Friday, December 28, 2012



Written by Dan Fogelman
Directed by Anne Fletcher
Actors: Barbra Streisand, Seth Rogen, Brent Cullen, Adam Scott, Ari Graynor, Kathy Najimy, Miriam Margolyes.

There is nothing sweeter than the love between a mother and her son! I know that sounds maudlin and lame but it is very true. I thought "The Guilt Trip" would be lame also and very cloying or just a waste of time. It turns out that "The Guilt Trip" is a nice, fun, sweet (without being cloying) and funny comedy. It knows how to relax and just tell us a simple story of a mother and her son. It is a road trip movie and sometimes those can be a pain i.e. "Due Date". "The Guilt Trip" has some nice scenery and location work and a role for and performance by Barbra Streisand who has been off the screen for 16 years. Back then she was in a dramatic movie and I want to see the comedic version of Streisand and this role for her is a great one.

Streisand made some very funny comedies back in her heyday like "What's Up Doc" and "The Main Event". We know the muscial version of Barbra very well but we forget how great she is with comedy. She has a perfectly cast co star in Seth Rogen as Streisand and Rogen play mother and son Joyce and Andrew. Andrew is a smart kid who has invented a safe kitchen/bathroom cleaner made from natural resources. Andrew has to go on a cross country trip to try to sell this cleaner to major companies from New York to Vegas. In a plot development I won't spoil here Andrew feels he has to ask his mother to accompany him on this eight day trip. Andrew and Joyce seem like a normal mother and son and yes Joyce may come off as a nag to him. Credit the writer here Dan Fogelman, who wrote the sweet and wonderful "Dan In Real Life", for not making Joyce a walking cliche.

The laughs attributed to this strained relationship come off naturally, the writing is natural and not forced. Streisand is a delight and Rogen blends in nicely with Streisand and after a while we do believe they are mother and son. This movie could have gone so wrong so easily but the screenplay here is truly funny and sweet. This is not a real gut buster but I laughed many times throughout. I am really happy that Streisand was given this movie to star in. Jane Fonda is another actress who made a comeback and I missed her also. The difference is that Fonda has been given some very weak material to work with. Maybe Streisand and Fonda can do a buddy comedy sometime? Or maybe Barbra can give Fonda her agent's number. Anybody up for a "Nine To Five" sequel with Barbra, Jane, Dolly and Lily? Hmmmm.

There are some scenes here that could have been depicted as cruel and cheap including a strip club scene, a steakhouse scene and the Vegas material. That stuff is actually cleverly written, tasteful and funny. The movie does get sentimental but it is a nice sentimental instead of an obvious, strained sentimental. Streisand and Rogen work so beautifully together and they are both sweet and very funny together. There are surprises in the story but they are smart and very well earned. This is a perfect movie for sons to take their mothers to. It is tasteful, very funny, sweet and captivating. It is a relaxing time at the movies that will make you smile all the way home.



Written by Christopher McQuarrie based on a book by Lee Child
Directed by Christopher McQuarrie
Actors: Tom Cruise, Rosamund Pike, David Oyelowo, Werner Herzog, Robert Duvall, Richard Jenkins, Michael Raymond James.

There has been great criticism towards the movie "Jack Reacher" from fans of the "Jack Reacher" books by Lee Child. It goes towards the casting of Tom Cruise who is supposedly shorter, much shorter, than the book's Jack. Jack is I guess supposed to be 6'5 and Cruise is definitely shorter than that. I have not read the books so I don't really care about that discrepancy. If I did read the books I still wouldn't get that upset but I would if the movie wasn't loyal to the book's story. I am glad I didn't read the book because I had a good time watching Cruise and this movie.

It reminds me of an old fashioned mystery and a "Dirty Harry" movie rolled in to one. In fact one fun fight scene reminded me of a similarly shot scene in Eastwood's "Dirty Harry" movie "Sudden Impact". It is in the style of a 70's mystery picture, clean and with no tricks up the sleeve. It just relaxes us into the story though after an unsettling first ten minutes. The real stir should be caused by a opening scene where a sniper picks off some innocent people. You automatically think of the shooting in Conneticut and other tragedies like that. I started to get a little disturbed and choked up. That is more important than whether Cruise is miscast.

It is tough to get over that opening but I did forget all that after the first hour. The movie has a story I found intriguing and comepelling thanks to the direction of Christopher McQuarrie and Tom Cruise. This is not a happy Tom Cruise role but Cruise does very well here playing the conflicted hero Jack Reacher. If you haven't read the source material the movie concerns that sniper from the beginning and whether he was actually the shooter. We find out right away what the answer really is but the movie really concentrates on who is behind it all and why? Was the shooting actually random?

Jack Reacher is an ex Army soldier who tries to get to the bottom of everything by his own rules. He is like a young Dirty Harry but Cruise brings his own cockiness and cool to the role. He also gets good support by the beautiful Rosamund Pike as a defense lawyer. Those two character's relationship is refreshingly not romantic and that is a plus. We can concentrate on the story then and to the great director Werner Herzog wonderfully playing a creepy, evil bad guy. He has a lot of fun as does Robert Duvall in a small role that becomes big and made me smile. Add to that my dependable and trusty character actor Richard Jenkins and a very good David Oyelowo as a cop.'

I was never bored by and was always into "Jack Reacher". It is a solid film, well made, acted and directed by Christopher McQuarrie who wrote the very popular crime movie "The Usual Suspects". It is a movie that could have fit Eastwood's "Dirty Hary" character or a Burt Reynolds back in the 70's. It is clean, no nonsense with a good mystery, good action, chase scenes and cool vintage cars. You might not remember it a year from now but at the time you are watching it, it goes down smoothly.

Thursday, December 27, 2012



Written and Directed by Quentin Tarantino
Actors: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Samuel Jackson, Kerry Washington, Walton Goggins, Dennis Christopher, James Remar, Jonah Hill.

Quentin Tarantino might be my greatest soulmate that has come in my life. That might sound pathetic but we are both ex video store clerks that love movies a lot! The difference is that Tarantino can show his love of movies in every film he writes and shoots. Some of his movies can have their faults but I have never been dissapointed in any movie he has writen and directed. Like after seeing the depressing "Les Miserables" I was counting on watching Tarantino's latest "Django Unchained" after and having fun and not being dissapointed. Lo and behold it happened again, I had a fun time and loved Tarantino's joy in filmmaking coming through again.

In a year that saw the first half populated with lazy movies I forgot how my heart starts to beat faster when watching a Tarantino flick. Out of 3/4 of movies released this year no one can touch on Tarantio's creativity and energy. We are not watching movies on cable, we are watching them on a big screen and want to be carried away and Tarantino carries me away every time. Now his movies can be very gory and violent and "Django" might be his bloodiest. Though this is a Western and I think that blood and depravity can be accepted better in a Western. This is a gloriously funny and exciting Western and this is coming from someone who is not a huge Western fan.

Tarantino can breathe life into all his movies as he does here. I love him because like me he is in love with arguably the best period of filmaking, the 70's. I also love how he uses supporting actors who you have not seen in decades and gives them great roles. I can go on all day with my Tarantino love but let's get into this wonderfully shot and told movie. This is classic old school Western story telling with an energetic twist. The movie tells the story of Django who is a slave and who is rescued by a German bounty hunter named Dr. King Schultz. In that wonderful start Schultz takes Django under his wings as a free man to help him catch killers and dispose of them for money.

The movie takes place a few years before The Civil War and Django will joing King on an adventure that will change both of their lives. Django also wants to save his wife Broomhilda from the evil clutches of plantation owner Calvin Candie. There are a few great set pieces throughout the movie starting with a wonderful opening dealing with a small town Sheriff and a Marshall. After a few middling moments (the movie's only detriment)in the middle we get to the plantation owned by Candie. The movie then really gets fun with two beautifully written and funny, fascinating supporting characters. They are Candie and his house servant Stephen.

Both characters are funny and a joy to listen to and watch due to great performances by Leonardo DiCaprio as Candie and Samuel Jackson as Stephen. DiCaprio is deliciously evil and it is a controlled performance that is sly, wicked, flawlessly played and delightful. Samuel Jackson has the funniest character and the funniest lines in the movie and he plays them so well in a character that could have gone over the top. The scenes with Jackson made me laugh longer and harder than in almost any movie this year. I am having a hard time deciding who is better, DiCaprio or Jackson, because both are amazing! Also Christoph Waltz is back with his best role since "Inglorious Basterds" and he is delightful and fascinating also. His line delivery is smooth and he is becoming one of my new favorite character actors.

I also loved Jamie Foxx who gets better as the movie goes on. He is cool, effective and he becomes a hero we can root for. This is due to Foxx's assured delivery and by the end we realize this could be one of our best actors, we forget that sometimes I think. The movie has vintage Tarantino dialogue and like everyone of his movies the dialogue is alive. Sometimes I think movies forget to stand still for a while and entertain us with lively dialogue and writing. Most movies just want to jump around but Tarantino loves the spoken word. People complain about Tarantino having too much dialogue in his films. I don't get it, now we want dumbed down movies with all action and no story or character development? The writing here is alive and I was never bored escpecially in the exhilirating last hour.

Now the movie is not easy to watch if you are not into gore and some explicit violence. It didn't bother me here because like I said before this is a Western and that genre can allow a little leeway. Lets get this straight, by now you should know what to expect from Tarantino and if you don't like his movies don't see them and then attack his style of film making. If you love movies and Tarantino you will not be dissapointed. You have some hilarious dialogue and comedy, some beautifully shot action and shoot outs and a very fun time at the movies. I also like seeing Tarantino bringing back wonderful actors we don't see much like Dennis Christopher (Breaking Away) and James Remar (48 Hours, Warriors, Cotton Club). "Django Unchained" is not as great as Tarantino's last movie "Inglorious Basterds" but again Tarantino movies make me so happy and this one has the same effect.

