Friday, December 30, 2011

'The Adventures of TinTin' and 'War Horse'

'The Adventures of TinTin' (PG) (2 STARS)

Writers: Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish based on comic strip
Director: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Jamie Bell, Daniel Craig, Andy Serkis, Nick Frost, Simon Pegg, Toby Jones

I didn't think the great Steven Spielberg would fall in the latest movie trap! My latest pet peeve gets stirred up again with the cold and too busy "The Adventures of TinTin". This is another movie with cardboard characters I didn't care about and endless action scenes that were all over the place. I am shocked for Steven Spielberg is usually focused even if he makes something lame like "Hook". The latest trend of animated films not sitting still for a minute to develop characters or a story has crippled Spielberg. In the press Spielberg has told us that he made this movie in the spirit of "Raiders of the Lost Ark". This is far beneath that movie and Spielberg shouldn't have even directed it.

I get why he has mentioned Raiders when speaking of TinTin for this tries for that same sense of adventure and non stop action as TinTin looks for buried treasure. This is a movie based on a comic strip series I had never heard about until now and I don't have a desire to go find it and read it. TinTin is a boring character and his cohorts are I guess Pirates but they would be kicked out off any ship that any of the "Pirates of the Caribbean" characters would be on. The movie is like one extended chase as TinTin and others flip, crash, swordfight and hit each other. None of the action scenes are clean, effective or thrilling. Even "The Goonies" (which I was reminded of watching this) was a thrill ride compared to this. This is an action, adventure movie wirth no thrills or suspense.

I think the major blame should go to the stop motion animation genre that creeps me out. That is where the faces of the people have eyes withdrawn and don't look animated but look deformed. That style of animation here has improved a little bit from the weird looking "Polar Express" and "A Christmas Carol". I am just not into that style of animation and I am definitely not into this boring, messy and cold lackluster movie.

P.S. For better movies than TinTin check out again "The Goonies" and the first "Pirates of the Carribean" movie. Also I was reminded of the Spielberg produced "Young Sherlock Holmes" from 1985 which is much more fun!

'War Horse' (PG-13) (3 STARS)

Writers: Lee Hall and Richard Curtis based on novel Written By Michael Morpurgo
Director: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson, Peter Mullan, Niels Arestrup, david Thewlis, Tom Hiddleston, Benedict Cumberbatch, Celine Buckens

All filmmakers are influenced by certain legendary directors from Hollywood's past. You can tell that Steven Spielberg was greatly infleunced by the great John Ford with his latest "War Horse". Those who don't know John Ford might find this movie corny and it is but I was entertained. This is not Oscar caliber but it is old fashioned, grand entertainment and it is like they used to make them. This is a movie full of cliches and a lot of dialogue you could hear if you watched an old Ford movie. But if you love horses you'll fall in love with this and if you don't you might be bored.

"War Horse" tells the story of young Albert whose parents own a farm that is in danger of being foreclosed. His father Ted drinks and his mother Rose is a loyal wife and mother. Albert's father buys a horse at an auction and Albert becomes close to the horse. Ted sells the horse to the Army to be used for battle in World War I so he can get the money to pay the land's owner. When Albert enlists in the Army he tries to track down his horse. From then the horse takes over as the main character that we will follow through on a journey and that is good because Albert is not that interesting of a character.

What you have in this movie with a huge heart is a lot of war movie cliches and a horse story that will remind you of "The Black Stallion". The horse is beautiful and I had fun watching the horse and his adventures in war. The movie pulls at your heart strings and I guess lately that is wrong. With this movie and last week's "We Bouight A Zoo" I can't understand the backlash this movie is getting from certain critics. Seriously critics, it is time to get the collective sticks out of our butts. I had some problems with this movie but sometimes you have to go with the flow and let the movie wash over you and have fun. There is terrible corn (New Year's Eve) and there is good corn like "War Horse".

The movie is beautiful to look at, Spielberg takes care and shows a lot of heart and warmth with his direction. The horse is amazing and sometimes you will scratch your head trying to figure how they filmed some scenes without hurting the horse. The human characters are sometimes cliches and not many are memorable but I loved Emily Watson as the mother and Tom Hiddelston will make some women's hearts swoon as an English soldier. One of my favorite moments in the movie that captivated me and took my breath away concerned a grandfather and his granddaughter who take part in the horse's journey. I wish they were in the movie longer and Niels Arestrup as the grandfather has a beautifully acted scene and his dialogue is the only time in the movie I felt like real people were talking. Plus Celine Buckens as the granddaughter is a natural and young girls will love this segment as should everyone else.

"War Horse" is a charming and very fun time at the movies and like I said if you love horses this won't dissapoint. I did have another little problem which are the war and battle scenes. They are really all well filmed but sometimes I found them lackluster though I do love a particular scene where the horse is hurt and in danger. Spielberg has made two war movies I am not a big fan of in "Saving Private Ryan" and "Empire of the Sun". They both have great battle scenes but their war stories I found too cliched and corny. I think "War Horse" could have done better in dealing with the war stuff but I will take this movie over "Ryan" and "Empire" any day. Most importantly this is a beautiful love story between a boy and his horse and in that way it is a winner.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

'A Dangerous Method'

'A Dangerous Method' (R) (2 STARS)

Writer: Christopher Hampton based on novel "A Most Dangerous Method" By
John Kerr
Director: David Cronenberg
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Viggo Mortensen, Keira Knightley, Vincent Cassel, Sarah Gadon

Director David Cronenberg's career has been full of indelible and shocking moments in most of his films. My favorites are "A History of Violence" and "The Fly" but I could never get into a lot of his movies. Half of them are full of images so gross and shocking that they take away from their weak stories. For example I am not a big fan of "Dead Ringers" or "Naked Lunch" because there were images that I think took away from their promising stories. That is why I was surprised that with his latest "A Dangerous Method" I wanted not necessarily shock moments but more of a pulse.

The movie has gotten great reviews but I could never get into the story of how psychologists Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud worked together to help patient Sabina Spielrein overcome her hysteria. Maybe it is just me but I was bored by a lot of this movie and I expected more intensity. This might be Cronenberg's nicest, quaintest movie but strangely I want the old Cronenberg back. I think there are moments that have potential but I wanted more intensity, the movie is too polite. Even when Jung starts spanking Sabina as part of the cure for her problem it felt to me like it was no big deal.

I like the acting in this movie and Viggo Mortensen gives a very interesting performance that works. Also Michael Fassbender continues his hot streak with another excellent performance and what I like about him is that each of his performances this year are all different types of characters and that is rare. This year each of his performances are in a different type of genre and again he is going to be someone special. Now I had a slight problem in the beginning with Keira Knightley's performance which I found clashed with the movie's tone. At first her performance is shrill and over acted but once she settles down half way through she rebounds.

"A Dangerous Method" has great art direction, costumes and a great look to it but I never got immersed in the relationship between Jung and Freud or Jung and Sabina. I found a lot of the exploration of Jung and Freud's methods a lot of mumbo jumbo and it is jargon I found boring. I guess I might be guilty of going for the "Good Will Hunting" and "Ordinary People" look at psychoanalysis. I am not a big psychology fan unless it has to deal with murder or depravity I guess. I was curiously uninvolved during "A Dangerous Method" and I am not saying avoid it because it might satisfy moviegoers who like deep thought with their movies. I usually like a deep movie but this time I couldn't get into the story.

Friday, December 23, 2011

'The Artist'

'The Artist' (PG-13) (4 STARS) (Highest Rating)

Written and Directed By Michel Hazanavicius
Starring: Jean Dujardin, Berenice Bejo, Penelope Ann Miller, James Cromwell, John Goodman, Ed Lauter, Missy Pyle, Malcolm McDowell

This has been an unique year for showing that the love of the history of film can be a powerful thing. First Martin Scorsese gave us a valentine to the early birth of cinema with "Hugo" and now comes the brilliant "The Artist". I loved this movie more than words can say for it's loving look at the golden age of silent film. It is a beautiful looking, perfectly acted movie with a period detail that is flawless and breathtaking. I fear this will have the same effect it had on me only for movie goers that are into film history or silent film. I do have faith that it will delight, entertain and put a huge smile on everyone's face. "The Artist" is why we go to the movies, to fall in love with cinema all over again.

"The Artist" gives us the story of silent film star George Valentin, an actor in the mold of Douglas Fairbanks Sr. George is a huge star who acts in a lot of movies and one day he bumps into an ordinary woman from a crowd of fans. Her name is Peppy Miller and after that bump Peppy goes to some auditions for movie extras. Before you know it she becomes a movie star on her own and George is smitten with her. I will not give much more away for this movie is so great because of it's surprises. I can tell you there is a scene stealing dog named Uggie and that the dawn of a new age of movie called "The Talkie" will change George's career and life.

"The Artist" is a mix of a number of silent film genres including comedy, melodrama and love story. I guess there is backlash for this movie because it is said to be superficial with too many tonal shifts. I disagree and loved every facet and moment of this valentine to silent film. WIith this and my earlier review of "We Bought A Zoo" why can't critics get the so called stick out of their butts? Anyway I was with this movie every step of the way. I loved the beautiful black and white photography, the music, the pitch perfect acting and the pristine period detail. I was amazed by every perfect article of clothing, every piece of furniture and the flawless recreations of all kinds of silent movies.

The director is Michel Hazanavicious who has only made a couple of french spy spoof movies and I was not prepared for this masterpiece of his. He nails everything right here and if you showed this movie to an audience and you didn't tell them it was made today I swear you could make them think this was a real silent movie from the 20's. All the things I mentioned about all the flawless recreations are due to Hazanavicious's care, heart, precision and dedication to detail.

The acting is also amazing and Jean Dujardin is an actor I had only seen once in one of those french spy spoof films. His acting is flawless and he has to run the gamut of emotions including happiness, failure, sadness and depression and does a wonderful job. The real find here is Berenice Bejo as Peppy who amazed me with her grace, beauty, comic and dramatic precision. She is also easy on the eyes and brings an effortless charm to the role, you will fall in love with her. She reminds me of Marion Davies who was a major silent film actress. Dujardin's and Bejo's facial expressions and the way they capture every emotion without speaking is amazing and the reason they will both be nominated and might even win an Oscar. There are also great performances by Penelope Ann Miller, James Cromwell, John Goodman and that dog who was fantastic.

