Angels & Demons

Angels & Demons
Dan Brown is often, and incorrectly, described as a "beach read" author – the kind of writer who pumps out high-concept, low-brow adventures that can easily pass the six-hour flight between JFK and LAX. James Patterson, for example, is the king of this kind of storytelling, spinning tales of suspense with a dash of character and a pinch of mystery, fast enough and smart enough to be engaging without necessarily being challenging. And so, operating under the guise of your Dean Koontz's and Susan Kay's, Brown gets something of a pass in the world of housewives, Hollywood, and East Coast/West Coast commuters. Except that, when you look closer – when you look at the history and themes and ideas behind his populist yarns – a question emerges:

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Little Ashes

Little Ashes
An earnest gay biopic that teeters on the edge of preciousness before plunging headlong into the drink, Little Ashes does have an audience out there, I'm sure. I just know that I'm not in it, nor are most of the people who will be checking it out for its much-hyped casting of Twilight heartthrob Robert Pattinson as a gay-experimenting Salvador Dalí.

While with a healthier budget, tighter script and steadier directorial hand, Ashes may have been the next Brideshead Revisited or Before Night Falls, it lands more in the neighborhood of Savage Grace.

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Pandemic

Pandemic
“Pandemic” sees Japanese cinema again taking on the time honoured disaster movie formula, this time with the tale of a deadly virus threatening the country as various stars try to save themselves and their loved ones. Very much in the style of the 1995 Hollywood outing “Outbreak”, the film was directed by Zeze Takahisa, (best known for the offbeat vampire effort “Moon Child”), with actor Tsumabuki Satoshi (“Dororo”) and actress Dan Rei (“Love and Honor”) in the lead roles, and a supporting ensemble cast including Sato Koichi (“The Magic Hour”), Ikewaki Chizuru (“Strawberry Shortcakes”), Fuji Tatsuya (“Flavor of Happiness”), Kuninaka Ryoko (“Train Man”), and Mitsuishi Ken. Arriving shortly on region 2 DVD via MVM, the film was originally released domestically back in 2009, at a time when global virus scares were still very much making headline news, and given recent events in Japan, its scenes of eerily empty cities and destruction still ring sadly true.

Tsumabuki Satoshi plays a kindly young doctor called Matsuoka, whose latest patient is a man with what seem to be fairly obvious flu symptoms. However, the usual tests come back false, and the unfortunate fellow is soon bleeding from his eyes and nose, before going into violent convulsions and dying. It quickly becomes clear that this is only the start of a new and particularly infectious pandemic, with the hospital being quarantined after a number of staff members also start to show signs of having contracted the killer bug. Although the media latch onto the idea that the virus is a new strain of flu caused by contaminated poultry, Matsuoka and a World Health Organization officer (Dan Rei), who just happens to be his former lover, trace it back to an island in the Northern Philippines, desperately racing against time to find a cure before it can spread to the rest of the country.

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Second Skin

Second Skin
A few days ago I had a chance to get an advance screening of a new film documentary about MMORPG gamers called Second Skin.

When the film started I got a sense that it was going to be more about the business aspect of MMO games, how they’ve effected our lives and how they will change them in the future. However it quickly became a sort of MTV True Life episode where we just follow 3 different group of gamers through their lives.

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How to Lose Friends and Alienate People

How to Lose Friends and Alienate People
How to Lose Friends and Alienate People is an uneasy marriage of satire and romantic comedy. The film's inability to decide whether it wants to be sweet and life-affirming or vicious and nasty creates not only a disconnect on the story level but results in tonal shifts that are dizzying. By trying to obey two masters, How to Lose Friends ends up serving neither with enough faithfulness to earn it a recommendation as either a parody or a lighthearted love story.

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Mighty Heart

Mighty Heart
Most world renowned people have achieved that status as a result of something accomplished during their lives. Unfortunately, Daniel Pearl was among the few who became famous as a result of his death. Pearl's kidnapping and subsequent death at the hands of terrorists became a major media story during January and February 2002, as the United States was beginning to flex its muscles overseas in response to the September 11, 2001 attacks. A video leaked to the Internet showing Pearl's decapitation magnified the tragedy. A Mighty Heart, Michael Winterbottom's interpretation of the memoir written by Pearl's widow, Mariane, examines events of that one month period from the perspective of those who sought Daniel's release: his pregnant wife, his friends and colleagues at The Wall Street Journal, and the Pakistani security forces. The film is fascinating and at times disturbing, but Winterbottom's arms-length style mutes any emotional impact.

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In the Land of Women

In the Land of Women
In the Land of Women is enjoyable for a movie in which pretty much nothing happens. The things that occur during the course of Jonathan (son of Lawrence) Kasdan's debut feature are all subtle and character-based. This is the sort of motion picture one might assume was made in France if everyone wasn't speaking perfect English and setting was somewhere more exotic than Michigan. In the Land of Women is comprised of a number of nice little scenes that, while they don't combine to form something momentous, are each effective in their own low-key manner.

