“Life of Pi” Review

January 19, 2013 |  by  |  movies, reviews  |  1 Comment

Ang Lee’s “Life of  Pi” is a story of belief and doubt played over 227 days lost at sea.  It is a truly lovely and thoughtful film with some of the most spectacular visuals of any film in recent years.  I cannot imagine anyone not finding something to admire here.  It is one of the best films of 2012.

A grown Pi Patel recounts his heroic story of survival to a writer, who is intrigued when he is told that the incredible tale would kindle his belief in God.  So Pi begins his story as a child in India, living with his family and running a zoo.  When they decide to relocate across the world to Canada, they set sail aboard a Japanese freight ship.  Tragically, four days into the journey, a storm sinks the ship and leaves Pi stranded on a lifeboat with an orangutan, a zebra, a hyena and a Bengal tiger.

The journey is for the film (or acclaimed novel by Yann Martel) to tell.  I can only let you know that it is a powerful story of survival against all odds and a beautiful allegory of trust, love, faith, doubt and hope.  “Life of Pi” has the power to make you truly think about your faith or lack thereof.  It has the skill to make you reconsider what “truth” really means.  It is an elegantly profound masterpiece of storytelling that entertains as well as enlightens.  The ending is open to as many interpretations as there are viewers — and that is no small feat.  “Life of Pi” is a great story, no matter which ending you choose to believe.

FOUR STARS Life of Pi Review

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“Silver Linings Playbook” Review

January 18, 2013 |  by  |  movies, reviews  |  No Comments

In “Silver Linings Playbook”, a heartwarming and original romance forms between two very eccentric oddballs who have stability issues and quirky charm in equal measures.  Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence both deliver their best work to date in what is absolutely one of the best “date movies” of 2012.

I have not been a huge fan of director, David O. Russell’s recent films.  “Three Kings” was good, but “I Heart Huckabees” and “The Fighter” were both disappointing.  I was tentatively fearing the same with this movie.  However, it was a truly pleasant surprise — a tender and intimate romance with more than enough humor to satisfy the die-hard rom-com crowd.

Robert De Niro delivers some of his best work over the past decade as the overbearing father.  Jacki Weaver and (amazingly) Chris Tucker also hit the nail on the head in supporting roles.  It is one of the strongest casts of the year, full of energy and enthusiasm for the witty and intelligent screenplay.

The stars of the show, however, are Cooper and Lawrence.  Despite their characters’ major flaws, they manage to create sympathetic people whose vulnerability and reluctant honesty make them some of the most memorable in any film this year.  This is a refreshing and fast paced movie that will have you begging for a happy ending.

THREE AND A HALF STARS Silver Linings Playbook Review

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“Les Misérables” Review

January 16, 2013 |  by  |  movies, reviews  |  No Comments

There are moments of absolute grandeur in this film — scenes and songs with emotional crescendos high enough to make your soul soar.  Unfortunately, those moments seem to always be cut short by a director intent on boring the hell out of his audience.

This 2012 version of “Les Misérables” is one that drove me nuts with inconsistency.  I loved parts and hated parts in equal measure… The film, in the end, reducing itself to just a shade above mediocrity.  My three-star rating generously awarded because of the stunning performances from Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway and Amanda Seyfried.  Each of them sing and act wonderfully as they utilize the rich source material to deliver Oscar nomination worthy efforts.

However, director, Tom Hooper, fails in much the same way that I thought he did with “The King’s Speech” — another movie with good source material and a stellar cast, but was lessened by pedantic direction and an utter lack of momentum or skillful framing.

Sometimes, merely good feels not nearly good enough.

THREE STARS Les Misérables Review

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“Zero Dark Thirty” Review

January 16, 2013 |  by  |  movies, reviews  |  No Comments

Jessica Chastain gives one of the best performances of 2012 as a young CIA operative on a ten year manhunt for Osama Bin Laden in  “Zero Dark Thirty” — the latest film from director, Kathryn Bigelow.

It is as intense a film as you are likely to see all year – packed from credits to credits with blistering tension and ferocious dialogue.  Every scene crackles as we navigate the maze toward the final raid on the compound.  We may know the outcome, but it is damn near impossible to stop yourself from inching forward in your chair, peering into the darkness, as the inevitable moment approaches.

The film is a masterclass of technical filmmaking excellence, and while it may not deliver any characters of emotional depth or meaning to the viewer, the true-life material is easily engaging enough to merit a massive recommendation.