I think this movie might get backlash for not really producing any deep love or any emotional connection to the story and the characters. I think that view is completely wrong and I hope it doesn't happen. This is a beautiful movie to look at with a story that got to me and made me fall in love with the movie and fall in love with the power of movies all over again. I actually went back in the theatre to see this movie twice to confirm that I loved this movie and heck if I didn't even love it more the second time!

"The Artist" is a throwback to the magic of old movies and the golden age of cinema that makes all the crap I have seen this year dissapear. It is funny to think that the upcoming Oscar telecast will go back to old school Hollywood and will be hosted by Billy Crystal. I say this because don't be surprised if "The Artist" wins Best Picture, Actor, Actress and Director at this year's Oscars.

'We Bought A Zoo'

'We Bought A Zoo' (PG) (3 1/2 STARS)

Writers: Aline Brosh McKenna and Cameron Crowe
Director: Cameron Crowe
Starring: Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson, Thomas Haden Church, Patrick Fugit, Colin Ford, Elle Fanning, Angus MacFayden, Maggie Elizabeth Jones

I am stunned lately by the cold hearts of critics who just can't relax and have fun with a movie. Not every movie released in December has to be prestigious Oscar bait. There are movies that tug at your heartstrings, sometimes shamelessly, that just win you over with their charm. "We Bought A Zoo" is a return to form for writer, director Cameron Crowe and it might be corny but I bought it hook, line and sinker and I choked up a lot and loved it. Let me honor Joel Siegel here and proclaim "I Bought This Zoo!"

Part of that charm and unabashed entertainment is due to Crowe's care and heart and to a lot of charming and good performances. Matt Damon is great and very likable as Benjamin who is a widdow with a young daughter and a pre teenage boy. Ben quits his adventure writing job and is dealing with his son's dark artistic drawings and his acting out in school. Ben wants a change in his life and he looks for a new home to buy. He finds one with a lot of land but it turns out to have an old dilapidated zoo in the backyard. Half of the Zoo's staff is gone but a few are left behind looking for guidance including Kelly who is the head animal keeper.

Kelly is played by Scarlett Johansson and I haven't seen her this relaxed and glowingly beautiful since "Lost In Translation". She has an effortless grace as Kelly and she is also charming like Damon. Ben's daughter is that standard cute kid that has all these one liners but she is a winner. I didn't learn a lot about the zoo staff characters but all the actors are charming and they care about the zoo which is all I care about. Of course Ben and Kelly have a great chance to become a couple and there is an underlying sexual attraction there.

A lot of the plot is predictable but one of my rules is that a movie can still be great even if it is predictable. I know when I am being manipulated but I did tear up a few times during the movie so obviously it got to me. Cameron Crowe has got to my heart numerous times with my favorite teen movie of all time "Say Anything", "Jerry Maguire" and "Almost Famous". I have seen "Almost Famous" about 50 times and every time I cry throughout the entire movie. Crowe knows how to get to your heart and he knows how to pull your strings but he is so great at it. A lesser talent than him could have make Zoo maudlin. Crowe's movies can make you choke up and your heart soar without you knowing it and that's why he is such a great writer and director.

"We Bought A Zoo" is not up to par with Crowe's greatest films but it is a major step up from his last "Elizabethtown". I love the acting here, the animals, Thomas Haden Church as Ben's brother and I love the film's heart and humor. Critics are lambasting it for shallow writing, characters and manipulation. Sometimes you have to go with the flow and get caught up with the story and I did here. This kind of movie is why I invented the theme of my blog. If you want to see an entertaining, charming movie that will make you laugh and maybe even cry then ignore the stuffy critics. My blog is for movie goers who don't mind having their heartstrings pulled and just want to see a good movie. This might be a guilty pleasure and people will give me hell for it but it is my guilty pleasure, maybe it will be yours.

P.S. This would be an ideal movie to take the family to and I wish the previews would promote that but there isn't a singing chipmunk in it, there is a monkey though and a lion, a tiger....

Thursday, December 22, 2011

'The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo' (11)

"The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo' (11) (R) (3 1/2 STARS)

Writer: Steve Zaillian based on the trilogy of novels Written By Stieg Larsson
Director: David Fincher
Starring: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Stellan Skarsgard, Christopher Plummer, Joely Richardson, Robin Wright, Steven Berkoff

In the arts there is a feeling that movies adapted from books are never as good as the books. There is also a feeling that American movies adapted from foreign movies are never as deep or great as their foreign counterparts. I think it is all foolish and I don't care. Acting carries the day in David Fincher's adaptation of the first in a trilogy of books by Stieg Larsson. I have not read the books but I have seen the Swedish original so I wasn't surprised by the story in anyway at anytime. That is the drawback I think but does that mean I didn't like the American version better or at least equally?
I do think that moviegoers that love the original will be set back by the opening credit sequence with the jazzed up Trent Reznor version of Led Zeppelin's "The Immigrant Song" and that amused me.

Well I will report to you that I like both versions equally though the acting is better in Fincher's version. Knowing the story already, even with Fincher's tweaks, I wasn't enamored by the story this time. I didn't see that much of a difference. I do love the relationship between Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander better in this version. That is due to the amazing, powerful and quietly intense performance by Rooney Mara as Lizbeth. I do love the original performance by Noomi Rapace but I was knocked over by Mara's performance. Her and Daniel Craig have great chemistry that keeps building and when Lizbeth saves him in the end I was cheering.

The Lizbeth character to me ranks up there with Ridley from "Aliens" and Clarice Starling from "The Silence of the Lambs" as three of the strongest women characters in books or movies and my three favorites. Rooney Mara has a sure handle of the role and does it justice. I never thought the Mikeal character was that interesting, Lisbeth makes him a better man. Daniel Craig does a very good job but Mara's give and take with Craig make the characters more special. I don't need to explain the plot to most of you and Fincher makes little changes but not enough that I noticed them that much. I think I love the Lisbeth character better than the story. The story is just pretty much your average serial killer type story.

Rooney Mara gives a breakout performance and like Elizabeth Olsen in "Martha Marcy May Marlene" she will become one of our best actresses. She reigns in the performance and is always quietly intense and gives her the power she should possess. She might seem an abused woman who can't do anything about it but we know she can kick major ass. Mara gave a small memorable performance in "The Social Network" and now seeing her in this movie I am extremely impressed by her range. In the original Swedish movies I really liked the first movie but didn't care for the next two. I think there is a better chance that if there are more American movies that they have better potential because of Rooney Mara and her chemistry with Daniel Craig.

David Fincher is one of my favorite directors and I was wondering why he would make this retread but I am glad he did. The filmmaking is better in this version with the beautiful cinematography and subtly beautiful score by Trent Reznor. Fincher made what I think is the definitive serial killer movie in "Zodiac" which might be my favorite movie in the last 11 years. Fincher has added style to this movie but despite what critics say he gives it an extra special push and depth. A lesser director might have turned this into a cheap serial killer movie rip off of the original movie.

There is another outstanding performance here by Stellan Skarsgard (Breaking the Waves). He plays a nefarious and evil man but he plays the character with respect. He is subtle and finds a way to crawl under your skin and during the movie you can never see him tipping his hand and he is effective. David Fincher's "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" is not better than the original movie but some things are better. There is better acting, more chemistry between Lizbeth and Mikael and the movie looks better and draws you in with it's artistry and subtle intensity.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

'Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol'

'Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol' (PG-13) (3 1/2 STARS)

Writers: Josh Appelbaum and Andre Nemec based on television series by
Bruce Geller
Director: Brad Bird
Starring: Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Paula Patton, Simon Pegg, Michael Nyqvist, Anil Kapoor, Josh Holloway, Tom Wilkinson, Ving Rhames

Lately with the crappy vanity projects like "Sherlock Holmes" and "New Year's Eve" being lazy and overly complicated I thank the heavens for "Mission Impossible". Please don't try to impress me with being clever and throwing all this junk at me. "Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol" has a simple plot, exciting action scenes and a show stopping scene on Dubai's tallest building. The action scenes are clean without slow motion goofiness like the "Sherlock Holmes" movie. Tom Cruise also knows now what kind of Blockbusters to make unlike all the movie stars in "New Year's Eve".

"Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol" is a very fun time at the movies with a plot that might be old hat but is easy to follow. Tom Cruise returns as Ethan Hunt who now has a new team of partners. They are involved in a bombing at the Kremlin and are being framed for it. The bombing involves a terrorist named Hendricks who has codes that can trigger nuclear bombs so Russia can destroy the World. Ethan and his team are joined by a new member, an analyst played by Jeremy Renner. There are a lot of cat and mouse games with the terrorist to wrestle the codes away from him and all these chases are cleanly directed without the clutter of most of the latest Hollywood Blockbusters.

The supporting cast working with Tom Cruise is a very attractive group including Simon Pegg, the beautiful Paula Patton and Jeremy Renner is a good addition half way through as the mysterious analyst. Pegg is very good comic relief and Patton is beautiful and engaging. Also Renner would be a good substitute if it is true he could take over for Cruise in later installments. There is also a nice turn by Anil Kapoor from "Slumdog Millionaire" as an Indian businessman who has information on the codes. The villain is played by Michael Nyqvist from the Swedish version of "Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" and he is not a totally memorable bad guy but his plan is evil enough.

I liked the foot and car chases but the moment that is on it's own worth the price of admission is the scaling up, down and sideways on the tallest building in the World. Cruise does his own stunts and you can tell but man am I surprised he didn't kill himself. Having vertigo I am glad I didn't see this in IMAX even though I bet it is awesome in that format. I just think seeing it in Imax would have made me pee in my pants. I know you want the scene as realistic as possible but at a certain point Mr. Cruise should use a stunt double for his own safety. I appreciate his sacrifice and I love the direction of the scene by Brad Bird. It is a breathtaking and incredible action set piece. Bird has only directed animation like "The Incredibles" and "Ratatouille" but I was impressed by his life action direction.

"Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol" is definitely better than the last two Mission films which I can't remember anything about. It is also one of the best action movies in awhile even though this year has been weak in that aspect. I also think that the James Bond movies better step it up based on the last one because this movie trumps it. It is a great time at the movies, Cruise is back after a little slump and it is a great popcorn movie. It doesn't have a lot of depth but compared to the latest over stuffed action thrillers these past years it delivers the goods in a fast paced, smart and enjoyable way.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

'New Year's Eve'

'New Year's Day' (PG-13) (1 1/2 STARS)

Writer: Katherine Fugate
Director: Garry Marshall

"New Year's Eve" is a holiday, romantic comedy on the heels of the same filmmaker's "Valentine's Day". I would like to first congratulate the filmmakers on something before I tear them up for what I call "New Year's Evil". "The same writer and director made "Valentine's Day" and that movie is "The Godfather" compared to "New Year's Evil", I mean Eve.

Now I can't even write a full review of this pathetic comedy so I will make some bullet points because this movie doesn't deserve my time on a review, I have to go watch Pro Wrestling now anyway which is actually smarter and more artistic than "New Year's Eve".

Oh and Pro Wrestling has better acting! "Ouch!"

1.) Congratulations to Garry Marshall, you have gotten the worst performance I have seen Robert Deniro ever give on screen.

2.) Deniro plays an elderly man who I guess is dying from cancer but I have never seen a more hokey, false and exploitative depiction of a man dying from cancer. Going through a death in the family due to cancer in real life recently this subplot made me sick to my stomach plus Deniro's direction he was given is pathetic.

Now let's have some fun:

3.) I know the filmmakers are trying to make Michelle Pfeiffer look like a timid, plain Jane but did you have to make her look mentally challenged? I have never seen a worse use of Michelle Pfeiffer ever on screen, even "Grease 2".

4.) There is zero chemistry between Pfeiffer and Zak Efron in one of many half assed written subplots.

5.) Ashton Kutcher and Lea Michelle have zero chemistry but at least one of only say 3 good moments in this movie belong to Lea Michelle singing "Auld Lang Syne". Lea Michelle's voice is stronger than Celine Dion's and equal to Barbra Streisand and she has charisma but being paired with the one note smirking Kutcher is career suicide.

6.) Congratulations to Katherine Heigl, you are annoying, obnoxious, over acting and nails scratching on a chalkboard bad again.

7.) Jon Bon Jovi has beautiful blue eyes but his acting is stiffer than a board. You are a great rock star so continue singing only or get charisma and acting lessons.

8.) Hilary Swank has won two Oscars but what a shallow, dumb and worthless role she was given here, the person in charge of the big New Year's Ball dropping. What an insult to an award winning actress and the make up artist who did up Swank, Heigl, Sarah Jessica Parker, Lea Michelle and Michelle Pfeiffer should be blacklisted from the make up artist's association if there is one. I have a little advice, less make up please.

9.) I guess this movie was filmed in New York with the sponsorship of Nivea but I swear it was really filmed in Canada. I have seen many New Year's Eve celebrations and ball droppings in New York on television and the celebration here looks cheesy and not anywhere close to the real thing.

10.) I used to love Sarah Jessica Parker but now I can't stand her and this movie explains why.

Besides Lea Michelle there are a few things I liked here keeping this from getting my famous Zero star review:

There are so many sappy, amateurishly written and horrible love stories in this movie but the only touching and real moment comes at the end with Halle Berry. She plays a nurse who after her shift gets dressed up in a killer dress and goes to a television to have a beautiful talk via satellite with her husband who is stationed in Iraq.

I also loved a subplot with Seth Myers and Jessica Biel and yes Seth Meyers gives the best performance in this movie! They play a couple whose wife is preganant and they are battling another couple to have the first New Year's baby. Myers is really funny, the writing is not half bad and I really think Jessica Biel is the most under rated actress today with one of the best bodies in Hollywood and here she is pregnant. Also Sofia Vergara steals this movie away from everyone, she is very funny, charming and sexy! Oh and finally Garry Marshall has now joined Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner in the old men who should never direct a movie again club.

P.S. I feel I am being too rough and hateful here but really I am sick and tired of these false, horrible romantic comedies and I am choking on them. Can someone please make a great romantic comedy soon!

Friday, December 16, 2011

'Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy'

'Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy' (R) (3 STARS)

Writers: Bridget O'Connor and Peter Straughan based on novel by John LeCarre
Director: Tomas Alfredson
Starring: Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, John Hurt, Mark Strong, Toby Jones, Ciaran Hinds, David Dencik

When I was a tennager I wanted to be a spy, a secret service agent or a C.I.A. Operative so badly. I thought it would be super fascinating, exciting and dangerous and I could save lives and kill bad guys. I imagine most spy work is how it is portrayed in "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" the new cold, brainy and intriguing spy thriller adaptation of one of my favorite writers John LeCarre. The movie is very slow and complicated and very realistic for I have heard a lot of spy work is not car chases, guns and killing bad guys. I assume it has to deal with long converastions and readings of long, thick documents.

There is a lot of talk and little action in "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" and that is the way it is supposed to be. It captures perfectly the smoky rooms filled with older spies who have seen it all talking about exotic locales. In an early scene we are in one of these rooms as we see a master, veteran spy named George Smiley. He is a reserved man with glasses who is about to retire. Thoiugh there is some unfinished work to be done for it is discovered that there is a mole in the British intelligence working for Russia. Most of this movie will be a lot of talk, some twists and spy machinations.

This is a very slow moving film and it is very cold but it is fun to see such a wonderful cast of British actors who are some of our best. It is fun to follow the story that is like a maze and sometimes you can't follow it and you get confused but isn't that what you should expect? I just enjoyed watching the change of pace, studied performance of Gary Oldman as George Smiley. I also love watching John Hurt, Ciaran Hinds, Mark Strong and Colin Firth go to town with charasmatic character performances. Gary Oldman is so reserved and subtle that he is almost in danger of being blown over. That is why I loved his performance because I am so used to seeing him go nuts and playing evil guys. I also particularly love Mark Strong here and he is becoming one of my favorites and Toby Jones does sniveling guys better than anyone.

This is not a movie that you will fall in love with or embrace. I wish it had more humor and a little more of a quick pace. Sometimes I did love how slow it was so I could catch up with it. It is a very smart movie just like LeCarre's books were. I didn't read this particular work but I used to read a lot of his books and they are filled with a lot of background, talk and description. This movie is faithful to the book and I am amazed at how much of the long book they fit in two hours. I just wish this was a movie in two parts or a mini series so it could cover more. Though I was glad this movie was made and it makes me want to do what all good movies make me want to do, see it again.

'Sherlock Holmes:A Game of Shadows'

'Sherlock Holmes:A Game of Shadows' (PG-13) (2 STARS)

Writers: Michele and Kieran Mulroney
Director: Guy Ritchie
Starring: Robert Downey Jr, Jude Law, Noomi Rapace, Jared Harris, Rachel McAdams, Stephen Fry, Kelly Reilly

One of my first reviews on this blog was the original Sherlock Holmes movie and here I still am writing a review of it's sequel much later. In my review of the original I might have under rated the movie. I gave it a rental reccomendation because I loved the interplay between Robert Downey and Jude Law but thought the movie was too long, loud and lackluster. Now with "Sherlock Holmes:A Game of Shadows" I don't even have the the funny Downey/Law dynamic. This is a very long and boring movie and it does nothing to build on the Holmes character.

To me the original movie's story was thin, weak and too convoluted with a villain that hardly showed up. Though Robert Downey was great and funny as Holmes as was Jude Law as Watson. They were much better than the movie and Guy Ritchie's obnoxious direction. I got really tired of the slow motion, overly cut fighting scenes and explosions. Now with the sequel we have a better story but I now got bored with Downey and Law who both seemed cut off from each other. I laughed at their dialogue in the original but never cracked a smile during this pointless sequel.

The sequel has a story that has more depth than the original's plot but is again too convoluted. I also was very dissapointed in the villain here Professor Moriarty who is not as evil as the Moriarty from the older Holmes serials. Jared Harris who plays Moriarty has been more interesting and more evil in other things like TV's "Fringe". That is the fault of the screenplay which also gives us lame "Pink Panther" rip off disguises for Downey including a lame drag costume. This stuff was done much better in movies like "Victor/Victoria". There is also a thankless role for the wonderful Noomi Rapace (Girl With the Dragon Tatoo)who makes no impression here.

"Sherlock Holmes:Game of Shadows" has lost it's franchise's personality and all that is left is it's weak story, villain and it's overkill of slow motion and explosions. I know one thing, I will not review or even think about seeing a third Holmes movie. Two strikes and you are out in my opinion when it comes to movies.

P.S. Much better movies like this are another Holmes movie from the 70's "The 7% Per Cent Solution" and I like the original Sherlock Holmes movie much better.

Friday, December 2, 2011


'Shame' (NC-17) (3 1/2 STARS)

Writers: Abi Morgan and Steve McQueen
Director: Steve McQueen
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan, Nicole Beharie, James Badge Dale

"Shame" is a thoughtful and intense drama about sexual addiction and I have never seen a movie like this on the subject matter. I have never seen this much truth, frankness and maturity in a movie about sex. It is also a pleasure to see a major actor and future movie star grow before our eyes. Co-writer and director Steve McQueen along with Abi Morgan have made a smart, emotionally deep and haunting character study. I keep thinking back to movies like 1972's "Last Tango in Paris" (which I dislike). "Shame" is more current but also way more thoughtful and powerful than that over rated so called classic.

"Shame" deals with the sexual addiction of Brandon who is played by the red hot Michael Fassbender. Brandon's life is full of picking up women and having meaningless sex with them. He always has computer porn at the ready on his laptop computer. One day his sister Sissy comes in to town and crashes at Brandon's apartment. They seem estranged and Sissy seems emotionally fragile and Brandon feels she is a distraction to his life but really to his addiction. Sex is always on the mind of Brandon and he seems to be incapable of having a deep relationship with a woman.

"Shame" could have gone wrong in so many ways but I was touched and happy that Steve McQueen and Michael Fassbender treat this story with respect and maturity. There is not one false scene and no unintentional laughs like many movies that deal with this subject have. The acting is all wonderful and again the breathtaking Carey Mulligan adds to her power as an actress as Sissy. The movie is very dark and slow moving but rewarding and intriguing. I love the musical score and the pitch perfect cinematography. Though what makes this movie special is the smart writing and the amazing and vulnerable performance by Michael Fassbender.

