Pompeii - 2014 - Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson
Lending further credence to my belief that Director Anderson should never be allowed to direct another movie, Pompeii is a loud, ugly, overwrought disaster of a film that trudges along at a brutally slow pace and pounds the viewer over the head with one cliche after another.
Kit Harington, he of Game of Thrones fame, stars as Milo, a slave turned Gladiator (stop me when this sounds familiar) who must fight in the arena against a corrupt and sadistic Roman Senator (Kiefer Sutherland) in order to gain his freedom and the love of his life, Cassia (Emily Browning.) As if that wasn't enough, Mount Vesuvius is about to erupt.
Scene after scene, line after line of dialogue feels like it was taken from countless other films of better ilk and far to often I knew exactly what the characters were going to say before they said it. This might as well of been a shot for shot remake of Gladiator but apparently the filmmakers thought that movie lacked explosions so why not throw in an erupting volcano?
Chris Rock rather famously stated their are only 4 real stars in Hollywood and if you want one for your movie... just wait. Boy was he right. If you want Russell Crowe and all you can get is Kit Harington... wait indeed.
Upon checking IMDB I see Mr Anderson has no more movies this year so this should have a more than realistic shot of being the worst film of 2014.
Rating: 0 out of 10
Saving Mr. Banks - 2013 - Directed by John Lee Hancock.
Every time I see a movie based on a true story or an individual's life I always wonder how did they feel about their life being forever cemented in film and how did they feel about the finished product? Saving Mr Banks gave me a glimpse into that and it was a marvelous 2 hours.
Emma Thompson stars as author P. L. Travers, a stoic, rigid woman who's past greatly affects her present and hinders her future. For 20 years she has resisted selling the rights to Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) but now with looming money issues she has agreed to meet him in L.A. but of course only if she retains final script approval.
Upon arriving in L.A. she is taken to Disney studios where she meets the creative team tasked with bringing her story to life. Robert Sherman (B.J. Novak), Richard Sherman (Jason Schwartzmann) and Don DaGradi (Bradley Whitford) are all eager to collaborate with her but she keeps throwing up resistance. No animation allowed, costumes are off, buildings are too opulent, at one point she bans the color red from the movie. Then it hits them, Walt Disney doesn't own the rights yet.
Walt has promised his daughters he would make Mary Poppins into a movie and he promises Miss Travers he will honor her character if she will just trust him. She doesn't. He doesn't even realize who Mary Poppins came to save.
While the events at Disney are unfolding we are shown flashbacks to her life as a child growing up in Australia with her siblings and parents. While her Mother (Ruth Wilson) is always around she pays her no attention but her Father (Colin Farrell) recognizes a beauty and truth to her and spoils her with his affections. He is a simple man with little money and a alcohol problem. A decision she makes for him as he lays sick haunts her to her soul.
Both story lines are propelled forward by the talent of all involved. Minor characters are allowed to breath and shine while the story literally jumps off the screen whenever Miss Travers shows up. Emma Thompson gives a pitch perfect performance of a woman who never recovered from her childhood and struggles to forgive herself and let go. One of the best scenes in the film is when she comes alive while first hearing, "Let's Go Fly a Kite." It is a scene of pure magic.
I could squabble about the flashbacks, which I enjoyed just didn't like their placement at times, but I wont. There is simply too much hear to love. Saving Mr Banks is one of the best movies of the year.
Rating: 9 out of 10
American Hustle - 2013 - Directed by David O. Russell
Much has been made of the fact that David O. Russell's new film, based on the ABSCAM scandal of the 70's, resembles that of Martin Scorsese's classic, Goodfellas. I think stylistically it more resembles Boogie Nights. Regardless, one thing is for sure, it is no where near as good as either film.
The film centers on Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale), a small time con-man, who despite being married to Rosalyn Rosenfeld (Jennifer Lawrence), meets his muse in Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), another not shy to scams, and they both pair up in love and business. All is going well for them until they meet Richie Dimaso (Bradley Cooper.)
Richie is FBI. Richie has just set them up and Sydney took the bait. She is on the hook facing jail time and he gets Sydney and Irving to agree to help him make a few busts and in return he will drop all charges. Problem is, Richie has aspirations. Big ones. And he's willing to do anything to achieve them. Irving correctly observes that jail would be better than dealing with Richie.
While the trio setup their first bust they stumble upon a big fish, Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner), a Mayor looking to upgrade Atlantic City and pad his pockets. Irving is nervous and wants out. Sydney wants Irving to pay for not leaving his wife. Rosalyn wants
Irving to pay for not leaving Sydney. Carmine wants to be loved by all and Richie wants to be boss. What could go wrong?
While it may not be the most original setup it still had promise but Director Russell throws it away in his attempt to mimic the style and look and feel of other films instead of creating something unique.
Its as if someone tried to write a script to sound like David Mamet wrote it. To place the camera where Martin Scorsese would. To use music as Scorsese and Paul Thomas Anderson do. The whole thing feels like a rip off. When Layla started playing in Goodfellas, it evoked a feeling. The music that plays here is filling in for lack of story.
Its a shame cause all the actors brought their A game (except Renner who is woefully miscast.) Lawrence is great in minimal screen time and its no wonder why Irving fell for her and then fell out of love with her. Cooper evokes the sleaziness of his Richie who is one step away from being a con man himself. Bale removes all vanity and gives one of the best performances of his career. Amy Adams is a firecracker ready to go off and is a true revelation. This is her best work to date.
Russell has been on record stating he doesn't like plots, only characters. While a movie doesn't need a plot, it does need style. This film has neither. Considering the hype and the extraordinary performances, this is a big let down.
Rating: 5 out of 10
Jobs - 2013 - Directed by Joshua Michael Stern
I admire greatness. Whether it be Michael Jordan on a basketball court, Tiger Woods on a Golf course, Lennon/McCartney with a pen or Steve Jobs with a vision. Its unfortunate however that the creators of this film don't share my sentiment.
Ashton Kutcher stars as Ashton Kutcher playing Steve Jobs. It is an awful performance. Kutcher wants us to see him playing Jobs rather than being him. He walks with a hunch and acts as if that alone is method acting. He doesn't convey any of the qualities that lead this man to be viewed as one of the most important figures of the last century.
We first meet Jobs in the 70's as he struggles to find his way and his meaning in life. He meets Steve Wozniak (Josh Gad) and together they form a new company, Apple Computer. We see their struggles as they fill the first order of motherboards in a makeshift assembly line in Jobs' father's garage.
Their fortunes change when they meet Mike Markkula (Dermot Mulroney.) He is a money man who believes in the vision of Jobs and agrees to invest in Apple. The film then skips ahead as we see the new large scale headquarters of Apple and meet many of the employees, most notably Rod Holt (Ron Eldard) and Daniel Kottke (Lukas Haas.)
This might be Apple Computer but it might as well be Steve Jobs Computer. Jobs is portrayed as a vile, mean spirited, no holds barred disciplinarian who is never satisfied. After a few minutes of this I began to wonder what made the filmmakers decide to make this movie? When Jobs finds out he is a father he turns his back on the woman and the child in particularly awful fashion. You would think the director and screenwriter despise him, and maybe they do. But many many people didn't and we don't see that side here.
Apple may have made its name in the 80's and 90's with the Mac but if you asked anyone now to play word association with Apple I am almost positive 9 out of 10 people, upon hearing the word Apple, would immediately say iPod, iPhone or iPad. So how is it then that the words iPhone and iPad are NEVER mentioned and iPod is only mentioned once in this film? It's like going to a museum to see the works of Leonardo da Vinci and not being shown the Mona Lisa.
Steve Jobs was a visionary and creative genius of quite possibly the biggest turnaround in business history. He didn't change the rules, he changed the game. He deserves better than this.
Rating: 3 out of 10
Kick-Ass 2 - 2013 - Directed by Jeff Wadlow
If Eli Roth's film Hostel is considered Torture Porn then Kick Ass 2 is Violence Porn. It is violence for violence sake that glorifies it every chance it gets and presents so called hero's that are as abhorrent as the villians.
Hit Girl (Chloe Moretz) is now living with a friend of her deceased father and sneaks away to stop crime whenever she gets a chance. She keeps getting in trouble for doing it and eventually tells Kick Ass (Aaron Johnson) that she is out and will never wear her costume again. Anyone believe that?
