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.