Michael Fassbender will easily become the new star coming out of Hollywood but with "Shame" he proves he is already an award ready actor. Fassbender is subtle, brilliant and in the emotional scenes we see his heart breaking. He also shows the emptiness in Brandon's soul. His scenes with Carey Mulliagan are perfection and they work wonderfully off each other, we really feel they are brother and sister. Fassbender is extremely good looking but he is also a smart actor that shows us just enough vulnerability mixed with sex appeal. This is not a sexy movie and it shouldn't be and that is why it is powerful. I also think the movie ends on a perfect note. This is an amazing character study and writers Abi Morgan and McQueen are very smart and they never cheapen the material.

Michael Fassbender started getting noticed with performances like the one he gave in "Inglorious Basterds", "300" and "X Men:First Class". What really made Fassbender stand out is another amazing character study, the 2009 movie "Fish Tank". If you haven't seen that drama which is one of the best independent films of the last decade check it out. Another amazing performance Fassbender gave was in director McQueen's own "Hunger" based on Bobby Sands. Fassbender lost a lot of weight for that movie and his performance is completely powerful. Watch both "Fish Tank" and "Hunger" if you like Fassbender because with those movies and "Shame" you will see why he will become an amazing actor and star. He is wonderful in "Shame" and I wouldn't be surprised if you hear his name mentioned at awards time. Also writer, director Steve McQueen has a lot of talent. His movie "Hunger" was too dark and tough for me to watch but now with "Shame" I believe he has the goods.

The movie has the dreaded NC-17 rating that kills box office appeal but this is not a movie that screams blockbuster anyway. The games that the Motion Picture Ratings Board plays with this rating disturbs me and it is the dumbest things in Hollywood. I always find it weird that the Ratings Board takes it easy on violence but is skittish on sex. I always laugh at and think that Hollywood has no problems with torturing and decapitating women (Yes "Saw" movies I am looking at you) but having sex with women is just not right and has to be more strictly rated. It is not like "Shame" is wall to wall sex and pornographic acts. Also I think movie goers will be too caught up in the story and Fassbender's performance to care. "Shame" is an example of how a NC-17 rated movie can be a classy and great thing.

"Shame" is a heatbreaking and haunting movie and it got to me more than I expected. There are wonderful scenes of emotion, acting and there is a complete understanding of it's subject matter. An example of an amazing couple of scenes starts with a very funny and brilliant line of dialogue that if you don't pay attention you will miss it. It leads to Brandon asking a beautiful co worker to dinner. The woman is sweetly played by Nicole Beharie and it is s captivating dinner scene. This might be the first woman in a long time that Brandon can connect to but for more than sex. It ends with a sad and powerful scene that emotionally railroaded me. If you love excellent acting and thoughtful character studies "Shame" is one of the best movies of 2011.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

'The Muppets'

'The Muppets (PG) (3 1/2 STARS)

Writers: Jason Segal and Nicholas Stoller
Director: James Bobin
Starring: Jason Segal, Amy Adams, Chris Cooper, Rashida Jones, Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Fozzie, Gonzo, Animal, Rowlf, Walter

In the late 70's on Saturday nights as a child I could never miss an episode of "The Muppet Show". At 6:00 each Saturday night I had to experience the magic of my friends the Muppets. In 1979 I went with my mother, sister and grandmother to watch their first movie "The Muppet Movie". As I experienced the Muppets larger than life on the big screen my eyes were popping out of my head and I had a huge smile on my face. Also when I saw Kermit riding a bicycle I became ecstatic. The Muppets made me laugh and they made me feel comfortable. I am happy to say that the new relaunch of the Muppets captures that old magic.

The Muppets made a few fun, charming and entertaining movies but in the late 90's they lost their groove. The charmless and horrible "Muppets in Space" and "A Muppets Christmas Carol" robbed us of what was so wonderful about all the Muppets. They took their distinct personalities away and gave them boring characters to play. The new Muppet movie has been written and made with love and respect by people who love them as much as I do. Actor Jason Segal and Nicholas Stoller have written a smart, very funny and enchanting Muppet movie that is second in greatness to the 1979 original.

The movie opens with a magical, catchy and fun opening musical number and that energy is kept up throughout the whole movie. Jason Segal plays Gary and Gary has a brother named Walter who looks like a muppet but alas he is not. I love the introduction of Walter as a new Muppet character and he wins us over right away. The old "Muppet Show" and the early movies were great mostly because kids and adults could equally enjoy them. Adults could appreciate the smart humor that the show's writng provided and kids could identify with the characters. I mean has there ever been a more beautiful love story then the one between Kermit and Miss Piggy?

"The Muppets" actually has the same plot as "The Blues Brothers" and now you know what I mean by why adults love the Muppets. Segal and Stoller do such a wonderful job at keeping that respect, love and smart, self aware humor that the old Muppets gave us. Gary and Walter and Gary's girlfriend Mary go to find Kermit the Frog so they can get the Muppets back together again since they are huge fans and miss them. After they find Kermit all four go on a road trip to get the band back together again. The Muppets have to save their old studio from a rich and evil oil baron who wants to destroy the studio. Then you get the old let's put on a show plot to save the studio.

The beauty of "The Muppets" is that the plot doesn't really matter. What matters is the humor, the way we love the characters and see them as friends. The musical numbers here are all wonderfully done and memorable. I also love the energy and sunniness of Amy Adams (a brilliant masterstroke in casting) and Jason Segal. Amy Adams would make a perfect Muppet in her own right and there is a great scene where Gary sees his Muppet counterpart and it looks exactly like Jason Segal.

"The Muppets" made me smile throughout the entire time. I laughed constantly, tapped my toes during the great musical numbers and choked up during the re singing of "The Rainbow Connection". This is the most fun I have had at the movies in a long time. Some of the cameos in this movie work and some don't but I really don't think we go to see these movies for the Hollywood stars, we want the Muppets! I also love Rashida Jones (Parks and Recreation) and her performance as a mean television studio head. It is a very funny performance and I love how she interacts with Kermit and the other Muppets. The old magic of the Muppets is back in a major way and I am deeply grateful to Jason Segal for bringing them back with respect and love.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


'Hugo' (PG) (3 1/2 STARS)

Written By John Logan based on the novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret By Brian Selznick

Director: Martin Scorsese
Starring: Asa Butterfield, Chloe Grace Moretz, Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen, Emily Mortimer, Michael Stuhlbarg, Jude Law, Christopher Lee

What a breath of fresh air "Hugo" is and leave it to Martin Scorsese to make one of the best children's movies in ages. For the last few years I have been complaining about how most children's movies dumb it down for kids. The way most of these movies have to be frantic and throw things at you every few minutes is starting to piss me off. Scorsese has made a beautiful movie that is the best kid's movie since "Where the Wild Things Are". It is also the best use of 3D in a live action movie since "Avatar".

Martin Scorsese knows that a young mind is ripe for knowledge and that children are not stupid. He also loves movies and wants us to know how much he loves them and wants us to discover why. He knows that kids don't need movies that always are trying to impress you with multiple special effects and non stop action. Kids will sit still and watch a movie that takes it's time to simply tell a story without theatrics. It might sound amazing to people but kids read books (I know it is shocking!) and "Hugo" is like reading a great book. That may be due to it being based on an award winning novel. It is also a beautiful looking movie with well written characters.

"Hugo" tells the story of Hugo Cabret, a boy in Paris in the 30's who has recently lost his father. Hugo lives in a train station and has taken over his father's job of running the huge tower clock at the station. In a breathtaking opening tracking shot that only Scorsese can do we travel through this station as the camera glides along. Just picture a lighter version of the Copacobana tracking shot of "Good Fellas". Scorsese knows how to use 3D the right away which is to enhance the picture instead of throwing crap at us. This movie is captivating to look at from the first frame to the last.

Hugo tries to take care of himself after his father passed away by stealing pastries and eluding capture from a determined police inspector. He is also caught stealing from a merchant in the station who owns a toy store. He is stealing mechanical parts for a automaton his father was starting to build. The merchant's name is George Melies and if you are a film lover and student you will know who he is. Some kids today will not know who he is but they should and that is the power of "Hugo". The movie is a great teaching tool for film lovers who don't know the origins of movies. Again I think kids will be fascinated by this material and the movie also is awesome eye candy.

George Melies was an early film pioneer and a magician that used his magic skills to make movies. He was one of the first film makers and he made hundreds of movies and he is one of the inventors of special effects. "Hugo" brought back memories of when I was a kid and I discovered the power and joy of movies. Hugo Cabret goes to see a lot of movies and he befriends a girl who has never seen a movie. I love an early scene where Hugo takes his friend Isabelle to her first movie. It is pure magic and it captures how wonderful it is to experience anything wondrous for the first time.

"Hugo" is a beautiful looking movie that makes sure that it takes it's time to let us soak in the atmosphere. We get to follow the story with no distractions and no bells and whistles. The movie ends with a captivating montage of Melies films with beautiful images. The performances here are all great and subtle here. Asa Butterfield is wonderful as Hugo and Chloe Grace Moretz is also equally great here as Isabelle. There is also an great performance by Ben Kinglsey as Melies and I absolutely love Sacha Baron's performance as the police inspector. He takes what could have been a cartoonish role and makes it a touching performance with some effective and sly humor.

"Hugo" is enchanting and the only drawback to me of the movie is that the first hour does meander sometimes. I think some scenes should have been cut out or shortened. If some of those scenes could have been cut back you would have a movie that is absolute perfection. It is a movie that is delightful to look at and if you love movies and the history of them you will fall in love it. I am afraid that a lot of parents and kids will dismiss this movie because it isn't fast enough. That would be sad because I think all kids should see this as should adults who love movies. Movies are supposed to entertain us but they can be a magical learning tool. "Hugo" is an enchanting, beautiful and charming movie and decades from now could be a new classic.