Now on his own, Kick Ass searches for other vigilantes like him to help him on his quest to injure as many people as possible and comes across Colonel Stars and Stripes, played by Jim Carrey. Recently Carrey made waves for his stance on the film's violence as he had a change of heart after Sandy Hook. Good for him. I would distance myself from this schlock as well.
What is so egregious about this film is its story. In the Batman and Spiderman films our hero's patrol the streets and make them safer for law abiding citizens. Not Kick Ass and Hit Girl. They SETUP scenarios in order to inflict pain and in many cases dismember the bad guys. I was rooting for someone to beat the shit out of these 2 kids and stop the insanity. Instead, the scenes are staged to generate laughs from the violence.
If it hadn't been for the movie Spring Breakers this year this would be my least favorite film of the year. As it is it will definitely hold a spot on my worst films of 2013 list.
Rating: 2 out of 10
Pacific Rim - 2013 - Directed by Guillermo Del Toro
There are two things about video games I can't stand. One is the tutorials in the beginning. Enough already, I just want to play. The worst? Watching someone else play one. Unfortunately, I experienced both of these emotions watching this film.
The human race has met its match when the Kaiju, enormous sea monsters, rise from the depths of the Pacific Ocean and begin attacking and killing thousands, leading to the creation of Jaeger's, robots which take two humans to pilot.
Charlie Hunnam is Raleigh Becket, one of the first to pilot one of these robots and brought back years later as the apocalypse looks inevitable. He is paired up with Mako (Rinko Kikuchi), a survivor of a Kaiju attack while just a child who now must learn to harness her vengeance in order to complete their mission. They are led by Commander Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba), a man of few words, who helped raise Mako.
The set up is promising. The delivery is disappointing. When it becomes obvious that the Kaiju are only attacking along coastlines my first thought was why do people still live there? I would rather move and be homeless than live in a kill zone. There are scenes and dialogue straight out of other films. Considering the talent of all involved, especially Director Del Toro (who made the masterpiece Pan's Labyrinth), I expected more originality.
The actors aren't given much to do but they do try. Elba is especially good at conveying emotion and leadership without speaking and there is some chemistry between Hunnam and Rinko but basically this is Transformers in the ocean.
Recently the SyFy channel gave us Sharknado. There is more originality in the title of that movie than there is in this entire film.
Rating: 4 out of 10
Man of Steel - 2013 - Directed by Zack Snyder
Man of Steel has all the elements of the Superman movie I have been waiting for and yet ultimately it is a disappointment. I'm beginning to think you can't make a great Superman movie.
As the film opens I am anxiously ready to see our hero yet I am instead inundated with a 25 minute CGI rendering of the planet Krypton. By now doesn't everyone know the origin of Superman? Those who don't probably don't care.
After Krypton, young Kal-El is sent to earth and we get to the heart of the film. This is a Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) unsure of himself. He hears everything, feels everything and is unequipped to deal with it. His parents try to instill in him a sense of good and Clark not only believes it, it is who he is. He wants to help everyone even when his Dad tells him he must keep his identity a secret.
Which is why the film falters once again as he not only blatantly allows people to see who he is he does with a central character which kills the film's one lone mystery. While talking to his father he asks him, "What was I supposed to do? Let those people die?" His fathers response is one word, "Maybe." But the film is not interested in exploring this. It doesn't put Clark in a situation to test him. This is just dialogue to advance the story.
Lois Lane (Amy Adams), however, is a breath of fresh air. This is not just a woman thrown into the mix. She is a reporter first and foremost, trying to track down a story, while no one else wants to believe her theory. Her character is also setup nicely for the sequel.
As Clark tries to hide his identity, General Zod (Michael Shannon), the banished warrior from Krypton, has finally found Clark and demands that the people of Earth turn him over to insure their own survival. What comes next is the least interesting part of the film and its downfall.
The character of Superman suffers from what I call the "Hulk Syndrome." In todays age of film making the only way to show off the character is through CGI and I have yet to see anyone do it believably. You can always see the CGI.
When Superman and General Zod do battle they destroy what seems to be the entire city of Metropolis. The damage would be in the trillions and the loss of life in the hundreds of thousands. Why doesn't Superman seem to care about this? Where is the inner conflict that Snyder brought up earlier?
There is much to like here. The cast is great and Henry grows more and more into his character. Lois is stronger than she has been previously which makes for a nice dynamic. The best parts of the film are when we see Clark and not Superman. Problem is, the last hour is Superman engaging in one monotonous battle after another. Character makes a film. Not violence.
Rating: 4 out of 10
Fast and Furious 6 - 2013 - Directed by Justin Lin
I can tell within 10-15 minutes whether I will like a movie. Fast 6 has the distinction of helping me come to my conclusion even sooner. During the opening credits we are shown flashbacks to the first 5 films. You read it right, flashbacks of car chases and explosions. Subtlety is not king in this franchise.
What is the plot you say? If you were to ask the filmmakers I am sure they would borrow from The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and say we don't need no stinkin' plot. Just need fast cars, hot women and millions of mindless drones. Judging by the worldwide box office grosses they were right.
The gang comes back together to foil a plot by Owen Shaw (Luke Evans) who plans on... hell I have no idea what he is planning. Its just the excuse to blow things up. Speaking of the gang, they should all have their SAG cards revoked (Evans can keep his.) No one appears to be having any fun here. All those horror movie spoofs that come out all the time, I would love to see one about this franchise. (Where are The Wayans Bros when you need them?, they would have a field day with this. Maybe they haven't figured out a way to parody a parody.)
Thankfully, there are a few moments of humor, albeit unintentionally. The Rock jumps down about 50 feet from a speeding car on a overpass to a speeding car on a underpass and he does more damage to the car than it to him. (I probably shouldn't bring up physics but once you jump off the car you cease to keep going its speed. He would land on the concrete. Take notes Wayans Bros.) Multiple people get beat to within an inch of brain damage only to shrug it off as if they got bit by a mosquito. Vin Diesel and Michelle Rodriguez crash at an alarming rate of speed from separate cars only to meet in midair and land safely on a car windshield, happily ever after. In all seriousness, this film is an insult to dumb people.
At one point in the film the gang is huddled around as Vin tells The Rock, we are all here. Give us a reason to stay. I wish the filmmakers had given that same thought to the audience.
You might be wondering what made me give this movie a 1 rating? I blame that on Luke Evans. If he had just mailed it in like everyone else this film would of gotten the rating it truly deserved.
Rating: 1 out of 10
Mud - 2013 - Directed by Jeff Nichols
I first became aware of Jeff Nichols with 2007's oddly hypnotic, "Take Shelter." I became convinced of his immense storytelling talent with the brilliant and mesmerizing, "Mud."
Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) are two 14 year old boys growing up on the river beds of Arkansas living what is their version of an idyllic life which is a cross between Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn and Stand By Me. As the film opens, Ellis, complete with his flashlight, sets out on his adventure to sneak out of his house and head up river in his boat to an island off the Mississippi River. As he leaves his house he hears the first ominous notes of his life changing as his parents, Senior (Ray McKinnon) and Mary Lee (Sarah Paulson), are bitterly embroiled in an argument.
The two boys make their way to the island and find a boat dangling among the trees. Ellis immediately sees the potential of it being their boat, their treehouse. As they search through the boat Neckbone finds some Penthouse magazines and Ellis finds canned food and bread, they are not the only one's who know about the boat. As they head back to the shore they see footprints and then they meet Mud.
Mud, for all intents and purposes, is hiding on the island. To the boys he is a mysterious figure who pays attention to them and offers advice. Mud is deeply in love and awaiting the arrival of Juniper (Reese Witherspoon) and the boys relate to that as they are just beginning to notice girls and in one especially poignant scene Ellis receives his first kiss and Tye plays the moment perfectly.
As the boys spend more time with Mud they begin to learn secrets and are swiftly pulled into the adult world and all its consequences. I want to be careful and not mention any spoilers so I will say no more about the plot.
