RMN Quick Critique: Frenemy

Frenemy tries desperately to advertise itself as a film starring Zach Galifianakis, an actor only in one scene of the film. This is horribly frustrating and caused me to hate the film much more than I should have. Callum Blue and Matthew Modine star as friends and unsavory characters that witness and participate in a strange porn shop robbery. The film spends most of its time meandering, attempting to have the same clever and meaningful dialogue Tarantino fills his films with. Despite all of the dialogue, we never actually know anything about the characters in the film.
Entertainment: 2/10
Quality: 2/10
Availability: DVD

Throwback Thursday Review: A Reason to Believe

  • Actors: Jay Underwood, Allison Smith, Danny Quinn, Georgia Emelin, Kim Walker
  • Director: Douglas Tirola
  • Writer: Douglas Tirola
  • Producer: Douglas Tirola, Christopher Trela, Ged Dickersin
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Rated: R
  • Studio: Lions Gate
  • DVD Release Date: April 5, 2005
  • Run Time: 109 minutes



                    Although things have improved greatly, when this film was made during the early nineties, rape often went unreported. Making a statement against letting sleeping dogs lie, A Reason to Believe takes a strong stance against the abuse of women. It almost makes a strong stance for women’s rights as well, falling short only because of hypocrisy.


            Charlotte is dating a guy in a fraternity and has gotten to know all of his friends well, so when he leaves town for a funeral, she naturally assumes that she will still be safe at a party with them. When one of her boyfriend’s fraternity brothers rapes her at the party, she feels ashamed and tells no one. When her boyfriend returns and finds out, he turns his back on her. Finally she decides to go forward and bring charges against the guy, which also attacks the fraternity as well. Soon all of her friends have turned on her and the only people on her side are the women’s rights group on campus, who are merely using her to take down the fraternity.


            A Reason to Believe is a straightforward drama with little else to offer, making it difficult not to expect the film to feel like a TV special. Somehow it holds, however, never seeming too cliché or trite. One of the elements of the film which bothered me the most also helped to make it more dimensional and real. The women’s rights group wanted desperately to let everyone know that they had the right to do whatever they wanted, but at the same time they would not allow Charlotte the simple right of making the choice to come forward on her own. They pressured her into it, eventually leaking the story into the school newspaper just to force her into the spotlight. They had no concern for Charlotte’s individual rights even though that is what they claim to be defending the entire film.


            There are many other interesting questions in the film, all concerning truth, loyalty, and choices. Much of the struggle seems to come in Charlotte’s decision, but there are other people who know she is telling the truth and choose not to come forward. Others simply lie in the rapist’s defense. Charlotte quickly learns who her true friends are, and how few of them there really are. The other good thing about this film is its willingness to allow things to end unfinished. It understands that rape is not something that simply disappears regardless of how the person was punished.


            With a surprisingly large amount of special features for a film this old and small, A Reason to Believe is a rarity among new-to-DVD releases. There are ten mini-featurettes, documenting the making of the film and examining the issue of rape further.



    Entertainment Value: 6.5/10

    Quality of Filmmaking: 7/10

    Historical Significance: 5/10

    Disc Features: 7/10

    The Wizard of Oz 3D Premiere Marks the Re-Opening of Historic TCL Chinese Theatre

            In all of my higher education, there was only one class that I dropped rather than face the task of attempting to obtain a passing grade by semester’s end. It was a history class, which had never been a problem for me in the past. I am a lover of stories, and history is simply a collection of significant true tales. My problem with this particular class was the detached methods from the professor, who had little interest in history having any personal significance to his students.

    Ruth Duccini cutting ribbon for re-opening of TCL Chinese Theatre

            It is easy to forget how young the art of filmmaking actually is, and it takes an event like the premiere of The Wizard of Oz in Imax 3D to remind us. The opening night event was held Monday evening at the newly reopened TCL Chinese Theatre IMAX, the same location as the film’s original premiere on August 15, 1939. Among the many guests to fill the 932 seats for this special event was Ruth Duccini, one of the two surviving Munchkins of the 124 in the cast.


            The Wizard of Oz is the oldest film ever to be converted to 3D and Imax 3D, and I will admit that I had my hesitations over this endeavor. The process took nearly a year-and-a-half, thousands of jobs, and all for an exclusive one-week engagement in just over 300 films in North America, and it took me all of three seconds behind those ridiculous glasses to realize that it was all worth it.  

