merritt



Whether you’re "green" or "industry", a smoker or an asthmatic, rich or poor, WHO KILLED THE ELECTRIC CAR is a great look at corporate greed and consumer apathy in the United States.

Similar in its documentary tone to
ENRON: THE SMARTEST GUYS IN THE ROOM, Who Killed The Electric Car delves into General Motors’ production of the infamous EV1, the company’s first mainline electric car. Initially built in 1996, the EV1 was the epitome of what an electric car should be. It had power (0-60 mph in 3-4 seconds), could travel around 80 miles on a charge, and was relatively affordable. But as soon as the EV1 made its appearance, GM decided to snuff the project by hamstringing it wherever possible. Few (if any) TV ads made it to prime-time. An extremely limited number were produced (under 1,000). Consumers were unaware of their existence. GM obviously couldn’t have cared less. All of the EV1s were leased, and once their lease option date came due, GM recollected them and scrapped every last vehicle.

The big question is "why?" The answers vary as much as any industry-wide controversy. Fingers are pointed at GM itself for its greed/need to turn profits quickly and in large proportions. Legal entanglements with the air quality board in California are also hit upon as the Zero Emission Mandate comes under attack by GM, Chrysler, and Ford. Consumer apathy is a big issue, too. Not until gas prices rose above $2.00 per gallon did most consumers ever consider buying hybrids or electrics. Of course, we also have the Federal government which has done absolutely nothing in terms of aiding air quality within the U.S. Being bound tightly to oil tycoons and lobbyists continues to pay a staggering toll on healthcare (respiratory diseases are spiraling out of control as smog alerts plague cities like L.A.).

The film begins and ends with a mock funeral, an electric car funeral. Movie stars Alexandra Paul (BAYWATCH), J. Karen Thomas (GENTLE BEN), and several other Hollywood types attended the ceremonies, giving a bit of press to an event that otherwise would’ve gone almost completely unnoticed. An unfortunately pathetic statement.

But there is hope. The end of the film shows us the emergence of new battery technologies that will allow electric’s to travel further on a single charge. That Toyota’s Prius hybrid has over 150,000 cars on the road is an excellent trend. Now we just need to hope that gas prices continue to rise. If they do, oil companies will destroy themselves via their own greed. People will switch to alternative fuel cars if crude prices continue their ascent. Hit Americans in their pocketbooks and you’re guaranteed to get backlash.

Click here for the Who Killed the Electric Car? movie trailer!




Deceiving audiences is risky business when it comes to films. You don’t want to anger the watchers by pulling the wool over their eyes in an effort to show how naive they are. But if you do it right, and entertain them without this intent, you can pull magic out of a hat.

BROTHERS OF THE HEAD (an IFC film) is a slice of fiction shot in documentary format. It is done so convincingly (including interviews with the author of the actual novel, Brian Wilson Aldiss) that if someone wasn’t aware of the film’s machinations, they could easily be fooled. Although the characters and situations are completely fictitious, the era and locations and industry it portrays certainly are not.

The basic premise is that of exploitation for money and fame. Some people have no morals and will do anything to make dollars, including putting conjoined twins up on a music stage in an effort to expose the strange and bizarre; a circus act of music. The young boys’ names are Tom and Harry Howe (real life twin brothers Harry and Luke Treadaway). Their mother having died at birth, the boys are swept into isolation by their protective father and their older sister. But reality sinks in as the father realizes the boys must earn a viable living somehow. When an unscrupulous entertainment guru approaches the father with a significant contract offer, the father jumps on it and the boys are sent away and taught to sing and play guitar.

The British punk-rock movement of the early 70s is in full swing and the Howe brothers melt into it like heroin on a hot spoon. Their odd Siamese connection is exploited to the max, and audiences (particularly young women) fawn over the unusual pair.

Interviews with lovers, managers, supposed friends, and even the fake documentary maker are driven home with painful results. The boys are seen initially as creatures, but soon they are transformed into stars. Drugs, sex, smoking, alcohol, all become part of their daily existence as they sink further and further into a world they were never prepared for.

The mockumentary utilizes flashbacks to great advantage, showing "the head" (the location where the boys grew up) in increasingly muted and shadowed tones. It’s also noteworthy to mention that "the head" has two distinct definitions: the first being their birthplace, and the second being a fetal head growing out of Barry’s shoulder. This second head is only touched on, mentioning that it may very well be the downfall of the boys thanks to its cancerous nature.

