‘Backbeat’ tells little known story of the Beatles and original bandmate, Stuart Sutcliff

[rating=2]Starring: Sheryl Lee, Stephen Dorff, Ian Hart
Director(s): Iain Softley
Writer(s): Iain Softley, Michael Thomas, Stephen Ward

Ian Hart (left) is John Lennon and Stephen Dorff is Stuart Sutcliff in 'Backbeat'
Ian Hart (left) is John Lennon and Stephen Dorff is Stuart Sutcliff in ‘Backbeat’

The story of the Beatles is probably one of the most often examined tales in rock and roll history. Yet throughout that history, one story was left behind, as it happened before they became famous.

Stuart Sutcliff was the band’s first bass guitarist, and left the band shortly before they rocketed to stardom. But before he could witness just how famous his former bandmates would become, Sutcliff died of a massive brain hemorrhage.

For the first time his story was told in 1993’s Backbeat, a somewhat slow but interesting film. This isn’t really a great film, nor is it the pseudo-bio pic of the Beatles that one might expect from it. The story is about Sutcliff, his love affair with a German photographer, and his friendship with John Lennon.

Read more‘Backbeat’ tells little known story of the Beatles and original bandmate, Stuart Sutcliff

‘Battle Royale’ (Batoru rowaiaru) is a great fight flick worth a view… but just once

[rating=2]Starring: Tatsuya Fujiwara, Aki Maeda, Taro Yamamoto, Takeshi
Director(s): Kinji Fukasaku
Writer(s): Kenta Fukasaku

Things get bloody in 'Battle Royale' (Batoru rowaiaru)
Things get bloody in ‘Battle Royale’ (Batoru rowaiaru)

Battle Royale, originally released in 2000 in Japan, is a harsh action film with a little horror and comedy mixed in. Featuring a cast of teenage classmates who are forced to kill each other, this film could almost never be popular in the United States with its series of recent classroom shootings. Battle Royale depicts images of a somewhat untouchable topic, putting the responsibility on the adults and government in a kind of reality TV setting. This movie is harsh, graphic, and gory at times, but actually succeeds in making this disturbing topic light hearted and cartoonish. It’s almost like something out of an old Warner Bros. cartoon where Daffy inadvertently blows himself up, trying to off Bugs.

Read more‘Battle Royale’ (Batoru rowaiaru) is a great fight flick worth a view… but just once

Going for the Gold: This Year’s Major Oscar Picks

It’s a given that every year Hollywood will roll out its red carpet and pat itself on the back. But don’t expect anyone to come onstage at the Kodak Theatre on Sunday night’s Academy Awards telecast covering Sinatra’s “It Was A Very Good Year;” it wasn’t.

Remember 1972, when Francis Ford Coppola redefined cinematic storytelling with the haunting family saga The Godfather, only to face off against one of the great movie musicals in Bob Fosse’s Cabaret? That was a good year. Remember 1993, when Oscar also-ran Steven Spielberg finally took home gold? All he had to do was release the highest-grossing film of all time (Jurassic Park) and the year’s most acclaimed picture (Schindler’s List). That was a good year. 2004 had some high points, but they still left Oscar voters to come up with lots of filler.

And bloat those ballots they did.

Read moreGoing for the Gold: This Year’s Major Oscar Picks

Disney’s ‘Bambi’ remains a stunning animation classic

[rating=4]Starring: Featuring the voices of Peter Behn, Paula Winslowe, Bobby Stewart, Cammie King, Donnie Dunagan, Hardie Albright, John Sutherland, Sam Edwards, Sterling Holloway, Ann Gillis
Director(s): David D. Hand
Writer(s): Perce Pearce and Larry Morey

Disney's classic 'Bambi' gets the DVD treatment
Disney’s classic ‘Bambi’ gets the DVD treatment

I believe the last time I had seen Bambi, I was five years old and saw it during a re-release or special screening. It was probably the first time I had seen the movie, as well. So, when I was sent the upcoming special edition DVD — which is set to hit stores on Tuesday — it was as if I was seeing the film for the first time.

First and foremost, I’ve repeatedly been impressed with the DVDs Disney has put out of its most treasured classics. They really are shining examples of how films should be released (and I’m not just saying that because I get advanced peaks at these DVDs). And this “platinum edition” of Bambi is probably the single best release of a classic Disney film yet.