Much needs to be said about the actors though. The two boys, Tye and Jacob are revelations. While Tye was previously in "Tree in Life" this is Jacob's first role and they are both equally great. There are no pretensions here. These 2 are not typical child actors. They so assuredly inhabit these roles that they are destined to receive more work should they choose it. Reese Witherspoon is captivatingly audacious as Juniper, its easy to see why Mud fell for her and easy to see why he should let her go.
As great as the rest of the cast is this is about Matthew McConaughey. Recently he has taken a different path and gotten away from the rom-coms and this is a career defining performance. His Mud is superstitious, rebellious, reserved, bold, volatile, grandiose and McConaughey hits all the right notes. This deserves to nab him an Academy Award nomination.
The cinematography by Adam Stone is breathtaking. You actually feel like you are along the Mississippi river and might stumble and get bit by a snake. Where as Beasts of The Southern Wild pounded you into submission, "Mud" invites you in and asks you to go on a journey. It is a journey well worth taking. This is one of the best movies of the year.
Rating: 10 out of 10
The Great Gatsby - 2013 - Directed by Baz Luhrmann
I am not a fan of Baz Luhrmann. He is a visually artistic director who frames every shot in bright multiple colors, uses CGI which enhances the color and not the experience, mixes old-time sensibilities with modern pop and hip-hop and worse yet creates worlds where the characters must fight to be heard over the overwhelming distractions. He is the second coming of Tim Burton to me. All style and no substance.
Most people who go see this movie are aware of the story. A reclusive millionaire, Jay Gatsby, (Leonardo Dicaprio) living in the area of "new money" NYC, throws lavish parties and meets his neighbor, Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire), who is the cousin of Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan), Gatsby's long lost love. They form a friendship while Gatsby attempts to lure Daisy away from her husband, Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton.)
Luhrmann introduces us to the world of Gatsby early on with the first of the film's many exorbitant parties. A phantasmagoric display of men and women dancing and drinking, a pulse pounding soundtrack featuring Jay-Z booming on the films soundtrack, Gatsby hovering in the shadows. This honestly was the beginning of the end for me. Gatsby throws the parties to get Daisy's attention but in the hands of Baz they are serenades to Jay. Everyone their is in worship of him and the film loses its balance immediately. We've bought a ticket but we aren't invited to the party.
Carraway is the narrative force behind the film and Tobey Maguire, with his blank, bright eyed stare is all wrong to play him. He doesn't fit the roaring twenties. He too worships Gatsby as a God, before he even meets him, yet he too is like us. An outsider trying to not fit in but to break away.
Carey Mulligan is the right note for Daisy, Joel Edgerton is even better as her slimeball husband but among the supporting cast its newcomer Elizabeth Debicki, as Jordan Baker, who shines the brightest and seems to understand the most what is being asked of her.
Dicaprio is pitch perfect as Gatsby and the films only saving grace. He hovers over the movie even when not seen, moves gracefully while maneuvering through the old money types, all the while presenting the best portrayal of Gatsby to date. Though not a favorite of the Academy he deserves a nomination for his mesmerizing performance.
In the film Carraway states, "You can't repeat the past." Clearly you can and Luhrmann is proof positive of that. No matter how many detractors, he continues to create over-the-top, visually stimulating and emotionally bankrupt films to a legion of ardent supporters. Its about time I stop watching his films.
Rating: 2 out of 10
The Place Beyond The Pines - 2013 - Directed by Derek Cianfrance
No other person working in film today so embodies that of movie star/actor as does Ryan Gosling. Whether it be "The United States of Leland," "Half Nelson," "Lars and The Real Girl," or "Drive," he is simply the finest actor of his generation and further proof of that is submitted here.
Gosling stars as Luke, a tatted stunt motorcycle driver for the circus, and in the films captivating opening tracking shot, reminiscent of Paul Thomas Anderson's Boogie Nights and Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas, we are introduced to him as we follow him through one long take as he heads through the carnival crowd and into a throng of fans waiting to see him enter what appears to be an oversized metal hampster cage, to do what he does best, throw caution to the wind. It is a bold opening and instantly made me feel that I was going to see something unique and what I got was just that. This is not a movie interested in the conventions of film.
Luke eventually runs into his old flame Romina (played by Eva Mendes in her best role to date) and finds out that he has a son. He has no money but wants to do right by his son. He decides to leave the traveling circus and stick by his family and while looking for a job chances upon Robin (Ben Mendelsohn) who introduces him to a way to make quick money, rob banks.
But this film is not just about Luke and his family. We are introduced to Avery (Bradley Cooper,) an ambitious cop looking to move up the ladder who sees his chance when he meets up with Luke. What results is a epic saga of these two families and how their lives interconnect.
Luke, despite his appearance, is basically a good guy looking to care for his family who gets in over his head. Gosling's portrayal of him is a remarkable piece of acting subtlety. He is able to convey so much pain without saying a word. It is the finest performance so far this year. Avery, on the other hand, is the image of perfect guy next door who does everything for the wrong reasons. When he sees corruption he brings it to his superiors only if he his to be rewarded in the process. Bradley Cooper, with all his charms, plays Avery with his emotions held in check. You can see him thinking when he his presented with obstacles and he holds the film together in its second act.
The third act is about the son's of these two men. Will they commit the sins of their fathers? In the film's haunting closing shot, we see one of them ride off West in a motorcycle unsure if he is riding towards his fate or against it.
It is to the credit of director Cianfrance that he so assured in his storytelling that he is willing to flip film conventions on their head and aim for something truly original. He has succeeded. "The Place Beyond The Pines" is the first truly great film of 2013.
Rating: 10 out of 10
Iron Man 3 - 2013 - Directed by Shane Black
2010's "Iron Man 2" was an unmitigated disaster to me. When I heard Director Jon Favreau would be stepping aside and Shane Black would be taking over I thought it was just what this series needed, a fresh new voice. While part 3 is not up to par with the original, this is what summer movie season is all about - entertainment.
Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) is having a existential crisis. After the events of New York, in last years blockbuster The Avengers, he keeps having anxiety attacks about who he really is and wants to be. His relationship with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) has grown distant as he looks for meaning in his life. In comes The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley.)
The Mandarin is unleashing terrorist attacks throughout the world and if that was not enough, Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), a scientist that he met many years ago, appears to have his sights set on Pepper and Stark Industries.
In the comic book universe it is rare to see a film that takes its time and takes on these questions. It is risky. Normally it is blow some stuff up, show some cool gadgets and blow more stuff up. While "Iron Man 3" has those elements it also has what no other comic franchise has and that is Robert Downey Jr.
Who knew that Downey would be perfect for and become the biggest star to come out of a comic franchise? (Ok, Favreau knew!) His Tony Stark has always been the perfect mix of a wisecracking, debonair, self-absorbed billionaire playboy and Downey is pitch perfect as the film delves more into the man than his iron suit.
What the film does lack is a true villain. While there are many there are too many and the film does offer a few twists though one seems out of step with Marvel mythology.
Ultimately what makes this film so satisfying is Downey, a resurgent Pepper Potts who is given much more screen time and a very satisfying and touching relationship between Tony and a young boy played by the films breakout star, Ty Simpkins. In a summer movie filled with gadgets and explosions, it is refreshing to also get the human side of these characters.
Rating: 7 out of 10
The Lords of Salem - 2013 - Directed by Rob Zombie
This movie would scare even Satan. For the record that is not my line. I went to see this with my step son and his wife and that is how she described it. I agree. I think Satan would love the movie though as it plays like a recruiting video for him.
Sheri Moon Zombie stars as Heidi, a local radio DJ who lives a rather nondescript life. She works and then comes home and feeds her dog and then hits repeat. One day she notices someone standing in the doorway of an apartment and asks her landlady who the new tenant is. She finds out the apartment is vacant still. This scene bothered me for many reasons but I will get back to it.
Heidi heads to work and while interviewing a local writer, Bruce Davison, about the witches of Salem, she receives a gift in the mail. It is a vinyl record by The Lords. Since they live in Salem, they dub them The Lords of Salem. When they play the record, Heidi and the other women residents of Salem begin to act like they are in a trance. It all traces back to 6 witches burned at the stake who unleashed a curse on the bloodline of Salem.
Heidi's life begins to spiral out of control as she begins hallucinating and a couple of friends believe she is back on drugs. Heidi would love if this was just drugs. Instead, she is having some of the most disturbing dreams imaginable. At one point she walks into the abandoned apartment and leave it to Zombie to make a neon cross so sinister that I felt the need to look away.
