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Love Don't Live Here No More: Book One of Doggy Tales

Not even remotely interesting.

This book is a typical ghetto tale. Poor kid, raised by a single mom, religious family, kid has early sexual awakening, gets mixed with the wrong crowd, gets mixed up in drugs, starts using drugs, starts selling drugs, graduates from marijuana to heroin, then his mentor in the drug trade gets killed in his own game. Sound familiar? It should be. This is a very common story often heard about the average African-American. It's boring because we've heard it all before, because this type of story isn't fiction. It's real.

The challenge here is to tell a tale that no one has ever heard before, or at least tell a tale in a way that's never been done before. This story fails on both counts. Apparently, there is truth in the old saying "Too many cooks spoil the broth," as Snoop Dogg seems to have kept a leash on David Talbert's creativity. Talbert is an award-winning playwright, also a filmmaker and television producer. There is no denying that both Snoop and Talbert are artists, but it's clear that it's Snoop's story, and Talbert is merely the scribe. And in the effort to tell it ghetto-style, the way Snoop wants it, Talbert sacrificed literary value over historical accuracy.

Again, this book is a waste of time. This will be one of those works which Talbert would just like to bury in his closet. This is just Book One, but I'm not really interested in reading the rest.

Rating: One and a half stars.


U2 3D

The title is incomplete. It should have an exclamation point. It should be U2 3D! Because this is not just a movie, it's a SHOW.

U2 3D is a cinematic masterpiece. If you disagree with me, then you probably haven't seen the film.

There are two 3D concert films released in 2008, U2 3D and Hannah Montana and Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert. In terms of cinematic excellence, U2 3D wins hands down. Of course, one was produced by Disney, the other by National Geographic, so it's easy to guess which is the more serious film.

The whole movie is a work of art, and it will go down in history as a landmark film. Pre-production was well-planned, as the shots were designed to maximize the power of 3D technology. In 3D, the secret is depth. The full glory of 3D is realized when you have a distinct foreground, middleground, and background existing seamlessly in separate layers, giving the viewer one mind-blowing sensory experience. And every shot in the movie was designed to give maximum depth.

Now the production stage, which is, in essence, the whole performance, is a combination of several gigs from the 2006 Vertigo tour. Larry Mullen, Jr. on drums is a trip to behold, as the whole drum set shifts in perspective when the camera rotates around him. Adam Clayton plays the bassist with mystique, spitting out the steadiest chops in the world today. The Edge shreds out his trademark riffs, but probably changed guitars as many times as Queen Amidala changed wardrobes in Episode 1. You will admire the band for the excellent music, and you will admire Bono for...for just being Bono. All his advocacies, his political beliefs, and all that he preaches---these are part of him now. There's no separating them. So trust Bono to inject his messages every opportunity he gets, which, surprisingly, is not annoying in any way. That's because he preaches without any intent on personal gain. He wasn't nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for nothing.

But talking about the cinematic aspects of the production, one can't help but praise the effort put in to making sure that several elements, not just one, are utilized in a single shot. Thus you have camera movement, light and shadow, color, and composition all working together to enhance the 3D experience. Also quite noticeable is how the directors loved inserting the microphone stand in the foreground; in traditional 2D cinema, this is a no-no, as the mic stand is actually an obstruction to the subject. But in 3D, the mic stand adds depth, which will make you raise your hand and attempt to touch it.

What can you say about post production except that it was done by wizards? This film could be a possible Oscar contender for Best Editing. It experiments with simple editing techniques, like the seemingly ordinary cross-dissolve or superimposition, which in fact gives a totally different effect when rendered in 3D. Where the shots do not show much depth, the directors compensate by dissolving it with several layers of images, creating a more effective illusion of depth. Also, the film not only has 3D visuals, it also has 3D sound. The sound engineering was a work of art in itself (again, another Oscar contender), combining the music, the crowd, and the atmosphere to produce a very realistic concert experience.

Now I have already seen 3D films before this, but not on the big screen. Watching 3D films on a small screen will just make you feel like you're hallucinating. But watching 3D on a thirty foot-high screen---now that's the way 3D is supposed to be seen. U2 may not realize it, but it has actually stumbled upon the solution to piracy: give the audience an out-of-this world experience. They plan to market 3D technology for home use, but I say NO. I say keep 3D technology within the theaters. The viewers will only flock to the movie theaters if it can offer them something that home video cannot. And the U2 3D experience will set the standard for the ultimate cinematic theater experience.

Rating: Masterpiece.

One of the most important things I learned in film school is that the credits are part of the film. It is actually correct to stay in your seat until the credits stop rolling. That's why the filmmakers made sure to include animated graphics against the rolling text, to make the names stand out on a separate layer, thus stretching the 3D experience till the very end. With that said, please, do NOT turn on the lights while the credits are still onscreen. That's like telling us, "Get out of the theater, show's over," when in fact it isn't. That is just totally uncool.

And like I mentioned earlier, 3D is the future of moviegoing. It is a unique and exhilirating sensory experience created by man, to be enjoyed by the entire human race. Every human being should have the right to see a 3D film. The problem is, not every human being can afford it. So, after your regular theatrical run, wait a few months, then just before the Christmas season, release the movie again, but this time, charge only P150 for the ticket. That way, even the average working man who is actually a fan of U2 will finally be able to see them. You would get more groups watching together, which would create a more concert-like atmosphere, which in turn would result in more ticket sales. Don't worry about profits---even Bono didn't have that on his mind. Once you give the ordinary folks a dose of what 3D cinema is, they'll understand why it's so expensive, then they'd be willing to save up to watch a really good 3D film next time. By that time you would have jacked up the prices back to the way they were. Everybody's happy and everybody gets to see U2.


