REVIEW: THE CHANGELING (2008)

CAST

Angelina Jolie (Mr and Mrs Smith)
John Malkovich (Red)
Jeffrey Donovan (Blair Witch 2)
Michael Kelly  (Man of Steel)
Colm Feore (Gotham)
Jason Butler Harner (Next)
Amy Ryan (Birdman)
Geoff Pierson (That 80s Show)
Riki Lindhome (Million Dollar Baby)
Dale Dickey (My Name Is Earl)
Gregg Binkley (Raising Hope)

In Los Angeles in 1928, single mother Christine Collins (Jolie) returns home to discover her nine-year-old son, Walter (Gattlin Griffith), is missing. Reverend Gustav Briegleb (Malkovich) publicizes Christine’s plight and rails against the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) for its incompetence, corruption and the extrajudicial punishment meted out by its “Gun Squad” led by Chief James E. Davis (Feore). Several months after Walter’s disappearance, the LAPD tells Christine that he has been found alive. Believing the positive publicity will negate recent criticism of the department, the LAPD organizes a public reunion. Although “Walter” (Devon Conti) claims he is Christine’s son, she says he is not. Captain J. J. Jones (Donovan), the head of the LAPD’s Juvenile Division, insists the boy is Walter and pressures Christine into taking him home “on a trial basis”.

After Christine confronts Jones with physical discrepancies between “Walter” and her son, Jones arranges for a medical doctor to visit her. He tells Christine that “Walter” is three inches shorter than before his disappearance because trauma has shrunk his spine, and that the man who took Walter had him circumcised. A newspaper prints a story that implies Christine is an unfit mother; Briegleb tells Christine it was planted by police to discredit her. Walter’s teacher and dentist give Christine signed letters confirming “Walter” is an impostor. Christine tells her story to the press; as a result, Jones sends her to Los Angeles County Hospital’s “psychopathic ward”. She befriends inmate Carol Dexter (Ryan), who tells Christine she is one of several women who were sent there for challenging police authority. Dr. Steele (O’Hare) deems Christine delusional and forces her to take mood-regulating pills. Steele says he will release Christine if she admits she was mistaken about “Walter”; she refuses.

Detective Ybarra (Kelly) travels to a ranch in Wineville, Riverside County, to arrange the deportation of 15-year-old Sanford Clark (Eddie Alderson) to Canada. The boy’s uncle, Gordon Northcott (Harner), has fled after a chance encounter with Ybarra, who mentions his business there being a juvenile matter. Clark tells Ybarra that Northcott forced him to help kidnap and murder around twenty children, and identifies Walter as one of them. Jones tells Briegleb that Christine is in protective custody following a mental breakdown. Jones orders Clark’s deportation, but Ybarra takes Clark to the murder site and tells him to dig where the bodies are buried. Clark hesitates, but soon uncovers body parts. Briegleb secures Christine’s release by showing Steele a newspaper story about the Wineville killings that names Walter as a possible victim. Under interrogation by Ybarra, Walter’s impostor reveals his motive was to secure transport to Los Angeles to see his favorite actor, Tom Mix, and says the police told him to lie about being Christine’s son. The police capture Northcott in Vancouver, Canada. Christine’s attorney (Pierson) secures a court order for the release of other unjustly imprisoned women who the police wanted to silence.

On the day of the city council’s hearing into the case, Christine and Briegleb arrive at Los Angeles City Hall, where they encounter thousands of protesters who are demanding answers from the city. The hearing is intercut with scenes from Northcott’s trial. The council concludes that Jones and Davis should be removed from duty, and that extrajudicial internments by police must be stopped. Northcott’s jury finds him guilty of murder and the judge sentences him to death by hanging. Two years later, Christine has not given up her search for Walter. Northcott sends her a message saying he is willing to admit to killing Walter on condition that Christine meets him before his execution. She visits Northcott, but he refuses to tell her if he killed her son. Northcott is executed the next day.

In 1935, David Clay, one of the boys assumed to have been killed, is found alive in Hesperia, California. He reveals that one of the boys with whom he was imprisoned was Walter. David, Walter, and another boy escaped, but were separated. David does not know whether Walter was recaptured, but he says Walter helped him escape, giving Christine hope he is alive.

