“Young & Beautiful” Review

July 2, 2014 |  by  |  movies, reviews  |  No Comments

I watched “Young & Beautiful” (Jeune & Jolie) entirely in French — without subtitles.  That is a first for me.  I am what you would call “casually conversational” in the language.  I get the gist of most conversations… but occasionally I miss things and need it slowed down or repeated.  I feel the need to qualify this review by admitting that I probably didn’t comprehend every single line of the film.  That being said, I can only imagine this film getting better when I see it a second time… with the subtitles.

The director, François Ozon, has crafted some wonderful films over the years… most notably “Swimming Pool”, “8 Women” and “Under the Sand”.  Here, he delivers a delicate exploration of a teenage girl’s sexual awakening as she enters a life of prostitution.

Marine Vacth is an absolute revelation as Isabelle, a high school girl who loses her virginity on a family holiday.  The encounter leaves her cold.  Upon her return to the city and to school, she finds an avenue to easy money by using this unemotional sexual power she has over men.  However, one older man, Georges, is a little different from all the rest.

The movie is quintessentially French… and that is a compliment.  It is patient and inquisitive, languid and wise.  It never devolves into the trivial or the salacious.  “Young & Beautiful” is a lovely and poignant story with terrific performances.  It demands a second viewing… one where I catch all the spoken words I missed out on the first time.

THREE AND A HALF STARS Young & Beautiful Review

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“Snowpiercer” Review

July 2, 2014 |  by  |  movies, reviews  |  No Comments

Some of my long-time readers may know my theory that any film with a train in it simply has to be good.  That theory equally applies to snow.  “Snowpiercer” is a film about a train in snow!  Surely this is a masterpiece on the horizon!?

Uhhh… No.

In the future, a failed global warming experiment makes the world freeze and renders it completely uninhabitable for human life.  The only humans remaining exist on a train that uses a perpetual motion engine to circumnavigate the earth over and over again.  The train seems to be hundreds of cars long.  We start at the back… with the dregs of society living in slum conditions.  After years of enduring those conditions, they plan a revolt to get to the front of the train.

It all sounds good… and it has interesting things to say about class warfare and income inequality.  However, it needed a much better film to tell that story.

The movie works its way from car to car… getting more and more bizarre each time.  There are saunas and aquariums and night clubs and strange drugs and schools and yada yada yada.  It becomes a trippy mess that fails to explore all the possibilities of the plot.  Rather it is a succession of scenes that do not add up to a satisfying whole.  It could have been great… but it is really just silly nonsense.

Oh well… train theory busted… snow theory busted.    UNLESS — The two cancel each other out???  New Theory…. BAM!

ONE STAR Snowpiercer Review

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“Calvary” Review

June 28, 2014 |  by  |  movies, reviews  |  No Comments

This film had me… then almost lost me… then gathered me back at the end.  The result is a moody, somber piece of cinema with very strong performances and an existential aftertaste.

“Calvary” begins with an intense close-up of Brendan Gleeson, as Father James Lavelle, taking confession from an unseen man who promises to kill him as an act of vengeance.  The unseen man claims that he want to kill an innocent priest to avenge the years of abuse he suffered from another member of clergy when he was a young boy.  According to him, killing an innocent would mean more than simply retaliating against the perpetrator. Gleeson’s character takes it in stride.  He is given until a week from Sunday to “put his house in order” before the act will be committed.

In a sub-plot, the Father’s daughter arrives back in town after a failed suicide attempt.  She is played by Kelly Reilly, a fine young actress who holds her own against Gleeson’s superb performance.  The rest of the cast all deliver interesting roles — including an Ivorian philanderer, an alcoholic millionaire, a cuckolded drunk, a heartless doctor and a suicidal virgin who may join the military.

It probably all sounds a little drab and depressing… perhaps it is.  However, if you are familiar with Brendan Gleeson’s first collaboration with director, John Michael McDonagh, in “The Guard”, you will be well aware of the dark humor that pervades his work.  The first half of “Calvary” has a similar vibe and really works in creating a memorable atmosphere and a story that will have you drumming your fingers with nervous tension.

Unfortunately, the film dwindles around the hour mark.  It drags enough to lose most of its inertia.  I found myself checking the clock and the movie got mired in exposition and uninteresting conversations.  At a certain point, I had lost enthusiasm for the film and couldn’t wait for it to be over.

However, the final fifteen minutes rescued the film from inconsequential irrelevance.  The climax is really thrilling and brave… and felt more authentic than I expected it would.  Gleeson’s showdown with the unseen man is powerful and the last scenes border on the profound.  It left me completely satisfied and probably even earned a second viewing someday.  “Calvary” is a good film with fantastic performances.  Go out of your way to find it.

