Iron Man 3

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Ahh, the start of the summer movie season. This is when the Superheroes come out to play. Fans get in line early for these big-budget, star-studded, action-packed films to add to their collection of “have-seen” movies so they can go talk amongst themselves of what went right, what went wrong, and speculation on what the next installment will bring. Tony Stark and the rest of the “Iron Man 3” gang made their debut this weekend, and with great hope from moviegoers all over the globe. I got to the theater and came to a very crowded (to be expected) theater, even for the 10:20 showing. Families put aside bedtime, and date night seemed to center on this film. Squished between popcorn eating, Coca-Cola sipping fans, the lights dimmed, and the movie began.

Okay, now that we are through the opening description of the epic summer movie season, here is my brief synopsis of this film. Tony Stark (aka Iron Man) (Robert Downey, Jr.) is faced with his greatest threat to date, with the terrorist, the Mandarin, sorta kinda played by Ben Kingsley (I won’t go any further than that). There is a threat placed on America, and Iron Man is followed by the press, as usual. He has had enough of dealing with a “coward” as he calls him, so Tony calls out the Mandarin on live television. He goes as far as to give him his home address, inviting a fight. And the fight does come. Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), a previous associate of both Tony and Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow) comes back into their lives and he does so having performed a great deal of research on cell regeneration, something he uses to his advantage, and something he tries to drag both of them into. Pepper comes into great danger, and Tony must do all he can to save the one thing he says “he can’t live without”.

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I never know quite how to comment on a third film in a series, because I like for a series to be done in three films, and comment on the third by placing a nice bow on my thoughts, but as the film states in the credits, “Tony Stark will be back”. So, I will refrain from my “this is the end of a great trilogy” comments. The fact is, this is a fun film, although I thought there were some weird plot choices, especially when it came to the Mandarin. Although trailers are often misleading, I was excited to see what this boss, played by the excellent Ben Kingsley would do. So, that was a letdown. We struggle with Tony Stark through a lot of his personal trials. He experiences a series of panic attacks resulting from the events in New York (from “The Avengers“) where he nearly died. His relationship with Pepper is a centerpiece to this film as well. We already know that they are in love, but this sheds a lot more light on how much Pepper truly means to him. That is a feature of some of these Superhero movies that I like. I enjoy the human aspect, which is one reason “The Dark Knight” series is my favorite of this genre.

Guy Pearce has a large role in this film, and really should have been featured more in the marketing for this film. But, having seen it now, it does make sense why they would make the choice to divert your attention away from his character. I struggled a little bit with his characters direction, and his motivation for doing what he does. But I do tend to have that issue with a lot of the villains that I come across in my movie-watching. Of course it is all about power, and a lot of times about money, and maybe a little bit of jealousy and revenge. I just hoped for some more depth in his character.

This is not a bad start to the summer movie season. There is a lot to like about this film, but I can’t say that this is my favorite even of this series. The first installment of the “Iron Man” series is without a doubt, the best. The second, I won’t even comment on, but to say that it is not a part of my personal film collection for a reason. If you’re up for a good time, then this film will do the job.

 

– David B. Harrington

42

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Sports holds in its annals some of the most inspiring events in human history. The story of Jackie Robinson stands on its own as a story of immense courage, and illustrates how one person truly can make a change, and see that change through much tribulation.

Brian Helgeland (A Knights Tale) does not have a Directorial resume to stand up to any big-time Hollywood Director, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything. Taking on a project like this, and telling the story of such an important individual is, in my opinion, a gutsy move. But Helgeland handled it well. He created what may very well be the best picture of the year so far. The story follows, of course, Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) who plays baseball in the negro leagues. He is recruited by Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford), an executive for the Brooklyn Dodgers, to try out for the Montreal Royals, a farm team to the Brooklyn Dodgers. He makes the team and is eventually picked up by the Dodgers after he proves himself. Along the way, Robinson proposes to his girlfriend, Rachel (Nicole Beharie) who accepts. Robinson faces immense opposition as he is the only colored player in a league of white men. Branch sticks with his guy, offering encouragement when needed. Eventually, Robinson comes to gain the respect of his teammates, and is key to their clinching the National League Pennant for the 1947 season.