In the epilogue, it states that after the hearing, Captain Jones was suspended, Chief Davis was demoted, and Los Angeles Mayor George Cryer chose not to run for reelection. California’s state legislature made it illegal to forcibly commit people to psychiatric facilities by mere words alone of authorities, and Rev. Briegleb continued to use his radio show to expose police misconduct and political corruption. Wineville is said to have changed its name to Mira Loma, and Christine Collins reportedly never stopped searching for her son.

This movie was based on a true story and directed by Clint Eastwood in a gritty, no-frills style. There isn’t a lot of action, but it definitely holds your interest until the very end. Jolie gives a strong performance as the mother who wouldn’t stop looking for her son, even when she battled the corrupt police chief. Jolie is on-screen just about every minute and is a formidable screen presence. She and the rest of the cast, including John Malkovich, are all good in this very somber and intense piece

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31 DAYS OF HORROR REVIEW: BOOK OF SHADOWS: BLAIR WITCH 2

CAST

Jeffrey Donovan (Burn Notice)
Kim Director (Inside Man)
Erica Leerhsen (Wrong Turn 2)
Tristin Skyler (The Intern)


In November 1999, a group of young tourists—Stephen and his pregnant wife, Tristen, who are researching the Blair Witch for a book they are writing; Erica, a Wiccan; and Kim, a goth psychic—arrive in Burkittsville, Maryland, after seeing The Blair Witch Project. Jeff, a local man, is their tour guide and a paranormal investigator who says his equipment will capture any supernatural events that happen while they visit the Blair Witch site.They camp for the night in the ruins of Rustin Parr’s house, and Jeff places cameras around to capture anything supernatural. As the group gets drunk around a campfire, another tour group arrives and claims to have jurisdiction over the ruins. Jeff and his group convince the others that they saw something horrifying at Coffin Rock earlier, and the other group leaves to investigate. Jeff and his group wake the next morning with no memory of the previous night. Tristen and Stephen’s research documents are shredded and strewn about, and Jeff’s cameras are destroyed. However, Jeff’s tapes are found unharmed in the same spot the Blair Witch Project footage was discovered. Tristen notices that she is bleeding and has miscarried.
The group goes to the Burkittsville hospital, where Tristen’s miscarriage is confirmed. As she is about to be discharged, Tristen sees a ghostly young girl walking away backwards. Jeff takes the group back to his home, an abandoned broom factory against a steep hill in the woods. It has an elaborate security system, surveillance cameras, and a front door alarm. The group reviews Jeff’s tapes and find hours of footage missing. Only one scene remains, which depicts a naked Erica holding onto a tree and swinging around it backward. Erica remembers no such event and runs off to pray, weeping as she does so. Each of the members of the group now begins to have hallucinations of horrible things (like eating a dead owl, murdering someone, or being locked away in an asylum).Kim goes to town to pick up food and alcohol, and has a heated argument with the convenience store cashier. The van she drives is attacked by locals as she leaves, and she crashes the vehicle after seeing ghostly children on the road. Back at Jeff’s, she reaches into her shopping bag and pricks herself on a small, bloody nail file stuck among the bottles of beer she purchased.
The three tourists decide to leave the next morning, but Erica mysteriously disappears and no one heard the front door “barking dog” alarm sound. Kim discovers Erica’s clothes, surrounded by a circle of lit candles. They attempt to call Erica’s father at his office, but are told by his secretary that he had no children. Jeff discovers his van is wrecked, but Kim says she only dented the fender. The county sheriff calls to say that the other tour group was found disemboweled on Coffin Rock. He demands that Jeff reveal what he knows about the crime, but Jeff denies any involvement and hangs up.Kim decides to call for help, but while looking for a telephone directory discovers dossiers on each of the tourists in Jeff’s desk. Tristen (whose mental health is rapidly deteriorating) suddenly claims she can see Erica through a window, naked and swinging around a tree. Stephen runs outside to confront Erica, but the walkway connecting the building to the hill collapses under him when he does so. As he climbs to safety, Stephen sees the same girl Tristen did. The sheriff calls again and says he is at Jeff’s front door. The security monitor shows the bridge is now intact.Jeff hears the sheriff shouting at the door, goes downstairs, grabs a shotgun from a closet, and opens the door. But the bridge has returned to its damaged state and the sheriff is not to be seen. Stephen, Kim, and Tristen arrive as Jeff opens the closet to put the gun away, and all three discover Erica’s corpse in the closet.Tristen suggests that everything they have experienced is running backwards. They play Jeff’s damaged tapes in reverse. The footage now shows Tristen leading the group in satanic worship and a drunken orgy, and their murder of the other tour group. Jeff begins taping Tristen as Stephen demands that she confess. Tristen alternately sneers at the others and asks them for help, luring them to the second floor. Stephen accuses Tristen of deliberately killing their baby. Tristen ties a rope around her own neck, threatening to kill herself. Stephen pushes her over the second-floor banister in a moment of rage, and causes her to hang herself.
After a jump cut, the audience sees that Jeff, Stephen, and Kim have been arrested. Each is interrogated separately, with the police showing each person footage of their crimes. Security camera footage shows Kim stabbing the cashier in the neck with the cashier’s nail file. Surveillance camera footage shows a naked Jeff killing Erica, arranging her clothes, and putting her dead body in the closet. Jeff’s video shows Stephen assaulting Tristen, accusing her of being a witch and pushing her over the banister (but not Tristen putting the rope around her own neck). All three, close to a nervous breakdown, proclaim their innocence as the police arrest them.
The film is well acted and after a slow first half builds nicely to it’s conclusion, although the clues the viewer is given throughout do tend to give away the ending somewhat. The film deserves points for it’s creativity even though much of it isn’t entirely successful and does turn out a little generic. Book of Shadows is difficult to recommend as it is so different to it’s predecessor.