P.S. There has been some criticism over Tarantino's use of the "N" word and yes I hate that word also. Though this movie is set during the Civil War era in the South. That word was used a lot and flew freely by racist white people during that time. I know, it is a shocker but probably true. Maybe Tarantino is using that word a lot for satire, who knows.



Written by William Nicholson
Directed by Tom Hooper
Actors: Anne Hathaway, Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, Samantha Barks, Sacha Baron Cohen, Helena Bonham Carter.

With the latest Hobbit movie and now the screen adaptation of "Les Miserables" I realize if you are not a fan of the original material you might not like a screen adaptation of it. I am not a fan of the muscial "Les Miserables", let me get that out of the way first. I saw it on stage when I was a kid and was bored and now after seeing this screen adaptation my boredom has not gone away. Since I hadn't seen the play in a number of years I was still holding a sliver of hope that director Tom Hooper would enliven the material for the screen. I did find the first half hour promising and really good but after that half hour the movie turned sour for me.

The movie starts out beautifully (especially on a giant screen at Evanston Century 12 theater) with an astonishing opening. The opening has a huge ship being pulled by a couple of lines of slaves including I guess our hero Jean Valjean. It is a breathtaking shot and then we hear our first musical moment including Russell Crowe as Javert surprising me with a nice singing voice. The movie is shot differently from other musicals in that the actors actually sing on set as opposed to being dubbed in later. The results sounded really great to me, kind of reminded me of the great rock opera "Tommy" and that awesome, weird muscial adaptation by Ken Russell.

I also love the performance by Anne Hathaway as Fantine, the only character here I find interesting. Hathaway has a scene stealing, show stopping muscial number and her singing is controlled, heartbreaking and beautiful. She will deserve her predicted Best Supporting Actress win at the Oscars. So far so good and Vince here was actually thinking Tom Hooper and Anne Hathaway were going to make this much better than the stage muscial interpretation. Though suddenly my attention started to wander off and the story really kicks in and then really started to bore me. The major problem here to me is that Fantine leaves our promising muscial and the movie will never recover from it. I did not find any other character interesting at all and I attribute that to the weak writing that has to go back to the stage version.

These characters are shallowly written and besides singing they do nothing to enhance a depressing, dull story. The movie then starts to escape Tom Hooper's hands and starts to get monotonous. I am sorry but this has to be one of the most depressing musicals I have ever seen. Now someone who loves this will tell me that there have been so many musicals before that dealt with dark material. I would agree but those musicals are "Hair" and "Fiddler on the Roof" and they had characters and a story I cared about and there was a personality to the story and musical numbers. Fantine is the only character I loved and found touching and interesting. There are also the two worst characters in any musical I have seen who bring the movie to a halt played by Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter. I also think that a musical that is surrounded by a dull subject like the French Revolution is in trouble from the beginning.

The movie is beautifully photographed but there is no control on the story after an hour beacause it is so dull, pretentious, sloppy and dull as dirt. I always have a rule that a movie can look really beautiful but if you don't have a good story or characters you are doomed. I also think that Hugh Jackman is good but I think any Broadway actor could have overplayed this character like Jackman does. Also Russell Crowe surprised me with his singing but it just seems like he is not there after a while what with his weakly written character. Also Cosette should carry the torch of fascination from Fantine when she leaves the story but the grown up Cosette is a simpleton dullard sorrounded by a weak love interest for her.

"Les Miserables" might satisfy the stage musical's fans but to me it just din't stir any emotions in me and I sat there mostly stone faced except during Hathaway's heartbreaking number. This is not really fun, entertaining stuff I am afraid and I love musicals more than most genre of films and I just felt somber and bored throughout. Musicals are supposed to touch us and give us an experience that takes away from our everyday problems. After "Les Miserables" I just wanted to poke my eyes out.

P.S. For better musicals that dealt with dark material but also changed my life and made me feel something try "Fiddler on the Roof" and "Hair" especially if you have never seen them! Skip "Les Miserables".

Friday, December 21, 2012

'THIS IS 40'

'THIS IS 40' (R) (3 1/2 STARS)

Written and Directed by Judd Apatow
Actors: Leslie Mann, Paul Rudd, Megan Fox, Chris O'Dowd, Albert Brooks, John Lithgow, Melissa McCarthy, Jason Segel.

Judd Apatow has made some of my favorite comedies, ones that are not afraid to go out on the edge. I love Apatow movies such as "The 40 Year Old Virgin" and "Knocked Up. His movies are a cool mix of vulgarity that never comes off as crude and truthful moments that all great comedy comes from. His new movie "This Is 40" is his best movie to date and that is saying something. The movie made me laugh out loud more times than any other comedy this year and it also actually touched me. It is a hard balance making comedy blend in with little moments of drama without getting maudlin. "This Is 40" has the perfect balance. I laughed a lot but not at the expense of the characters and that is my favorite kind of comedy.

"This Is 40" also surprised me with it's realism and heart and especially how deep it was. I have never been married and I never want to but I have been around a lot of married couples and this movie depicts a marriage more realistically than most movies that have focused on marriage. It also has one of my favorite performances by an actress in 2012 by Leslie Mann. The movie centers on the marriage of Pete and Debbie who were supporting characters in Apatow's "Knocked Up". The marriage depicted is based on little moments of real life couple Leslie Mann and Judd Apatow's marriage. Maybe that is why it felt so real to me.

"This Is 40" has some truly hilarious moments and I don't want to spoil them here. The movie also has some very real and compelling drama dealing with the every day problems of the marriage and Pete and Debbie's troubles with their young daughters and in-laws. The scenes dealing with the young daughters had to be based on real events because it feels so funny, real and touching. I expected a lot of comedy focusing on the family but I did not expect some great dramatic material dealing with Debbie and Pete's respective fathers. The fathers are played wonderfully by Albert Brooks and John Lithgow. Brooks is so funny and great here there could be a movie spin off just based on his character.

I do admit that some of the comedy here can be a little forced and fake but there is some very funny scenes based on truth that don't feel phony. The movie may be overlong for some but I was never bored. I actually didn't want it to end because I loved spending time with these characters. I also have a new found crush and respect for Leslie Mann as an actress. She is that classic mix of beauty, brains and comedic timing that is flawless. The movie should make her a household name and an Oscar contender. Her comedy prowess is dead on but it is the dramatic scenes that show how great an actress she is. Go back and watch movies like "Big Daddy" and "The 40 year Old Virgin" and then see this movie and you will discover a scene stealer and great actress.

I also love Paul Rudd more than any straight man should and I think it is his down to earth charm that gets me. Whenever I see Paul Rudd in a movie, even a bad one, I can't stop smiling. His chemistry with Mann is so perfect I swear they could be a real couple in life. I felt real drama here that didn't seem forced and surprised me. There is a great warmth here mixed with some outrageous comedy moments. I laughed a lot during this movie and fell in love with all the characters. This could have been a movie with very stereotypical cariactures but the writing is very smart here and it makes the characters seem real.

I do agree there could have been a little more editing and some scenes could have been cut but after a while I didn't care, I was having too much fun. There is also material dealing with Pete's job as a music producer that seemed false. There is stuff with Pete trying to reunite Graham Parsons with his old band The Rumour. There is a performance by them in a club where hardly anybody shows up when I know Graham Parsons could sell out a venue like "The Vic Theatre" in Chicago easily. Though those problems are easily erased by the realistic material dealing with family, financial troubles and marriage. "This Is 40" grew on me and I loved it more the deeper it got into it's story. I kind of knew it was going to be hilarious but I was surprised by the realism and the touching drama that this movie provides. "This Is 40" is easily one of my favorite movies of 2012.



Written by Sergio G. Sanchez
Directed b Juan Antonio Bayona
Actors: Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor, Tom Holland, Oaklee Pendergast, Geraldine Chaplin

In the beginning of the heartbreaking but uplifting "The Impossible" there is a moment that is one of the most realistic and frightening images I have ever seen in a motion picture. Of course you can guess it is the tsunami that hit Khao Lak, Thailand back in 2004. When that tsunami hits in the movie I winced and squirmed and wanted to hide my eyes what with all the destruction and death caused by this realistic natural disaster. There are bones breaking and major bodily harm that is right up in your face. Credit director J.A. Bayona and his crew for starting this movie on such a powerful moment not ruined by CGI trickery.

Many lives were destroyed from this horrendous tragedy and some people survived and I don't know how they did it. "The Impossible" focuses on one British family comprised of married couple Henry and Maria and their three sons including the eldest son Lucas. The movie tells the story of this family's bravery and finally exploring how the human condition of compassion can come out of a disaster this terrible. The movie starts out briely inroducing us to this family and it is effective because we grow to like this family right off the bat. The family is on a Christmas vacation staying at a resort when the tsunami strikes.

When the storm hits it is a very powerful moment shocking us with it's realism in the destruction the storm causes. I swear I could not tell that there was any special effects trickery, that is how powerful and realistic it is! Also the damage it does to Mary and Lucas's body is bone chilling as they get carried away in the water to a tree for safety. I will not spoil what happens to the family after the storm hits but it is emotional stuff and I want people to discover what happens, that makes it more special and effective. I am happy that I didn't know much going in because it made me appreciate the drama and focus on the movie more.

This is not a fun movie to watch but it's power comes from how bravery can come from people that don't seem brave at first. I love how the movie explores how a tragedy like this can wake up the love and care human beings should feel for each other. The movie's power comes from it's realism but also from two very special performances I will never forget. Naomi Watts is amazing as Mary and it is easily her best performance of a career that has many wonderful performances. It is a tough role to play for Naomi has a lot of scenes where she is bed ridden. Though the opening scenes showing her and Lucas trying to survive and get help requires a great deal and Watts is amazing in those scenes.

I was also captivated by the performance of young Tom Holland as the eldest son Lucas. It is a mature, Oscar caliber, strong and incredible performance by Holland and it is easily one of the best child performances I have ever seen. Also wonderful are Ewan McGregor as the father and the other child actors playing the other siblings. After a while the movie had a numbing effect on me but the performances and the family's struggle got to me and affected me deeply. I also loved that the movie had a short running time so that the movie didn't wallow into too much hardship, that would have made the movie depressing.