Is Heidi imagining all this or did The Lords of Salem return? She sees someone in the apartment before she receives the record. How is this possible or was the record just to send her over the edge? I don't know but this film is a descent into hell that was unsettling at best to watch.
I greatly enjoyed two previous films of Rob Zombie, House of 100 Corpses and The Devil's Rejects. They were well made and in fact so is this one and ironically that is a major problem I have with this film. It is too well made. It just seems to damn real and this subject matter is not something I enjoy watching.
When I was walking out of the theater with my step son and his wife she said the only thing that could of made the movie worse was if Heidi had woke up and we realized it was all just a dream. I wish I had woke up from a dream and realized I hadn't actually seen this.
Rating: 3 out of 10
Oblivion - 2013 - Directed by Joseph Kosinski
It is the year 2077. An alien invasion has left Earth uninhabitable and the remaining survivors live on Titan. A lone drone repairman, Jack (Tom Cruise), stays on Earth with his assistant and lover Victoria (Andrea Riseborough), in order to extract the remaining resources. A radio beacon leads them to a downed spacecraft. When Jack searches the rubble it causes him to begin asking questions about his mission.
That is the setup for the new film from Tron Legacy director Joseph Kosinski. I didn't think much of Kosinski after his first film but upon seeing this visually stunning film I am intrigued to see his next.
The plot, which isn't much and at times is befuddling, is really just an excuse to showcase the visual mastery of Kosinski. He creates a Earth populated by barren landscapes filled with drones and spaceships and towering houses with glass bottomed pools that would scare me into never going in the water.
Cruise is exactly what the picture calls for. A true movie star who understands what that is and how to play to the camera and audience and keeps the proceedings from becoming to dull. His Jack is a soldier who does as told but begins to ask himself questions when he keeps having the same recurring dream but can't remember anything else about his life. There are costars (Olga Kurylenko, Morgan Freeman, Riseborough, Melissa Leo) but this is all Cruise and Kosinski.
When Jack discovers the secrets to his life and that of the invasion it is true that it is a letdown as it wasn't rocket science to figure it out before the film revealed it. However, it doesn't matter. This is not a movie about plot: its about style. (I'm actually a little surprised when I hear critics and audience members say the plot is too confusing as it is minimalist at best.) Kosinki presents a film with a distinct look and feel and Cruise gives us a worthy protagonist to root for. I am not usually a fan of Sci-Fi but Oblivion entertained me for its full two hours. In today's world of film, that in and of itself is an accomplishment.
Rating: 8 out of 10
42 - 2013 - Directed by Brian Helgeland
In my opinion the one predominant theme in American History is race. When I hear people comment that race and racism are no longer factors in every day life I laugh as it always has been and like it or not, always will be. Jackie Robinson was one of the most important historical figures in our nations history and it is great to see a film about him. I just wish it was better than this imitation Made for TV movie.
Branch Rickey (played exceptionally by Harrison Ford) was the President of the Brooklyn Dodgers who brought Jackie up and knew the obstacles involved with breaking the color barrier. While there was no law against it there was an unwritten rule and there would be hell to pay. Jackie and Branch entered into this milestone together and together their lives would be best remembered for it.
Chadwick Boseman stars as Jackie and does a great job of showing what he can though he isn't asked to do much. We don't find out much about the "man" Jackie Robinson. What we get is the stuff we knew. He broke the color barrier. He endured insults and threats from all corners including teammates. What was he really like as a man? What kind of toll did this take on him and his wife and family?
These are question never answered much less asked by this film. Helgeland's script doesn't aspire to greatness and that is unacceptable when dealing with a great man and his legacy. "42" is a ground rule double. I just wish it had been a home run.
Rating: 6 out of 10
Olympus Has Fallen - 2013 - Directed by Antoine Fuqua
I have never been a big fan of Gerard Butler movies and in fact seem to be one of the few who didn't care for "300" but admit I enjoyed this film, flaws and all.
Butler stars as Mike Banning, a Secret Service agent in charge of protecting the President, who one fateful night is unable to save the First Lady and then is banished to work at the Treasury as the President can't bare to look at him and be constantly reminded of that night.
Then the unthinkable happens. A group of terrorists attack the White House and take it over within 13 minutes. As the assault takes place, Banning runs into the fray to help his former comrades. What follows is basically Die Hard at the White House and it is certainly better than the last installment of that franchise.
Director Fuqua is quite adept at staging action sequences and we the viewers are given many. The CGI flows fluidly with the action and stunts and Fuqua takes us on a roller coaster ride that is the most fun I have had with a action movie this year.
This is the film that I have been waiting for from Butler and the one that is sure to cement him as an action star. His Banning is a wisecracking, straight forward, take no prisoners hero who loves knives and is certainly in the mold of John McClane who plays by his own rules.
In a film like this there are sure to be flaws. I kept wanting to scream to all the Secret Service and FBI and Police Officers to STOP running into the line of fire but I'm sure they wouldn't of heard me over the constant hail of bullets. When the powers that be find out that the terrorists have a super-secret anti-aircraft weapon they still allow the helicopters to fly right into them and don't yell abort til 4 out of the 5 are destroyed.
In movies that we enjoy we can forgive it its trespasses and such is the case with this film for me. I enjoyed Butlers character, the action scenes were strong and Fuqua keeps the film moving at a steady rate. This was a pleasant surprise.
Rating: 7 out of 10
Tyler Perry's Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor - 2013 - Directed by Tyler Perry
Judith (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) is married to Brice (Lance Gross.) They have known each other since they were 6. They are in love and live together and are married, and quite happily. In comes Harley (Robbie Jones.) He is the stereotypical rich guy you see in films. Rich, handsome and basically a creep. Everyone sees it but Judith.
One day on Harley's plane he comes on to Judith and tries kissing her and she says no. He tries again and she says no again and begins to try to fight him off which prompts him to say, "Now you can say you resisted." After the flight, Judith acts the way one would expect. She was in fact basically raped. She is disgusted with him and says she never wants to see him again. However, the next day she is right back with Harley.
This is the essential problem with Perry's new film. He wants to seem insightful but all he is really interested in is the surface. Her being raped is never brought up again. Judith succumbs to his "charms" while her mother begs her to see him for what he really his. This is a morality tale with all the subtlety of a hammer to the head. Judith starts doing drugs. Harley beats her physically and emotionally. Eventually comes the twist which I will not reveal but is quite evident about 30 minutes into the film.
Other cast members pop up but are just there for window dressing. Vanessa Williams is sadly underused and while critics bash Kim Kardashian she isn't bad, she just isn't given anything to do. She does have the film's best line though.
Perry is nothing if not a prolific writer. But being prolific does not make one a great writer. Here's hoping that eventually he gets better and gives this subject matter a film it deserves.
Rating: 3 out of 10
Red Dawn - 2012 - Directed by Dan Bradley
I will admit that growing up I loved the 1984 cult classic Red Dawn. It starred Patrick Swayze, Charlie Sheen and C. Thomas Howell and still to this day if it is on TV I will sit and watch it. I promise I will never watch this remake again.
In the original the Soviets attacked us. In this one it is the North Koreans. I find it hard to believe the North Koreans could pull this off but what do I know.
After the North Koreans attack, a group of high schoolers and one of their brothers band together to lead a resistance. Chris Hemsworth leads the charge along with Adrianne Palicki, Josh Hutcherson and Connor Cruise but none of the cast is particulary memorable. At point I wasn't even sure who was alive and pretty sure I didn't care.
As the resistance grows bigger the kids get more audacious and begin building bombs and using artillery that suggests that everything they know they learned from a video game. At point they even mention a video game by name and seem to act as if this is one and the same.
Wolverines was the famous line from the 1984 version and used as a calling card and rallying cry for the resistance. When Hutcherson yells it here I almost started laughing. While the rah rah anti war statement of the original bothered many for its hypocrisy this film just seems to be an excuse to blow things up.
I don't hate the idea of remakes. There is a reason Hollywood makes so many of them as they are films that people either loved or may have forgotten or they can be introduced to a audience that never knew the original. But if the end result is garbage like this then Hollywood needs to start cultivating new talent for fresh new ideas.