'My Week With Marilyn'

'My Week With Marilyn' (R) (3 STARS)

Written By Adrian Hodges based on the diaries of Colin Clark
Director: Simon Curtis
Starring: Michelle Williams, Eddie Redmayne, Kenneth Branagh, DominicCooper, Julia Ormand, Judi Dench, Dougray Scott, Emma Watson

Marilyn Monroe is an iconic figure and a one of a kind star and only an amazing actress from our time could capture her magic. Michelle Williams is my favorite actress right now, no exceptions. She can take a shallow and light movie and make it soar. Her performance of Marilyn Monroe is dead on perfect, so much so that I thought an earlier Marilyn Monroe performance piece in this movie was a real life clip of Marilyn Monroe. It is actually Williams as Monroe and her performance is pure magic just like Monroe herself. I wish the movie was as equal as her flawless performance.

No one has captured Monroe's life force as much as Williams does here and I predict nobody will equal her in any future Monroe film. We have seen the Marilyn Monroe story before but "My Week With Marilyn" concentrates on a certain period in Monroe's career when she acted with Laurence Olivier in "The Princess and the Showgirl". That movie which came out in 1957 was directed by Olivier and Sir Laurence had a very difficult time with Monroe's lack of professionalism. Her low self esteem and lack of acting skills hindered her performance in the movie. The movie is based on diaries of Colin Clark who was a film assistant. Colin was in charge of comforting and looking after Monroe and he fell in love with her.

The character of Clark is a bore to me and I was not interested in all in him. Broadway actor Eddie Redmayne plays Clark and his performance is good but his character is not memorable. You want to identify with Clark because he gets to be so close to Monroe but I just didn't get him. That is okay because Williams is so great here it doesn't matter. This is her show and her performance trumps everything else in the movie. Kenneth Branagh is also very great here as Olivier and there is good support by Julia Ormand as Vivien Leigh and Judi Dench. I loved the look at the filming of the movie and the way that Monroe always frustrated Olivier but I found the Clark fueled love story boring.

So it is a mixed bag for me here but I will reccomend you see this instead of my first inkling to say wait util DVD. You will not see a better performance, save for a few others, by Michelle Williams this year. She will get award recognition so I really think you should see this at a matinee show. Michelle Williams is incredibly pitch perfect as Monroe and it is a performance you must see. She not only looks like Monroe but she captures her moves, sex appeal and little girl lost personality. I have seen this side of Monroe before in other biographical Monroe pictures so I don't think the movie offers anything new about her. Though I will say as a movie lover I like the behind the scenes look at the making of a movie. I also absolutely love the performance of Michelle Williams which is pure gold.

P.S. Williams is on a major roll here and that is why she is my number one favorite actress right now. Coming on the heels of her amazing performance in one of the best movies of last year "Blue Valentine" she again is incredible in this very light, sometimes frustrating movie.

Friday, November 18, 2011

'The Descendants'

'The Descendants' (R) (4 STARS) (Highest Rating)

Writers: Nat Faxon, Jim Rash and Alexander Payne based on the novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings

Director: Alexander Payne
Starring: George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, Matthew Lillard, Robert Forster, Amara Miller, Judy Greer, Beau Bridges, Nick Krause, Michel Ontkean

Maybe it is the Hawaiian setting but I felt really at ease and satisfied during the perceptive and wonderfully acted family drama "The Descendants".
This is a movie that has grown on me hours after I have seen it and I can't get it out of my head. This is a simply told but touching drama that is laid back and that is it's greatest attribute. You also have two of the best performances of the year in Shailene Woodley and George Clooney. This movie could have been an annoying, sappy "Terms of Endearment" rip off but this is one of the best family dramas I have ever seen and it might be better than "Terms".

George Clooney again knocks it out of the park as Matt King whose wife is on life support after a boating accident. His wife is in a coma and not getting better and Matt has to go tell family members and break the news to his two young daughters. His oldest daughter Alexandra is estranged from Matt and had a fight with her mother before the accident. I will not be spoiling the movie for you because it is in the trailer but Matt's wife Eliazabeth was cheating on him. He wants to find the guy she cheated with and of course Matt doesn't really know what he will do when he sees him.

Also Matt's family has owned land in Hawaii since the 1800's and there might be a sale of the land by Matt and his many couisins. So Matt has a lot on his mind especially with raising his daughters. This material is all handled smartly with no big, pronounced scenes of melodrama. The movie is leisurely paced and that is good because we can soak in the scenery of Hawaii and get to know the characters well. I always felt that the dialogue sounded real. This is a great look at family and it's struggles and it is an emotional film that sneaks up on you. The movie has honest emotions, humor and great performances.

It is also one of the most realistic looks at family and a father and his daughters and that credit mostly goes to the performances of Clooney and Shailene Woodley. I have said it before but George Clooney never looks like he is acting. He is likable here as he always is and he is so natural and cool. I have never seen an actor charm us with his easy nature and delivery more than Clooney has since James Garner. Shailene Woodley is even better at being natural than Clooney and it is such a wonderful performance. She has created a real teenage girl and she also doesn't look like she is acting. These are two subtle and moving performances and both actors made me love their two characters.

There is also an easygoing and great bunch of supporting performances from Judy Greer, Robert Forster, Amara Miller as the younger daughter Scotty and a funny turn by Nick Krause as Sid who is a friend of Alexandra's. I also was amused by the performance of Matthew Lillard as the man Elizabeth cheated with. Lillard used to be an obnoxious actor in so many bad comedies but here he is fantastic, a performance that can jump start a better career.
The Hawaii setting also helps this movie and the movie does some great things with it's Hawaiian locations. I felt like I really was in Hawaii and I felt a kinship with this family.

By the end and well after I have seen this movie I find it actually flawless. This is a much superior family drama than almost every one I have seen in decades. It ranks right up there with "Shoot the Moon" and "Ordinary People" as my three favorites. George Clooney just keeps getting better and he can do no wrong lately. Also Shailene Woodley is going to be a major actress just like Jennifer Lawrence and Hailee Steinfeld and she will become better and bigger than Steinfeld. You can expect to see her at Academy Award time.

The writer and director of "The Descendants" is the talented and smart Alexander Payne. He has written two wonderful and classic comedies in "Election" and "Sideways". Payne lost his way a little bit with "About Schmidt" in 2004. I like that movie but it is not as memorable and great as "Sideways" and "Election". Now with "The Descendants" he is back on the top as one of the best writers in Hollywood. Part of the easy going nature of this movie is due to Payne's patience and great story writing just like he accomplished with "Sideways".

"The Descendants" is a beautiful movie that choked me up near the end and it creates honest tears instead of yanking it out of us with histrionics. There are so many scenes that are handled the right way with truth, beauty and emotion. There is an amazing, beautiful and powerful scene at the end credits. It is simple but one of the most postive and life affirming endorsements for family that I have ever seen and it is also a very happy way to end this wonderful drama. "The Descendants" is easily one of the best movies of the year.

'Jack and Jill'

'Jack and Jill' (PG-13) (1 1/2 STARS)

Writers: Adam Sandler and Steve Koren
Director: Dennis Dugan
Starring: Adam Sandler, Adam Sandler, Katie Holmes, Al Pacino, David Spade, Tim Meadows, Nick Swardson

I am getting a little disturbed and mad at Adam Sandler lately. Does he really think we are this stupid? Just because his last disastrous movie made $100 million dollars I think he believes he can make more lazy and terrible unfunny movies. Maybe I am in the minority, I hope not, but am I the only one that is finding Adam Sandler movies embarrassing lately? I am the only one that thinks his only really funny movie since "Happy Madison" was "You Don't Mess With the Zohan". That was a fun movie where Sandler was playing a character but now he plays himself, an arrogant jerk just like he is in real life if he thinks his last two movies are that funny and fun for us.

I go back to "Zohan" because the best Adam Sandler movies are where he plays some sort of a character. That list is "Zohan", "Happy Madison" , "Punch Drunk Love" and to many but not to me "The Waterboy".
With his latest and this year's earlier, cringe inducing comedy "Just Go With It" he has hit rock bottom. In "Jack and Jill" Sandler plays Jack and his twin sister Jill. Jack is a television commercial producer who is trying to get Al Pacino to do a "Dunkin Donuts" commercial. Jack can't stand his obnoxious sister and she is over staying her welcome past the Thanksgiving holiday. Though when Al Pacino gets a crush on Jill and won't do the commercial if Jill leaves, Jack decides to use Jill to get Pacino in.

The Jill character in this movie is made out to be a punching bag for all the movie's jokes. The bad thing is Sandler playing in drag is so awkward and the performance is like nails on a chalkboard. He doesn't even pass as a plausible woman. Now the set up with Al Pacino could have been funny and clever but of course it comes off as dumb and not in a good way. The only two times I laughed was during a throwaway line delivered by Pacino about his surprising lack of Oscars. The other time was also due to Pacino as we see him acting in a play and there is s a funny bit with a cell phone.

The rest of the jokes are meant to abuse Jill and I know that Sandler is really doing this to himself but that doesn't make it funny. If you think the Jill character on a toliet as bathroom sounds are thrown at us for three minutes is funny then please see the movie. Now there have been dumb Sandler movies that have been great, hey I even defended "Grown Ups" which compared to "Jack and Jill" is "The Godfather" (sorry about the Pacino reference). The problem is "Jack and Jill" is lazy, boring, badly directed, acted and amateurish. Also I am glad that Katie Holmes is married to Tom Cruise so she can just do thankless wife roles like she has here.

The only inspired moment of this movie is at the end credits where Pacino raps during his "Dunkin Donuts" commercial. There I saved you $11 bucks, you can just catch this on cable and watch the end credits only. "Jack and Jill" is one of the worst comedies I have ever seen along with Sandler's "Just Go With It", congratulations Adam!

P.S. I want the old Adam Sandler back! "Happy Madison" is an extremely funny movie and that was such a long time ago.

Thursday, November 17, 2011


'Melancholia' (R) (3 1/2 STARS)

Written and Directed By Lars von Trier
Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Alexander Skarsgard, Kiefer Sutherland, Brady Corbet, John Hurt, Stellan Skarsgard, Charlotte Rampling

I have never seen the impending End of the World depicted so serenely and as beautiful as it is depicted in "Melancholia". Writer and Director Lars von Trier is back at the top of his form after many years with this contemplative and haunting drama. This is a companion piece to the other amazing spiritual drama this year "The Tree of Life". You also have a realistic and powerful look at depression and a career best performance from Kirsten Dunst.