I could name a few sports films that I like better than this, but rest assured that “42” deserves some respect. Harrison Ford is on top of his game (no pun intended) in his role as Branch Rickey. He has a few really key scenes in the film that are crucial to the growth of Robinson in becoming the player he was. Boseman, who has done a lot of work in television, and is a relatively unknown actor was wonderful in his role as Jackie Robinson. He really embraced what Robinson was all about. The emotion that he displays on screen, especially when he was being harassed by Manager Ben Chapman (Alan Tudyk) of the Philadelphia Phillies was gripping. Robinson was not only superhuman in the way that he played the game, but he was superhuman in how he handled the opposition he faced in becoming a part of the game. Beharie is perfect in the role of Rachel Robinson. She didn’t take the role over the top, which I feel like she easily could have done, given the circumstances her character is put in. She is a solid support system for her husband, who looks to her regularly for support. Andre Holland who plays Wendell Smith, a reporter out of Detroit plays a crucial role as well. He asks Robinson at one point if he knows why he has to sit in the stands with his typewriter on his lap. He states that it is because he is not allowed in the press box because of the color of his skin, and reiterates to Robinson that he is fighting for a lot more than just himself.

I found it interesting that the number 42 is the only number ever to be retired in Major League Baseball. Robinson deserves the recognition that he has been given. He changed the game of baseball, and helped propel forward equality amongst human beings, a battle that is still being fought today. This was a wonderful film that should not be missed, whether you are a fan of baseball or not. Well done.

 

– David B. Harrington

Evil Dead (2013)

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The poster for this film very boldly states that this is “The most terrifying film you will ever experience”. I don’t know that my horror education has led me to believe that this is the most terrifying film I have ever experienced, but it may very well be the goriest. Fede Alvarez leaves very little to the imagination in his 2013 revamp of Sam Raimi’s “Evil Dead”. The film follows five friends who join one another at a remote cabin where one of them is trying to kick a drug habit. Her brother, who hasn’t been around much over the years, comes out as a part of the group to help her out. She literally throws her stash down into a well and declares that she is going cold turkey. She quickly acts out, and her friends think that she is experiencing withdrawals from the drug addiction, but the soon find out that it is much more than that. An ancient book of evil has been unearthed, and the five at the cabin soon face that evil head on when one of the five summons the evil by reciting some of the book’s contents.

I grew up on classic horror. Aside from the older Bela Lugosi section of the genre, my education came from Kubrick, Craven, Carpenter, and Raimi just to name a few. I don’t know that there is a lot of originality left in storytelling and filmmaking, as much as there is re-inventing. That is what takes place here. This film does not have as much of the campy feel that its predecessor boasted, but rather displays more of a shock factor, and a somewhat more well thought out story. There are several scenes in this film that will leave even the most seasoned horror fan questioning if they should have eaten just before viewing it. Alvarez wanted to stay away from CGI and give the viewer a lot more intense, realistic experience. I shudder when I say that he achieved that at a very high level. I am going to stay away from spoilers in this review, and let you (if it’s your thing) go see this for yourself.

My cousin (whom I went and saw the film with) offered up a really interesting interpretation to the story. Mia (Jane Levy) who is kicking her drug habit, shows all the signs of addiction to her drug. She shows signs of hope, and definite signs of withdrawal, and throughout the film we see this progression through her desired change. As a part of the process (as with any drug user trying to kick the habit) she literally faces her demons, and has to conquer those before she can truly be free. It makes perfect sense if you watch the film from this perspective. The original film does not take this approach, and we don’t get a lot of backstory on this book of evil like we do this time around. If you are a fan of the original, there is a fun tidbit to wait for after the credits.

