“A Little Bit of Heaven” Review

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

Kate Hudson rom-coms are one of my truly guilty pleasures.  Despite a number of them being paint-by-numbers examples of Hollywood schlock, I still find myself attracted to spending an hour and half in her company.  She smiles, I smile.  Simple as that!

“A Little Bit of Heaven” is emotionally manipulative, relentlessly inconsistent in tone and obscenely cheesy.  So what?  I still liked it enough to offer a mild recommendation to those who like Hudson and enjoy sappy movies whose sole job is to make chicks weep.

Kate stars as Marley, a gorgeous young ad-executive (aren’t all movie chicks gorgeous young ad-execs) who discovers that she has cancer.  After a brief glimpse of a cloudy heaven and her Whoopi Goldberg vision of god, she is granted three wishes.  She tells Goddess Whoopi that she wants to fly and to have a million bucks.  She saves her third wish for later.

Despite Marley’s penchant for avoiding intimacy, she finds herself drawn to her sexy young doctor, Julian (Gael Garcia Bernal).  Their relationship, based on awkward joke-telling and great sex, seems to bloom into something more than Marley is used to.  Needless to say, she soon backs off so that the plot can navigate the oh-so-familiar “get together, break up, get back together” path.

The film is ludicrously sappy.  It is an eye-rolling masterpiece in formulaic lameness.  There are too many clichés to mention.  There are secondary characters straight out of the rom-com handbook — quirky redhead, gay black neighbor, overbearing parents etc.  However, with all of that holding it back, it still works on some instinctual level.  The girl I went to see the movie with wept like baby.  And, yes, even I may have welled up a little (although I told her that some popcorn salt got in my eye).  I hardly ever give Kate Hudson flicks a bad rating… and that trend continues here despite my objective judgment.

TWO AND A HALF STARS A Little Bit of Heaven Review

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“The King’s Speech” Review

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

“The King’s Speech” is a nice movie… and I mean that as an insult.  It is unabashedly English in every way.  It is a period piece.  It is about the royal family.  It is classically stiff.  It is pleasant.  It is professionally made.  It also stars Colin Firth.  All those ingredients add up to a typically English Sunday roast.  It is tasty and good for you, but I feel like I have had it many times before.

The true story is that of King George VI — the man who took the crown after his brother Edward’s famous abdication.  With England on the precipice of war with Germany, the country looked to the monarchy for strength and leadership.  However, George had a severe stammer which made public speaking a nightmare.  After many years of attempted therapy, he and his wife were reaching their last straw.  Enter Lionel Logue, an Australian speech therapist whose methods were unorthodox and revolutionary.  His relationship with the king became a lifelong friendship.  This film tells the story of that friendship and the ways in which Logue managed to help the king lead a nation though a dark time.

Everything about the film screams quality.  The cast is uniformly superb.  The script is elegant and intelligent.  The costume design, the set design, the cinematography — all of it is of the highest caliber.  I cannot find fault in anything but my own prejudices.  I am simply a little tired of the standard British period piece.  It is BAFTA-bait instead of Oscar-bait.  It is stale and uninspired.  I just wish the British film industry would venture outside of its “comfort zone” once in a while.

Elizabethan drama.
WWII drama.
Literary biopic.
Shakespearean adaptation.
British gangster flick.
Python-esque silliness with comedian-du-jour.
Austen adaptation.

Perhaps it is unfair to take out my frustration with the British Film Industry’s lack of imagination on this particular movie.  I promise not to register that frustration in my final grade.  Unfortunately, “The King’s Speech” made me feel like venting a little.  It is just such an unbelievably typical English production that I had to say something.  I do the same thing with Hollywood blockbusters too.

Still, with all that being said, “The King’s Speech” is a perfectly nice film about an interesting subject.  It is beautifully written, directed and performed.  I have nothing unpleasant to say about it.  It is vanilla ice-cream.  Yes it is bland and uninspired, but it is still ice-cream… and ice-cream is always good.

THREE STARS The Kings Speech Review

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“The Expendables” Review

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

I am all for the return of the action hero.  We haven’t really had one since the late eighties and early nineties.  The Rock came as close as anyone, but then decided to venture off into more comedic and traditional fare.  Films like “Predator”, “Terminator”, “Die Hard”, “Under Siege”, “Rambo” etc., seem to be things of the past.  The world of fantasy and superheroes have unfortunately taken over the blockbuster business for the time being.

So along comes “The Expendables”, a reunion of many terrific actions stars from the past, along with a smattering of second-rate stars from the present.  I love the concept while bemoaning the fact that it is necessary to resort to such an idea.  It feels like an All-Star Game or a Pro Bowl… lots of big names with nothing at stake.  It feels more like a celebratory gathering than an actual film.

