“Greenberg” Review

January 10, 2013 |  by  |  movies, reviews  |  No Comments

With “Greenberg” Noah Baumbach directs his third great film in recent years — after “The Squid and the Whale” and “Margot at the Wedding”.  All of them combine heartbreakingly vulnerable characters with painfully observant humor.  His films almost make you feel guilty for laughing.  I love them all.  Very few directors are as truthful and honest about the flawed human race as Baumbach.

In this effort, Ben Stiller, usually known for his all-out comedies, revisits a darker side of his repertoire as the title character.  I haven’t seen a performance like this from Stiller since his great turn in “Your Friends & Neighbors” back in 1998.  He plays Roger Greenberg, a self-consumed depressive, recently institutionalized, who is aimlessly floating through a middle-aged crisis.  While house-sitting in Los Angeles for his brother,  he meets a young woman (Greta Gerwig), fifteen years his junior, who has issues of her own.  Over the course of a month, they navigate the mundane and awkward moments of life together.  What results is a touching and brutal relationship — often hilarious and always interesting.  Both Stiller and Gerwig deserve to be considered during the next award season.

“Greenberg” is one of the better films of 2010.  It will likely end up on the cusp of my year end Top 10 List.  If you have any appreciation for Baumbach’s “Squid” or “Margot”, then you simply have to take a look.  If you are new to his work, I urge you to take a chance and add them all to your must-see list.

THREE AND A HALF STARS Greenberg Review

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“True Grit” Review

January 10, 2013 |  by  |  movies, reviews  |  No Comments

The Coen brothers have crafted yet another superb film with an epic remake of John Wayne’s 1969 classic western, “True Grit”.  It really lives up to its name, taking all of the polish of the genre and fully realizing the unbearably rough nature of life in the old west.  The story remains true to the original as the 14 year-old girl, Mattie, hires grizzly Marshall Rooster Cogburn to hunt down the outlaw who killed her father.  The two of them team up with Texas Ranger LaBoeuf and set out across the rough terrain in search of their prey.

To be honest, I don’t remember the original very well.  I saw it as a teenager and have never revisited the film.  I do, however, recall that it was far less “gritty” than this one.  John Wayne’s Cogburn was more John Wayne than anything else.  The Duke is a legend in many people’s eyes, but I have to say that I found him to be more of a movie-star than a quality actor.  The same cannot be said of Jeff Bridges.  This latest version of the one-eyed lawman is a memorable creation whose alcoholic breath almost reeks through the screen.  His tattered clothes, we imagine, have not been washed or changed in many months.  His speech is that of a gruff veteran who knows the way of the world and doesn’t much care about the people in it.  Jeff Bridges completely immerses himself in the character in one of the best acting examples of 2010.

Hailee Steinfeld is nothing short of magnificent as Mattie, the plucky and eloquent girl who manipulates the adults around her with a sharp tongue and a keen wit.  She is tightly wound and fiercely determined to track down the murderer.  Her performance is at the heart of the story and she helps to elevate the material from a simple remake to a new classic in the genre.

Matt Damon is also in fine form as LaBeouf.  He is fast becoming one of the elite actors of this generation, continuously choosing challenging and original material.  This role is no exception.  He is a vital component in this heroic trio.  It ranks as one of the best supporting performances of the year.

The dialogue is quick-witted and intelligent.  There are laughs to be found throughout this weighty material.  “True Grit” represents one of the finest examples of screenwriting I have come across.  The landscapes and the cinematography are all rather spectacular and the direction is the work of seasoned professionals who are confident and assured of what they want to deliver.  Everything about this remake demands Oscar consideration.

I have to confess that I was underwhelmed by the ending.  Something about its brevity left me hollow.  I suppose I just wanted a little more time with Mattie and some more meat on the tired bones of Rooster and LaBoeuf.  Other than that minor quibble, I have to say that this is a great movie in virtually every way.

