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.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

'The Skin I Live In'

'The Skin I Live In' (R) (3 STARS)

Written By Pedro Almodovar based on the novel "Tarantula"
Director: Pedro Almodovar
Starring: Antonio Banderas, Elena Anaya, Jan Cornet, Marisa Paredes

"The Skin I Live In" is pure Almodovar even if it seems in the beginning that it is a departure. The movie sets up it's story and we are not sure where it is going. It gets a little frustrating at first because we are not sure what Almodovar's point is. I know it is an homage to classic creepy horror movies like George Franju's 1960 film "Eyes Without A Face". I also see a little Douglas Sirk type melodrama there. Though as the film settles and we are done watching we get what we figured we would, a classic Almodovar type movie.

Almodovar reunites with one of his early career mainstays in Antonio Banderas. Almodovar and Banderas collaborated on a lot of movies in the 80's and as early as "Women On the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown". They have not worked together since 1990 when they worked on one of Almodovar's weakest movies "Tie Me Up Tie Me Down". I am happy to say "The Skin I Live In" is a better movie then their last one together. Banderas plays a plastic surgeon who has developed a skin that can't burn. He is researching it, he says, for advancements in helping burn victims. There are of course more sinister reasons he is developing that skin. He has a subject who is his guinea pig, a beautiful woman named Vera Cruz.

The movie starts out introducing this plot and it is a good set up. I then felt Almodovar was losing a little control when in the middle he introduces characters like his daughter and another young man his daughter winds up with. I still was compelled by the movie because it is a beautiful movie to look at. I love the location of the house they use and I love the dark tones of the photography. Antonio Banderas has given one of his best dramatic performances in a long time that doesn't involve a cartoon cat. He always underplays what could have become a silly mad doctor type of performance and that makes him scarier and more sinister.

This is not one of Almodovar's best movies and sometimes it seems like an exercise in homage. He definitely knows where to place his camera and how to make his movie look effective still but I was worried where he was going with the story. By the end though I had a big smile on my face because by the end I was satisfied with how all the loose ends of the story were taken care of. The last half hour is very effective and compelling and by the end I knew I had seen a classic Almodovar type soap opera that is a good one if not one of his best.

I love how creepy and sinister the movie is and besides liking Banderas a lot I also liked the performance by the beautiful Elena Anaya as Vera. This is a slight departure for Almodovar in style with the same attention to detail as Almodovar usually has. I like how Almodovar is influenced by many genres of films and filmmakers. In the future I can see another young filmmaker that will make an Almodovar type homage and he will have big shoes to fill.

Friday, October 21, 2011

'Paranormal Activity 3'

'Paranormal Activity' (R) (3 STARS)

Writers: Christopher B. Landon and Oren Peli
Directors: Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman
Starring: Chris Smith, Katie Featherston, Sprague Grayden,Lauren Bittner, Chloe Csengery, Brian Boland, Dustin Ingram

You pretty much get what you expect from a "Paranormal Activity" movie and by now you would think it would get old. The 2007 surprise smash "Paranormal Activity" was an effective shocker that instead of gore affected us with things that go bump in the night. There are a lot of fans of that movie but also a lot of detractors. The movie was slow in setting up the shocks and that is why I liked it. It built up great suspense and made me a jump a lot, the movie had a flawless use of it's quiet nature.

When the second "Paranormal Activity" came out so fast after the original I groaned. It had to be a terrible rush job but I was surprised at how good it was. At some point you are going to see the same old things you saw in the original. The second movie though did a great job setting up a seperate story that intersected with the original. Now coming into a prequel in the form of "Paranormal Activity 3" I was really groaning. Though what do you know, I liked "Paranormal Activity 3" just as much as the second one if not as much as the original. This time though there will be many more detractors for this go around, some of the execution I agree is repetitive.

"Paranormal Activity 3" takes place before parts 1 and 2 when Kristi and Katie, the main characters in the first 2 were kids. The movie still uses a video camera that is set up to film what happens overnight. Dennis films and his girlfriend Julie is the non believer. Dennis and the girls think there is a presence in their house and little Kristi seems to have an imaginary friend (or is he imaginary?) The movie then unfolds slowly giving us what the first two did, objects moving, dissapearing and a lot of bumps and crashes in the night.