REVIEW: HITCH

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CAST

Will Smith (I Am Legend)
Eva Mendes (Ghost Rider)
Kevin James (Paul Blart)
Amber Valletta (Gamer)
Julie Ann Emery (Movie 43)
Adam Arkin (Halloween: H20)
Michael Rapaport (The 6th Day)
Jeffrey Donovan (Burn Notice)
Paula Patton (Mission Impossible 4)
Kevin Sussman (The Big Bang Theory)
Alex “Hitch” Hitchens (Will Smith) is a professional “date doctor” who coaches other men in the art of wooing women, with a focus on long-term relationships. While coaching one of his clients, Albert Brennaman (Kevin James), who is smitten with a client of his investment firm, celebrity Allegra Cole (Amber Valletta), Hitch finds himself falling for Sara Melas (Eva Mendes). Sara is a gossip columnist and a major workaholic. While Albert and Allegra’s relationship continues to progress, Hitch finds it difficult to initiate a dialog with Sara, finding that none of his methods are working for catching her, while likewise being impressed with her ability to see through people’s attempts to make advances. Throughout the entire process, he keeps his career secret, claiming to be a generic “consultant.”
Hitch meets with Vance Munson (Jeffrey Donovan), a shallow chauvinist attempting to enlist Hitch to help him land a one-night stand with Casey Sedgewick (Julie Ann Emery), Sara’s coworker and best friend. Although Hitch refused to help, Vance misled Sara into believing that he used Hitch’s services. After finding out Hitch’s true identity, Sara publishes an exposé, causing Allegra and Albert to break up and Hitch’s reputation to suffer. At a speed dating cafe that Hitch sneaks into, Sara and Casey confront Hitch and cite Vance as their source. Hitch explains that not only did he refuse to work with him, Vance’s personality type is why women protect themselves, but that same protection also unintentionally made establishing genuine relationships difficult enough to create a demand for Hitch’s services. Hitch then tries to salvage Albert and Allegra’s relationship. He confronts Allegra, telling her that he doesn’t really do anything significant besides giving his clients confidence and allowing them to get the attention of the women, and that most of his customers, particularly Albert, really were successful just being themselves. Allegra reconciles with Albert. The film ends with Albert and Allegra getting married as well as Hitch and Sara resuming their relationship.
It’s a good romantic comedy that makes you laugh and cry and as a nice bonus, it’s good clean fun too