Read moreDisney’s ‘Bambi’ remains a stunning animation classic

Jamie Foxx makes ‘Ray’ a stunning success

[rating=4]Starring: Jamie Foxx, Kerry Washington, Clifton Powell, Harry Lennix, Terrene Dashon Howard, Larenz Tate, Richard Schiff, Regina King, Curtis Armstrong
Director(s): Taylor Hackford
Writer(s): Story by Taylor Hackford and James L. White; Screenplay by James L. White

Jamie Foxx is 'Ray'
Jamie Foxx is ‘Ray’

There aren’t exactly that many biopics that I really enjoy. Partially because they aren’t done well, but also because they tend to take too many licenses with the truth. But with Ray we’re given a surprisingly honest film that doesn’t appear to pull any punches. It’s Ray Charles, warts and all, and in the end you may not necessarily like the man, but you cannot leave without respecting his genius.

I’m not sure this is the greatest film I’ve ever seen, but if ever there was a movie that was carried by the performance of its star, than Ray is it. With stunning ability, Jamie Foxx expertly disappears into the part. You forget the actor and feel that you are witnessing a young Ray Charles slamming away gracefully at the piano.

Read moreJamie Foxx makes ‘Ray’ a stunning success

Hayao Miyazaki’s ‘Spirited Away’ is incredibly beautiful and detailed animation

[rating=3]Starring: Daveigh Chase, Jason Marsden, Lauren Holly, Michael Chiklis (English language version)
Director(s): Hayao Miyazaki
Writer(s): Hayao Miyazaki

Hayao Miyazaki's 'Spirited Away'
Hayao Miyazaki’s ‘Spirited Away’

Much as Japanese film director Akira Kurosawa was the Jedi Master of the film school dojo attended by filmmakers Steven Speilberg, George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola in the seventies, Hayao Miyazaki is the Yoda for the modern American animators at Disney and Pixar. John Lasseter, the director of Toy Story introduces Spirited Away on DVD. Lasseter declares his admiration for Miyazaki, a true auteur of animation, who writes, directs and storyboards all of his feature films from start to finish at his own Studio Ghibli outside of Tokyo, Japan. If you loved Finding Nemo and The Incredibles, then you shouldn’t miss Spirited Away, an animated classic, on DVD.

Read moreHayao Miyazaki’s ‘Spirited Away’ is incredibly beautiful and detailed animation

‘Musa’ is an amazing, big budget Korean swordplay film

[rating=4]Starring: Woo-sung Jung, Sung-kee Ahn, Rongguang Yu, Ziyi Zhang, Yong-woo Park, Jeong-hak Park
Director(s): Sung-su Kim
Writer(s): Sung-su Kim

'Musa' (The Warrior)
‘Musa’ (The Warrior)

Musa, originally released in 2001, is an amazing, big budget Korean swordplay film with big name actors set in China during the Ming Dynasty. Musa sets itself apart from the likes of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Hero with its realistic and historically accurate story. The film serves as a platform to talk about cultural differences, class clashes, and warrior kinship, but also packs a huge punch with amazing actions scenes, great acting, and an interesting story.

Musa follows a Korean diplomatic envoy sent with warrior guards and slave servants to help settle differences with China. The diverse group fails to make it to their designated city for talks and ends up headed back to Korea.

Read more‘Musa’ is an amazing, big budget Korean swordplay film

‘Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle’ is NOT a typical stoner film

John Cho and Kal Penn get high in 'Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle'
John Cho and Kal Penn get high in ‘Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle’

[rating=3]Starring: Kal Penn, John Cho, Paula Garces, Fred Willard, Neil Patrick Harris, Anthony Anderson
Director(s): Danny Leiner
Writer(s): Jon Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg

On the surface Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle is a typical stoner film. On Friday night two twenty-something guys smoke themselves into a wicked case of the munchies, and decide that the only solution is to scarf down as many burgers and fries as it takes to appease their hunger. The catch? The burgers have to be from White Castle, a fast food chain famous for teeny tiny burgers called sliders. Luckily there’s one not far from their New Jersey apartment. Or, there used to be . . .

Read more‘Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle’ is NOT a typical stoner film

‘The Motorcycle Diaries’ is a beautifully told story that charts a young Che Guevara

I have to confess, I am not really familiar with Che Guevara, the famous and infamous revolutionary. What little I know about him is what’s detailed in this film, Motorcycle Diaries, a beautifully told story that charts a young Che Guevara and his friend, Alberto Granado, as they journey through several South American countries in the early 1950s.

Read more‘The Motorcycle Diaries’ is a beautifully told story that charts a young Che Guevara