"Paranormal Activity 3" you would think would have the same old types of scares that the first two did and that would be true. What is surprising was how I still jumped in the right places and how much the movie affected me. The makers of all three movies know what they are doing and they do it well. This third movie has more plot than the first two and I think that is an improvement. There is more at stake at the end and I thought the ending, though also familiar, was well done and effective. This is a simple call on this movie. If you didn't like the first two movies stay away, if you did like them you should like the third one.

'The Thing' (11)

'The Thing' (11) (R) (2 STARS)

Writers: Eric Heisserer and John W. Campbell Jr. based on short story "Who Goes There?"
Director: Matthijs van Heijningen
Starring: mary Elizabeth Winstead, Joel Edgerton, Ulrich Thomsen, Eric Christian Olsen, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Kim Bubbs

We are at a moment in the Cinema World where a great percentage of the movies coming out are remakes. My idol Gene Siskel used to proclaim that film makers should remake bad movies and couldn't figure out why they remade great movies. I agree, don't you want to take a weak movie, make it better and become a hero? It sounds right but so many film makers these days want to remake good or great movies and even foolishly classics. If someone remakes a movie like "The Godfather" or "Casablanca" I think the World should end. I did not see the classic 1951 "The Thing" movie with James Arness. I did see the 1982 John Carpenter version and I gave it 4 stars and I saw it recently and it holds up. I love that movie and I came in with trepidation for this prequel and I walked out confirming that feeling.

Now this 2011 "The Thing" is a prequel to the 1982 and not a remake but like last week's "Footloose" this prequel strangely has some of the same scenes and plot points of the Carpenter version. That is a reason I didn't care for this prequel because it is a pale copy of the 1982 movie. Everything in the Carpenter movie was more effective, had better use of special effects and a better directing style. Another reason was that none of the characters in this prequel save for one were interesting. The 1982 version had a killer cast of some of the best character actors ever put on screen. You had Richard Dysart, David Clennon, Keith David, Wilford Brimley, Richard Masur, Donald Moffet. In the update you have some stiff, Norwegian guys like Sven, Hans and Lars played by stiff actors. The only one I was interested in was the character played by hot new actor Joel Edgerton (Warrior).

The lead role in the 1982 version was Kurt Russell who is one of the most under rated actors in Hollywood then and now. Russell was on a major acting roll at this time and he was such a great presence in the 1982 movie. Here the lead is a woman (the only fresh update here) played well by Mary Elizabeth Winstead but the character is a snooze. If you don't care about these people then you really don't care what happens to them. I checked out of this movie at the half way point.

Now is the movie scary, are the special effects cool and does the gross out stuff really gross you out? The movie has a few jolts but it is not really that scary. The special effects are more advanced than in the 1982 movie but I like the effects better in the former. The 1982 version was extremely gory but after a while it numbed you and became funny. The prequel is not as gory and I am sorry but for this kind of movie you got to go for broke. The 1982 movie also had a haunting ending, one of the most powerful endings I have seen in a horror movie. This movie ends up setting up for the 1982 movie in a half ass way and it is anti climatic. This 2011 version of "The Thing" has less bite, less fun and weaker characters than Carpenter's classic.

P.S. Of course in giving you movies like the 2011 "The Thing" that are better I strongly reccomend the 1982 "The Thing" by John Carpenter, just don't watch after eating a bag of candy. Also for a movie with more thrills and suspense and a stronger and much better female lead revisit James Cameron's 4 star classic "Aliens" from 1986.

Friday, October 14, 2011


'Footloose' (PG-13) (2 STARS)

Writers: Dean Pitchford and Craig Brewer
Director: Craig Brewer
Starring: Kenny Wormald, Julianne Hough, Miles Teller, Dennis Quaid, Ray McKinnon, Andie MacDowell, Ziah Colon

When I heard that they were remaking "Footloose" a big smile came across my face. I loved the original movie that made Kevin Bacon a star, it was a lot of fun with great music and energy. I am sad to say my smile turned upside down into a frown with this lackluster remake. Where is the energy of the original? Where is the character development, where is the great music? There are many things wrong with this remake and Blake Shelton's terrible redo of the title song is the least of them.