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Mission: Impossible

Mission: Impossible
The first star vehicle of the summer of 1996 is also the first major disappointment of the season. Mission: Impossible, the big screen resurrection of the popular late-'60s/early-'70s series, fails to generate much in the way of excitement or intrigue. This globetrotting adventure looks like an opportunity for Tom Cruise to play James Bond -- a role he is totally unsuited for. The writing for last year's 007 return, Goldeneye, isn't a lot better than that for Mission: Impossible, but, as an action hero, Pierce Brosnan is considerably more debonair and charismatic than Cruise.

There's no Bond in Mission: Impossible. Instead, the lead character is Ethan Hunt, the point man for Jim Phelps' IMF (Impossible Missions Force). Phelps (played by Jon Voight, not Peter Graves) receives assignment messages from his boss, Kittridge (Henry Czerny), via video transmissions rather than old-fashioned tapes. His group's latest job is to prevent something called a "NOC list" from falling into the hands of an international arms dealer (Vanessa Redgrave). If placed on the open market, the NOC list would put every United States deep cover agent in danger of exposure. However, when they embark on this mission, the IMF runs straight into an ambush where everyone is killed except Hunt and Phelps' wife, Claire (Emmanuelle Beart). Because he survives the carefully-orchestrated massacre, Hunt is suspected of turning traitor.

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Half Past Dead 2

Half Past Dead 2
The original Half Past Dead was an obvious butt-scraping that took place in Alcatraz prison and starred Steven Seagal and Ja Rule (the rapper). It was horrible, made only a buffalo nickel at the box office, and ruined a lot of people’s lives. Well, someone with money decided that it didn’t, and chose to green-light the sequel, Half Past Dead 2. Of course, Seagal and Ja have much better things to do these days, as do the rest of the cast, and the people who allowed filming in or around Alcatraz. No sweat, it can still be done. It’ll just take a little ingenuity, some luck, and a few people who aren’t dead to replace the cast. Plot and script aren’t really concerns, because any idiot can come up with those.

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The Football Factory

The Football Factory
"The Football Factory" focuses on two different groups of English football supporters—the Headhunters, who support Chelsea, and the Bushwhackers, who support Millwall. Throughout the movie, the Headhunters fight with other English groups such as those supporting Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool, and Stoke City.

The film follows Tommy Johnson (Danny Dyer), a football hooligan in his mid 20s who has begun to question his morals and the morals of those around him. Tommy's major conflict in the film stems from his inevitable aging. Although he loves his weekend 'meets', he knows he cannot possibly play forever.

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The Wendell Baker Story

The Wendell Baker Story
Owen, Luke, and Andrew Wilson combine their fraternal filmmaking talents to tell the character-driven tale of a small-time con man who gets a fortuitous shot at redemption while working in a run down retirement community. Wendell Baker (Luke Wilson) is a con man whose large heart betrays his criminal mind. Confident to a fault and consistently cool-headed, Baker is the kind of grifter who's always quick with a comeback and never lets the law get in the way of making a quick buck. When Wendell is busted for selling counterfeit Texas driver's licenses to undocumented Mexican migrant workers, he coasts through his prison sentence with the same unflappable attitude that made him the perfect swindler in the outside world. In order to pass the time behind bars without causing waves, mellow convict Wendell buries his nose in books about hotel management checked out from the prison library. Upon release the optimistic ex-con is distraught to discover his girlfriend Dorren (Eva Mendes) has taken up with a quick-tempered grocer (Will Ferrell) and his former partner Reyes (Jacob Vargas) has been forced into retirement by his law-abiding wife. Looking to put his hotel management know-how to good use and determined to win Doreen back, Wendell soon takes a job at the Shady Grove retirement hotel. Little does Wendell realize that scheming Shady Grove head nurse Neil King (Owen Wilson) has been dabbling in fraudulent Medicare payments and forced labor, and has no qualms about pinning his crimes on the carefree ex-convict. Now, if benevolent knave Wendell has any hope of turning the tables on his unscrupulous nemesis and proving that nice guys don't always finish last, he'll have to enlist the aid of fed-up Shady Grove residents Boyd (Seymour Cassel), Skip (Harry Dean Stanton), and Nasher (Kris Kristofferson), who are all more than willing to strike back at their casually cruel caretaker

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Frat House Massacre

Frat House Massacre
Set in the late 70s, this gritty and twisted film taps the physical and mental underpinnings of the meaning of the word brother in a way reminiscent of the best of late 70s grindhouse and early 80s slashers.

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11 Harrowhouse

11 Harrowhouse
A small time diamond merchant jumps at the chance to supervise the purchase and cutting of a large first class diamond. But when the diamond is stolen from him, he is blackmailed into pulling off a major heist at the Diamond Exchange, located at 11 Harrowhouse.

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K-9
The extravagant cop Michael Dooley needs some help to fight a drug dealer who has tried to kill him. A friend gives him a dog named Jerry Lee, who has been trained to smell drugs. With his help, Dooley sets out to put his enemy behind the bars, but Jerry Lee has a personality of his own and works only when he wants to. On the other hand, the dog is quite good at destroying Dooleys car, house and sex-life...

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Lightning Strikes

Lightning Strikes
When a deadly creature rides an electric bolt to Earth,its lights out for a small town.

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Mumford

Mumford
A man gives up his job with the IRS and relocates to a small town named Mumford of which he takes the name and passes it off as his own by being a psychologist. While as a psychologist, Mumford decides to give his patients no holds barred advice which changes his life and that of his patients and the residents.

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