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Take a little “Groundhog Day,” throw in some “Predator,” add a dash of “Alien,” and even sprinkle some “Wizard of Oz” (“Courage”) and you have “Edge of Tomorrow,” the latest sci-fi action flick with Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt. Cruise plays Bill Cage, a military PR guru who is known more for his marketing and not a bit about his soldiering (since he’s seen zero combat duty), suddenly gets on the wrong side of a high-ranking general (Brendan Gleeson). Next thing he knows is he is being sent to the front lines for a suicide mission in a massive battle between the world armies and alien invaders. On this first day of battle Cruise kills one big bad meanie but in the process is killed himself. The big bad meanie he killed has infected him, a condition which forces Cruise into a reset mode – meaning as soon as he is killed, he is reset to the beginning of the day to start the day over again in a time loop – forcing him to live out the brutal combat over and over, fighting and dying, again and again. But with each battle, Cage is able to engage the adversaries with increasing skill, alongside Special Forces warrior Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), and as Cage and Vrataski take up the fight, each repeated encounter gets them one step closer to defeating the alien enemies.
Cruise, of course, plays the same character we’ve been accustomed to seeing him as, but Emily Blunt shines as the female tough girl. A favorite character and performance is Bill Paxton as the tough sergeant assigned to Cruise. And another highlight is the great music by Christophe Beck, which really keeps things turned up a notch. Is “Edge of Tomorrow” a great action flick? Yes it is. It’s biggest downfall is there’s not a whole lot of anything original in it, but that said, it’s all done exceptionally well. You won’t find a better made action flick, and you can tell they spent a ton of money and a lot of time on it. It has great special effects, plenty of action, super cool megazord destruction suits, and the 3D is incredible. Just a quick look at the imdb site and you’re likely to see the largest collection of names for a single movie you’ve ever seen, which attests to “Edge of Tomorrow’s” great attention to detail. And for a summer blockbuster designed to get us out of the heat and into the air-conditioned theater to forget about real life, it’s perfect – it does just that. Will you remember “Edge of Tomorrow” in five years? Not likely, but it is totally enjoyable. Give it a shot, even if you might not want to see it again and again and again and again…

 

“Blended” is the latest romantic comedy from Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore. And as expected, this is a formulaic romantic comedy with Sandler playing a Sad Sack misfit and Barrymore playing his “nemesis.” There are no surprises and everything goes completely as planned – filled with lots of laughs and fun and games – just as fans of Adam Sandler like it. Yes, I am an Adam Sandler fan, and I like this movie and recommended it for a good two-hour respite from life, while laughing and romancing.

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The movie begins with a blind date between Lauren (Barrymore) and Jim (Sandler) at a Hooters restaurant, where Sandler proceeds to drink his own glass of beer, and then Barrymore’s glass of beer, too, as she is visiting the restroom; not to mention once she returns to the table, he is rude, obnoxious, does not pay any attention to Barrymore (but quite a bit to the Hooter girls), and then everything goes downhill from there.
After this disastrous blind date, divorced and single-mom Lauren (with two boys played by Kyle Red Silverstein and Braxton Beckham) and widowed and single-dad Jim (with three girls played by Bella Thorne of Disney Channel’s “Shake it Up,” Emma Fuhrmann, and Alyvia Alyn Lynd) agree on only one thing: they never want to see each other again. But when they each sign up separately for a fabulous family vacation with their kids, they are all stuck sharing a suite at a luxurious African safari resort for a week.
“Blended” also stars Joel McHale (NBC’s “Community”) as Lauren’s ex-husband, Mark, and Wendi McLendon-Covey (“Bridesmaids”) as Jen her best friend; Kevin Nealon (“Weeds”) and Jessica Lowe (funnyordie’s “RobotDown”) as an overly romantic couple also vacationing at the resort; Terry Crews (“The Expendables 2”) as the resort’s singing host (a real highlight of the film); and Dan Patrick (ESPN SportsCenter) as Dick.