While I appreciate some of the elements of this film, including a new way to present this story, I don’t know that I can say I liked it. It’s akin to a really bad car accident in that what you are seeing is making you sick, but you can’t look away. This one belongs to the die hard horror film addicts. And that is just fine.

 

– David B. Harrington

Snitch

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Ric Roman Waugh is essentially nonexistent at this point as a Director in Hollywood, and has certainly not made a solid name for himself. “Snitch” is Waugh’s next chapter in his career, as he takes the reins on a story based on true events. The film features John Matthews (Dwayne Johnson), a father of a kid (Rafi Gavron) who is busted by the cops for intent to distribute when he accepts and opens a package from a courier filled with drugs. He received the package from a friend and swears he had no intent to do anything with the drugs and was in fact set up. Jason (Gavron) is sent to prison, and is facing a term of 10-30 years. His father does not want to see this happen to his son, as he has complete belief in him and his innocence.

John decides to take matters into his own hands. He speaks with Joanne Keeghan (Susan Sarandon), the prosecuting attorney to strike a deal to get his son out of prison. She agrees that if Jason gives up some names in the drug business that she will reduce his sentence. Jason has no names to give, so John asks Joanne if she will agree to shorten his son’s sentence if he is able to help them make some arrests. She agrees, and John goes undercover to work with the drug dealers linked to the drug supply. John works with one of his employees at his trucking business who is an ex-con, to get an introduction to the drug dealers. What ensues is not only an introduction to the local drug dealers, but a direct path to the head of the drug cartel.

 

Dwayne Johnson’s performance leaves a lot to be desired, as usual. That being said, this was definitely his type of role. I would have bought more into his role as concerned parent if his dialogue wasn’t so horrible. He isn’t as much of a tough guy in this movie as in others, but it is what it is. There is some entertainment value here. I do like Barry Pepper as Agent Cooper who is in the shadows of John’s undercover job, calling the shots.

I would compare this movie to the overall pace and flavor of “Contraband” with Mark Wahlberg, who tries to help his Brother-in-Law who gets in deep as a drug runner. Again, there is some entertainment value there, but not much else. This movie might not be the worst action movie, but I would still wait for Red Box on this one if you want to check it out.

 

– David B. Harrington

A Good Day to Die Hard

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The ever-popular “Die Hard” franchise adds another piece to its collection of explosions and gunfights with John Moore at the helm, in “A Good Day to Die Hard“. This film finds John McClane (Bruce Willis) travelling to Russia to find his son, Jack McClane (Jai Courtney) who is in Russia as a spy for the CIA, unbeknownst to his father, who is there simply to bring him home. Jack is in the middle of a battle to intercept a heist for nuclear weapons. John is viewed as an annoyance to his kid until they discover that they make a pretty good team, and start taking out bad guys one by one.

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What you see is what you get with this film, and maybe even a little less. Even for this action franchise, this one fell short of what I would have liked to have seen. The first film as well as the last (“Live Free or Die Hard“) both brought a lot of fun to the franchise, and are really the only two strong pieces. This film fell in love with itself and forgot what it actually is, a very mediocre action film. The dialogue was horrendous at times, and the action very much something we have seen time and again.

The relationship between John and his son is obviously bad, but we are constantly reminded of this through cliche phrases and actions. Jack is constantly cursing out his father for being there, and messing with his plans, while John is trying to mend his relationship with his son.  They go back and forth with sarcastic remarks about being in the situation they are in. John is constantly saying something to the effect of “I’m supposed to be on vacation”. It all gets really old really fast.

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There were some decent action sequences, but we were given nothing we haven’t seen before. But maybe that was the direction of this film to begin with, to give viewers more nonsense to chew on until the next film outdated and overused action move comes out.

**SPOILER ALERT**

There was an attempt at an intense side plot that just did not work. Komarov, a political prisoner has a partnership with his daughter to take nuclear weapons. We are led to believe at first reunion between him and his daughter, Irina (Yuliya Snigir), that she has betrayed him and sided with the bad guys to use her father to get access to the weapons. Then, come to find out, Komarov and his daughter were in it together the whole time, and try and take over in Chernobyl where the weapons are hidden. John and Jack have other plans, and blow the whole place to Kingdom Come.