FOUR STARS Zero Dark Thirty Review

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“Blue Valentine” Review

January 14, 2013 |  by  |  movies, reviews  |  No Comments

I’ve been putting off finalizing my 2010 Top 10 List because of this movie.  I had a feeling it would pop up somewhere on that list.  It does.  It is the best film of 2010.

“Blue Valentine” shows the two ends of a relationship — the blossoming of love in the first few months and the disintegration of a marriage a few years later.  We are not privy to the time in between.  It doesn’t matter.  Anyone who has lived life can fill in the gap with their own experiences.

Director, Derek Cianfrance, interlaces the two timelines, elegantly painting the picture of Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams) from their initial momentary glance to their final acceptance of failure. We get to know this couple so intimately and so completely that our emotions are engaged as if we are actually experiencing the relationship.

Consider the most memorable scene of the year, when Gosling sings “You Always Hurt the One You Love” and Williams tap dances in her biker boots.  It is such a simple cinematic moment, but it recreates one of “those” moments.  We all have one or two in our lives.  They are the moments that first come to our mind when we think back on the happiest times.

Gosling and Williams left me speechless.  Their performances are extraordinary in every way.  At no point does it seem like actors acting.  They filmed the early part of the story first, often using one take to capture a line or an improvised moment.  They then went on hiatus for six months while Gosling and Williams actually lived together 24 hours a day in an effort to capture the familiarity required for the other half of the story.  For the scenes where the marriage is floundering, they shot many takes until they found the weariness and exhaustion needed to capture the necessary tone.  This is a method film with method actors.

“Blue Valentine” is an epic life story that feels so much more profound than its intimacy would suggest.  It recognizes the truth of complex human relationships.  It knows we are flawed.  It accepts that what can often start off as a perfect union will sometimes crumble beneath the weight of our flaws.  I haven’t seen a movie this observant since “Lost in Translation”.  I haven’t seen a more beautifully realized motion picture in 2010.  I loved every single moment of it.  I loved the love.  I loved the heartbreak.  And I filled in the six year gap with all of my own stories, both happy and sad.

FOUR STARS Blue Valentine Review

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“The Joneses” Review

January 12, 2013 |  by  |  movies, reviews  |  No Comments

Here’s a really interesting film that completely flew under my radar.  I missed the trailers, the poster, the press coverage and the actual cinema release.  I had no idea it even existed until a couple of days ago.  “The Joneses” stars David Duchovny, Demi Moore, Amber Heard and Ben Hollingsworth as a perfect upper-class American family who are moving into a new neighborhood.  However, there is something odd about them… perhaps they are a little too good to be true.

You see, they are actually a sales team, arranged by a massive marketing firm who places “ideal” families into new communities in order to sell specific products.  They are hired to integrate themselves into the community in order to subversively suggest new purchases to all of their new friends and neighbors.  They sell the American dream to those who are still seeking it.  The wife sells everything from dining room furniture to frozen hors d’oeuvres to jewelery to designer clothes.  The husband sells his buddies cars and golf clubs.  The daughter targets her high school friends with make up and perfume.  You get the picture.  They live a full time lie.

The movie has a lot to say about consumerism and the often conflicted morality of marketing.  “The Joneses” is a smart film that never quite feels too far beyond the boundaries of plausibility.  I could actually imagine this occurring somewhere in the USA as I write this review.  It is well written and acted and absolutely deserves a look if you were as oblivious to its existence as I was.

THREE STARS The Joneses Review

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“The Kids are All Right” Review

January 12, 2013 |  by  |  movies, reviews  |  No Comments

There are some big inconsistent swings in this independent film from writer-director Lisa Cholodenko.  It ranges from heartfelt relationship drama to light comedy.  Most of the time, it works well — only occasionally drifting into the realm of indie-cliches.  The strength of the movie lies in the terrific performances from the entire cast.

Annette Bening and Julianne Moore are a married lesbian couple with two teenage children.  They all seem to be living a relatively peaceful and normal existence until the kids decide that they would like to find their biological father.  Each of the mothers had been artificially inseminated by the same guy, played by Mark Ruffalo.  Soon after the initial meeting, he becomes an integral part of this family’s life.  However, it all gets a little complicated and his involvement leads to some awkward consequences.

I did find the film to be slightly forced in parts.  It can feel like a lesson in “Indie Filmmaking 101″.  Still, it manages to avert disaster with terrific acting and a willingness to take risks.  “The Kids are All Right” went to places I did not expect it to go.  It was daring and original.  I doubt anyone will gush over the project as a whole… but there are definitely some worthy aspects worth checking out.