The movie is dark and grim but what comes out in the end is an uplifting and touching story of bravery and human compassion that comes out in tragedy and a certain compassion that should be shown more in every day life. Back in 1992 there was a movie called "Lorenzo's Oil" about a child with a rare disease. It was one of the most gut wrenching movies I have ever seen, one of the only ones where I wanted to escape from a movie. "The Impossible" is like that movie but sometimes I felt it could have been less Hollywood. There is a sequence where a lot of close calls are drawn out that felt a little false. With that minor quibble out of the way, "The Impossible" is gut wrenching, beautifully told and finally uplifting.

Friday, November 30, 2012



Written by Andrew Dominik based on the novel "Cogan's Trade"
Directed by Andrew Dominik
Actors: Brad Pitt, Scoot McNairy, James Gandolfini, Richard Jenkins, Ray Liotta, Ben Mendelsohn, Sam Shepard, Max Casella.

A strange thing happened to me while watching "Killing Them Softly", the very careful and slow moving crime picture. I sat transfixed by a movie that really doesn't have a lot going on in it. I didn't know if I really liked what was going on in this movie until the last shot was over. I think it helped that I liked movies that it resembles, those 70's character studies about crime figures. Movies like "The Friends of Eddie Coyle", "Mikey and Nicky" and "The Killing of a Chinese Bookie" by John Cassavetes, a movie that was real hard to watch but that I loved.

"Killing Them Softly" is based on a crime novel that mixes a hitman character study with a commentary on the financial woes of our country in 2008. The movie follows two low life criminals who knock off a Mob run card game. The game is ran by Markle played by Ray Liotta and he is not really high up in the crime boss food chain. A hitman is called in named Jackie, played by Brad Pitt to wipe out the two men. A second man will be called in but I am explaining plot for a movie where the plot doesn't matter. The movie is all mood and talk punctuated with extreme, gritty violence. There is a lot of real "in your face" type violence here, not kids stuff.

The movie is directed by Andrew Dominik who directed another slow moving, different type of crime movie "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford". Both of Dominik's movies are beautifully shot reminding me of Terrence Malick. Both artists create slow moving movies that try to capture a mood and here the mood is grit, slime and depravity. "Killing Them Softly" is not an easy movie to like and it is definitely not for the mall crowd. It is for movie goers that love character studies that are breathtakingly shot and full of colorful dialogue. There is a lot of talk in this movie and is not for movie goers that want a lot of action and killing.

I love this kind of movie and it took me a while to figure out my feelings for it. It is a movie that works you over until in the end you find out you love it. I loved it because it is different and it brings me back to my favorite era of film making in the 70's. This movie also reminds me of John Cassavetes who I loved as a writer and director of crime, character studies. I love the look of this movie which reminds me of a good film noir. I even didn't mind the usual slow motion shooting scenes and I loved the wide screen shots and that Dominik doesn't rush the shots making the film's mood wash all over us.

I also loved the cast of this movie and all the performances especially Brad Pitt. Pitt is so assured and very cool here and it is a performance you usually don't see in a movie like this. It is not a showy performance and that is what I love about it. I love subtle performances more than the showy ones usually in movies and Pitt is perfect and effective here. He gets great support by James Gandolfini who plays a very interesting, boorish second hitman called in to help. Also I love seeing Richard Jenkins in anything and him and Pitt have some funny and smartly written scenes together. There is also a very compelling and star making performance by Scoot McNairy (Argo) as one of the young thugs.

"Killing Them Softly" is a movie that has stayed with me a long time after I have seen it. I love the dialogue, even the dialogue that is aimless because the actors saying it are so great and very great here. The violence in this movie looks more real than in most crime movies I see. Yes it might seem with the photography that the violence is stylized but I cringed and flinched a lot during those scenes. I love the mood and look of the movie and would see it again just for the cast, acting and look of the photography.

The movie's story is punctuated by background noise of President Obama and George Bush Jr. commenting on the country's recession on television. So the movie has a little more depth in it then just thugs and killers talking about their jobs. There is an added motivation of money for these men too, more than just killing a man. The movie is really saying that even hit men need money to stay alive in this economy. There is also probably the best written stream of dialogue by Pitt that I have heard in any movie this year. It is a commentary on America that I agreed with totally and that is profound, funny and brilliant. That ending commentary and Pitt's delivery of it is priceless and worth the price of admission. This is a movie that requires patience but if you are an adventurous movie goer you might love it as much as I did.



Written by John J. McLaughlin based on the book "Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho" by Stephen Rebello
Directed by Sacha Gervasi
Actors: Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johansson, Jessica Biel, Toni Collette, James D'Arcy

I love getting a special edition of a classic movie on DVD when it has a "Making of" feature. It is fascinating to me in seeing what went on behind the making of a classic. It is even better when it focuses on a genius artist like Alfred Hitchcock. The new movie "Hitchcock" delves into the making of Hitchcock's classic "Psycho" which would turn out to be his most popular movie. It is a fun movie just like watching one of those "Making Of" features on that DVD. It really doesn't show you a lot of Hitchcock's film making process but I had a big goofy grin on my face throughout.

"Hitchcock" tells us about the making of "Psycho" and I wanted to know more about how it was filmed and more of the reaction the movie got. Those might seem like big reservations but I still enjoyed the movie. The pleasure begins with the performances starting with Anthony Hopkins as Hitchcock. He might not look totally like Hitchcock, we still see Hopkins behind the make up, but he sounds just like him. He has a ball with the role and you see the joy in his performance. It is a captivating and funny performance.

The movie really focuses more on the relationship between Hitch and his long suffering wife Alma. Alma helps her husband a lot with editing and directing advice. She is like his coach and support system. Helen Mirren is as expected awesome as Alma. She steals the movie and critics have complained they wanted more making of "Psycho" and less back and forth dialogue between the Hitchcocks. I agree and that is why I didn't love this movie but Mirren and Hopkins are great together. The movie is full of funny and snarky one liners by Mirren.

I also was very happy when I saw the actor who played Anthony Perkins give a perfectly etched performance. James D'Arcy nails Perkins look, inflection of voice and mannerisms. Scarlett Johansson and Jessica Biel are also fine as Janet Leigh and Vera Miles. The movie is lovingly shot and looks colorful matching the performances and tone of the movie. I especially loved scenes where Hitchcock battles with a film censor and also a scene where Hitchcock stands outside a theater door waiting for the audience's reaction to the shower scene.

"Hitchcock" doesn't match up to the greatness of the movie it is exploring. I wanted a more nuts and bolts look at how "Psycho" was actually shot and how Hitchcock got the performances from his actors. I could have done without the weak exploration of Hitchcock's fascination with blondes and if he made advances to them. The movie just leaves that section hanging and I also didn't like the concentration on Alma's flirtation with a screenwriter. That is a distraction from the real making of sections. I did love the movie's look at how Hitchcock, even with his past great films, had to convince Paramount to release his self financed film. "Hitchcock" is a lot of fun and I had a very good time.

P.S. For movies with amazing "Making Of" features I love "Blade Runner", "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" and "Jaws".

Wednesday, November 21, 2012



Written by David Magee based on the novel by Yann Martel
Directed by Ang Lee
Actors: Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan, Tabu, Gerard Depardieu, Rafe Spall

It has been a long time and it is very rare when a movie these days begs for 3D visuals. It is usually not worth the trouble to pay an extra charge for a movie that actually looks better in 2D. "Life of Pi" is the first movie since "Avatar" that needs the 3D effect to make it that more special. It is a visually arresting, breathtaking and serene movie. I wanted to start here on how beautiful this movie looks because I am afraid the story didn't grab me like I thought it would. I have seen this surviving nature story done better if not as visually beautiful as this movie is.

The story is a minor quibble for me because I think people should see this movie and it is a wonderful family movie. Good for families because most movies for kids are loud and obnoxious. "Life of Pi" is quiet, a great meditation on nature and how to survive it and the tiger is very special. The movie is framed by the old reliable writer talks to the man who survived an ordeal trick, more on that later. A writer comes to the house of Pi, now an adult, who will tell him his story of surviving the ocean on a small boat stuck with an escaped tiger. Pi has to survive storms, terrible waves, starvation and this Bengali tiger who wants to eat him.

"Life of Pi" starts with a young Pi who grows up in India being made fun of in school by kids for his full name and being taught responsibility and religion by his stern father. I liked this opening story even though I would have cut 10 minutes from it, we want the real stuff to kick in. Tne boy and his family will move to Canada by ship and there will be a great storm that will hit the ship. Pi escapes but is thrown off the ship into a small boat losing other members of his family. Pi is in the middle of the ocean and finds out that on his little boat is an escaped tiger from the many animals that were being transported on the ship. Pi now has to survive weather and starvation and now he has to make sure he doesn't get eaten.

The middle section of this movie is fascinating stuff and I appreciate that the movie is quiet and takes it's time with beautiful shots of the ocean. The suspense of Pi trying to tame and become friends with the tiger is also a high. The visuals in this movie are astonishing including the mix of CGI and four real tigers standing in for this beautiful animal. There are also two breathtaking scenes that I will not spoil here but I will tell you they will hypnotize you. I love how Ang Lee uses 3D to make us feel like we are on that boat and the water is truly surrounding us. "Life of Pi" is a reason why only a very select few movies should be in 3D.

If you love movies about nature and the human condition you will love this movie and it will visually blow you away and the story is sometimes very compelling. It is way better than a movie like "Castaway", which this resembles, which seems sillier the more I think of it. What would you choose, a movie about a survivor with a volley ball or one with a tiger?