Rating: 2 out of 10
Evil Dead - 2013 - Directed by Fede Alvarez
This remake of the largely influential cult classic that Sam Raimi introduced to audiences in the 1980's, is being billed as the most terrifying movie you will ever experience. I would of settled for a couple scares instead what I got was every horror cliche in the book along with some of the dumbest characters ever found in a horror movie.
A group of friends - Mia, David, Eric, Olivia and Natalie - all get together in a log cabin in the woods that looks as if it became uninhabitable about 100 years ago so they can help Mia kick her drug habit. Mia, played by Jane Levy, is obviously the choice to be possessed as she is a druggie with tattoos and clearly has this coming. David (Shiloh Fernandez), is her not so loyal brother who of course will now stick by her no matter what even when common sense should prevail.
As Mia sinks further into her withdrawal, the guys find a hidden trapdoor beneath the cabin and discover a torture chamber with dozens of dead cats and a book that is bound by barbed wire and appears to be made with human skin and begs not to be opened. Of course, Eric opens it and recites passages that leads to the evil dead being awakened.
What follows is another example of torture porn and the most gruesome deaths that the filmmakers are able to come up with.
There are countless scenes of these people doing the dumbest things possible that there is no way to mention them all. When Mia plunges her car into a lake the first thing she does is attempt to restart the car. After all hell (literally) has broke loose in the cabin, David sends his girlfriend, Natalie, into the cabin by her herself to get water and sugar. I guess it was his way of breaking up with her.
When I was growing up the most terrifying movie I saw was John Carpenter's classic Halloween. Part of what made it so terrifying to me was I wanted Jamie Lee Curtis to survive and kill the madman stalking her. In the recent crop of horror movies we are subjected to mindless idiotic characters who not only do we not care if they live we actually root for them to die. Where is the horror in that? Evil Dead is likely to be one of the worst movies I see this year.
Rating: 2 out of 10
Compliance - 2012 - Directed by Craig Zobel
There are dozens of horror films that come out every year that never elicit a scare out of me. Compliance, on the other hand, terrified me. It is deeply disturbing and depicts the subservience to power that so many people adhere to and presents a humanity many of us wish and would prefer to believe didn't exist.
Ann Dowd stars as Sandra, a middle aged manager of a fast food restaurant who believes in order and is shocked if others don't. When her restaurant runs out of pickles and bacon she is surprised that her employees, all teenagers, laugh about it and shrug it off. She believes that they believe in her cause of her position. One of the clerks, Becky (Dreama Walker), begins to whisper about her and she listens not to get Becky in trouble but to make sure Becky likes her.
A phone call comes in. It is a police officer, or so Sandra believes. He tells her that Becky stole from a customer about an hour ago and they have it on videotape. He tells her to get Becky and hold her until the police come. Sandra does as told and it sets in motion some of the most jaw dropping human behavior I've ever seen on film. Its also based on a true story (I looked it up online and apparently everything in the movie ACTUALLY happened. No artistic license. The story was also covered by major news networks when it happened.) The kicker is, the "police officer" is not real. He is just impersonating one. No one ever questions him until finally one man decides this is not right.
Meanwhile, Becky is held against her will and subjected to a strip search, mentally tortured and ordered to do sexual acts by the "police officer." That everyone, much less anyone in this film, would do everything as they are told is disturbing. Sandra never questions the police officer. Never asks what precinct he is in, his badge number, how he got the videotape, nothing. At one point, when her fiance clearly does not want to be involved, she scolds him for not obeying.
Everyone reacts to authority differently. Sandra blindly obeys. Becky protests but gives in rather easily rather than facing the consequences of bucking authority. Sandra's fiance eventually relents when he realizes the "police officer" has beholden him with so much power. A couple other employees whisper that this possibly isn't right but go on about their job as in the end it doesn't affect them.
Don't get me wrong. Compliance is well made and well acted. I wish Director Zobel had held the reveal longer and made the audience question themselves about whether they knew this was a facade rather than watching it with utter contempt of the characters as I did and many others (there are many reports of people walking out of the theater when they watched this.) This is not a side of humanity I wish to watch. If it is your thing then enjoy. I for one didn't.
Rating: 4 out of 10
The Perks of Being a Wallflower - 2012 - Directed by Stephen Chbosky
Steven Chbosky's new film, based on his book, is not a movie about plot rather about feelings. It is a film about the emotions of love, depression, sexuality, hope, fitting in and ultimately acceptance.
Logan Lerman stars as Charlie, an outsider on his first day of high school with no friends and no table to sit at during lunch. He has much to say if only someone would listen and since they won't he will be a writer. He meets his English teacher (Paul Rudd) who encourages this and gives him books to read to fill his time.
One day in shop class he meets Patrick (Ezra Miller), a senior who introduces him to his world, his half-sister (Emma Watson) and the real world. They eventually form a bond and help each other with their struggles through life.
The cast is uniformly excellent. It is a testament to Lerman that he doesn't relegate his character to stereotypes. While he is viewed as a lonely individual it doesn't define him. Emma Watson proves she is more than capable of leaving Hermione Granger behind her. But the film's true star is Ezra Miller. His Patrick is a lightning rod of nervous energy with an abundance of love while concealing so much pain. It is a breakthrough performance that should of gotten him more award consideration.
One of the amazing things about the movie is it's use of music to invoke a certain feeling without invoking a certain time period. It doesn't say when the film takes place (I 'm guessing late 90's) which gives it artistic license to be viewed in multiple lights. Is it about current high schoolers or an adults version of his past? Either way it works for this film.
"Perks" is certainly not without flaws. It is mired in too many cliches and has an unnecessarily awkward ending but the cast makes up for it, especially Miller with his limitless energy, and ultimately this trio of friendship makes the trip worthwhile.
Rating: 8 out of 10
The Impossible - 2012 - Directed by Juan Antonio Bayona
I still remember where I was on December 26th, 2004. Me and my wife were visiting her family for the holidays and while we were enjoying food, presents and the company of our family I would occasionally refresh the page on the internet and each time it seemed the death toll of the Indian Ocean Tsunami would rise by the thousands. Sometimes, unless you have a human face to attach to a tragedy, you can forget what happened.
Director J.A. Bayona has given us that and in the process has made an emotionally heartbreaking film.
Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor star as a happily married couple who are spending the holidays with their kids in Thailand, enjoying the scenery, when the unthinkable happens. As they are poolside at their hotel, a tsunami hits and rushes at them while they attempt to protect their kids and themselves. What would seem unimaginable as just happened and now comes the impossible, how to survive.
I didn't think it was possible for this tragedy to be filmed as it would take incredibly life-like special effects along with a cast to handle the heavy emotional lifting. Everyone has brought their A game. The devastating scene of the tsunami was filmed in a water tank in Spain but you would never know. It appears to almost be actual news footage of the tragedy.
As the Oscar campaign has revved up I am stumped to why Naomi Watts is not getting more love for her intensely fierce portrayal of a mom trying to hold it together for her kids and her husband. She commands every second of every frame she is in and it is a beautiful performance.
The Impossible is one of the best movies of 2012.
Rating: 9 out of 10
Stand Up Guys - 2013 - Directed by Fisher Stevens
Val (Al Pacino) is released from prison after serving 28 years and refusing to rat on a friend. Doc (Christopher Walken) and Hirsch (Alan Arkin) are his most loyal friends though one is harboring a secret. They are all Stand Up Guys.
In Director Stevens' new film, this is about all the plot we are given. Yet, because of these 3 actors it is still a lot of fun.
Pacino, Walken and Arkin are so fluid in their acting and are having so much fun doing it that it is infectious and they bring the audience along with them for a night filled with fun. It won't win any awards but it is still good entertainment.
Rating: 7 out of 10
Silver Linings Playbook - 2012 - Directed by David O. Russell
Sometimes the players make the game. Silver Linings Playbook, which at its core is rather predictable and an off-shoot of old fashioned movies, is buoyed by magnificent performances by an all-around stellar cast that elevates the material to comic brilliance.
Bradley Cooper stars as Pat, a man recently released from a mental hospital after suffering a nervous breakdown and almost killing his wife's new lover. When his mom, Dolores (Jacki Weaver), brings him back home much to the surprise of his father Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro), thus begin his attempts to restore his life and get his wife back.