"Melancholis" starts out at the wedding of Justine and Michael in a rented mansion. The wedding is being paid for by Justine's sister Claire and her husband John. Justine is played by Kirsten Dunst who is an actress that keeps getting better and should make her mark here for greatness. Justine and Michael look very happy but at the wedding reception we learn all might not be well. Justine is going through deep bouts of depression and at the reception things go from bad to worse as she acts out her depression. Also as the wedding is going on a mysterious planet is about to run into the Earth.

Justine's sister Claire is estranged from Justine mostly because Claire is tired of how Justine is acting and not doing anything about her depression.
Claire is played by Charlotte Gainsbourg and I really think she is a great actress not many know of. The look of "Melancholia" is breathtaking with it's beauitful images of this planet that is on a crash course for Earth. This is the most beauitful movie I have ever seen dealing with armageddon.
Lars von Trier has always had a sure command of the camera and here he does his best work since 1996's "Breaking the Waves" which is one of my all time favorite movies.

Lars von Trier has become self indulgent since his 1996 masterpiece and hit rock bottom a few years back with his "Antichrist". That movie was self important and was written because von Trier was mad at the World and dealing with depression. The disgusting and unnecessary images in "Antichrist" even made me want to walk out of the theatre. This time von Trier deals with the subject of depression in a thoughtful and measured manner. The screenplay is well written and there is no self indulgence anywhere. We have seen many disaster movies dealing with the End of the World that want to scare us. This time it is dealt with in a beautiful and haunting way and meshes well with the story of Justine.

Kirsten Dunst gives her best performance of her career so far as Justine and it is a subtle, graceful and powerful performance. I love how the screenplay sees Justine as hopeless in the beginning but by the end she might be the bravest person out of everyone. There are good supporting performances by Kiefer Sutherland, Alexander and Stellan Skarsgard and John Hurt. Also good is Charlotte Rampling as Justine's mother and we can see how Justine got to be the way she is by how her mother is.

The images of "Melancholia" are beautiful and the story is thoughtful and keeps getting better as the plot unfolds. Lars von Trier has bounced back with a movie that I found moving if not transformed by. His "Breaking the Waves" was like a religious experience for me and I cried for hours after I saw it and I am not religious at all. Both "Waves" and "Melancholis" are what I call spiritual movies and they look at life in a sober way but they are both entertaining. "Melancholia" has been compared to this year's "Tree of Life" and I love both. I am partial to "Tree of Life" excluding it's first half and last half hour. "Melancholia" makes it's own statement and it is an unforgettable and beautiful movie with an unforgettable performance by Kirsten Dunst.

P.S. I am very proud of Kirsten Dunst and I look at her great performances in movies that I love. When Dunst was just a child she did an amazing job in 1994's "Little Women". I also loved her performance in the heartbreaking "Virgin Suicides". Now with "Melancholia" Dunst has grown up into an amazing actress.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

'J Edgar'

'J Edgar' (R) (3 1/2 STARS)

Written By Dustin Lance Black
Director: Clint Eastwood
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Armie Hammer, Naomi Watts, Judi Dench, Josh Lucas, Josh Hamilton, Geoff Pierson, Lea Thompson

Sometimes a certain director of movies can handle subject matter better than most. Looking back at the career of Clint Eastwood, the director, I must say he is the only film maker that could have done justice to "J Edgar". This is a unique film maker who is one of the best women's film directors who can tell a story from any viewpoint. I say this because the subject matter of "J Edgar" deals with sensitive subject matter that is provocative and in the wrong hands could have been a melodramatic mess. Eastwood and his amazing lead actor Leonardo DiCaprio have made "J Edgar" a powerful and touching movie. I didn't know what to expect but I thought this would be a cold, political movie and I was wrong.

To me Clint Eastwood was the first modern film maker to give the Western a chance at presenting strong women characters in 1972's "The Beguiled". He made a slyly feminist movie wrapped up in a revenge, "Dirty Harry" movie "Sudden Impact" with Sandra Locke as a woman who finally takes control and gets revenge on men who raped her and her sister. He gave us a remarkable adaptation of a bad book "Bridges of Madison County" where he showed women could be beautiful without being glamourous. He also gave us one of the strongest female characters I have seen in the past decade with his masterpiece "Million Dollar Baby".

I mention all this again because Eastwood and writer Dustin Lance Black have presented a touching and beautiful love story between two men. We all know the rumors of J Edgar putting on a dress and being a closeted homosexual. I can just imagine someone like Oliver Stone (no offense to Oliver) or a lesser film maker making this movie a lurid and perverse movie. "J Edgar" tells the story of the legendary lawman who became the head of the FBI. It goes behind the scenes showing us how J Edgar Hoover was admired, shunned, reviled and respected by his peers. We also meet his partner in law enforcement and companionship Clyde Tolson. J Edgar lived with his contolling and respected mother most of his life. The movie shows us the inner workings of the FBI and Hoover's command of it plus we see his home life and relationship with Clyde.

J Edgar and Clyde were inseperable after a while and would go on vacations together and have lunch everyday together. They would form a complicated friendship and relationship. The movie does a wonderful and measured job of showing how J Edgar struggled with his sexual urges and feelings towards Clyde. What seems like a cold and simply told story of the government and J Edgar turns into a touching and powerful love story. There are scenes that could have turned into unintentionally funny moments but the writing is so smart and beautiful and Eastwood's direction is serious and just right.

The movie has great writing and direction but I can't say enough about Leonardo DiCaprio's performance as J Edgar. It might be his best performance of his career and we are talking a wonderful career here. He could have made J Edgar a one dimensional, cold character but Leo makes us care for J Edgar when many people in his life didn't. He had his mother, his loyal secretary, played well by Naomi Watts, and Clyde and that was all. There are some heartbrweaking and beautiful scenes between DiCaprio and Armie Hammer as Clyde that are extremely well written and careful. Many actors could have tried to imitate J Edgar and make him a caricature but DiCaprio makes him a memorable and human character.

I have told you about how the movie portrays Hoover and his relationship with Clyde but I also found the movie fascinating with it's look at J Edgar's crime fighting. There is a compelling, well directed and written segment dealing with the kidnapping of Charles Lindbergh's baby. There is a great moment where Clyde calls Hoover out on his exaggeration of how he nabbed some legendary criminals. There is some interesting and sometimes funny scenes where Hoover talks about the files of Eleanor Roosevelt, Nixon and other important political figures and celebrities. The look of the movie is also just right and the music subtle and effective. The supporting acting is great by solid actors such as Judi Dench as J Edgar's mother and Josh Lucas as Lindbergh and as I mentioned before Armie Hammer and Naomi Watts.

J Edgar is not a person I would have really wanted to spend time with, he could sometimes be cold and difficult. Though what Eastwood, Dustin Lance Black and Leonardo DiCaprio have done is made J Edgar a character we care about and are fascinated with. This is a tough character to make us love and the depiction of Hoover and Tolson's relationship is powerful stuff and also one of the most honest depictions of love I have seen in a major Hollywood film release. "J Edgar" is one of the best movies of 2011 with one of the best performances of the last decade by Leonardo DiCaprio.

P.S. I would definitely see this movie again for Leo's performance but I will honestly admit that this would be a tough movie to fully embrace and watch again soon and others will feel the same way. I do think it is a movie worth revisiting and don't get me wrong I stand by my review. I do think this is a great movie.


'Immortals' (R) (1 STAR)

Writers: Charles and Vilas Parlapanides
Director: Tarsem Singh Dhandwar
Starring: Henry Cavill, Mickey Rourke, Stephen Dorff, Freida Pinto, Luke Evans, Isabel Lucas, John Hurt

What is it with film makers that are trying to adapt Greek Mythlogy? Everyone who attempts it has totally screwed it up. I am a huge fan of Greek Mythology, was crazy about it in school. That may be why I am such a stickler but with the lame "Troy", horrible remake of "Clash of the Titans" and now the ugly and sick loser "Immortals" I am getting annoyed. You have to go back to the cheesy but super fun 1981 original movie "Clash of the Titans" to get satisfaction.

"Immortals" reminds me of my least favorite movie of all time, David Lynch's sorry "Dune". At least "Immortals" is beautiful to look at to a point, until the 100th decapitation and impaling. "Dune" looked like someone threw a huge bag of dirt at the screen every hour. "Immortals" is beautiful to look at sometimes with it's mountains, cliffs and the only great scene in the first five minutes. That scene shows a group of slaves lined up in several rows with a long pipe through everyone's teeth. "Immortals" has some great sets and CGI but the story is lame, the acting is horrible save for a few performances and the movie gets extremely tedious. You can take a turd and cover it with gold but it really is still a turd.

A lot of the movie isn't coherent and doesn't make sense but here it goes. Henry Cavill plays a peasant named Theseus who gets recruited by the Gods, including Zeus, to battle King Hyperion. Hyperion wants to rule the World and attain a magical bow and arrow with super powers. Theseus is helped out by Stavros and a few warriors plus some Gods who look like they walked out of a drag queen show. The costumes are cool but I swear Lady Gaga was the art director and choreographer. Some of these costumes can be seen at any burlesque show. There are so many fight scenes with no logic and you can't follow any of it. It is beheading, testicle smashing, impalings and then wash, rinse and repeat. At the hour mark I was sick and tired and pissed off at all these dismemberments.

Mickey Rourke is the only actor that is good and is at least looking like he is into the movie even though he is playing the villain from "Ironman 2" without the accent. Henry Cavill screams a lot but he looks good and has star potential. I hope his next big hero role as Superman ( a movie I have been waiting 30 years for) works out better for him. This is a movie that depressed me with all it's killings. The sets I guess look awesome and the costumes silly and fun but a campy movie like 1980's "Flash Gordon" ( a guilty pleasure of mine) is 50 times better at half the budget at it's costumes and special effects. The only movie goers I think that will like this are 13-18 year old geek science fiction fan boys. All I thought of after I saw this was that the two Greek brothers who wrote this should have their Greek citizenship revoked.

For better movies than "Immortals" try everything else (just kidding). Oh let me start with the much more dazzling and coherent "300". That is an exciting movie in "Immortals" style that is 50 times better at telling a story and looking beautiful. Also the 1981 version of "Clash of the Titans" and one of my favorite bad movies, 1980's "Flash Gordon".