I really like this movie but I keep thinking of a movie like "The Black Stallion" which had a more embracing story that touched your heart more. The problem to me I think is the distracting writer character, the story would have been more effective without that weak character that is only there so the main character can narrate. This movie doesn't need narration, it would have affected me more if the movie just breathed and washed over me. The other problem is that this way of narrating the story spoils the ending of this movie. I did not read this book and now knowing what will happen to the main character from the beginning keeps me from being surprised and emotionally connected to this movie.

"Life of Pi" is a visually beautiful movie with a compelling story of survival that kids should see. It is quiet, subtle, not forced and fun to look at. How they present the tiger is amazing and thrilling and the 3D enhances the movie greatly without distracting us. I did not love it but I had a great time, appreciated the care and detail that Ang Lee put into this movie. It will hit a lot of movie goers right in the heart if it didn't quite do it to me. I am very happy that it was made and I wish more movies geared towards kids were this careful, simple, special and grown up.

Friday, November 16, 2012



Written by David O. Russell based on the novel by Matthew Quick
Directed by David O. Russell
Actors: Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Robert Deniro, Jackie Weaver, Chris Tucker, Julia Stiles

Sometimes a movie will come along that personally touches you like no movie has ever done. It affects you deeply and you also unfortunately know that some might be put off by the movie and will find it difficult to watch. "Silver Linings Playbook" is that type of movie and I hope people love it as much as I do. It is so accurate to real life and it's problems and it's not a cookie cutter type Hollywood entertainment. There are real emotions that the characters deal with in this movie that reflects real people now. It is one of the most powerfully touching movies of this year and that I have seen in a long time. This is a movie that will sneak up on you and surprise you.

"Silver Linings Playbook" is based on a novel and written and directed by the very talented David O.Russell". It stars Bradley Cooper as Pat who has just left the hospital and is picked up by his mother Dolores. Pat was treated for having a nervous breakdown after catching his wife cheating on him. He is also diagnosed as being bipolar. There are little things that affect him and trigger his emotions releasing angry outbursts. He is trying to get his feelings in check, going to a therapist and trying to get closer to his parents again.

In Pat's life comes a woman who is getting over the death of her husband and is coming over to a dinner party hosted by Pat's friend. Her name is Tiffany and there is kind of a twisted love at first sight meeting bewtween the two. This dinner scene is perfectly acted and written and starts the movie off with a bang. Tiffany has also gone through tangled emotions in her life and has been fired from her job after she slept with everyone at work. These are two damaged souls who strike up a very interesting relationship at first. We think that they would be great together but their emotional problems will make this very hard. We also see that Pat and his father are not seeing eye to eye. Add to that the father's crazy, loyal and obsessive dedication as a Philadelphia Eagles fan. Tiffany also wants Pat to be her dance partner in a dance contest that will give her focus and a sense of accomplishment.

"Silver Linings Playbook" is a hard movie to define but all I know is that after it all ended I felt a deep connection to it. This is a very well written and perceptive movie about family, getting control of your life and emotions and football. There have been many movies about mental health issues but this one is under stated, real and powerful. Many other movies dealing with these issues are usually over written, cloying and wind up in a Hollywood ending. This is a very hard movie to embrace because it is so real and upfront about it's subject. Though I also think it is very funny, hilarious in spots and highly entertaining and fun at the same time. It is a movie that is messy like real life even making it more realistic and it also earns it's ending.

The performances here are also special and Bradley Cooper gives the best performance of his career so far. It is a tough role to play but Cooper nails it, never over doing the scenes where he has angry outbursts. He makes us like this very hard to like character. Jennifer Lawrence is amazing, funny and powerful here and her performance is the glue that holds this movie together as does her character. This is one of the most emotionally honest female characters I have ever seen in a movie and Lawrence is incredible giving the best performance by an actress this year. It is also a tough role to nail down but Lawrence is flawless here. Also Jackie Weaver and Robert Deniro give great support as Pat's parents. This is a return to great acting by Deniro not seen by him since "This Boy's Life" in 1993. He finally gets a role that suits him after such a long time dealing with bad movies and weak roles.

"Silver Linings Playbook" feels real and takes place in a realistically defined World. The movie is filled with great supporting characters acted by great character actors including Chris Tucker, returning after a long absence with a quiet, subtle role this time. The movie is hard to love and it might look like it will be a depressing and sad movie. I think people can fall in love with this movie though. It is not and to me it is a very life affirming, uplifting and beautifully written movie that is also a lot of fun and hilarious at times. Writer/Director David O'Russell is one of our best writers in movies today and this is another winner following his great, Oscar nominated "The Fighter". Though "Silver Linings Playbook" is his best and most powerful movie since his anti war masterpiece "Three Kings".

There are so many powerful and soon to be classic scenes in this movie that are some of the best scenes out of any movie this year. There is a wonderful, crazy and hilarious scene in Pat's home as Pat's father, mother, brother and even Tiffany get involved in a crazy bet involving the Philadelphia Eagles and Tiffany and Pat's dance contest. The scene has brilliant and funny dialogue and the actors especially Lawrence nail all the dialogue perfectly. Lawrence takes over this scene and many other scenes backing up my opinion that she gives the best performance by any actress this year. I also love a touching and powerful talk between Pat and his father Pat Sr. which is one of the most emotionally honest scenes I have ever seen between a father and son in a movie. This is Deniro at his very best and affirms the great acting done by Bradley Cooper proving that he is a very fine actor and should be taken seriously.

"Silver Linings Playbook" is one of the most refreshing movies of the year. It is funny, touching, powerful and emotionally honest. I am very much an anti therapy and anti prescription medicine guy. I love how this movie stresses that emotional problems can not be fixed if the person with the problems can't even help himself first. This is a movie that touched me deeply and made me laugh a lot and cry a few times. I love all these characters who grew on me and who I will never forget. At the center is my favorite female character and performance I have experienced in quite a long time and Pat who is a character that I can identify with. Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Deniro and Jackie Weaver are incredible and I grew to love Pat and Tiffany and their faults and quirks. It is a movie that will make you laugh, cry and realize that we are all not perfect and that everybody needs help. This is a wonderful and life affirming movie and it will stay with me for a very long time.

Friday, November 9, 2012


'SKYFALL' (PG-13) (4 STARS) (highest rating)

Written by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan
Directed by Sam Mendes
Actors: Daniel Craig, Javier Bardem, Judi Dench, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Ben Whishaw, Albert Finney

About a month ago I did a special radio show on my favorite and least favorite James Bond movies. I picked my favorite theme songs, best Bond villians and which actor was the best Bond. I also ranked the movies in order of greatness. Now with the latest Bond movie "Skyfall" I am going to have to change my rankings in a big way. "Skyfall" is the best Bond movie since "Goldfinger" and I might even like it more than that classic. Am I saying "Skyfall" is the best Bond movie ever? Well let me just say it is the best action movie of this or any other year, the best spy movie in ages and great enough to get a Best Picture Oscar nomination!

"Skyfall" is not only prime Bond but one of the most beautifully shot and exciting movies this year. The producers have finally picked an esteemed director, the best director of any Bond movie in Sam Mendes. Mendes has directed two of the most beautifully shot movies in recent memory "Revolutionary Road" and "American Beauty". Bond fans were worried that Mendes would not be able to handle all the intricate action scenes. Let me say that Mendes gets the best Bond performance ever given by any of the actors who played Bond by Daniel Craig. He also has captured fascinating shots of the best and most beautiful locations I have ever seen in a Bond movie. I also think Mendes has directed the best action scenes of any Bond movie. The movie is beautifully lit and breathtaking!

I also love that the plot is so simple but also so thrilling. Someone has hacked into M's computer and discovered the real identities of secret agents who are now compromised. M is played by Judi Dench who is the best addition a Bond movie has ever gotten. She brings so much depth to what should be a thin role and her and Daniel Craig are so good together! They create a deep and touching relationship between M and Bond that peaks in "Skyfall" and makes the movie special. Bond then meets what will become in my opinion one of the three best Bond villians ever. He is a disgraced ex spy consumed with revenge who thinks he was betrayed by M. His name is Silva and he is beautifully played by Javier Bardem. Barden plays Silva with a lot of menace and evil but Bardem plays it just right. He doesn't go over the top, creating one of the most sinister Bond villains ever.

The action scenes in "Skyfall" are the best ever in a Bond movie. There are wonderful action set pieces including a brilliantly lit and choreographed fist, knife fight. Then you have a thrilling chase scene on a subway, the perfectly directed pre credit chase scene and a masterful closing set piece set in Scotland but actually filmed in Turkey. That brings me to the location work which is the most sumptous and beautiful location work ever in a Bond movie. Shanghai looks breathtaking in this movie, London has never looked better in a movie and the closing sequences in Turkey look cold and dank but also extremely beautiful.

The other treats in this movie are a beautiful, tough and engaging spy and Bond girl played wonderfully by Naomie Harris. You also have Ralph Fiennes as M's boss, a new and funny Q and the legendary Albert Finney who has some killer, funny one liners and brings another level of depth to this Bond movie. Finney figures into the last half hour that is flawlessly shot and directed and he makes it even more special. The only thing that was missing was a real substantial and beautiful second Bond girl but by the end of the movie you see why there wasn't one so even that comes out perfect here. In fact the ending of this Bond movie springs great surprises making this the most perfect ending a Bond movie has ever had. You will see why it is perfect setting up a new and exciting direction in the Bond franchise that I can't wait to see!

I loved every frame and every second of this exciting, well directed, suspenseful and extremely fun Bond movie. I loved the opening theme song sung by Adele which may be the lushest, most beautiful sounding Bond song ever. I loved Javier Bardem who brings such an energy and powerful but subtle menace to Silva. I loved the performances and screen presence of Dench, Harris, Fiennes and Finney. In fact this is the best acting I have seen in a Bond movie. The direction, cinematography and location work also has never been better and I can't wait to see every action scene and chase over and over again. It usually takes an actor playing Bond three movies to get comfortable playing Bond. Daniel Craig in film three has nailed it and is now equal and maybe even better than Connery! "Skyfall" is not only the best Bond movie in ages it also the best action movie in a decade and one of the best movies period of 2012!