One evening at a dinner party Pat meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a woman who has recently lost her husband and her job, and Pat decides if he helps this woman his wife will see that he has changed and improved his well-being and she will welcome him back with open arms.
This is not a typical fish out of water story where one man is crazy and judged non stop by all the other sane people. In fact, the film seems to be arguing what Pat needs to break out of his tailspin is someone who will embrace his lunacy, someone like Tiffany. Pat Sr. has his own issues of OCD and in the most heartfelt scene of the movie he breaks down while comforting his son as we the audience realize the apple did not fall far from the tree.
Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence (who honestly in my opinion is every bit as good as Chastain's performance in Zero Dark Thirty, if not better) and Jacki Weaver all give great performances but the film's backbone to me was Robert De Niro. He gives a inspiring, poignant performance full of generosity, lunacy and love and his speech to his son at the film's finale, which is formulaic, is soul lifting in his hands.
Silver Linings Playbook is one of the best films of the year.
Rating: 9 out of 10
Zero Dark Thirty - 2012 - Directed by Kathryn Bigelow
Everyone has their own memories of 9/11. In the beginning of the mesmerizing "Zero Dark Thirty," director Bigelow shows us a black screen while we listen to the sounds of that fateful day. It reminds the viewer why we went down this path while simultaneously it aims to deflect some of the impact of the torture scenes the audience will soon be seeing.
As the movie opens, we are introduced to what many of us believe is the old way of thinking. Men do what they do best and inflict violence in order to gain intelligence. Maya (Jessica Chastain) is present for the first interrogation and while she may be somewhat squeamish she doesn't object to this mentality but doesn't subscribe to it either.
Maya is the center point of the film and no other actress I can think of has burst onto the landscape of film which such a diverse array of films and performances as Jessica Chastain has in the last couple years. In Maya, she has crafted a steadfast woman who at every turn must stand her ground against the hierarchy of men who don't the trust the intelligence or the resolve of this woman. It is a brilliant performance that will surely win her a much deserved Oscar.
Maya is how we, the audience, view the film. Her heartbreak, her success, is the soul of the film and ultimately what gives the movie its power. So it is an interesting choice by Bigelow to basically have Maya on the sidelines for the film's final act. Bin Laden was tracked down by a woman who refused to cower to the pressure of her superiors, all men, and yet she is relegated to the task of waiting for the men to come home. It is a poor choice on Bigelow's behalf. The entire film up to this point has been seen through the eyes of Maya and this should of as well.
Rating: 8 out of 10
The Apparition - 2012 - Directed by Todd Lincoln
I don't know what amazes me more? That movies like this keep getting made or that I keep watching them.
Ashley Greene, one of the most unlikeable heroines I've seen in many a moon, stars as a woman who moves into a house with her boyfriend and immediately begins witnessing paranormal activities (no pun intended.) Back in college her boyfriend helped unleash a demon and now it is after them.
When I saw the preview I distinctly remembered the tagline, "Once you believe, you die" followed by Ashley saying "It's not real." Neither of these are in the movie and have absolutely nothing to do with the finished film. Yes another thing that irked me with this movie.
There is no conflict, no moments of suspense and I was rooting for everyone to die so it could finish quicker. It didn't finish fast enough and has the distinction of being the worst movie I saw this year.
Rating: 0 out of 10
Brave - 2012 - Directed by Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman and Steve Purcell
Pixar just does animation better. The colors are crisper, characters more defined, story more developed and landscapes more detailed. However, their latest offering, while at times a break from convention, suffers from one too many cliches and becomes bogged down in atypical Pixar fashion.
Princess Merida, (Kelly MacDonald) the young daughter of King Fergus and Queen Elinor, desperate to forge her own path in life, ventures out on her own and unleashes a deadly curse that threatens to destroy her family and the kingdom.
While most animated films feature a one note villain, "Brave" features none. It is a story about courage and family that would of rung more true had it not been weighed down by such incessant cliches. Girl complains her family doesn't understand her and wants to break from tradition. She wants to prove she is old enough and wise enough to be on her own and shows otherwise and then must spend the rest of the film trying to undo her mistake.
A film this beautiful looking with such great voice acting deserved a better story and I've come to expect way more from Pixar.
Rating: 6 out of 10
The Adventures of TinTin - 2011 - Directed by Steven Spielberg
In the hands of director Spielberg, "Tintin" is an animated version of Raiders of Lost Ark. but lacks that films humor, charm and overall sense of style.
Jamie Bell voices Tintin, a young reporter who will stop at nothing to obtain a new story and his throw caution to the wind mentality puts him on a collision course with Red Rackham (Daniel Craig) as they both search for a sunken ship full of treasure.
Spielberg's best films feature indelible characters with a strong visual style so its surprising that neither exist here. In fact, it is a struggle at times to keep up with the action in the frame as Spielberg, being a novice to animation, definitely believes in more is better rather than letting the story speak for itself. Rather than being an exhilarating ride it turns into a wearisome, forgetful disappointment.
Rating: 5 out of 10
The Ides of March - 2011 - Directed by George Clooney
George Clooneys 4th directorial endeavor is that type of movie that wants you to believe that it is smarter than it really is when in fact it is about as timely and original as a week old episode of Meet The Press.
Ryan Gosling stars as Stephen Meyers, a young, naive idealistic press secretary to Governor Mike Morris (Clooney) who is in a heated battle in Ohio for the presidential primary. When a secret threatens to derail the Governor's bid, Stephen begins to question the moral and ethical dilemmas facing him.
The cast, led by Clooney and Gosling, along with Paul Giamatti, Evan Rachel Wood, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Marisa Tomei are all excellent but the screenplay by Clooney, Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon is chock full of cliches and and its cynical views of politicians is nothing new in this era of political cynicism.
One thing is certain though. Clooney knows how to direct. No further proof is needed than to watch his brilliant film Good Night and Good Luck. He just needs to pick his projects better.
Rating: 5 out of 10
A Thousand Words - 2012 - Directed by Brian Robbins
For my money no actor had a better string of comedies in his heydey than Eddie Murphy did. 48 Hours, Trading Places, Beverly Hills Cop, Coming To America, Harlem Nights. All movies that continue to make me laugh. So it pains me when he keeps showing up in tired, witless so called comedies like "A Thousand Words."
Murphy stars as a literary agent who never stops talking who meets a spiritual guru who introduces him to a tree (not making this up) and then the tree begins losing leaves everytime he speaks and eventually he will die when all the leaves fall. ( Of course, no one ever tells him that would be the final result so I'm not sure how he came to this conclusion ) Along the way he realizes the error of his ways with work and family and begins to prioritize his life.
Brian Robbins, who previously directed Murphy in Meet Dave and Norbit, should officially never be allowed to direct him in anything ever again. He clearly is not helping. What made Eddie a star was his infectious charm and comedic wit mixed with great stories and competent directing. 2 of the 3 have been missing for years now.
Rating: 3 out of 10
Sparkle - 2012 - Directed by Salim Akil
Sparkle is everything you think its going to be and nothing more. It is Dreamgirls without the stars, good music or infectious musical numbers.
Jordin Sparks stars as Sparkle, one of 3 sisters struggling to come to terms with her love of music growing up in her mothers house who is deeply religious and scorns the pursuit of fame and money. Whitney Houston, in her last starring role, shines as Sparkle's mom who never made it herself but her one singing scene doesn't live up to anything she has done before as her voice is clearly battered and unable to hit the high notes that made her famous.
What prevents this film from being completely wasted is Carmen Ejogo, who plays Sister. She is the true star of this film. She is alternately enchanting, beautiful, hypnotic, grandiose and the movie never recovers when she is not on screen.
For a film like this to permeate to audiences it must have good music, showstopping numbers and a cast that is up to the task. This has none of that but it does have Carmen who I believe has the possibility of becoming a much bigger star.
Rating: 3 out of 10
Django Unchained - 2012 - Directed by Quentin Tarantino
Quentin Tarantino's latest film is a bold, bloody, daring, perversely funny, controversial, violent, revisionist take on history and its also entertaining as hell. Oh, and its his best work since Pulp Fiction.