THREE AND A HALF STARS True Grit Review

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“The Human Contract” Review

January 10, 2013 |  by  |  movies, reviews  |  No Comments

I really wanted to like “The Human Contract”.  It marketed itself as a sexy thriller with Paz Vega strutting around in Cosabella lingerie.  How could it fail?  All you have to do is give me Paz and a run-of-the-mill story, and I am sold!

Unfortunately, Jada Pinkett-Smith’s film is so convoluted and unsure of its identity that it dribbles miserably to an insufferable conclusion.  On top of that, the film is presented with such a cocky and distasteful attitude, as if it is somehow delivering profound material that we should all bow humbly before.  In actuality, it is nothing more than clichéd ramblings and unsavory characters.

The film’s greatest flaw is that the protagonist is a worthless jerk.  We are asked to care about a millionaire asshole who resorts to violence in every situation… even against women.  Admittedly, the movie does try to give reasons for his behavior — but they are grossly insufficient.  All we are really left with is a despicable character who lives a life of luxury and screws gorgeous women right before beating the crap out of them.  Nice.

Paz Vega is the only good thing about this movie.  She is wonderful eye candy and she does supremely well with awful material.  However, even one of my favorite actresses in films cannot rescue this abysmal story.  It is no wonder that Sony decided to bury this effort in a straight to DVD release.  They should have skipped DVD and gone straight for the garbage.

ONE STAR The Human Contract Review

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“G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” Review

“G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” Review

January 10, 2013 |  by  |  movies, reviews  |  No Comments

There were three reasons for me to watch this preposterous movie… Sienna Miller, Rachel Nichols and Sienna Miller.  Yeah, that’s right Sienna counts twice.  Other than those two uncontrollably hot women, I had no desire to watch this ten year-old’s wet dream of a video game.  After all, it isn’t really a movie at all.  The plot is nonsensical.  The characters are thinner than an anorexic snake.  The special effects have less authenticity than Mrs Pacman.  The script has more “oh my god’s” than a night in the Playboy mansion.  In fact, almost everything about “GIJ:TROC” is cheap masturbatory material.  The chicks can rub one out over Channing Tatum.  Confused teens can get partial wood over the techno-gadgets and ludicrous explosions.  Me… I will fiddle my diddle over Sienna and Rachel in skin-tight leather catsuits.

Legendary director Jean-Luc Goddard once said, “All you need for a movie is a girl and a gun.”  His point is valid, although I think you could simplify it further by saying, “All you need for a movie is a girl.”  This silly movie has two girls and lots of guns… so I guess that makes it a masterpiece???

Is this movie dumber than a bag of hammers?  Yes.  It is clear that no one involved knew what the fuck they were doing?  Sure.  I think Sienna Miller was asked in an interview, just days after shooting wrapped, what her character’s name was… She didn’t have a clue. I can’t blame her.  I just watched the movie 8 minutes ago and I can’t remember anything about it.

Paramount Studios obviously piled together a “name brand”, some eye-candy actors, a $100 million FX budget and a four-year-old screenwriter and hoped that it would all come together somehow.  Well, the film grossed $302 million worldwide, so I suppose the joke is on us!

All of that being said, I didn’t hate the film.  It is a lightweight piece of disposable entertainment.  It doesn’t take itself seriously and keeps the pace at insane levels.  Watching “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” is like a coming home to a tiny puppy who has just shit all over the carpet and ripped up your favorite pair of shoes.  Sure, you are a little pissed off, but you can’t bring yourself to beat the thing up.  Now, if you will excuse me, I have to go find some pictures of Sienna Miller on the internet.

TWO STARS “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” Review

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“Adam” Review

January 10, 2013 |  by  |  movies, reviews  |  1 Comment

If Rose Byrne is in it, I will watch it… and the chances are that I will like it.  She has the innate ability to make me happy just by her presence on screen.  There is nothing pretentious about her.  She appears so relaxed and comfortable in every role.  It is as if she was born to act… born to create authentic characters that are easy to empathize with.  I think she is the most natural actress in movies today.