THREE STARS The Kids are All Right Review

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“The Book of Eli” Review

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

Denzel Washington almost never disappoints.  Sure, he has done a few duds in his time (“John Q”, “Virtuosity”)… but he generally chooses interesting material and always gives a good performance.  He remains one of the safest bets in Hollywood.

In “The Book of Eli”, Washington plays a lone drifter, in a post-apocalyptic America, doggedly making his way out to the west coast.  He has run-ins with bandits, thugs and cannibals.  He trusts no one and is clinging to a sole possession, a book, that he keeps tucked away in his back pack.  Gary Oldman plays the obligatory bad guy who is tracking Eli down in order to obtain the book.  Mila Kunis plays a young woman who feels compelled to follow Eli on his journey.

Despite some absurd twists and turns, the story is mildly interesting throughout.  It may not hold up to repeat viewings because it is ultimately a rather thin plot.  The most memorable thing about the movie is the stunning cinematography and eerie landscape of a post-nuclear setting.  I have never been a huge fan of The Hughes Brothers as a filmmaking duo.   Their visuals are spectacular and tend to overshadow the more important aspects in movies — screenplay, pace, direction etc.  However, I cannot begrudge their obvious aesthetic strength.

I can safely recommend this film.  It is absolutely worth watching… but I fear only once.

THREE STARS The Book of Eli Review

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“Winter’s Bone” Review

January 12, 2013 |  by  |  movies, reviews  |  No Comments

Jennifer Lawrence stars as Ree, a young Ozark mountain woman who is forced to deal with horrid neighbors and bitter family friends as she attempts to track down her drug-dealing father.  Coupled with mounting debts and two small mouths to feed, Ree finds herself dealing with the harshest aspects of life at an all too early age.

“Winter’s Bone” is as bleak as its title would suggest.  There isn’t an ounce of happiness on display here.  It is a rough examination of a backward and uneducated society, desperately clinging to some sort of skewed moral code.  Ree and her two young siblings are the only beacons of hope in a sea of despair.  And if I make the film sound depressing… so be it.

That being said… This is a very worth effort due in no small part to the wonderful lead performance by Lawrence.  She is relentlessly determined and fiercely driven throughout the story.  I cannot think of a more precisely focused turn, male or female, from 2010.  She is unquestionably the reason to see the movie.  However, the film is absolutely a “one-time-watch”.  It is much too raw and unforgiving for multiple viewings.

THREE STARS Winters Bone Review

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“Love and Other Drugs” Review

January 12, 2013 |  by  |  movies, reviews  |  No Comments

Here is a terrible movie that starts off as an overly-written comedy about a handsome drug salesman, who hate-fucks every beautiful woman in sight, and ends up as manipulative pile of drivel along the lines of the infamous “Saved by the Bell” episode where Jesse takes uppers.  If you think you could cheer for a scumbag blessed with genetics that get him laid at will and a personality that most women claim to hate but secretly crave… then this might be the film for you.  After all, who doesn’t want to see the gorgeous silver-spooned asshole, who treats women like cum-receptacles and sells over-priced drugs to the sick, depressed and dying, get the girl and find true happiness?

“Love and Other Drugs” is one of the more despicable movies of 2010.  I can’t really believe that I am saying that.  After all, Ed Zwick is a great director.  Anne Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhaal are both very talented and charming.  I fully expected to enjoy this film immensely.  Throw in copious amounts of the glorious Anne Hathaway in the buff and it all sounds like a winner… right?  I couldn’t have been more wrong.

There are a few positives.  Anne Hathaway is typically brilliant.  She is a daring young actress who can do everything.  She is one of the few actresses who could pull a compliment out of me for this role.  Gyllenhaal is solid too.  His character is a shithead, but he performs the part well.  And the film is relatively fast-paced.  Unfortunately, the film confuses a fast pace for manic humor.

The fault for this abysmal disaster lays squarely at the feet of the writers and the director.  I haven’t run across many movies as ill-conceived as this one.  It is tonally messy, never managing to balance the comedy with the supposed drama.  It is generally unfunny and compounds the problem by basking in smug satisfaction after every joke.  It devolves into a preachy sermon, which rings hollow and false in every way.  I hated this film.  I hated the characters.  I hated the obvious messages.  I hated the humor.

“Love and Other Drugs” is a film I fully expected to be one of the more entertaining of the year.  Instead it ranks as one of the most miserable and depressing.  The only reason it averts the dreaded Zero Star Rating is the repeated appearance of Anne Hathaway’s many delectable talents.

HALF A STAR Love and Other Drugs Review

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