    "Modern Family" stars Ariel Winter and Rico Rodriguez

            The 3D does not attempt to bring much movement off of the screen, but instead gives depth to the picture in a way which brings the audience in without becoming a flashy distraction to the film we love. In many ways it is the restoration which is most impressive, and this format works extremely well in showing the hard work. I feel as though sometimes 3D can detract from the clarity of image, but the presentation of The Wizard of Oz in 3D IMAX was the sharpest I have ever experienced this film. There was so much detail in the picture that it felt as though I was seeing it for the first time. Judy Garland’s freckles, the burlap texture on the face of The Scarecrow (Ray Bolger), the metallic make-up and rivets on the Tin Man (Jack Haley), and the whiskered moustache upper lip of The Cowardly Lion (Bert Zahr) can all be seen like never before in my lifetime.


            As well as the 95-year-old Duccini, the premiere evening for this special 3D IMAX presentation was also attended by Danielle Wade, who is currently starring in the national tour of the Broadway adaptation by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Other guests in attendance included Marcia Gay Harden, Molly Ringwald, Drew Carey, Kevin Sorbo, Ariel Winter, Sierra McCormick, Mario Lopez, and with an introduction by Wizard of Oz historian John Fricke. There was one other special guest; my nine-year-old sister.


    Molly Ringwald and entourage

            Watching my sister as she placed her hands inside the cement imprint made by the eight-year-old hands of Jackie Cooper in the courtyard outside what was formerly known as Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, it was clear to me where my university world history professor had gone wrong. His lessons and tests had been all about dates and geography, but history is something you should be able to see and feel for yourself. Sometimes this is only possible with remnants held in a museum, or through our imagination in the telling of a story. We are fortunate to be witness to an early age of cinematic art, where I can still bring my sister to sit in the audience with one of the original cast members from a film released in 1939, and during a time where the technological advances of restoration and an IMAX 3D presentation bring this beloved classic to renewed life.    


            On October 1st, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment will debut a limited The Wizard of Oz 75th Anniversary 5-Disc Collector’s Edition which will include a Blu-ray 3D, Blu-ray, DVD and Ultraviolet versions of the film, along with plenty of new and old special features. The IMAX 3D presentation of The Wizard of OZ will be available at 300 select theaters for one week, starting this Friday, September 20th.






    The Last Tycoon Blu-ray Review

  • Actors: Chow Yun Fat, Sammo Hung, Francis Ng, Huang Xiaoming, Yolanda Yuan
  • Director: Wong Jing
  • Format: Blu-ray, Dolby, NTSC, Subtitled, THX, Widescreen
  • Language: Cantonese
  • Subtitles: English
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Rated: Unrated
  • Studio: Well Go USA
  • Release Date: September 17, 2013
  • Run Time: 107 minutes



            Jing Wong’s The Last Tycoon is a reasonable entertaining film. There are more than a few engaging sequences, though they are buried enough amongst many forgettable and vaguely familiar moments to make The Last Tycoon feel like the echo of better films from recent past. Despite a jarring editing style which jerks the audience back and forth in time, there are few surprises to be found and little distinctly memorable. With that being said, The Last Tycoon is still a reasonably entertaining film.


            Action star Chow Yun-Fat plays the seasoned older version of the film’s main character, Cheng Daqi, and it almost feels as though the editing was a choice made in order to keep the film’s largest star equally dispersed amongst the narrative. First played by Huang Xiaoming, Daqi is a young man working for a fruit stand owner in the early 1920s when he is framed for murder and forced to flee  to Shanghai where he becomes the right hand to a triad boss, Hong Shouting (Sammo Hung).


    He is forced to leave behind childhood sweetheart, Ye Zhiqui (Feng Wenjuan followed by Yuan Quan), only to meet up with her later in life as a powerful gangster. She is married to Mao Zai (Francis Ng) whose involvement in the battle against Japanese occupation doesn’t always take her best interest at heart. Daqi takes it upon himself to protect his long lost love, despite her marriage to another man, forcing him to risk all that he has for something he has lost. The film’s narrative actually shares a great deal with Casablanca, but this does not help the film’s uneven editing.


    The Blu-ray release includes a making-of featurette and a trailer.



    Entertainment Value: 7/10

    Quality of Filmmaking: 6.5/10

    Historical Significance: 5/10

    Disc Features: 5/10



    War of the Buttons Blu-ray Review

  • Actors: Jean Texier, Ilona Bachelier
  • Director: Christophe Barratier
  • Format: NTSC
  • Language: French
  • Rated: PG-13
  • Studio: ANCHOR BAY
  • DVD Release Date: September 17, 2013
  • Run Time: 87 minutes


            War of the Buttons could have made a lovely little coming of age film, had it been set during any other time period. Instead, it is a strange movie which doesn’t exist in reality while trying to tackle serious issues. Even the humor found in Life is Beautiful was not at the expense of the gravity in the situation, but the Holocaust is a mere story contrivance in War of the Buttons. There appears no attempt to show an accurate depiction, while the film’s narrative is weighed down on the insistence that it be central to the story.