If you have seen the original and loved it I am pretty safe in saying that you will feel the same way I do about this fiasco. It is not the fault of it's two stars Kenny Wormald and Julianne Hough. They are decent here even though I was distracted by how the film makers make Hough into a dead ringer for a young Jeniifer Aniston. I am not being weird here, Hough looks so much like Aniston in certain scenes. She is attractive, looks good in tight jeans and red boots and has a sexy Miley Cyrus voice. Wormald is okay even though his Boston accent fades in and out. I will be safe here in saying that Wormald and Hough are no Kevin Bacon or Lori Singer, not even close.

The movie starts with a great and energetic pre credit sequence set to the original Kenny Loggins song. Then the movie shows us a brutal and effective car crash setting up the story. Those two great opening scenes kept me hopeful that this would work but those two scenes are pretty much all there is that works here. After that the movie slowly goes downhill from there little by little. The movie has pretty much the same plot of the original and is set in the small town of Bomont where dancing is outlawed. It is oulawed because a bunch of high school kids died in a car crash after drinking and partying.

The movie then introduces us to Ren who is sent to Bomont from Boston after his mother dies to stay with his aunt and uncle. Ren's big city ways don't blend in with this small town and it's Reverend. The Reverend Shaw lost his son in the car accident. He sees Ren as trouble especially after Ren starts hanging out with Shaw's daughter Ariel. Ren strikes up a friendship with Willard who was played by Chris Penn in the original. Here Willard is played by Miles Teller whose performance is the only one I really liked in this movie. This fine actor who made such an impression in "Rabbit Hole" a few years back steals this movie and runs away with it!

So let me start with some of the ways this movie is inferior to the original. First of all the Reverend Shaw character here is a step way down from the original movie's. John Lithgow's Reverend had more depth and seemed a more understanding, likable man. Here he is written as just a one note character who has no motivation. He is just seen as a stubborn, joyless man who turns nice in the end just because the screenplay says so. It is not the fault of Dennis Quaid but he never smiles in this movie and I found his character laughable and shallow. The wife of the Reverend in the original had spunk and backbone and was well played by Diane Wiest. Here the wife isn't even in the movie until the end and the role is a spineless, dull one and a thankless role for Andie MacDowell.

Then we have the character of Chuck who here looks 40 and I have no ideal why no one calls the cops because Chuck here looks like a child molester. I know Ariel is rebelling against her father but could she pick a guy who takes a bath and looks somewhat attractive. I don't remember the actor who plays Chuck but his performance is laughable and very bad. Then we have the music and including the horrible Shelton version of "Footloose" the music here sucks. The scene where Ren teaches Willard to dance was so wonderful in the original but here director Craig Brewer and the editor cut it into pieces and it suffers. They can thank Miles Teller for saving this scene with his humor. It is still the best moment in the movie thanks to Miles Teller who is funny and wonderful in this movie.

The movie ends with the fight with Chuck and the final dance and here the final dance is anti climatic and shoddy. I would love to give this movie a 1 star review but Miles Teller bumps this up to a 2 star movie. The more I think of this remake the more I hate it. This has in no way near the energy and likablility of the original. The dancing is clumsy and there is less dancing and music in this "Footloose". Except for Miles Teller there is nothing to really make you go see this movie. It will be interesting to see if this will become a monster smash hit. I think the only audience that will like this will be 12-16 year old girls. For everyone else this might make you cringe and laugh in all the wrong places.

P.S. If you want to see much better musicals or movies with a rock soundtrack I have a list of probably 100 movies better then this bad remake. Let's start with the original "Footloose" from 1984 which is more charming and has more energy and has Kevin Bacon. Also check out "The Commitments" from 1991 which has tons of energy and profanity and one of the best soundtracks I have ever heard. The list could go on for the 2011 "Footloose" is even worse than "Can't Stop the Music" and "Xanadu".

'The Big Year'

'The Big Year' (PG) (rental)

Written By Howard Franklin
Director: David Frankel
Starring: Steve Martin, Owen Wilson, Jack Black, Rosamund Pike, JoBeth Williams, Brian Dennehy, Diane Wiest, Rashida Jones, Jim Parsons, Anjelica Huston

I was not dissapointed with "The Big Year" because it wasted it's hot, huge all star cast. I was dissapointed because this light comedy didn't make me laugh and I wish the screenplay was written better. I chuckled a few times but I think this movie fails because the comedy is there but this is really a comedy-drama and the drama fails. This is not supposed to be a laugh out loud, jokey comedy and I think it's intended audience will think it is supposed to be that. This is a fluffy comedy about bird watching and loud jokes would ruin it. I am glad this movie didn't make fun of it's characters but this movie is also kind of dull a lot of times.