Jamie Foxx stars as Django, a slave who is bought by Dr King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) and enlisted in his plan to help him track down 3 brothers that Django can identify and then collect the bounty and in return he agrees to help Django rescue his wife who is owned by Calvin Candie (Leonardo Dicaprio). In atypical Quentin fashion the film is told in linear narrative and follows Django and Dr King (QT has always loved playing with character names) as they head from Texas to Mississippi over barren landscapes, snowy mountains and Robert Richardson's breathtaking cinematography elicits memories of Robert Altman's classic 70's film, McCabe and Mrs Miller. It is certainly the best looking QT film so far.
Once the second act starts and Django and Schultz head for Calvin's plantation the true intentions of Tarantino begin to show. He depicts slavery in all its brutality featuring mandingo fights, whippings, slaves being torn apart by dogs and the most liberal use of the "N" word ever heard in a film. QT is not interested in floating around the word for meaningless impact though. Every member of society in the film, most prominently polite society, views the word as the only way to describe their property. It is an ugly word and he doesn't flinch from acknowledging it.
While Leonardo is quietly menacing as Calvin, the true horror of the plantation is Calvin's loyal servant Stephen, played with such evil and abhorrence by Samuel L Jackson that he easily becomes the most villainous character to ever inhabit a QT film.
The film moves at a steady pace towards the ultimate bloody third act and violent it is. Tarantino wants Django to get his revenge and revenge he gets by any means necessary.
Whats ultimately the most surprising about this film is how much humor exists in it. It isn't played for irony rather more absurdity and one of the movie's biggest laughs comes at a KKK rally. Nothing is off limits to Tarantino and this is a fresh take and molding of two genres he so lovingly adores, Blaxploitation and Spaghetti Westerns and the result is the directors best film in 15 years and this years best film overall.
Rating: 10 out of 10
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey - 2012 - Directed by Peter Jackson
Rarely has my first impression of a film ever been as wrong as it was for Peter Jackson's Lord of The Rings. When I first saw it I was not a fan but upon a second viewing I recognized its greatness. However, my initial response to The Hobbit is not wrong. This is simply not a good movie. It is an overly long, over blown money grab that leaves a permanent stain on the previous films and I will just pretend that it doesn't exist.
The story follows Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and Gandalf (Ian McKellan) as they travel with Dwarves to reclaim their home and treasure in a quest that Jackson apparently believes is as important as anything in the LOTR trilogy. It is not. Lord of The Rings was rife with death at any possible turn and the conflict that existed in those films is not here. LOTR was a journey and adventure for all of mankind. The Hobbit is about a bunch of Dwarves with no distinct character or nuance. When Bilbo is on the screen the film attempts to soar due to the charismatic performance by Freeman but the film's length, which will test anyone's patience, and Jackson's hyperbole are distinct disappointments in a film I was eagerly awaiting.
What is especially disappointing about this film is its visual style. The landscapes and colors are not up to par with the trilogy and many of the sweeping camera moves seem jarring to the eye and left me wondering if it had something to do with how it was filmed and transferred for 3D. I loved the characterizations in LOTR and this film just felt empty. The amount of battle scenes in this film alone seemed more than the other 3 combined.
The novel "The Hobbit" is a 304 page book that Peter Jackson is stretching out to 9 hours of film. One would of thought that he got wealthy enough off of the first trilogy. I guess not.
Rating: 3 out of 10
Lawless - 2012 - Directed by John Hillcoat
"Lawless" is the supposed true life story of the 3 Bondurant brothers (Shia Labeouf, Tom Hardy and Jason Clarke) in 1930's Prohibition who run an illegal moonshine empire that becomes threatened when a new Deputy (Guy Pearce) comes to town with his own brand of justice. I use the word supposed as I find it hard to believe that when the Bondurant's were alive that their lives were this bland.
Hardy plays Forrest, the leader of the clan, Clarke his muscle, and Shia is the younger brother ill-equipped to deal with his family's business. When Pearce asserts his dominance over him and Forrest doesn't come to his rescue it leads him into a headfirst path into his family's fight.
When I first heard about this film I was ecstatic about the prospects. A bloody true life cops and robbers saga involving one family against a town? Check. Starring Gary Oldman? Check. Jessica Chastain? Check.
So what went wrong? The casting of Shia and Hardy. Both are one note actors at their best. Shia with his incredulous look of what just happened and Hardy with his glare of you must fear me kill any possible emotion and tension and ultimately derail this unsatisfying film.
Rating: 4 out of 10
The Five Year Engagement - 2012 - Directed by Nicholas Stoller
I hadn't thought of it before but clearly I am not a fan of Jason Segel. His and Director Stoller's screenplay about two lovers who take five years to get married is a laughless, plodding film that literally felt like five years to me.
Segel and Emily Blunt meet, fall in love, get engaged and then face hurdle after hurdle on their way to the altar. Sound familiar? Of course it does but that doesn't bother me. Style can, and is, more often than not, more important than plot. Its not what happens so much as how it happens.
The ending to this film is inevitable. We know it is coming. The stars know we know so why not have some fun with it? Instead we are presented with scene after mindless scene of obstacles that in no way should have prevented them from getting married earlier and having this instead called The Two-Year Engagement. It would of been a much shorter and better film.
In 1994 Ben Stiller directed the movie Reality Bites (if you haven't heard of it now you have.) In it Winona Ryder is dating Ethan Hawke and Ben Stiller. In the end she ends up with one and it is supposed to be a happy ending as it is what the audience was expecting. To me it wasn't as she clearly choose the wrong guy. I felt the same way with The Five-Year Engagement. These two characters deserved to be apart.
Rating: 3 out of 10
Killing Them Softly - 2012 - Directed by Andrew Domink
Andrew Dominik's 2007 masterpiece The Assassination of Jesse James by The Coward Robert Ford is in my opinion one of the best films of the last decade. So it is with great sadness to me that his new movie has plenty of flaws, some major, and they all land at his footsteps.
Brad Pitt stars as Jackie Cogan, an enforcer for the mob, who is brought in to clean up the mess after two young junkies rob a mob protected poker game. Once in town Jackie meets with a number of wiseguys to plot the best way to deal with this setback and get everyone back to spending money.
The movie, based on the novel by George V Higgins (which I read and is infinitely better than this drivel), immediately pulls itself away from the book by moving the setting to post Katrina New Orleans and setting it against the backdrop of the looming financial crisis. The director is implying that the leaders of the US have morally and financially bankrupted everyone so obviously certain types will do whatever to make it in this corrupt world It is a tragic misstep which the film never rebounds from.
The locales in New Orleans, which is dirty, grimy, sparse and clearly devoid of money, aims to de-glamorize the world of crime until a grizzly, slow motion bloodbath glorifies the violence. Jackie speaks at length that he doesn't like to be up close and personal when killing someone but Dominik clearly does not have a problem with that. Time and time again his sensibilities creep into the festivities and bring the movie to a screeching halt.
Howard Hawks famously said, " A good movie is three great scenes and no bad scenes." I counted numerous bad scenes (with two being horrendous - the slow motion scene and a long protracted scene involving the two junkies shooting up) and never found a good one.
The actors all to a man try their best to rise up above the material with Pitt especially, proving he is not just a star but a uniquely gifted actor, but it is to no avail. In one scene Jackie tells a colleague that the hitman they brought in to help handle the situation (James Gandolfini) is an alcoholic now and can't be trusted, and needs to be sent packing before he ruins everything. Wish someone had said that about Dominik.
Rating: 3 out of 10
Lincoln - 2012 - Directed by Steven Spielberg
Steven Spielberg's epic new movie "Lincoln" is further proof that Daniel Day Lewis is one of the finest actors working in film today. His is not a performance of impersonation but rather a boldly and remarkably new, detailed rendering of one of history's most important figures.
The film starts off with Lincoln on the battlefield (one of the few scenes of war in this picture) and brings his famous Gettysburg speech with an interesting twist. Rather than have Lincoln deliver it, soldiers recite it back to him. This scene sets the tone for the whole film which is not merely going for theatrics but is instead going for the message.