Friday, November 11, 2011


'Anonymous' (PG-13) (rental)

Written By John Orloff
Director: Roland Emmerich
Starring: Rhys Ifans, Vanessa Redgrave, Rafe Spall, Edward Hogg, Joely Richardson, David Thewlis, Xavier Samuel, Sam Reid, Sebastian Armesto

"Anonymous" is an interesting movie at best and after a frustrating, confusing and lame first hour it settles down. I actually did not like the first hour but in the second hour I strangely got into it. "Anonymous" could have been directed by Oliver Stone for it gives us a conspiracy I can't quite believe. The movie looks beautiful, it may be the first Costume Epic that uses CGI effects. The movie was directed by schlockmeister Roland Emmerich, more on him later. "Anonymous" has two great performances, a great look and some fun soap opera drama in the second half.

"Anonymous" tells us that the iconic writer William Shakespeare actually didn't write all his poems, plays and stories. The movie tells us that it was really Edward Devere, The Earl of Oxford, who at the time of Shakespeare was involved with Queen Elizabeth I and the Essex Rebellion aimed at the Queen. There is some good political intrigue in the movie but there are too many characters to introduce in the beginning and too much boring exposition. At the 1 hour and 10 minute mark the political stuff gets heavily mixed with the fact that many figures were involved in the cover up of who really wrote Shakespeare's work.

I did get more into the movie in the second half, the part that dealt with the Earl and Shakespeare, played well by Rafe Spall. The movie starts to get fun and wipes out the lameness of the beginning. The movie has a goofy charm mixed with some heavy drama dealing with the Queen. Rhys Ifans is good as the Earl but I really loved the performances of Vanessa Redgrave as the Queen and Edward Hogg as Robert Cecil. Hogg is delightfully dramatic and Redgrave is of course awesome, I wouldn't be surprised if she gets nominated for an Oscar.

Those three performances are worth seeing and if you can get through the frustrating beginning you might love the bravado of the end. There is I admit some great drama and some funny lines in the second part. The movie looks great, beautiful to look at so if you love Shakespeare you might really like the movie. I would say wait for cable or DVD especially if you have HD and a big screen television.

I also find it funny that Roland Emmerich who gave us the over rated "Star Wars" rip off "Independence Day" and the silly "2012" made this movie. To me he is a weak director who has never really made a good movie. He makes a lot of schlock like a modern day Dino De Laurentiis. Here he is trying to make a prestigious, Oscar like epic which is very funny to me and that is something that is a huge pet peeve with me but "Anonymous" is his best movie to date.

P.S. For a better movie on Shakespeare check out Academy Award winner for Best Picture "Shakespeare in Love" which rightly beat out "Saving Private Ryan". Also for conspiracy films I abslolutely love "JFK" and can watch it over and over.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

'Like Crazy'

'Like Crazy (PG-13) (3 STARS)

Writers: Ben York Jones and Drake Doremus
Director: Drake Doremus
Starring: Felicity Jones, Anton Yelchin, Jennifer Lawrence, Alex Kingston, Oliver Muirhead, Finola Hughes, Charlie Bewley

There is an instant attraction between high school students Jacob and Anna. In a very sweet scene in the beginning of the movie Anna writes a letter to Jacob telling him that she likes him and at the end of the letter writes "I am not nuts". Anna is played by a great new actress named Felicity Jones and she is a delight here as Anna. She is a very beautiful young woman and she makes Anna a memorable character. Anna is very sweet as is Jacob who is played by Anton Yelchin.

"Like Crazy" is effective to me because it captures young love naturally and truthfully. Anna is British and is now living and going to school in America. Her visa has expired for awhile now so when her and Jacob start falling in love with each other there will be an obstacle staring them in the face. Anna goes home for the summer and when she tries to return she is stopped by Immigration. She can not re-enter America because of her abuse of her travel visa. All love affairs will face obstacles like this and a lot of relationships are long distance. This is a heartbreaking movie and that is great because all love can be heartbreaking.

This is why the movie worked for me up to a point. I had some problems with the pace of the movie and some too cute moments. I do love and embrace the wonderful performance by Felicity Jones. She nails everything about this love struck young woman who goes through a lot of growing pains well. I liked Yelchin as Jacob but I found his performance slightly weaker than Jones's. I do like how they capture conversations between the two that were mostly improvised by the actors. They do a good job with the dialogue and this movie reminds me of "Before Sunrise" though half as good as that wonderful movie.

I wasn't bowled over by "Like Crazy" but I love Felicity Jones's performance and I like how the movie captures real love. Jacob and Anna's relationship will be tested like all real relationships are. When Anna is in England and Jacob is in L.A. they will become slightly estranged from each other. We know real life long distance relationships will go through this so I admire the frankness and reality of the story. Each person will get involved with others but of course Jacob and Anna's love will conquer any obstacle like that. Of course they will wind up back with each other if their love is that strong.

As a whole I can't fully embrace this movie but I love little moments. I love when Jacob meets Anna's parents played by Alex Kingston (TV's ER) and Oliver Muirhead. I love in a couple of scenes the interaction between Jacob, Anna and the parents. You can tell Anna's parents love Jacob and I love the father's and mother's reactions to him. Compare that to the dinner the parents have with another man that Anna is with when she separates with Jacob. You can tell that the parents don't have the same love for this guy that they did for Jacob. "Like Crazy" nails true, young love very well and Felicity Jones is a revelation.

Friday, November 4, 2011

'A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas'

'A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas' (R) (3 STARS)

Writers: Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg
Director: Todd Strauss-Schulson
Starring: John Cho, Kal Penn, Elias Koteas, Neil Patrick Harris, Danny Trejo, Tom Lennon, Amir Blumenfeld

You get what you expect from a Harold & Kumar movie in the third installment "A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas". These are not super brainy movies and you get everything here that you get in the other two movies. There is the requisite drug humor, Neil Patrick Harris again stealing the movie and a lot of nudity. I just don't think you need to pay the extra fortune on the 3D, it isn't needed here. This is a very dumb movie but I laughed a lot. Compare this to "Tower Heist" which tries to be a big, exciting comedy and I will take this one. This doesn't try to be anything that it isn't supposed to be.

This would be a great companion piece to "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation". Harold and Kumar are very likeable characters and this is kind of a funny, warped Christmas movie. Simply it is about how Harold and Kumar's friendship has weakened and how the search for a Christmas tree brings them closer and back in each other's arms. Awwww! Of course this is a vulgar comedy that is better than the second H & K movie. There are jokes involving a toddler on drugs, Harold and Kumar turning into Claymation characters and sex with a mobster's daughter.

This is not a great comedy but I laughed enough times and smiled a lot. It works because Harold and Kumar are charming and Neil Patrick Harris again is priceless and steals the movie. All I can say is if you like this kind of comedy you should like this movie. It might not be up to the low standards of the first movie but it works in my opinion.

P.S. Speaking of vulgar, warped Christmas classic comedies my favorite is "Bad Santa" and of course everyone likes "NL Christmas Vacation".

'Tower Heist'

'Tower Heist' (PG-13) (2 STARS)

Writers: Ted Griffin and Jeff Nathanson
Director: Brett Ratner
Starring: Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy, Matthew Broderick, Alan Alda, Casey Affleck, Tea Leoni, Gabourey Sidibe, Judd Hirsch, Michael Pena

Heist movies are the type of movies where you can hire an all star cast of Hollywood heavyweight actors. Eddie Murphy would be a perfect choice to join a big cast for a heist movie. Eddie Murphy has been wasted most of his career from the early 90's save for "The Nutty Professor" movies. There was a certain period of time when Eddie made a bunch of horrible family/kid's movies. For comedy Eddie hasn't been given a screenplay that matches his rapid fire wit since the 80's leaving off with "Coming To America". "Tower Heist" will not get the job done for it is a complete waste of it's great cast and Eddie.

"Tower Heist" is a movie that is in the same spirit as the recent George Clooney "Oceans Eleven" movies. It has a big heist at the center of it's plot, an all star cast of comedic talents and it even has Casey Affleck. The Ocean movies were clever even though it got weaker as the sequels rolled out. The original had a witty script and a heist that seemed plausible and was fun. "Tower Heist" has a plot that at first seems plausible and it starts out as a nice, light comedy.

The movie deals with a high rise apartment building modeled after The Trump Tower and with it's many employees. It is headed by the manager played by Ben Stiller and there are a few other workers played by Michael Pena and Csaey Affleck. A Wall Street tycoon resides in the high rise and he is played by Alan Alda. The tycoon, modeled after Bernie Madoff, has swindled money, through pensions, from it's employees. The manager recruits some of the employees and another resident who was evicted played by Matthew Broderick. He organizes them to steal a fortune from the tycoon who has a fortune that is locked in a safe. They are not career criminals so they find a street criminal played by Murphy to help them.

In the beginning the film works thanks to Stiller and the nice laid back evilness of Alda's tycoon. Alda is great here as is Stiller, Broderick and Murphy but only because they are always good. The problem is they are funny in small doses due to the weak screenplay. There are some funny bits but with Stiller and Murphy I expected fireworks. There are really no inspired, laugh out loud funny moments. It is especially troubling because I have been waiting for years for a very funny Eddie Murphy comedy. Stiller has made a couple of them so why can't someone write a great comedy for Murphy? It is great to see that Eddie is back to being the old Eddie with his rapid fire dialogue delivery and attitude. The problem is the movie only gives Murphy too few scattered moments to be very funny.

This just becomes a serviceable comedy that goes right through you without giving you any moments you will remember hours after you see it. The biggest crime this movie makes is in giving us one of the dumbest and dullest heists I have seen in this kind of movie. It is very implausible and there is no logical way that they could execute the things they do here. The heist involves a very stupid use of a Ferrari and the "Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade". I know that in a movie like this you are supposed to suspend disbelief and just go with it. That would be great if this was a funny movie which it isn't. The plot doesn't even make sense in a fictional, movie way.