I was fine with the 12 year gap between the third and fourth film, because a great film was added to this collection of action movies. At this point, it is really getting old, and needs to stop, unless they are going to bring something we have never seen before (unlikely at best). Do yourself a favor, and save two hours and go read a book and pray that this franchise dies here.

– David B. Harrington

Side Effects

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Steven Soderberg (Ocean’s Eleven, Contagion) takes the wheel in his latest Directorial effort in this Crime/Drama/Thriller featuring Rooney Mara (The Social Network, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), Jude Law (Sherlock Holmes, Gattaca), Catherine Zeta-Jones (Playing for Keeps, Rock of Ages), and Channing Tatum (Magic Mike, Fighting).

Side Effects” follows Emily Taylor (Mara) who is a heavily depressed individual. Her husband, Martin (Tatum) has just been released from prison for some shady business deals he took part in. They are trying to put their lives back together. In the meantime, Emily has an episode of dangerous behavior and begins seeing Dr. Banks (Law) who works through some of the behavior she has been experiencing. He learns that she has had a history with another Psychiatrist, Dr. Siebert (Zeta-Jones). As Emily and Dr. Banks work through some of her issues, he finds it necessary to prescribe some medications so that she can better handle her sleepwalking, and mood swings, which have become an issue big enough to require close attention. What ensues takes all involved by storm, and the side effects of Emily’s medication may cost her her freedom and maybe even her life.

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There are enough twists and turns in this plot to dizzy even the most frequent of movie-goer. Rooney Mara absolutely commands your attention as the secrets of her life unravel, and she deals with the impact of her decisions. She has an intoxicating impact on the viewer as she completely sells the inner workings of the mind of a highly troubled individual. This role reminded me, at moments, of her amazing performance as Lisbeth in “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo“. Not all actors can hold that kind of control over such a long period of time. There are moments when you don’t believe in what they are going through. That is not the case here.

Emily’s interaction with her Psychiatrists is complicated, to say the least. It makes the viewer question the motive of people who practice this kind of work. I am not suggesting that this film begs the viewer to question their own doctors, but it is nonetheless, an interesting question to pose as we live in a highly medicated society.

The rest of the cast offer something noteworthy, but are most definitely sidelined by Mara’s performance. The story worked well for me, and at times, I was taken by surprise with different twists in the plot. The end of the film is a kind of fireworks show, in that it just doesn’t quit. We get hit with revelation after revelation, which brought some important points forward. Soderbergh does a great job of getting the audience in the mind of the films characters. It brings on a a feeling of being under the influence of medication the way the viewer is never quite sure of what is happening, and what might happen next.

I always look forward to a good movie. This film is not for everybody, but it does offer some solid-enough performances (especially from Mara) and an interesting enough story to keep someone interested in this genre, scratching their head for a couple hours. For those people, this may be what the doctor prescribes.

 

– David B. Harrington

Identity Thief

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Every year promises an array of comedies at the theater. It seems to be a really saturated genre, so it can be hard to know what’s really worth seeing. I am a big fan of both Melissa McCarthy and Jason Bateman, so it was a no-brainer to go check out “Identity Thief“.

Diana (McCarthy) is our identity thief. She lives the high life off of other people’s credit cards and driver licenses. One day it catches up with her when she steals the identity of Sandy Peterson (Bateman). He finds out she has a court appearance she missed, and he is now targeted by the police. Sandy has to bring Diana to the police so that they can take her in, and file her for identity theft.

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Sandy takes a flight out to Florida where Diana is located, and tracks her down and thus the journey begins to bring her back to Colorado so that she can face the authorities and own up to what she has done. What ensues are a series of pretty ridiculous events.