But the boys aren’t brought down by cancer or drugs. They succumb to the world of fame the way many rising stars do.

The ending is touching and not just a bit frightening. We know from the beginning that the boys will die (everyone refers to them in past tense from the get-go), but the manner in which they die is lonely and bitter.

There’s a lot to love about this film. The British punk-rock music of the 70s is authentic (if somewhat hard to understand), and the Treadaway brothers pull in Oscar-caliber performances. The fact that some movie watchers will continue pondering the reality of the film incorporates a significant "Wow" factor.

Click here for the Brothers of the Head movie trailer!

Saturday, November 18, 2006


CarsOwen Wilson Directed by John Lasseter
Starring Owen Wilson (Voice)
Reviewed by Byron Merritt



Pixar has proven its animation metal a few times. FINDING NEMO and THE INCREDIBLES are their most notable achievements, pulling off excellent scripts mixed with fun animation and great star-power voices.

But the one thing that animation studios (including Pixar) have trouble with is displaying human beings within their animation. Many times they look plastic or stilted. The Incredibles avoided this by harkening back to animations-of-ol’ but applying new styles. Finding Nemo didn’t have many human faces so it wasn’t such a hurdle. With CARS, Pixar did something very wise: they didn’t show a single human face. Personalities were under the hood (so to speak) of the automobiles which juxtaposed nicely with their humanity.

The story follows a cocky up-and-coming race car named Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson, WEDDING CRASHERS) who’s triple tie win forces a showdown in California where the three would-be winners will face off. Chick Hicks (Michael Keaton, FIRST DAUGHTER) and The King (racing icon Richard Petty) are the other two contestants and they make it to California without any problems. They are ready to win "The Piston Cup." But Lightning’s driver Mack (John Ratzenberger, CHEERS TV series) falls asleep on the road and Lightning slides out the back (also while asleep) while on "the highway." Lightning soon wakes up and tries to find Mack, but stumbles upon a one-cylinder town along abandoned Route 66 called Radiator Springs. Unfortunately, Lightning also tears up the town’s road and must do his civic duty by pulling the paving machine for the length of the city. Stuck without any resources, Lightning grudgingly does the job, but not before learning to slow his rpm’s and smell the proverbial roses. He meets up with Radiator Spring’s city attorney Sally Carrera (Bonnie Hunt, MONSTERS, INC.), a sexy little Porsche model whom he finds himself oddly attracted to. There’s also Doc Hudson (Paul Newman, THE STING) the town’s physician/judge who harbors a big secret; Ramone (Cheech Marin, TIN CUP), a low-riding, paint-shop owner; Luigi (Tony Shalhoub, GALAXY QUEST), a tire store proprietor with a love of Italian cars; and, of course, Mater (Larry The Cable Guy), the rusted out but trustworthy tow truck who adds the most hilarity to the film.

Cars gushes with family friendly messages but no one should hold that against it. Animation features, by their very nature, are directed toward younger audiences and allowing that innocence to come out in Cars is pulled off well without becoming achingly super-sweet. But we’ve also learned that adults enjoy these movies and Cars does an admirable job of entertaining them, too. Most kids probably won’t know what cow-tipping is, so might not understand the slow natured tractors that double as cattle and are tipped over by Mater and Lightning. But adults with experience in this area will probably laugh themselves silly.

That there are no human faces in Cars also aided it immensely. Suspending disbelief was easy and will allow kids and parents alike a great ride throughout.

Click here for the Cars movie trailer!

Friday, November 17, 2006


Jack Black Nacho Libre Directed by Jared Hess
Starring Jack Black
Reviewed by Byron Merritt



Microphone {tap, tap, tap}: Ladies and gentlemen! For your wrestling entertainment, I introduce to you the Lord’s Luchador, the Mauling Monk, the Orphanator! Put your hands together for Naaaacho Liiiibbbbre!

Jack Black (KING KONG) returns as another obsessive character in Jared Hess’ latest cinematic offering, NACHO LIBRE. Most will remember Hess for his stunning direction of NAPOLEON DYNAMITE. Here he gets a bit more money for production and gives us a hilarious tale of a Mexican monk who’s early dreams of becoming a luchador (wrestler) come to fruition later in life.