The movie does center around bird watching which might not make people run right away to the theatre. It would seem a dull subject but with Wilson, Martin and Black you would expect them to elevate the material. All three characters are into bird watching. There is a contest every year called "The Big Year" where the person who spots the most birds in a year wins. All three lead characters strike up somewhat of a realtionship. Owen Wilson is Kenny and he is kind of a jerk though this movie is not mean spirited and Kenny kind of comes off as likable. The other two Stu (Steve Martin) and Brad (Jack Black) are not as competitive as Kenny and they strike up a friendship.

The three men jump on planes to travel a lot to many locations to capture looks of birds and some of the birds haven't been seen in ages. I like how the movie treats this bird chasing as an obsession. I just don't know how anyone who has a job like Brad does can travel so much. Each character has things to deal with at home with their certain relationships. The movie is more focused on stuff like how Kenny's marriage is tested and how Brad is estranged from his father. The movie has light comedy based on characters but the characters needed more depth. I say this because the movie has a lot of drama and most of the drama is cliched and unoriginal. The movie needed a little jolt of energy and maybe even a little parody. Just imagine what this cast and say Christopher Guest could have done with this subject matter like say Guest's "A Mighty Wind" did with it's subject matter.

If you go to this movie and pay $11 for this comedy and expect big laughs you might feel cheated. I think this is a nice movie and to wait on DVD and watch it on a big screen television with no expectations is a better bet. I do like the characters and the acting is solid and what a cast! You have Brian Dennehy, JoBeth Williams, Jim Parson and others. Even if all these great character actors are wasted it is still nice to see them on screen. The cinematography is beautiful and the location work is impressive. I did get attached to the characters a little and some of the comedy was sweet and some of the drama was interesting. I also did find out that Rosamund Pike is a very beautiful woman so that is cool.

I really like the three leading men here and they are good as I always expect them to be. This movie has some moments but it just needs a bolt of energy. I think it would have been better if the movie played up the obsession of bird watching to a more heightened state. Maybe the film makers could have added a smidge of energy here. "The Big Year" is an agreeable comedy but with Martin, Black and Wilson on board I expected the writing and directing not to let them down. This is a movie I reccomend you should check out on DVD or cable.

P.S. For better movies about nature or looks at certain hobbies with more laughs first check out Christopher Guest's sweet and very funny light parody "A Mighty Wind". Also a much better movie blending comedy and nature would be 1981's "Continental Divide" with John Belushi. That movie had a great, solid love story and drama and reminds me of a Katherine Hepburn/Spencer Tracy romantic comedy. That movie also has John Belushi in a great and rare leading, romantic man role. "Continental Divide" also is one of the best uses of the city of Chicago I have seen on film.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

'Real Steel'

'Real Steel' (PG-13) (3 STARS)

Written By John Gatins based on short story "Steel" by Richard Matheson
Director: Shawn Levy
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Dakota Goyo, Evangeline Lilly, Anthony Mackie, Hope Davis, Kevin Durand, James Rebhorn, Olga Fonda, Karl Yune

Again I walked into a movie dreading what I was about to see but behold the power of movies. "Real Steel" is a very entertaining movie that gets the job done, kids will eat it up in a good way. I was surprised how I got into this movie hook, line and sinker. The robot fights didn't get to be too much, the father/son melodrama was sweet and there is a nice little love story. The strength of the movie is the interplay between father Hugh Jackman and son Dokota Goyo. Both have good chemistry together and Goyo is great at not being too cloying like most kid actors.

"Real Steel" stars Jackman as Charlie Keaton who is a washed up boxer down on his luck and in deep gambling debt. He is approached by the sister of a woman he dated and had a son with. Charlie doesn't want anything to do with the kid but a certain money proposition changes his mind. The movie is set in the future where human boxing has been replaced with robot boxing. The father and son find an old twisted heap of metal that used to be a robot boxer. They name it/him Atom and fix him up but Atom is known as a sparring bot, small and scrappy but considered weak. The movie is based on a short story that was also a "Twilight Zone" episode.