“Blended” is directed by Frank Coraci, who previously collaborated with Sandler and Barrymore on “The Wedding Singer” and also directed Sandler in the hit comedies “The Waterboy” and “Click.” “Blended” marks the third comedy collaboration between stars Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore, following “The Wedding Singer” and their successful onscreen pairing in the hit romantic comedy “50 First Dates.”
Sandler plays the same character he’s played in all his movies and that is just fine. Barrymore does an apt job as Lauren, although a couple of times she seems to be wanting to be somewhere else and is a little off the mark. All in all there is great chemistry between Sandler and Barrymore, and, of course, the kids are all as cute as can be.
“Blended” does lag a little in the first half, and the movie feels like it could’ve been a little shorter, but you will not be disappointed. Yes, it’s all pretty predictable, but no more predictable than all the laughs you’ll enjoy (albeit some rather naughty ones – hence the PG13 rating). But if you like Adam Sandler movies, “Blended” will be perfect for you – a perfect blend of pathos and comedy, Sandler and Barrymore.

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“Moms’ Night Out” is a fun movie, filled with lots of laughs and a lot of heart. Well-paced and well-acted, with smart dialogue and enough twists and turns to keep you on your toes: yeah, I really liked this movie. And yes, this is coming from a guy. Of course women of all ages will relate to the foibles and chaos on the screen, but guys will find it fun, too.

Sarah Drew plays Allyson, a young mom with her hands full and no downtime for any kind of R and R. All Allyson and her friends want is a peaceful, grown-up evening of dinner and conversation . . . a long-needed moms’ night out. But in order to enjoy high heels, adult conversation and food not served in a paper bag, they need their husbands to watch the kids for three hours—what could go wrong?

Plenty…and it is hilarious. “Moms’ Night Out” is directed by the Erwin brothers, the same duo that brought us the excellent “October Baby,” this outing has the same top-notch quality, plus a van-full of fun. The guys and the cast must have had a blast making this film, and it shows. The cast includes Sean Astin as Allyson’s husband; Andrea Logan White as Allyson’s comrade in arms and BFF Izzy, who is married to Robert Amaya; and third mom out Patricia Heaton, as Sondra the wife of the pastor (Alex Kendrick); add a dozen or so kids, a bird, a police department, a tattoo artist, a lost baby, and Trace Adkins as a helpful (albeit scary) biker dude, and you have a concoction for chaos. Speaking of Trace Adkins: his is one of the most unlikely characters in one of the most unusual settings to have a gospel moment you can imagine in a film, and nothing could work better or more authentically than it does in “Mom’s Night Out.” Bravo.

“Moms’ Night Out” is an endearing true-to-life family comedy that celebrates the beautiful mess called parenting. Take a night off and have a night out with “Moms’ Night Out.” You’ll be glad you did.

 

 

 

 

For a great interview between Patricia Heaton and Sonoma Christian Home TV’s Erica Galindo, check out:

 

 

Gramps Reviews

Posted: May 6, 2014 in Film Review

A duo of movies have come out recently revolving around the character of Gramps: “Gramps Goes to College” and “In Gramps Shoes.” Donald James Parker, who plays Gramps, also penned both the screenplays, and his writing is enjoyable and makes both films worth viewing.

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In “Gramps Goes to College,” Ty Bounds, a workaholic computer programmer for 35 years, has retired. No longer forced to work for a living, and looking for a worthwhile way to spend his time, he returns to college and finds himself in a head-to-head war against secular humanism, while mentoring a new generation. Parker is fun to watch, and you can tell he enjoys this character and relishes the lines he’s written. Most of the other actors hold their own as well. Relative newcomer Kaitlin Borst lights up the screen whenever she appears on-camera, and she does a great job as fellow student Michaela Morris. Equally impressive is Courtney Lee Simpson as not-so-agreeable fellow student Stephanie Carter. Her accent sure is fun in an earlier scene between she and her mom (Kera O’Brtyon).