In “Adam”, Rose Byrne plays Beth Buchwald, a new tenant in a New York City apartment, who meets the title character while doing her first laundry run.  Hugh Dancy plays Adam Raki, the oddball astronomy buff who awkwardly stumbles through some early conversations with the beautiful new girl in the building.  Adam suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome — a disease on the Autism scale that makes social interaction rather difficult.  What develops is a touching and tender relationship as Beth tries to cope with the complications that arise.  “Adam” is a gentle film that navigates a delicate human dynamic with grace and warmth.

Unfortunately, there are some problems with the film.  It does get far too cutesy in some scenes and occasionally feels a little charitable towards its subject.   I am sure the reality of Asperger’s is not all puppy dogs and ice cream.  I am not 100% sold on Hugh Dancy’s performance.  It is hard to gauge how accurately he portrays the illness, but there are moments that do not ring true to me.  There is also an unnecessary sub-plot involving Beth’s father that exists only to manufacture hollow drama.

Nevertheless, the movie ends in a way that isn’t nearly as contrived as it could have been.  I was thankful that the screenplay didn’t feel the need to “go there” with the expected cliché.  Rose Byrne is the primary reason to watch the film.  She is marvelous.  The film is pale in comparison – only a notch above cable-TV-movie fare.

TWO AND A HALF STARS Adam Review

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“Antichrist” Review

January 10, 2013 |  by  |  movies, reviews  |  No Comments

The extraordinarily mixed reception at the Cannes Film Festival only added to the “must see” factor of this controversial movie from director, Lars von Trier.  I will admit that previous work often dictates the length of rope I will give directors when it comes to their more experimental efforts.  If I am already a fan, as is the case with von Trier, I am far more likely to accept the mystifyingly abstract and horrifyingly extreme — and, believe me… “Antichrist” requires a very long rope.

The film traverses the path of grief experienced by a couple who tragically loses their young son when he falls to his death from a window.  The couple flee to a cabin in the woods, metaphorically stranded in a forest of despair and pain.  Listen… this is an artistic film that will repulse and shock the vast majority of viewers.

No one will enjoy the film — it is not that type of art.  This is a piece of work to be experienced rather than enjoyed.  I can admire the beautiful aspects of the movie.  I can respect the performances.  I can salute the courage of the director.  However, it is not a film that I would ever subject myself to again… and unless you are a very adventurous cineaste, I would advise you to steer clear.

TWO AND A HALF STARS Antichrist Review

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“Adrift” Review

January 10, 2013 |  by  |  movies, reviews  |  No Comments

This is a nice coming-of-age tale from Brazil starring Vincent Cassel, Camilla Belle & Laura Neiva.  “Adrift” (“À Deriva”) tells the story of Filipa — a 14 year old girl whose parents are on the verge of splitting due to infidelities on both sides.  The film follows her as she navigates the inherently difficult emotions attached with the disintegration of her family.

Filipa’s primary conflict lies with her father.  She catches his flirtation with a local beauty — going so far as to spy on them during their liaisons.  Naturally, when combined with her already complicated age, the reaction is an awkward and dangerous rebellion.

“Adrift” is beautifully shot and well acted — Laura Neiva was randomly discovered on Orkut (a social networking site) and is an instant star.  Her performance is the primary reason to see the film.  Cassel is typically powerful — the daring Frenchman never disappoints in his movies.  I wish they had used the talented and beautiful Camilla Belle more.  She is relegated to eye candy for the majority of the movie, but I would have liked to have seen more from that character.

This is a quietly poignant film that probably needed a little more complexity and depth.  As it stands, it is a nice find that deserves a look if you can stumble across it on DVD.

THREE STARS Adrift Review

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“About Schmidt” Review

January 10, 2013 |  by  |  movies, reviews  |  No Comments

Where did my life go?