P.S. I don't know why but after "Skyfall" I kept thinking of Gene Siskel and how much he appreciated the Bond movies. He would argue with Roger Ebert on who was the best Bond and Bond actor and villain. Since this is probably my favorite Bond movie I kept thinking that Gene would have loved this movie and would have thought the same way I did. I miss you Gene!



Written by Tony Kushner based on the book "Team of Rivals" by Doris Kearns Goodwin
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Actors: Daniel Day Lewis, Tommy Lee Jones, Sally Field, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, David Strathairn, James Spader, John Hawkes.

I wasn't much of a fan of history class when I went to school but I learned to love it when watching historical movies. I was excited that Steven Spielberg was tackling the last few months of President Lincoln's political career. Here was a filmmaker that could make something exciting out of Lincoln's efforts to try to stop the Civil War and pass an amendment that would abolish slavery. Now with Daniel Day Lewis playing Lincoln I knew I was in for a treat. I am happy to report that Day Lewis is pitch perfect and wonderful as Lincoln but sad to report I think Spileberg could have done a little better.

"Lincoln" does concentrate on the last months of Lincoln's presidency and his struggle with passing an amendment to abolish slavery. I am glad that this was not a biopic and was excited thinking that Spielberg would make Lincoln's fight to pass the amendment fascinating and thrilling. I loved a lot of scenes in the House of Representatives as stubborn Democrats fought Lincoln all the way on the amendment. Many of his opponents thought Lincoln was a rube and a country Hick and was in way over his head. There are some great scenes of griping, fighting and insults being thrown around in the House between the Democrats and Republicans. I bet you thought that back then it was all civil and boring in the political arena?

The film starts off on a very solid note concentrating on this fight and Lincoln the man. Daniel Day Lewis is amazing, as expected, as Lincoln capturing his easy manner and high pitched voice. Of course we don't know what Lincoln sounded like back then but Lewis is so good I bet he sounds just like him! Lincoln was a farmer and was very underestimated because of that. What we see thanks to Spielberg and Day Lewis was that Lincoln was a very smart, stubborn, kind man who was also a great family man. That is why I think he was one of our best presidents, he knew how to talk to people. There is a beautifully shot and written scene in the beginning of the movie as Lincoln talks to some soldiers on the front line. Lincoln was a man that put everyone at ease but could get fired up when needed. I think Daniel Day Lewis is wonderful here and his performance is the real reason to see this movie.

I also loved the performance by Tommy Lee Jones as abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens and Jones gives award caliber work here. I also appreciated the performances by James Spader, funny and hammy here as a chief negotiator and David Strathairn who is wonderful as William Seward, his Secretary of State. So far so good but as "Lincoln" moves along in it's second half I think it loses it's way. The performances are still there but the movie becomes dull and labored and I think a few scenes should have been cut. It feels stagy in the last hour and more like a history lesson. I love the scenes in the House where the Democrats and Republicans fight it out but I think Spielberg could have done better tightening those scenes up. I wanted more suspense and energy, more like the movie "Moneyball" which made dialogue more suspenseful with it's subject matter.

I think Spielberg gets more carried away with scenes dealing with Lincoln's home life. Now I do like the scenes where Lincoln shows how much he loves his sons. Though I do think that the scenes with Day Lewis and Sally Field as Mary Todd are weak and distracting. I also thought the relationship with Abraham and his son Robert(Joseph Gordon-Levitt) was under developed. I like the first half of Tony Kushner's writing but think that he slips in developing some of he scenes of Lincoln's home life throughout. I just felt that some energy and poignancy was missing in the latter part of the movie.

Now I do love the performances by Daniel Day Lewis, Tommy Lee Jones and James Spader. I love a lot of the cinematography and I appreciate some beautiful shots by Spielberg who doesn't know how not to shoot a movie. There are some great scenes in "Lincoln" and maybe I should have liked it more, I expect some will love it. All I know is that I felt the movie was too dull in spots and I was dissapointed that Spielberg didn't put more juice in it. Maybe with this and Robert Redford's dud "The Conspirator" I just don't like movies set in this period of time. I think the movie is worth a matinee show just to see how wonderful Daniel Day Lewis is. I also think that there is a certain audience that will love this. I just thought the movie could get dull and tedious too many times for my taste.

Friday, November 2, 2012


'FLIGHT' (R) (4 STARS)(Highest Rating)

Written by John Gatins
Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Actors: Denzel Washington, Kelly Reilly, Don Cheadle, John Goodman, Bruce Greenwood, Bruce Geraghty, Nadine Velazquez.

Denzel Washington is one of our finest actors and lately he has given us dependable, star performances in a lot of slick, Hollywood projects. We forget that he is one of the best actors that has ever graced a movie screen. It has been awhile since Denzel could show off his acting chops. Some say it was way back with "Training Day" with his blistering performance as a dirty cop. I agree somewhat but that was more histrionics and shouting. With "Flight" Denzel has given one of his very best performances as an airline pilot in Robert Zemeckis's "Flight" which is a very well written movie that packs an emotional punch.

The performance by Denzel and the movie are a throwback to the golden movie age where a movie was a showcase for a major movie star. The movie "Flight" is also a throwback to those star vehicles where a major actor played an alcoholic or drug addict. It is a role that is ready for scene chewing but Washington gives a subtly emotional, graceful and powerful performance. He holds back when he needs to and beautifully brings out the emotion of the role when he has to in a tender way. It is truly one of the best performances I have seen on screen and it gets better the more I think of it.

The movie also has stayed with me and haunted me hours after I have seen it. Except for too much overdone religious overtones it is a perfectly written potboiler that gets stronger as it builds with a scene near the end that came out of nowhere and made me cry. "Flight" also is a welcome return to serious film making by Robert Zemeckis. Zemeckis was an icon and on such a roll with great classics like "Used Cars", "Back to the Future" and "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" He lost his way recently with stop motion animation blunders like "A Christmas Carol" and "Polar Express". He gets back on track with serious film making like his Tom Hanks vehicle "Castaway" which I kind of liked.

"Flight" tells the story of airline pilot Whip, played by Washington, who lands a plane in an open field after the plane malfunctions. He saves the plane by several maneuvers before it crashes and saves the lives of many only losing four passengers and two flight crew members. He is seen as a hero because his expert landing of the plane kept it from being a major catastrophe. Before we see this realistic and frightening plane crash landing we witness Whip waking up with a flight attendant in a hotel room. Whip had consumed a lot of alcohol the night before and we see him finishing a beer and then taking cocaine to right himself. When the landing is investigated there is a concern that Whip's alcohol consumption could affect the investigation and send him to prison for the deaths of the four passengers.

There will be a lawyer appointed to get Whip off on these charges stressing that the plane almost crashed because it was a broken plane with major malfunctions and it wasn't because of Whip's alcohol consumption. Though the movie is not just focused on the investigation, the movie is really about alcohol addiction. It is about Whip and how his life is full of lies including the biggest lie, that he does not have an alcohol problem and he can stop anytime. "Flight" is really compatible to two of the best movies ever made about alcohol addiction and is almost equal to them. Those two movies are "Days of Wine and Roses" with Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick from 1962 and arguably the best, "Clean and Sober" with Michael Keaton from 1988. Washington's performance is equal to Keaton who gave the best performance ever on screen of an addict up to now.

As the movie progresses we get emotionally involved with Whip's addiction and we want him to stop lying to himself. He at first seems arrogant and hard to like but we see later that he is just a flawed human being that needs to discover that his life is getting out of control. There will be another person who will walk into Whip's life and she is Nicole, played tenderly and beautifully by Kelly Reilly, who is also an addict. That part of the movie surprised me and it is very well handled. There will also be a lot of powerful moments between Whip and his son and another flight crew member. There is also a moment near the end during the flight hearing concerning a crew member that Whip was involved with. That moment ties everything up in this movie in a powerful, emotional scene that choked me up.

When "Flight" is over everything does come together and the movie gives us a solid portrait of an alcoholic. You also have a perfectly delivered, emotional and graceful performance by Denzel. Also fine are Don Cheadle as Whip's lawyer, Bruce Greenwood as a colleague and friend and great comic relief by John Goodman as Whip's friend and drug dealer. Kelly Reilly as Nicole also gives a wonderful and beautiful performance. There is a lot of emotion in "Flight" and it is always an engrossing drama that will keep you on the edge of your seat. I didn't expect such an emotional depth from this movie but it is one of the most honest depictions of addiction I have ever seen on screen. "Flight" is one of the best movies of 2012!

P.S. As I mentioned, "Flight" is one of the very best movies about addiction I have ever seen. My favorite movie is "Clean and Sober" and favorite performance of an addict ever is by Michael Keaton. "Flight" is a great movie to go out to and then when you get home the next night get "Clean and Sober" on netflix.

My favorite line from "Clean and Sober" applies to "Flight" and it is the truest and most beautiful statement that was ever spoken about helping an addict.

"A person that thinks they can help an addict overcome their addiction who doesn't want their help has to realize how crazy that logic is."

Thursday, October 18, 2012



Written by Kevin James, Allan Loeb and Rock Reuben
Directed by Frank Coraci
Actors: Kevin James, Salma Hayek, Henry Winkler, Bas Rutten, Greg Germann.

When I saw the trailer for the new Kevin James comedy "Here Comes the Boom" I kind of had a strange feeling of wanting to see it. Kevin James has not made a movie I have liked save for a weird half like of "Paul Blart Mall Cop". All of Kevin James's star vehicles have been dumbed down. I like James a lot, I think he is funny and very likeable so I am disheartened to see him in crap like "Zookeeper". Kevin James is again likeable here and this time he is given a story that grew on me. It is not a deep movie but it has laughs, a very charming debut performance and it had the kids I saw this with cheering. I even got swept up in the cornball underdog story.