Stallone leads a team of mercenaries on an ass-kicking mission to… oh yada yada yada.  Does it really matter?  There are tons of fights and explosive action sequences — all laden with more testosterone than a sack of Rocky Mountain oysters.  There is a token girl added to the mix, although she is largely a plot device.  Mostly, this movie caters to guys who want to shout “DUDE!” or “WHOA!” or “AWESOME!” at the screen while stuffing their faces with nachos.

I am being dismissive.  I have to admit that I actually enjoyed the reunion a little.  Stallone is typically good in roles like this one.  The set-pieces are spectacular and the story has a nice momentum that precludes any boredom that might set it.  I had fun on the most base level imaginable.  There is no substance in this movie at all — purely a sensory experience.

The film suffers from the lack of two major stars… Steven Seagal and Jean Claude Van Damme.  I would much rather have seen them on screen than the pseudo-action stars of today like Jason Statham, Steve Austin and Jet Li.  All in all, “The Expendables” feels like an unnecessary trip down memory lane… enjoyable but depressing.

TWO AND A HALF STARS The Expendables Review

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“Red” Review

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

Half way through this mess, I had the distinct feeling that this movie would fizzle into the over-populated category of slightly amusing, yet absolutely forgettable, cinematic entertainment.  I was totally wrong.  “Red” actually became exponentially worse as the minutes ticked by, ending up in pretty hideous company.  It easily ranks as one of the dumbest movies of 2010.

Having watched the trailer, I was on the fence whether or not to give it a shot.  I loved the cast… Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, John Malkovich & the gorgeous Mary-Louise Parker.  The premise sounded fun… ex-CIA spies reunite in retirement for one last geriatric adventure.  It all promised to be good light-hearted fun.  Instead, we are forced to endure an entirely messy plot and characters that don’t even qualify for the first dimension, let alone the second or third.

I hated the stiff action sequences.  I quickly became tired of the “old fogies” dishing out lame lines in an attempt to be lovable wise-crackers.  I never once bought into the supposed danger of their mission.  It is all just so over-the-top and unbelievable that the only way it could possibly succeed is with humor.  It needed to be farcical to work.  Unfortunately, even the humor falls flat at every turn.

“Red” is a star vehicle with lazy writing and unskilled direction.  I really wanted to enjoy these fantastic acting talents in a fun adventure.  However, I lost every ounce of interest by the final act and was desperate to hear the final whistle blow.  The only thing that elevates this dreadful movie out of the “Zero Star” range is the company of the five major stars.  I typically like them all… just not this time.


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“Freight” Review

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

I am not going to spend too much time on this trashy film.  “Freight” is a low-budget pile of amateurish British junk.  It is laced with exploitative violence and rampant racism.  It is one of the worst films of 2010.

The story revolves around an eastern European gang of sex-traffickers who get involved with a gang of British lowlife scum.  Neither of them are interesting enough to warrant ninety minutes of celluloid.  A street war escalates.  Women are abused.  Men shoot guns.  Everyone acts like they are in an episode of Mafia Wars.

The acting is atrocious.  The direction is embarrassingly unskilled.  The script is painful to endure.  “Freight” is an abysmal film that thinks it has a message about the sex trade and the lack of British border control  Instead, it is an exploitative film that revels in pointless violence and gratuitous nudity.  It is a cheap and charmless movie that should be avoided at all costs.

ZERO STARS Freight Review

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“Burlesque” Review

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

“Burlesque” is a very cheesy excuse to stare at the gorgeous and sexy trio of Christina Aguilera, Kristen Bell and Julianne Hough as they sing and dance while wearing Agent Provocateur lingerie.  That seems like reason enough to endure a formulaic plot that resembles “Showgirls” without the gratuitous nudity.

Christina plays the clichéd part of a small-town Iowa waitress who arrives in Los Angeles with a suitcase and a dream.  She stumbles into a burlesque club run by Cher and Stanley Tucci (in his now patented “urbane gay man” role).  The club is in financial difficulties and Christina dreams of making her way from waiting tables to the main stage.  This, of course, causes bitchiness and catfights, jealousy and drama.  It is all rather predictable stuff.

“Burlesque” avoids hideousness on a purely superficial level.  I concede that the plot is thin.  I concede that Cher is painfully wooden.  I concede that the script is lame.  However, the presence of the aforementioned trinity of molten lava hotness allowed me to make it through to the final credits relatively unscathed.  There is not too much difference between watching this movie and watching the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show.  I gain nothing substantial from either one… only some partial wood and a cheeky smirk on my face.