American Gangster

Are we not tired of titles that begin with "American-this" and "American-that"?

We had American Pie, American Beauty, American History X...they've probably come up with all the possible titles. So how does this film differ from the rest?

First things first: it's directed by Ridley Scott. That's Sir Ridley Scott to you. That should be enough for those film buffs out there.

Second, it has Russell Crowe in it. Any movie with Russell Crowe in it is definitely worth watching. Not because it's Russell Crowe, but because Mr. Crowe is a bit finicky about the scripts he accepts. He only accepts the good roles, and so if he's in it, there's a huge chance that the movie doesn't suck.

Third, Denzel is in it. I don't even have to say his last name. Just "Denzel". Now that's two Oscar winners in front of the camera, and a three-time Oscar nominee at the helm.

Now speaking of Oscars, Ridley Scott has yet to win one, like his brother Tony, but undoubtedly the brothers are one of the best directors on the planet. They don't do movies together like the Wachowskis or the Coens, which is actually a good thing, because you get two distinct yet similar styles of filmmaking.

Sir Ridley is an excellent storyteller, and he can make a complicated gangster narrative as simple as a bedtime story told by your grandfather. His shots are well-framed, the actions well-executed and delivered perfectly, and the cinematography is just beautiful. The photography actually tries to mimic the look of the old seventies films, and coupled with great costumes and brilliant production design, this film just takes you right back.

However, a word of caution: do not watch this film if you want to see an acting showdown between two Hollywood giants. Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe share screen time only toward the end of the movie (the last twenty minutes of an almost three-hour picture). Also, the real-life characters portrayed in the movie have complained of gross inaccuracies in the film, calling it one percent reality and ninety-nine percent Hollywood. But once you get past that, it's a cinematic work of art.

Rating: Five stars.

Click on this link to read the New York magazine article which was the basis for this film: http://nymag.com/nymag/features/3649/



What can you do with just two actors?

Apparently, a lot, especially if both actors are as talented as Michael Caine and Jude Law.

Now, a feature-length movie with only two actors will immediately come off as an art film, like it or not. People are just not used to having two characters in a narrative.

The storytelling is clear, without the need for a third character to add dimension to the story. Apparently, the script has been well-planned to the last detail, so that no additional character was necessary.

What is amusing is the exchange between Michael Caine and Jude Law, showing us the depth of their acting skills. Most of the time, you can sense how effortless this is for both actors, who are engaged in an acting joust for basically the whole duration of the film, neither one breaking a sweat. Talk about talent.

Anyway, movies like this are not really known for making big draws at the box office, but they go down in the filmmakers's list of favorite art films. Who can define what an art film is anyway? It's just a term coined to refer to films that are too high-brow for the average intellect. But Sleuth isn't trying to be intellectual at all. The only problem is that the simplicity of it all, using only two actors and one location, will sometimes make the audience think that there's something more that they're probably not getting.

Michael Caine plus Jude Law equals one heck of an acting challenge. And these two were able to pull it off beautifully.

Rating: Four stars.



Confronted with a choice between The Other Boleyn Girl and Semi-Pro, I just asked myself, "Do I want to leave the theater happy or disturbed?"

Seems that I made the right choice, for Semi-Pro will have you laughing literally from the opening credits. People might find Will Ferrell's brand of comedy a little off-color, but he is at any rate the funniest man on the planet right now. To be more precise, the funniest man in Hollywood. Americans just like to think that Hollywood means the entire planet.

Anyway, continuing the tradition of Blades of Glory, Ferrell once again relives his sports fantasies, this time in a sport he really plays. Woody Harrelson spices things up as Monix, the NBA-washout who got traded for a washing machine. Andre Benjamin doesn't deliver as much laughs as Will and Woody, but he does a good job nevertheless.

With the music, the wardrobe, and the hairstyles, it's a retro-fest, and the old school basketball jerseys provide the cherry on top. Those short shorts weren't enough to hide Will Ferrell's thighs while shooting the final free throw.

So before seeing this movie, just ask yourself if you want to leave the theater laughing. Because I did.

Rating: Three and a half stars.


Horton Hears a Who

This is the first ever adaptation of a Dr. Seuss book fully animated with digital technology. This probably is the Seuss adaptation that comes closest to what the author's intention was. At least visually.

Blue Sky Studios has improved from their Ice Age-days, where the only thing they got perfect back then was computer-generated hair. In Horton, the polygons have all disappeared, giving the characters a rounder, more stream-lined look. But still, Blue Sky is no match for Pixar. But that's another story.

Jim Carrey is funny as Horton, while I personally find Steve Carell's wisecracks a bit corny. And honestly, I am a bit tired with the Hollywood practice of getting big names to do voices for animated films. What happened to geniuses like Mel Blanc, who did all the voices for Looney Tunes? Cartoon voicing is an art, and most of the Hollywood actors right now don't have that talent. It's kind of sickening to see an animated character open his mouth with a voice you recognize. They don't even try to change their inflection.

Anyway, that is just my take on the animated film industry in general. But this specific film called Horton Hears a Who is a great work, and it has done justice to the great author, whose other works have been cannibalized by the previous big screen adaptations.

Rating: Four stars.

Trivia: The first animated film to use an all-star voice cast was, believe it or not, Transformers: The Movie, released way back in 1986. This was way, way before Robin Williams lent his voice as the Genie in Disney's Aladdin.


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