There are more than a few laughs in this film as Diana and Sandy clash as they cross the country. I don’t want to provide any spoilers, but there is a lot of physical comedy by the two leads. It is a weird combination, but it works. They really play well off of one another, creating, in a weird way, almost a buddy comedy, even though one is dragging the other across the country to turn them in to the authorities. Although there are quite a few laughs, the film does seem to be a little self-glorified and repetitive in parts. Diana’s go-to move is to punch people in the throat which was funny the first time, but was definitely overused. I love that Melissa McCarthy is not afraid to put it all out there in terms of her comedic style. She is exhausting to watch, because she goes and goes like the Duracell Bunny Rabbit. She was phenomenal in “Bridesmaids“. Jason Bateman has really made a name for himself with this type of comedy. Seth Gordon (Director) also worked with him in “Horrible Bosses” which is another comedy worth watching. I enjoyed the bit parts from Jon Favreau, Eric Stonestreet, and Robert Patrick. I cannot say the same about T.I. who is an absolutely horrible actor.

Overall, I felt like this falls into the category of “Popcorn Movie”. It’s obvious that you are not going to find any award-winning performances here, but that is definitely not what they are shooting for. This film is a solid addition to the comedy genre. If this genre fits your taste, it is worth a view.

 

– David B. Harrington

Warm Bodies

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Zombie films have held a cult following for a long time. From “Night of the Living Dead” to “Zombieland“, there is a wide variety to choose from. Every once in a while a film comes along that re-imagines a genre in its own unique way. “Warm Bodies” does this for the Zombie brand.

Infused with comedy and romance, Jonathan Levine’s film tries to pull in a bit of Rom Com with the world of the flesh-eating living dead. R (Nicholas Hoult) is a Zombie who is struggling with being a Zombie. He wants more out of his existence than walking around, dead. He has friends that he almost has conversations with, which are more just a series of grunts. There are a band of humans, including Julie (Teresa Palmer) who are out to destroy the zombies. When R gets a look at Julie, he can’t help but actually feel for her. In fact, he develops so much feeling for her that his shouldn’t-be beating heart, starts beating again, and he begins to come back to life. Julie’s dad (John Malkovich) tries to convince her that the Zombie’s can’t feel, and they can’t heal themselves. Julie and R are out to prove him wrong.

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This was one of those films that I went into with low expectations. I love Zombie films, but was unsure of what I was headed into. I was, however, surprised when I came out of the theater discussing the film with my friends, all of us expressing a thumbs up review.

I felt at points that the film really slowed down almost to the point of boredom, but I think it was necessary. The characters of R and Julie develop through these times alone, talking with one another. It picks up in a few key moments when they are trying to escape from the humans as well as the Zombie counterparts (which are even more dead than they are) that are trying to eat the humans as well.

This film really found a niche that can’t be labeled with a genre, and that is part of the appeal. Although there are some scenes that may impact the squeamish, there is a good deal of comedy and romance as well, that will speak more to that audience. I won’t give any spoilers here, but I will say that this film is worth seeing.

 

– David B. Harrington

Silver Linings Playbook

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I love a wide range of films. You can find me watching action & adventure, horror, Scifi/Fantasy, but sometimes it is good to watch an honest, down-to-earth human drama. That is exactly what you get with David O. Russell’s “Silver Linings Playbook“. The story follows Pat (Bradley Cooper) who is making his exit from a mental institution. He moves back in with his parents and is dealing with the separation from his wife who cheated on him with a co-worker. He refuses to accept the fact that she is gone when he gets home. She has a restraining order against him, which is working against him psychologically. He is ordered to go to therapy, and to take his medications, which is also a struggle for him. He is set on the fact that things are going to work out with his wife.

Pat goes to dinner at a friends house. Him and his wife know Pat’s wife, and through this association, Pat sees a possibility of getting a hold of his wife. Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) is present at the dinner as well. She is dealing with the death of her husband, and is trying to move forward. Through the commonality of tough times, Pat and Tiffany start to bond. Slowly, but surely they begin to open up to one another. What ensues is both of them breaking down and essentially rebuilding one another to be able to deal with their past, and look forward to their future.