Jack Black plays Nacho, a cook at an orphanage/monastery where his talents as a chef come into question daily. But the one thing Nacho yearns for is to become a professional wrestler. His contact sports passions are reignited by the arrival of a beautiful nun named Sister Encarnacion (
Ana de la Reguera, LADIES NIGHT), and by a wily thief named Esqueleto (Hector Jimenez, SUPERVIVENCIA), a streetwise thug with bizarre moves. Esqueleto and Nacho team up and eventual take to the ring, only to be beaten time and again, but still making money. But making money isn’t enough for Nacho ("I want to win!"). Vanity gets the better of Nacho and he tries everything to achieve his goal of becoming a winner, including finding a shaman who gives him sketchy advice regarding eagle eggs.

Finally Nacho learns that winning comes from within and uses his "inner" strength to make his way to the top.

Silliness occasionally racks Nacho Libre, but it is saved by Jack Black’s incredible physical comedy. Not since
SCHOOL OF ROCK has he been so well cast. The training scenes alone are worth the price of the rental (Cow dung to the face? A wasps nest to the head? Shooting Esqueleto with a blunted arrow?) When Nacho tries to court Sister Encarnacion, the comedy is further ratcheted up as Jack Black uses his butt-muscle tone in a nut cracking fashion!

Napoleon Dynamite fans will flock to Hess’ latest film, and will probably be amazed at what he accomplished with a little more cash and a few Hollywood well-known actors.

Click here for the Nacho Libre movie trailer!

Thursday, November 16, 2006


Starring Ewan McGregor
Reviewed by Byron Merritt



Many people dream of round-the-world trips but few are ever able to take them. Be it time or financial constraints, the barriers are often broad and appear unwieldy. So many times we have to experience the rest of the world vicariously via magazine articles or, in this case, a documentary.

LONG WAY ROUND was the brainchild of actor Ewan McGregor (STAR WARS) and his longtime buddy Charley Boorman (ON EDGE), two men with a passion for motorcycling. One day they decide to give this round-the-world idea some wings by mapping out a course across the globe ...but instead of traveling by plane or rail, they decide to do it using two BMW motorbikes.

Preparation for the trip starts months in advance as transportation is arranged, passports collected, boarder crossing ensured, and training of the two riders takes place (CPR, first aid, exercising, motorcycle training, Russian language classes, etc.)

The trip begins in London, England and ends 115 days later in New York. The trip starts out well enough, with adequately paved roads and quaint villages. But the further east McGregor and Boorman travel, the less biker-friendly the way becomes. Smooth asphalt quickly gives way to pitted asphalt, then divot-riddled asphalt, then into dirt roads. Once into Mongolia, anything resembling a sustainable thoroughfare becomes completely blurred by bogs, riverbeds and stretches of absolute nothingness.

Difficulty of traveling aside, the two bikers meet some of the most incredible people. Ewan McGregor being Ewan McGregor, he is initially seen as a hero, a movie-star bringing notice to these otherwise unnoteworthy locales. Police escorts pop-up out of nowhere and guide Ewan and Charley into small townships where parties await them in their honor. But, again, the further east our two journeymen head, the less this happens. In and out of Mongolia, they soon head up into Siberia where they encounter The Road of Bones, a stretch of road built by slave labor during Stalin’s tyranny (many a dead slaves body rests somewhere beneath this road ...or so it is said). No one knows who Ewan McGregor is here.

Pushing themselves to the limit, the two slush through wetlands, river crossings and some of the worst roadways in the world. Even a support crew that follows them has great difficulties, one time crashing their vehicle and nearly killing some of the passengers.

Arriving 115 days later in New York, many viewers will breath a sigh of relief for Charley and Ewan. The intensity of the trip is well-spent on the audience, helping the viewer feel the pressure and difficulties of the route. But it also helps us see that what is often said to be impossible is, in fact, possible if you apply yourself hard enough. That and the exposure to the myriad of other cultures makes this documentary a strong film.

No movie trailer available ...soooorrrrry!


Six Feet UnderMichael C. Hall Starring Michael C. Hall
Directed by Alan Ball (and more)
Reviewed by Byron Merritt



The wonderful thing about cable TV is that it can get away with a lot more than primetime television. Most people know this from watching such things as THE SOPRANOS. Sex, drugs, gore. Nothing is "too much" for them.