"Lincoln" the film is set in the weeks leading up to his attempts to end the civil war and end slavery as well. One of the misstep's I believe this film makes is that it is more about backroom politics and wheeling and dealing than it is about raw emotion. Lincoln will forever be remembered as the man who ended slavery, and rightly so, but this picture goes to great lengths to show the toll it took on him, his presidency, and his family to accomplish this goal. Scene after scene is about buying votes and swaying opinions by any means necessary. Doesn't seem like much has changed in the nation's capitol.
One scene will forever stay with me and I wish that Spielberg had choose to end the film with it. While he leads the proceedings right up to Lincolns assassination he chooses not to show it. A previous scene (my favorite) shows Lincoln walking out of the White House after the 13th Amendment was passed and it is eerily reminiscent of John Ford's shot of John Wayne in The Searchers, one of Spielberg's all time favorite films. As The Searchers showed Wayne walking off into the sunset this showed Lincoln walking off into history and it would of been fitting and cinematically more powerful if it had ended on that note.
Rating: 8 out of 10
The Conspirator - 2010 Directed by Robert Redford
There was a time when a new movie by or starring Robert Redford was a big deal to me. No longer. Now it is just further proof that this legends prime has passed him by.
The film is about the plot to assassinate Abraham Lincoln but it is not interested in Lincoln or facts for that matter. What it is interested in is Mary Surrat (Robin Wright) and her attorney (James McAvoy) and whether or not she was involved in the conspiracy plot. What should have been a gripping courtroom drama is instead an emotionally void, lengthy and many times bland film filled with many stars but lacking any power.
I feel like Dennis Hopper in True Romance when I say history fascinates me. It always has. I have read many books on Lincoln, his presidency, John Wilkes Booth and the plot to kill Lincoln and this movie reminded me and made me wish for those books rather than this film.
Rating: 4 out of 10
The Campaign - 2012 Directed By Jay Roach
The Campaign is a raunchy, lowest common denominator movie about a career political hack (Will Ferrell) who suddenly finds himself in a tight election against a competitor being funded by BIG corporation (Zach Galifianakis). They then engage in a no holds barred, no rules permitted campaign that I believe even a real politician would say, "They went too far."
Any hopes of scathing political satire or even funny jokes is lost early on when it becomes clear that the director and its stars are only interested in throwing out crude, obvious jokes at a stunning, dizzying rate and hoping that some stick. Well for me none did.
The timing of this films release, in a presidential election year, gave me hope that the creators had lofty aspirations for this movie. Sadly I was mistaken. Lately it seems that comedy has become a dumping ground for loud, crude, rude, obnoxious, offensive and worst of all, not funny movies. If this is the state of current comedy, and unfortunately I believe it is, I want no part of it.
Rating: 2 out of 10
Moonrise Kingdom - 2012 Directed By Wes Anderson
I'm starting to believe that to say you are not a fan of Wes Anderson to Wes Anderson fans is to say they get it and you don't. They are just smarter than you and you are missing the magic and hyper reality that he creates in his films.
I'm not missing either (notice how there are never any other people in his films? Its just the characters as if nothing else exists). I just don't believe it is magic.
Anderson's earlier films, Bottle Rocket, Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums, of which I am a fan, were grounded in reality. Moonrise Kingdom is out of this earth.
I've always believed Wes was alot like Quentin Tarantino. They both make movies for themselves and it just so happens many people like watching them. While I am on board the Tarantino train I have jumped off the train carrying Wes. Whatever wavelength he is on I am not privy to.
The story is about 2 kids and their escape from their lives and their parents and the cop and the local scout leader all out looking for them. Along the way they experience the elation and heartbreak of childhood as they unknowingly seek to become adults, who they clearly do not understand and eye suspiciously.
Watching the actors in this film is a study in patience. There is no characterization only mannerisms and eccentricity. Everything is over the top.
I've said many times that when you like a movie you forgive it many things as opposed to a movie you don't where you have very little latitude. Such is the case here. Kids enroll in the local scout club but I never saw anyone else living on the island. Where are the other kids and adults? Vast land is covered in the search rescue and once again the land is empty and the people are non-existent. Why did this bother me? Simple. There was not one character in this film that interested me and I was hoping someone would come along and break the spell.
Rating: 4 out of 10
Seeking a Friend For The End of The World - 2012 Directed By Lorene Scafaria
Seeking a Friend is a film in 2 acts. It has no third act. Funny thing is, thats why I watched, to see how they would end it.
It stars Steve Carell, playing himself (literally, as he always does) and Keira Knightley, as two neighbors who meet with only 3 weeks left til a asteroid destroys the earth and of course they decide to go on a road trip! How original.
While they are on their road trip they meet a few people (apparently everyone else has already disappeared?) and find love with each other and live happily ever after for 3 weeks. Sound depressing? Actually its not but that doesn't mean its particulary entertaining either. It has more of a feel of a romantic comedy than a tragic drama but it has nothing to say unfortunately.
Considering I've never been a big fan of either lead I was looking forward to seeing this movie. This film just reiterates why I haven't been. Carell is horribly miscast. His deapan behavior and delivery belies there is even an oncoming catastrophe. Knightley brings nothing to the table unless you count her looks and I for one don't (and never have).
Reflecting upon this movie I realized there wasn't one single character in the film that had anything to say meaningful about their eventual demise. They went about their lives as if nothing was going to change or alter it. They didn't appear to be pretending. They just appeared to not care. Sums up how I feel about this movie.
Rating: 4 out of 10
The Amazing Spiderman - 2012 Directed By Marc Webb
To me the crowning achievement in comic book films was Sam Raimi's 2004 film Spiderman 2. However, after the disaster that was Spiderman 3 I could understand the need to reboot the franchise and start fresh.
Problem is, there is nothing fresh here. Andrew Garfield is suitable as Peter Parker but in no way up to the task as was Tobey Maguire. (In fact, Maguire was so good as Parker that it made the scenes of Spiderman anti-climatic) Emma Stone's acting seems forced and many scenes you can see her trying to be coy and shy instead of just owning it. The story is serviceable but you know somethings not right when your only looking at it through the prism of the first 3 movies.
And then there is the special effects, aka the CGI. When I go to a movie I want to be blown away by the effects and ask myself after, how did they do that?! What I don't want is to see how they did it as it is happening cause it is being done so bad which happens time after time in this unnecessary film. If it doesn't work then spend a few extra million and make it work or just get rid of it!
Director Marc Webb immediately jumped on my radar after his film (500) Days of Summer. It was an assuredly confident Romantic comedy with flawless performances all around. Sadly, none of the elements that he worked so well in that film are on display here.
Rating: 4 out of 10
Expendables 2 - 2012 Directed By Simon West
Based on the worldwide grosses of the first Expendables movie there is clearly a market for films like this. People want to see stars they like doing what they do best.
Still, can't they even attempt to make the movie good? One 80's action star after another is trotted out along with bad acting, awful dialogue and each scene is ear numbing mindless noise that makes elevator music seem like Grammy material. Seriously, put some effort into this Hollywood!
I am going to run down the plot so see if you can follow it. Shooting, bad dialogue, shooting, stabbings, explosions, bad dialogue, maimings, explosions, explosions, more bad dialogue and more explosions and shootings and stabbings. If that sounds like your cup of tea, enjoy!
Rating: 2 out of 10
Life of Pi - 2012 Directed By Ang Lee
Years ago when I read Yann Martel's novel Life of Pi I was instantly struck with the impression that it could never be made into a movie. Director Ang Lee proved me wrong.
Whats even more impressive with Lee's adaptation is he has made a remarkable film filled with indelible performances and visual imagery second to none. This is by far the best movie I have seen this year.
The story is centered on Pi, a young man from India, who is shipwrecked and becomes a castaway on a lifeboat in the Pacific Ocean for over 200 days with Richard Parker, a Bengal Tiger. It is a story about survival, faith, friendship and religion and hinges on one central question. Is it real? In the book I had my opinion on that question but with the movie I realized it didn't matter to me. What mattered to me was the experience of watching this magical film unfold and I will be going back to see it again, this time in 3D.
A constant gripe with me about movies is that so many lack imagination or even try to show us something new. That is not the case here. I could literally count numerous scenes that are breathtaking in their imagery and scope and come Oscar time Lee will be rewarded for his creative vision, with many nominations.
Rating: 10 out of 10