Kevin James plays Scott Voss who is a biology teacher who has kind of slacked off lately. That is until he finds out that his high school is going through financial problems. The music department might be cut and the sweet music teacher Marty might be out of a job soon. Marty is played by Henry Winkler who is perfectly cast and gives a scene stealing performance. Scott wants to raise money to save the music program and he finds a second job teaching foreigners so they can become citizens. There he meets a student Niko from Holland who used to be an UFC fighter but suffered a career ending injury.

Scott comes to the student's house where he is watching a MMA fight and learns that even the loser wins major money, $10,000. Scott used to be a wrestler so he coaxes Niko to train him for the minor leagues of MMA. It first seems improbable that James would make a good MMA fighter but the filmmakers pull it off. The movie has a lot of charm and does not try to hard. I was afraid, being that it comes from Adam Sandler's production team, that the movie would have cheap jokes and come off as really stupid. I came away though with a big smile on my face because the movie has a good heart, is sweet and gets us cheering.

That has to do with Kevin James who finally gets a star vehicle that shows off his strengths. James is funny, charming and is good at playing an everyman type of character. He is not the type to surround with cheap jokes and lame family comedies like he has been given. He also does not have the greatest chemistry with Salma Hayek, who plays an English teacher that Scott fancies, but James is so likeable you cheer for them to get together. It also helps that the movie has Henry Winkler who is such comic gold here. Winkler is sweet and his performance is so charming he steals the movie. He is a great sidekick to Kevin James and they work so well together.

"Here Comes the Boom" is a lot of fun and it snuck up on me with it's charm and sweet, winning story. I have to end this review writing about another reason why I liked this movie. Former MMA champ Bas Rutten is a complete delight here in his first acting role. He gets some great lines and he delivers them so well. Here is a naturally gifted actor who made me smile. I would love to see Rutten do more, even action movies. He is funny, charming and winning just like the movie and he deserves to be in a lot more movies!

P.S. There was a movie called "Warrior" with Joel Edgerton and Tom Hardy that dealt with MMA and it was more serious than Boom but also was a very compelling crowd pleaser. I am not a fan of MMA but I loved these two movies, maybe MMA is more intriguing to me in the movies than in the real world of MMA. "Warrior" and "Here Comes the Boom" would make a very good double feature at The View and Brew!



Written by Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill
Directed by Scott Derrickson
Actors: Ethan Hawke, Juliet Rylance, Fred Dalton Thompson, Vincent D'Onofrio, James Ransone.

"Sinister" sets a creepy, eerie tone right from the start and it surprised me. It is a decently made, well told horror movie that will give you the creeps and make you jump a few times. It is from the creators of "Insidious" which came out a few years ago but lacked a solid ending. It went all off in different directions. "Sinister" has more control and though the ending may seem out there I was satisfied by it. It also helps that Ethan Hawke is the star of the movie. We know he can act and he provides a solid center to this effective thriller.

Hawke plays Ellison, a writer who specializes in writing true life horror, crime stories. He moves his family to at first looks like a cool, cozy house but actually has a sinister history. A family had been discovered with nooses around their necks hanging to their death. It is discovered that there have been a series of family deaths like this in the house through the years. Everyone thinks Ellison is crazy for moving his wife Tracy and his two little kids Trevor and Ashley to a house of death like this and we agree. The local sheriff, played by Fred Dalton Thompson does not like Ellison from the start but his deputy is happy to help Ellison find out why these families all died the way they did.

Director Scott Derrickson does a very good job at setting a creepy tone and atmosphere. This is one of those horror movies that has a house that is a character in itself. I love this house as the kids explore all the tunnels, crevices and the attic. The movie almost always takes place at night and the house is shown as an eerie and at the same time beautiful place where evil can be discovered. This is the best use of a house in a horror movie since Ti West's masterpiece "House of the Devil". Ethan Hawke gives a grounded performance that does not go over the top. He gets great support from Fred Dalton Thompson, James Ransome as the deputy and the great Vincent D'Onofrio as an expert of the occult.

"Sinister" is more than just a haunted house movie and I was intrigued by the story. It is not laughable like most movies of it's kind because the story is very gruesome and it is played seriously, not tongue-in-cheek. It will keep you involved throughout and it will give you some chills and some good scares. It actually might scare it's intended fan base and that is rare these days. I also think the ending works and that is rare. It gives you an ending that might leave you scratching your head but once you walk out you discover that the ending is not a cheat and kind of cool. "Sinister" is a solid and effective, creepy horror thriller that delivers the goods all the way to the end.

P.S. The night before I saw and reviewed a wonderful movie I knew nothing about going in to. It turned out to be a movie that knocked me on my butt and entertained the hell out of me. It is "Kill List" and "Sinister" reminds me of it, you should check out "Kill List" on DVD and then go see "Sinister".

Friday, October 12, 2012



Written by Chris Terrio based on a selection from "The Master of Disguise" by Antonio Mendez and the Wired magazine article "The Great Escape by Joshua Bearman

Directed by Ben Affleck
Actors: Ben Affleck, John Goodman, Alan Arkin, Victor Garber, Clea Duvall, Tate Donovan, Bryan Cranston

I knew there was a reason I love movies and it is proven how powerful and wonderful movies are in Ben Affleck's masterful "Argo". It is a throwback to my favorite period of movie making, 1967-1979. It is a fascinating and suspenseful political thriller with a flawless recreation of a certain time and place. It is also a story of courage and bravery and how a far out plan to make a fake movie saved many lives. Who knew that the movies were so powerful?! It is one of my favorite movies of this or any other year because like the great films of the 70's it keeps us enthralled from the first frame to the last.

"Argo" is as great as the best political movies of my favorite era including "All the President's Men", "Z" and thrillers like "The China Syndrome". Director Ben Affleck has become one of our best directors and I did not see that coming! "Argo" tells the true story of how CIA Agent Tony Mendez rescued six Americans taking refuge in the Canadian Embassy during the Iran hostage crisis. The CIA had many bad ideals to rescue these men and women but Tony came up with the best bad ideal he could think of. Pretend to make a science fiction movie named "Argo", recruit a Hollywood Producer and makeup artist to help with the ruse and go to Iran to put the plan in motion. Tony will train the six Americans on how to successfully act as a film crew and drill them with learning their fake jobs and backgrounds.

The story sounds so improbable and the mission so impossible but of course it is based on a true story. The power of "Argo" comes from how the movie plays with this goofy plot and makes us laugh at it. Though by the end the movie has us on the edge of our seats and choking up in the end. This is a suspenseful, well written and flawlessly directed, emotional ride. It takes us to a certain time and place and recreates it wonderfully. Ben Affleck directed one of the best crime films and mysteries of the past decade in "Gone Baby Gone", slipped a little with "The Town" and now has made his best movie and one of the best movies of this or any other year.

Affleck keeps us entertained throughout and this is a throw back to when movies had everything. "Argo" has a great sense of humor, suspense, great human drama and political intrigue that does not come off as boring. It has some wonderful performances including Affeck who doesn't over play his character and shows he is now ranked with the best actors who can direct and act in the same movie without missing a beat. John Goodman as the makeup artist John Chambers is wonderful and Alan Arkin as the producer is excellent and very funny. The actors playing the hostages flesh out their characters and make us care for each one as individuals.

"Argo" is an old fashioned, entertaining movie that made me tear up in the end. I expected a cracking good, effective thriller but I did not expect to get so emotionally involved. It is a stirring story of bravery, courage, love of movies and love of our country. There is not a wasted shot, emotion or scene and we are always invested in the story and in the last 45 minutes we are breathless and on the edge of our seats. I haven't seen many movies in the past decade and a half that capture a time and place and tell such a captivating story as "Argo" does. There are the masterpieces of the 70's which "Argo" resembles and David Fincher's masterpiece "Zodiac" and that is it. "Argo" teaches us that movies can be mindless entertainment but also a powerful tool to save lives. "Argo" is the best movie of the year so far and might become one of my all time favorites.

P.S. I can not wait to see "Argo" again and I highly recommend you see it in theaters and when it comes out on DVD rent "Zodiac" and watch both back to back. Those two movies are the best period movies in the past two decades.



Written and Directed by Martin McDonagh
Actors: Sam Rockwell, Colin Farrell, Christopher Walken, Woody Harrelson, Tom Waits.

I love the art of storytelling and especially in the movies where mostly that art does not exist. There are either movies with one liners or action movies with no brains and no attempt at telling a smart, good story. "Seven Psychopaths" has a layered and imaginative story and great dialogue. It is a movie that would appear in concept to be dumb and violent with the violence overwhelming the story. It turns out to be highly imaginative, twisted, fun and hilarious. You also have one of the best casts in the movies with one actor giving his finest performance in awhile and another who I love, stealing the movie away from everyone.

"Seven Psychopaths" is written by the wonderful and talented Martin McDonagh who wrote the masterfully written and hilarious "In Bruges" which was my pick for the third best movie of 2008. This and that wonderful 2008 masterpiece have great dialogue, a nasty, violent and twisted story and great performances. "Psychopaths" has an original and black hearted story but I also felt an empathy for the characters like I did with "In Bruges". Take the story of the Christopher Walken character and his back story with his wife to witness this empathy. McDonagh has an uncanny knack for making us care about characters we shouldn't. It also helps that again he has a great cast of actors at the top of their forms.

It starts with two great character actors in an opening scene that starts the movie off on a shocking but very funny, high note. The actors are Michael Pitt and Michael Stuhlbarg and the scene shocks us with it's violence but makes us laugh also. That will be repeated throughout this story as we follow screenwriter Marty played by Colin Farrell, who is full of delightful energy and great comic timing. Marty is going through writer's block and is stuck with writing a multi layered story of seven psychopaths and the murder and crimes they commit. The movie then unfolds like a great book and I had a great time listening to the dialogue. I also appreciated the depth of the stories and the richness of the characters.