THREE AND A HALF STARS Calvary Review

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“A Million Ways to Die in the West” Review

June 27, 2014 |  by  |  movies, reviews  |  1 Comment

I love “Family Guy”.  I really liked “Ted”.  You can count me in as a fan of Seth MacFarlane despite his atrocious hosting of the Oscars.  I get his humor.  He throws out a million jokes a minute… and 75% of the time, he has me in stitches.

However…

“A Million Ways to Die in the West” is probably the worst film of 2014.  It is easily one of worst “supposed comedies” I can remember.  And it ranks as one of the most infuriatingly dull movies that I have ever seen.  I hated it in ways that I cannot convey with mere words.  I have to physically pound the keyboard with my fists to impart my vicious loathing  — dsuiasd@gioklguw£%elkl wefgo wee()wklf qjweqpw9p/*#’~u38.

I have to concede that I giggled very early on in the film with the first of the 37 fart jokes.  A man collapsed after some bad gas and I was able to muster up a “Beavis and Butthead” like chuckle, which lasted 0.8 seconds.  After that, the film peters out and I was left with muscle ache from frowning so much.

There are vast stretches of this film that defiantly aren’t even trying to be funny.  And I am not talking about 2-3 minute scenes… I mean 15- 20 minute action sequences or half-hour expositions of attempted sincerity.  It is as if MacFarlane became a grandiose emotional sap… coupled with a Michael Bay impersonator.

In addition, the film’s running time is 19 hours and 43 minutes… or at least it felt so.  I thought it was over about 45 minutes in… but then it just kept going and going and going and going.  YOU WILL NOT BELIEVE HOW LONG THIS FILM TRUNDLES ON FOR!!!

However, the ultimate crime of a film like this is being morosely unfunny.  I swear on my life I got more laughs out of “Schindler’s List”.  Weak jokes are repeated relentlessly.  None of it has any wit or timing or truth or teeth.  The gags bored the hell out of my 15 year old nephew.  They were beneath him.  I think they would be beneath anyone’s sense of humor.  It is painfully awkward to endure.

Everyone will be dumber for having watched this film.  I award it no points and may god have mercy on its soul.

ZERO STARS A Million Ways to Die in the West Review

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“Her” Review

June 27, 2014 |  by  |  movies, reviews  |  No Comments

Spike Jonze’s gentle and lovely film, “Her”, is one of those works of art that will only appreciate in value over time.  The night I watched it… I really liked it.  By the time I fell asleep… I was starting to love it.  A week later… and I think it may have become one of the most touching and poignant films of all time.

The film is gorgeously shot and acted with miraculous precision.  It transports the viewer into a not too distant future — a tricky and delicate procedure that, although technically places the film into science-fiction, feels truly authentic and relatable.   “Her” is simultaneously wondrous and basic.  It is both magical and realistic.

Joaquin Phoenix, an actor who is entrenched as one of the finest of his generation, plays Theordore — a lonely romantic who awkwardly stumbles into a relationship with his computer’s operating system.  That system is voiced by Scarlett Johansson as Samantha — an intuitive intelligence with a seductively breathy voice and a penchant for saying all the right things to our lead character.  Their unique cinematic coupling is one of the sweetest and loveliest in recent memory.

“Her” goes to places I didn’t even try to predict.  I was too busy soaking up the celestial visuals, the rich and thoughtful dialogue, and the complex emotional plane on which this film exists.  Everything about this film is brilliantly executed.  It is hands-down one of the best films of 2013… and it has the potential to become an all-time-great as the decades roll by.

FOUR STARS Her Review

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“Under the Skin” Review

June 24, 2014 |  by  |  movies, reviews  |  No Comments

How often do you awake from a movie-induced coma, brought on by routine sameness, tired characters and inconsequential dialogue?  It happens to me at least 60% of the time.  The vast majority of movies are exactly what you expect… so much so, that you almost could have written the screenplay yourself.  Well, prepare your mind for a bizarre little treat — because this film is the antithesis of predictable and clichéd .

“Under the Skin” stars Scarlett Johansson as a seemingly other-worldly being, who drives a large white van around the streets of Glasgow, on the prowl for men to bring back to her lair.  Their fate, as their lust-filled brains compel them to follow her, is a dark oily pool of soul-crushing nothingness.  It is the feel-good film of the year!

Johansson is mesmerizing in this role — her best since “Lost in Translation”.  Much of the film is fixated on her curious gaze, as she takes the van on a meandering journey, searching for her next prey.  Oftentimes, the film takes her visual point of view as we scan the empty, gormless faces of the city.  She occasionally stops to invite one of the men for a ride.  They awkwardly agree, completely unaware of the trap awaiting them.

An interesting note about this film is that much of it was shot with hidden cameras.  Some of the men that Johansson picks up are simply members of the public thrust into a film scene completely unbeknownst to them.  We get the feeling that they see something familiar in the world famous actress, but cannot quite place the thought.