Warren R. Schmidt is an old man who has always lacked the conviction to follow his youthful dreams. He finds himself enduring an unwanted retirement, sleeping next to a strange woman (his wife) every night, and dreading his daughter’s impending marriage to a white trash loser who sells waterbeds and gets involved with pyramid schemes that aren’t really pyramid schemes. He is tired and bored and disgusted and miserable… and he tells it all to Ndugu, his ‘Childreach foster son’ from Tanzania, to whom he writes letters and sends $22 checks every month. When his wife dies, Warren embarks on a Winnebago trip to visit his daughter’s in-laws-to-be, the week before the wedding. This is the story of Warren’s adventure into the world of ‘oblivious people’ who are simply unaware of the depth of his misery.

A poignant and touching performance by Jack Nicholson highlights this tragic comedy about a man who arrives at the tail end of a mundane and wasted life, only to discover that it’s even sadder than he feared. This is the story of a man who is desperate to start living and making a difference in the world just as he becomes aware that his time is running out.

It sounds more depressing than it actually is… I laughed out loud more times than I could count. The tale of Warren R. Schmidt is a profound one that is masterfully hidden beneath a goofy exterior. I laughed so much that I didn’t realize how much I started to care about the characters. I was quite amazed at how easily I cried as the final scene rolled… and all the credit for that must go to Jack Nicholson who gives yet another Oscar worthy performance.

The older you are (and I don’t mean in terms of literal years), the more you will appreciate this film. Warren’s letters to little Ndugu are like life lessons veiled as comedy. This film will stay with me for a long time.

THREE STARS About Schmidt Review

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“Up In the Air” Review

January 10, 2013 |  by  |  movies, reviews  |  No Comments

Here’s a film that tries desperately to land smack-dab in the middle of the “modern indie drama” genre — complete with valuable life lessons, characters awakening to their wasted lives and a soundtrack that would make Sundance audiences jizz in their pants.  That is not to say that this is a bad film… Far from it.  “Up In the Air” is often smart and marginally poignant.

It is well acted and it keeps the pace brisk enough to preempt glances at the time on your iPhone.  Clooney might be on autopilot, gliding his way through the running time with an abundance of Clooney-ness, but his charm is enough to carry the film safely home.  Vera Farmiga is a very talented actress who doesn’t have a lot to do here.  The one stand-out is Anna Kendrick, who steals the show with a great effort.  She is a star.

However, the entire production is too aloof… too brief… too shallow to be entirely meaningful.  It is a good film without ever even attempting to be anything more.  I felt cold and detached — much like the main character.  I was interested where the story would take me without ever really caring very much.  And as the final credits rolled, “Up In the Air” left me exactly where its title promised.

THREE STARS Up In the Air Review

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“Law Abiding Citizen” Review

January 10, 2013 |  by  |  movies, reviews  |  No Comments

Listen… everything about this film is ludicrous and implausible.  It is also an angry film that seems to promote vigilante justice to the nth degree.  It is often gruesome and hardly has a shred of hope or goodness in any scene.  It is a blueprint for a film that I should hate with every fiber of my being.  I cannot think of a film description that bodes worse for my recommendation.  And yet…

“Law Abiding Citizen” somehow managed to convince me that it had a point… that the anger was justified.  It is a destruction of the American criminal justice system — often touted as the best in the world (mostly by American lawyers and politicians).  It is a hate-filled rant against the corruption, the stupidity, the red tape, the injustice, the legalese and the greed.  And I appreciated the argument.  I may not agree with vigilantism, but I understand the frustration that comes with the lack of true justice.

Gerard Butler and Jamie Foxx are both convincing and intense in their roles.  The events that transpire, although absurd in every way, are riveting to watch and had me glued to the screen.  It is definitely a film where you have to turn the brain, not off, but down to level 1.  That is not to say it is a mindless film.  The ideas behind the narrative are profound… But the delivery is totally over the top.

THREE STARS Law Abiding Citizen Review

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