            War of the Buttons comes from filmmaker Christophe Barratier (The Chorus), who once again returns to the classroom for much of the film’s structure. The teacher is played by Guillaume Canet, though the film’s protagonist is class clown and leader, Lebrac (Jean Texier). Lebrac leads the rest of the boys in his class in a war against boys from an opposing village, with buttons being the ultimate sign of conquest.


            The story is adapted from the novel by Louis Pergaud, which has previously been adapted several times, including another adaptation set in the 1960s which was also released in 2011, and one set in Ireland from 1994. The elements of Nazi-France within the story simply feel out of place amongst the other issues the children are facing, despite all the best efforts to blend them together.


            The DVD includes a making-of featurette, as well as deleted scenes and a blooper reel. 


    Entertainment Value: 7.5/10

    Quality of Filmmaking: 6/10

    Historical Significance: 5/10

    Disc Features: 6/10



    Two Men in Manhattan Blu-ray Review

  • Actors: Jean-Pierre Melville, Pierre Grasset
  • Director: Jean-Pierre Melville
  • Format: Blu-ray, NTSC
  • Language: French
  • Subtitles: English
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Rated: Not Rated
  • Studio: Cohen Media Group
  • Release Date: September 17, 2013
  • Run Time: 84 minutes

  • This lesser known classic from Jean-Pierre Melville was a turning point in the career of the famed French New Wave filmmaker. Although Two Men in Manhattan (Deux Hommes dans Manhattan) was considered a failure at the time, it must have been one which had a great impact on the filmmaker because he was met with intense national success in the films that followed this one. At the time Two Men in Manhattan may not have been widely appreciated, but it is one of those buried gems that now appear ahead of their time.


            The film takes place over the course of a night in Manhattan as a journalist searches for a missing French diplomat. Melville stars as Moreau, the man given the task of hunting down French UN delegate Fèvre-Berthier, a man infamous for his many extramarital affairs. Utilizing the seedy nature of his photographer friend, Delmas (Pierre Grasset), Moreau is able to track down each of the delegate’s mistresses.


            Much of the film is Melville and Grasset driving around a beautifully photographed New York City, all the while making clever conversation with each other. As they drive from beautiful woman to the next, they are followed by a mysterious car. The end result of this evening search provides an opportunity which may be too tempting for the bottom-feeder photographer, a type which would later come to be known as paparazzi.


            Two Men in Manhattan is significant because of the manner in which it was filmed, with many real locations and on a low budget. This style would come to be defined as French New Wave, but Melville was more than just a footnote in film history’s stylistic approaches; he was a lover of cinema and Two Men in Manhattan is an entertaining movie, first and foremost.


            The Blu-ray features include a conversation between critics Jonathan Rosenbaum and Ignatiy Vishnevetsky and the booklet has a new essay from Melville scholar, Ginette Vincendeau.


    Entertainment Value: 7/10

    Quality of Filmmaking: 8.5/10

    Historical Significance: 8/10

    Disc Features: 7/10




    Shanghai Calling DVD Review

  • Actors: Daniel Henney, Eliza Coupe, Alan Ruck, Bill Paxton, Zhu Zhu
  • Director: Daniel Hsia
  • Format: Color, NTSC, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Rated: PG-13 
  • Studio: ANCHOR BAY
  • DVD Release Date: September 17, 2013
  • Run Time: 101 minutes

  •         Shanghai Calling is a lighthearted romantic comedy with an original premise. There are not many surprises within the screenplay, but the genre doesn’t require there to be. All that is necessary is the romance and a moderate amount of laugh-inducing jokes. Shanghai Calling never completely delivers on either, but despite minimal romantic chemistry between cast members and jokes which are lucky if they are mildly amusing, I found myself entertained for the film’s 101 minute running time.


            One of the film’s more difficult storytelling techniques is the voice-over narrator which opens and closes the film. It doesn’t quite fit, not to mention the jarring feeling that the narrator’s return causes after being absent a majority of the picture. The supporting character Awesome Wang (Geng Le) is the narrator, telling the story of a New York attorney sent to China for business. Sam Chao (Daniel Henney) is American, but his Chinese nationality makes him an ignorantly obvious choice when his firm needs someone in Shanghai.


            The fish-out-of-water narrative is given extra punch with a character everyone assumes will fit in because of his appearance. Sam doesn’t speak the language, but a blonde relocation specialist (Eliza Coupe) is able to despite her deceiving looks. Their romance is meant to be at the center of the film, but whether it is lacking chemistry or too many other sub-plots, this romance never seems entirely believable. The film co-stars Bill Paxton and Alan Ruck.


            The DVD includes a behind-the-scenes featurette.




    Entertainment Value: 7/10

    Quality of Filmmaking: 5/10

    Historical Significance: 3/10

    Disc Features: 4/10