A shift happens about half way through the film, when our central character takes pity and shows empathy for one of her potential victims.  The film pivots around this scene and takes a vastly different tone thereafter.  This shift is dramatic… almost horrific.  It is this shift that defines the film’s narrative strength and will define how you feel about the film.

“Under the Skin” is an iconic, uniquely memorable film that will probably take a long time to develop into an accepted classic.  Most won’t hear about it until they read the year-end Top Ten Lists.  Some will catch it on a friend’s recommendation a few years from now.  It is hardly a box office smash.  However, ten, twenty, fifty years from now, we will collectively have decided what this film means.  It is not one that will be forgotten.  It is a film that will grow in stature.  Time is a film snob’s best friend… and this is a film snob’s type of film.

Truth be told, I am not yet 100% sure what the film is about.  I have some unformed ideas. That will come with conversations and reading essays and arguments with movie-drones.  But I do know that I loved it.  I loved the bizarre soundscape.  I loved the eerie cinematography.  I loved that it made me feel disconnected from this world… as if I empathized somehow with Johansson’s alien character.  I love that I am going to see this film again and again over the years and feel differently about it each and every time.  How often can you say that about a film?

FOUR STARS Under the Skin Review

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“Edge of Tomorrow” Review

May 31, 2014 |  by  |  movies, reviews  |  No Comments

You’ve probably heard the combo-comparison for “Edge of Tomorrow” –”Starship Troopers” meets “Groundhog Day”.  It is a fitting description that will give you the gist.  However, I am not sure it has the substance of either.  For all of its faults, “Starship Troopers” was amusing and often subversively satirical take on American war culture.  It had something to say.  “Groundhog Day” was an insightful film about cynicism and chauvinism, wrapped in a light-hearted rom-com.  It was deceptively profound.

However, “Edge of Tomorrow” only shares aliens with the former and re-lived days with the latter.  It never aims for the lofty messages or the plunges the depths of the premise’s potential.  It simply exists as a fun action film and never fully commits to being anything more.

There are aliens.  Period.  We never get any more explanation than that.  There are simply aliens attacking earth.  End of story.  Deal with it.  Tom Cruise plays Major William Cage, a soldier who, after getting himself into some trouble, finds himself on the front lines of the alien war.  During his arrest, Cage is knocked out and awakens on a military base at Heathrow Airport, near London.  He sees combat later that morning, on the beaches of France, where he kills an abnormally large alien with a claymore mine.  The explosion also takes Cage’s own life… and he instantly awakens at the same point earlier that morning — handcuffed at Heathrow Airport.

The film explores that day over and over again — always resulting in his death and re-boot.  He remembers the sequence of events and learns a new way to go each and every time.  This gives him the ability to learn from his mistakes and find new paths to possible success.  However, it is his meeting with Sergeant Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), a famous soldier known as “Full Metal Bitch” and the “Angel of Verdun”, that holds the key to victory.

For what it attempts to be, “Edge of Tomorrow” is a good film.  It is well-paced and exciting… occasionally humorous and always energetic.  I really liked the way it avoided boring repetition — as would easily be possible in a film like this.  Tom Cruise is so accomplished at this type of role that we probably all take him for granted.  Emily Blunt is terrific in a role you may not predicted for her.  She is physically tough and holds her own against the legendary action star.

The only quibble I have is the lack of ambition in the screenplay.  It all seems a little routine.  All Cage learns throughout the film is the sequence to a puzzle — step left here… wait 7 seconds there… jump now… roll later… fire at this moment… duck at that moment.  There is no character growth on show.  There isn’t enough heart for this movie to rise to level of greatness.  It is a better movie than Cruise’s 2013 blockbuster, “Oblivion” — but it feels a tad too similar.  I just found myself wanting more.  “Edge of Tomorrow” is fun entertainment, but hardly one for the ages.

THREE STARS Edge of Tomorrow Review

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“Don Jon” Review

December 19, 2013 |  by  |  movies, reviews  |  No Comments

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a tremendous talent.  His roles are intricate and daring.  His films are usually thoughtful and interesting.  Everything about his young career suggests that he will be one of the people to watch over the next few decades.  That being said, “Don Jon” is a huge mis-step and ranks as one of his least successful choices to date.

JGL writes, directs and stars as the titular Jon in this childish, repetitive and shallow story of a New Jersey “guido-lite” who loves his car, his pad, his family, his friends, his girls and his porn.    Unfortunately for Jon, the last two items on that list seem to be conflicting with each other. This becomes especially problematic when his starts dating Barbara, a NJ “guidette” played with skin-tight and  scary accuracy by a sex-soaked Scarlett Johansson.   Barbara is hell-bent on controlling her new boyfriend in every aspect of his life — and that includes Jon’s relentless porn habit.