There is also a love interest for Charlie and her name is Bailey and she shares a boxing gym with Charlie. Bailey is played by Evangeline Lilly (Kate in "Lost") and Lilly is good here, she might have a big screen future ahead of her. The chemistry between Lilly ands Jackman is great and I actually was touched by their relationship and rooted for them to hook up. I also was surprised by how well the relationship between Charlie and Max grows. This could have been insufferable and cloying but there is some good dialogue and scenes between the two. I also think the boxing scenes and the final fight were surprisingly compelling and had me rooting for Atom and Charlie. These are robots and this could have been a soulless Rock Em Sock Em Robots pain in the butt but it is deeper than that.

By the final fight I was swept away in Charlie making a comeback, Atom winning the fight and for Max, Charlie and Bailey becoming a family. Jackman's Charlie is a shallow loser who runs away from conflicts but Jackman does a great job making us like him when we shouldn't. The movie also does a great job at giving Atom a little of a personality. The villianous robot and the owner make a great team of bad guys which helps us root for Atom. So when we get to the final fight we are totally immersed in this World.

The movie does copy a lot of the plot from the original "Rocky" movie with a little "Rocky IV" thrown in. This did not bother me though and a movie that copies off another can be good if it is done with energy and it's own personality. The father/son story reminded me of the 1979 boxing movie "The Champ" with Jon Voight but this is way better, "The Champ" was a horrible and phony movie.

So "Real Steel" is a fun movie that kids will absolutely love and some parents might dig. The movie would not succeed though without the charismatic performances of Jackman, Lilli and Goyo. There is also a nice turn by character actor Kevin Durand as a despicable bad guy who Charlie owes money to. The Atom robot is strangely likable and a movie with countless robot fights could have grown tiresome but they don't. Compare this movie with a piece of crap like the latest "Transformers" movie which has no soul and beats us into submission and you will find something more fun here.

Friday, October 7, 2011

'Take Shelter'

'Take Shelter' (R) (3 1/2 STARS)

Writen and Directed By Jeff Nichols
Starring: Michael Shannon, Jessica Chastain, Tova Stewart, Shea Whigham,
Kathy Baker, Katy Mixon

"Take Shelter" is a psychological thriller that sneaks up on you. It is pretty straight forward and simple and it builds slowly but after you walk out of the theatre you are shaken. As I am writing this review I can't shake the power of this haunting movie. The movie stars Chicago actor Michael Shannon and the city should be proud of him. He might play a lot of unstable and unsettling characters but he is one of the most intense actors working today. "Take Shelter" is a beautifully shot, acted and directed movie and announces a new major talent in writer, director Jeff Nichols.

"Take Shelter" is a movie that works on you slowly but it is successful in shaking us up by the end. A lot of people will complain that nothing happens in the first hour and a half but there really is a lot going on. Plus you will see two of the best and most effective performances of the year in Shannon and the wonderful Jessica Chastain. This movie is great at showing us a real life small town and it's humble, hard working and struggling people.

The focus is on married couple Curtis and Samantha who have a daughter Hannah who is deaf. Curtis is a foreman at a construction job and works with his best friend Dewart played by Shea Whigham (Boardwalk Empire). Curtis and Samantha are working on getting Hannah an operation and they struggle with bills and debt. Also making things difficult is the fact that Curtis is starting to get nightmares and premonitions of his dog attacking him and a tragic storm that may be coming. Curtis's mother was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic. Does this mean that Curtis is also afflicted with this same diagnosis or is he psychic.

The movie is effective for the fact that it develops the characters, gets us on their side and keeps us guessing. Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain are incredible here at creating real people that we care for. Michael Shannon has become one of my favorite actors and he was my inspiration for my Snavely Awards after his neglected, powerful performance in "The Runaways". He gives a simmering performance of intensity but in the quiet, reflective scenes he is subtle and effective. Jessica Chastain has become a revelation this past year and she gives another stellar performance. Her work here at portraying a loving wife and mother who is being tested is perfection. "The Help", "Tree of Life" and now this movie make her the best actress of 2011 by a mile and she will now become a star.

In the end writer and director Jeff Nichols has made a near masterpiece here and on second viewing I will probably embrace it as one of my favorite movies of this or any other year. The movie is effective because the acting and mood set here sneaks up on us and pulls us in. We are always thinking at every moment if Curtis is really mentally incompetent or if he knows something no one else does. There is a moment late in the movie where Shannon as Curtis explodes in anger and it is extremely powerful. We are so compelled by the emotion and mood set up in the beginning that the anger jolts us.