TWO AND A HALF STARS Burlesque Review

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“Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work” Review

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

This is a really fascinating documentary about an insane workaholic and an endlessly daring comedienne who has had a far more interesting life that I ever would have given her credit for.  Joan Rivers is a classically insecure personality who, like virtually all stand-up comedians, found their way into the industry as a coping mechanism.  She also masks that insecurity with her relentless work schedule which fills her time so intensely that she has little or no room for contemplation.  As a final mask, it is clearly evident that her innumerable plastic surgeries and her botox addiction is one last method of avoiding the realities of life.

To be honest, it is hard to tell if Joan Rivers has lived her life surrounded by laughter or hidden behind it.

“A Piece of Work” is a relentlessly intriguing peek behind the curtain.  We follow her as she takes red-eye flights to remote gigs, limos to book signings, sits in make-up chairs having her face painted, prepares backstage for her routines, schmoozes with celebrities.  Her life is nothing if not busy.  In fact, I don’t think I have ever encountered a person who works as hard as Rivers.  It is jaw-dropping.

Whether you like her comedy or not, this documentary is absolutely worth watching.  She is far more interesting than I ever would have imagined.  She is ground-breaking.  She is obsessive.  She is funny.  She is tragic.  She is a piece of work.

THREE AND A HALF STARS Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work Review

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“Fair Game” Review

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

The obscene miscarriage of justice that was the Republican administration under George “Dubya” Bush had many peaks and valleys of hideousness.  One of the peaks was the sickening leak of Valerie Plame’s name while she was working as an undercover operative for the CIA.  The depraved fucks like Scooter Libby, Karl Rove, Robert Novak and, of course, Bush & Cheney, were all a part of the assassination of her stellar career.  And it was done in the name of revenge.

Time has a way of smoothing over the outrage.  However, “Fair Game” does a nice job of reminding the world what an unjust and vengeful episode it all was.  It is a simple film in many ways.  Histrionics are avoided in favor of a more measured approach.  Naomi Watts and Sean Penn both deliver focused performances that capture the exasperation of a couple whose lives have been turned upside down.

I doubt anyone will love this movie.  It is not that kind of story.  Instead, I would imagine that virtually all who aren’t clouded by political allegiances to the loony religious right will be consistently interested in one of the more despicable acts of treason our government has ever engaged in.  I highly recommend “Fair Game”.  It plays more like docudrama than a standard movie, but it nevertheless manages to rile the emotions significantly.


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“The Graduate” Review

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

A Virtually Perfect Film…

This is one of my very favorite films of all time. It’s as funny and as poignant as any film ever made. Playing the naive and directionless Ben, Dustin Hoffman delivers one of the most memorable characters in film history!

Anne Bancroft is pitch perfect as the sultry and desperately sad older woman who seduces him. And Katherine Ross is the Mrs. Robinson’s pristine daughter who captures the heart of dear Ben. These three form one of the most hilarious and conflicted love-triangles you’ll ever see. It’s almost Shakespearean.

What is even more memorable than the performances is one of the wittiest and perfectly timed scripts ever written.  Every line is delivered with precision and impetus.  No single word is wasted here.  Each line has impact… a lesson that should be learned by millions of banal screen writers today.

“The Graduate” has a permanent place in my Top 25 films of all time.  I laugh harder and longer each time I watch it.  And it was the birth of a screen legend in Dustin Hoffman.  This is one of the quintessential pieces of cinema that came out of the 1960′s… a must see for all film fans!

FOUR STARS The Graduate Review

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“The Disappearance of Alice Creed” Review

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

This small British thriller does a lot of things really well for the first half of its running length.  Unfortunately, it is a little let down by some routine clichés in the final act.

I love the intricacy of the opening moments.  It is a terrifyingly detailed start as we watch two men set up an elaborate plan to kidnap a young woman and hold her for ransom from her rich father.  The virtually dialogue-free scenes are eerily intense as they purchase materials and build a makeshift prison for their prospective victim.  One cannot help but feel chills as the two men edge closer to the actual crime.

Gemma Arterton is a fine young actress who is going to be a star for many years to come.  She plays Alice Creed.  Her terror is palpable.  It is a courageous performance.  Whether or not we believe her fear is paramount to the film’s success.

I have to admit that the movie goes to places I did not expect.  I certainly didn’t see some of the twists coming.  However, the final act felt more like a tire slowly losing air than a bursting balloon.  “The Disappearance of Alice Creed” does all the groundwork and then simply peters out into the ether of mediocrity.  It had a chance to be one of the great low-budget thrillers of all time.  Instead it merely ranks as a good effort with a terrific central performance from Arterton.

THREE STARS The Disappearance of Alice Creed Review

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