SIX FEET UNDER follows this example but by focusing on the Fisher family, a truly messed up group of undertakers who own/operate a funeral home in southern California.

Each episode opens with the death of someone, and this sets up the premise for that week’s show.

The very first episode starts with the death of the Fisher patriarch, Nathanial Fisher (Richard Jenkins, RUMOR HAS IT). He’s driving home a new hearse when it is struck by a bus, killing him instantly. He leaves behind his wife Ruth (Frances Conroy, THE AVIATOR), his eldest son David (Michael C. Hall, PAYCHECK), his younger son Nate (Peter Krause, THE TRUMAN SHOW), and high school daughter Claire (Lauren Ambrose, PARTY OF FIVE TV series). This was a very effective way to get "into" the Fisher family from a viewer’s standpoint. Nothing pulls a family together like the death of one of its closest members. Although they were coming together anyway for Christmas, the Fisher’s are now forced to deal with each other on a very tight level. David has been working at the funeral home all his life and feels that his life may have been wasted. He also has to deal with his homosexuality and his inability to "come out of the closet" to his family and friends. His love for officer Keith Charles (Mathew St. Patrick, REUNION TV series) is felt throughout the series, and is on and off thanks to David’s psychological hurdles. Matriarch Ruth comes out to the family on her own as she tells them about an affair she’d been having for some time with a hairdresser (male); this comes out during the viewing of her husband as he awaits internment. Younger son Nate gets news of his father’s death while having sex with a stranger (Rachel Griffiths, VERY ANNIE MARY) in an airport maintenance closet. We soon learn that her name is Brenda and with her comes an entirely new set of baggage for Nate in the form of love and a relationship he never thought possible. And finally we get young daughter Claire, a highschooler who learns of her father’s death immediately after trying crystal meth for the first time.

What made the show initially entertaining and oh-so-watchable, is the effects of death on all the characters. They deal with everyone else’s grief better than their own, as they are distant from it; it’s a business. But as the series rolls on, Nate learns that they are here to do more than business. The dead visit the family in ethereal form, teaching them very tough lessons (from how to stand up for yourself, to dealing with a SIDS death). Even the family’s father Nathaniel, who started out dead in the beginning episode, turns up at crossroads and tries to help them deal with difficulties.

The series starts out with a bang and keeps going for the first several episodes. Most viewers will be glued to their TV’s, wondering what’s going to happen next; a tribute to writer/director Alan Ball. But toward the latter half of the first season the series goes a bit astray. The initial enjoyment of watching how death affects the family is swapped for a more soap opera style plot that delves into how the characters effect other characters. Although this isn’t horrible, it isn’t as gripping as the show’s initial premise. Gone are the dead’s visitations (mostly), as are the quirky commercials for hearse sales and corpse foundation putty.

But even with these issues there’s still a certain pull that the series has thanks to some strong writing and the deadly subject matter. The big question: is it worth going on to season two?

Click here for the Six Feet Under series trailer!

Saturday, November 11, 2006


Charlie and the Chocolate FactoryJohnny Depp Directed by Tim Burton
Starring Johnny Depp
Reviewed by Byron Merritt



Being a huge fan of the 1971 film staring Gene Wilder, I had to wait a while and let the hype from this film settle down a bit before seeing it. I'd heard some people hated it because it didn't "feel" like the WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY they grew up with, while others applauded Tim Burton for making another unforgettable movie experience.

Most of you reading this should (by now) know the story of Wonka: famous chocolatier closes his factory for many years because of competing chocolate makers stealing all his secrets. Then, suddenly, he decides to reopen the factory, but only to five children who find the five golden tickets hidden inside Wonka bars. The great puzzler that the world asks is "Why?" Why open up only to five kids and not the world? This is Willy Wonka's secret agenda and the climax to both the 1971 film and this 2005 "re-imagining".

Hollywood is remaking everything nowadays. I see this as a two-fold issue: #1 - they seem to have run out of original story ideas (or at the very least have few left) so they're remaking what made money in the past; #2 - they're trying (and successfully I might add) to tap into the X-Generations' childhood love of certain films and bring them back to the big screen, thus pulling us (I'm a Gen-Xer, too) back into the movie theater to spend our hard-earned cash. I'm not knocking either possible philosophy. I mean, filmmaking is a business and they need to make money one way or the other.