Julianne Moore shows up, in the most underused role in the film, as a recent widow who teaches Jon a thing or two about “real sex” as opposed to the cold thrusting fantasies he craves on pornhub.  Tony Danza delivers a nice little role as Jon’s slightly stereotypical NJ father.  Together with Gordon-Levitt and Johansson, the entire cast is relatively good despite the rather average material.  The acting is definitely not the problem here.

The film suffers a number of significant issues.  “Don Jon” barely has a sympathetic character to offer.  Juliane Moore’s character is the closest we get… and she only has 10-15 minutes of quality screen time.   The direction is over-stylized and lacks any rhythm, pacing or patience.  The writing is without nuance or wit.  It merely repeats the same trashy messages over and over as the 90 minute running time drags itself to the  finish line with loud clanging thuds.  It is one of those stories that could have been told in half-an-hour… but gets stretched out with tedious monotony.

ONE AND A HALF STARS Don Jon Review

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“The Bling Ring” Review

September 12, 2013 |  by  |  movies, reviews  |  1 Comment

Sofia Coppola is a masterful director.  Until now, she has either directed some very good films (“The Virgin Suicides” and “Marie Antoinette”) or absolute masterpieces (“Somewhere” and “Lost in Translation”).  Until now.  Unfortunately, her latest outing is a disappointingly thin true account of the vapid, celebrity obsessed group of high-school teenagers who repeatedly robbed the homes of Hollywood’s richest stars — stockpiling jewels and designer clothes so they could “live the lifestyle” they so envied.

The film primarily suffers from its subject matter.  Neither the teenagers, nor the celebrity victims are particularly sympathetic.  None of the characters in the film get the full exploratory treatment.  All we are left with are scenes of empty human trash waltzing quietly around lavish homes, trying on Louboutin shoes, Louis Vuitton bags, Chanel dresses and Dior accessories.

It was incumbent upon the director to find an angle that could make audiences care.  I think Coppola fails for the first time in her directorial career to find that angle.  The film feels narrow and forced.  It lacks a grand theme or a central humanity.  There is absolutely nothing separating “The Bling Ring” from a cable TV movie.  It feels cheap and lightweight.

The cast are all very solid here.  Some of them are very early in their acting careers — a couple are even making their feature film debuts.  However, they manage to capture the soulless materialism of their characters very well and each deserve a lot of praise.  Emma Watson and Israel Broussard seem to get the most screen time and they are both really convincing in their roles.

“The Bling Ring” isn’t a bad movie… simply an irrelevant one.  The time passed quickly and there were some entertaining moments.  But it all could have been relayed to me in a twenty minute short and I would have had an extra hour of my life to make a sandwich, check my facebook and watch a rerun of “Friends”.  Coppola has always been masterful at finding the profundity in small moments.  Here, it seems there were no moments to explore.  A minimal story with minimal characters resulted in a minimal film.

TWO AND A HALF STARS The Bling Ring Review

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“World War Z” Review

September 6, 2013 |  by  |  movies, reviews  |  No Comments

The film starts with a pretty short breakfast scene.  Then BAM!!! Zombies galore for two straight hours.  It sacrifices any character development for almost instant action… something that would normally irritate the hell out of me.  However, I came into “World War Z” expecting, perhaps demanding, excitement and thrills.  That’s exactly what I got.  It is a kinetic ride that, although lacking depth or emotion, works on the most surface of levels.  Sometimes that is just fine.

Brad Pitt plays United Nations employee, Gerry Lane — a family man who, when caught up in an intensely rabid zombie pandemic, is recalled to hop the globe in search of a cure for the disease.  His wife (Mireille Enos) and two young daughters are left behind on a war ship as incentive for him.  If he fails his mission, his family lose their safe haven and will be returned to land as non-essential personnel.

The action forces Gerry from South Korea to Israel to Wales… always encountering a few more clues and a whole host of freaky fast zombies with a hankering for flesh.  Each time the movie takes time to breathe, the undead find a way to disrupt the peace with a horrifically scary attack.  The film is relentless that way.

There are two small quibbles I have.  The decision to abandon character development works on an entertainment level, but it does leave the emotional aspect quite inconsequential.  I never really cared that much about any of it… and that will render the film slightly forgettable in years to come.  Also, the zombies never felt real to me.  Their quick spasmodic jerky movement seemed far too cartoonish to be menacing.  It looked animated.

“World War Z” is pure popcorn.  There is no message.  There is no feeling.  There is no depth.  It is the simplest of films, played out at an extraordinary pace.  I forgave its minor sins just enough to give it a good rating.  I doubt I will ever return to the movie again.  It is a two-hour diversion that works on a primal level.  My adrenaline spiked.  The edge of my seat was worn down.  My fingernails were chewed.  But I have already filed it away deep in the recesses of my memory.

THREE STARS World War Z Review

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