“Transcendence” Review

July 7, 2014 |  by  |  movies, reviews  |  No Comments

Consider this list of mediocre movies…

The Lone Ranger
Dark Shadows
Pirates of the Caribbean 4: On Stranger Tides
The Rum Diary
Alice in Wonderland
The Tourist
Sweeney Todd
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Corpse Bride
Secret Window
Once Upon a Time in Mexico
The Man Who Cried
From Hell
The Ninth Gate
Sleepy Hollow
The Astronaut’s Wife

Sure… You may find a few films in there that you like.  I doubt there are any that you really love.  And to be completely objective, that is one shockingly average filmography from a so-called megastar actor.

How many great films has Depp been heavily involved in?  “Edward Scissorhands”, “Benny & Joon”, “Gilbert Grape”, “Ed Wood”, “Donnie Brasco”, “Pirates of the Caribbean 1″, “Finding Neverland”, “The Libertine”.  Maybe four or five of those could be considered great.

You could argue strongly that Depp has the worst success ratio of any leading actor in cinema history.  He makes at least three clunkers for every mild success… and most of his good movies were made years ago.

Well, you can safely add “Transcendence” to the list of clunkers.  It is a hodgepodge of fortune cookie philosophy combined with a 1980′s-style cheap sci-fi that would feel like a B-movie, were it not for all the famous people involved.

Depp plays a scientist who is slowly dying after being shot for his beliefs.  In order to save his mind, he and his wife, played by Rebecca Hall, try to transfer his consciousness to a super-computer.  This ludicrous transformation is wholly impossible to accept as a viewer.  A better film could have suspended our disbelief, but “Transcendence” resorts to showing us montages of people putting together desktop PC’s, bundles of wires, and gibberish on screens.  Ahhhh… so that’s how you transfer a human mind into the digital realm???!!!???

The performances are all run-of-the-mill.  In this movie, Depp doesn’t have all the wigs and clothes and make-up to distract us from his limited talents.  He is stuck being very Depp-like… mumbling his lines like a stoner who is coming off a weed-high, trapped in that depressed mode.  Rebecca Hall has done better work in her primary school Christmas play.  Morgan Freeman does a good Morgan Freeman impression as he mails in his lines.  All of the supporting cast are instantly forgettable.

“Transcendence” takes its low-budget veneer and ambles to a hysterically pompous attempt at a grand finale.  All the viewer is left with is an elongated third act that tries to convey grand philosophical thoughts, only to deliver silly nonsense about the dangers of technology, the beauty of nature and the motivations of a deranged lunatic who just wanted to be with a girl.

Johnny Depp is the biggest smoke and mirrors success story in Hollywood.

ONE AND A HALF STARS Transcendence Review

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“Locke” Review

July 2, 2014 |  by  |  movies, reviews  |  1 Comment

Here is the pitch… Tom Hardy drives a car for 90-minutes and takes phone calls along the way.  Literally nothing else happens.  Does that make you want to see it?

Well, think again., because “Locke” is one of the more stressful and exhausting thrillers of the year.  It is a multi-layered film that seems more like a radio play than standard cinematic storytelling.  Viewers will find themselves imagining the scenes that take place at the other end of the phone.  The conversations are scripted so supremely well that you will visualize the action with all the necessary clarity.

Hardy plays Ivan Locke, one of the most trusted construction managers in the business, who gets in his car one evening and drives away from everything that matters most in his life.  An enormous cement pour is happening the following morning, at which his presence is supremely important.  He leaves it in the hands of his inexperienced subordinate.  It will likely result in Locke losing his prestigious career.  Without giving too much else away, Locke will also be making some personal phone calls, along the way, that will change his family life forever.

The film is in constant motion, despite never leaving the confines of his BMW.  It reminds the viewer of the gimmicks used in movies like “Phone Booth” and “Buried”… both of which use a single claustrophobic location.  All three are good films because the writing is superb and the performances are strong.  In “Locke”, Tom Hardy cements his status as one of the finest actors of the era.  He delivers a deeply thoughtful and emotionally complex turn in one of the most physically restrictive sets imaginable.

“Locke” is gripping and tense.  Perhaps there are moments in the film that feel a tad repetitive… most notably the phone conversations with his sons and the imaginary conversations with his father.  Still, those are minor quibbles.  I can wholeheartedly recommend the movie and urge you to seek it out.  It is a small film and you will probably have to go out of your way to find it… but Hardy’s efforts alone are worth the time.

THREE AND A HALF STARS Locke Review

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“Enemy” Review

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

“Enemy” may not be the best film of 2014… but it is one of the most memorable and absurdly intriguing films of the year.  Denis Villeneuve directs a mind-bending mystery starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Sarah Gadon and Mélanie Laurent.  It is strange and hypnotic and very creepy.

Gyllenhaal plays Adam, a loner college professor who is prompted to watch a film by a colleague.  One of the extras in the film catches his eye — appearing to be his exact doppelganger.  The experience compels Adam to find the actor, a man named Anthony Claire.  He observes the actor from afar, developing a dangerous, consuming obsession with him.  Adam’s girlfriend, Mary (Mélanie Laurent) is very troubled by his new behavior.  Anthony shares a far more exciting life with his wife Helen (Sarah Gadon).  He is much more outgoing and confident than Adam… but soon starts to feel the obsessive gaze of his stalker.

After an arranged meeting, where they compare the exact same hands and mirror-image scars, “Enemy” starts to takes some bizarre turns.  There are surreal images and scenes that create altogether chilling moods.  The film meanders slowly down a path of paranoia and psychosis.  It all leads to one of the most shocking final sequences in recent cinematic memory.

The cast is all superb.  The direction is calm and assured.  “Enemy” is an unapologetic oddity that works symbolically rather than literally.  It is the type of film that I am not sure I will ever be able to fully wrap my brain around.  Instead, it creeps beneath the skin, takes root in the recesses of the subconscious… and festers.

THREE AND A HALF STARS Enemy Review

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“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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“A Most Wanted Man” Trailer

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

It is desperately sad that this is Philip Seymour Hoffman’s last film.  The trailer makes this look like a taut absorbing thriller.  Hoffman looks amazing in his role.  I can’t wait to see “A Most Wanted Man”.

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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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