“In Gramps Shoes” details what happens to Ty Bounds after 20 years of praying for his daughter to let him back into her life. He finally gets his wish when the prodigal daughter (Francine Locke) requests his help in dealing with a financial bind and her rebellious teenage son (Andrew Wilson Williams). Ty’s first encounter with his grandson, whom the grandfather has never met, leads to a challenge for a two mile race that alters the courses of both their lives. Again director Chip Rossetti pulls out believable performances from his young and fresh cast. It is always a pleasure to see Francine Locke working the screen, and Andrew Wilson Williams performs his rebellious teen angst quite well. Equally fun to watch is Jeff Rose as Coach Carlson, Grace Eztkorn as his daughter Chelsey, and Brittany Blades as Ty’s granddaughter Sally who takes a liking to grandpa immediately.

There’s quite a bit of proselytizing in both films, but Donald James Parker handles this dialogue with aplomb and for the most part, it’s not too heavy handed. Of course, this kind of dialogue is easier to handle if you are in agreement with what is being said; if not, then the somewhat one-sided argument can be fairly frustrating for the viewer. A big concern I had for both stories are the dramatic twists that come seemingly out of nowhere. I’m all for surprises, but in both cases the core stories are relegated to secondary status as we are taken on a side trip into further, unrelated drama. I for one did not need these big moments, and was quite happy to follow the smaller arcs that were full of drama on their own. And another frustrating aspect was the over abundance of reverse cuts that can be quite disorienting for the audience. They are not quite as frequent in “Gramps Goes to College,” but still fairly prevalent. There were also noticeable moving shadows across subjects at various points.

Some of the other strong points of the two movies, other than good story lines and acting, include great teaching moments involving running, smoking, driving an automobile, even Harry Potter. And “In Gramps Shoes” begins with a very nice opening montage including helicopter shots and beautiful southern scenery. So yes, as independent low-budget Christian films, “In Gramps Shoes” and “Gramps Goes to College” are recommended and definitely worth the watch. Check ’em out.

To Him Who Gives His Best

Posted: May 5, 2014 in Uncategorized

Today I am breaking away from my usual blog fare of writing about filmmaking or giving a film review. Today I want to write about a man who has had a wonderful influence on my life, and I do not go through a day without thinking about him. Although we have not always agreed, our “big picture” goals are consistent with things we DO agree upon: honesty, integrity, hard work, excellence, persistence, basically giving it (whatever that is) your best. Through the years, these things of importance have been modeled to us and their importance have been instilled upon us. Things such as:

The squeaky hinge gets oiled.

If you don’t get it the first time, try again.

God, family, and friends.

A short putt never goes in.

The quality of a man can be seen in the quality of his friends. Pick them wisely.

Telling the truth is always the right answer.

Family is the most important thing.

All you can do is your best.

Always give a man a chance.

Never give up.

Stand up for God and country.

You can do it.

There are plenty of good people in the world. Find them and surround yourself with them.

If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right.

These are some of the words of my father, and I am not talking about him today. I’m talking about my son Abraham. He is a wonderful, honest, hardworking man, who always gives his best. He also helps others do their best, which means between what he does, and what those around him do, more goodness comes into the world and the world is a better place. He has been honored with the Louie Armstrong Jazz Award at his high school, an award given out to only one student, once a year. This makes me extremely proud. But it isn’t the award as such that makes me proud. It is all of the hard work, the extra work, the practice, persistence, not cutting corners, dedication, and study, how he pushes himself, and how he does not take “good enough” as an answer, and everything else that has molded him into a quality young man that allowed him to be given this award – that is what I am most proud of. To him who gives his best.

Congratulations.

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Yet another faith-based film hits the theaters this week, this one based on the best-selling book of the same name: “Heaven Is for Real.” I have to say that this is the better of all the faith-based movies to hit the big screen thus far this year. (Well, “Gimme Shelter” is really good, too.)

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“Heaven Is for Real” tells the true story of a small-town father who must find the courage and conviction to share his son’s extraordinary, life-changing experience with the world. The film stars Academy Award® nominee and Emmy® award winning actor Greg Kinnear as Todd Burpo and co-stars Kelly Reilly as Sonja Burpo, the real-life couple whose son Colton (newcomer Connor Corum) claims to have visited heaven during a near death experience. Colton recounts the details of his amazing journey with childlike innocence and speaks matter-of-factly about things that happened before his birth … things he couldn’t possibly know. Todd and his family are then challenged to examine the meaning from this remarkable event.