But what about this film? Well, it's engaging and interesting, if somewhat darker than the light-hearted musical we saw over three decades ago (most viewers shouldn't be surprised by this since it's done by the "master of dark themes" himself, Mr. Burton). But I can also see modern marketers inserting various items into the story in order to lighten it up a bit (the TV room is most notable for this with its homage to 2001: A Space Odyssey).

Comparing them - as other reviews have pointed out - is like comparing apples to apples. And with respect to the screenplays, they are mostly right. But this film definitely took less liberties with Roald Dahl's classic book than did the '71 version. And this movie is also not a "musical" (only a select few numbers are done which mirror the book, and they're all done by the oompa loompas).

I also enjoyed a more balanced approach to both Charlie's and Wonka's lives. We get to see more of Wonka and just about the same amount of Charlie in this new adaption.

I also think that the casting was perfect. Charlie Bucket (played by
Freddie Highmore) was an excellent choice for the main role. I loved him in FINDING NEVERLAND, and I still love him after watching this. Willy Wonka (Johnny Depp, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MAN'S CHEST) is creepy and gruff, but strangely enjoyable to watch. My only complaint here would be that I felt more of the "magic" coming from Gene Wilder's portrayal in '71. With Mr. Depp I didn't feel much magic at all, and only a bit of sympathy and bizarre revulsion toward what Willy Wonka had become. But still, Depp played him very well ...just differently.

My heart still rests with the original, but this one is certainly entertaining. Although the magic isn't present, there are still many other aspect that'll engage young and old viewers alike, and will surely cause very heated conversations about which adaption is the best.

Click here for the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory movie trailer!


Starring Ray Wise
Reviewed by Byron Merritt



It's pretty obvious that someone had a lot of fun making this film. There's a hint of dark comedy, the Twilight Zone feel that pervades almost all internet reviews, and a cliche-riddled flick that actually works if you set back and enjoy. Apparently given a pretty limited budget, first time co-directors Jean-Baptiste Andrea and Fabrice Canepa have pulled together a horror film that pays homage to a mixture of films in the vein of the Twilight Zone meets ROSEMARY'S BABY. You might also blend in a little CHRISTINE (ala Stephen King) then you'll have the general idea.

The film stars Ray Wise (SAVANNAH) as Frank Harrington. He's driving his family (wife, two kids - one a punk teenage boy and the other a young adult psychiatrist - and a boyfriend of their daughter's) to a Christmas gathering at his mother-in-law's house. Along the way, though, Frank decides to take a detour, a shortcut, down an old country road, and he does this while everyone else in the car is asleep. And when they awaken, the road seems to go on forever and ever and ever. Hmm. Strange, too, that all of their watches have stopped at 7:30pm.

Soon they discover a pretty young lady dressed all in white standing alongside this endless road, and she's cradling a well-swathed baby in her arms. And when they stop to see if she needs help, all hell breaks loose. Their daughter's boyfriend vanishes, and soon a hearse comes slowly trundling by and, as it passes, everyone sees the boyfriend pounding his bloody hands on the rear window. The family jumps back into their car and races after the hearse, only to hit a big speed bump a few miles down the road. Or was that a speed bump? Uh-oh. It was the boyfriend, and he's nearly mangled beyond recognition.

The car's occupants/family quickly begin disappearing, almost always after spotting the lady in white. Why doesn't the road ever end? Why are they all being forced into this hearse? Why is this lady in white attached to them somehow? Why does time seemed to have stopped?

Like I said earlier, lot's of cliche-style answer await you, but that doesn't detract from the enjoyment of watching this dark, dark, mildly comedic horror tale. Popcorn? Check. Lights off? Check. Loved one sitting nearby ready to scream? Check. You're ready!

Click here for the Dead End movie trailer!

Friday, November 10, 2006


The Break-UpVince Vaughn Directed by Peyton Reed
Starring Vince Vaughn
Reviewed by Byron Merritt



THE BREAK-UP is not a comedy. You’ll find very few laughs. But it is a somewhat touching romantic drama with a surprisingly strong performance from Vince Vaughn (WEDDING CRASHERS) and a fine job by Jennifer Aniston (RUMOR HAS IT).

Gary Grobowski (Vaughn) and Brooke Meyers (Aniston) meet at a Chicago baseball game and fall head-over-hearts for each other. They buy a condo while their relationship punches ahead at full speed ...until the brakes are applied with deadly force during a dinner with friends and family. Gary forgot to buy enough lemons for the table display and all of the irritants that have bothered both of them come tumbling forth.