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I would not pick out Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence to co-star in a film together. It is not an obvious match. But watching this film, I can’t imagine any other two actors doing a better job together. This is a breakout role for each of them. They give such a raw performance, it is hard to not appreciate it when the film is finished. I loved Russell’s film “The Fighter” which was another really intense, emotional film.

I love the statement that this film makes, that we are all crazy, we all have a past, and we all have to move forward from that. To see Bradley Cooper in a role like this is great. I enjoy seeing actors get out of their comfort zone, and show us what they can do. He really portrayed that crazy mindset of someone who has essentially lost everything. He is forced to take a long look at himself, and question what he really wants. Tiffany really pushes him hard to do this. But what ends up happening is they both realize what a slave they are to their past, and the way they have been limiting themselves. They both wear wedding rings which is a visual representation of not being able to (or not allowing themselves to) move on.

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This film boasts a great supporting cast. Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver are wonderful as Pat’s parents. It is a very important aspect of the film to view the parent-child relationship, and the way they process what their son is going through. De Niro’s character is a bit of a crazy himself. He is very OCD, and overbearing, but through this process that his son is going through, I feel like he sees where some of his own faults exist as well.

I am not a big fan of the “Rom Com” genre, but this film breaks the walls down of those cliche, make you feel all warm and fuzzy type of romantic movies. I felt the same way when I saw “500 Days of Summer“. It is films like this that breathe life into a genre, although it cheapens this film to call it a Romantic Comedy. So, we’ll just call it a really great film, which it is. This film well deserves its nomination as Best Picture.

 

– David B. Harrington

 

Click here to view the “Silver Linings Playbook” trailer!

Hitchcock

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I was introduced to Hitchcock films as a kid, and have never stopped watching them since. My dad went and rented “Rear Window” and “Dial M for Murder” on VHS at the local Blockbuster, and we made a night of it. All these years later, I have come to really appreciate the work of Mr. Hitchcock. His contribution to the art of filmmaking is immeasurable.

I was a little hesitant to go see “Hitchcock” in theaters. It didn’t receive a very wide release. But finally it was at a local dollar theater. So, my dad (appropriately) and I went to check it out. From the previews, I wasn’t sure this was supposed to be a biopic or something else entirely. It turned out to be the latter. The film is mostly a focus on the making of Hitchcock’s masterpiece, “Psycho” (my personal favorite of Hitch’s films). A lot of it takes place on the set, focusing on the interaction between Director and actors. However, there is a fair amount of the film that deals with Hitch’s (Anthony Hopkins) relationship with his wife, Alma Reville (Helen Mirren). She becomes entirely fed up with her husband’s reputation, and his absolute determination to see his movie made. He begins to question how he is handling himself, and takes on a certain level of transformation in his relationship with Alma.

There is another element where Hitch is haunted to a certain degree by Ed Gein, whom the book “Psycho” was based on. He is almost a dark spirit directing Hitch to act and direct a certain way. I didn’t feel like this element really gelled, and definitely could have been left out of the plot.

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There are elements of the film that are definitely exaggerated. Perkins took the character of Hitchcock a little far at times. I wasn’t sure if he was truly attempting to portray Hitchcock, or a caricature of Hitchcock. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the performance overall. The supporting cast of Janet Leigh (Scarlett Johansson), Vera Miles (Jessica Biel) and Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston) add an interesting angle to the story that unfolds. Janet Leigh is a fairly new actress, Vera Miles is always at wit’s end with Hitchcock, and Whitfield attempts to seduce Alma while inviting her to write a script with him. We see very little of anybody else in the film. Everything else is essentially background noise.

Overall, I feel like this was a worthwhile trip to the movie theater, although, I don’t think this film will land for the casual movie watcher. I enjoyed the aspect of film history, and what Hitch might have faced trying to get his movie made. The character development between Hitch and Alma is interesting to watch. It is best to go into this film with little to no expectations, because it is not what you think it is going to be.

– David B. Harrington