I just love the look and feel of this movie and I love little things like the natural and beautiful performance by young Tova Stewart as Hannah. This is one of those movies that will get people talking after they leave the theatre much like "Tree of Life" earlier this year did. I think I like this movie even more than I did "Tree of Life". It is more powerful and haunting and I can't shake it from my memory hours after I have seen it. It has powerful performances, a story that subtly moves us and characters that have emotions that feel real. It gets us thinking and it has an ending that I think is perfect, powerful and haunting. The brave movie goer will remember that ending, what transpires before that ending and this family weeks after they walk out of the theatre.

P.S. I would love to see this movie a second time and if I do my 3 1/2 star rating might jump up to 4 stars like my review of "Drive". This is for sure one of the very best movies of 2011.

'The Ides of March'

'The Ides of March' (R) (Rental)

Writers: George Clooney, Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon
Based on Willimon's play 'Farragut North'

Director: George Clooney
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, George Clooney, Evan Rachel Wood, Marisa Tomei, Jeffrey Wright, Max Minghella

I am not a very political person but a juicy, back stabbing political thriller can get me going. I am afraid "Ides of March" didn't get me going enough, maybe because I wanted more back stabbing. "Ides of March" has a killer cast of great actors at the top of their game. The acting alone is worth the price of admission I guess but I would wait until DVD. The movie is sometimes fun but I was in the end dissapointed.

"The Ides of March" is based on a play and at times I felt the movie was a little stagy. It concerns a young and ambitious campaign aide who is helping a popular Democratic Governor get a Presidential nomination. He works for a cynical campaign manager and gets caught in a tug of war with the opposition's manager. When he meets with the other campaign manager a web of intrigue and scandal explodes. There is a great set up with all of this and what a cast! I was licking my lips for some nasty back stabbing and I wound up walking out with my mouth dry.

The story seems recycled from other political movies and real life political scandals. I wasn't really surprised at any of the plot developments and guessed a few. The story just isn't topical enough for these political times. It starts out exciting but becomes dull quickly. With all the incompetent dolts running today for President on the Republican side and all the weird scandals in the past years this movie seems so 1990's. There is nothing here that gets you interested and there are no thrills in this political thriller.

The story is blah but on the other hand the acting is wonderful. This is a dream cast that even outshines the cast of "Contagion". First you have hot Ryan Gosling as the campaign aide Stephen Meyers. This actor has given amazing performances this past year alone and he is a great leading man here. This is the second movie after "Crazy, Stupid, Love" that his acting saves a weak story. Then there are two performances that almost bump this movie up to a total reccomendation. I smiled and became giddy everytime Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti were on screen. They give such electric, powerful character performances here. Hoffman is incredible playing jaded here and Giamatti is delightfully pig headed as the other campaign manager. Their performances make this movie at least exciting and thrilling to watch when they are on screen.

Director George Clooney gives himself a small role here actually as the Governor. The movie belongs to the aides and managers but Clooney here is solid and impressive. He has to have the most relaxed presence on screen of any actor I have ever seen. Even when he is yelling he is as cool as ice and you never see him stretching for effect. Also Evan Rachel Wood, who can be equal to Gosling in acting ability, makes a great impression here. After she leaves the movie you feel her absence. Clooney is a great actor's director and he can get the best out of his actors here. The acting is almost worth it to go out and see this movie but the story undermines their performances.

Again I am not a big fan of political movies and politics and before Bill Maher came along I didn't really care. Lately though I am rather intrigued by the movies and documentaries of the past decade and of the real life political landscape. So "The Ides of March" doesn't work for me because nothing here intrigued me like what is going on now in real life. George Clooney does a great job directing here but his "Good Night, Good Luck" was vastly superior. This movie is like the democrats today. Both are too scared and weak to get down and dirty and give us a real fight.

P.S. I can think of a lot of political thrillers way more exciting than "The Ides of March". Check out Rod Lurie's "The Contender" with juicy performances by Joan Allen and Jeff Bridges. Also better at offering behind the scenes looks at running for office check out the flawless "Primary Colors" with one of John Travolta's best performances. Also "Now Way Out" with Kevin Costner and Sean Young is full of outrageous scandal and it is extremely fun and thrilling.