 

There’s more solid work from Greg Kinnear as Pastor Burpo. He shows a real adeptness to bouncing around the various emotional turns necessary to navigate through the story. And Kelly Reilly is just as convincing in her role as the mother, skeptical yet rational in her interplay with her son (and husband). As Colton, Connor Corum is remarkable and truly believable as the nonchalant little boy who sees playing in heaven no different than playing in his backyard. And Lane Styles as big sister Cassie is a joy to watch, and her scene on the playground with the two hecklers is a favorite and sure to bring a smile to your face. Rounding up the strong cast is Thomas Haden Church as church administrator Jay Wilkins.

“Heaven Is for Real” is bigger budget Hollywood endeavor that will not disappoint from a production-level perspective – grade A throughout – with an engrossing story, strong performances, and a little bit of inspiration to boot. Check it out and maybe be uplifted – for real…

 

 

 

 

 

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If you like westerns then you’ll like “The Redemption of Henry Myers”. It is a good Western in the classic sense, complete with gunfights, damsels in distress, and yes, even an antihero in the Clint Eastwood mode. There are plenty of nice twists and turns to keep you on your toes, and a whole plethora of characters to love and to hate. There’s even a nod to the classic film “Shane,” and arguably maybe too big of a nod, but this is a Western, so strap on your six-shooter and come along for the ride.

Synopsis: Henry Myers (Drew Waters) lives a hard life, and he gets through life on the frontier anyway he can…even if it means robbing a bank. His latest heist goes wrong, and his partners betray him and leave him for dead. Henry survives, thanks to the extraordinary kindness of a widow (Erin Bethea) and her two children (Jaden Roberts, Ezra Proch), and influenced by this family, Henry begins to question the choices he’s made in his life. Just when things begin to make sense again, it’s all ripped away when his old partners show up.

I really appreciated the depth of characterization from the actors involved. Drew Waters, who has been racking up credits in many film and television shows, takes the rein of the main character in stride. The role takes him through the entire arc of a character, from bad to good, from death to life, from emptiness to fullness, and Waters handles all the emotions with aplomb. As the widow Marilyn, Erin Bethea, does an excellent job of handling the kids and this stranger who falls into their lives, and all the emotions that go along with this. (Most viewers may best remember her as Kirk Cameron’s wife in “Fireproof.”) And the two children do great work and their protrayals are realistic and to the point. A special thumbs up to Jaden Roberts as Laura, who will most likely steal your heart away (and who provides most of the moments of lightness and laughs). I think much credit is due director Clayton Miller, and we can expect great things in the years to come from him. (I remember seeing his short film “Forgive Me” several years ago, and it deservedly ran away with many awards from the various festivals where it appeared. Seek this film out for a viewing – mature audiences only.) The cinematography is topnotch in “The Redemption of Henry Myers,” and it is quite obvious that great attention to detail was taken to insure the best camera point of views. And included along the way are nice visual symbolism within the props and the set design.

There are plenty of Bible stories shared within the film, and they are inserted in a way that makes them a part of the story and not at all heavy-handed. This is a very nice touch. And the “redemption” (yes – a conversion moment) was handled in one of the best ways I’ve ever seen in a film (and this coming from someone who rarely appreciates these moments in a film). It is slid into the film in a very honest way, again very much a part of the storyline, and handled in a very realistic manner.

Things get wrapped up nicely and in a very satisfying way (even though I was looking for a different outcome, and maybe this would have felt more authentic? but surprises are nice, too). The John Williams-esque music is what would be expected in a sprawling Western, and I really appreciate the end credit song: “Redeemed” by Big Daddy Weave (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VzGAYNKDyIU), a great song in its own right. All-in-all, two thumbs up for relative newcomer Clayton Miller and “The Redemption of Henry Myers.” If you like a good Western, you’ll like this – a good Western.

World Premiere March 23 at 9/8c pm on The Hallmark Movie Channel.