As their relationship disintegrates, one-upmanship is employed by the two fallen lovebirds; Gary buys a pool table for the dining room and Brooke starts dating other men. Neither can afford to move out of the condo so it is eventually put up for sale.

The relationship falls to such a level that it appears completely unsalvageable. When Brooke extends an olive branch, it is unknowingly knocked aside by Gary. And once Gary realizes that it was an olive branch, it’s too late to grasp.

Strong bit parts by the quirky
Vincent D’Onofrio (THE CELL), Cole Houser (PITCH BLACK) and Jason Bateman (DODGEBALL) help pull this rather pedestrian dramatic film up a notch. Even Ann Margret (VIVA LAS VEGAS) has a fleeting film moment that is noteworthy during the infamous dinner scene.

The downside is that there’s no hallelujah moment, which is somewhat of a letdown. While comparisons to THE WAR OF THE ROSES (1989) are evident in the The Break-Up’s premise, The War of the Roses was most definitely a physical comedy with Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner doing horrible things to each other, trying to do more bodily harm than psychological. In The Break-Up, Aniston’s and Vaughn’s characters are still distantly in love and the harm comes when each refuses to budge in order to get the relationship back on track.

The drama of The Break-Up is dripping with subversive anger as the two characters force friends to take sides, bitterly fight over the smallest of tidbits, and generally run slipshod over their once prosperous lives. And although we’ve seen similar films with similar themes, the one thing that helped give this flick a more positive rating was that it didn’t slip into cliche at the end.

There is no happy ending for them. The question as to if they’ll ever get back together is left in the air, like so many true-life relationships. That there is personal growth on both their parts (most notably on Vaughn’s character) is an added bonus that is touched on towards the end.

Click here for The Break-Up movie trailer!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006


PoseidonJosh Lucas Directed by Wolfgang Petersen
Starring Josh Lucas
Reviewed by Byron Merritt



When word that Wolfgang Petersen — director of such fantastic films as DAS BOOT, ENEMY MINE, and THE PERFECT STORM — was slated to direct the remake of THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE (now shortened to simply POSEIDON), the sizzling hype around Hollywood was immediately palpable. Production costs for the heavily CGI-laden film skyrocketed to $160 million, making it one of the most costly films of 2005 (released in 2006).

Adding to the costs was an ensemble cast starring Josh Lucas (GLORY ROAD), Kurt Russell (SKY HIGH), Richard Dreyfuss (MR. HOLLAND’S OPUS), Emmy Rossum (THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, 2004), Freddy Rodriguez (LADY IN THE WATER), and Kevin Dillon (24 TV Series).

Now The Poseidon Adventure (1972) wasn’t that great a film to begin with, but what it did have was a catchy tune created by Maureen McGovern but sang (lip-synched?) by Carol Lynley ("The Morning After"), and a great human story surrounded by a terrible event: the capsizing of a cruise ship. Gene Hackman, Ernest Borgnine, Red Buttons, Roddy McDowall, Shelley Winters, and Jack Albertson rounded out that all-star cast. And although the production was a bit cheesy by today’s standards, it held at its center a tale of human determination and sacrifice. This was the focus. The destruction of the ship was just the catalyst, not the focal point. Which is where Wolfgang’s remake encounters significant problems.

The character set-up in Poseidon is rushed, never giving the audience a sense of empathy or angst for any of the people onboard. More film time is given to the CGI water, fires, explosions, and other non-character items. Many times during the film we are yanked away from the characters in order to watch yet another explosion happen somewhere on the ship, then we’re jerked back to the characters who don’t really respond to it. So what was the purpose of showing the movie-watcher these things? The simple answer is because it was CGI, it was cool, it cost money, so you have to show it in order to justify your budgetary expenses.

Since we’re given so little time to understand or appreciate the characters’ interactions with one another, when one of them dies there’s no impact for the viewer. Most will probably say, "So what" when this person or that gets snuffed out by the expensive CGI water, fire, or explosion.

Hollywood needs to learn that it’s the people in the film audiences care about, not the "totally awesome" special effects. Sure, directors/producers can put the CGI in there and make it look nice, but it has to have an impact on the characters.

Click here for the Poseidon movie trailer!