We also follow Marty's friend Billy who along with sidekick Hans kidnaps dogs and then brings them back to the owners to collect the ransom. They steal the Shi Tzu of a crime boss named Charlie. There is also the back story of a serial killer on the run and flashbacks to other crime stories. Billy is played by Sam Rockwell who steals this movie and gets better and better with each film. He is hilarious and takes a role that could have been over written and over acted and hits all the right notes. Hans is played by Christopher Walken and this is the best he has been in ages. The way Walken reads his lines sound more and more poetic as he ages, I could listen to him for hours. Woody Harrelson is of course perfect and quite funny as the crime boss who is ruthless until someone threatens his Shih Tzu.

I loved the delightful dialogue of "Seven Psychopaths" and I really felt the same way that I would reading a great novel. It is like the joy of listening to Christopher Walken tell us this story at a campfire as we listen with our stomachs on the ground and our hands under our chin listening rapturously as the story unfolds. Yes the movie is violent and unsettling at times but I laughed a lot. It is like a good suspenseful thriller and I was on the edge of my seat not because of action but because of the great dialogue and the sweet science of the art of storytelling. "Seven Psychopaths" is even better than I expected. I laughed a lot, always had a smile on my face and had a wonderful time even though it was a twisted, nasty good time.

Friday, October 5, 2012



Written by Kay Cannon based on the book by Mickey Rapkin
Directed by Jason Moore
Actors: Anna Kendrick, Skylar Astin, Ben Platt, Brittany Snow, Rebel Wilson, Anna Camp, Alexis Knapp.

I wanted to really like "Pitch Perfect" thinking it would be a more risque version of the popular television show "Glee". I love movies like this that are punctuated with great pop songs. I really liked "Glee" except for the last two years. I liked a little bit of "Pitch Perfect" but I didn't walk out smiling and clicking my heels like I do after a good musical. Save for two funny and charming, scene stealing peformances this movie fell flat in the end. I think it is worth a wait for DVD but this movie doesn't come off as deserving of a hit even though the qualifications are there.

Anna Kendrick is the major appeal here and she is becoming quite a star in the making. She plays a young college student who is a little bit of a rebel and wants to be a radio DJ. She gets roped into joining an all female acapella group after being spied on in the shower as she sings a song. The girls in this group have lost their leader who has graduated. The group is not fully formed and after auditions it looks like the girls will not win the top prize in the regionals. This is an eclectic group and they will need a lot of practice to sound good as one cohesive group.

The problem is that the group is full of stereotypes and not individuals. I only cared about two characters and they steal the show as do the actresses who play them. Rebel Wilson played the English roommate from hell in "Bridesmaids" and here she is just as funny. She plays Fat Amy who calls herself that so other skinny bitches don't call her that behind her back. Rebel Wilson has some very funny scenes and she plays them for all they are worth. She alone has the only truly funny scenes even though Anna Camp (True Blood) is very charming and cute as the clueless leader of the group. It is a shame that Camp is involved in not one but two unfunny vomit scenes.

The other reason I almost fully recommended this movie is because of it's adorable and charming star in the making Ana Kendrick. Kendrick is very appealing physically, cute and sometimes very sexy at the same time. She is funny, knows how to play all the scenes for maximum effect, even the flat ones, and makes you instantly like her and want to hug her. She was also this charming, good and appealing in "50/50", "Up in the Air" and "End of Watch". Her performance alone with the help of Rebel Wilson almost saved this movie for me just on their charm alone. Both actresses have great careers ahead of them!

"Pitch Perfect" comes so close many times to being a rip roaring, toe tapping, energetic time and I do love some of the musical numbers but it should have been better. I just felt the movie had too many dull, awkward stretches that zap the movie of energy. Kendrick and Wilson are great but some of the other characters are either not funny or uninteresting. There is a battle with another all male group but in the second half that battle fades away without much conflict or energy. There are great, funny and wonderful scenes and some inspired singing and choreography. The only thing is that the momentum of the story's energy drops out of sight from time to time. Though I would watch it again on cable just for Anna Kendrick herself. This is an actress that deserves to be a star!


'TAKEN 2' (R) (1 1/2 STARS)

Written by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen
Directed by Oliver Megaton
Actors: Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace, Famke Janssen, D.B. Sweeey, Jonathan Gries, Rade Sherbedgia.

"Taken" was a surprise hit and a movie that delightfully gave us a new Liam Neeson, a Liam of the kick ass variety. It was a very well directed and suspenseful movie that delivered what it promised. I don't know what happened to "Taken 2" but I laughed a lot and it is not a comedy. I also was bored because maybe I have seen this story before, it is basically the same plot as the first one with slight changes. Maybe it is because this macho Liam Neeson thing is becoming a parody of itself. It is that way with "Taken 2" for I found the movie unintentionally hilarious and very stupid.

It feels like the filmmakers are grabbing at thin air for there is nothing new to see here. Even the action scenes seem like exact copies of scenes in the original except here it gets tiring without a substantial story. Liam Neeson again goes into attack mode when the father of the men he killed in the original kidnap Neeson and his wife played by Famke Janssen (who gets prettier as she ages). Bryan's daughter will also be chased and Bryan will try to help her escape through the cell phone. All the action takes place in Instanbul and it could take place in Paris for all I cared.

The movie takes a half hour to get going and the first half hour will give us golden nuggets of humor, unintentional humor that is. It starts with the father visiting his daughter as she is making out with her boyfriend. The overprotective father just walks in and doesn't acknowledge the boyfriend. The way it is presented is so corny and cliche and it comes off here as fake. Then Bryan takes his daughter for a driving lesson and asks her if she loves this guy and if she has ever been in love before. I laughed out loud because the dialogue is so fake and isn't this an action movie?! Then the movie closes with the daughter passing her driving test after three tries and then a dinner with the boyfriend, daughter and wife and man I laughed and threw up in my mouth after seeing how this all goes down.

There are more laugh out loud scenes including a hilarious scene as Bryan's daughter dispatches three grenades, one hitting a parked car in a parking lot so Bryan can find her location. There are also rusty, dull and uninspired action scenes and a final fight that is awkward and clumsy and I am not the only one who laughed out loud during the fight scene. Then Bryan, after killing everybody, goes to find the vengeance minded bad guy and asks him if he has more sons. The bad guy tells him yes and then Bryan gives him two options. Bryan could kill him and then the other sons could go after him for revenge and Bryan will kill then easily. Or he can walk away and enjoy the company of his surviving sons for the rest of his life. This is after Bryan has already killed the other sons. That is hilarious, no this is not a comedy but it is easily one of the worst movies of the year.

P.S. For better movies then "Taken 2" check out the original again or try the cult classic masterpiece "Mad Max".

Friday, September 28, 2012



Written and Directed by Stephen Chbosky
Actors: Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, Ezra Miller, Paul Rudd, Dylan McDermott, Kate Walsh, Melanie Lynskey, Mae Whitman.

"We accept the love we think we deserve."

That line is delivered by two characters in the beautiful coming of age story "Perks of Being a Wallflower". It must be an important thought and I love that line so much. It fits perfectly with this funny, thoughtful, sometimes dark but finally uplifting story. It is not only a great movie about high school and fitting in there but it also one of the most beautiful movies about friendship I have ever seen.

I can identify totally with the lead character who is withdrawn, shy and awkward and that was me in high school. Our hero Charlie has to learn how to break out of his shell, find himself and find friends that will accept him for who he is. I had to discover that and this movie nails that process flawlessly. Charlie is a freshman who finds a new group of friends that include the smart, kind and beautiful Sam and the boisterous and openly gay Patrick. Charlie will grow out of his shell with these two high school seniors who will accept him as part of their group.

The movie is just beautifully written and realistic. It is set in the 90's before cell phones and facebook when teenagers had to communicate more to each other face to face. The movie will revisit the process of trying to go to college and dealing with classmates who think you are different and can't comprehend that you are different and that you are a human being and an individual. The movie was written and directed by Stephen Chbosky who wrote the book this movie is based on and you can tell he lived this story. Charlie is the focal point and we are always cheering for this young adult with a big heart. We will discover that Charlie has a painful past he is hiding and because we care about him it affects us deeply.

We not only care about Charlie but also care for and like Sam and Patrick. We are happy that they are Charlie's friends. Sam is a sweet and caring girl who had been rumored to be a little slutty years ago. We will see that high school is full of cruel rumors and that Sam is a young woman that just wants to be loved and accepted. Charlie will fall in love with Sam and we can see why. Of course Charlie is younger and Sam will wind up with a guy that will treat her cruelly. Charlie can never have Sam until he accepts his past and breaks out of his shyness. Patrick is the type of friend you would love to have. He is funny and supportive and in this story he is very brave.

I had a little problem getting used to Logan Lerman's performance as Charlie but once the story gets moving I found Lerman to be engaging and he grew on me. Emma Watson is very good here and establishes herself as an actress and not just Hermione Granger. I loved Ezra Miller's performance and here is an actor that nails a gay teenager just right. He makes Patrick a fully dimensional, realistic character with the help of the excellent screenplay. Ezra was haunting and scary in "We Need To Talk About Kevin" and here he is likable, sweet and funny. Here is an actor to watch out for.

"The Perks of Being a Wallflower" touched me deeply because I identified with Charlie a lot and Patrick and Sam would be friends I would love to hang out and grow up with. It is an honest movie with real emotions that are earned and it is a beautiful movie going experience. High School can be a cruel world and a good hearted and different teenager like Charlie can be eaten up in it. This movie nails that experience flawlessly and has a great heart just like Charlie, Sam and Patrick do. Yes we sometimes accept the love we think we deserve but we don't have to.


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

Written and Directed by Rian Johnson
Actors: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Jeff Daniels, Paul Dano.

In my opinion science fiction movies have to have that little extra imagination and something more than just technical skills. It is not my favorite genre because most sci films come off as cheesy and too complicated for their own good. My three favorite sci fi movies have either a story that makes you think well after the movie is over or a beauty and imagination that bursts on to the screen. My two favorite thinkers are "2001" and "Twelve Monkeys". The last one is one of the most beautiful looking movies ever made and a story that is up to par with any film noir movie, "Blade Runner". I walked into the new movie "Looper" expecting an illogical story with a lot of dumb action. I walked out finding a movie with great heart, humor and amazing imagination.