So "Tower Heist" has an okay first half followed by a very dumb second half with an unfunny heist to end it. I am just frustrated in Hollywood's use of Eddie Murphy and why this movie didn't live up to his talent. He has been the best I have seen him in ages in this movie but all his scenes don't live up to his energy. The movie also wastes it's large cast and ruins a fine change of pace villain role for Alda. I also found Matthew Broderick also annoying and unfunny. Come on, you have Axel Foley and Ferris Bueller here! "Tower Heist" brings too few laughs and no sense of surprise or intelligence. All you have is priceless Eddie Murphy moments that we needed more of.

P.S. For better heist movies check out the 1960 version and Steven Soderbergh's version of "Oceans Eleven" and the original "Taking of Pelham 1 2 3". For the really funny Eddie Murphy go back to "48 Hours", "Coming To
America" and "Bowfinger".

Thursday, November 3, 2011

'Margin Call'

'Margin Call' (R) (3 STARS)

Written and Directed By J.C. Chandor
Starring: Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, Zachary Quinto, Penn Badgley, Jeremy Irons, Demi Moore, Mary McConnell, Stanley Tucci, Simon Baker, Aasif Mandvi

"Margin Call" is an intense, well written and compelling movie that couldn't have come out at a better time. It deals with an investment bank and the 24 hours before an impending financial crisis. With the "Occupy Wall Street" movement going on and the financial mess of the banking system we have endured this is perfect timing. You also get great writing, performances and another scintilating and powerful performance by Kevin Spacey. Writer and Director J. C. Chandor has a great career ahead of him just based on his writing. The first hour of this movie is perfection and though the movie slides in intensity near the end this is still a great potboiler.

The investment bank in this movie is portrayed in a real light and the writing seems real. In an effective early scene the bank's executive management has laid off many workers. They include an employee in the risk department played wonderfully by Stanley Tucci. He was working on something explosive and passes it off to a younger employee, Peter. This turns out to be information on an economical crisis that is brewing for the company and might affect others. The looming crisis will go all the way to the top including a bank president played by Spacey and to a British bigwig who controls all the money played by Jeremy Irons.

The movie's look at the cutthroat business of banks, trading and financial moves is fascinating. I loved the look at how all the executives would throw anybody under the bus to get the blame off of them. I loved how much young Peter learns when before he was a small cog in the machine. There is a great running joke where Peter's friend and co worker Seth keeps asking how much all the executives make a year as if his career and life depended on it. The writing here is wonderful and in the first hour I was never bored and I was glued to the screen.

The acting here is excellent and there are some actors who give their best performances I have seen them give in awhile including Demi Moore. There is fine, solid work here by Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons, Simon Baker and Zachary Quinto. As I mentioned before Kevin Spacey has given another captivating, edge of your seat performance. The way the man has with the delivery of dialogue is spellbinding. At first we don't really get to know what is really behind this character. We don't know if he is a good guy or a bad guy at first but we soon find out due to Spacey's smart performance. It is a fascinating character and a great performance.

"Margin Call" feels right for it's time and it is more powerful for how it mirrors what has happened lately. It is material that might come off as dull but the writing here makes it fascinating and suspenseful. A lot of the characters have a lot at stake here and many lives will be changed and destroyed. It is a movie that will make you think and kind of hit a nerve. It is all anchored by a Kevin Spacey performance that proves he is one of our finest actors. "Margin Call" to me is miles ahead of the over rated "Wall Street" and it's boring sequel.

'The Rum Diary'

'The Rum Diary' (R) (rental)

Written and Directed By Bruce Robinson
Based on the novel By Hunter S. Thompson
Starring: Johnny Depp, Amber Heard, Michael Rispoil, Aaron Eckhart, Richard Jenkins, Giovanni Ribisi

"The Rum Diary" is another look at the intriguing life of one Hunter S. Thompson. Thompson is an iconic figure in literature and actor Johnny Depp was a friend of his and played him twice in movies based on Thompson's writing and life. Before then Thompson was played by Bill Murray in 1980's "Where the Buffalo Roam", a movie I have not seen. Recently in 1998 Depp played Thompson in "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas", a movie some loved and some hated. I had a good time with that 1998 version and it is slightly better than "The Rum Diary".

"Fear and Loathing" had energy and a madcap charm. It didn't make sense but it didn't have to because it dealt with Thompson's use of multiple hard drugs. The movie was always in a state of a surreal dream because it was Thompson in a drugged haze. "The Rum Diary" takes place in 1959 when he was 22 and in Puerto Rico when Thompson was more into alcohol and drinking himself into oblivion. This was before he dabbled in drugs and there is one scene where Thompson takes what I believe is acid and trips with his pal Sala. Thompson's alter ego Paul Kemp, played by Depp, is in Puerto Rico to write for a small newspaper. He stays with his friend Sala in a slum like apartment and gets involved with a shady businessman and his wife.

There is not a plot here that is always deep or coherent even though I liked Depp's performance and a bunch of the supporting ones. "Fear and Loathing" was incoherent also but I felt more of a connection there. "Diary" felt cold to me and I always thought it was holding back. It needed more zip and energy and sometimes the movie meanders in the second half. There are individual scenes that were amusing and fun. One involves a scene of Kemp and Sala skipping out on a bill at a dilapidated eatery. A scene like that and a few others stand apart from some of the lazier parts.
The movie's director Bruce Robinson made a madcap movie that has become a cult classic called "Withnail and I" from 1987. That movie had more energy and zip than "Diary" and I wish Robinson brought more of that former movie's spirit to this one.

The movie is not always alive but there are a few things here that make me want to reccomend it to movie goers for a DVD rental. If you like Thompson and his work you will like Johnny Depp's performance and those by Michael Rispoli as Sala and Giovanni Ribisi's funny performance as a drugged out writer who makes guest appearances at the newspaper. I also loved Richard Jenkins as the editor and now I realize Jenkins can do any role and I always smile when I see that he is in a movie. The movie also looks sunny and beautiful and Puerto Rico looks awesome, makes me want to visit. Amber Heard as the wife who Kemp gets involved with is beautiful to look at but the character is weakly written. If you love Johnny Depp and you love light, character driven work you might want to check this out on cable or DVD.

For movies like "The Rum Diary" that are better check out "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" with a better look at Thompson. Also very funny is Bruce Robinson's "Withnail and I" about a vacation from hell.

Friday, October 28, 2011

'Martha Marcy May Marlene'

'Martha Marcy May Marlene' (R) (4 STARS) (Highest Rating)

Written and Directed By Sean Durkin
Starring: Elizabeth Olsen, John Hawkes, Sarah Paulson, Hugh Dancy

The powerful, unsettling and haunting "Martha Marcy May Marlene" will not be a good time for some movie goers. It is a dark movie and it has an unconventional way to tell it's story and an ending that might frustrate some. I just know that it affected me more than any movie I have seen this year. It also has one of the best performances I have seen by an actress in her first starring role. It deals with a subject I am fascinated with and have studied for decades. I know it's subject matter well and this movie nails it perfectly without one false note.

The subject matter deals with a cult and how it affects our protagonist Martha during her time with the cult and what happens to her after she leaves it. The movie goes back and forth between Martha's stay at the commune where she is taken in and her life after she escapes and lives with her sister. The commune consists of a group of people and it's charismatic leader Patrick. It is a place sorrounded by a a large field and lots of nature. The people in this group make Martha feel wanted and needed. The women and men take turns doing certain chores and the women cook dinner. Strangely for such a bonded community the men eat first and then the women eat dinner after the men are finished.

We first meet the leader of this commune Patrick and he is trying to make Martha feel accepted and comfortable. It seems like Martha is in a place where she is sorrounded by friends and she looks happy. She also gets to take another young woman under her wings and become a teacher and leader. Though in an opening scene that starts the movie off powerfully she was calling her sister and Martha seems scared and unhappy. We learn that Martha is part of a cult but the movie doesn't use the term cult at all. That is because a cult would never call themselves a cult in real life. That would describe their group in a negative light when they see themselves as nurturing. The movie then shows what happens to Martha after her sister picks her up and she has to readjust to a normal life.

The movie flashes back and forth throughout from life in the cult to life with her sister after the cult. It seems that life with her sister after she leaves the cult does not fix Martha and make things better. Was the cult a good place for Martha where she is accepted more than she is from her sister? Where she feels a sense of belonging like part of a family? The movie unfolds in a subtle way at showing how this cult can't possibly be healthy for Martha. The movie doesn't have explosive and dramatic scenes and that is why I loved it. This is an unsettling movie that doesn't have any easy answers but it has a dynamic performance that I will never forget.

Elizabeth Olsen gives a natural, intense and smart performance as Martha and we never see her acting. It is a nuanced performance that feels just right and it will be one of the best performances you will see by any young actress today. Writer and Director Sean Durkin knows his subject matter and his story is carefully told without any false moves. I have studied cults extensively for years and I have been fascinated by the subject. It is a tough subject to portray right and "Martha Marcy" gets everything right. I was impressed on how the movie told a story that was real and that makes it even more powerful.

Cults take naive and young adults, especially young women, who have low self esteeem. It deprives them of protein and fills their minds with thoughts of love and acceptance. That is what a cult preaches but most cults are full of sexual and verbal abuse. What happens to Martha is sad and unsettling. Also just because she leaves the cult and is taken care of by her sister Lucy after she leaves doesn't mean Martha will shake the abuse off easily. Lucy and her husband try to take care of Martha but she will need a more serious type of emotional help.

The scenes that involve the cult can get creepy and they are very scary and not scary in a cheap, shock kind of way. The cult's leader, Patrick, is very good at giving a young woman like Martha false hope. He makes her feel special and beautiful in the beginning but what is he really after? Patrick is played very effectively by John Hawkes who is becoming a very powerful actor. Director Sean Durkin does so well guiding his actors and making his movie feel so real and haunting. The movie's pacing is flawless and the movie is careful not to become phony.

The movie's ending might frustrate some but I felt it was a perfect ending. It made me feel uneasy and got me thinking for hours after seeing the movie. This is a movie that would be perfect to see with a group and have a discussion about. It does what all great movies do which is immerse us into another world that we will never forget. It gives us something to think about and to take with us. It gives us real people and great performances especially one of the best performances I have ever seen by Elizabeth Olsen. I love how the movie and it's ending can shake a person's beliefs and make us think well after the movie ends. "Martha Marcy May Marlene" is a perfect, powerful and haunting movie that I will never forget.