It is also another smart choice by my favorite actor right now Joseph Gordon-Levitt who gives another amazing and quietly effective performance. Gordon-Levitt has now crossed that threshold of being someone that guarantees at least an interesting movie each time out. "Looper" has a plot I do not want to spoil so I will give a brief synopsis. Gordon-Levitt plays Joe who is a hired killer of sorts called a Looper. Loopers are given men to kill that are sent from thirty years in the future and whose time is up. Joe and other Loopers are given orders by a mob boss played by Jeff Daniels in another perfect, scene stealing performance. Joe finds out that he has to kill his future self and after that plot revelation "Looper" becomes something special.

The movie is always full of ideals and it's plot is highly original and that is something for a sci fi movie. Joe will get involved later with a mother and her son and this plot surprised me because of it's freshness. It is made more special by the performance of Emily Blunt as the mother. It is another solid performance by her and her character and relationship with her son is powerful due to the great writing by Rian Johnson. Until then I was into the story but kind of getting restless especially during some painfully dull stretches in the some of the beginning moments. When the movie switches to Bruce Willis's confrontation with Gordon-Levitt in a diner and the story of Joe and this mother and son the movie starts being special.

The movie surprisingly becomes emotional which I did not expect at all. Most science fiction movies leave us cold but "Looper" makes us care about the characters. It does not just rattle off sci fi mumbo jumbo but gives us great imagination, ideals and people we want to follow and care about. One of the characters has a line that summarizes why I really like this movie. He tells us that he doesn't care about time travel and if he started talking about it the conversation would last 20 minutes. "Looper" knows that a great movie needs more heart and less exposition and phony, over-the-top jargon.

I really love Joseph Gordon-Levitt for he makes every performance less about him and more in service to the story. He doesn't call attention to himself, he just quietly conveys a decent nature and a natural likeability. "Looper" is one of the most highly original movies in quite awhile. People are comparing it to "Inception" but there is no comparison. "Inception" is about dreams and "Looper" is about time travel and so much more, you can't compare the quality of both. It did make me think and even though it could have been a masterpiece like "Twelve Monkeys" it still has great ideals and a story and characters you will care about. Rian Johnson should be commended for writing a movie with great imagination, ideals and heart.

P.S. I had to see "Looper" twice and I think it requires two viewings because I had to make sure I comprehended the plot correctly. It stood up on the second viewing and I loved watching the masterful second half of the movie along with the beautifully modulated performances by Gordon-Levitt and Blunt again.

Thursday, September 27, 2012



Written and Directed by David Ayer
Actors: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Pena, Natalie Martinez, Anna Kendrick, Frank Grillo, Cody Horn, America Ferrara, David Harbour.

What a punch in the gut and emotional experience watching "End of Watch" was and I did not expect it. I expected a shaky camera, found footage type cop movie that would have cliches and a plot that would be familiar and melodramatic. I expected violence and a crooked cop movie. What I got was an emotionally draining movie with hilarious moments and then shocking moments that crawled under my skin and then finally made me cry. This is from the same writer that wrote "Training Day" but this is ten times better.

"End of Watch" follows two young cops on duty in Los Angeles named Taylor and Zavala. One is white and the other is Hispanic and they are like brothers and have an implied connection. We follow them through a few days on duty where they make fun of other cops, perform some admirable deeds and also encounter a lot of intense danger. We instantly like these two and a lot has to do with the two actors portraying them. Taylor is played by Jake Gyllenhaal and Jake has been very good before but this might be his best performance so far. Zavala is played by Micheal Pena (Crash) who gives a star making performance here.

"End of Watch" starts with that shaky camera and the cops are miked and Taylor is filming their day on video for his film class. Though I forgot about the camera after the first half hour for I started to really get involved with following these two men. The movie starts out with great humor as Taylor and Zavala talk to each other and make fun of each other and of their peers. The dialogue and chemistry between the two is electric. The dialogue is fast, witty, entertaining and hilarious and I laughed a lot and at one point I laughed so much I cried tears. Gyllenhaal and Pena are so great together that I think Oscar talk should be directed towards them.

Both actors make us like them quickly and we want to follow them every step of the way. Director David Ayer does a remarkable job capturing some mundane moments that the cops encounter and then shocks us with a few intense moments. The situations that these men go through are somewhat familiar but a few are original and affect us deeply. There are a few moments where I froze and couldn't breathe and a final moment that made me cry for a few minutes and that is because we have invested so much in these characters and we love them. The movie does a great job building these character's chemistry and that is due to the well written dialogue. The moments where the two men just talk about girlfriends, life and their job are suspenseful on their own.

When we get to the intense and emotional final moments we are fully invested in these guys and don't want anything bad to happen to them. By the end we are on the edge of our seats. Jake Gyllenhaal is excellent here and I think this might be his best performance so far. Michael Pena has always been an excellent character actor but here he gives a performance that should make him a star and get him lead roles.

I went through all the emotions with this movie, was on the edge of my seat, laughing out loud and then choking up with tears. I also must mention Anna Kendrick and Natalie Mendoza who are great as the two officer's significant others. When the men are in danger I thought about the women right away because they are so well drawn and well played by the two actresses. That is the sign of a cop movie that is deeper than it should be and that is why "End of the Watch" is one of the best cop movies ever made and easily one of the best pictures of 2012!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012


'THE MASTER' (R) (3 1/2 STARS)

Written and Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
Actors: Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, Laura Dern, Christopher Evan Welch, Patty McCormack, Kevin J. O'Connor, Jessie Plemmons

Some movies are just extremely well made, fascinating and worthwhile but can just leave you scratching your head. There are also movies like this that are hard to embrace and care for. "The Master" is the new movie by Paul Thomas Anderson who directed "Boogie Nights" which is in my top 5 movies of the 90's. His latest is an actual masterpiece in style but the story and characters will turn some movie goers off.

Filmed in beautiful widescreen 70MM film stock but inexplicably not being able to be shown in small screen Chicago, "The Master" is definitely interesting. It also has two wonderful performances by Joaquin Phoenix and Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Hoffman particularly gives a performance that is pure perfection and one of the greatest performances I have seen any actor ever give! The movie is also breathtaking to look at with flawless art direction, costumes and atmosphere. The story is the part that will confuse some and leave others cold.

I was very intrigued by the story and watching Hoffman is like watching an exercise in pure, pitch perfect acting. It is a performance that should be studied on how to hit the right notes without a trace of falseness or over acting. We first see the lead character Freddie Quell, played by Phoenix, during World War II as the war is ending. We will follow him as he tries to adjust to post war life as a department store photographer. We see him snap in one scene at a customer. The war has either made him an alcoholic, as we see him make his own moonshine with paint thinner, or affected his brain and thinking.

Then Freddie stows away on a yacht in one of the most beautifully shot moments of the movie. There he runs into Lancaster Dodd who is a writer but also fancies himself as a doctor, nuclear physicist and theoretical philosopher. He is patterned after L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology, and the movie is inspired by that religion or cult but it doesn't concentrate on any similarity to it. It is more concerned with Freddie and how Dodd will either manipulate him into following him or brainwash him into it. Dodd sees Freddie as an alcoholic and dangerous but feels he can cure him.

This brings me to my pet peeve and why I was fascinated by this story. Freddie is an alcoholic yes but the war has truly scrambled Fredie's brain and the methods that Dodd uses to cure Freddie are strange. Dodd to me is very arrogant because anybody who thinks they can come up with therapy methods that have no sound basis in psychology to cure a mentally unstable man is more dangerous to me than Freddie. Now the methods are wacky to me but they are totally fascinating. I really loved how the movie explored if Dodd's group is considered a cult or just an extended family with a problem child.

I am proud of my extensive knowledge of cults and that is why I was fascinated by the story but I couldn't embrace the movie the whole time. Though the second time I saw the movie ( the movie might require two viewings) I discovered it really has nothing to do with cults even though there are some similarities to a cult. I like that the movie is complicated and makes you think but I needed to identify with some character and I couldn't always do it. It is not a movie that will have you walking out of the theater with a clear head or totally satisfied. There are no easy answers and really no characters you can care about but you will find them fascinating. The movie demands patience and your undivided attention and focus. It is not a feel good movie or a joyous time and it can feel cold a lot of the time.

Though if you want to see a talented director at the top of his skills you will find Paul Thomas Anderson's direction flawless, meticulous and beautifully constructed but also maybe too meticulous. The pacing is solid, the cinematography stunning and the detail flawless. There is also another amazing performance by Joaquin Phoenix as Freddie. It is the more showy role that can come off as too loud and over the top in the wrong hands but Phoenix hits all the right notes. Phillip Seymour Hoffman has the more subtle role and he gives a performance that is flawless. I am partial to Hoffman in this movie because I like quieter performances and roles and Hoffman mesmerized me more than any actor has done in a long time. That doesn't mean Phoenix isn't as great, it is just that Hoffman is pitch perfect. I usually don't do this at such an early time but I can't see any actor giving a better performance this year than Hoffman, he is the man to beat at the Oscars!

"The Master" is fascinating , beautifully shot and made, flawless in its details and production design and powerfully acted. Amy Adams is also great playing against type as Dodd's wife who thinks Freddie is either an alcoholic or mentally dangerous. The movie dances around the ideal of religion, psychology and cults but I found it to be the actual story of a father figure and the son he tries to help but might actually harm more. Will Freddie stay with Dodd or find the courage to discover he can make it on his own. The movie won't tell you and it doesn't end with easy solutions but it is fascinating to watch.

P.S. I thought "The Master" would be my first 4 star review of 2012 (sad). I just couldn't embrace it and fully give my heart to it. Guess I will have to wait for "Argo" or "Silver Linings Playbook" for that elusive 4 star review.